03/08/2015 09:09 BST | Updated 03/08/2016 06:59 BST

How Donkeys Helped Me Understand the Greek Crisis and the Eeyoo


I love a donkey, me. I feel a great kinship with the 'hooves of mankind', who perhaps don't enjoy the glamour or grace of horses, but have earned a reputation for being sturdy, dependable, with a keen sense of curiosity. AND they have a great sense of judgment; apparently its very difficult to get a donkey to do something they reason isn't safe. Who knew?

A unique view of the Greek crisis

In the southern Aegean, just north of Crete, is a jewel of a Greek island. Its fictional name is Paradisaki but it's a real island. It sits in sapphire blue waters, with thickly wooded hills reaching for the clear blue sky, rivers surging into white crested waterfalls. Yep, you can feel the heat and serenity. Picture postcard perfect.

In the know

Donkeys have helped carry produce, wood and water along the narrow winding paths for generations, providing a lifeline for remote communities. Paradisaki is home to two donkeys, Apollo and Hortensia. They belong to a sometime farmer called Aristides, a miserly, unscrupulous man, who treats them cruelly. (Apollo calls him Arsie.) Their days are spent carrying him and his tools from village to village where he is hired as an odd job man. Once a week, heavily laden, they carry him and his fruit and vegetables to market.

It's a hard life for the donkeys with little joy. But one thing keeps them sane; trying to make sense of the politics and transactions that occur between locals on a daily basis. For example, only last week they had to carry bags of chicken manure to a contact of Arsie's in a neighbouring village. They found the man, Panayiotis, in a fierce argument with the local carpenter.

"I want the bill for the maintenance of these rooms and I want it to be double the price you quoted me," Panayiotis was saying, redfaced with rage.

The carpenter looked shifty: "But we've already doubled the cost of the actual building work."

"Never mind that. You know we'll get an EU grant for the whole lot based on your quotes," Panayiotis raised his voice in emphasis.

Arsie pulled Apollo to a stop close to the two men, slid off his back and started to unload the chicken manure, his attention on the raging argument. He battled to untie the knots on his sacks, oblivious to the chicken manure that trickled onto his hands and the front of his trousers.

Hortensia turned to Apollo: "I know you've explained this to me before but I can't for the life of me remember who the Eeyoo is."

Apollo was pleased to demonstrate his knowledge. "Oh that. It's a country quite close by, apparently," he explained. "It seems the Eeyoo is very fond of us because they keep sending us presents which they call grants or subsidies."

Hortensia's gentle soul was pleased. "That is very kind of the Eeyoo. What good friends!"

"Eleftheris down the road was saying that he's going to buy a huge digger to rent out with his Eeyoo grant and he's also building rooms for rent." Apollo tossed his head at the two warring men who were now almost at blows. "They're all at it. This guy has been given a grant to cover part of the cost of the rooms in order to boost the tourist trade. Looks like the grant's going to cover more than the cost, the way he's going."

Hortensia was interested. "So Eleftheris is in the tourist trade then?"

"No, he's a farmer but he's using the farming grant to branch out, diversification they call it."

They were interrupted by Arsie who was still struggling to undo his knots. He wiped the sweat off his face, swung round and kicked Apollo in frustration. "You moron," he hissed. Apollo was unmoved and muttered to Hortensia. "He's got chicken shit on his face and he doesn't know it. And he calls me a moron."

Hortensia was sad for Apollo but her mind was on other things. "So, does Arsie get these presents from the Eeyoo too?"

"Yup, grants and subsidies."

"I wonder what he does to deserve such generosity..?"

"Well, you know last week we spent days and nights moving his and the other shepherd's flocks from one place to another?"

"How can I forget? I was knackered. And don't forget all of us donkeys were moved to and fro as well. For nothing!"

"No, not for nothing... we were all counted as belonging first to Arsie, then to his friend Odysseas, and then again to another guy, Athanasis. Then each of them got money for us from the Eeyoo."

Hortensia was moved. "So kind, so thoughtful. How lucky we are to have a friend like the EeYoo."

Apollo frowned. "I'm not sure it's quite like that..."

Suddenly I understand a lot more about the Greek crisis and the EU. And about donkeys and their owners.

For more information on donkeys what can they do for us and how we can help them, visit

For more on Apollo and Hortensia's story, Straight From the Donkey's Mouth: A Tail of a Greek Island, its People, their Politics - and their Donkeys! by Eleni Trataris Cotton is available on Amazon.