Lifestyle & Human Interest

French Diplomat Saves Afghan Refugee's Pet Bird, Then Something Amazing Happens


Xavier Chatel is a French ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, a job that has increased in complexity as of late. But one thing that he’s now well-known for is something he certainly didn’t expect to be part of the job description: bird caretaker.

It all began on Aug. 26 during the frenzied rush to get around 3,000 Afghan refugees and French nationals out of Afghanistan. Chatel was approached by someone amid the chaos with an odd find.

“The hangar in which this was happening was pretty much looking like a refugee camp,” Chatel told The Washington Post. “We had kids arriving without parents, and parents without their kids. In the midst of this, this military woman comes to me and she says, ‘Sir, we have a clandestine.’

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“I was like, ‘Okay, that’s a problem.’ So I go to see the clandestine, and they bring me this cardboard box in which there was a slit, and in the slit I could see the golden eyes of the myna.”

The bird was named Juji, and he belonged to a young Afghan refugee whom Chatel referred to as “Alia.” The bird was her dear pet, and she’d fought through everything to keep her little feathered friend by her side.

But as she was at the stopover processing point in Abu Dhabi, she got some heartbreaking news: She couldn’t take Juji with her. He had been deemed a hazard, going against the sanitary regulations, and by the time Chatel was alerted to the situation, Alia was in tears.

“Through all this, she had kept this cardboard box and this bird like a treasure with her,” Chatel continued.

“Of course, she was so sad not to be able to take him to France … I just thought that this entire experience had already been so cruel on this girl and on so many other people that it would be heartless to add an additional and unnecessary cruelty.”

So he stepped up and offered to look after Juji for her. He said the look of “desperate gratefulness” on her face after his offer was unforgettable.

Juji made it very clear from the get-go that he was a strong, independent bird. Even after making it to the car with Chatel, he made a mess, escaped his box and hid under the seat, pecking Chatel when he tried to coax the bird out.

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“The fierce little fellow showed me that if he survived the Kabul airport, I was no match,” Chatel said.

And the brave little bird has been with Chatel ever since.

On Oct. 5, after things had calmed down a bit, he shared the story of Juji on Twitter, which is how this little bird became an internet sensation.

Now Juji gets to enjoy mornings chatting with other birds, and Chatel believes he even has a girlfriend, a dove who hangs around. As Juji relaxed and settled in, Chatel was surprised that the bird began to speak.

“I tried a few minutes every day to teach him [French] words, starting with ‘Bonjour,’ but the thing is: Juji doesn’t like men,” Chatel tweeted. “He frowned at me and looked angrily, while he giggled at females. I went on trying hopelessly my daily ‘Bonjour’ — but sure enough he wouldn’t listen.

“Or so I thought,” he continued. “Until one day, the (female) manager of the French residence sent me this ‘Bonjour’ that went straight to my heart.”

The video of the bird went viral, and it even reached Alia, who was elated that Juji was being so well cared for and even becoming bilingual.

Chatel said that the myna has become the embassy’s mascot, but he promised to personally escort the cheeky little bird back to Alia if and when he could.

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