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Friday, April 23, 2010

Vespa Cowboy

In many places along my daily commute I see Bedouin shepherds grazing their herds of sheep and goats on the rocky hillsides next to the road.  In Bedouin culture, it is more often than not the youngest boy in the family who is tasked with watching the family flocks... and although larger flocks might require two shepherds to manage, it is not uncommon to see boys as young as 8 or 10, alone in the Judaen hills with a few dozen grazing animals.

I guess bright red Vespas are not a common sight in this area, because shepherds who used to ignore me as I passed in my silver Peugeot station wagon now smile and wave as I ride by.  In the short time I've been riding the scooter I've started to recognize a few of the young shepherds, and I always return a wave when it is offered.

Yesterday on my way to work I passed a flock of sheep grazing contentedly on a hillside... with no shepherd in sight!  About a kilometer later I crested a hill and nearly ran over one of the young shepherds who always waves to me.   But instead of looking up at the sound of my engine and screeching tires, he seemed to be watching something further down the road with rapt attention.  When I looked down the other side of the hill, I could see a donkey who was trotting away in the distance with his head rope dragging along on the ground.

As I looked back at the shepherd, I realized that the kid I had assumed to be 15 or 16 was probably just tall for his age.   His youthful face, which was now streaked with sweat, looked no older than 10. 

I don't speak Arabic and he spoke only broken Hebrew, but judging by the desperate look on his sweaty face, and the distance between the boy and his flock, I guessed he'd been chasing the donkey for a while.

With a few words and gestures he asked if could take him down the road to retrieve his donkey.  But before I could get out my spare helmet from under the seat (just my luck I'd get a ticket trying to do a good deed!) he was running back towards his flock because they had started to wander into the road, forming a big woolly roadblock. 

It wasn't bad enough that the kid was going to have to explain to his father that he'd lost the family donkey... but now there was the possibility that he'd also have to explain a few squashed sheep (not to mention whatever damage the sheep did to any car unlucky enough to plow into them).

Now, I don't claim to have any rodeo experience (having grown up in the 'burbs), but I did spend time on a kibbutz during my University days, milking cows and working with horses, so I'm not a complete city slicker.

I gunned the little 250 engine on my Vespa and headed down the road to see if I could catch up with the escaped donkey. 

If it headed off into the hills I wasn't going to have any luck (scooters are not much use off-road).  But if he stayed on the road or shoulder I figured I could at least hold onto him until the kid sorted out his flock problems.

Within a few seconds I had caught up to the donkey as he trotted in that funny stiff-legged gait common to Equus africanus asinus.  He didn't even turn his head as I passed him.  But when I stopped the scooter about twenty meters past him and turned sideways to try to block his path, he came to a sudden halt and started looking right and left for a new escape route. 

Before he could head off in a new direction where I wouldn't be able to follow him, I turned the scooter  around and began rolling slowly towards him.   He backed up a few steps, but didn't show any signs of bolting. 

Finally after a few more seconds I rolled up next to him and was able to grab his head rope.  I thought for a second about tying the rope to the back luggage rack of the scooter, but I was afraid that if the donkey got spooked and ran to the side, he could pull me (and my shiny new scooter) over.  So I just held the rope in my hand and waited to see if the kid would come collect his donkey.

But after about five minutes of waiting I realized that he couldn't see me from where he was now chasing his flock, and he probably had no idea I'd caught up with his donkey.  So I slowly started rolling the scooter to see if the donkey would follow along.  When all the slack was out of the rope, the donkey started walking along agreeably behind me... the two of us going just slightly faster than walking speed.

When I got back to where the shepherd was, his dirty face split into a big grin and he ran over to take the rope out of my left hand.  After saying thank you to me, the boy turned his attention to the wayward donkey and launched into an unbroken torrent of what I assume were curses in Arabic towards the donkey. 

I was starting to worry about being late for work, so I left them alone to work out their relationship issues. 

As I headed down the road towards Beer Sheva, I could swear I heard the jingle jangle of spurs over the soft purring of the Vespa motor.  Too bad it was early morning... the only thing that could possibly have made the moment more perfect was if I could have ridden off into the sunset. 

Happy trails.  :-)

Posted by David Bogner on April 23, 2010 | Permalink

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Awesome! I wish someone was around to have taken a photo of that :-)

Posted by: Mark | Apr 23, 2010 4:39:25 PM

I don't speak Arabic and he spoke only broken Hebrew, but judging by the desperate look on his sweaty face, and the distance between the boy and his flock, I guessed he'd been chasing the donkey for a while.

Donkey in Hebrew - hamor. In Arabic - h'mar. It's not that hard :)

Great story, btw. I'm assuming you travel on road 60. Is it safe from rock throwers?

Posted by: avi | Apr 23, 2010 5:34:03 PM

Amazing! I'll bet most people don't count "donkey wrangling" as part of their daily commute...

Posted by: Rena | Apr 23, 2010 6:02:21 PM

Mark ... Doesn't that totally suck. There's rarely a photographer around when the cool stuff happens. I say 'rarely' because there >i>was a photographer at our wedding. :-)

avi... OK smart guy... How would you explain to a 10 year old Arab that he needs to put on a helmet to catch ride with me? :-) And in answer to your other question, it is as safe/dangerous as it always was. Just because cafes and buses have stopped blowing up doesn't mean they won't again. You have to live your life.

Rena... I'm hoping this isn't a daily thing. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 23, 2010 6:23:09 PM

Let's see; big guy riding a 'motorcycle,' packing heat, wearing boots, big helmet and shades, saved a little boy-- Hasta la vista, baby.

Posted by: Barzilai | Apr 23, 2010 6:42:28 PM

This is so awesome. I totally have a visual.
Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by: SaraK | Apr 23, 2010 7:35:57 PM

What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing. No way you could have done that in the silver station wagon...

Posted by: bratschegirl | Apr 23, 2010 8:52:08 PM

You have totally made my day with this story. I have been really sick the last week and have been up since 3am this morning. I have roared laughing at this lovely cameo "only in Israel". Way to go Cowboy!

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Apr 23, 2010 10:39:19 PM

Great story on many levels. Hazak u'varuch! I will certainly share this story on Shabbat. You're an inspiration.

Posted by: Mordechai Y. Scher | Apr 23, 2010 11:06:15 PM

BTW, here in Connecticut (Stamford) I'm not sure many folks can visualize this... ;-D

Posted by: Mordechai Y. Scher | Apr 23, 2010 11:06:56 PM

Thanks for the Kiddush Hashem....something very biblical about this story...

Posted by: norm depalma | Apr 24, 2010 12:26:30 AM

Great story, thanks for sharing! There's something very touching, and yes, (like the other commenter said) biblical, about your tale.

Posted by: zemirah | Apr 24, 2010 12:36:43 PM

Awesome!! This story made my morning - too bad there wasn't a photographer, but I have no time picturing it in my head. Good work, cowboy. :)

Posted by: Chantal | Apr 24, 2010 5:43:54 PM

Hi ho, Vespa! And a-WAAAAAAAY! The real good guys don't even need a TV show.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Apr 24, 2010 9:46:39 PM

Mitzvot come in all shapes and sizes.

Posted by: walter reitman | Apr 24, 2010 10:41:08 PM

you of course pack silver bullets, no?

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Apr 25, 2010 12:21:24 AM

the good, the bad and the donkey?

Posted by: zalman | Apr 25, 2010 1:47:24 AM

The donkey looking both ways reminds me of Bilaam. The kid cursing him out clinches. I guess that makes you the angel...

Seriously, I'm humming the "Good, Bad, and Ugly" theme now.

Posted by: Nachum | Apr 25, 2010 9:29:34 AM

Great story and, I agree, great Kiddush Hashem!

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Apr 25, 2010 11:00:56 AM

Wonderful vignette---heart-warming!

Posted by: Lynne | Apr 25, 2010 7:13:16 PM

Awesome! What I keep on wondering is how such fantastic blog material keeps finding you...Someone up there must know you've got the flair with words to make these experiences come alive for your audience as well. :-)

Posted by: Alisha | Apr 25, 2010 7:48:03 PM

Awesome! What I keep on wondering is how such fantastic blog material keeps finding you...Someone up there must know you've got the flair with words to make these experiences come alive for your audience as well. :-)

Posted by: Alisha | Apr 25, 2010 7:48:06 PM

Brilliant! And what a hero. Thanks for brightening up my day.

Posted by: Esther | Apr 26, 2010 4:52:07 PM

Oh I love it!

Just thought of you yesterday while dumping a very large box of Splenda into a duffel bag.

Posted by: uberimma | Apr 28, 2010 7:25:50 AM

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