My Bird Story

Mai Lee - Senegal


February 27, 2013

About a week ago at my homestay in Palmarin, Senegal, a small yellow bird probably made one of the worst decisions of its life. This little fellow flew into my house, perhaps out of curiosity, only to be captured by my little siblings. When my 11-year-old sister caught it in mid-flight, my initial thought was, “Hey, that was kinda cool,” because it was, in fact, kinda cool. However, after I went back into my room, I forgot about the yellow bird.

But after three days, I saw the bird again, this time as the source of entertainment for a group of children. A long piece of string and rope was tied around its foot, similar to a leash, and the other end was held by a boy around nine years old. This boy would take the bird with his free hand and toss it up into the air in hopes of having it fly, only to have it come back down and hit the concrete. Now this, I could not watch. I couldn’t believe what they were doing to this poor little guy, but moreso the fact that the adults—including my good-natured host mom—didn’t seem to care.

I contemplated ripping the bird out of his hands and setting it free, but that would just be weird and abnormal to do in a country where animals have no rights whatsoever. In Senegal, animals are regarded as no more than tools for humans to utilize. When a friend asked her host family what they thought of cats and dogs, probably the most popular pets in the States, they replied saying they hated those animals. They only value animals that are of use to them, like horses that perform manual labor, chickens that lay eggs, pigs that provide meat, and etc. Everything else they consider a nuisance. So this yellow bird was a mere toy in the eyes of the Senegalese, and I couldn’t really do anything about it. I just tried not to think too much about it and returned to minding my own business.

That afternoon, the bird, still attached to the makeshift leash, was in the hands of my three-year-old brother, Jean. Now Jean at first glance is an adorable little boy with a bottomless pit of energy. When you spend some time around him, you begin to realize that he leaves death and destruction everywhere he goes. So as I was in the house, going about my own business, he skips in, swinging the poor bird by its leg. I was pretty certain its dainty leg was going to snap off pretty soon.

Along with destroying everything in his path, he also is very unaware of where he places his own limbs. As he swung the bird around, the bird would hit against objects and walls. With this, my face could no longer feign carelessness. But again, I just sat there clenching my teeth, doing absolutely nothing except resuming my work and pretending not to care.

Right then, my mom called Jean to go to the family shop. My family owns a corner store in the center of the village, and they open in two shifts: morning and afternoon. As my mom and Jean were leaving to open the shop for the afternoon shift, Jean left behind the bird on its leash, tossing it onto the floor not five feet in front of me. After confirming that he had left, I went to examine the bird. It lay on its side, almost looking as though it were dead.

The first thing I did was try to untie the string around the ankle. As I approached, the bird suddenly got itself up to a sitting position, surprising me a little. I continued to fiddle with the string but it was tied too tight, so I attempted at giving it water instead. The bird remained completely still, not moving or taking the water. It was probably paralyzed from fear and stress. Unable to do anything, I decided it would be best to leave it where it was and not meddle with something I had no involvement in. I returned to my journaling and reading and left the bird where it was.

An hour passed and the bird remained in the very position I left it, probably sleeping. I began to think about it again.

If I leave this bird here, it’s definitely going to die today after Jean comes back…

After battling it out with my moral compass, I took a pair of scissors from my room and snipped the string. Then I hurriedly carried it outside onto a patch of grass, but I could sense that it was much too weak to fly or move. I stepped back a couple of feet and observed for a couple of minutes, but the bird stayed put and began chirping loudly while watching me.

I don’t know what to do!

But I knew I had done everything I could in my power, and the rest was up to the little yellow bird. So I retreated back to my room and hoped for the best.

I felt as though I, with the yellow bird, had fought a battle against humanity by challenging the social norm. It took so much effort to help one little bird—without any confirmation of my success—and I can’t imagine the amount of work it would take to save the rest of the animals here.

Even though I may have possibly saved that one bird, all the other little birds are still going to be tormented by the Senegalese children. And what about all the other animals? The chickens, the sheep, the ducks, the donkeys? To change the way they perceive and handle animals here will require an enormous, psychological and cultural shift, and it definitely won’t be easy.

I’m going to have to observe more of the animal treatment here to better understand the situation here.

Mai Lee