"Life is like a toilet roll, the nearer the end you get, the faster it goes" I read that somewhere just recently, and it appears to have lodged in my brain, now I hope I've still got a fair bit of roll left, at least a third or so, but it's so true, time flies past now, and I can't believe that I haven't done a blog since last august! (Probably a big relief to most of you, but I have had a few 'nudges' from both of my readers.)
I'm sitting in my room on the edge of Lake Tana in Ethiopia, taking a break from planning a two week course starting here in Bahirdar next week, it's Epithany, and the Ethiopians are all on a bank holiday, no, it's not the 6th of January, in fact I'm not sure what the date is, it's the 19th by our calendar, but Ethiopians are different, Christmas was about 10 days ago I think, and just to make life even more fun my watch says 4.40pm, so that's 10.40 pm according to my colleagues, then, when you've got the hang of that, you have to allow for the fact that Ethiopians who work regularly with foreigners know all this, and sometimes convert the time for you, but you don't know when, it all gets very confusing, Oh yes, and by the way, it's either 2001 or 2002 here as well (so my toilet roll just got a bit longer).
Anyway, let's get on with the important stuff like Donkeys shall we? In my last blog I was telling you about Kenya, and Ruth, well I got back finally in November/December to run the course. I wanted about 10 people, and in fact I had 18 - we had to go outside and work in the end, there just wasn't enough room. Every one made a set of harness, and took some materials home with them afterwards to get them started. The following week Amos and I visited quite a few to see what they were doing, it was great. I was taken into various houses to see how they were getting on, several had started, or finished their second set, all were enthusiastic, and even if a few did lose interest we now have probably a dozen harness makers around Nairobi where before there was one, all for about £350. Ruth was there, and, like many of the others, has become part of a sort of extended team, unofficial, unpaid, but dedicated to changing the donkeys' lot in their towns and villages. I stopped with Amos for a day or two last year, his phone is continually ringing, and does so up till 10 or 11 at night. Ruth, by the way has been saving, she's bought a young donkey, and an old cart frame, she hopes that in a year or so she'll be able to afford to get some wheels, rebuild the cart, and eventually have two carts on the road.
Lets move back to the present now, and pick up the story in Ethiopia. I managed to get down to Debra Zeit yesterday to see how the Pack Saddle Trials are going, in fact things have moved on quite a lot since I told you about them last year. We now have two of our pack saddle makers on the teams that go out. They spend their time teaching the villagers how to make and repair their own saddles whilst the vets do their clinics. We started this a few months ago and it appears to be working well. In addition to this the Debra Zeit team decided to train up small groups of volunteers in 5 markets around the area (that's now extended to 6 sites.) This all started about 2 months ago, so they've not been going long, but the first group of the three that I met had sold 80 saddles, the second group, 99 saddles, and the third, 40 saddles.
Now the key word here is sold. We have a situation where people who never thought about their donkey's welfare are paying for saddles. I don't know if you can appreciate what a massive step this has been, or how much work it has taken by all the different elements of the team. I certainly don't have words for it, I've just tried about a dozen ways, and deleted them. The same applies to the people we've trained, they all said the same, not only are they helping the donkeys, but they've also got a new skill, a new product, a new way of making ends meet, and feel like they've been given something very special. The one problem they all have in common is that the donkey owners are buying one saddle, taking it home and copying it. Fantastic news for the donkeys and us, not so good for our entrepreneurs, but I'm fairly confident that if they keep the quality of their workmanship up they'll always have a market, and, in all cases it's an extra income, not a replacement.