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Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Quote Mark

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Egypt Trip (1)



I have just returned from a 10 day trip to Cairo for The Donkey Sanctuary to take a look at the behaviour of donkeys and people and how I might be able to help. So I thought I would share some of my experiences in a few instalments to help people understand the plight of equines in other countries and to highlight the work already being done in these most challenging of areas.


My flight was delayed by an hour and I arrive at midnight, only to discover that BA had kindly decided to keep one of my bags safe, looking after it somewhere in the world for a little longer. After my first introduction to Egyptian official working practises, I manage to register my bag as lost and clear the airport by 1.15 The traffic seems busy for this time in a morning, but apparently the city never sleeps, great news for someone who is feeling just a tad tired. But by 1.30 I see my first over loaded donkey, trotting along the busy streets of Cairo an I remember why I am here.




What a mad scene. The view from the small bay window affords a view of three pyramids which despite the constant car horns, smog and noise manage to maintain an air of mystic and majesty at the edge of the city.


Interestingly, having read much in preparation about the general attitude to covering of women’s bodies, at breakfast I find the female tourists with bare arms, exposed ankles and bare backs peeping between tee-shirts and jeans, strangely offensive and disrespectful. Something I would not have given a second thought to in the UK. Perhaps it stands out because of the paradigm shift in the thought of the limited exposure of female flesh and the fact that skin is such a sensual organ, and that because of our over exposure to it, we loose its beauty and erotic nature.


Cairo, the city the car horn was invented for! But as I listen to the constant sound of the horns I realise the horn is not used in such rude and aggressive way as it might be in the U.K. but in the majority of cases a communication of intent and warning of impending danger. From a behavioural point of view it seams to me that to help the donkeys I must understand the culture the mind set and motivations of the local people, in short I must think with an Egyptian mind not a British one, otherwise one becomes a preacher and I don’t like to preach!


Once at the Sanctuary’s office, a flat in the back streets of Giza, the staff perform overly enthusiastic greeting, by British standards at least. This is the norm each and every day you meet someone, you greet them in them in this enthusiastic manor. A soft shake of hands, more of a touching of palms really is what is expected, and the more you know people the more it becomes like a gentle slap of palms. This enthusiasm and the rounds of hand shaking actually grows on me, it creates a personal connection that is remade daily and is so much more expressive than the normally reserved, unconnected, British “good morning.” Again the simple insight in to the workings of my mind and that of my Egyptian hosts highlights that my comfort zones are being stretched at every moment and I must listen with my eyes in order to learn.


After lunch I go to visit a clinic site. The journey across the city traffic is an eye opener. There are no rules, except it seems the done thing to hoot to warn others and to expect the unexpected. The traffic is mad and it is every man for himself, and the pedestrians take their lives in their hands every time they cross the road. It shouldn’t work but in true Egyptian style it does.


Donkeys! donkeys everywhere, just like the charity pictures of work in the countries world wide, 3 small boys on a donkey. Donkeys carrying lots of vegetation and then a small boy on top of that. Carts of every size and weight of load, rushing on in a gaited trot, almost pushed on by the load. Nose chains on all the donkeys. At the clinic, most of the treatments have finished for the day just a couple more customers. One of whom is a young donkey may be one or two years old already scared from work.


A young girl who’s donkey has just been treated returns with black tea, strong and bitter, well stewed and for me requiring a couple of sugars to appease my sensitive English palate, but very welcome, and very generous give the obvious poverty of the location.


The children are very interested to look at the new local attraction, me, a big white fella. About 25-30 children surround me and ask lots of questions, name? Where from? There is counting and the translation of words from the local rubbish of crisp packets, juice carton and food packaging. There is great excitement as they become more friendly and I am grateful in the middle of this excited mass that they are actually only 3ft tall, otherwise I think I would have be crushed to death. I ask them which animal is cleverer, the camel, ox, goat or donkey apparently the donkey is because the donkey does all the work to feed the other animals.


In Egypt I am told the donkey is actually at the bottom of the care list because it produces nothing but hard work, camel’s, buffalo, cows, sheep and goats are valued because of their ability to produce milk, meat as well as in some cases work. The donkey and perhaps the horse only produce physical effort so their value is not so tangible.


As we leave the female teacher of the madras (school) attempts to regain control by hitting  the children with a length thin stick, as the try to re-enter the school door. The fear and tension caused by the anticipation of pain seams so cruel a price to pay for taking and interest in me and for being children. However, it makes me realise that the stick is powerful and that if you beat the children they learn to beat the donkey and how do you tell them beating is wrong when they themselves are beaten.


On the return to the hotel we see more overloaded donkeys and horses going everywhere. There was even a donkey crash as a small boy driving his donkey and cart looses concentration for a moment and the donkey walks into the back of a lorry.


OMG! Where to start I am overwhelmed and have no answers. What can be done to shape behaviour? What is the smallest step?  This project might call for the biggest shaping plan with the smallest steps I have ever written


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