Bird buddies

When my boyfriend and I moved in together, we were lucky enough to do so in a lovely little house in the center of Leiden. As if that wasn’t enough, the house was also equipped with a tremendously luxurious extra; a garden.

We moved in in November of 2016 and quickly got acquainted with the neighbors. And the neighbors I bonded with the quickest were the ones that don’t pay rent. They can be noisy sometimes and sometimes sing “in the dead of night”. Yes, that Beatles song is based on a true story; I’m talking about birds.

Handsome and charismatic Patrick struts his stuff around enthusiastically every winter, but we now know that he spends the summer elsewhere. Scandinavia I’ve been told. We get quite sad each year when the realization kicks in that he’s left. Patrick is a fierce little robin.

Zwaantje (which translates to little Swan, and is an actual name for women in the Netherlands) was the lady Blackbird that lived in the impressive hedera ivy bush at the far end of the garden when we moved in. When she was seduced by an extremely friendly male, we named him Romeo. We were thrilled to see their romance blossom.

Romeo and Zwaantje raised several young and we grew closer to them than I ever thought one could get to a bird. Both were extraordinarily tame, but Romeo most of all. I learned that my human neighbors had a similar experience with this blackbird couple and we often exchanged endearing stories over the hedge.

We had quite a laugh when one of my neighbors confessed to me she had given all the birds names as well, but quite different from ours. She had named the male first – Koos-, and then decided the female was ‘Koosje’, which is the feminine version of the same name. A ‘Romeo’ is obviously not the same kind of character as a ‘Koos’ (a very mundane Dutch name). 😀

And as you can tell I am speaking about them in the past tense, because at some point, something happened…

We hadn’t seen much of the blackbirds during the winter months but when spring arrived and there was still no singing to be heard from the rooftops, we knew they were no longer with us. And it wasn’t only our rooftop that was quiet. The whole neighborhood (perhaps even the whole city) was silent. It was eerie. And sad.

It may have been the Usutu virus, a disease that targets blackbirds and has decimated populations in other European countries in recent years. Maybe a cat got hold of one of the two, and the other flew off. We don’t know, but there is no denying it was an odd season without them around.

And then last winter, to our utmost delight, a new couple moved in.

My neighbor is convinced that the male is actually our old friend, Romeo. I am not so sure, all though I do find his friendliness remarkable. Maybe one of his sons? The female is definitely not Zwaantje, we all agree on that.

The new lady blackbird is a bit skittish but that’s OK. She peaks at us through the trees when her partner hops over to the garden door to claim his breakfast raisins. She joins him as soon as we step back inside. I haven’t named her yet.

It may sound crazy but it really fills my heart with joy when I see Romeo (or his successor) taking elaborate baths in our little birdbath. He does so with so much passion and love of life. I can watch it all day.

And all though the blackbirds are definitely our bbffs (best bird friends forever) the cutest ones are without a doubt the blue tits.

Their big beady eyes in their tiny heads make them look like kid’s toys. Their little eye masks give them a bit of a samurai look, especially when the male raises the little tuft on his head, to look extra tough (but not really).

And don’t get my started about their young… Adorable. Just heartrendingly adorable.

The blue tits enjoy taking little splashy baths as well, after which they sit on a branch nearby and elaborately groom themselves. And then they fluff up their little feathers and become little feathery balls of squee.

Apart from the robin, the blackbirds and the blue tits, we have daily visits from several turtle doves, sparrows, great tits and sparrows. Less visible (but I know they’re there) is the wren and the dunnock.

Also jackdaws, magpies and jays stop by sporadically, all though I would prefer they stayed away. The turtle doves usually fight them off bravely, oftentimes at the cost of a few feathers.

I have become very protective of my feathery friends. The other day I scolded my neighbor for delousing his roses with a poisonous liquid. Doesn’t he know he’s not only killing the lice, but also the birds that feed on them? I didn’t explicitly call him a murderer to his face, but I did show him my meanest frown when he told me what was in that spraying apparatus… There are natural ways to shoo lice away, you know?!

And that’s when I realized living here has turned me into a little garden gnome. Or perhaps it’s turning me into my dad. Those two options might even be the same thing. And I’m pretty OK with that!

This dedication to my Bird Buddies is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month.

the old development worker

This post was first published in my political analysis corner, but after giving it some more thought I changed it around a bit, split the original blog in two and decided to bring the part about my dad over here, which seems more fitting…

As my father returns to Afghanistan for the so-many-eth time I can see he is tired. He is still doing the job he has done all his life; writing and evaluating development aid projects, always returning with the conclusion that it wasn’t enough; that human greed sabotaged progress once again and that people at the bottom of the food chain have stopped believing they will ever be better off.

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I got angry with him a couple of months ago, when he rambled on and on about everything that was wrong with mankind, about how all that is good and beautiful in the world is being broken down and trampled on. It takes him several weeks to come down from that cynical cloud each time he returns, which gives us very little time to actually enjoy his company before he heads out again to burden his soul and thoughts with the weight of the world.

It reminded me of when my great aunt, aged 95, lost her son and declared she no longer believed in god, if this was how he treated her and the people she loved. I felt I needed to guide her back to her faith as if this would somehow restore the balance in the world. She was the believer and I the non-believer and that is how it was meant to be.

In the case of my father, he was the one fighting for more funds for development aid and voting on the political parties that most fanatically promoted the re-distribution of wealth, whereas I stood somewhere slightly left of center, being skeptical and calling for a more inclusive system but with a critical eye on unnecessary handouts. I criticized NGO’s and their old fashioned post-colonial attitude of bringing aid and knowledge to the “poor unknowing souls in the third world”. I called my dad paternalistic and labelled him old school. He called me naive and unrealistic.

But now it seems my dad has lost his faith in the sector he has worked in for almost fifty years and that he can’t seem to let go of (or it of him). More than anything he has lost his faith in the Middle East and Afghanistan most of all. He gets so very bitter when he speaks of the endless violence, the politicians sabotaging productive decision making and the corruption that runs through every single institution. I think it is the shamelessness that accompanies it that hurts him most of all.

DSC_0175.JPGOn the one side I wish he would just retire and spend the rest of his days walking through his garden, talking to the cat and taking pictures of butterflies. On the other hand I know it would be the death of him as he is addicted to the feeling of being needed and making a difference.

Even if at the end of the day he feels hardly any progress was made on the issue at hand, he needs to give it his full 100% and maybe a little more. It’s what we love about him and at the same time it is what makes him such a difficult person to be around.

So I guess it’s up to us, the people who know him, to pick out the positive traits he has and give them new life in our thoughts and actions. Perhaps it will even help him during those moments of bitterness that will undoubtedly bubble up from time to time.

The world through my brother’s eyes

You know those people who can pick up any random instrument and just instinctively know how to work the thing? They just hoot, whistle, strum, tap or pluck a bit and then… there you have it: beauty!

1780253_418645348272979_443952143_o.jpgMy eldest brother is like that, but not with music (even though he did play the trumpet for a while, in his teenage years). He has the eye. He looks at completely mundane situations and suddenly feels the urge to get on his knees and take a few shots from a funny angle. Yes, he is a passionate photographer and a bloody good one, if you ask me.

Of course I am biased. He’s my big brother. I grew up looking up to him (in the most literal sense as well as figuratively speaking). He never does anything without at least one honest attempt at becoming really good at it and often succeeds. He has top sport mentality that he applies in every aspect of his life and I have nothing but respect for him for that.

But enough talk, let me show you his stuff!

There’s the beautifully cliche…

…the awe-inspiring…,

…and the artsy fartsy:

I know he loves the artistic experimental stuff most of all, but he’s done some wonderful wedding and commercial photography as well.

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Check more of his pics out on Flickr, drop him a message on his Facebook or give him a friendly tweet, if you like what you’ve seen! Also, let me know what you think in the comment section, so I can pass it on.

His own website, Photgraphie TB, is in French, but it’s all pretty self explanatory and totally worth a visit.

A good weekend to all of you!