El Gee - a Tale of a Moroccan Donkey

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A picture of El Gee, the donkey in the story.


Two indolent moudmeens1, their time they would pass.

By debating the difference 'twixt donkey and ass.

Til a mendicant sage said, "Just bear this in mind.

An ass is a donkey - who's a little behind".

Adapted from a Paul H poem.

Part 1 - A New Member of the Family

If life in Benshasha wasn't insane enough, Fatima's arrival home one morning, in early January with a small donkey in tow, proved there was room for development. My immediate reaction of, what the hell did you do that for, was just a waste of breath. I buy him from Auntie Aida for Dh200 – I want keep him! And that – as they say – was that.

Actually he was rather cute and, as I looked at our new little charge I realised it would be up to me to try and prevent him growing into a recalcitrant brute. I know sod-all about the animals other than that they are not quite as stupid as everyone assumes and also that 'Jacks' have a mind of their own especially when there are 'Jennys' around is season.

This addition to our immediate family is the nearest that we are ever likely to get to having a SUV in my lifetime. It would certainly come in handy for carting the wherewithal for catering for up to twenty-four children on the beach – a trek of a couple of kilometres that has, already, aged me before my time. It would also be useful during the months ending in a 'R' when Fatima and the ladies of the village are wont to collect sackfulls of mussels, which then have to be carried home on their heads.

I therefore spent all my spare moments over the next few days – far too many of them for comfort – getting to know our new baby and reading all that I could find on the Internet, about the care and maintenance of the animals.

One of the stranger incongruities of Benshasha is the although we have no glass in the windows, no running water, no fixed line telephones and – until very recently – no electricity, I do have a WiMax Internet connection, even if a Mac iBook does look a bit out of place in such surroundings. The Internet research nearly brought the whole project to a grinding standstill before it even started. Just about everything I could find was written in that sickening, mawkish style that is the genre of people who run sanctuaries for abandoned or abused animals. That, or the cloying sentimentality of American pet owners that makes you feel as though someone has just poured a bucket of treacle over your head.

Goddamit - this is Morocco, where the animals are regarded as a necessary inconvenience and family expense. Here they are worked, beaten - or more usually both – and starved to death, long before their allotted lifespan. Here they don't even have the heart to dispose of animals that are past their sell-by date as they do in the Sierra Nevada in southern Spain. There, the much loved donkey, when it comes to the end of its working life - and would be an absurd and unwarranted expense to maintain in retirement - is consigned to God by being pushed off a cliff, on the basis of; it was fine when it left my hands. Mind you – there are no cliffs in this part of Morocco, which might explain it.

However, having trawled through as much the schmaltzy tripe about keeping donkeys, as I could stand, they do seem to be one of the least demanding domesticated animals in the world – which is presumably why they have been - and are – so much used as beasts of burden by poor and simple people - like Fatima and me.

For a baby donkey, ours looked very well, and from the little I knew, a fine little specimen. Grey/brown in colour with a faint black stripe over his shoulders, white nose and – still – a nice, warm, thick winter coat. He also turned out to be a game little chap but missed his mum dreadfully (male donkeys are real babies) and for the first few days, he cried for her constantly. His immediate reaction, when he first saw her, was that Tara's donkey - an elderly Jenny - would do perfectly well as a substitute mother and immediately attempted to suckle from her. The old lady had other ideas and booted his head with her nearside hind hoof. Since then he has been a bit more respectful towards the elderly females of the species and keeps his distance.

From the moment he arrived, the little donkey occupied Fatima's waking hours fully. This was a VERY good thing. He immediately became by far the most spoiled donkey in the village and gets extremely well fed as Fatima goes off early in the morning and collects large basketfuls of grass and 'things' that donkeys eat. She has a vast knowledge of what things donkeys do and don't eat having spent her early childhood as a hunter-gatherer for her grandmother - about the only education that she ever had. I hope that the donkey appreciates all the hard work and the effort and doesn't get too indolent.

In January, there is plenty of grazing around the village and along the wadi and thus began the daily routine of taking El Gee out first thing in the morning, tethering him and then fetching him home at sunset. He learnt where 'home' was in no time at all as, on arrival back at his makeshift stable, there would be some bread – collected on a daily basis by Tara, vegetation – collected by Fatima during the day and some clean water. He settled in very quickly indeed.

I decided to call him 'El Gee' as he immediately took the place of the television as Fatima's centre of attention. As this sounded suitably 'Arabic' to Fatima, she made no objection and I was spared the lengthy explanation as to how I arrived at the name.

Tales of Benshasha Archive


12.09.11 Front Page

03.09.09 Front Page

10.04.08 Front Page

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1Moudmeen – Moroccan Arabic for someone who is permanently high on kif.

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