Gertie Gets An Interpreter

Lucy Gellman PhotoGertie the Common Ground Rooster was nervous about his first trip to the New Haven Free Public Library. Until he arrived, spread out on a checkered towel, and found that he had an adoring public, and a particularly agile translator.

That translator, a pint-sized Elm Citizen named Michael-Noah Osarisiuwa, stepped forward as librarian Sunny Carito and Common Ground Environmental Educator Alexa Fiszer taught a handful of attendees about the Lunar New Year and Chinese zodiac, which this year commemorates the rooster.

The event took place Saturday as part of the New Haven Free Public Library’s (NHFPL) Young Minds program, designed to teach kids about different cultures through interactive and literary activities. 

“She says she can’t really hear you because she’s a rooster!” said Osarisiuwa, there with his mom. Fiszer reminded him that roosters were male; hens were female. Osarisiuwa nodded gravely, reworking his translation skills. “And also she’s a boy!”

Osarisiuwa pulled out a red paper lantern he’d decorated and taped together, accented with a single gold pipe cleaner that glittered in the afternoon light.

“He likes this because it matches his crown and throat!” he said, pointing to the jello-like wattle hanging from Gertie’s neck. The year-old fowl inspected the lantern with curious, beady blinking eyes and uttered a low, enthusiastic coo coo. “It’s good luck,” he added, referencing red’s auspicious role in New Year celebrations. 

Marveling at Gertie, other attendees said they were grateful for the interpretation, and were using the afternoon as a sort of crash course in their knowledge of both Lunar New Year customs and farm animal etiquette.

Isabel Faustino, a student at East Rock Magnet School who had come with her mom, said she saw the afternoon as one of firsts: she had learned about the zodiac, and overcome her fear of animals who have a tendency for pecking.

“It was just like holding a dog! So soft!” she said. “And I know what my [zodiac] animal is now.”

Emma Shi said that she was also excited to be at the celebration. As a Chinese student, she’d come in knowing about the Lunar New Year. But she’s never met a rooster, and Gertie seemed like a pretty relaxed entry to the species.

“I like him,” she said. “I like him a lot.”

In an interview later in the afternoon, Gertie said that he was delighted to attend, but remained overwhelmed to have the weight of an entire New Year on his feathered shoulders. As he spoke, he leaned forward head first, trying to fit an entire iPhone in his beak.

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