DUBAI: It may not be among the usual tasks for a top diplomat, but the French ambassador to the UAE has found himself caring for a pet bird left behind by an Afghan refugee girl.
Xavier Chatel took in the bird after the girl, named Alia, was forced to abandon her pet when she arrived in Abu Dhabi from Kabul during the chaotic evacuations in August after the Taliban takeover.
The heartbroken child was not allowed to take the mynah bird named Juji on the next flight to Paris for sanitary reasons.
Seeing her distress as she waited at Abu Dhabi’s Al-Dhafra airbase, Chatel stepped in and offered to look after the bird.
Recalling the episode in a series of tweets, the ambassador said he hoped to reunite Juji with Alia.
“There is a story I have been meaning to tell for a while,” he said. “A girl arrived at Al-Dhafra airbase, exhausted, with an unusual possession: a bird.”
The French ambassador said he noticed the girl was crying at having to leave Juji.
“I was moved. I promised to take care of the bird at the ambassadorial residence, feed him. She could visit him anytime and take him back. I won’t forget her look of desperate gratefulness.”
Amid the intense few weeks of overseeing the evacuations through the UAE to France, Chatel took the bird to his residence.
“This energetic little mynah escaped his box and made a big mess in the car,” the ambassador said.
After struggling to catch him again Chatel bought a cage, fed Juji and took him out in cool mornings to meet other birds.
The bird slowly adapted to its new surroundings and started communicating.
Mynah birds, which are native to south Asia, are known to imitate voices.
Chatel said he tried to teach the bird French words, starting with “Bonjour”, but Juji “frowned at me and looked angry.”
He said one of his staff later captured Juji saying “bonjour” on video. “That went straight to my heart,” the ambassador said.
After arriving in France, Alia managed to track down Chatel on Twitter and was so happy to see her bird being cared for.
“Alia, your bird has become the embassy’s mascot, but he is here for you, and if I can, I’ll take him personally to you one day,” he said.
More than 120,000 people were airlifted out of Afghanistan between in a two week period at the end of August as the US military withdrew.