Animals for the Advent calendar: The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then surely I was born.


With monstrous head and sickening cry

And ears like errant wings,

The devil’s walking parody

On all four-footed things.


The tattered outlaw of the earth,

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.


Fools! For I also had my hour;

One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was shout before my ears,

And palms before my feet.


GK Chesterton (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936) paints this wonderful image which, in my mind, combines the physical presence of this beast of burden with a history dating into ancient times.

This month I learnt about a small charity working in Egypt to help the many horses, donkeys and camels which serve the tourist industry around the Pyramids. The charity called “Prince Fluffy Kareem” came up in my newsfeed as they endeavoured to gain votes via Ebay; the cash prize was to be awarded to the charity with the greatest number of votes from customers with an Ebay account.

Wanting to find out more I put their rather unusual name into the search engine; the time spent watching their video footage provided living proof that miracles really can happen…animals entering their compound suffering injuries, disease and severe malnutrition were treated by this small dedicated team, supported by local staff and veterinary professionals brought in for specific cases.   The “before and after” films were seemingly miraculous transformations, proof that individual care appropriate for each case could bring an animal back from a living death; crippled walking skeletons morphed into perfect specimens with glossy coats, whilst their powerful bodies employed muscular limbs to run happily on the desert sands.

However, what struck me was how these horse “rescuers”  understood the issues behind the various and often unsavoury medical problems suffered by these working animals; anyone visiting the “Prince Fluffy Kareem” website for the first time will be aware that there is no mention of blame;  the accusatory finger can only be pointed at human poverty framed by a very harsh physical environment.  Lack of financial resources is the underlying cause of disease and starvation; locals barely making a living will be trying to feed their families first, their animals only managing poor ranking. This might sound bizarre to those of us living in a different environment, surely the business owner must protect his assets?

Egypt is a country traditionally bound by low wages, poor infrastructure and no social security. Lack of education serves to multiply the effects of harsh conditions; traditional remedies and old wives tales may be well-rooted but, in practice, are completely unfounded as treatments, carrying a strong possibility of more injury or on-going sickness for the animal.

Ignorance often breeds more ignorance and what we might want to label as cruelty….However, lack of knowledge as to how to access up-to-date information cannot be blamed on folk without books or the internet; although internet cafes are to be found on dusty unpaved Egyptian streets they are not heaving with folk googling…even the modest charges for an hour or two are well beyond the pockets of ordinary workers who may only bring home pence after a full working day. As with so many industries , that serving tourists is open to the vagaries of both Mother and Human Natures; whilst Mother Nature may only play the friendly game for a few weeks before sending a terror, humans tend to want things cheap. Of course these two “pillars” also exist in the political map; Egypt’s own crises are far greater than hits the headlines in Europe, the deposing of one leader did not create “happy ever after”; political uncertainty affected the numbers of tourists willing to travel, creating a direct knock-on effect for all those whose living is based around Egypt’s ancient monuments.

Working animals are assets to nurture but when there is so little care for a human population it’s no surprise to find the voiceless creatures falling victim to hard times.

This week the Prince Fluffy Kareem page featured a frail donkey greatly in need of medical attention and rest; what was also made clear was that the owner couldn’t manage without his little worker due to his own diabetes which was affecting his feet. Apart from attending to the medical and nutritional needs of this “tattered outlaw of the earth” the charity’s director pointed out how a human suffering diabetes needs good quality shoes and clear instructions about foot care. Neither of these are automatically available to an old man living in hard times. Making sandwiches for visitors to the Pyramids is like making sandwiches anywhere; fresh ingredients must be purchased and transported; if there aren’t many customers the takings will be low; not much chance of buying the quality footwear needed to protect his feet.

In a land where plastic flip flops and sandals are the norm poor folk will envisage budgeting for leather shoes even if their health requires such an investment; human health often requires professional advice and guidance…a luxury in many countries especially one which has gone through turbulent times. Transport by donkey has a long tradition dating far back into biblical times; with the continuing upheaval and poverty, donkey-power has much to offer.

So what of his poor little donkey? Huge efforts are being made to restore it to health…and to source quality shoes for the owner; credit to the many humans following the story who were all offering to fund the shoes. Not much of a “miracle” maybe, but a tale of goodness.

Having visited Egypt and seen the realities of life for both humans and their equine labourers, discovering the existence of the charitable organisation “Prince Fluffy Kareem” underlined everything positive about humanity working for good.. Learning about their direct involvement with the community makes for compelling reading; listening as well as looking is key and they have created a sense of trust with many of the animal owners. Whilst the video footage sets the scene, for almost miraculous recovery, it’s not shy of revealing the harsh truths and sadness of loss when injuries, disease and suffering are brought to a humane close.

[photo + link to come]






Now dark November closes to reveal the brightness of Christmas…


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