Susan Orlean travels to Morocco to find out about donkeys for Smithsonian magazine.
The medina in Fez may well be the largest urbanized area in the world impassable to cars and trucks, where anything that a human being can’t carry or push in a handcart is conveyed by a donkey, a horse or a mule. If you need lumber and rebar to add a new room to your house in the medina, a donkey will carry it in for you. If you have a heart attack while building the new room on your house, a donkey might well serve as your ambulance and carry you out. If you realize your new room didn’t solve the overcrowding in your house and you decide to move to a bigger house, donkeys will carry your belongings and furniture from your old house to your new one. Your garbage is picked up by donkeys; your food supplies are delivered to the medina’s stores and restaurants by mule; when you decide to decamp from the tangle of the medina, donkeys might carry your luggage out or carry it back in when you decide to return. In Fez, it has always been thus, and so it will always be. No car is small enough or nimble enough to squeeze through the medina’s byways; most motorbikes cannot make it up the steep, slippery alleys. The medina is now a World Heritage site. Its roads can never be widened, and they will never be changed; the donkeys might carry in computers and flat-screen televisions and satellite dishes and video equipment, but they will never be replaced.
This is probably the most interesting thing you’ll ever read about donkeys.