Imagine this: you are driving home one day, down a very busy main road (in my case, the old road from Ioannina to Igoumenitsa), and you see something unfamiliar on the side of the road in the distance, a shape, moving against the bright sun, its outline unclear, maybe it is 2 shapes? You can not be sure what it is or how many, only that whatever it is, it is not something you normally see on the road. As you get closer, you wonder if your eyes are playing tricks on you. But no, what you see is what you see – a man, skinny, disheveled, wild, unkempt hair, walking on the side of the road, pushing a bicycle, and leading a donkey. You are in Greece (rather far, by walking, from any major city or village) and you know, without a doubt, that he is not Greek. So you wonder, why is this man here? Where is he going? Where is he coming from? And really, what’s up with the donkey?
You pass by quickly, because it is a fast road, but decide a split-second after to pull over, turn around, go back, and talk to him. So you do, and you pull up slowly beside him, roll down the passenger window (I *still* appreciate “modern” cars with electric windows!) and yell out, “Do you speak English?” In a very thick French accent, he turns towards you and says, “Yes.” You then proceed to have a short conversation. Where are you going? Italy. Have you been traveling long? Yes. How long? 18 years. 18 YEARS?! Yes, 18 years. Um, ok. Do you want to rest for a few days in a nice village? Yes, thank you.
As he is with a bicycle, and a donkey, it would not be possible to give him and his 4-legged friend a lift, so you tell him the directions to Zitsa, saying, “See you in about an hour and a half!.” You race home, so very excited to be bringing such an interesting “gift” to your husband who loves meeting travelers as much as you do, only to remember that you are expecting 2 other travelers (from Spain) that very day. Hmm, it’s going to be a full house! Your husband is at first not amused, and you are a bit crestfallen that he is not as excited as you are, but he comes around to the idea, and so you all wait in anticipation.
The donkey man arrives, after close to 3 hours, as you and your husband and the 2 Spaniards have just finished dinner. But no matter – he ties the donkey up outside, comes up, sits at the table, and proceeds to eat as if he has not eaten in days, which, judging by the look of him, he probably hasn’t.
After dinner, you decide what to do with the donkey. Behind the bakery he goes, tied to a tree with a very long rope, enough room to let him graze a bit and be comfortable. He is a very healthy looking donkey – much healthier looking than the man!
Over the next 3 days, you have a lot of interesting conversations with this man whose name is not important (and, as it turns out, whose name is apparently different from the name he gave you anyway, which you find out only after he leaves, while you are sleeping one afternoon, by a note he left you with his real name and address in France – then again, maybe that is not his name either). You are woken up each morning by the loud braying of the donkey, chuckling in your half-sleep state, wondering what your fellow village neighbors are thinking about the strange man and his strange donkey who were invited into your home.
This man, and his donkey, left home 18 years ago, after the man lost his job and had his heart broken in the same week. He does not seem to have a plan or any specific goal, but literally goes where the wind blows. He takes very good care of his donkey, making sure, first thing in the morning each day, that he has enough to eat and drink, and only after the donkey is satiated does the man look for his own food.
Sometimes in his travels, he stops for a few months, or years, if there is work around, but in general, his life is transient, and he does not seem to form deep attachments to people or know how to really connect to humans anymore. But he has fascinating philosophies on life and what people value and put energy and time into, and he makes you think. One conversation that sticks out in your mind is about pets, and about how some pets seem to have psychological problems. The conversation was about taking the pet to the doctor, and the donkey man said, “Usually, if an animal needs to go to a doctor, it is actually the owner that needs to go to the doctor.” This sinks in.
One of the days the donkey man is here, he is out with the donkey getting him food, foraging around the village for a good place to let the donkey graze. While he is gone, one of your fellow villagers drives by and says, “Do you know that guy with the donkey?” We say yes, that he is staying with us. The man then proceeds to state how he saw the donkey man on TV the week before. It turns out a local show in Thessaloniki did a profile show about him and his travels. You are hosting a famous donkey man! Somehow you are not surprised.
This post, which I have been wanting to write for over a year (the donkey man was here in Aug. 2011, a week before we were married), was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge done by WordPress – you can find more info. about it, and see other people’s posts regarding the word “Unique,” by clicking here.