Non-talking Parrot

Dayle with our parrot

Dayle with our parrot

Everyone loves talking parrot stories. We never had a talking parrot, but we had something better. He was a Senegal Green to whom we never gave a name. With his specialty in noises, he drove us crazy while sitting in a cage on our front porch next to the front door of our place in Ouagadougou.

The front door included auto-closing screen doors which made a distinctive slap-clack when someone went through them. That parrot would randomly make exactly that sound. Thinking that someone had walked in unannounced, we would rush to the front door in concern, only to find no one there but the parrot.

The yard was walled as is typical in Ouagadougou. Someone needed to open the gate to let a car in. We would often honk if we knew someone was home to come open the gate. You guessed it; that parrot would make the sound of our car driving up and the exact sound of our horn honking. We would make a frustratingly useless run to the gate.

Senegal green parrot in the wild

Senegal green parrot in the wild

We had two dogs. When we feed them at night, one would eat quickly and then try to eat the food of the other. Occasionally, this would result in a dogfight. Dayle told me that the parrot could imitate that. I thought that was exaggerated. Then after we took the dog food out one evening, a hear a fight starting – snapping, snarling, growling, the whole deal. So I went out to find the dogs eating calmly, and the parrot putting on a great performance.

A talking parrot would have been amusing. What this parrot did was annoying, although it did become amusing five years later.

Hackles up

Years ago in southwestern Burkina Faso, I was walking down a path near some houses when a little puppy came out, having heard us passing by. He looked to be only 10-12 weeks old. At that age they are cute, and this one was no exception.

I was not taken by his cuteness, but rather by the fact that his hackles were up, his snout was twisted into a no-nonsense snarl accompanied by a genuine adult growls and snaps. It was really quite comical, except I did think that he might try to put those needle-like puppy teeth into me. Also, rabies is not uncommon in that area.

His owner came out and shooed him off. So I asked about the bizarre behavior. Strangeness was not limited to the puppy’s antics. I learned that a few weeks earlier, the puppy had run out to bark at a passing moped on that same path, become entangled in its chain and had his abdomen ripped open. His inventive owner scooped him up with this intestines protruding and took him down to the local shoe repairman (there was no veterinarian) who sowed him up. In a recovery worthy of the most outrageous come-from-behind win in sports, the little guy recovered.

But, explained the man whose scandalously inspired action had saved the puppy’s life, now it attacks anything that comes down that path. Understandable. I never returned which was probably a good thing. I did not want my passing by there to again raise those hackles when the canine features under them possessed full adult capabilities.

Crocodiles of Sabou

When I worked in Burkina Faso, I would often travel between Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. That would take me past the town of Sabou which had a small lake infested with crocodiles, sacred crocodiles. By sacred, they did not mean that people worshiped the crocodiles. Rather, they did not kill or harm them. Even better, they fed them.

Mark and Matthew with crocodile at Sabou

Mark and Matthew with crocodile at Sabou

It was a tourist attraction. Because the crocs were well-fed, they were somewhat docile. With the help of a local guide you could pick up the tail of one sunning itself on the shore, which is where I always found them. Usually, the guide’s assistant would distract the crocodile with a chicken tied on a string at the dangerous end while the tourist picked up the tail at the other.

One day, I found myself driving through Sabou and decided to make the short detour to see the crocodiles. I arrived to find the place deserted. No people, tourists or guides, and no crocodiles. I got out of the vehicle to stretch a bit. Shortly a young man came rushing toward me.

“Bonjour”, he said. Did I want to see the crocodiles?

Of course, I replied, but it seems that I am unlucky today.

“Pas de problème ” (no problem), he answered. “Pas de problème” is the Burkina Faso equivalent of hakuna matata (from The Lion King).

Quickly, before I could get out of my stunned state and react, he stripped down to his underwear, walked out into the lake and came back dragging a 12 foot long crocodile by the tail – all for my viewing pleasure. Needless to say, I gave him a nice tip.

PS: This video was taken during a later visit to Sabou

Wrong kind of kid in school

Demolished school

Demolished school

I walk by several times a week, and one day it was demolished! And the rubble was just left piled everywhere. A short section of wall was still standing. On it was the painted primary school decorations and teaching tools, now showing incongruously for all to see.

There has to be a story behind a scene like this, so I asked. The man who ran the school had built it on someone else’s land.  The when he refused to vacate, the land owner took him to court. The court issued a judgment in favor of the land owner and ordered the school closed. But the man running the school ignored the court order and kept the school open. Negotiations failed. So, one day when the school was not in session, the land owner brought a bulldozer and the police, and they knocked down the buildings.

Kid (goat) in demolished school

Kid (goat) in demolished school

However, there are still kids in this school, just the other kind.

I never thought much about the kinds of systems and organizations a country needs. This story is about weak systems in Ghana that regulate land. Without those systems, real estate agents are self-appointed and some of them are crooks who will not hesitate to sell you a piece of land, or a building, that belongs to someone else. It happens all the time.

I suspect that the man who “owned” the school thought that he owned the land, only to find out that his title was junk. At first glance the situation was surprising and humorous. On another, it is a tragedy.  On yet another, it is a story of a country where land used to belong to everyone and its use was regulated by the chief, but which has been and still is moving to a different system and there are lots of bumps along that road. It makes me glad to have grown up in a place with pretty good systems for such things, and it gives me empathy for the Ghanaians trying to buy a piece of land.

Twisted Eyes

While driving from Accra to Tamale our vehicle overheated.  Sitting in a stationary vehicle in the tropics in the middle of the afternoon has little to recommend it to the sane.  So we got out and found shade.  One of my fellow passengers spotted a juvenile chameleon in a clump of elephant grass.  Out came my camera.

While the slow and patient adult chameleon will pose almost endlessly for any photographer, this young fellow did not want the publicity.  He was racing (well, in chameleon terms) around the grass to escape.  He obviously was not aware of the dangers of speeding away from determined paparazzi.  But then, he did not have a chauffeur and so was doing his own driving.  Meanwhile, I was single-mindedly bending and bobbing to stick my camera into the elephant grass at the angle and moment that would get me a photo for which the tabloids would pay big bucks.
I finally caught him in the bizarre pose seen in the second photo.  To keep track of me, he has twisted one of his independently revolving eyes so far around that it is glaring at me backward over the top of his head.

Seeing that, I experience a curious combination – a gasp of awe and a chuckle at the same time.  Did God intend that parts of his creation strike us as awesome and amusing at the same time?

Here we have a creature who can keep one eye peeled on where he is going while tracking paparazzi behind him with the other.  The heat, fatigue of travel and my crazed photo hunt must have fried my brain because the most bizarre thought came into it.  If he weren’t green and reptilian, this little fellow might make a good spokesman for car insurance.