But the highlight of the day came later.
Lily and I took my two little ones (Zalmy and Goldy) and our two dogs, down to the wadi a few doors away from our house. The shadows in the hollows of the hills were a dusky rose and the dogs frolicked while we enjoyed the cool breeze.
And then our dog Sussie went nuts.
She barked and didn’t stop staring at something down at the bottom of the ridge we were standing on, the place my kids call “The Table”. And suddenly Goldy said, “Look! There’s a donkey down there!”
And indeed there was, a small white donkey slowing picking its way carefully between the stones, looking tired and weak. It appeared he had not had anything to drink or eat in quite a while.
I sent our reconnaissance team down to have a look, of course. Goldy and Zalmy (ages 9 amd 8 respectively) move much faster than I do these days, and are more agile.
The dogs followed, barking like crazy, clearly disturbed.
When they reached the little donkey, the dogs circled around, not quite daring to get any closer (they are such cowards). Goldy looked up and called, “He is quiet. Should I see if he lets me pet him?”
By now, Lily was having her doubts about this whole thing. “Are you crazy?” she demanded when I nodded my approval. “What if it bites her?” But I know Goldy. She is pretty smart about things like this. She wouldn’t touch that thing if it seemed even a little dangerous. At least, I don’t think she would.
Meanwhile, she had made friends and was petting it, and so was Zalmy. “What should we do now?” she called up to me. And that was when it dawned on me that we could not just abandon this donkey. After all, it was homeless and just as clearly too little to survive on its own.
Lily looked at me sternly. “You are NOT thinking to bring it home with you, are you???” She knows me. “No no,” I reassured her. “I am just going to go down and check out the situation.” I took Sussie’s leash with me and handed my cellphone to Lily. She slowly shook her head.
Down the rocky slope I climbed, slipping once but making a grand recovery. I had to trot the last few steps – you know the ones at the bottom of a hill when it’s just a little too steep…?
Amidst hysterical barking, I went up to the little donkey and petted his head. He was very quiet. Too quiet, it seemed to me. I sighed, and looped the leash around his neck, made the Bedouin sound for “let’s go!” and led him back around the hill and up the ridge. He instinctively found a tiny trail I had not even noticed, which made the hike a little easier. By the time we reached the top, Lily was doubled over, laughing her head off.
“What are you going to do with him?” she gasped, trying to control the laughter. “I don’t know,” I muttered. “I guess I’ll figure it out when we get home.” And we walked home together, Lily, the dogs, the kids, the donkey and I.
I brought him into the backyard and tied him up to a tree. Lily and I regarded him and then each other. “Now what?” she said.
I shrugged. “Guess I’d better call Abdullah, “I said. “He knows about these things.” I didn’t dare to tell Younis, of course. Or his son Mazen, either. But Abdullah has a better sense of humor and is more tolerant. The conversation was memorable.
“Hello neshama! How are you?”
“Um, I’m okay…………… but we have a little situation here and I need your help. You’re the only one I know who will know what to do.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a donkey.”
Silence. And then, “Say that again? I didn’t quite hear you.”
“We have a donkey,” I repeated. “It’s in our backyard. We found it in the wadi and it came home with us. It was too little to just leave him there and there was no one around. I was afraid he would die.”
Disbelief rang in his voice. “You are telling me you have brought a donkey home from the wadi?”
“Yes,” I confirmed, a little apprehensively.
“But Hana,” I could hear him trying to keep his voice steady, “it might belong to a Bedouin there, one of the people in the tents. You can’t just take someone’s donkey like that!”
I knew he was right, but I had looked around A LOT and I know that the Bedouin never abandon animals – or lose them, for that matter – just like that. Clearly, this one had been excommunicated. There had been no one around, human or otherwise. Not even a dog, let alone a camel.
“It’s not,” I said flatly. “It was alone and it would have died.”
“Sweetheart,” he tried to reason with me, “What do you think you are going to do with a donkey at your house? Your neighbors will kill you. Do you know how much noise a donkey makes? The smell? The amount of feces he will leave, all around your yard? And he will tear up your beautiful garden and destroy your yard. He will eat your trees. There will be nothing left of all your hard work there.”
I stubbornly replied, “My neighbors have a dozen chickens, four ducks, a couple of geese, two dogs and three cats,” I said with some asperity. “They wouldn’t DREAM of saying anything to me. And their next door neighbor has two runty Chihuahuas that yap all night along, and a ferret to boot. And the entire neighborhood has a chorus of dogs that bark their heads off all night. It would be a BIG chutzpah for any of them to say anything!”
“Where is Sinai?” he inquired gently. I could tell he was going to offer some male support to my husband who was obviously saddled with a crazy wife.
“He is not here yet.”
“Aha. I see,” he said.
“He’s hungry, Abdullah. What should I feed him?” I had no idea what donkeys eat, of course. But I knew he did need to eat.
Abdullah agreed. “Give him a little bread,” he instructed, “and some water.” His voice became stern. “And then call the police.”
“The police?” I was incredulous. “Why the police? He didn’t commit a crime!”
“They have a special unit for animals like donkeys and livestock,” he explained. “They will come and take him away.”
“No!!! I was horrified. “They will kill him!”
“No they won’t,” he said. “They will have a vet look at him, they will feed him and take care of him and then find a Bedouin family to give him to. They know a lot of them, and there are many who could use such an animal.”
“Isn’t there someone in the village who might want him?” I asked plaintively.
“We have enough asses in the village, of both genders,” he returned. “No way."
“Okay. You’re sure they won’t kill him?” I asked again.
“I’m sure,” he replied. “And you call me as soon as you hang up from them.” I think he wanted to make sure I actually did call them.
So I did. The conversation did not go well.
“Yes, what is the emergency please?”
“There is a donkey in my yard.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What about a donkey?”
“It’s in my yard.”
“I see. And how did it get into your yard?”
Here I was on shaky ground. I could not tell them, according to Abdullah, that I had brought it home from the wadi. So he said to tell them it wandered into my yard. And I did, but the policewoman did not believe me.
“How did it wander into your yard?”
I could tell she was not taking this seriously, and time was short. Soon my husband would be home.
“It just did. And now it is here. And I don’t know how to take care of a donkey. I have never had a donkey before.”
“I see,” she said. She switched to English, thinking perhaps I did not understand this situation or that maybe she didn’t understand my Hebrew. I could hear another cop in the background, laughing.
“Where is the donkey now?”
“It is in my backyard.”
“Your backyard?” It was clear to me that she was repeating my answers for the enjoyment of her audience. It must have been a slow night at the precinct.
“Yes.” I also switched to English. “I mean, after all, I can’t have a donkey in my front yard, can I?” I said reasonably. “It wouldn’t be nice. What would the neighbors say? Donkeys do not belong in front yards. I put him in the back.”
“So he is not in the front now?”
“I see. Well, don’t worry, we will send someone over. What is your name?”
I gave my first name only, my address and my cell phone number. She repeated the information carefully, and assured me that someone was on the way. And we waited, fully believing that redemption was at hand.
An hour later, reality set in. I guess the cop thought I had been celebrating the holiday a little too enthusiastically. Just then, Sinai and Avi and Lily’s daughter Lior and my older daughter Esty (age 11) arrived. Lily left, still chuckling.