30 seconds in the UAE


shutterstock falconI let the children have a go first and then reach out a recently hennaed hand, palm up, to accept the flannel armband from Mounir. The whole thing suddenly seems a little flimsy. Are birds supposed to wobble?

I’m a lot taller than those children, and my arm is accordingly further from the ground than the distance one would want a bird to fall. Do birds fall? Not generally, except as chicks from the nest, but this one is blindfolded, did I mention?

Because otherwise it would peck at my approaching hand with that beak I’ve just watched tearing through a plucked but still boned pigeon. Would a blindfolded falcon flap its wings if it lost its footing at dusk in the desert outside Abu Dhabi if there were a leather thingy covering its eyes?

Hang on, this isn’t a wobble, this is a lean. Those birdy legs are at an 80° angle to my arm, and the beak is correspondingly nearer to my shoulder, slash, head. Now it’s more like 75°. What’s happening, Mounir? This didn’t happen to the children. Get it off, I feel, but no, I think, I’ve been looking forward to this.

This isn’t any old bird – this bird has more status in the country than I and most actual residents. He is, after all, an Emirati, with an ID card and citizenship number (no photo: his appearance changes with molting) and a chip implanted in his chest. When he flies, he has his own seat in business class. I’ve only ever once had my own seat in business class, three days ago, because Economy doesn’t seem to be a thing when it comes to Emerati generosity.

I must be making this lean happen. That’s what it is. My arm is treating the bird like a regular object and lowering itself to distance the object, not accounting for that much-maligned device, the bird brain, which has its own compensatory mechanism that doesn’t play well with mine.

Oh, now it’s skittering.

me and falconThe legs have decided this branch they’re on is not just swaying with the wind, it’s drooping from the falcon’s weight, so the bird wisely scrambles upward for a sturdier part of the branch, a.k.a. my upper forearm. Those talons are off the armband now. When I drop the bird, given that he is an Emirati will I be charged with murder?

This bird whose name I can’t remember, something short like Omu, was hatched in the falcon hospital near here, where he was bred. The same hospital my father visited a year or so ago and had his own picture taken with another falcon, tie flapping in the desert breeze. His falcon didn’t lean, what’s wrong with this thing? Or with me?

They only live twelve years in captivity, compared with fifteen in the wild, because their life is boring and stressful at the same time – the worst combination, like you have a government job but you are governed by geckos, so nothing quite makes sense.

I am tempted to think this bird is about to drop dead right now, like the Monty Python parrot. “He just started leaning and then topped over with his talons in the air,” I can imagine explaining, guiltily. It’s been a Monty Python couple of days, full of drag racing Mercedes and drifting instruction and robed security details. But no, he’s only one year old and I’m handing him back to Mounir now.


Images: c/o Shutterstock and me

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