Friday, 7 November 2008

Next Stop - Mali and Mauritania

Sitting here in the rather charming departure ‘lounge’ of Nouakchott International Airport, Mauritania. There is no attempt at ‘duty free’ – they don’t do booze in Mauritania – except, whisper it not, we found a restaurant (the Salamander, if you’re ever stuck here and looking for somewhere really trendy), that somehow manages to produce beer, and even a little wine – in unmarked bottles.

There is also no air-conditioning, and even though it’s now ten pm, the sun blazing all day on the corrugated tin roof has produced a warmish, somewhat intimate, atmosphere. Of course there is also no attempt at a café or even soft-drinks – probably a good thing , as I’m keen to avoid visiting the rather interesting toilet system – of infamous repute from many earlier visits.

Just as well really, as last week’s visit to Chad and the food there, left a lasting souvenir, let’s just call it a ten-day dieting opportunity. Nice to be going home at last – overnight of course – hitting my beloved Charles De Gaulle airport at five o’clock tomorrow morning, where I believe they are (surprisingly) on strike anyway.

Ah, the joys of flying with Air France.

Because of the little bit of a misunderstanding here a couple of months ago (a coup d’etat – the newly ex-President now resting in chokey), all overseas aid – EU, World Bank, etc has been suspended, and all NGOs have pulled out and gone home.

Except for SPANA, of course.

In fact we’re doing rather well, although I say it myself.

We have a clinic and a mobile team trying to help the sixty thousand plus donkeys (and a few half-crippled horses) that deliver water round the city (they forgot to put in water pipes and drainage when they built the place after independence, fifty-odd years ago).

It’s hardly a well-paid job, as you might imagine – the youngsters who slave over this (and some are still, truly, slaves), live in almost indescribable squalor and misery. The donks are fed a mixture of torn-up cardboard and millet meal.

Recently we’ve been making (locally) a simple set of headcollar and reins and dishing them out free, (over six thousand so far), as up to now they’ve just steered the poor wretched creatures by beating them on one side of the head or other. What a mess of wounds and sores that caused.

So, after a year, it was nice to see a real difference.

Talking of differences, before here I was doing the budget in Mali – but also had time to visit the little ‘Riding for the Handicapped’ centre we run there. Don’t even think of asking how we got into it – but it is fantastic. Generally, children born damaged or handicapped in any way are abandoned. In the countryside many just die, but in Bamako they end up in one of the ‘Orphanages’.

They are fed and watered, but that’s about it. No school – no treatment.

We can help about twenty five of the wee scraps, who come three mornings a week, and ride around a sand-filled yard on two bomb-proof horses. There is also a physiotherapist, and we have toys and desks and paper and crayons, and they all just love it. Their faces light up when they get lifted onto the horse - suddenly they don’t have to look up at everything. It also makes a tremendous difference to their muscle control and co-ordination – after a year or so they’re almost unrecognisable.
But, I suppose due to the financial crisis, the partners we had in funding have pulled out (without warning). It’s not fair for SPANA to have to put in any extra – they’re doing enough already.

But if I can’t find some one or other to help out, I might well be having to tell them they can’t ride on the horses any more. We will have to stop making a difference for those few children.

Jeremy Hulme

No comments: