The Psychology of a Donkey
He wouldn’t work.
The donkey, that is.
Alberto, the retired lawyer, rented him from a local farmer. He didn’t know how to handle donkeys and he hated the beast for it. Condemned the beast for it.
Alberto would load the donkey with manure and coffee plants, but the donkey refused to carry them. He’d just lay down in the mud. Spill the load. Cry.
“Burro! Hijo de puta!” Alberto would yell.
He tried smacking the donkey, pushing the donkey, whipping the donkey, but none of that helped. The donkey laid on it’s side every time he reloaded the cargo.
After watching the scene repeat a few times, I put down my shovel and walked over to Alberto.
“Does he have a name?” I asked, patting the donkey on the head.
“No, he’s a burro. His name’s burro,” Alberto said.
“Then his name’s Roberto. He looks like a Roberto.”
I looked at Roberto and saw dried tears running down from his eyes.
“He’s crying, maybe something’s hurting him,” I said. “How did you strap the saddle?”
We undid the saddle, a shabby wooden frame that balanced the weight of the cargo, and found a deep cut on Roberto’s spine where the wood rubbed against his body. Small black flies were flying in and out of it. They were laying the eggs in the flesh.
“I’ve never worked with donkeys before, but I don’t think that’s good,” I said.
Alberto didn’t respond.
“Maybe if we put some more padding, an old blanket or something, between the wood and his back?”
“Sure,” Alberto said. “Let’s try that.”
We found some old potato bags and put them on Roberto’s back. Then we put the saddle on top - this time, away from the cut. As Alberto retied the strap, I noticed a pile of old cucumbers on the side of the road. A farmer had thrown them out. Cucumber prices had fallen and it was cheaper to let them rot than to haul them down the mountain and sell them in the town market.
I picked one up and Roberto ate it in three bites. I picked another one up and Roberto chomped it down even faster.
“You like cucumbers, eh? Te gustan pepinos?” I said and put a pile of cucumbers in front of him.
As he ate, juice squirting in every directions, Alberto and I reloaded the coffee plants on his back. Then I picked up a cucumber and walked in front of Roberto. He followed.
I held the cucumber in front of his face and Roberto tried to bite it as he walked down the hill, as he carried the coffee plants to the holes we had dug. It was working. He wasn’t stopping, he wasn’t rolling in the mud.
“I guess the cucumber was all he needed,” Alberto said.
I was promoted to donkey-handler.
From that point on, Roberto ate no less than 40 cucumbers a day. He carried the manure down to the fields and we continued planting coffee trees. The work flow improved.
Roberto didn’t like pain. Roberto liked to eat cucumbers.
The Psychology of a Donkey.
La Merced Alta, Ecuador - © Diego Cupolo 2012