Work Deemed Too Hard For Donkeys Given To Men



Every once in a while something happens that boggles the mind so completely it not only leaves us speechless, it even leaves us wondering what we are supposed to think about it. Something like that happened to me while I was working in the American Embassy in Karachi, Pakistan. Two or three times a week my job required me to drive my Jeep out to Mauripur Air Base, a Pakistani Air Force installation. One day while there I saw that a rather large excavation had been started. I spoke a little Urdu, so I asked the foreman standing to one side what was going on. After a struggle with my Urdu and his English--he doing a far better job than I did--I learned that two very large fuel tanks were to be buried in the ground there.

I watched on and off for three weeks. The only resources those men had were the sweat of their brows, a few hand tools, and a half dozen sad-eyed little donkeys. Using grub hoes, primitive tools with short handles and wide flat blades, they attacked the stony soil, hacking away at it, scraping small bits and pieces into floppy two-handled baskets and hanging the baskets over pack saddles on the backs of the sad-faced little donkeys, which then carried them up a ramp they cut into one side of the excavation as they dug down. It was all so simple, so natural, so logical, and yet so startlingly new to a person born and reared in a land where machines had largely replaced human labor. It looked exactly like the little cameos drawn on the walls of Egyptian tombs. A dark-skinned man striking the stony ground with a grub hoe. Another scraping bits of soil into a floppy two-handled basket. A third hoisting a basket onto a pack saddle.

At the beginning of the third week, I was disappointed to see that the sad-eyed donkeys were gone, replaced by a line of dusty, sweating workmen hauling heavy baskets up and out of the now 15 foot deep pit. Taking another shot at Urdu, I asked the foreman where the little donkeys had gone.

Here, as close as I can recall them, are the words spoken by that man--with an absolutely straight face: "Sahib, at 10 feet we came upon a layer of very hard stone, stone which broke into razor sharp fragments. The donkey-wallah complained most vehemently that such stone was too hard and too sharp to be transported by his animals. He took his donkeys away. And so we have replaced the animals with men."

That was a long time ago and I still don't know exactly what to think about that. Maybe you do. Well, it's your turn. Write in and let us know. We'd like to hear from you.

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