Saturday, May 16, 2009

when our best is not good enough

In the three weeks spent at the Copa Aviary, there was never more than a two day stretch when someone didn't escape or die. Perhaps it was bad luck. perhaps it was arriving after a number of waves of volunteers who didn't even stay their promised two weeks and did the bare minimum of work. perhaps this is just life in Bolivia.

It's a hard lesson to learn, I find, that my best isn't always good enough... but it's the best I can give so somehow it has to be ok.

Many of the birds who escaped, like Sunshine, returned after a day or two, looking for food and their regular bird social contacts. All the birds who escaped, save Woody Allen-- a huge Red Macaw, we were able to catch and return to their cages/rehabilitation schemes.
(Sunshine, a Yellow Collared Macaw with beady red eyes, will hopefully be released when the park has found a good place and gets permission from the government. He was gone for a full 24 hours before getting hungry and returning to his cage.)

Woody Allen, a huge red Macaw, escaped because of a faulty door. The elastic cord broke, I fixed it so it was tighter than before, a different volunteer put it on backwards making it a little looser than before and Woody Allen escaped. We arrived in the morning, and I started uncovering cages, Loopy on my arm as usual. I could hear Woody Allen's very loud voice, but he wasn't in his cage, the door still fastened. There he was, at the top of the tree, RRRAAAWWWW, I'm king of the WORLD!!!! I put Loopy in the kitchen and ran to fetch a vet, who suggested putting a banana on a stick and trying to lure him down. RRRAAAWWWW HA HA HA, I'M KING OF THE WORLD, Woody Allen replied from 30 feet up. I followed him for a day, as he moved to taller and taller trees, voice like a fog horn, only to loose him near the end of the day. A huge red parrot is surprisingly easy to loose...

Last seen near the river, not native to central Bolivia, never to find a partner, I hope you do OK Woody. I hope you make it. You're always welcome to come back, we have some bananas and mandrines waiting for you.

And here we were, trying our best, and one of the very important birds for the park escaped. The vets and volunteers all knew that his cage was too small and that his was bored. We knew he had escaped before and might again if things stayed the way they were. But there was nowhere bigger to move him, it's was the best we could do. It wasn't good enough and he escaped.
This flock of 3 dozen Blue Crowned Conures had four casualties while I was there. A disease swept through the flock, killing the weakest and necessitating antibiotics in the water, the whole cage scrubbed with bleach, and then, when things didn't get better, the vets came and gave every bird in the flock injections of antibiotics and vitamins. After the vets came to give the first round of antibiotic shots, they isolated four very thin birds for special attention. Had we, the volunteers, been feeding the flock enough? We were doing what the volunteers before had done, though sometimes the flock ate every tiny bit of papaya or corn especially for their dinner meal... Could the epidemic have been prevented?

When carrying the sick conures and injured parakeets (attacked by their own vicious flock) back and forth to the clinic, I noticed a tiny baby parrot. Tiny and slowly being nursed back to health was this tiny little guy
Only 5 months old, very shy, wings clipped, so weak she'd walk right off the kitchen counter and fall horribly to the ground. Unable to hold on to your arm or eat hard foods, she eventually transfered from the clinic to the aviary. The volunteers all instantly became like excited little girls, aaawwww a baby parrot.

We'd carry her around and she started to get accustomed to us. One day, instead of being scared, she took a few steps toward me and tried to climb onto my arm. I swooned. We gave her as much care and attention and love as we could. The vets gave me all the instructions in her care in Spanish, the gist of which was, treat her just like Loopy. She can eat whatever she wants, carry her around, etc. We tried to help them make friends and tied her cage next to his, though they were both only in their cages at night.

She survived about 4 days with us.

One night a storm blew in and her cage was not as sheltered as we thought. The volunteers found her in the morning soaking wet and ran her to the clinic. She'd died in the middle of the night of exposure, a good four hours ago. The vets said it was a bad place for her cage...

Had I misunderstood the instructions? Had the vet said that before and I'd missed it? My Spanish is still very bad but the best of all the volunteers at the aviary. Should I have asked someone to translate? Should we have know it wasn't a good place to tie her cage? It seemed protected under the rafters... Our best wasn't good enough and she died.

Rest in peace, little one. I'm sorry we couldn't take care of you better.
And such is life, day after day in the park. What do you do? Giving up and walking away solves nothing. The day after Woody Allen escaped, we improved all the debilitated latches. The day after Baby died, we made sure the birds in small cages were better protected at night. When the Conure epidemic started, we worked harder to clean the shelves and tables where we put the food for the birds.

To paraphrase one of the original 6 couchsurfers, "I do the best I know. When I know better, I do better."

And so the aviary goes on, another string of two week volunteers take over, as many lessons as possible are passed down. Be careful of the cage doors of the Macaws, they can be escape artists. Take extra care when storm clouds are brewing...

I've been working on a proper file for the birds so more of these lessons can be passed down, I was in the clinic trying to print some pictures and talking to one of the long term vets. And how are the two new volunteers, she asks me. I don't know, I say, shaking my head. They like birds but...I'm a little worried. She shrugs her shoulders, they are better than no body she says.

We do the best we can, with whatever we have, when we know better we do better. The vets never got mad at us or tried to make us feel guilty for the escapes and deaths. Life goes on. We are doing the best we can with what we've got. There is no time for whining and complaining and talking about "what ifs." This is life and there is still a hell of a lot of work to do.

This is a damn fine lesson to learn. And so I'm going to go back, after meeting my darling Em in Rio. I'm changing my plane ticket, delaying my return, and promising more time to this park and these people who are as tough as nails doing their best for these animals who have no better option. This is good work to do. These are good lessons to learn.

Heat rash, bug bites, puncture wounds and blisters be damned.
the adventures continue...

lessons in love

A year and a bit ago I was here, in Xian China.
I stayed in a hostel run by a charismatic guy from Jersey and his dog Charlie. Charlie is not just a normal dog, but one of the friendliest mascots a hostel could ever hope for. Charlie is also a very lucky dog.

Charlie was a street dog, the guy from Jersey explained, friends and I were all out on a drinking binge and I decided to adopt her. I mean, you have to be pretty drunk to think that adopting a Chinese street dog is a good idea. But she's amazing. This dog will teach you how to love. This dog loves so hard, it's changed my life.

And everywhere Jersey went, Charlie was at his heals, occasionally stopping to share some love with the hostel guests. And when the hostel, sadly, went under a few months later, Jersey took Charlie back to the states, a feat that surely involved patience and paperwork that only true love would inspire.

And it's been quite a year thinking about love and relationships and commitment and promises. Most of it is unbloggable as I generally try to follow "the rules of group therapy" when blogging, i.e. talk only about your own experiences. And here I am, 11am, in the empty bar on the top floor of a hostel in La Paz, sappy music with Spanish lyrics playing over the radio, stuck on the same questions that never seem to get answered. Where do I find what I'm looking for? Where's the line between someone just not good enough and someone, imperfections and all, who I'm better of with than without?

and then there is Loopy. I LOVE YOU LOOPY!
A funny little Severe Macaw, who loved so hard and who I dearly miss, sitting on my shoulder.
A funny little parrot who despite apparently having the ability to learn how to speak and make many different sounds, only had a mildly grating "squaw" to say over and over. A small parrot who most of the volunteers lost patience with quickly because of his unrelenting and loud squaw, but who I absolutely adored. I rarely let him sit on my shoulder as he was so loud and instead carried him around on my arm as I did chores or chopped vegetables.

When I couldn't carry him around, like when I was working in other birds cages, I'd put him in the "kitchen" near his beloved papaya fruit or over-ripe banana.
But often, preferring love to food and unable to fly, he would climb down from the kitchen counter and follow me around the aviary, slowly walking on his little parrot legs, "SQUAW"ing the whole way. Sometimes he'd climb up the outside of the cage where I was working to try to get closer only to realize that the bigger parrots inside the cage were less than friendly to him and then be stuck because he couldn't fly away and in desperate need of rescue.

And when it was eventually time for the afternoon break after all the birds got lunch and when there wasn't too much extra work to do, Loopy and I'd sit down and relax.
Him sitting on my lap or chest and me scratching the back of his neck and head and him slowly going from LOUD SQUAW to sleepy squaw to everything-is-right-with-the-world-and-I'm-so-happy-little squaw. Sometimes if there were no monkey raids on the aviary and we had enough time to relax he'd fall asleep on me, completely undignified, neck stretched out on my chest, wings askew, totally relaxed and more cat-like than parrot like, blissfully happy.

But eventually there were always afternoon chores and cages to repair and dinner to prepare for the aviary and Loopy would give his most frustrated SQUAW when the time came to get up and do work. And he'd follow on foot or sit near the kitchen flapping his mostly useless wings like a toddler stamping his foot, demanding that nap time be extended.

And I find it amazing how simple and obvious animals make loving someone. I'll walk 20 minutes on my short parrot legs just to have you pick me up, give me a pet, laugh, and then put me back on the kitchen counter again and I'll climb down and follow you again. What I want from you is simple and I have no qualms about asking for it obviously and clearly over and over again, despite that I'm not designed to walk and my wings will never be strong enough to fly. I'll come to you, in what ever way I can.

And somehow we humans never keep it that simple. And I don't think I've ever had someone fight as hard for my love as this little parrot did.

Of course it's not the same, I guess. Of course it's not the same with people. I wouldn't want to be responsible for a partner the way I felt responsible for Loopy (...though for kids, if I'm ever so lucky). People ask for a lot more than just a hour to fall asleep on your chest while you scratch their head. Or at least most do.

I miss you Loopy. In the last month in Bolivia you've made me laugh and made me so happy. You've taught me how to love better. Funny how a stray dog or a loopy little parrot can change your life.

and the adventures continue....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A little more faith in humanity

This is not the San Diego Zoo. An aviary with over 100 parrots (including one red listed endangered species), parakeets, and raptors as well as a dozen and a half tortoises and 61 turtles run by short term volunteers, usually only staying for two weeks. Volunteers come for all sorts of countries, about half from Israel, usually early twenties, to try their hand at volunteering in the jungle. No experience necessary. The work day starts at 7:30am and ends between 5:30 and 6:30pm when it's too dark to work anymore. You can have one day off every two weeks, so there are few chances to catch up on sleep.

Some days there was no running water at the aviary (other than the downpours...) and we hauled it from the hostel nearby.
Often the right food for the birds hadn't been delivered (road blocks, drivers couldn't be assed, Bolivian style efficiency) and so we improvised.
Birds often escaped because there was so much maintenance to do on all the cages.
Often the only information we had about the birds in our care was something like this:
But here you are, at a place that is run on pure heart and love for animals. No great organization, not much infrastructure, very little training, zillions of bug bites, all of us doing the best we can. There was never a day where it was an ideal situation, so everyday was doing the best we could with what we had.

I worked with these two girls for two weeks. Two young Danish girls traveling Peru and Bolivia together, only 19 and 20, only knowing a few words of Spanish, who were some of the hardest best workers I'd met in a long time.

Some people surprise you are restore some of your faith in humanity. These two girls did for me.

I love Japan and I miss Japan but I left in December very burnt out. I was surrounded by many people, especially immediate coworkers, who didn't like their jobs, who didn't think trying any harder would make any difference, who didn't problem solve very well on their own. Of course, there were many amazing people who were exceptions, but there were enough that were down right incompetent and lazy and mopey that I began loose respect for people in general.

Those who know me best probably know that it's a lot easier to win my love or my trust than it is to win my respect. As a result of how I felt about my coworkers in Japan, I stopped giving new people much benefit of doubt and began assuming that everyone was a bit incompetent or lazy. I didn't really like the assumptions that I was making about new people I'd meet, yet, it's a hard habit to break.

And then here come these two very young, inexperienced, shy, seemingly naive Danish girls who were some of the best workers I've ever had the pleasure of sharing a job with. Even when we were told there was going to be an inspection of the park and we had to take down all the tarps and scrub them all clean, a job that took three days and left us all soaking wet, exhausted, and with chapped red hands, they still had a sense of humor and didn't shirk from more hard work.

Surprisingly funny, surprisingly diligent, surprisingly organized. I hope these two take over the world. Thanks for restoring some faith. Thank you. I'm always surprised by who changes my mind and how.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

a little quiet time

After almost three weeks in the jungle volunteering with parrots at Inti Wara Yassi's Parque Machia, I have sadly left.
I'm in La Paz, letting the bug bites, blisters, and heat rash heal, staying in a posh hostel a million times quieter than the aviary with over 100 parrots. I'm wandering the streets contemplating life and love, what makes a good community, home, what really is necessary, what money buys and what falling in love over and over again does to a person.... etc.

all in all, I'm loving Bolivia and most likely changing that June 26th plane ticket so that I can come back and volunteer more.

the adventure continue. more stories to come...