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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Donkey Odyssey 2011

Last week, we spent Thursday afternoon on Abed’s land, helping out with the weeding of his trees. After the afternoon’s work we sat down to drink some tea with him and a few of his friends, one of whom, Mohammed, announced he had three donkeys to give to Abed.

Abed used to have donkeys two years ago to help him carry water to his land, as he is not linked to the mains supply; but since then they have died. He has not had new ones and depends on the help of his friends. Since he will shortly be cut off from Bethlehem by the Wall, it is about to become much harder for his friends to help him. Both he and his farm are at risk.

Mohammed then announced that the donkeys were in Abu Dis and his idea was to ride them all the way to Wallaja. He asked for Alice’s help. So last Wednesday, off we went to Abu Dis, Alice Max and I, in the evening to be able to have an early start to ride all the way to Wallaja in a day. On arrival at Mohammed’s house he toured us around it and then took us to his sister’s house so that we could meet her and her family, her seven children and her husband. Showing usual Palestinian hospitality, we drank a cup of fresh mint tea and then went back to the house to listen to Mohammed playing the oud for the next few hours!

The next morning, we set off (not so early in the end) with not three but four donkeys to bring, as one of the mares had a foal. The trip from Abu Dis to Beit Sahour was done in the bottom of the wadis we were crossing, so luckily there was no traffic at all, except crossing the settler road just north-east of Beit Sahour. Instead we were crossing dry fields with one or two trees here and there. It is worth mentioning that the direct route from Abu Dis to Wallaja is just 10 km, but due to the construction of the Wall and several settlements, we were forced to circle around on a 25 km detour.

Climbing out of Wadi Nar.

Crossing the settler road.

Once in a while, Max, Mohammed and I would ride a donkey each but most of the time we would be pulling them. I quickly realized that I wasn’t very patient with them, especially when they stopped every fraction of a second to graze. I admired Alice who was wonderful with her donkey. The mare was quite badly injured and as soon as she stopped she would rest on three legs only. Unfortunately, we only realised after having left Mohammed’s house.

Mohammed and Max riding their donkeys.

Losing my patience!

We arrived in Beit Sahour 5 hours after our departure and were lucky to find ourselves opposite Ruth’s Field restaurant where we had a snack of falafel! At the same place, Mohammed decided he was too tired to go on and left us with the four donkeys. Alice, Max and I were determined to get to Abed’s that same day.

So off we went again, but this time we were travelling on roads only. Coming through Beit Sahour was a bit of a hassle with kids following us all the way to Bethlehem, bullying the donkeys. However, now we come to the most entertaining part of our journey: Bethlehem. We decided to cross the town through Manger square and the souks, as this was the most direct route. So there we were on Manger Square with our own donkeys, couldn’t have felt more in the right place! Even though it was slightly stressful, getting our tired donkeys through crowds of people (some of whom found it very entertaining to kick the donkeys), it got me laughing quite a lot seeing almost everybody take their phones out to take pictures of us. It’s also in Bethlehem that we finally found a pharmacy to get our limping mare bandages. We really thought her legs were going to give out any minute.

Further on, crossing Bab-as-Kaak, a policeman regulating the circulation signalled us to cross when the lights had turned green and hastily took out his phone to take a picture of us, as well. The last part of our traverse was the longest; going all the way up to Beit Jala then Cremisan. But then we’d arrived! And looking back at the day, it didn’t feel like it took so long (8 hours).

Nearly there !

Abed welcomed us at the top of his drive and we quickly tethered the donkeys before celebrating our success, I guess I can call it that. Only to come back to them a few minutes later to take their improvised saddles off and get them water. Alice stayed the night to help out with them in the morning. And now, Abed is all set with his own fleet of water tankers!
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