When I left you last time, I was in India and about to go up to Sikar in Rajasthan to run a Harness Making Course for the local donkey owners. The run up was far better as Sadagi, the taxi driver, now has a newer Tata and took a different road, which knocked about 2 hours off the drive. He explained that as we weren't going to our normal destination he'd changed the route. Since both destinations are only half an hour apart I found this a little confusing, but, when travelling abroad I usually find it easier to smile and go with the flow.
Just a word about travelling by road in India. Most countries have their own versions of suicidal ways to spend time. Australia, no rules football; Russia, Roulette; the Welsh play rugby; the English go to rummage sales... you get the picture? In India, you just have to travel down a public highway, there doesn't appear to be any rules, apart from:
- Get from A to B as fast as possible
- Keep your hand firmly on the horn
- Try to force as many other road users as possible to run, slam on the brakes, or swerve into the edge as possible, and finally,
- Make sure that no one else gets to that two inch gap that just appeared before you!
Oh, sorry, one more... don't hit any form of bovine animal (it's quite common to see cattle sleeping on the central reservation, even in the centre of New Delhi).
During one stretch of narrow road we were forced off into the verge about five times by oncoming buses, travelling at at least 50 mph, down a dirt track, hand on air horn, and slowing for nothing. It is a seriously exhilarating experience to survive a trip - the adrenalin rush beats all forms of extreme sports.
Anyway, how did the course go? Well, I thought it was fantastic, but then I'm biased. Considering that the initial expectation was that no one would stay for more than a day or two, we did well. Four local students, plus three others stayed the whole 10 days. These guys are living literally hand to mouth. One day without wages and they are suffering.
We did, in fact, give them a small salary, but not until they'd already done half the course. I know that sounds harsh, but, if we'd promised a wage from the start we'd have had 30 or 40 people, most of whom would have had no intention of taking the course seriously, they'd have been along for the ride, we've found this by experience. No one learns anything, all the materials and tools disappear and get sold, and the whole course is a wash out. As it was, we had a small number of really committed, seriously interested local men on the course.
Everyone worked really hard, trying to pack a harness course into 10 days is really hard. It takes years to learn the trade. All we could hope to do was get the basics across. All the participants got a tool kit, materials, and instruction in a wide range of practical and theoretical harness making and use (as well as lunch and numerous cups of tea).
On the first day everyone wanted to leave at 5 o'clock, on the second to last they worked, voluntarily, till three in the morning! Everyone wanted the course to be longer, and the best bit for me, was hearing them tell me that next time there's any courses going on donkey welfare subjects, they'll be there, and they will bring their friends with them.
I don't know if I can get across the achievement here in words. These guys are known to be independent, proud, and hard working. Normally it's hard to get them to stop work even for five minutes whilst a vet treats a wound, or deworms an animal.
Our four locals are all well known, respected members of a community that owns 3,000 donkeys in this one small town. Two of our students are well known in towns up to 100 km away, and, I hope, that whilst I'm sitting here writing this, they are out there somewhere, talking to others about looking after their donkeys and mules better, about using the Sanctuary's veterinary team, getting advice, and about signing up for another course as soon as possible.
After leaving Rajasthan we went back to Delhi to start one day programmes in the brick kilns, but that's another blog...