We look around us as we travel around Oman, and see the diversity of the wildlife, and whether we are Omani or expatriates, visitors or tourists, we marvel at the turtles, dolphins and whales of the sea, and the camels, sheep and goats of the hinterland.
We know something of these before we come usually, and friends and tourist guides will soon ‘dramatize,’ or ‘romanticize’ their stories for us, by linking the odyssey of the turtle to its 35 year later return from a 30,000km journey to give birth on the same beach, or the fact that their gender at birth is determined by the temperature.
Simply amazing! The adventure too surrounding camels, as we, the expats, all think ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ Peter O’Toole, and Omar Sharif, and our guides relate the travels of Ibn Battuta, Aladdin and Scheherazade, all tales of wonder.
But other animals too in Oman, surely have their stories, and when I look at them, I wonder what story they have. Do you think the humble donkeys, the Equus Africanus Asinus, the Jacks (males) and Jennies (females) lingering under an acacia tree near the road reminisce about their ancestor’s biblical stories? Or do you think they are cynical about the speeding motorists, chuckling as they get zapped by the nearest speed cameras, or shaking their heads in disbelief as they see unrestrained children in passing vehicles? Hmmmm.
Donkeys have always been a beast of burden, and yet are rarely molly-coddled, mostly adjusting to marginal subsistence zones, such as deserts and barren mountainous regions, and the fact that they rarely run away, and have been man’s servant for more than 5000 years is a testament, I feel, to their integrity of character. Donkeys certainly exhibit a well-known stubbornness; however, this probably has its roots in their self-preservation and survival instincts in their largely inhospitable environments.
I love donkeys for their apparent pragmatism, not their resignation to their lives, such as they are, but a level of contentment based on the fact that they are strong, but not athletic, they mature early in life, yet breed deliberately, and carry loads far disproportionate to their size. Maybe they recognize that they will never have the aristocratic appearance of a thoroughbred horse, their speed, or ‘dignity.’ However, they do have the capacity to ‘get things done.’
As I encounter, or drive past a donkey, I always acknowledge them, smile, not laughing, because I don’t want to be seen as laughing at them. In fact I admire them, and their qualities of strength, their nimbleness of foot, their reliability, their loyalty, and their ability to look you in the eye, make me wish there were more humans with those qualities. Do you agree?