“Memory in its ordinary way summoned harvested fields, and haycocks and autumn hedges, the first of the fuchsia, the last of the wild sweetpea. It brought the lowing of cattle, old donkeys resting, scampering dogs, and days and places.” William Trevor
With the election process full swing these days, we are bombarded with images of donkeys and elephants, the symbols of the two opposing parties. I started wondering how the two animals earned this privilege, then quickly digressed to my own fascination with donkeys, which stretches back as far as I can remember.
Growing up, there was one camel on our way to our summer house in the Lebanese mountains. Nonchalantly standing on the terrace of a famous touristic landmark, it was a magnet for everyone, the visitors and the passersby alike. Being the only camel most had ever seen, everyone would flock towards it, while I would drift to the lonely donkey humbly hiding in an opposite corner. Donkeys were a very occasional encounter in the Lebanese villages and seeing one was always a treat for me. I finally got my fill of them on one of my trips to Morocco. My dear friend Hala and I took a day excursion from Marrakesh to the nearby Atlas mountains. We had our own "private tour guide", a sweet Moroccan taxi driver who had picked us up from the hotel a couple of days earlier for a short ride to the nearby souk. We quickly struck up a conversation and a friendship. He became our personal driver over the next few days, his friendliness winning over the humbleness of his car. When we mentioned wanting to visit the Atlas mountains, he promised to drive us there and be our makeshift personal guide, which he did. It was no doubt a first-class cultural experience. The long road through the mountains was densely populated with donkeys. White donkeys, grey donkeys, brown donkeys; bare donkeys, shabbily covered donkeys, colorfully adorned donkeys; resting donkeys, grazing donkeys, laboring donkeys--needless to say, a donkey lover's dream come true. To my big excitement, our dear guide was very eager to please, and very quick to brake and reverse if needed. He soon caught my fever and, before I even gestured, would stop by every donkey he sighted, allowing me the opportunity to take pictures (and it was never just one of course). Hala was probably ready to ditch the two of us donkey addicts and continue the drive on her own back to the hotel. Who knows if she would have done it, had she had a GPS at hand. Granted our pre-historic car had no shock absorbers (we felt every bump and every pothole in the road), it had flattened seats (we had flattened silhouettes at the end of our 8-hour excursion--not sure if a very bad thing) and moody door handles (now they open, now they don't!), but it had no GPS to empower Hala to dump us in the middle of nowhere, and I could take all the donkey pictures I ever wanted. How could I have asked for more! That day, even I had to convince our driver that I was really truly satisfied and he could finally pretty please focus on the journey back.
I often wondered for the reason behind that unusual fascination of mine. Back home, labeling someone a donkey (masculine hmar; feminin hmara) is actually an insulting allusion to his or her short supply of intelligence, and the wretched animal remains, as it always was, a little appreciated and much abused "beast of burden," as the donkey is often referred to.
But I see an unassuming, determined, resilient creature that is willing to serve others and gets the job done without fanfare or drama. And, that I did not know before, donkeys are apparently considered a symbol of peace in some cultures. I would not go as far as Mark Twain who once said, "Some people argue that there’s no difference between a human and a donkey but it is unfair towards the donkey." But politics completely aside, no doubt the world would benefit from more of these donkey-like traits, don't you think?