Chez les Bewees
"I look at this beauty, and I wonder: How could
somebody be that evil!"
I don't know. She looks at me expecting an answer.
But I don't know. It is a kind of beautiful. Most
afternoons are muddy. Mornings are usually overly
evilly hot. Evenings are monstrous-insects-infested.
Other than that, it is beautiful. I guess.
When in the presence of a community as highly
opinionated as bird-watchers, you can't afford to be
passive. You have to have a firm opinion. A clear
distinction between right and wrong. And standing on
the side of right, you have to make it your mission in
life to enlighten, as they put, or to annoyingly
impose, as I see it, your views on everybody else.
I couldn't stand there and say that I didn't have an
opinion. How selfish of me! Not having an opinion
when thousands have been dying ever since the world
population surpassed a thousand. I had to say
something. Knowing that the quality of what I said
was irrelevant, and that all the weight was given to
how much I stretched my facial muscles as I spoke,
revealing every single tooth indiscriminately from
both rows, I didn't think too much. I just made sure
I coma-ed my syllables with unambiguously visible
Ever since I was a baby. It was enough to capture the
attention of my audience. They were about to witness
the unveiling of an exotic tale. A narrative told by
somebody who actually survived Africa. They never
thought it would be possible.
Ever since I was a baby, I saw Afghani men, on
television, carrying humongous didgeridoo-like
instruments. Spread around the leftovers of a
mountain, they were always facing the sky with their
barely visible usually two pieces of eyes,
dissimulated behind exaggeratedly long
facial-hair-extensions. It was so much a part of the
daily routine that it seemed so natural.
Aware of the irreversible damage I had just caused my
audience, I zipped it. What do you mean you saw on
television? They seemed to ask. You mean, there are
televisions in Africa? Not wanting to abuse this
already abused cliché, I shall move on.
To get back at me for ruining her ideal-Africa, one
bird-watcher deconstructed my statement: "you mean,
when you were still a baby, your parents let you watch
violent news on television. That is simply cruel" she
said matter-of-factly. I know. Actually, I don't
know. It might be that such an early exposure to
violence on television is responsible for every single
one of my actual as well as potential psychological
There weren't that many birds. But there were too
many butterflies all over the place. I felt like I
was in some Rushdian space. Deceivingly hairy, they
were flying in what seemed to be an unorganized,
dispatterned, trance-like dance. I don't know what
the crazy butterflies were doing on bird-watchers
territory, but I didn't bother to ask, for I knew that
it wouldn't take long before somebody vomits all her
or his encyclopedic knowledge about butterflies, when,
why, where, and how they do it. As if I cared.
As we were walking, all I thought about were my boots.
I can't believe I wore my favorite boots to some
silly bird-watchers convention. But I was promised
that they were going to be civilized this time. That
there wouldn't be any
It might be appropriate to pose for a sec, and explain
what it is that makes a community out of these
bird-watchers. Like my friend, some might think that
bird-watching is a metaphor for some other activity
that has nothing to do with birds, and is all about
watching. However, bird-watching, as I have been
using it within the context of this essay consists,
but is not limited to bird watching. Here is how it
Getting there is an adventure. Not really, I just
thought it would be nice if it were. One just drives
a long, long, long road. Trees, and trees, and more
trees. Then you see a house. An old house. An old,
once impressive, now decadent, house. It is owned,
along with the lands surrounding it, by a woman whose
husband died not long ago. She then contracted a
weird skin disease that deformed her, thus justifying
her isolation. It is believed that from time to time
she looks out of her window. Which in itself has
nothing unusual: people look outside their windows.
But for some reason, when you have a weird
unexplainable skin disease, performing benign
movements becomes all of a sudden, creepy, very
No matter how early you get, H's green SUV would
always already be there. "Once again, I'm the first
one here" she would say in her unbearably
loud-squirrel-kind-of-squeaky voice. When I first
met H, and without putting too much thought into it, I
decided that I would enjoy looking at her. Not
necessarily as an exemplum, but, and I shamelessly
confess, as a distraction. A very cute face, where
everything is small and protectively hugged by
premature fine but concentrated wrinkles. She had the
same carefully styled, on-purposely messy post-coital
hairdo. Strawberry-reddish straws of hair crossed her
face with determination. And then just as you think
that such a portrait would induce a moment of
meditation, she speaks, and what most people would
perceive as sexy, maybe even a turn on, lands on my
ears in the form of a torturing combination of noise
to which my body reacts with an unpredictable
contraction of every single muscle. I say it's a
The rest of the bwees (bird-watchers) shows up one
after the other. My friend's mother is the one to
whom I owe my presence within the highly selective
group, almost as homogeneous as an Ohio State
sorority. She is a member, i.e. a regular donor, and
since I expressed my interest in learning more about
their activity, I was invited once, and have been
invited ever since.
But boy, do they torture you before finally
"accepting" you. First, I had to say my name.
Actually, I didn't say it. My friend's mother
introduced me as Miss B. who is from Morocco and who
speaks French and Spanish. She closed her statement
with such an abrupt non-contextual smile, as if to
replace "exclusively". Then, I said my first name,
and told them what it meant in Arabic. Arabic? Do
you speak Arabic? Oh how sweet. Say something in
Arabic. Ok how do you say: This place is so
beautiful, and there is no place better?
Little by little, they metamorphosized me into a
butt-naked monkey in a zoo. It was so blurry, I
didn't know who was entertaining whom.
They warned me about how harsh it could be out there,
in the bushes. I mean, the insects and all. So I
felt the necessity of sharing with them one of my
heroic stories, to prove that I am worthy of their
group. When I was younger, and even when I wasn't
that much younger anymore, I used to feel bad at the
site of a dog's ear ornamented with tons and tons of
ticks of different sizes, so close and tight they
looked like juicy grapes ready for whatever it is that
one does with juicy grapes. So my sister and I, and
depending on how many other people we managed to
convince, would relieve the dog by plucking the ticks
one my one, and smashing them on the floor. A deep
thick dark burgundy liquid came out of the tick's
pocket. The dog would utter a little exhale as if it
were holding it's breath. We would do it again, and
again, until we got too nauseous to handle the sight
of ticks, and the dog's bloody ears. We would later
torture each other by bringing back the scene of
tick-plucking just as we got ready to eat, which
didn't prevent us from doing it again. .
"I'll lead this group, you lead the other. Here you
cover all of them until 28, we'll take care of the
rest. We'll meet back here in an hour or so." She
had that born-leader-kinda-thing about her. I
followed H. as she led us through the bushes. We were
about 12 in the group. I was responsible for writing
down the number of eggs, and any relevant
descriptions. We reached the first wooden house. It
was so tiny with a triangular roof. I was wondering
if birds cared about the shape of their "house." H.
stepped on a chair, lifted the roofito of the tiny
house with such a delicacy, and just as expected, she
oxymoronically screamed: "Four blue-bird-eggs." I
wrote it down. My affective filter was so high I
doubted my spelling of "blue."
She invited me to take a look. Indeed, four tiny
Easter-candy-looking blue eggs. I voiced my
description. It was a mistake. "I guess you don't
have blue birds in Africa." I don't think so. I
H. sprayed the area around the little toy-house to
prevent insects from getting to the nest. We moved
to the next, and the next, and the one after. If
there were no eggs, they would empty the house, put
some white powder in, and some straws inside, close
it, then spray around it.
So there we were, taking away from birds the only
function they could possibly accomplish in their whole
lifetime. Other than building a nest, laying eggs,
protecting the eggs, and flying, what else could a
bird do? However, in spite of its absurdity, I found
myself going back to the bird-watchers get togethers.
I even learned key words such as "ah, it's gorgeous…
look how beautiful." It could be frog poop; all that
mattered was how you described it. I got accustomed
to the drama: "look at how huge is that flying dragon"
or better yet "uh ohh, I can smell an alligator. Be
careful, we might be watched by some sneaky 20feet
That was last spring. I was away the whole summer. I
thought they had forgotten about me. For, don't el
houwariyat say, in a beautiful strong feminine voice:
Ahh haaah, sir a weddi sir sir,
Ahh haaah, el bou3d kaydir 'jjfa.
And then a phone call: "would you like to go? There
is a little Fall get together. It won't be much,
we'll have some coffee, we'll chat, and that's all."
Well, it wasn't all. They wanted to walk in the muddy
bushes. Dressed in black, I looked like a whore in
Idaho. I listened as the knowledgeable, as well as
the not-so-knowledgeable expressed their views about
war and terrorism. The civilized us vs. the barbaric
them. I listened over and over to the same story that
made an anti-hero out of a criminal. They wanted to
draw the portrait of a monster, but to the naïve he
came out as somebody who started out as a tall
playboy, yes tall, over 6 feet they insist. Perfect
for the romantic mode of emplotment they adopted for
him. Then he gave it all up, to fight injustice.
Injustice my ass.
As we were driving back, all I saw was flags
everywhere. Flags attached to cars. Flags attached
to mail boxes. Flags attached to lights. They were
everywhere. I got scared. It isn't that flags scare
me. It is rather the too-manyness that scared me.
Too many of anything is scary.
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