The Donkey Hunt

Josh Hamilton - Senegal


April 26, 2011

On a relatively warm Sunday morning which is usually the day for rest here in Senegal, I was unpleasantly awaken by my host brother François; who asked me to accompany him in a search for the family donkey. At first I thought of it as a part of the humorous Senegalese culture, but shortly after eating breakfast (a baguette with cheese and over sweetened coffee), Francois asked me a second and even a third time to come with him. And then I was finally convinced that we were actually about to search the entire village for a donkey, which sounded ridiculous at first thought, but I quickly became enthusiastic as my fascination for adventures consumed all thoughts. Next thing I knew I was huddling up my things and preparing for the pursuit. With my backpack fully equipped with all my daily necessities such as vitamins, two pieces of bread, two 1.5 Liters of bottled water, and a sturdy hiking stick in hand- for my own personal enjoyment of course – I felt armed and ready for the donkey hunt.

So the search began. As we walked along the dusty trail in the dry forest just right outside the village, Francois and I started up a conversation in relation to values in culture and family. It basically ended being discussion about the differences between Senegalese and American culture. It was good communication and an unbiased exercise, pointing out the negatives and positives in our own cultures. I really enjoyed it and it made the time spent looking for the donkey fly by.

So the search continued, however searching for a donkey in Senegal is certainly not an easy task. There are donkeys everywhere! And even donkeys that seem like they’re strays belong to someone. Donkeys are valuable in Senegal, because they are often used for transportation, and moving basic resources back and forth through villages, items can vary from indigenous fruits and vegetables to things like compost, fire wood, etc. When the donkey is put to work it is often attached to a wagon, and the driver holds two pieces of rope connected to a contraption inside of the donkey’s mouth basically to turn the donkey’s head into a steering wheel. The driver also carries a whip or more often a stick to strike the donkey in order to make it go faster. If I were a donkey in Senegal I wouldn’t want to be caught and re-attached to this thing either. Luckily I was on the other end of the chase.

Besides a cool conversation with Francois and my handy dandy hiking stick, I was pretty dull at this point – about an hour into the hunt. Observing my fading enthusiasm, Francois then attempted to spark my hopes of pointing out the donkey by communicating in a combination of Wolof, broken English, French, and charades that we were looking for a young male donkey with a fairly darker brown strip on its shoulder, pause – apparently this was vital information that I did not comprehend. As I continued to point out every random donkey I saw hoping Francois would determine it was the one we were looking for.  I wasn’t much help; I knew absolutely nothing about catching donkeys.

But regardless of the odds we didn’t give up. So we walked and we walked and we saw lots of donkeys, but none the one we were looking for until we came across two donkeys lounging in the dirt. A young male and an older female, Francois told me. As we moved closer Francois began to identify the young male as the one we were looking for. At that moment I was refueled with anticipation and I was ready to for some action; at least I thought I was ready. Donkeys are fast. It took at least about an hour and a half before we cornered the donkey in with the help of some young village boys that where playing in the forest. Francois then threw a rope around its neck and then around its ankle to prevent him from running further. Man was I tired. Separating the two donkeys was dramatic. It felt as if I was watching a live donkey soap opera as we dragged the young donkey away from his female companion, but, maybe it’s just me and my dramatic imagination. Anyway it was a nice adventure, I learned how to catch a bucking donkey, and received an unexpected yet awesome tour of the village, and most valuable bonding time with my host brother, Francois. It was exciting yet slightly disappointing as at the end of the day we discovered we indeed caught the wrong donkey. Me and Francois looked at each other and just laughed it off. Our donkey was found a few days later by a family friend. Still a beautiful experience overall. I must say, I will never forget the Donkey Hunt.

Josh Hamilton