Tuesday 21st October
While Mal Squance, our Deputy Chief Executive, has a day in the office, I join a mixed team led by Carlos but including Mauro a veterinary assistant, Pablo the farrier, Beto the harness-maker, Alma, Ereka and Diana the Social Service vets, and Fernando, another Social Service vet from a different programme who acts as my translator for the day.
We are going just north of Mexico City to Coacalco, the other satellite town whose rubbish dump has a sizable working donkey, mule and horse population. When we arrive I realise Coacalco is not a rubbish dump but a waste recycling centre. Tucked in behind a row of low non-descript buildings opposite a field of urban maize and some open ground with a grazing horse, are two deep pits. Two large garbage lorries sit next to each other in each pit, their tops at ground level. Behind the pits is a small neat area for recycled plastic. A steady procession of garbage carts arrive through the day. Once the main recyclable items have been removed, they are reversed up to the edge of the pit. Horses and donkeys are unhitched, carts are tipped up and their remaining contents emptied into the lorries. Once full, these leave, probably to places like Nesa.
We set up at the entrance to the wide roadway up to the pits. Once the carts have been emptied, their owners come to us for routine treatments or to consult about problems. In contrast to Nesa, here there are more donkeys than horses. Apparently this was until recently an agricultural area with a tradition of using donkeys for agricultural work. There are few serious problems and the majority of the donkeys look well, some well-loved. Many have two animals, one pulling the cart, the other alongside for companionship or to learn the trade. Pablo the farrier is busy trimming hoofs. A particular problem which seems common here (and might have a genetic pre-disposition) is knuckled over hoofs with contracted tendons. We see a couple driving a pair of donkeys along the road. The accompanying animal has two knuckled over hoofs. We invite them over. They have recently bought the donkey for about GBP30 from a market just north of the city. It is about ten years old and a friendly donkey despite its bad feet. We explain it might be possible to correct the condition, even though the donkey is not young, but they will have to return regularly and try some simple physio-therapy at home. Waiting owners are discussing the problem, and one tells how a donkey of his had had the same problem but got better over a three month period. The couple agree to give it a try.
Fernando asks me if I want to give an injection. Despite having given thousands of injections in my life, under his scrutiny I feel like a student again. Afterwards he shows me the way he has been taught, which is more the way I would use for small animals, drawing up and pinching the skin. I agree his seems a more gentle way, try it myself, and will use this method in future. It is never too late to refine technique!
We leave in mid-afternoon. On the way back to UNAM (the Autonomous National University of Mexico) we call in on a donkey whose leg had been broken in a hit and run accident outside the owners’ home. Alfredo had splinted the leg using a length of plastic guttering and it had mended well. It was now kept as a pet - a lucky donkey.
We also discuss my impressions of the work today, and what ideas I have for improving things. It is easy to come up with ideas, more difficult to make them work in practice. Many things have already been tried, some have worked, some haven’t. Some may have been dropped as a result of particular circumstances and are worth trying again. I am keen to maintain a system whereby whatever is tried is monitored carefully and the results recorded. That way we continue to learn from our experiences and pass on successful ideas.
Wednesday 22nd October
Today we meet all the Mexico City based team to discuss a strategy for moving forward. We want everyone to participate so get groups to draw maps showing what is important in their geographical areas of work; and other exercises to get them to think where they would like to be in three years and how they might get there. It is always fruitful to learn what others are thinking and what is inside people’s heads. The bottom line is that it must be directed to improving the lives of donkeys, but otherwise everything is up for negotiation.