Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Morocco - the good and bad

Perhaps I just don’t have much imagination, but when I’m standing shivering on Witham Station waiting for the 7.15 train on a winter’s morning, in the freezing drizzle and numbing wind, wondering if perhaps I’ve forgotten to put any clothes on, frankly it’s hard to believe that not everybody else is suffering the same fate.

So it’s quite depressing (probably even more so for you people reading this rubbish), to arrive in Marrakech last Friday and find that not everywhere is like Witham Station in January. Sorry to have to report, but the sun was shining, it was lovely and warm - people were even swimming. Not Witham Station at all really.

Of course that’s not quite true, because thanks to good old British Airways, we were four hours late, so didn’t actually arrive until one o’clock in the morning. But when we surfaced the next day and drew back the curtains, the sun was streaming into the room, and I was cursing the fact that I’d brought nothing but thick jumpers and heavy coats. Still, mustn’t complain, and I can assure, it really IS lovely to be surprised by warm sunshine in January.

So, having made you all jealous, let me remind you of some of the downsides of all this. The bad bits. Well, Saturday morning we went to the SPANA refuge (Good).
Queuing for treatment were about thirty horses, mules and donkeys, most of them looking like something out of a horror film (Bad).

But nice to see them helping themselves to a long soothing drink of cold, clean water (Good), from the huge water trough just by the entrance. Remember, I’ve been looking at animals like this for twenty years or so, but the wounds and crippling arthritis still shocks me (Bad).

But then I watch the SPANA team in action. (Good). With quiet efficiency, the two vets, three technicians, and three grooms, set about sorting out the queue (Good).
It’s nice to find somewhere unobtrusive, to keep out of sight, and just stand and watch ‘the action’.

Of course they’re not sentimental - SPANA staff see this and worse, six days a week. Yet alongside the quiet efficiency, as the different problems are assessed and ‘triaged’, or sorted into degrees of seriousness, there still remains that essential compassion. As one of the vets waits for a different wound dressing, I see him absent-mindedly fondling a donkey’s ears (Good).

Then I see an old grey mule. So old and thin, that frankly the only real solution is a trip to that great mule-stable in the sky (Bad – although quite Good as well, if you know what I mean). Then I see his owner. Thin as a pin, no teeth, and old enough to remember the Roman legions leaving Marrakech. Doesn’t look as if he’s eaten for a week (Bad) and when I ask, I hear that his mule is his only form of income – if the mule dies, he starves. So, we do what we can. Pain killers for the arthritis (the mule’s – the owner will just have to live with his), filing-down the teeth (the owner doesn’t have any), trimming the hooves (the owner’s are all twisted from ancient injuries), a wormer, then cleaning and dressing the sores and wounds (Good). We can give him a new bit, a doughnut bandage to lift the saddle of the sores (Good). We can give him a new head-collar and a SPANA nose-band, but by God, whatever we do, we can’t make him young again. In the end, I watch the two of them, like two brothers, limp off back into their hard cruel world (Bad) We have done all that we can.

Then we battle all day to agree the text for the eco-museum we are building in partnership with the Ministry of Eaux et Forets (definitely Bad), while the sun goes down, touching the snowy Atlas Mountains on the distant horizon red and gold, and we work on ‘til nearly ten. It’s not all beer and skittles.

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