Abbas Jabar is the last practitioner of what is a time-honoured tradition in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. The 60-year-old uses a wooden cart to transfer goods like bread, flour and rubbish, around the city. His cart used to be drawn by a horse but after it died, he could only afford to replace it with a donkey.
By Ali al-Nasiri, in Nasiriyah
Jabar starts work every day around seven in the morning, setting out to see what needs to be couriered around his city on that particular day. Despite the fact that he lives in relative poverty and is unwed and childless, Jabar has become somewhat of a celebrity in town.
“We represent a special bygone world,” he tells Al Menasa. People often take pictures or wave and stare as he walks past cars and the motorised three-wheelers, commonly known as tuk-tuks.
“Today the tuk-tuks have replaced the horse and cart,” Mohammed Rassan, a friend of Jabar’s, says as the pair share a cigarette and a cup of tea. The owner of the café is always pleased to see Jabar as he adds a special, historic touch to the place.
“There are so many of the tuk-tuks that the carts have completely disappeared,” Rassan notes. “Abbas is the last and he has become a symbol.”
Rassan explains how, after Jabar’s horse died, he was unable to replace it because he couldn’t find any suitable filly, or the ones that were suitable were simply too expensive. That’s why he now works with a donkey.
“The donkey and I understand each other very well,” Jabar replies, in a joking tone. Jabar maintains his cart carefully and speaks to the donkey in different tones of voice; the donkey also seems to understand what it means if Jabar moves in a certain way – for example, if he is sitting or standing.
“We have a special relationship,” Jabbar explains. “We’re both sharing this hard life.”
A local historian, Walid Khadim, says that Jabar’s profession used to be one of the most important in the city. “There were several parks for the wooden carts, right up until the 1980s. There were also a lot of stables for the horses.”
The cart owners would make good money transporting items for residents because, for many years, there were either not enough other vehicles in the city doing this work or it was too expensive to use them for this task.
As Jabar leaves the café, after feeding his donkey some hay, his competitors – the tuk-tuk drivers – look on with pride. They respect the old man and his donkey.
“The fact that he is still here among us, working, is a blessing,” one of them says, as Jabar and his donkey ride off into the Nasiriyah sunset.