Donkey Cart Diaries From West Africa

The donkey cart on the opposite side of the highway was meandering up the shoulder of the road as opposing traffic. This was not the issue. No, a sight much more alarming was.

Snail speed donkey traffic. I once rode a donkey cart for four km to the Sikasso market. Like most time fixated and destination focused westerners, I alternated between the desire to get off the donkey cart and walk, and wishing to stay on the cart taking the journey in. We were moving so painfully slow at times. I was convinced I could there faster on foot.

We outsiders get so focused on tine to the destinations, rather than being thankful for not having to walk another four km on top of the average sixteen kilometers per day a west African must walk in their daily life activities, in 45 degree direct sunlight, in worn out flip flops, hard plastic sandals, or no shoes at all. Only westerners sporting a stellar sun hat for protection from the suns intense rays, well supported trail runners, or expert fitted sport sandals, want to get off that cart and walk to save time.

Anyway, as my wife and I approached the donkey cart we could not see the head of any human driver. This is very common. The donkey was heading home on its own. Malians will often load up a cart and send the donkey home on its own. It eventually gets there and can even be unloaded and sent on a return trip back  miles to the field on its own.

Just then the donkey began crossing the highway in a diagonal direction toward us. He knows his home is on the opposite side of this road as he approaches the village just behind us.

From the back of the motorcycle my wife taps me on the shoulder indicating to the driver-less donkey cart. Within seconds he would be in our lane, perfectly situated for a head on collision. I rapidly brake and gear down the motorcycle until I realized I was obligated to come to a full stop to avoid a collision. The donkey, in comatose autopilot, stopped two feet in front on us, just long enough to see that I was going to hold up for him. Without any signs of being startle in his big eyes, he continued on his way.

However, as he passed within a few feet of us, there in on the cart, curled up together, were two small boys sleeping.

A similar incident occurred on a bus. From the front seats we could see a man sprawled out asleep on his donkey cart, the donkey walking him home down the side of a principle road.  The donkey cuts out in front of our bus as he is heading to some dirt trail leading off the opposite side of the highway.  The Bus driver slams on the breaks making some “tisk” noise, shaking his head.
Who’s the ass? But you gotta love those expressionless donkey faces. (I have an expressionless donkey face i use in meetings during stupidity exchanges)

On a side note, I was passing a donkey cart in town one day and the donkey suddenly turned out on the road, to the great alarm of the driver, who tried to steer him back to the shoulder of the road, but the donkey was protesting thar. I was almost side swiped on the motorcycle at thirty km an hour, I had little time to react, but turned suddenly and got around him, just barely.. Learned my lesson about passing donkey carts. Wide, wide berth. Slow down!

On a side note. Donkeys began disappearing in neighboring Burkina Faso over 2016. The price of the work beasts were going up. Come to find out the Chinese were in the country buying them up for meat and hides, exporting it all to China. They were paying such a good price that the Burkinabé were selling donkeys off in droves. Farmers could no longer find animals to buy for working the fields. The government stepped in just last week, halting the exports.

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