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Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime
Quote Mark

Chinese Proverb


Egypt (4)


Every city has a smell, a unique description of itself, as distinctive as any perfume. Cairo’s is of the desert and the dry dust that is carried with it and a faint hint of spice, like a good aftershave. Only a hint spice that catches in the wind sometimes, thousands of years of history and the bustle of the souk. But being a city of contrast it also has the stinging gasp of petrol fumes that gently strip the nose and throat of skin and burn the eyes, but in a gentle and most friendly way much like the city. 


On Monday we arrived at the site in Oseem at 10am, twenty donkeys were already waiting for treatment and work continued without a stop until 3.30. A continuous stream of 42 donkeys with abscesses, wounds, old age problems. The poverty of the region was clear and being a very rural area the donkeys are working hard. Many thin donkeys and foot problems caused by traditional treatments such as burning, and firing.


I saw a young girl, with two donkeys, proud of the fact she had wrapped the chain on the nose of one donkey, and happy to be given new material to do it again for her other donkey. The use of chains, in place of nose bands, causes real welfare issues with many wounds and donkeys with hard thickened skin caused by years of constant rubbing.  A little boy who was keen to help his donkey said he couldn’t do the wrap as it was women’s work. He wanted to learn about how to look after his donkey, and was helped, I watched him at the end of his treatment put the saddle on the donkey only to realise the donkey wanted to roll, so he took the saddle off again and let the donkey roll. I was impressed at his care of the donkey and thought wow! Despite not doing “woman’s work” this boy is changing and here we are making a difference. He put the saddle back on the donkey and then tried to get it to move, it wouldn’t so he hit it and then as the donkey wondered in the wrong direction he really whacked it, several times with a stick and once he thought he was out of sight he was straight up on the donkeys back. I don’t know how much is malicious or that the concept of hitting the donkey is not seen as anything other than normal and correct. After all, if the children are themselves hit how can you convince them a donkey shouldn’t be hit, as it surely poses the question is a donkey more valuable than a child. A bit like a father in the UK smacking their son for hitting his little sister, in trying to correct the behaviour what the father really says is it is I don’t find it acceptable for you to hit you sister but it is ok for me to hit you. What the son hears and feels is that the sister is more important and more loved the he is and that smacking is ok because the person he most aspires to be does it.


Another young girl came with her donkey that had been treated the previous week for an abscess she had been told to rest the donkey. The girl honestly admitted that her farther had worked the donkey. After redressing the foot, she was told the donkey needed to rest, she said she understood but added “what am I to do about my father?” She knew she should not work the donkey, but not yet how to change her father’s attitude.


I saw donkeys treated for wounds and owners told to rest the donkey, only to see grown men saddle the donkey up and ride it off. Apparently for many owners riding is not considered work, pulling a cart is work and carrying an owner is just a gentle pleasant stroll in the park. The kids are on the street, doing what kids do the boys fighting and carrying sticks the girls socialising and playing at being ground ups. I saw a man throw a brick at a small child, sorry exaggeration, half a brick, to get him to move away. Again in a split second the temptation to judge reappears but, with news of the Baby P story breaking in the UK, I remember again I have no moral right to judge another when my own country has so far to go.  


The locals express kindness by sending out fresh tea, and the shaking of my hand even though I have done nothing for them and their donkey. There is constant interest in the Hr Doctor, who is white and from the UK. Small children ask what is you name? You English? Manchester United? Every culture as a word or phase taken from the English language and used to excess, here it is “very good”. With regular occurrence the phase rings out around me as if looking for reassurance about the quality of their English and care of the donkey. To be fair that simple phase considerable surpasses my Arabic, although I am daily learning up to 1 new word. Funnily enough, as I start to connect with locals by the use of the same phase, nearly everything becomes “very good!”


Many sights today straight out of a over sea project work video, you start the day taking pictures of the worst cases, then you realise that they are all worst cases and you would have to film them all, so you stop filming or taking pictures of all but the very worst, and so the desensitisation sets in. I have seen small children, as young as three or four riding their donkey without a head collar, just a small stick to guide the head, natural horsemen eat your heart out. I have seen two and three children riding the donkey, donkeys with loads so big you can only see the donkeys head and then the child on top. I can not help but think of the true nature of equines, as I have always said, they are stronger than us, bite harder, kick harder and generally run faster than us, yet then don’t use this strength against us. If they did we would never be able to handle them, and even when they do kick or bite it is nothing compared to the force they could use against us weak two legs.


The other animals, cats and plenty of them cautious, nervous and rightly so. Dogs in Cairo and in small numbers in the rural areas are small stocky animals mainly fawn or tan. They too keep their distance but seem well fed, but that might be due to the large amounts of rubbish always available on the street as a food source. Water buffalo, cows, and sheep are generally led by a string, generally around the throat or in the case of cattle and buffalo around the horns. Often 4-5 cattle being leg by a small child riding a donkey or also most common is to tie the buffalo to the back of your donkey cart.


I have seen goats, but they generally are not led but herded or left to roam free and retrieved when required. Both sheep and goats can regularly be seen tied up outside the local butchers awaiting their fate. It seems unusually cruel to taunt them in such a way, tethered by a leg in front of the dripping carcases of flock mates. In fact I now learn that Islamic law discourages this behaviour and even recommends the sheep and goats should not even see the knife being sharpened, so as to avoid distress, it is men that are the problem not religion.

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