One things that’s really special about Ethiopia – well this part at least – and its probably true in many parts of the world but I have only observed it closely here – is the relationship between people and their animals. Back home animals that aren’t “pets” are wary of people – cows in a paddock for example will turn and stare if you walk past but if you approach them they mostly run off, as do sheep. Its very different here – cows, goats sheep mules and ponies are so used to people they wont even get up off the ground if they are sitting down and you approach them. Mostly of course they are not expecting a friendly rub, which is what they get from me – usually they are yelled at and wacked with a stick and you would think that kind of behaviour would make them want to keep well away from us but it doesn’t seem to. Today I picked up a frisky little lamb that was with half a dozen other sheep and gave it a cuddle - it didnt struggle and its mother didnt fret, and when I put it down it just hopped up the path to catch up to them.
I particularly like the donkeys – they are remarkably placid patient and hardworking, and the white circle around their eyes, their big ears, large head and skinny legs make them seem very cute to me. They can also be quite funny to watch – yesterday at the market I watched as a man arrived with a donkey loaded up with a huge sack of some sort of grain. The donkey stopped near a set of scales and the man unstrapped the sack and dragged it onto the scales, it was weighed and then there appeared to be a long negotiation about the price being offered. In the end the farmer wouldn’t sell, and shaking his head dragged the huge sack off the scales and then tried to get the donkey to move about three feet closer so he could load it back on again but the donkey wouldn’t budge. The man yelled at it and hit it with a stick and finally took hold of both its ears and leaned back and heaved with all his might but the donkey dug his little feet in and leaned the other way and didn’t move an inch. Next the farmer pushed the donkey at the shoulder to make it turn around and start walking but once it was facing the scales again it refused to go any closer. The man gave up and dragged the sack back and heaved it back on with the help of another, and then off the donkey trotted to another buyer. Sometimes 8 or 10 or more of them are all tied together, or at least tied to a common tree or lamp post and as they shuffle about become more and more entangled with one another, and that’s when they start to get cranky and do a sort of hop and kick back with their back legs at the donkey annoying them from behind, there will be a little ripple of kicks and starts and an occasional bray as that one reacts and alarms the one on its other side, the whole cluster readjusts and then they all stand still again, heads down like embarrassed children, nobody saying anything.
I have often seen that young black and white cow and wanted to get a photo of the incredible coat you can see in the photo above . Yesterday it appeared again as the light was fading and I quickly hurried across to the paddock where it was nibbling at teff stubble. I approached cautiously hoping it wouldn’t wander away but instead it came close and then sat down right in front of me! And then some sheep pushed between me and it, and then a woman with her grandson came and sat nearby and indicated she wanted me to snap her! So there we all were, sheep cow and people in a friendly little cluster at the corner of the field.
The friendliness of animals towards people here is something that I really like about this place. They seem almost forgiving of the hard lives that are forced on them, and I cant help feeling a kind of affection for them. Isnt it a disgrace that when people are behaving horribly they say they are behaving “like animals”? Animals aren’t polluting and destroying the planet, murdering each other in the name of religion or race, abusing their female members or making landmines and clusterbombs. They give tremendous help and support with enormous patience and long suffering, to all the poor people over here. Animals don’t behave “like animals” - only humans do.