Practically all of the animals in Zambia are free-range, which seems to lead to an unending parade of strange, irritating, or comic encounters. I’m constantly chasing chickens, goats, and cows away from my dishes or laundry or simmering dinner. Most of the young boys in the village seem to have a full-time job keeping livestock out of maize fields and gardens, and more than once I’ve seen people chasing a goat which has swiped something vaguely edible, like a pair of trousers. We often have to run the cows out of our compound, where they come to eat any mangoes that are within tongue’s reach. It always seems vaguely out of place to me to see an 80lb child running after a full grown bull shouting ‘eway!’ (Bemba for ‘you’, somewhat disrespectful). It makes me think of the old joke about calling a 1000lb gorilla ‘sir’.
While I’ve gotten hours of entertainment and frustration out of all these others, my favorite of the roving animals is Jimmy the donkey. I have to admit that Jimmy holds a special place in my heart partly because of his name. My name is ‘Jaime’, which is apparently a difficult one for Zambians to say. So frequently I’ll cause confusion when I introduce myself, and they think I’ve said ‘Jimmy’. “But that’s a man’s name!” is the most common response. So I’ve taken to introducing myself as “Jaime. Almost like Jimmy the donkey, but not quite.” Everybody seems to know Jimmy the donkey. Technically he belongs to my family, but he’ll wander miles around, braying mournfully and looking for other donkeys. There is nothing more pathetic-sounding than a lonely donkey; the braying is almost like uncontrollable sobbing. Occasionally my family will try to restrain him by tying him to a tree. This usually stops him from wandering, but makes him cry even more. And eventually he gets tired of standing and walks off. Still tied to the tree. Today he was meandering with about 10 foot of tree branch dragging behind him on a rope.
So Jimmy is my favorite because he makes me laugh and he doesn’t try to eat my laundry. And if he’s tried to walk through my front door a few times, who’s to blame him? I should learn to keep my door closed.