On Bird life, finding the spice district, and mistakingly cooking Mexican tortilla as you would roti

Or, as I like to call it: “the ‘It Gets Better Project: Adult Migrant Edition'”.

The first few weeks here were rough. I couldn’t figure out what to cook with the tripple whammy of a more limited vegetable selection, vastly reduced spice palate, and not being able to find gluten free grains that didn’t also have warnings on them about containing traces of stuff that would kill me.

At one point, I stopped going out and just watched Bollywood films on youtube with english closed captioning switched on, to make up for the zero diversity I saw on TV and the lack of it in the streets. Miguel would innocently remark that there were minorities I’d see everyday, and I’d stop, think, and then ask: you mean the delivery guy? Then bellow that did he understand how damaging it was psychologically for me to only see minorities in positions of servitude and not as doctors, lawyers, business men and women, teachers, professors, or -heaven forbid- CEOs? And he’d acknowledge he hadn’t thought of it that way. And I’d watch another bollywood film, sometimes not even bothering to change out of my jammies or get out of bed, since I felt the task of getting stared at when I left the flat was too draining, and because I kept getting lost while using google’s turn by turn navigation when trying to find places, which only made people stare at me even more since they’d see the same stranger walk up and down the same street, cross left, then cross back again, turn around, and repeat the whole process again.

I was and am too stubborn to ask directions unless I’m running late and besides, I have problems remembering directions in english, let alone spanish.

And then I got a bird.

Visiting different pet and aquatic stores around the city was the only motivator great enough to get me to leave the house and brave the perfidy of turn by turn navigation. Even though I had decided on getting lovebirds, I fell in love with one chubby, large, very boisterous male budgie in one pet shop.

This isn’t my bird, it’s just to show the difference in size between him (an “English type” budgie) and a regular budgie. He is LARGE and FLUFFY.

 photo IMG_6069.jpg

This is my guy in his de-fluffed state. His name is Göker, which means “man of the sky” in Turkish. Plus, saying Göker is fun.

With any kind of pet (even my fish), I always make decisions based on their spirit, and not on appearance. I feel animals need to chose their humans as much as we chose them, or we’ll never get along as well as we could.  This little guy had zero time for his cage mates (who looked like they were already bonded) and was bouncing up to me and checking me out fearlessly.

I took another day to message Miguel some photos, who was in NY at this point and see how he felt about it, and spend another night reading about budgie needs (I’d spent about a week reading about various small parrot needs before focusing more on lovebirds and budgies as they seemed more appropriate for us as apartment dwellers), translate my questions into Spanish, and picked him up the next day, along with what I thought was a generous sized cage at the time (the same laws of relative proportion that made my TV look modest in the TV store full of wall sized TVs also made his cage seem large next to the canary sized cages in the pet shop), some fancy pellets, and treats for him.

Reader, I have since been on a mission to find him a better cage, but I have to say: birds do not have it good in Spain. I’ve seen larger parrot cages, with bars spaced appropriately for parrots and not for smaller birds, and I’ve seen horribly, horribly small cages with budgies in them in other pets stores. I do see a lot of tall cages, but what he needs is either a square 50cm x 50 cm or greater cage, or a long  (80 cm x 50 cm or greater) cage. His current cage is an ok length at 55cm, but not wide enough at 25cm.

I’ll keep looking. For now, he’s able to flap around, and the cage is small enough to be portable from indoors to the balcony and vice versa twice a day, so  he can get his fill of singing his heart out and announcing the borders of ‘his territory’ to the other birds in the neighbourhood, and then in the late afternoon we have 2 hours of him being indoors with us and some hand training time before he goes to sleep at around 6.

On the porch, listening to the budgie across the road and keeping one eye on my camera.
The balcony is his seat in the Parliament of Birds: here he is listening to The Esteemed Budgie Across The Road, while formulating his right honourable reply, and keeping one eye on my camera.

I’ve been told by the internet my efforts at releasing the bird from his cage so he can fly around the living were a bit premature and that I should wait a few more weeks so he’s able to return home without me having to pick him up. He’s had his first vet check (second appointment this week so he can have a pre-emptive mite treatment) and I’m basically acting like a nervous, new mom who’s always fussing over him and trying to get him to eat fruit and veggies and checking onto message boards to make sure I do everything right.

For fellow allergies sufferers, I highly, highly recommend Allergic To Pets? The Breakthrough Guide to Living with the Animals You Love. It’s a quick read, but has so many helpful suggestions, and the end result is I’m able to live with a small animal that is neither fish nor reptile (the only true hypoallergenic pets) and not need antihistamines every day. Between my boyfriend being back from his travels, and my little bird pal, I’m very happy, and the bumps ahead seem much more manageable.

Especially after Miguel took me to Lavapiés.

Sweet spice central! Diversity! I Even saw a halal butchers and a Mosque (But no kosher butchers as of yet…hmmmmm). I was pretty sure this country was founded on the banishing of halal and kosher anything (and wikipedia confirms there link between this district and banishing), but colour me wrong. I found every lentil type I could want, chickpea and rice flour, more spices than I was able to name, 100% corn tortillas, popadoms, ocra, pomegranate molasses, rose and orange flower water, and so many other treats. We had our first night of having guests over where I served up some persian jeweled rice, because when everyone knows you have multiple food allergies, it becomes a political campaign to prove that you do eat very well. And because knowing that spices aren’t used in cooking here, I couldn’t resist a little bit of one-upmanship. 😉

It’s sad that some reviewers on tripadvisor seem to equate being approached by “black men” as the same “about about to be mugged”, but for everyone who is not a bigot, it’s a great place and I felt very safe.

egyptian shop, selling belly dance clothes and assorted amazingness. Bast sattue, anyone?
Egyptian shop (named “I love Egypt”, selling belly dance clothes and assorted amazingness. Bastet statue, anyone?
Anarchist bookshop.
Anarchist bookshop.
Decorated window in a Squatters house.
Decorated window in a Squatters house.
Mosque. Ok, so it's not exactly an architectural feat, but it exists.
Mosque. Ok, so it’s not exactly an architectural feat, but it exists.


Jesus, Mary, Joseph and sweet baby cuthulu
Jesus, Mary, Joseph and sweet baby cuthulu

So, having acquired 100% corn tortilla, and already having some amazing daiya dairy free cheese brought back from the states, it was time to make quesadillas, which I haven’t had since going gluten free. Ok, so I did exasperate Miguel by cooking the tortilla the way I’d learned to cook roti on youtube: by waiting for the flatbread to puff up before flipping sides, but having my quesadillas cooked for me isn’t the worst thing in the world 😉


So, yes, it’s getting easier. I know there will be more bumps ahead, especially with the work situation (getting set up as working for yourself is a nightmare here), but I’ve got a great alley in my partner and in the end, being able to live together again is giving both of us the security we need to be our best selves with each other.

One thought on “On Bird life, finding the spice district, and mistakingly cooking Mexican tortilla as you would roti

  1. That bird is so lucky — he will clearly have the BEST home, where he is loved and appreciated (not just put inside a cage in the corner)…Lucky, fluffy thing he is! 🙂 Also, you really are a VERY good writer…xo

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