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Whether you think you can or think you can't - you are right.
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Henry Ford


Egypt Conclusion

Travelled to another site, 1 ½ hours outside Cairo. There were 63 donkeys to be treated, just on the side of the street. Quite unreal really, the vet probing for a foot abscess just as a pickup truck goes passed with cows and goats standing in the back. Either the animals in the truck or the abscess probe in the U.K. could be cause for complete panic in the donkey, but not here. The donkeys see and are exposed to so much that nothing in the way of traffic worries them.


I saw an owner bring his 3 month old foal that had been hit by a car and had badly damaged her hoof. The foal’s mother had carried the owner and her own foal, sitting across the owners lap, to the clinic and carried them home following the treatment. As the foal was treated she stood over it and showed every bit of motherly attention as I have ever seen. But for some reason this gentleness went unseen or was not acknowledged by the locals. Maybe it really is a case of we don’t see what we are not looking for.


On Wednesday we visited the brick kilns. The brick kilns are way out in the desert, 1½ hrs from Cairo and there are hundreds of them. The bricks are made and fired here for distribution throughout Egypt. There are hundreds of chimneys, about 200 kiln sites, each site has two very large kilns about 80 meters long. Each sight has 10-15 donkeys used to pull the carts of bricks to the kilns. Each cart carries a minimum of 5 rounds of bricks, some times 6 or 7, each containing around 100 bricks. Each brick weighs about two kilograms. Add together the weight of 500 bricks, the cart and at least one child or young man who will insist on riding on the shafts of the cart and you have a weight of 1200 kgs for each donkey to pull, often slightly up hill and in poorly fitting tack. The strain on the donkey’s bodies just to get the weight moving is incredible.


The children and workers are worked hard too and the poverty and dirt of the desert is clear. Can we condemn these people for their behaviour toward their donkeys when they are no less of a victim than the donkeys of finance and circumstance? The kilns are unloaded twenty bricks at a time on to the backs of men wearing a basic wooden frame and rope straps, their tack does fit either.


The team tries an education session with some of the boys and the men watch from the side lines. Some men try to interrupt, some try to drag a boy away, but all seem concerned these children are gaining knowledge. The children confess that they know not to beat the donkey and yet when confronted with the fact the team has seen them hit donkeys today, they also confess they have too, because if they don’t work fast enough they will be beaten by the older boys. 


Again the hospitality is out of place, generous to a fault, as we sit cross legged in a shack and eat from the floor, food that has been cooked in the kilns. The dust, the flies the generosity despite the lack of money, illustrate again the amazing contrasts of Egypt. There is much to be done, but only one step at a time and you can only do what you can do, and there is importance in learning that, perfection is an illusion, doing what can be done is all that is required to continue in the road to a better life for people and donkeys. Any change that has ever been made has been on the back of the work of others and previous generations.


As a result of my trip, I now understand why donkeys behave the way they do in developing countries, with their seeming willingness to accept their burden. Their endless work, they way they walk relentlessly carrying heavy loads without trying to escape. I understand why, when they can run faster than us, kick and bite harder than us they rarely do so. It is a shocking contrast into the romantic image of the willing beast of burden that we all understand. Even at the brick kilns with every sinew straining to get over a 1000 kgs rolling they had no head collar or guidance other that a shout of their handler or the tap of a stick.  I believe the reason most donkeys behave the way they do in these situations is not willingness to serve but rather the complete depression of learned helplessness.


Often the donkeys, from an early age are hit without reason or without consistency and with a regularity that means there is no escape. Whatever they do, there is either work or the stick and often both cause pain and the consequence of no escape from pain is learned helplessness.


The problem charities and educators face, is that the donkeys in these countries do what is required of them without question and without challenging human ”authority” and that is an important factor in these situations. So, the first obstacle is that local people don’t want to change something that to them isn’t broke. Secondly,  if we begin to change the handling of these animals and give them back their spirit and  thought processes they won’t be as willing to the bidding of their owners and this will lead to many more potential problems and potentially back down the path of beating the animals. If at first this seems like a never ending problem, I am sure it is not. Only 60-80 years ago we in this country faced a similar dilemma yet things are improving. It is also a dilemma we still face in many areas of equestrian world. One in which we are caught between allowing the equine their own mind and getting them to do what we want when we want and that in a nutshell is the challenge of the enlightened equine owner.


I have to say how much I admire the work of those people who work day in and day out helping equines all over the world either with the direct relief from pain and suffering or in more long term educational approaches. Their commitment and determination is an example to us all and a sharp reminder to keep things in perspective when working with our own equines problems. I think we should all, if we really want to help equines, find a way, no mater how small, to help these charities continue their work abroad, where is so badly needed.

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