I saw the burro wearing pants and carrying a basket filled with paper flowers.
“Oh, my gosh!” I said. “That poor burro.”
There are several burros with this job in this Mexican town and, as burro employment goes, it’s a pretty easy gig. The burro wears a rustic basket filled with bright paper flowers and is led by a man in a similarly rustic costume, and they follow wedding processions, providing photo opportunities for the guests. The burro is photographed dozens of times and spends the afternoon in the park, doing her best to look picturesque.
On weekdays, when weddings are less common, the burro and her handler park themselves on a narrow bit of cobblestone street with a beautiful view of the old church in the background. Tourists get their photos taken with the burro for a few pesos. I saw no harm in it until the day the burro showed up in pants.
“Oh, my gosh!” And I felt a sense of indignation rising on the burro’s behalf.
I mean, it’s one thing to carry around fake flowers all day. It is another thing entirely (according to me) to put the poor burro in trousers. To add insult to injury, the pants were not even on her back legs! She was wearing trousers on her front legs that made her look sort of like a little person with a donkey head.
“Outrageous!” I decided in furious defense of the burro’s dignity. Making a burro dress up in a silly costume was somehow intolerable, as far as I was concerned. Her handler was making her look comical, a ridiculous punchline to lure more tourists in. She was a joke burro, and I decided – from my vantage point as the Tourist Who Knows Everything – this was unacceptable.
From that moment on, I made it my mission to restore the burro’s dignity. On days when she showed up in pants, I shook my head disapprovingly and said, “No pants!” in Spanish. On days she showed up in her natural attire, I indicated my approval. “I am happy the burro has no pants!” I said – a phrase I am unlikely to need on many other occasions.
My mission was going well, I thought. The burro was showing up in pants far less often and everything was going well – until yesterday.
Yesterday, I actually stopped to talk to the burro’s handler.
“I’m glad she is not wearing pants!” I reiterated as if, by now, he might not have gotten my point.
“I will show you,” he said in English. And he gestured that I should come near.
The burro had large patches on the back of her legs where the flies had been eating her skin. He told me they hurt her, and he could not keep the insects away. He put poison on the spots, but it did not work well, and it cost 500 pesos for a small bottle. The pants kept the flies away and allowed her poor legs to heal.
And I am an idiot.
“I’m so sorry,” I said in Spanish. “I didn’t understand. She should wear pants if she needs them!”
And I thought of all the assumptions I make every day, all the opinions I form with no basis but my own ridiculous preconceptions. This man took the time to show me the truth – about one little burro in pants – and I wondered how often I am just so, so wrong.
“Gracias,” I told him.
“De nada,” he said. “It’s nothing.”
But of course, it was something. It was something very important.
Till next time,