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Gayyash Al 'Aatifa

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I am Donkey

I was near the back gate of the Balloon Theater in Agouza, on a narrow street that leads onto Gam’et el Dowal, when I came face to face with a donkey-drawn cart that had turned off of Gam’et el Dowal and onto the narrow street. Yaadi-n-neela, I veered to the right and prepared to smile at the ‘arbagy as he passed me by. He had a woman and small child seated next to him and there was something behind them on the cart but I couldn’t tell what. Looked like a bunch of empty sacks.

The guy approached with the reins on his donkey all slack and when my eyes shifted to his cargo I saw what appeared to be testicles and a tail, a donkey’s tail. Damn. Horizontal donkey, could only mean one thing, the National Circus a block away, lions. When I used to live nearby I would often see cartloads of bloody bones, donkey-sized bones, leaving the back gate of the circus grounds. And from my balcony I could see the small pen in the corner of the grounds where there were always a few donkeys, taking it easy, eating, milling about in the shade. At night and at dawn you would hear lions roar. Guests would always freak out. It was great.

Years ago my father had the honor of meeting the man behind Qaryet el Asad, Lion’s Village, that restaurant with the massive tower advertising specialty meats on the Cairo-Alex desert road about 60 kilometers from Alex. His story with lions started when he worked in his youth at a circus in Mansoura. My father asked him what they fed the lions, and what he fed his own at the Village. “7emeer kasr ya doktor, a7san 7aaga” (‘defective’ donkeys). Apparently, there are men who collect old, sick and injured donkeys from around the Delta and sell them to the region’s circuses. He said they cost about 20 pounds each. Damaged horses, about 40 pounds. (This was in 2000 so they probably cost more these days.) He also said that the lions didn’t get their feed live, that it had to be butchered first by circus employees.

The donkey’s hips were bony and chafed; it looked emaciated all over. I shivered when I wondered if it was already dead. It might have been, it had a funny color, lots of purple stains, it was probably that variant of microchrome. Poor beast must have been covered in sores by the time his owner threw in the towel.

My car inching forward, I arrived at the donkey’s face and braced myself for the sight of closed eyes, maybe a long tongue hanging from the side of a mouth. I looked at the eyes and the donkey looked back and blinked several times. Big beautiful ebony glass eyes and quick blinks bursting with vitality. With no body to serve, the donkey’s great spirit seemed distilled and fully present in that gaze. I’d never before seen a donkey with such a look of concern. In my mind I heard it speak: “eih ya 3amm, da,” (what the hell, man).


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