Thursday, December 31, 2020

Watching Peter Domesticate Himself

 One of the things about Corona has been the fact that the focus of life has changed enormously for everyone. People I would never have expected to have baking skills have been turning out some astonishing loaves of sour dough. One family got an egg incubator and hatched a few duck and chicken eggs that they got from the farm. I have found myself paying more attention to the social lives of my dogs this year as the pack at the farm seems to have attained some sort of maturity. It was formed initially by the incomparable Finn, who passed his authority on to JC and Calypso, with Rocky acting as regent. One of my fantasies in creating the farm was to have a space where I could do some of the ethological studies that had interested me in graduate school. I must admit that between my own busy life and a certain level of human myopia, it wasn't until Finn was getting on that I realised that I had a self-determining dog pack to look at.

Last spring, a friend of mine was looking for a couple of dogs to live with his sheep and goats at his new farm. He'd managed to find a livestock guardian dog that someone had mistakenly brought to Egypt as a pet later realising that the dog was going to be far too massive for a garden. Someone had brought me a baladi pup at the same time as I'd gotten our Great Dane pup, and while they were great friends while young, the baladi was one of the really deeply feral dogs who, while he could be very sweet on occasion, was not at all focused on relationships with humans, and was only really polite with dogs much larger than himself. He and Fulla, the guardian dog got to know each other on neutral territory at a nearby boarding kennel and have become a perfect match. She is a lot larger than he is and he is happy living with his enormous lady friend where he doesn't have to interact with people all the time.  We rarely re-home dogs, but this one worked out.


 

Later this summer, two of my male dogs began jumping over one of our garden walls to frolic in the dirt road by the farm with a female baladi dog. Eventually, almost as if they were offering her protection, they coaxed her into coming into the farm and joining them. For a street dog she was in good shape, not too thin or too insect infested, but she has gotten quite sleek in the past few months. She seemed to be accustomed to humans around her and was easy to handle, so we gave her all her shots just to be sure, and Marte settled into life at the farm. At least this way, the boys weren't jumping out of the garden, a feat that was not inconsiderable since the walls are about 3 meters high. When puppy season started, Marte's behaviour changed and the boys, all of them, were all much more interested in her, despite the fact that all of our dogs are neutered. We had courtship going on at all hours and all over the farm. There were plenty of times when I was quite relieved that we had no child visitors to observe the festivities. It was time to check to see if Marte had been spayed, which it turned out that she had been...partly. Someone had removed the uterus and left the ovaries, which were in turn rather inflamed and one of them was encysted, making Marte quite grouchy. Life returned to normal of sorts once her plumbing problems were sorted, except for Peter. Peter was a totally feral baladi dog that had been consorting with Marte outside the wall and began coming into the farm while Marte was experiencing a false heat.

 


Peter was interesting. He was very polite, never caused any trouble with the other dogs, and although he never showed any interest in getting to know the humans here, he also showed no aggression towards us. Most of the time he would come at night, play with our dogs and Marte and then leave. Again, the sense from the other dogs was that they were offering the protection of the farm to Peter, to the extent that one morning I found him fast asleep on one of the dog beds in the living room. He took off quickly when he awoke to see me there. The girls told me that usually he would sleep near my house and raise an alarm if any of them came over for something at night. He seemed to feel that I needed an extra level of protection.

Lately his visits are more frequent, and he's taken up an evening residence on my back porch overlooking the garden. Occasionally I hear a warning woof from Calypso and BenBen who guard me at night while snuggling under the covers of my bed and I suspect that Peter has come to the dog food dishes that are in the hallway outside my door. The girls have told me that they have seen him scooting out the dog door if they come in early which makes it seem that he has been comfortable enough to join JC, Marte, and Rocky on the living room dog beds. The young dogs sleep in the girls' house for the most part. Mariam, who is our official dog whisperer, has been gradually working on getting within petting distance because if he is going to be hanging around our dogs, he needs to get a rabies shot at some point. We aren't terribly concerned about vaccinations for corona, lepto, and parvo because he is about a year old and if he hasn't died from these things yet. he isn't likely to. But getting a rabies shot is important for him and our dogs as well.

While Marte was at least partially accustomed to human company, and I've had the experience of taking Rocky into the pack from a totally abusive situation, Peter is our first completely feral dog to come to us as an adult, and it is fascinating to see how this is going to work out.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, December 18, 2020

They Are Talking But Are We Listening?

 One of the things that I was intrigued by in graduate school was how communication could work between humans and animals. Sadly, I was studying at the University of Waterloo where the social psychology department was entirely given over to the game playing, semi deceitful variety of lab experimentation. There were no animals involved with this and I had serious doubts as to whether these studies really were telling us anything about human beings as well. This didn't make me a lot of friends in the department and I ended up leaving with my MA and my sanity, to go teach in community colleges and raise a couple of kids. When my children were still in elementary school we moved to Egypt as I'd had enough shoveling snow on my own in Toronto while their father was spending most of the winter in Alexandria. Not long after we moved to Alex, a family who had children at the French school with our children offered us a baladi dog, telling us that they were sorry but she simply was too stupid to deal with. When we went to meet her, we found that Pepsi was being kept on a balcony while an extremely annoying little poodle was living in the house. The family was upset that when they let Pepsi off the balcony to go through the living room and down the stairs to the garden to pee, she sometimes did it in the living room. Personally, I didn't think that this was a mark of stupidity but it was clearly a statement of territory.  Pepsi turned out to be one of the smartest dogs I'd ever met. She settled right into our home, which had a garden and we all adored her.

If we were out for a while and came home, she always greeted us with a call of "Haroo", which was remarkably similar to our "Hello", and when my husband and I had to go out at night and would leave one of his employees to be at the house with the kids, Pepsi would station herself just outside the children's bedroom doors, so that whoever was there could go to the front door, the kitchen, or the bathroom, but there was no way in hell they could go near the children. Best babysitter I'd ever had.  When she vanished one day after a move of houses, we were all devastated and spent weeks searching for her. After a month or so one of the baladi dogs at Smouha Club gave birth to a litter and I promised the children that we would take one of her pups. The day that we went to pick up a husky little brown female we found that someone had taken the mother to their farm and the pups were scattered throughout the stables. We found a white one with a black face and took her home despite the fact that we had wanted her sister. When we saw her sister a few days later, the contrast between the clean well fed pup and the hungry dirty one was too much, so we took her home as well with the spoken intention of finding a home for her. Like many people I had never had more than one dog at a time in my life. That was my introduction to pack life because Stella and Milligan were with us until their death many years later and following that I would never consider having just one dog.

It's been twenty-five years now that I have had multiple dogs living with me and over time our relationship has changed. I have recently been wondering if the change had something to do with changes in me or changes in the dogs, or whether I'm just beginning to notice the changes. One of these changes has been the increase in vocalisation between me and some of the dogs living with me. One of the first dogs, other than Pepsi, to do a lot of talking to me was Koheila, a rescued Dalmation who likely had been imported from the Ukraine and landed up at our home in Maadi and then moved out to the farm with me. She would come and tell me when someone was at the front door, would greet friends coming to visit with vocalisation, and so on. At the time I was amused by it and I noticed that it seemed to be quite purposeful, but it was just Spots being weird. When the pack was firmly founded by Finn at the farm, Koheila was still around giving orders and chatting with the other dogs and myself, and not too suprisingly, Finn became a very verbal dog himself. In his later years he would sometimes argue with me about actions I might take with dogs in the pack if he disapproved. It was never disrespectful, but his intention was very clear. His vocalisations would run the gamut from affectionate mumbles, to warning growls, to sharp barks of concern if he wanted my attention right away.

My current pack was largely set up and formed by Finn. I rarely have gone out to look for a dog to live with us. Most of them have arrived at the front gate and been invited in by the dogs. Rocky was one dog who came to us as an abused adult when the night watchman at the villa next door was fired and abandoned him. He lay down in front of our gate for three days, never leaving, and overcame my concern that he might be a danger to the children who visit us. Finn's successor, JC, was attempting to dig under the front gate when Finn pulled him in and introduced him to the pack. I thought that was a bit odd at the time, but I have learned that it didn't scratch the surface of oddness. I can joke that there is a sign only visible to dogs outside saying "Safe Haven" or something similar, but I've begun to think that it is more complex than that. Just lately, JC and Rocky began jumping our 3 meter brick walls to cavort in the dirt road in front of our farm with a beige female baladi who seemed to have been dumped here. Eventually they coaxed her into the farm but there was some friction between Marte, as we called her, and Calypso since they are both highly dominant females. After a few months she appeared to come into heat, but a vet exam had indicated that she'd been spayed so we did some ultrasounds that indicated the spay had been incomplete and one of her ovaries was encysted and congested. Once her plumbing problems were sorted she's become more relaxed. This is the first time that the dogs seem to have actively recruited a newcomer. JC and Rocky's attachment to Marte is extreme as well. 

There was a male baladi that lives in our road in front of the farm, we call him Peter, who was very interested in Marte when she was going through her false heat, to the extent of jumping the wall to come into the farm with her. Oddly enough, there were no fights among the males. All of our dogs are neutered but it doesn't at all mean that they don't enjoy sex if a female either is in season or thinks that she is, as in Marte's case. After we had Marte re-spayed, we didn't see Peter again for a while until some of our goats gave birth. That evening the goats were put away in their shed and the girls were woken by the sounds of dogs fighting outside. Marte had invited Peter over and they were headed to the goat pen but the other dogs disagreed with this course of action and attacked the two of them. The goats were fine and Marte and Peter took off, but the worst thing you can have at a farm with animals is a livestock killing dog. The next day I asked a friend to take her over to another agricultural area about 9 kilometers away and I gave him a bag of dog food to feed her with. However, he dropped her off only about 3 kilometers away as reported by a friend who saw her shortly after. I was quite annoyed about this but I told my staff that she would be back here by morning, surely, and she was indeed. She also seemed to understand that she had broken some serious rules and modified her attitude significantly.

So have I taught my dogs to do all of these things? No. Definitely not. For the most part, I let the dog pack train the dogs. Once I have taught one of the older dogs about housebreaking, the younger ones watch and learn. As the young dogs watch the older ones informing us about things with vocalisation, they try it themselves. This afternoon while I was chatting with a friend at my kitchen door, Calypso walked up to our water cooler and took a drink from it by pushing her nose against the lever and letting the water run down her tongue to her mouth. I was astonished. Apparently our Great Dane, who has learned how to open the kitchen door with the handle, also does this. Perhaps dogs are smarter than we thought they were, and also I suspect that letting them live in a natural pack offers them much more chance for social learning. The friend I was chatting with suggested that I look up an article written about some research on wild kangaroos to see if kangaroos ask for help from humans when they need it, despite the fact that they don't live in proximity to humans. They do in fact solicit assistance from humans much the same ways that dogs might. I have noticed this with my horses as well. They lived in paddocks in one large herd and two smaller groupings, and very frequently they will approach one of us to show a cut or scratch or some similar issue that would best be solved with primate fingers.




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, December 11, 2020

Gone to The Dogs

 

I realise that I went to the dogs years ago. I have had over a dozen dogs at any given time since about 1997. That's a long time. At first we were a normal family, sort of. We started with one baladi dog in Alexandria, and when she vanished one day we collected a pair of sisters from Smouha Club. We stuck with two dogs for a while when we moved to Cairo, until my daughter and I went to Greece on a spring break, and we found Molly sitting in the snow on a mountain. From the face she looked like a Golden Retriever and from the butt she looked like a Corgi. We brought her home, telling my husband as we took her off the luggage carousel that we had another baladi dog, but a Greek one this time. Then came the Rat Terriers.

My husband had built an enormous grain discharge terminal in Alexandria that was wonderfully computerised. Because Alex can be pretty wet in the winter, he built special tunnels to keep his computer cables dry. The rats loved the tunnels and enjoyed filing down their teeth on the computer cables, so I was instructed to find a green solution to the rodent problem. I found American Rat Terriers, a small working breed (meaning they don't have to look like anything in particular) that specialised in hunting rodents and other vermin. We started with a pregnant female and a young male figuring that since they were totally unrelated, Bluto could work as a stud for both Terra and her daughters to be. The only problem was that she had three sons in her first litter so we had to get a couple more females. In no time at all, RatBusters (we registered the kennel) had an easy dozen dogs to add to the three already there. Some of them went to the grain terminal to work and some stayed in Maadi with me. When my husband died, I had a pack of six males in Alexandria and a pack of six females ready to go to Borg el Arab to the soy bean crushing plant there. And I still had some that stayed with me along with a variety of homeless hounds that wandered through.

My move to the area near Abu Sir to buy land for my farm was accompanied by at least a dozen dogs. I moved about ten of the Rat Terriers who were shortly joined by another six from the grain discharge terminal because my brother-in-law hated dogs. I had our old baladi dog, Ganja, a crippled Dalmation, the Corgi mix from Greece as well, and shortly thereafter I got a young Great Dane. Our next move to the farm was quite simple and was accomplished by donkey cart for the furniture. The dogs and I just walked the 80 meters from the door of the old garden to the new front door, as we had been doing ´very day over the previous 6 months. Once we'd moved into the new house on the farm, it was a matter of training staff to close doors so that the dogs wouldn't wander and terrify the neighbours.But not long after I'd moved to the farm, a pup arrived there that was going to change my life enormously.

I'm not sure how Finn arrived, but the first time I ever saw him he was standing in the baking tray that I used for dog kibble, eating as fast as he could, his normally curly tail stretched straight out in concentration. The dog pack was standing and sitting all around him, looking on with interest but no animosity, so I decided that he clearly was meant to be here and we accepted our fate. I called him Finn after Huckleberry Finn, as he seemed very assured of himself and was obviously adventurous. Finn was the archetypal baladi dog, sand yellow, short haired, curly tail, tipped ears, and a small bit of white on his toes, the end of his tail and a flash on his chest. What was not archetypal was his size. He was much taller than any of the local baladis, and I always wondered if he had a touch of Dane in him, as there were some Great Danes in the neighbourhood, occasionally consorting with the baladi females. There was nothing of the Dane features in his face however.  When he arrived, sometime around 2005 or 2006, the pack leadership was in the hands of Koheila, the Dalmation who had an intellect that made us decide that she was actually an extraterrestrial, and Terra, the first arrival and the ranking female in the Rat Terrier pack. Koheila was not a large dog, but she took it upon herself to order the others to go attend to the gate if anyone came, while she herself would come to me to announce the visitors. Terra was a tiny dog with a fierce personality who never left my side and could intimidate anyone who came to see me if she felt that something was not right. These two ladies trained Finn well.

Terra and Koheila were getting older. Terra died at 17 and Koheila at 14, but I had time to notice that they were in fact training Finn to take over leadership of the pack as they were aging. They spent a lot of time with him, possibly conversing...who knows? They were tougher on him than others when he made mistakes. And eventually he took over as pack leader. Koheila still did the announcements and Terra owned the pillow on the bed, but they sat back from the more physical interactions with the other dogs as they aged. If Finn was out of the garden for a while he would check in with the old ladies, licking them on the face and lying on his back before them. It was clear that they still wielded quite a lot of canine power and I was getting better at watching it all and understanding. At this point most of the visitors to the farm were coming to go horseback riding, and, while they might stay for a cup of tea, they weren't staying all day the way that people do now. As the old terriers died, new dogs came to the farm to take their places. Most of them were baladi dogs and most of the time they just appeared. We did take in a couple of adult Great Danes after Morgana died, but they never challenged Finn's leadership. The male, Zook, basically ignored him good naturedly. Mindy, the grey female, became Finn's special friend and consort. They were devoted to each other. All the time there were young dogs coming and old dogs leaving, and I gradually became more aware of what a great job Finn did of keeping everyone in line. When young dogs became too excited at the arrivals of friends, he would growl a bit to tell them to relax. 
 
One of the things that I discovered with Finn was that he would talk to me about things. It took me some time to learn to understand what he was trying to get across to me. He disapproved of any physical punishment of dogs, not that it was often used. One time when two of the younger dogs got into a tiff, and I swung a foot at them in frustration (missing them entirely I must say), I felt a pain in my gluteus maximus that was a nip from Finn. I was shocked and stood there staring at him. He stared back without any shame at all, making his point. Conversations with dogs, like conversations with horses, are often on a level that is almost a form of telepathy. Until Finn, I hadn't really had dogs that bothered to vocalise, and he had a remarkably wide range of sounds that he used to get information across. The dogs that have grown up in his pack are extremely vocal and talk to us all the time. JC, our baladi wolfdog, came during Finn's last years and Finn chose him to take over the alpha position with Calaypso who has a mix of mastiff and pitbull in her background.  At about six months, JC's wolfy side began to appear and he taught the pack to do some very reputable howls. They also talk to visitors that they know well. Just today a family arrived and announced to me that Calypso, JC's co-chief, had come up to their care and talked a streak as they were walking in. I've learned a lot from the pooches and will probably continue to do so.




 

 

 

 

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Sunday, December 06, 2020

A Pandemic Project In The Neighbourhood

"Y’all will never believe what I have been doing during this quarantine/vacation. I’m not sure that I entirely do, but it is something that I am quite proud of. There are a lot of people in the equestrian world who know me even outside of Egypt, and in 2012 I was asked by a friend to check out a group who were said to be helping horses in Nazlet Semman. The group went by the rather odd name of Prince Fluffy Kareem, but I found a contact for them and I tried to arrange a trip to see where they were working and what they were doing. I was unsuccessful at the time and I told my friend that I was unable to meet with them or to get more information about their activities than was on their Facebook page at the time. If she wanted to donate to them, that was fine with me, but personally I felt a little bit uneasy not being able to contact and/or visit them personally. Subsequently, I was asked by other people about the same thing, and I had no more information to pass on than I had the first time, so I could only reiterate my concerns. As time went on, it was clear that the group was very successful in terms of collecting donations, if a bit mysterious. Sometime in the last few years PFK (as it is known in the interest of brevity) announced that it had moved its animals to my neighbourhood but I didn’t really know where, nor was I in any sort of rush to find out.

Imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago, about the time the voluntary social distancing was first being put into operation, I got a call from the head of the Board of Trustees for PFK, which was registered as a charity in the UK under the supervision of the Charities' Commission. Apparently Marte, who had started the group about 8 to 10 years ago had, in the face of the oncoming viral pandemic and an audit by the Charities Commission, retired and moved back to Norway. With Marte gone, and Sherif’s English skills a bit dodgy to say the least, they needed some local staff to take care of things like the translation of receipts and so on. (In fact, Sherif is illiterate in both English and Arabic and could not even manage the receipts and such in Arabic.) She asked if I could help them find the right people since I live in the neighbourhood, but with the advantage of about twenty-five years of experience here. I admitted to being rather more than just a bit surprised, but I agreed to help them out, feeling that for a successful charity to fall on the rocks due to personnel changes would be a real tragedy.

In the past two weeks I have visited Boxland and Fluffylands 2 and 3, I’ve seen the horses and donkeys and I have worked to set up systems of feed deliveries for horses, donkeys, cats, and dogs, so that they can be easily monitored by the Board of Trustees in the UK, which makes it infinitely easier to handle the running of the rescue. We are putting in a proper bookkeeper/purchasing agent who will oversee the financial part of running PFK as per the requirements of the UK Charities Commission, which leaves Sherif free to look after horses. (In the end, Sherif proved to be completely uncooperative and we had to find an independent manager who could be trusted...which we did.) This setup process seems to be coming along very nicely. Naturally since many of the horses who have gone to PFK have been in very hazardous condition, not all of the inhabitants are in the greatest of shape, but there are a lot of horses who are in excellent condition, which is a testimony to some good care. One of the organizational tasks is the creation of a database with photos of the horses, medical histories, and origins of the horses, as well as their status as a foster, a patient, or a horse that PFK has bought.

To most PFK supporters, at times my name has been, more or less, the equivalent of the arch-nemesis of PFK. I am aware of that and as always can only respond that I was presented with a certain lack of transparency which made me hesitant. At this point, there is no longer any lack of transparency. The policies and staff being put into place will satisfy the needs of the Charities Commission who, due to PFK’s success, have requested much stricter monitoring of daily operations. At this point, I can comfortably recommend PFK as a worthwhile project for anyone to support."


This was the diplomatic Facebook story for how I spent part my pandemic spring, but the reality was not so easy or calm. The reality was that while Marte and Sherif may have started the charity with the best of intentions, I suspect that the influx of cash changed the priorities quickly. They started in 2011 in the summer before the revolution (I believe) with the purchase of a beaten up grey stallion to nurse back to health in the comfort of the stable where Marte kept a horse and where Sherif worked, and I suspect that not many people noticed them that winter. The fairly appalling name was given by a British woman who started a Facebook page for their effort unbeknownst to Marte, who initially was angered at the intrusion into her privacy. 

By the spring of 2011 there were stories in newspapers worldwide about the "starving horses of Giza" which were generating a lot of interest in the charity world. We had a number of international charities coming in to offer food for horses in Nazlet Semman, which has been home to a huge number of fairly terrible riding stables interspersed with a few decent ones since some time in the 70's and even before. PFK began with people sending tack, medication and equine paraphenalia in suitcases to be distributed to the more down and out stables in the hopes of improving the working lives of horses who generally had to carry their passengers in battered, broken saddles that injured the horses' backs. In the spring of 2012 I recall standing and talking to an Egyptian vet who was working with a charity under Princess Alia of Jordan while we watched people coming to a station near the Sphinx where a truck was parked with 50 kg bags of yellow corn that were being loaded into horse carriages. Yellow corn is mostly sugar and is truly not a feed of choice for starving horses, but most of this was going to end up being sold anyway. All along the efforts to feed the starving horses of Giza have had some serious nutritional issues. Many horse feeding stations bring green berseem clover, which is sort of like handing a starving horse a popsicle since it is 90% water. But it is easy to handle and better than nothing I suppose. The dried hay would be much better for the horses but for some reason this has never been used. PFK settled into a stable near the Sphinx and began doing clinics with some invited vets and farriers. This attracted quite a lot of attention through skillfully written Facebook posts. At the same time in Egypt, during the summer of 2012, a young Australian woman, Ashley Lotherington arrived in Egypt with a couple of suitcases full of supplies and tack for PFK. She saw an interesting business plan and opened a horrific alleged horse rescue, The Egypt Horse Project, which she milked for all the money that she could get while allowing horses to suffer in her stable. So there were two groups working in Nazlet Semman but while they were collecting donations like mad, it was incredibly difficult for anyone to visit and evaluate their work. About four years later, Lotherington moved back to Australia where she has since been charged for animal abuse and the like.

Sometime around the same period that TEHP moved out of Nazlet Semman and Ashley left, PFK told supporters that they were opening a space for retired horses south of Giza and there were rumours that it was in my neighbourhood, but I never really pursued the search for the location. Later there were rumours that Sherif and Marte had moved into the neighbourhood and that Sherif had bought land here. The latter I laughed off since the price of land in our area is outrageous, but it turned out to be true and as a matter of fact he had commissioned a 50 box stable with a house that the Board of Trustees was entirely unaware of. It is partly built but he still owes money on it. I also heard rumours that Sherif had a herd of dairy cattle as well. In the interest of peace, I let the rumours slide. But when the Board of Trustees called on me to help, I felt that I really should. After all, they had the financial resources to do the job that Marte and Sherif had been claiming to do for years, although it was clear to anyone living in Egypt that they were not doing it. They had made it impossible for anyone with an IP address in Egypt to see the Facebook page some years back, and of course any name of someone who had been in the least bit critical was also blocked from viewing. From time to time, however, friends abroad would send screen shots to keep people in Egypt up to date.
 
The month that I worked with them was fraught with tension and implied violence on the part of Sherif and his brother Abdelnabi, who were quite unwilling to see their golden goose removed. They had rented a nearby stable as a commercial venture while telling the donors that Sherif had to find an outside job because the charity was paying him so little. Of course the horses for the stable had come from PFK or from PFK funds, and the charity was paying for the feed for the stable as well as the rent for the stable in all probability. There was indeed a herd of water buffalo as well as sheep and goats being stabled on the land paid for by the charity and being fed by the charity. All of the care for these animals was being done by the workers that the charity was paying to care for  horses. The brothers were not keeping any sorts of accounts and were just dealing with large amounts of cash. Within a week of my going to help sort things out, it was clear that there was a lot of major corruption. The tactic of the Farag brothers was to threaten not to feed the horses or to turn them out, or later to threaten other things. When I called their bluff on this, knowing that they were not going to do it, they waited a week or so to ask us to provide money for feed, but when I insisted on proper accounting for purchases and shipping, it was clear that the real costs were only a fraction of what had been claimed previously.

With the assistance of the local authority, the brothers were pried away from the operations of the charity and a new manager was brought in to reorganise the work on the land rented by PFK to care for the horses and donkeys staying there. Within a month or two, the feed costs were about one quarter of what they had been claiming from the board before, and all the horses were actually gaining weight. They now have, thanks to the work of the new manager, well-organised and well-trained staff whose only job is to properly care for the animals on the land and any animals who might stop by needing medical care. The manager has also arranged for one of the best equine clinics in Egypt to handle the veterinary care for the horses who arrive at the gates needing assistance, since, other than one clinic down the road, there are no real veterinary clinics in the area to care for the horses and donkeys of carriage drivers, carters, and farmers who cannot afford private clinics. Having the horses at PFK in paddocks out of doors is a real advantage for those who need time to rest, eat, and recuperate.

At the end of my month I was able to step back and return to my own projects on my farm. This was a huge relief as PFK had been taking up almost all of my waking hours for the month. I still speak with the head of the Board of Directors regularly, but now they are generally just calls to chat, thankfully, and I am in contact with their manager frequently as we refer a lot of cases to them when Rural Wellness Initiative's outpatient treatment won't do the job. But I have made it clear to everyone in the area that I have not become a part of PFK, nor will I in the future. I have plenty of work to do on my own. I am not getting any money from PFK, nor do I want any. Everything I did was to prevent the waste of a good group that, with proper management, can do excellent work for animals.


copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, April 03, 2020

Timelessness Isn't So Great

What day is it anyway? Without the Friday/Saturday family crowds, without the Tuesday clinics, it's too easy to forget where we are in the week. Currently the schedule for people living in Egypt is that we have a curfew from 7 pm to 6 am every day and then on Friday and Saturday any place one might want to visit is going to be closed and there are no public transport services. There is a rumor that the 7 pm curfew is going to be changed to 3 pm next week and then a possible 100% lockdown soon after. Maybe the idea has been to ease the population into this. Egyptians, like most people, are not keen on being told what they can and cannot do.

Christina and her girls discovered a gang of rats living under the aviary where we have poultry.



I've been keeping the guys who work here up to date on the news of how things are progressing because not knowing is much worse than knowing when things are not so great. I'm wondering how people are rationalising a complete lockdown in farming communities that are supplying food for people who are living in locked down cities. As well, much of Egypt depends on recyclers who are in personal contact with rubbish that may well be contaminated. The ramifications of this pandemic are mind-boggling. Still, we are living in relative comfort compared to so many.

The guys helped out on the day that everyone was making life hard for the farm rats.


The last time I spent this much time at home was in 2011, during the revolution. There was a saying that "this revolution will be tweeted" and I guess that this is going to be the same way.

Dahab schmoozing with a chick.







copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Isolation Updates

Like many governments all over the world, the Egyptians have been told to stay at home unless it's absolutely necessary to leave their  homes, schools have been closed and there is a 7 pm to 6 pm curfew every day. In addition public transport has been stopped on Friday and Saturday. In a country with so many people living in rural areas where there is no public transport, this poses some interesting issues.

How close is too close now?

For many in the rural areas, walking is the main means of transport unless one owns a donkey cart or something similar. But I have noticed some greater sense of social distance. I have a car at the farm and if I need milk here, someone has to go to buy it. The tetrapacks of milk are at a grocery store about 8 km away. There is no delivery. But there are not crowds entering and leaving the shop, and as I am parked outside (I am the chauffeur) people are not standing on top of each other. We buy our fruits and vegetables from a roadside stand that I have been using for almost 20 years. I can stand an easy 2 meters away and be given the items that I need. I ask the girl if anyone in the neighbourhood is sick and she says, "No. But people here are staying away from the city." This means that the virus will likely come more slowly to us. She also gives me her phone number and says that since she has to be closed over Friday and Saturday, if I need anything to call her and she will provide it from her home if I can send someone. I think that we will be ok.

Most of the "villages", which are simply small to medium cities without services, have water issues and in our area larger farms and homes have installed water filters that are attached to an outside wall to provide clean water to poorer neighbours. These water stations can be quite crowded at times. Since I'm hardly ever out of the farm I don't know how this is working out. Our water comes from our wells on the farm and the drinking water is filtered in the kitchen. Tests have showed that the water is clean but highly mineralised, which is really rough on electric kettles and such. That is the main reason for our filter. But we are self sufficient for water at least.

Here at the farm, the guys have work to do spread out over 3 feddans (acres) so again social distancing is being observed. My friend and her daughters are wandering around with their own projects or helping the guys, so they are also out of doors a lot. If anyone is inside much, it is me since keeping up with the news these days is almost a full time job. I'm spending a lot of time catching up with friends abroad, with events in the neighbourhood, with friends who are all going slowly mad in their homes and apartments in the cities. With a 7 pm curfew, the guys are here all day, go  home to their families, have a bite to eat, and everyone goes to bed pretty early. On the first night of the curfew, the police did arrive to shut down a couple of weddings in the area, and  no one has heard any more. Weddings out here in the reef are generally held out of doors so that all the neighbours can "enjoy" the music that is played at maximum decibels. There are some silver linings.

I have more time available to observe the social interactions of the dog pack lately. We lost our alpha male, Finn, who formed our pack some 15 years ago, a few months back. He had taken some time to train JC, our wolfdog, and Calypso, a baladi who looks exactly like a Cane Corso and is my self-appointed personal assistant, to take over his job, but nevertheless actually doing the job has been a pretty steep learning curve for them. Finn generally just sort of cruised around watching and giving very subtle orders to the others. He did have to get a bit louder with the 6 month to 1 year age group, the teenagers who need to learn that there really are limits, since puppies under 6 months old are treated quite kindly. JC is only about 3 and Calypso is only 4 years old, so they are working on volume control when disciplining the teenagers. When we have school trips here, one of the most common questions about the dogs has always been, "Who is the boss?" and why. Is it size? In that case Bran our doofus Dane would be boss, but that is unlikely ever to  happen. Is it strength? That could be a real toss-up. I suspect that it is a combination of emotional intelligence, communications skills, and organisational intelligence. I could see Finn spending more time with JC and Calypso in the last months of his life, so it was clear to me that he was working at teaching them something, although I wasn't sure of what it was.

How am I doing? Well that depends. I am not bored. Not in the least. The planning and logistics work continues apace. We are replacing the crazy old yellow house in what we call Narieda's garden with a new house of two floors that will each have three bedrooms and bathrooms, a big living area for meetings or gatherings and an enormous kitchen that can be used for teaching, cooking, teaching cooking, first aid classes or whatever. So I have workmen pouring concrete and doing all that housebuilding stuff at the other end of the farm. The guys are working on the gardens and green house as well as the horses, goats, and sheep, since this is the time of year when ordinarily we would be making at least one trip to the plant fair in Orman Gardens... but of course those trips aren't  happening. I'm corresponding with a farrier in either Switzerland or India depending on his schedule and a vet professor in Italy. Bernard is currently in India but is quite isolated (he sent photos to prove it) and Sergio is laying low in Italy with success so far.

They were here earlier this winter and we are hoping to be able to set up a school for farriers and for veterinary paramedics if the stars align themselves in the coming year with the help of Giza University. And of course in my free time I'm supposed to be writing my book. I don't know whether the blog qualifies on cheating at that or preparation for it.


copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A New Meaning To Mindfulness

My morning started with a good friend of mine who lives with some pets in a house in a rural area and, when there are no viral shut downs, she's a teacher in an international school. Oddly enough, she and some other friends of mine, many of them connected with schools but not all, came down with a really nasty flu, for lack of better identification, that involved high fever, aching limbs, a dry cough, and no real respiratory symptoms...but this was in November/December before COVID-19 had even been identified as far as we know. For my friends a penny dropped with the symptom description, but as far as anyone knows, this virus hadn't been even identified in China at that point. Egypt does have a huge number of Chinese companies and workers, but there is no way that I know of to identify what this was in hindsight. And just for the record, all of them survived the experience or I would never have heard of it. But recently she had gone to another part of Cairo where she walked into a shop to buy a bagel (most other things were closed) which she ate while watching the Nile. Later a couple of her friends were very upset with her for doing this and she was wondering where the anger was coming from. I suggested that the vitriol that sometimes is spilling out into statements of what someone should or shouldn't be doing in this time of concern over disease is probably based in fear.

All of the people that I know, not just this group that got sick before, are sheltering in place, trying to avoid contact and possible contagion. For some people this carries a lot of emotional baggage and I do know people who are spending much of their days in a fog of anxiety and fear. I know people who have dogs in the city who have to go for walks furing which they encounter people who demand to know how they can be endangering others in this fashion, and I know dogs that have been dumped by people who can't deal with that. Two of my dogs recently brought home a lovely spayed, flea and tick-treated female dog who had been hanging around my front gate for a month. She is definitely a family dog down on her luck and no one identified her on the page for lost animals that I run here on Facebook. She's quite happy to have a home. I have horses who live in a 3/4 feddan (acre) paddock where they can run around, and dogs who have all of 3 feddans (acres) to run in, so I don't have to venture off my farm due to animal need pressures.

I can hole up in my home, I can wander around and work in the gardens...for me this shut down is just fine, other than the fact that my animals still need to eat and I still need to pay for their food and my staff's salaries. I am one of the fortunate ones and I will never forget this fact. And for now I'm reading things online that are very thought provoking. Susan Sontag's Disease as a Metaphor  was published in the New York Review of Books in 1978 and is primarily concerned with how we use disease to define our personal and political world, as in "Communism is the exasperation of the bureaucratic cancer that has always wasted humanity. A German cancer, a product of the characteristic German preparationism. Every pedantic preparation is anti-human….".  However, what struck me as I was reading it was the automatic assumption that unless something from our environment like a bacteria or a virus attacks our bodies, we are somehow clean or healthy by default. In fact, research in science since she wrote this has indicated that every human body is a delicate balancing act involving billions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, as well our own tissues, and much of health is defined by keeping all of these things in balance. This is an entirely different world view. Yes, a virus or bacteria or fungus that throws off this balance can cause havoc as we are seeing with COVID-19, and some of the "risk factors" mentioned with regards to who is getting very ill as opposed to who is just sick, are in fact imbalances among the normal inhabitants of the human body.

Another article from the Atlantic that appeared in my timeline is more recent.  The Pattern That Epidemics Always Follow is one of the most rational articles that I've read regarding the current situation in the world. Karl Taro Greenfeld was the editor of Time Asia and was based in Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic in 2002. This was an outbreak that was quite similar to the current problem. It was also a product of the wet markets for wild animals but it was spread quite differently, which meant that the "solution" to the problem was different as well. Where Sontag was looking at social and political systems that have been described as medical problems, Greenfeld is much more pragmatic and is discussing how people react to epidemics.  

"Which brings us to the last stage of epidemic grief: rational response. After denial, panic, and fear, we can finally get down to the business of basic sanitary measures and infection protocols. At Time Asia, we urged better hygiene. We reminded anyone with a fever to stay home. We looked on as the medical establishment formalized the clinical response, determined diagnostic criteria, and isolated the virus."

Greenfeld reminds us that epidemics are inherently terrifying for people because they are larger than people. It is only recently that we have identified the tiny culprits, the bacterias, viruses, molds, and fungi, that instigate the epidemic, but still we are frightened because the imbalance in our families, communities and social structure is enormous and debilitating. When we take a deep breath and look at the data from the World Health Organisation we will see that there are 189 countries reporting cases of COVID-19, there are 267,013 reported cases of it worldwide, and that there have been 11,201 confirmed deaths worldwide. If we look at the numbers of deaths from road accidents alone in Egypt as reported by the same organisation we will see that there are generally around 12,ooo each year with the figure rising slowly but surely. There were more deaths from traffic accidents in Egypt last year than there have been deaths all over the world from COVID-19.

It is easy to say that this comparison is unfair. The figure for traffic deaths is for an entire year and we are looking at a few months for COVID. This is true. But  again, this is only for one country. What if we looked at the worldwide figure for traffic deaths in a year? This is currently 1.3 million people. Cars and driving, especially when combined with alcohol, are still vastly more endangering. Will COVID-19 turn out to be worse? It is possible, but I don't think that any medical person would predict this.

What is so disconcerting to all of us is the sudden imbalance in the availability of medical assistance when many people need the services but hospitals and doctors are overwhelmed by a rush of demand for their help, the lack of transparency on the parts of many governments who refuse to acknowledge that any problem even exists (which adds a great deal to the general stress and anxiety), and the fear that each of us could be a target for some tiny thing that might make us ill in varying degrees...or that we might pass on to our loved ones. So it's time to take a deep breath and look at all of this rationally. 

What do we do in this situation? COVID is spread by contact with a virus in fluids that can remain on surfaces or contact us directly. Staying as far apart as possible is a good idea. Isolating ourselves if we feel at all unwell or if the risks to us if we become sick are much higher than for other people is also a good idea. It isn't possible for some people to stay home from work, starting with medical staff, but also for people who have to transport our food from fields to markets, for people who work in the sources of our food such as markets and shops, for people who work in banks or other services, for the people who are in police forces or ambulance personnel , for the people who collect the refuse, for the people who work in gas stations, for farmers, for transport drivers (cabs, buses, metros and so on), for people who simply cannot afford not to work for fear that their families will have nothing to eat, for many more people than we have even thought about for many years. This is a good time to look at our links to our communities and consider how those links can teach us to care for each other.

May everyone remain well.





copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani