Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Picking Up A Mule

I have a friend who is besotted with mules. A retired petroleum engineer who is still consulting with companies here in Egypt, Bill decided that rather than buying a fast car to prove that he's still young, he'd buy a mule. His first mule, Lula was a nice little grey hinny and he's been riding around the neighbourhood on her, to the amusement of the local children. In Egypt, mules are not considered appropriate for riding, but Bill is an American and mules are more than appropriate for riding in the US. I've been encouraging him in his fascination because my experience with mules has shown me how intelligent, steady and reliable they are, so he has found a very willing partner. Bill came to me a week or so ago and said that he'd found a nice jack mule and wanted to bring him to the farm. We arranged that I would go with him to meet the soon-to-be previous owner of the mule along with a groom to help with the transport and to try out the mule for riding and a vet to eliminate any extraordinary health problems.

So off we all went to Barragil, a neighbourhood that is in transition from rural to urban near Imbaba. It is not the kind of neighbourhood that most foreigners, or for that matter most Cairenes, visit for fun, but it wasn't nearly as bad as we'd been lead to believe that it would be. Bill and his driver had arranged to meet the mule's owner at a certain corner in the area so we headed there and eventually (nothing in Egypt is straightforward) we found him. Our vet, Karim, checked the mule's legs, chest and body looking for any unrepairable damage. We had no illusions that the mule would be in perfect shape, and he wasn't. Time being driven with a cart in a headpiece that included a thin piece of rope to apply pressure to his nose had left him with a scar across his nose. But this, we assumed, would respond to things like Vitamin E capsules applied to the area to heal it. His lungs were clear, he had no tendon issues and he trotted out cleanly without trying to kill the groom sitting on his back.

His feet, happily a fixable item, were in pretty bad shape. He had three shoes, each of a different type and the hoof of each was a different height. How he could work in any degree of comfort was beyond me. But I'd already arranged with the farrier to come and do something about the trim of his feet. At our place he wouldn't be needing shoes at all. We don't work on asphalt. One of the interesting things about his initial shoeing was the fact that there were pads in place on two of his feet rather randomly, pads constructed of old tires.

Once the inspection was over to our satisfaction, the problem remained of transport to the farm. A pick up truck was rented and it was backed up to a small hill alongside the roadway. Unfortunately the hill was a hill of garbage, and quite reasonably the mule, who we'd found was called Antar, was quite unwilling to use it to launch himself into the pickup. The groom outsmarted him by tying a scarf over his eyes so that he couldn't see what he was walking on, and he was quickly loaded into the truck. Throughout all this we never collected a crowd of more than about half a dozen spectators, practically a record for foreigners doing something weird in Cairo.

In due course, we all arrived at the farm where Antar was more than happy to be unloaded. It was dinnertime when we arrived and the horses couldn't have cared less about Antar's arrival with the exception of Lula, Bill's hinny. She ran up and down the large paddock calling to him as if to say "Look, everyone. One of my kind. I'm not alone. I have family." Antar, on the other hand, was more interested in getting into a clean paddock filled with rice straw and a huge bathtub of clean drinking water. We've tried him under saddle and he's a gentleman, brave of heart and willing to cross large puddles, and he seems to have no real vices. I think that Bill did quite well.

copyright 2008 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani


Connie said...

What an interesting experience! Hope we get out to see you and your farm, bring the kids, before school starts (after R&R). We weren't able to free a weekend before leaving. :)

CountingPennies said...

Is there really so much garbage on the streets? It seems to show up in several photos. I'm a little shocked!

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

This particular area was rural until recently and the city has overrun it. The population is high and dense, and the government services in these areas are nonexistent. There are no areas for the placement of trash other than in a pile and someone comes around with a bulldozer to put it into a huge truck once in a while, lord knows how often. Most of the world doesn't have trash collection in neat little cans, bags and trucks, you know. Say thank you for city taxes. They have to do the best that they can. It isn't aesthetically pleasing but it's better than nothing.