Thursday, May 19, 2005

Working With What You Have

Omar.JPG
Omar.JPG, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
The workmen were my teachers from the very first. I learned my Arabic from the fruit and vegetable sellers, from the electricians and the plumbers, from the grooms and the veterinarians. My Arabic isn't the most elegant even today. I do better in the paddocks and souqs than I do in a board room or a cocktail party. People laugh kindly at my Alexandrian accent, sort of the way that someone might find amusing the way a newcomer to English speaks with a southern accent. I can live with that.

Omar is my blacksmith. His teacher was Yassin, who had been trained by the British before they left Egypt in the 50's. Yassin began training Omar as he was going blind, not an optimal training program. Far too many skilled workers and even professionals here guard their skills jealously, not wanting to give anything away lest the younger ones steal their clients. Omar never really got a good chance to learn from Yassin, but a number of years later we were able to help him out.

A visiting American blacksmith offered to help a number of us who boarded our horses out in Sakkara by taking Omar under her wing for a few weeks to train him. The look on Omar's face the first time he met Sara was priceless. Clearly he didn't believe that he had much to learn from a woman...at least he didn't until she had fashioned a complete set of specialised horse shoes from a bar of iron in about 20 minutes. After that, she had his total attention.

From Sara he learned a lot about shoeing, about changing the shoes to fit the horses rather than vice versa, a very important distinction as most horsemen know. He commissioned an ironworker to build him a portable forge and a foot rest for filing the horses' hooves. He was a good blacksmith at the beginning, but he's a much better one now.

One of the things that I've always wanted to do is to institute an exchange program for skilled workers in the field that is so important to my life, horses. I'd like to be able to offer free room and board for visits to Egypt by vets, farriers, and saddlemakers who are willing to come to Egypt on holiday and spend part of that time teaching our people here. That is probably the only way that we are going to be able to train anyone under the educational level of a doctor of veterinary medicine. There are no schools for farriers, no training for saddlemakers, and our veterinary schools aren't exactly hands-on training. Unfortunately as well, politics being what they are, a man like Omar isn't likely to get a visa to go to study with a master blacksmith in the US or Europe to improve his skills.

You have to do the best that you can.

1 comment:

Heather said...

I think that's a great idea. There are several organizations that set up working trips for veterinarians. I know Heifer International does. www.heifer.org.

I went to Bolivia and worked with some local veterinarians when I was in vet school and it was great. I'm looking forward to doing it again sometime.