On the morning of Sunday 20th July, I was picked up by our team to drive to Kodaia, a small village outside Cairo in Egypt on the edge of the brick kiln area that supplies many of the workers. It was the team’s first visit, with an exceptional turnout of 220 donkeys.
Farid (SPWDME AHA and harness maker) and I worked non-stop, mostly making and altering head collars, but also repairing two saddles. After work, we went to see a family of saddlers in the next town who had been making some new harness under Farid’s guidance.
The next day we travelled to the brick kilns themselves. In April, when I was last there, the team were only allowed onto four sites, but now this number has increased to 25 so we have made great progress.
Our first visit was to one of the new sites which was supposedly one of the worst. There were some of the new type saddles there. However, the hitching point hadn’t been altered and the materials were poor. This resulted in a set of harness that only lasted a month instead of a year and of little benefit for the donkeys because the draught and brakes were still coming via the saddle.
The donkeys at this site are pulling well over a tonne of bricks in each load. We could hear them struggling for breath from more than 50 metres away, choked by the collars being pulled up toward the saddle. With the new system, the donkey was able to breathe easily and the saddle received no pressure, either in draught or braking.
Both Farid and myself spent the morning altering and reinforcing the new harness before trying it out. The results were spectacular.
We would also like to look at getting the loads reduced, but so far we haven’t been able to achieve this.
Over the next couple of days we went to Wardan, which was the first village I visited on my last trip. I spent the entire day trying to make a gullet in a saddle. Farid had been working on this since my last visit, and though there were some problems, there had been a significant improvement. After building the saddle with the widened gullet, we finished the basic construction leaving off the finishing layers of cloth.
It’s my hope that the pattern can be adapted for use in other countries, especially Ethiopia and India where there’s a real need for a good pack saddle.