Sunday, November 29, 2009

It Had Been a Long Time

I have lived in Spain for so long that I really feel more Spanish than American and I know our children don’t think of themselves as Americans. Between university and rejection of residence papers, after being here almost since birth, two of our daughters have moved back to the States. One now has blessed us with four grandchildren. She met her husband here at a fund-raising Burro-baseball game for our charity, ANIMO. He was a Marine based at Rota and the Americans sent up a bus-load to play a friendly game against Mojacar.
It was time to take a break and spend some time with the children and see something new. Coming from California, one of the privileged ones, or so they say, I thought the mid-west states would be very backward. I was so wrong. The people were gracious and friendly. The countryside was beautiful and the wildlife spectacular. What a change from southern Spain where the rivers are dry and the wildlife almost non-existent. We were also lucky because we hit Indian summer and our three weeks in the States was sunny and warm: not just the weather but also the people we met.
We had the good fortune to stay in the guest house of a friend of our children. It was next to the university and walking distance to the Old Town. Right next to the house was a river that ran through the city and there were parks everywhere. Lenox made great friends with an armadillo that lived under the neighbor’s house and with all the squirrels and birds. All the animals and birds seem bigger there. We took our grandchildren to the zoo to give our daughter a day off and we actually saw more wildlife just sitting on our patio than we did in the zoo.
Patsi, the woman whose house we stayed in, had a huge ranch just outside of town with four horses and lots of cows, all giving birth during our stay. I got to ride every day sometimes twice. My husband got to drive a four wheeler, a horse and a fourteen-wheeler which he drove to help bring in all the huge rolls of hay.
There is the ‘miracle mile’ with all the big shops and fast food but they have kept it all in one area. The houses in the town were all different, ranging from authentic log cabins, colonial and single storey brick or wood houses. They all had at least half an acre with an open area in the front, you couldn’t tell where one property started and the next one began, and a fenced back yard. All beautifully mowed, with a huge variety of trees and birds. Besides spending time with our grandchildren, which was a pleasure, we took in the sights. Lakes and rivers everywhere, we saw a parade for Veterans Day, Halloween was a treat, the food was fantastic and everything was relatively cheap.
Besides the escape from here and spending time with our children, for us the best part was the wildlife and riding everyday. I hadn’t ridden in about eight years I was a bit nervous at first but in a short time was galloping all over the countryside. I have always ridden bareback and that is how I rode. On the main farm you could just walk because of the prairie-dog holes but there was a lovely plowed ring for riding in and a forest that went all around the 180 acres with beautiful paths where you could see herds of deer, brown squirrels, owls and other wildlife. Nearby was a nursery with saplings in it, it was several acres and had a plowed road going all the way around it so you could trot or canter for ever. I had forgotten how happy riding makes you feel and the physical benefits you receive just by having a good time. Patsi, it turned out, was a roper so we went to several practice events and even got to ride some of her horses around just to keep them used to the atmosphere. In the arena we had to use saddles which I found very uncomfortable so will stick to bare-back. Every moment of every day was relaxing, interesting and fun.
It was a great holiday and I can’t wait to go back. It is all thanks to the organization of our children that made this trip possible. Daniel stayed home to take care of the animals and house while Jessica and Amber arranged our lovely accommodation and transport. Without their help we never could have made this trip and in the end it cost us less than staying here for three weeks. Thank you kids, we love you.
One of the interesting things that we noticed was in the grandchildren: they had all grown and matured so much. We noticed that the two school-age girls had lost a lot of their childish imagination in the arts. It is a shame that school tells you that grass is green and the sky is blue etc. because their drawings all looked the same, whereas before, they painted marvelous painting worthy of hanging in a gallery. The imagination on the story telling had increased even to lies but all in good fun. Jessica has been so lucky because she has been able to stay home to watch the change and growth in her children which nowadays is a privilege because most mothers have to work and miss out on a lot of changes both physical and developmental. We had so much fun playing and getting to know the new grandchildren.
The cows had to be counted every day and see if there were any new ones. As they were born they were given names in alphabetical order to try and keep them straight as to their age. They decided on using plants for names and I got to name three: Ivy, Hay, and Jalapeña. Lenox named one, Gooseberry. Patsi also had a mechanical bull and a big metal horse in the barn to practice as all good ropers do because sometimes you just can’t get outside to practice because of the weather or lack of people and animals to participate. At practice sessions all the cows are in a shoot wearing helmets to protect them and two horses back up on either side. The header, one who ropes the head and pulls the cow to the left, and the heeler who is a second behind and catches the feet as the header swings it around to the left and the steer kicks up its hind legs so the heeler can rope them. Then they all run to the far corner and into the shoot again. It isn’t a sport I see myself doing but it was lots of fun.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Strange Birds

Kalinska was a small Egyptian owl that fell on to a Russian cargo ship in the middle of the Suez Canal. How, no one knows. The sailors fed her and took care of her until they docked in Garrucha, the fishing village next to Mojácar. The sailors gave her to a Russian girl that lived in town. Kalinska lived in her room and ate chicken livers and hearts. The owl had no idea how to clean herself so was always covered in blood and sticky gore. The Russian girl would wash Kalinska with people shampoo after every meal and then dry her with a blow dryer. She got tired of this routine very soon. Knowing that we took in animals of all sorts, she brought it to us to care for. We had a lovely big aviary for her and every day we fed her by hand the liver and hearts that made up her diet. The butcher was so intrigued that he gave them to us for free. She still never learned to clean herself and all the washing and drying of her feathers had removed all the natural oils that she needed for flying and her health in general. What we thought was a fat healthy owl turned out to be a thin ugly filthy little thing. We didn’t wash her with the hopes that the natural oils would return and that she would learn to clean her own feathers. She never did learn to clean herself so she always looked rather mangy. She was very friendly and would eat out of your hand and we would wipe her feathers down from time to time. There was no way she could ever be returned to the wild and even if she could where would we let her go? So she stayed with us.
Another strange bird that arrived at our house arrived in the bra of a woman on horse-back. Her dogs had found it while she was out riding and it had a broken wing. She knew the only place she could take it to be cared for was to us. It was a hawk. We nursed her back to health and her wing healed. She flew a little more each day until one day she was ready to return to the wild. We kept food out for her for a while until she got the hang of living in the wild. She did very well and I hope went on to have a family. What I couldn’t understand was how that woman brought her all the way here in her bra because the hawk had one heck of a bite and a very sharp beak. The strangest thing about this story was our cat, Mouse, he was not a hunter and had never brought home his prey to show us, unlike Cookie who was a hunter and brought in everything from rabbits to snakes and rats. I don’t like it when cats kill just to play with the animal but Cookie ate every last bit so I figured it was nature at work. From the day we got the hawk, our cat Mouse took to bringing us a field mouse he had just caught. Apparently, for our guest to eat. This went on every day while we had the hawk until the day the hawk left and Mouse never hunted again. It was great for us because I hate feeding animals that eat other animals but I know it is nature’s way.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Just Because He is Different

Information for children about disabilities
By Mima
Note to parents:
There are many types and grades of disabilities that are too complex for children so I tried to pick a few that wouldn’t alarm them yet give them the idea that it is alright to make friends with someone who may be very different from themselves.

There are a lot of children with disabilities of many kinds. A disability means that they have some problem and can’t do everything like other children. They may look different or be in a wheel-chair or might be blind, which means they can’t see, or deaf, which means they can’t hear. Some children are born with their disability and some get disabled from being sick and others from accidents. Most people are afraid of people that are different because they don’t understand or haven’t been informed or exposed to disabled people. They tend to stare or look away and pretend they don’t see them because they don’t understand or know how to react. These are all things that go through your mind. Usually the disabled person is very smart but maybe they can’t talk or move their body the way they want because the brain doesn’t tell their body what to do. In a child without disabilities the brain tells the body how to move and think but in a child with disabilities the brain doesn’t connect properly. So their body doesn’t work well. Usually these children want to be friends but don’t know how to express themselves. If you meet a person with a disability you should talk to them like you do to everyone else. They know that they are different from the rest of the children but still want to interact.
Take a deaf person for example: they are just like you but they can’t hear. You don’t yell at them because it doesn’t help. You must look at them when you speak and if you turn off your voice, whisper, it is easier for them to read your lips. Deaf people have a language of their own: it is called sign language. In sign language they use their hands to talk. It is very easy to learn and a fun project for the whole family. It can be like a secret language you use with your friends so no one else understands. Then if you do meet a deaf person you can talk to them.
If they are in a wheel-chair and can’t move their body or it moves by itself and they can’t control it, then don’t be afraid. Treat them like everyone else. You usually find that they are lots of fun and understand you but it takes some time for you to learn to understand them. You need to watch their face and eyes because they tell you a lot and soon you will know what they want. Because they know they are different they are very patient and try very hard to make friends. Having a dog to help them open doors and pick up things usually helps them meet people because the people are curious about the dog and approach the disabled person to find out more about the dog. It helps to break the ice.
These children usually go to special schools where there are other children with problems similar to their own but you may have a few in your school, or meet them at the park.
They don’t mind if you ask them questions about their disability and maybe their parents can help you get to know them and their problems a little better.
Some children have Down Syndrome. This is where their brain stops learning at a certain age; it is different for each child. They have a very distinctive look about their face so it is easy to pick them out. They are always loving and friendly but act like much younger children so you have to have patience with them. Some of them are extra-talented at things like chess or numbers or art but can’t tie their shoes for example. They don’t understand when a change is made in their life like moving to a new class with a new teacher or a friend moving away. They like things to stay the same. They get very excited about the simplest thing and playing with them makes them very happy. Sometimes they get a little rough because they don’t know how strong they are so you have to tell them nicely to be gentle.
Disabled children usually have to spend a lot of time in the hospital which makes it hard for them to stick to a routine and keep friends. Some have operations to try and fix the problem. The doctors and nurses are very nice and treat them well so they are not afraid.
Horseback riding under the supervision of a doctor or therapist helps them a lot because when you are in a wheelchair you don’t use your muscles and your insides need exercise to work properly. This is where the horse helps because it massages their insides and strengthens their muscles without them having to work. Usually they need someone to ride behind them to help hold up their head and body and do exercises. They like to go places that they can’t in their wheel-chair and, for once, to look down at everyone instead of up.
Most animals can help people but especially a person with a disability. Stroking a cat can help relax the muscles and ease pain. Also animals aren’t prejudiced so they don’t care what you look like or sound like. They also make great friends because you can tell them all your secrets and problems and they won’t tell anyone. It is good for all children to learn to take care of another being but especially for the disabled because someone always has to take care of them and it is a nice change to take care of something themselves.
You don’t have to be disabled to be different, your skin might be a different color than your school-mates or you might be fat or thin or short or tall for your age. You might be poor or rich, have one or two parents or maybe none and you are an orphan or foster child. These things all make it harder to mix in and make friends. So try to get to know some of these people. You may really like them or you may not but don’t let their appearance decide for you or you will miss out on some good friends.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


When I was about four year old I had lots and lots of stuffed animals and one doll. Her name was Barquette. She was made of cloth and had elastic on her feet so that she could dance with you. As hard as I tried, I never loved Barquette as much as I loved my animals. I felt very bad about that but she got left out of a lot of tea parties and trips in the wagon. I never wanted to hurt their feeling so at night I would put my animals all in my big double bed but I would put Barquette in the closet so she couldn’t see the others in my bed. Lots of times there were so many that I had to sleep on the floor. One night my father came in to kiss me good night and found my sleeping on the floor. After thinking the problem over with me he thought the animals would be very sad if I had to sleep on the floor so we had to devise a plan. My father’s plan was that the animals took equal turns in the bed leaving room for me. That way no one’s feeling would be hurt and every one would get their turn in bed. I agreed with his plan and that is how I got to sleep back in my bed. I must say that there were so many that sometimes I didn’t always get the turns right. I had a few favorites and they seemed to get a little extra bed time than the others. My favorite was Chubby Cubby. He was a big, white, soft cuddly polar bear and about my height just a little fatter. I think he actually got a turn every night. When I wasn’t out in the barn with my sheep and foal, I was in with my stuffed animals.

My sister and I shared a wing of our giant house and we had a bathroom in the middle. The rooms were huge and beautiful. The house had about 20 rooms and 2,000 acres for us to play on and ride horses. This is when I got my first horse, Peaches. I also got my first lamb. My mother was at a friend’s house and a sheep had given birth to triplets and couldn’t care for them. These people had thousands of sheep so had no time for hand-raising. My mother volunteered that she had three children and would give one to each of us to raise. It wasn’t as much fun as you might think because in the cold and rain and dark before school we had to go out and bottle feed them then again after school and again before bed. I got the runt, a little girl and my brother and sister got two males. As they grew, my brother and sisters sheep went out to join the herd, but mine was so little and friendly that we kept her around the house. I even took her to school for show-and-tell one day.

Back to the stuffed animals. One night I had a friend spend the night so we decided to sleep in my sister’s room because she had two beds. Still asleep, in the middle of the night I went to the bathroom, still drowsy I climbed back into my bed and pushed what I thought were my animals over to make room for me when one sat up and said “what are you doing” I have never been so frightened in my life because I thought it was Barquette talking to me. My mind went wild with all the mean things I had done to her and about locking her in the closet at night. She kept saying it’s alright it’s just me but she never said who me was. My sister thought I had gone mad. I backed into a corner behind the dresses and screamed at the top of my lungs until my parents came from the other side of the house and turned on the lights It took them ages to convince me that it was my sister not my doll because by this time my imagination was going wild. They finally brought Barquette out of the closet to show me. I still never liked Barquette but from that night on she slept in my bed, it was at the foot of the bed but it was still the bed.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Smuggling Butter

In 1966 my family moved to Estepona Spain because my father was traveling with the Royal Navy doing scientific experiments. His ship would dock in Gibraltar every three months, for a week, so my mother felt it would be a great learning experience for us to move to Spain and that way we could also be closer to my father when he came to shore. Estepona was a small fishing village with four or five villas scattered around the hills, belonging to English families. One such family was that of one of the great English train robbers, Ronnie Biggs. One day, Ronnie Biggs took us kids out on his yacht, the Christina, and showed us where he had stashed all his share of the money from the robbery. The wads of cash were right there under the deck inside the cabin!
There were two apartments on the beach of Estepona and the rest were mainly caña huts dotted around the beach where the fisherman lived. Most but not all of the small community of scattered villas in the hills were running from the law for one reason or another. There was one small church and a bar-store. We rented the two apartments on the beach. Smuggling was the way of life there. We used to love to travel on the ferry from Gibraltar to Algeciras just to watch the people smuggle, mainly butter and tobacco. In the middle of summer, people would be wearing layers of clothes and huge shoes and hats. They always put something in an easy place to find so that the Guardia Civil would confiscate it and let them on their way with the rest of the stash. In those days the Guardia patrol of the coast line had a three kilometer stretch for each Guardia. They were provided with no equipment: anything they wanted they had to buy themselves. As each Guardia walked his three kilometers he would put fishing lines out and reel them in on the return trip hoping to catch the next day’s meal. We used to watch from the balcony at night as a small boat came ashore and unloaded boxes of goods, trying to avoid the passing Guardia. The little boats came ashore from a larger ship that was further out at sea carrying the contraband. One night the little boat that docked near us had its timing all wrong and bumped into the Guardia. After a lot of yelling and finger-pointing the Guardia left them to unload their contraband but not without having received a beautiful new American flashlight with a red blinking light at one end. The Guardia was so thrilled with his flashlight and used to shine it everywhere. Being children we thought it would be fun to shine our flashlight back at him. It became an every night ritual as he would pass our house he would shine his light and we would blink ours back at him. My best and only friend at the time was a young girl who lived in one of the caña huts with eight brothers and sisters. She had a baby brother that she was to care for at all times which meant he came when we went out to play. She always carried him by his feet over her back and he just slept all day. My brother and I got our first paying job there. We got two donkeys and every day would go up into the mountains and load the donkey’s basket with rocks and bring them back down and dump them on the side of the road. We would repeat the procedure until nightfall. The job only lasted two weeks because we never got paid and they had no intention of paying us. The rocks were for a building company that wanted to build a road to what one day would become the city of Estepona. We still had great fun riding our donkeys all over the beach and to the bar-store. It was there that my mother lost the little faith she already had in the Catholic Church because the priest was also the school-teacher and he had a little house next to the church and school. A few years earlier the roof had blown off the school and so he refused to teach until he had a new school and the villagers were much too poor to build one. He also had the only TV on the whole coast, I think, and the children would all try to look through his windows at this box with picture and sound. If they wanted to watch the TV he charged them a ‘duro’ - five pesetas. That was about what a family made a day in those days. My mother was so mad that she actually wrote to the archbishop to complain about the lack of compassion of this priest. Nothing ever happened so the children continued without school. It was the first time I had ever seen a mother nurse. It was custom to feed the mother well and that way she could nourish her children even the older ones because other than that they had little more than fish and bread to eat and what ever they could scavenge from the mountains.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mi Cortijo

My parents had bought such a beautiful farm at the top of Mojacar, with spectacular views. After living in Mojacar for a while I knew I wanted to live on the hill as well. On an adjacent piece of property was an old converted pig sty. It had been fixed in traditional cortijo style. Small windows, rock and mud wall, bamboo ceilings and rock floors. It had been abandoned for about twelve years. After a lot of convincing, I talked the lady into selling it to me. It meant I had to work several jobs while fixing up the place, but I loved it and it adjoined my parents’ farm so the children could go from one place to the other with no traffic or dangers, just wild flowers and baby goats jumping in the grass. The children learned the old and the new at the same time, they learned how to make bread in an old dome clay oven outside and then run across the field and work on my father’s computer. They had the best of both worlds. It was perfect and always full of children as you can see in the picture To move in we first had to cut away about two trucks of spiky cactus to get to the front door. Once inside it had two floors one with kitchen, two bedrooms and a bath, down the steps and there was a living room and another bedroom and bath. The views were spectacular. It took a lot of cleaning to get ready to live in but was soon ready for occupancy. The house was completely surrounded by a wall. One morning we woke up to hear voices and see the ends of rifles all lined up against the wall. I went out to see what was happening, it turned out the Americans were doing military maneuvers with the Spanish army and they had to conquer The Cortijo de Maria. It looked like the right place on the map but I had never heard of our house as cortijo de Maria. It turned out they were right on the mark. We soon made friends and showed them around town on their time off. I t was a bit frightening in the beginning hearing American voices and seeing rifles. We left the cortijo in the traditional style because we liked it and we didn’t need any more convienences than it already had. We loved to collect wood and cook over the fireplace, mostly things grown on the farm, citrus, potatoes, onions and spinach. We did have a small fridge and stove in the kitchen. We had an era where the girls did their hay-surfing and then we started to collect animals. We seemed to start overflowing the cortijo, with children and animals, and decided to move into Lenox’s family home which was much bigger and had a swimming pool. Lenox’s childhood home also had lots of property which we soon filled with stables and paddocks, baby pens, aviaries. We have had many wonderful years in this big old house but it seems a bit empty with most of the children and animals gone. We have kept a few easy-to-keep animals and our son brings his friends over which helps to fill the void. This is still where we live to this very day. My brother now lives in my cortijo and it looks like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. I preferred the old look but it is much easier to clean now and a much more respectable house but I still think of all the memories we have from that little cortijo.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Negrita, Rubia and Benjamin

I have talked a lot about Negrita, maybe because she lived well into her twenties. Most sheep lose their teeth at about the age of seven making it impossible for them to graze. One day while I was sitting at work a shepherd walked by with hundreds of sheep and lambs. I ran outside and asked if he would sell me one. He said he would be in the river bed about 5:00 pm. if I wanted one I would have to meet him there because they didn’t stop grazing. I met him in the river and picked out a cute black lamb, just as I was ready to put her in my car up came a cute little brown one. I decided I couldn’t separate them so I bought both. The brown one was called Rubia. They followed the children everywhere and even played at gently knocking them down, which was a great favorite with the kids. They came on picnics and walks with us. Negrita even took the two day hike over the mountains with Lenox, myself a Whippet and a Briard. It was one of the best trips of our life. We drank from the springs, picked oranges along the way, were given spoonfuls of honey by farmers and we slept in a tiny orchard at the bottom of a cliff where eagles nested just above our head. The hard part was at the end of the walk, when we made it over the mountains and had to convince the taxi-driver to take us and the three dogs back to Mojácar. We all pretended that Negrita was a dog.
After Negrita and Rubia were a few years old I took them to a shepherd to see if I could breed them. He called me a few short days later and said I had to come get them because they were too domesticated and wouldn’t socialize and the males wouldn’t go near them and they were starving. I remember because it was Amber’s birthday. He had a bunch of white babies and said the best thing would be to buy my very own stud so he could grow up with Negrita and Rubia. It made sense so... Happy Birthday Amber! She named him Benjamin. The sheep all wandered around the farm in a group with the other young animals. He was just as tame as the other lambs and got along fine with the lack of discipline. He was definitely Amber’s though because she couldn’t make a move without him by her side. He liked to play ‘knock the kids down’ too. It was funny at first but he later grew a big bone on the top of his head and as he became more and more possessive of Amber he started to hit her harder to the point I was getting worried. It is a sign of affection and learning to play in sheep but doesn’t transfer so well to children. Negrita and Rubia remained gentle. After a lot of tears we decided the best thing was to sell Bejamin as a stud. That seemed unheard of to the local shepherds because he didn’t act like a sheep and the herd would reject him. We searched long and hard and finally found an American couple who would be willing to take him in as a pet.
It all went well until one day we went to the stables and to our surprise, Rubia had had a baby lamb. Obviously Benjamin was the father. It was a boy and they named him Winky but we knew we couldn’t keep him because the same thing would happen as with Benjamin. It was very sad but when he was old enough we gave him to a nice English family, without small children where he played with their big dogs, bashing them about.I find sheep to be wonderful pets; they are loyal, they eat the weeds but never pull anything up by the roots so even if they nibble on a few of your plants it won’t hurt them. The reason they don’t pull thing up by the roots is so it will grow back for eating next year, It is Nature’s self-preservation. They stayed around the property and even used to come on rides with us, even for the longer ones. Negrita stayed glued to Casi my foal as I got them about the same time, together with Petite Suisse the calf they made an interesting threesome. Negrita refused to eat out of her dish instead she would half strangle herself to lean over and eat out of Casi’s trough. I was told by a shepherd that it was cruel to keep sheep in a confined space because they needed to graze to grow properly but we found they did even better by being in a large pen with the other animals and eat what the others ate, wandering the property grazing to their hearts content and getting exercise by coming on walks and rides with us.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

De Narices

Making a documentary of any kind is difficult. You need hours of filming just for a few minutes long documentary. Working with children and animals makes it that much more difficult because they never say or do as you expect. As a center for Animal Assisted Therapy, ANIMO trained dogs for different types of handicaps and gave classes in sign language and taught the importance animals can have on your mental and physical state.
ANIMO also had a small petting zoo with birds and sheep, tortoises and wild boar. We tried to have as wide a variety of farm and wild animals and plants, as well as the Riding for the Disabled which included hippotherapy, a medical form of riding taught by a physiotherapist to incorporate the movement of the horse to improve circulation, muscle tone and balance as well as many other benefits. The local school-children came to see farm and wild animals where they were taught about the animals’ natural habitat, feeding and mating. The children also learned about where their food came from like milk and eggs. Now that they all lived in town and not in the countryside where it would have been an everyday experience. The ANIMO center was accessible to all types of disabilities. ANIMO mainly offered hippotherapy to very severely physically disabled students. ANIMO had nine horses and four donkeys plus a host of other animals. We had a large turn-out pen where the animals that were hand-raised and used to each other could be turned out together. It was great fun for everyone but I think the blind group that came every year from Germany got the most benefit. I remember one blind boy feeling and smelling a sheep when he got to the neck and face he jumped in fright because it didn’t feel like the same animal. Even some of our younger animals got a bit confused as you can see in the picture of Mop-Mop trying to nurse on a gelding, she was kicked a few seconds later and got the message. It was the first time the blind group had ever been able to feel and smell animals that are normally behind fences. I always kept ducks with my horses, they even had little houses under the feed troughs. The advantage to ducks is that they sieve through the manure and eat the fly eggs while at the same time turn the manure into a fine dust, perfect for the garden. Theodore, our wild boar had moved in with the other boars, several months before a TV crew came to do a documentary on ANIMO. He didn’t move because of his temperament but rather because of his size and age, although he stayed as sweet and friendly as ever. The TV crew came and wanted to film how the animals helped the disabled or Animal Assisted Therapy. After a rather thorough tour they asked if Theodore could come back in with the others animals. It had been about six months since he had integrated with the other animals so I was a little dubious. I think the anchor was too because by this time Theodore was over 200 kilos and had huge tusks. Our spokesmen was a man who had done most of the administration for ANIMO, and has Cerebral Palsy. He was very calm as he hand-fed all the animals and described how each one played a part. When we let Theodore join the others it was a bit tense but then he just ran around and went kissing everyone - even the anchor girl. The cameraman was having the time of his life because every one of the animals from birds to boars came straight up to the camera and put their noses on the lens. That is why he said he must make a film after the documentary called De narices. Translated means ‘of noses’ but it has a street use which is ‘In Your Dreams Mate’.
Unfortunately they couldn’t tell us when or at what time the documentary was going to be on. I would have loved to have seen it. They also wouldn’t give us an edited copy because they said that every story they do, the people want a copy. Many other documentaries were made about ANIMO we even entered a competition for the best new project of the year. We had no money or equipment but the volunteers put a 12 minute movie together. When I went to Madrid to see the finalists, yes we made the finals, I was really embarrassed because all the others had been professionally made by TV crews and advertising companies with sound tracks and voice overs etc. No one had a home-made one, we even forgot to put on a title so they called it Montando al Caballo. Ours was just shots of the children in a hippotherapy class with the soundtrack to Queen in the background and my daughter making a few comments during the pauses. We won first place and received a video camera of our very own. The federation holding the annual competition said they never even knew that there were any projects like ours. It was the first in Spain. It is a shame that the town hall didn’t take any interest in the project because AAT is now big business and ANIMO, despite being closed down, is still one of the only centers registered nationally. We ran solely on free help from doctors, vets helpers etc. holding fundraisers from time to time to make ends meet. No one got paid. The students didn’t pay either and got free physiotherapy and medical information about their individual disability the whole while having a wonderful social day with other students and the animals.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hospital Rabbit

You really have to be over eighteen and speak Spanish to get the full jest of this story but it is still sweet if you don’t. When I was in hospital, for a long time, in Pamplona, with some unheard of virus, I couldn’t stand not having any animals around. Yes I had my teddy bear, Javi named after my doctor, but it wasn’t enough. I asked my surgeon if I could get a miniature rabbit. Well, word started to travel around the hospital even the janitors knew I wanted a rabbit. They said we would have to ask administration. After that all my medical team gathered in a consulting room where we discussed the matter at length. The infectious disease people had to put in their two cents and then the internal medicine, then ear, nose and throat then the ophthalmologist, then the nurses and of course the administration had the final word. It was definitely a first for the hospital. After deciding that whatever medical condition I might have, didn’t come from an animal, it was agreed. I could have the rabbit. Lenox and Amber went out that very day and bought the bunny and all its accessories. It was so tiny you could barely see it in the cage and they didn’t come any cuter. The rabbit had to make the rounds from reception to the janitorial staff.
Everyday on my husband’s arrival at the hospital you could hear shouts from everywhere. “How is your wife’s little bunny?” The bunny wasn’t really allowed to stay with me but he came to visit me in my husband’s pocket. Everyone knew but didn’t say anything. We even had to get permission from the no pets apartment owners where we were staying, between operations, during my lengthy treatment. One day my chief surgeon took my husband aside and said “you must come up with a name for the little rabbit because it will never do having the staff yelling at you how is your wife’s little bunny.” It translates to something rather rude in Spanish. All of the doctors wanted me to name it after them. Lenox calls it Bungus, I call it Bunns Rabbit but the hospital decided on Rafa. That was the name of my anesthesiologist that was by my side during every operation even if it was just to put me to sleep and he was always there when I woke up. He had such a special aura about him that you just loved him on sight. So according to my doctors he is called Rafa.
As he grew, we realized that Lenox and Amber had been had by the pet shop. It was not a miniature rabbit at all, but a full size baby that the pet shop was pawning off as a miniature. It didn’t matter because I was out of the hospital before it became apparent how big he was going to get. We still have him and everyone has their own name for him but he is definitely a favorite in this household.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Chachi the Donkey

Chachi is a street word in Spanish used to mean cute, great, adorable, fantastic etc. and that is exactly what I named my first donkey. I found her on a trip to Morocco and couldn’t resist. Moroccan donkeys are miniature in stature but can carry a full load. She belonged to an English vet and lived out on his compound in an area known as California, because the terrain is so similar to that of California, USA. The vet also had a clinic in the medina to care for sick and hungry animals that belonged to the poor. He was completely sponsored by an English charity. Animals in too bad a state would be taken to his compound to live a long healthy life. I begged him to let me take a donkey back to my farm in Spain, ensuring of its good care. He had a policy: once an animal landed in his compound it never left. He did have one exception and that was a baby animal born on the compound. He would be willing to give me this particular donkey if I could get the necessary papers. Not an easy job I found out. I needed a vet certificate, not hard, and then permission from the ship company to bring her aboard, a stamp and passport from the department of agriculture and finally an OK from the douane, the customs. It took me three days to acquire the paperwork needed. Even that wasn’t the hard part; after checking and double checking with all the authorities. I then had to walk her about five miles from the compound to the port. She had never left the compound and was not pleased to do so now. I had Moroccans laughing at me and sometimes giving a gentle shove to help us along but it was a great adventure and gave us time to get to know one another. Lots of scruffy young children who speak all kinds of different languages and wanted to help (for a few dirhams). When I arrived at the douane, I stood in line with the cars and all my papers and of course the donkey. We definitely cheered up everyone’s day; it was the funniest thing they had ever seen. Crew members on the ship were waving baby-bottles, even a few of the douane brought along baby-bottles.
Being American I was not used to the system; I didn’t know about bribery. I should have had a fifty dollar note in my passport and we would have had no trouble. I was afraid to bribe a policeman. And knowing that I had RIGHT on my side I stood my ground and told them they had promised me the day before that all the papers were in order. But they had lied and I was not able to pass with my donkey. I had to finally give up and take Chachi back to the compound. This was difficult because my ship left in two hours and the only way I could achieve this was by convincing a taxi-driver to take me. Finally one nice man, laughing at my whole ordeal, decided he would be kind and take me and my donkey, then return me to the ship. It must have been a sight, a donkey sat in the back seat of a taxi whizzing through Tangiers.
I did try three other times over the years, to bring Chachi to Spain but every time it was always that missing paper, probably that fifty dollar note. I know she has a wonderful life on the compound and I sent contributions for many years to this man’s great work.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Chicken Kitten

When the girls were little they were always bringing animals home that they had found abandoned; of course I did too. Then on the way home from school, they saw a box making noises in the bushes, on investigating they found a litter of new born kittens. We kept them warm and fed them, the whole while looking for good homes for them. One day we noticed that one of the kittens was missing. It was a mystery, how could such a tiny creature get out of the box? We looked everywhere and were surprised when we found him sitting under a chicken who also happened to be sitting on a batch of duck eggs. This chicken was very maternal and since we had no cockerel she made due with other babies. As the ducklings started to hatch and follow the chicken, so did the kitten. The kitten would eat tomatoes and avocado skins and the leftovers that chickens eat. We tried to give him cat food but he wouldn’t have it. He never became tame. We could touch him but not pick him up. All his kitten brothers found good loving homes but the chicken kitten stayed with the chickens and ducks for over two years when he finally fell in love with a cat from the neighborhood. He left to make a home for his own new family. We would catch a glimpse of him from time to time in the bird-pen, he must have come to visit his mother and siblings and to show off his offspring. His female cat would never go in the pen she just sat on the roof of the garage and watched. Just another story of identity crisis amongst my animals and it proves the point that your real parents are the ones that care, nurture, love you no matter what and are there when you need them.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shearing the Sheep

Sheep shearing has long been a skillful craft. They even have international competitions. Usually shearing is done with electric shears but here in the south of Spain the shepherds use home-made scissors with very sharp points that I have never understood because it is so easy to puncture the skin with these things. Mind you, they are probably about as fast with these hand shears than any expert with electric ones. I sheared my own sheep with normal scissors and it took forever and my sheep looked like a poorly cut poodle, but the wool soon grew out again. A professional would not come for so few sheep so I was forced to do it myself. Each sheep had its own special trick to standing still while I labored away with my scissors. Negrita, the black sheep seen here in a very old picture on a picnic with Lenox, would only let me shear her. As a present for me a local shepherd was having his sheep done and thought he would give me a gift of shearing Negrita. After several hours and several men they gave up and said they had never come across an animal like this one. Lucía Amalita is the other sheep, while still in the baby phase, shown here watching TV with Freetxua. Every feed I would hold Lucia like a baby and bottle feed her, for way too many months - but that’s me: all the while singing her a little song I made up. When it came time to shear her she wouldn’t stand still so I started to sing her song to her and then she was ok. When she was half finished and I was exhausted my son and his friends said they would finish her. I told them they would have to sing her song or she would run away. The big tough boys just laughed at me, knowing that they out-weighed her ten to one. After a lot of screaming and laughing I heard one of them break into song and not long after appeared a well-shorn Lucia.

The Running of the Calves

My birthday falls on San Fermín, the seventh of July, which is the day of the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Since there are no bulls in Mojácar we would celebrate every year with my calf Petite Suisse. The Gypsies, from the next village, would come with their musical instruments and sing and dance. Gypsies in Spain live in villages or towns and do not travel from place to place like other Gypsies. They are famous for their Flamenco dancing and music which Spain has adopted as its own. Friends from the area would gather in groups and make their own special paella. Everyone had their own secret ingredient, mine was California vegetarian. Everyone sang, danced and ate until very late: it was an all day event. At the end there would be a competition for the best paella, then we would let Petite Suisse loose and one by one, people would take turns with their red towels and try to get her to chase them. She usually stayed stuck to my side so I had to run too.
Our house was at the top of the mountain with spectacular views and unknown to us, it was also a ‘must see for the tourists’ according to the hotel in town. One year a group of people that no one seemed to know arrived and ate and drank, danced and chased my calf, all in all, they agreed, the best part of their holiday. We all kept asking each other who they had come with. No one knew them, it was then that we discovered they were trippers and thought this was something put on by the hotel.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

House Guests

Most people knock these beautiful nests down because the birds, swifts, have three or four families a season and always come back to nest where they were born, hence every year more than the year before. We love to watch them build their nest and watch the little ones grow and learn to fly and then see them and their new families the next year. When they leave here they fly all the way to Africa and then back to home in early spring. It is true, they make a terrible mess on the patio, walls and the beams but we feel it is well worth the work it takes to restore the house when they have gone, just to enjoy their company while they are here. The nests are made of mud, interlaced like a basket. We have a pool were they get their water but I don’t know where they find water to make the mixture in the rest of the desert. After they move out, sparrows and other birds take advantage of the ready made homes and sometimes even decorate them. We found one with feathers, grasses, rolling papers, plus bright and shiny objects, all dangling from horse hair. It was quite a sight. The swifts sit on the telephone wires or in trees because they are not comfortable on the ground, their body weight is almost too much for them to lift off again. They catch all of their food, like flies and mosquitoes, whilst in flight and they swoop and veer like expert pilots. They have all left now so we can repaint and clean while we wait for next spring.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Riding with Boars

That's Theodore, our wild boar, as a youngster. He loved to participate in everything we did. Here he is having a riding lesson with Jessica. Theodore started life in the Pig's Bathroom but as he grew, moved in with his wife Rachel. In order to feed these hungry animals we depended a lot on an exquisite Italian restaurant that was so kind as to fill a garbage can full of left-overs every day. They were so careful to keep out any objects like plastic, cigarette butts or metal. The wild boar dined on pasta, fish, salad and lots of cheese and bread. After a while we had to stop with the Italian food because the vet said they were getting way to many carbohydrates. Theodore grew to over 200 kilos and was the size of my kitchen table but he remained very friendly even to the children who came to visit, whereas Rachel was only friendly to family and had to be kept in her pen when the other animals were turned loose to play together or socialize with visitors. Sometimes Theodore would just wander over to the house from the stables and lie on the patio in the sun along with the dogs and cats. The day our new next-door neighbors moved in they saw a sight that might have almost made them change their minds. The other neighbors and I were walking around with bananas, avocados and grapes, a wild boar's favorite food, calling out their names. They had both escaped from their pen with their four new babies and were roaming the neighborhood introducing their litter to everyone. It was quite a sight to see this boar family making the rounds.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Looking at the River but Thinking of the Sea

This one is about Spain in the early 80’s and our three children, Jessica, Amber and Daniel. We live in what was once one of the most beautiful places on earth, Mojácar. It is a Moorish village set on a mountain overlooking the sea with a river-bed running alongside and down the valley from other beautiful little villages that are scattered about in the mountains. An archeological and historical treasure-mine. Our house sits between the river and the village, on top of faint remains of an old Phoenician city. At the back of the house we have Old Mojácar, a tall, flat-topped mountain where they say Mojácar used to be thousands of years back and, on its lower slopes, there is also the site of a Roman cemetery. Roman pottery and Moorish coins and turquoise we easily found everywhere, even our wild-boar, Theodore, used to encounter pieces when rooting through the dirt and put them in his bath for us to find. A walk down the river or along the beach after a storm and you could come away with a jar full of turquoise.
Many of the villagers from these mountain villages had never actually been to the beach or set their big toe into the sea. It was enough for them to just see it from afar and wonder. They were all working people that lived off the land and there is no vacation from animals and crops. Even though the main mode of transport was the donkey and the trip by donkey only took a few hours - I made it many times myself - most of them never showed enough curiosity to make the effort.
One day, while on a trip to Granada which is the big city nearby, we passed many rivers until we came to one that threw the children into a frenzy of excitement. This river had water in it. You may not find that so wonderful but for our children it was the first time they had seen water in a river. Up until then, they knew that a river was for galloping your horse full speed for miles or learning to drive in Papa’s old Lada, for sheep and goats to graze or even for throwing escombro or rubble in English. The very idea that water came from the mountains in the river and went to the sea was unfathomable. The river wasn’t the only first for the day: in the city of Granada they saw for the first time stoplights, rode up and down escalators and elevators in huge shops full of all their dreams. They were so excited about the escalator that it never even occurred to them that you could actually buy some of these wonderful items. We left without having to spend anything. About ten years later Mojácar put a stoplight on the beach: it was never turned on and it wasn’t at an intersection but the school children would take a field trip down to look at it each year. After that Granada trip, we started taking the children on more excursions and exposing them to the real world. We still worried about Jessica when she later went to America because of things like walking on sidewalks, unheard of in Spain, or stopping at crosswalks again something never done in Spain, or talking to strangers, which is a must in Spain. She managed to handle all of these obstacles with ease so I guess the trips paid off in the end.
Once Spain gets a handle on some new thing they go crazy. First it was safety railings on the freeway with reflectors – we reckoned that the Governor’s brother had the company that made them - then came the roundabouts, which here include ‘through lanes’, abrupt turns, various signs hidden by bushes and pedestrian routes (inevitably ignored by the local transients) which are splashed through the whole ensemble. Lenox and I wanted to do a coffee-table book of Spanish roundabouts. The best one we saw – in Guadix – had seventeen ways around and through it but Mojácar is now proud to have some of the most unusual and useless roundabouts and traffic feeds imaginable. Then the road-designers introduced the sleeping policemen or speed bumps; after a trip to town you need new shocks on your car to deal with the stress of all the bumps. It is all in the learning process and in the interest in modernization and the search for tourist dollars.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Casi una Yegua

Casi, which means almost in Spanish, meaning she was ‘almost a mare but never quite’ - in my mind anyway - was one of the first members of my animal family when I came to Mojacar. Casi was a three week old foal that I bought on an installment plan along with her mother Oli.
Oli or Olivera, because she lived in an olive orchard, belonged to a farmer who just used her as a brood mare and to keep the weeds down around his trees.
We have a local tradition here called the ribbon race. In the ribbon race all the single men get on horse-back with a pencil in their hand and gallop at full speed up the street to try and grab the ribbon of the girl of their dreams. All eligible girls, hand embroider beautiful ribbons with their names and other ornate decorations. A ring is then attached and it is all rolled onto a wire that is hung across the street. The girls all turn out either in traditional Mojacar outfit or in the most glamorous flamenco dresses. The bachelors must show their manliness by galloping up the street and put their pencil through the ring on the ribbon. If they manage to snag a ribbon, the band plays, fireworks go off and the ribbon is placed on the bachelor by the girl along with a kiss and a present. In the old days it was kind if a Spanish Sadie Hawkins, because the boy won the hand of the girl whose ribbon he won. In reality there are one or two men that are great at this game and win most of the ribbons.
Back to Casi and Oli. I was told that Oli could not be ridden because many a man had tried to borrow her for the annual ribbon race and no one could even get a saddle or bridle on her let alone ride her. She was thirteen when I bought her. I went down with my western hackamore and jumped on bareback. No problems at all. I rode her home with Casi following where of course my father was waiting with one of his amusing remarks. Casi always seemed so petite to me, although she was in reality a good sixteen hands by the time she was five years old, and she came everywhere with me along with the calf Petite Suisse, and Negrita the lamb. We would walk in the mountains and take picnics. They never had halters or lead lines, we just talked and they seemed to understand. As the years went by and Casi grew, our girls wanted to start riding her but I was so over protective and never thought she was ready. I never wanted to put a bit in her mouth because I was afraid to damage her. One Christmas, when she was nine, my present to myself was to sit on her back. She was so pleased and seemed to say ‘Well it’s about time!’. From then on I rode her everywhere with no tack and just talking to her. When our girls, already national three-day-event champions, wanted to ride her I decided she should go to a trainer to learn a few aids and to wear a bridle and saddle: I didn’t want her to get mad at me. I rode her out to a stables where she immediately had a claustrophobia attack upon being put in a stall. Remember she had always roamed free on our farm. I was forbidden to go visit her because she went crazy when she would hear my voice. It made me so sad to think of her locked up but dad said she was probably worried about me being locked up in a similar fashion. After three weeks the trainer told me to take her away and sell her for meat and buy a proper horse. He was a great trainer and treated her well but she was so spoiled that he couldn’t even get her to take three steps forward. I rode her home and that is when the girls took over and turned her into the best all round horse. She could jump anything, even flying over the jumps in the paddock for her own pleasure; she learned classical and Spanish dressage; she was a great barrel racer, sorry Patsy, yes bareback, and the only horse in ANIMO that knew the difference when to listen to leg aids and when to ignore them. I continued to ride by just talking to her.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Pig's Bathroom

Ever since I have lived in Spain, I have been given many orphaned baby animals to raise. In this drawing are Mop-Mop the piglet and Arturo the baby donkey, each have their own interesting stories but the story of how the pig's bathroom came to be called just that, starts with Spanish plumbing.
In Spanish cortijos, if you were lucky enough to have indoor plumbing, it consisted of a toilet set over a hole in the floor and an open cement ditch that ran under the house to a pozo negro or black hole. After many years we finally discovered this original solution to waste disposal and decided to modernise by installing outdoor pipes and cutting off the ditches under the floor except for one interior bathroom that was unfortunately unreachable without taking out the bathroom, which, in the end, is what we did. We turned a huge marble bathroom into a half bath with sauna. Well, we had wanted the sauna but didn't have enough electricity so we ended up with a half bath and large cement floor with a drain in the middle. The birth of the 'Pig's Bathrom' came when a farmer handed me a day-old piglet to raise. She was pink and black and we called her Mop-Mop because that was the sound she made and you also had to follow her around the house with a mop mop. I turned the shower into a bed by filling it with straw and that is where she slept until she was old enough to join the larger animals. From that day until the present all baby animals are raised by starting out in the Pig's Bathroom, before graduating to the main house and associating with dogs and cats etc. The next step is to the bird sanctuary, which is a large fenced in area with housing and gardens. A safe and fun place for animals such as pigs and sheep to grow up before moving into the stables with adult animals, maybe even some of their own kind. Mop-Mop was just the first of a long line of animals to reside in the Pig's Bathroom. Before the birth of the Pig's Bathroom, the children would wake up to find a new born something-or-other in bed with them to stay warm until I could arrange appropriate food and lodging. On entering the house, Lenox would alway take a look at the door to the bathroom and if it had the latch on he would gasp "now what do we have"? They were wonderful times and even though we don't seem to be raising any babies lately it is still called the Pig's Bathroom.
Arturo, the baby donkey in the drawing, was given to me by a local T.V. station. We were at a horse auction and I saw a baby donkey but they wanted twenty-five thousand pesetas for him, which I didn't have. Someone else showed interest in the donkey but then I learned they wanted him for lunch so I began to cry. The T.V. crew was nearby and saw me. On hearing the sad tale of the donkey's future they said that they would buy him for me on the one condition than I named him Arturo. On asking why, they said it was the name of the local mayor that they hated because he was a jackass and they felt this a very appropriate donation to a worthy cause. It was also tax deductable because they gave him to ANIMO. Arturo lived in the petting zoo and later joined the forces of riding for the disabled and of course burro-baseball.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Station of Happiness

The father of a great friend of ours, who had retired from farming, decided to give his beautiful, strong, healthy donkey to our small son, Daniel. Another farmer craftily convinced the old man to switch donkeys with his old one so he could still farm and since the donkey was going to a two-year-old he wouldn’t know the difference. The day finally came when the truck arrived in our drive and the donkey was unloaded. Daniel took one look at her, with love in his eyes, and said I am going to call her Station of Happiness. We have no idea where he got that name from but it didn’t seem to fit, in our eyes anyway, the donkey was thirty some years-old and a bag of bones that could barely walk. But Daniel loved her. After about a year of tons of food and loving care she became a very respectable example of a donkey. This is a picture of Daniel and Station of Happiness in a turn-out class at the Mojacar fiesta horse-show. He and Station are turned out in authentic agüero get-up. An agüero is a water-boy who brought water from the natural springs in the mountains in four clay water vessels carried in hand-made baskets made out of esparto-grass. The agüero would go door to door selling fresh water to the people in the village.
Needless to say Daniel and Station won the competition for many years.
Station of Happiness became a valuable member of ANIMO taking disabled students that for one reason or another needed the strength, height and pace of a donkey. She even played in our yearly Burro-baseball fundraising game. That is another story all together because it is at one of these events the Jessica met her husband Matt, a marine stationed in Rota, and fell madly in love. I will leave that story for Jessica to tell.

Family Traditions

Traditions were very important in Spain. They still remain an important part of country life but have been mostly forgotten in the cities. The wearing of black is one of them. When someone dies the women wear black as a sign of mourning, the length of years required to stay in black depends on the closeness of the relation who died. If it is your husband then you are in black for life. So by the time a young girl reaches her twenties it is likely that she will be in black for the rest of her life because between two years for this uncle and five years for that sibling they all start adding up.
Another tradition is ‘La Matanza’. Every family under the law of Franco was entitled to their own ‘domingero’. A domingero is a small building and piece of land in the country with a place to keep your tools, feed for the animals and a kitchen big enough to entertain the whole family including granny and the cousins. It is here where you grow your vegetables and fatten your pig. The whole family contributes leftovers to fatten the pig and make sure it is eating the right kind of food to give the desired taste to the pork. The matanza happens once a year. It is a day that I try and stay inside because the whole procedure is rather gruesome. I am a vegetarian but I approve of this tradition because I feel that if you are going to eat meat you should know where it comes from and that is not a plastic wrapped package from the super-market. For the matanza the whole family unites for about twenty-four hours, eating and drinking the whole time. The men kill and prepare the pig. This means putting the pig on a huge wooden table, slitting the throat and draining the blood into a bucket to be used in the making of morcilla and the like. The sound is like something you have never heard before. Turre is a definite no-go place on the day of the matanza because all the tables are put in the street in front of the houses to wait for the pig. After they have bled the pig they take a blow-torch and burn off all the hair before hanging it from the ceiling in the living room so as to be able to cut it into pieces each to be used for a different delicacy. While this is being done the women start preparing the insides for things like sausages and sobreasada. Not one part of the pig goes to waste. The hams are hung for eating the next year. During this marathon no one sleeps because it is important to get all the parts of the pig used before it is damaged by the heat. The vet must be called to test the meat to make sure it is disease free. During this time big round loaves of bread are baked in a large dome-shaped clay oven, last year’s home-made wine, actually stomped by your own feet in a wooden vat, is brought out and the olive oil that you just got back from the olive press is used. The olive press is used by all the farmers. Each farmer is given a number of order where you are given a time and day, maybe even in the middle of the night, to bring your olives for pressing. This way you are assured to get olive oil only from your own olives. In exchange the olive press gets several liters of each person’s olive oil.
I don’t understand enough about Catholicism to understand this one but it is very impressive. One dark night on the first day of lent, the priest carries a sardine around all the streets in the town and the whole village follows behind him crying and wailing like the Moroccan women do. They all dress in black and carry candles. It is really very frightening the first time you see it. Then apparently they bury the sardine. It is a funeral. No one has been able to tell me the significance of this tradition.
Another is to hang a chicken from a wire in the plaza then the men are blindfolded and with a large stick try to hit the chicken. The one that kills the chicken gets to take it home for supper. This tradition started along time ago when food was scarce. It is sort of like a Mexican piñata without the candy. Many tourists complained and said it was disgusting but no one made them come and watch. This tradition has died out recently.
La Vieja is an interesting tradition. It is not an official holiday but no one is expected at school or work. The whole family, cousins and all, make a picnic and head for the hills or beach. The children take wooden crosses and make a paper doll over the top and fill the head with sweets. They call it ‘La Vieja’, the old lady. At some point during the afternoon all the children start throwing rocks at the vieja until she breaks open and then they eat the candies. I don’t know why they made it an old lady to throw rocks at. A great time is had by the whole family.
The Romeria is another family outing where everyone puts on their flamenco dresses and riding gear and either rides horses or rides in huge wagons all decorated with flowers like in a parade. The whole group follows a long route and ends up in a suitable destination where they eat a large paella. They stop at a few homesteads along the way and have refreshments.

The Lost Art of Hay Surfing

Every farm in southern Spain has something called an 'era' which is a flat dirt circle, I think called a threshing circle in English, where the hay would be put after being cut with a scythe. A wooden board with rows of knife-like wheels underneath was pulled by a donkey and driven with long-reins by the farmer. Weight must be applied to the board in order to cut the hay, hence the children. There are actually several different boards with different types of knifed wheels for each phase of cutting. It was a very exciting time for the children when the farmer called them to come and sit on the board while he went round and round. It takes several days to cut the hay into small pieces and release the grain from the stalk. It is a sticky job, in the heat you get covered in pieces of hay and it is a bit like a ride at an amusement park, bumping up and down it is a rough ride especially when the hay is in the center at the beginning, it gets to be a smoother ride as the hay gets spread around the circle. The board sometimes even flips over. No harm is done because you just fall into a huge pile of hay. You must watch your fingers though and can’t hold on to the board for risk if being cut by one of the blades. When the threshing is done you must wait for a windy day and with a naturally grown pitch-fork, you throw the hay in the air. These pitch-forks grow on a tree in the shape of a fork and after being whittled down a little make the perfect pitch-fork. On the windy day, and after hours of repeating this procedure of throwing the hay in the air, the cut hay is on one side of the era and the grain on the other, it is quite ingenious really, each to be stored and used throughout the year. I would like to have shown you a picture of the pitch-forks but ours burnt in the recent fire. We have an era on our property and across the street is an era that is shared by three houses: it is communal property and doesn’t belong to any one of the houses but to all three. It is things like this that make buying land in Spain difficult. For example a long time ago your grandfather may have traded a donkey for the large algarrobo tree on the corner of his property, the donkey is long since dead but the tree on your land now belongs to someone else.


Sidewalking: The object of sidewalking in hippotherapy is to give as little support as possible while maintaining the correct posture and helping the student complete the given exercise. The ankle, hip, shoulder and ear should always be in alignement to achieve maximum benifit. The sidewalkers must also have enough knowledge of horses to read the signs, such as ears back or tense muscles, so as to prevent an accident.
ANIMO has written permission to reproduce these pictures in order to promote hippotherapy. They may not be used by anyone other than ANIMO.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Charge Accounts

To start this story I need to give you a little background on what life was like in Mojacar in the early 80’s. Food was bought every day from the market. Maria, the lady that sold fruit and vegetables, was illiterate and couldn’t count so she had three rocks one worth five pesetas one 25 pesetas and the third 50 pesetas so anything you bought had to weigh the same as her rocks. If you wanted two bananas she would give you seven for the same price because two bananas didn’t weigh the same as her rock. Everything worked on the honor system and most people paid when their crops came in. For example if you went to a bar you could just keep eating and drinking and when you finished the bar-keep would ask what you had had and charge accordingly: it was up to you. The accounting system for charges was for each family to have a jar and when you made a purchase a certain number of garbanzo beans were placed in your jar. When you came to pay they would count the beans and you would pay so much. On day in the shop at the fountain some chicken got loose and knocked over some jars and ate the garbanzos but no one panicked, the shop-keep just asked how much you thought you owed and you paid that much. Everyone was happy.
Every morning before nursery school I would take Ami to the shop to buy her snacks but we had to choose carefully because she was hyperactive and affected by food. We didn’t know if it was the coloring or the Es or sugar so we tried to go for the most natural foods. In the end it turned out that it was preservative in meats like salami and hot dogs that affected her not colorings. The lady in the shop was very curious because she had never heard of food causing hyperactivity. One day when I went to the shop the lady told me I had a bill of six thousand pesetas. When I asked for what, having never charged before she told me that Amber had brought her whole nursery school class to the shop and let them buy what they wanted and then she said to put it on my tab. I was furious and amused. How could this lady let Amber buy sweets when she saw every morning how hard it was to find something Amber could eat and, secondly, how could she open an account for a three year old with out even talking to me? Also where was the teacher, that the whole class could take an excursion to the shop? It was actually very safe for the children to wander in those days because on every corner was an abuela or tita or chacha who were always looking out for everyone.
Nowadays many children have food allergies or sensitivities but in those days it was not so well known. Amber would get so hyper that her breathing would accelerate and her pupils dilate and she was speeding around so fast she couldn’t concentrate but the worst part of it was the withdrawal. When the effect of the preservatives wore of she would sink into a deep depression. Since I had always worked with children with these kinds of problems I at least knew how to start eliminating foods to find the culprit, in her case preservatives. It turned out that Daniel had the same reaction, one bite of salami would send him flying for about eight hours but he never suffered from the withdrawal.
One night when we came home, Daniel was flying around the room and the babysitter beside herself, Amber burst into tears and said is that what I’m like when I eat salami? It was a big eye-opener for her. The babysitter said she had only given Daniel one bite of chorizo because she knew he wasn’t to have any but she didn’t believe that it was true. She found out the hard way. Both the children outgrew their reaction to preservatives by the age of eleven or twelve.
By the way I also had to go around the village and cancel all of Ami’s accounts.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Picture: Grandad with Chicken
This is a picture of Prunella our chicken (with Grandad). She got a bit singed and egg-bound thanks to the fire but is now back to full time gardening and egg laying. She is a wonderful pet and wanders free with the dogs and cats while we are outside but we put her in the aviary to protect her from neighborhood dogs at night. Until Prunella moved in we had never seen a Love Bird ground feed. Anything that fell on the floor was left but now that they share their quarters with Prunella they have started feeding off the ground. It is interesting to watch how one animal’s behavior can change that of another. Look at Grandad for example...

Fire, Bestia, Ecologists and Hunters

Until not so long ago, wild fires were almost unheard of because there was very little brush or weeds to fuel a fire. All the horses and donkeys were tethered to eat around the farm and the sheep and goats free-ranged with a shepherd. The herds were allowed everywhere except for farmed land. They passed miles through the valleys in the winter and in the mountains in the summer. Now to save the remaining wild-life, the career ecologists won't let you clear the brush or make fire trails. They actually fine you for doing so. Well this last fire literally cooked their goose because now there is no more wild-life left to protect. To add to the destruction after the fire the local hunters went out into the bleak and empty landscape and shot every living thing that had lost its home or nest. Modern times are really taking a toll on this beautiful land.

Monday, August 31, 2009


One day, in my aviary of Love Birds, I found an egg that had fallen out of a nest and the baby was half way out. After carefully removing the rest of the shell I put him in a box of cotton-wool and fed him with a bobby-pin. I made his food out of everything his mother ate plus some bread and milk all ground up in a blender. Having to eat every two hours he came everywhere with me and was quite popular. As he grew the gullet that used to fill up with food and look so ugly, began to disappear and his feathers began to grow. Pipsqueak, as we called him, turned into a beautiful yellow bird with blue tail feathers. He lived free in our bedroom and sat on my shoulder every morning to make coffee. The aviary runs the full length of one side of the house so you can watch the birds from several rooms. It was better than Dallas, the mothers teaching the babies to fly, the building of nests, the fight for residential counsel-flats or flower-pots and especially the flirting. Love Birds are monogamous and will even pine to death if they lose a mate. Both parents take part in the raising of the young and look like hedgehogs when they fill their feathers with bits of palm leaves to build the nest.

Every once in a while I would take Pipsqueak out to the aviary to meet some of his own kind but he always flew straight back to me, not wanting to have anything to do with the other birds. After two years of constant companionship, I put him in the window to chat with the others, when his behaviour became very agitated. He kept squeaking and flying back and forth to the window then my shoulder. I took him inside the aviary where he promptly left me and joined a blue Love Bird. Pipsqueak never came back to sit on my shoulder or come in the house. After a while I could't even tell him from the other yellow ones. With my feelings very hurt I asked my father why he thought that he wouldn't even come see me inside the aviary. As always with my father's quick wit, he said "well if your mother looked like that would you want to introduce her to your friends?" He didn't mean it in a hurtful way he just meant that with me being so big and of another species I was quite a spectacle. By the way it turned out Pipsqueak was a girl and had batches of green and red Love Birds.


When I moved back to Mojacar in 1980, I dreamt of having a stable of beautiful Spanish horses and giving each the name of a car like Morgan, Alfa or Jag but as it turned out my first purchase was a black mule whom I named Honda because she was cheap and reliable. The drawing of the cart above is the old cart I turned into a mule-taxi and Honda and I took people up and down the beach or from bar to bar. Being the first taxi in Mojacar I was issued with licence plate No. 1. The plate was made by the famous playwrite, artist and local resident Win Wells because the town had no such facilities. I'm sorry there are no pictures to show but I only had a poloroid which a good friend had bought me because I wasn't making any money seeing as all my clients were friends and I couldn't charge them but they all bought the pictures and that was my income and probably the best job I have ever had.
Things were very primative then: the beaches virgin, the people friendly. The weather was always beautiful and modern conveniences were unheard of. In those days the local doctor still made his rounds of the farm areas on horse-back for which I accompanied him many times.
To do the laundry, one went to the Arab fountain at the base of Mojacar, where water ran 24 hours a day and went down troughs that you had to stand in up to your knees and rub bar soap on the worn rock wash-boards. The used water continued down to irrigate the farm-land, each according to his 'hours'. It was always a fun time because we would load up Honda, go to the shop at the fountain, buy a melon to put in the icy water until we had finished washing clothes - the rinse-cycle was acomplished by our children standing up to their waists in the fountain and stomping up and down on the laundry until the soap was out. Then we would wash our hair and share out the melon. It was a great social meeting place; then we would go home with all the gossip of this interesting and relaxed little community.
One day when Amber was in nursery school, in the plaza of Mojacar, there was a terrible ruckus - it turned out that Honda and our Great Dane had gone walkabouts and ended up in the village. Not knowing what to do they got three-year old Amber out of school to deal with the situation. She tied the mule to the iron grates on the window of the school and took the dog inside. When I went to pick her up she rode the mule home. She was considered quite the little heroine because the locals were scared to death of both animals.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How the Cow Jumped Over the Moon

This is a photograph of a family portrait I once commisioned. It was painted by the French artist Jean-Marc Faure. From the left, there is Negrita the sheep, Petite Suisse the cow, three horses Cura, Oli and Casi (la potra: the foal) and in the foreground, Lorca our first Briard.
The subject of this story is Petite Suisse and how my father learned where the childrens' poem of the cow that jumped over the moon came from.
When we first moved to Mojácar there was no fresh milk, what we had was milk with the cream taken out, pork fat and formaldahide added. Of course there was no refrigeration so it made sense.
I had made it known amongst the local farmers that I was in the market for a cow and it became a standard joke, but after a few years I was sitting having lunch at the Focus, one of our hang-outs, when a man arrived and asked if I was the lady that had ordered the cow. Being rather taken off guard I said "well yes", so he said, good because he was the cow salesman; that she was in a truck in the parking lot and I was to take her so he could continue delivering the rest of the calves. I looked in the truck full of calves and had no doubt which one was mine. Seven day old Petite Suisse. To the amazement of the many onlookers, I picked her up, put her in my car and took her home. My father, who by this stage of my life, was not surprised by anything I brought home, said "is she just visiting or is she here for good?" Without another word he left and came back with baby bottles and UHT milk. She roamed free with all the other animals and, as is so common in my animals, she suffered an identity crisis. She thought she was a dog or at least she acted like a puppy, running down to the car to greet you, jumping up and even coming into the house. As she grew in size and affection we started having to contain her a bit which turned out to be harder than you might think. You always see cows so peacefully in a field with a small fence around it and never trying to leave but Petite Suisse wanted to be with us at all times. We started with collars and ropes, then moved to chains and finally to the stables with their typical stable door, built to keep a stallion in, only to get home to find her waiting on the terrace. Her escape was remarkable and that is when my father said he now believed the poem of the cow that jumped over the moon, because the space of the open door was smaller than she was and higher than her head. Soon after, one time while I was filling her water bucket, an old habit of hers was suddenly repeated as she jumped joyfully into my arms. Unfortunately, she weighed in at around 300 kilos and the two of us fell into a nearby manure pile, sliding merrily down to the bottom. My father was luckily on hand to dig me out.
She never produced milk, of course, because of the absence of bulls in the area. She was a wonderful pet.

Life Returns

These are the new shoots on a burned eucalyptus one month after the Mojácar fire (which burned several thousand acres, including most of our land). For one month there were no mosquitos or flies or fleas to bite us. Sadly we lost a lot of the more attractive local wildlife like the hares, wild tortoises (tortuga mora) and the local lizards. We saw frightened birds flying off with their wings on fire. We hope that the swifts who nested under our beams managed to fly to safety. We were visited by a few of them in the following days, but they should be in Africa by now.

The house (which miraculously survived the fire) was filled with frightened tree rats, snakes and centipedes but only the centipedes survived the smoke and intense heat. Here is a picture of one my son found in his bed today. These three-inch long fellows give a really nasty bite.

The capers are already growing out of the black ash and the cactus are shedding their skins like snakes to find a new green cactus underneath. The roots of hundred year-old carob trees burnt underground for weeks and the trees will return. The last picture is of the corner of our terrace where you can see the contrast of the green and the burnt on either side of the two wooden horses.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

La Hipoterapia

Quiero aclarar algunos puntos sobre la hipoterapia, ya que esta poniendo muy de moda y centros están abriendo por todo los sitios. La hipoterapia es una terapia para hacer conjunto con las otras terapias no en vez de ellas. La hipoterapia es una forma de equinoterapia médica. Los alumnos nunca aprenden a montar en si, pero aprovechen los movimientos del caballo para conseguir un mejoramiento muscular y de circulación y equilibrio al mismo tiempo recibiendo un masaje de los órganos mejorando el sistema digestivo. Siempre está dirigida por un fisioterapeuta y un profesor de equitación.
Antes de empezar hay que tener un certificado médico por cada alumno ya que hay varias contraindicaciones. Asegurar que la vejiga esta vacía, elegir un caballo de tamaño y paso adecuado por cada alumno y que el caballo ha hecho todos los ejercicios muchas veces antes. Debe de tener a alguien guiando, y no tirando, al caballo y no faltar a dos ayudantes, laterales. Porque la mayoría del trabajo es lento y aburrido por el animal: haciendo círculos, figuras de ocho y serpentinas, y es importante que el caballo tiene un buen ejercicio antes de las clases. Las clases empiezan con solo unos minutos y lleguen hasta los 45 minutos casi siempre terminando con el alumno tumbada boca abajo como un saco de patatas para quitar liquido de los pulmones: que es difícil para alguien en silla de ruedas. El tobillo, cadera, hombro y oreja siempre deben de estar en línea, así consigues mejor movimiento del tronco y el beneficio consecuente de los movimientos del caballo. La hipoterapia está casi siempre hecha a pelo o con una lana, para evitar rozaduras. Muchas veces, dependiendo del grado de discapacidad del alumno, se necesite un back-rider ó sea alguien montando detrás del alumno para sujetarle.
Muchos de las clases empiezan con la limpieza del caballo por el alumno. Esto ayuda al alumno en conocer al animal mientras que mejora su coordinación y musculatura. El caballo debe de estar muy cómodo con las distracciones como pueda ser una silla de ruedas, rampas, grúas y otras cosas necesarias para subir el jinete. Por falta de control corporal es importante que el caballo se acostumbre a ruidos y movimientos bruscos o desequilibrados. Un caballo con alta escuela puede recibir signos conflictivos por los movimientos de las piernas del jinete. En nuestra experiencia, los caballos aprenden rápido cuando tienen un alumno discapacitado y no dan caso a las ayudas de la doma normal proporcionadas por su jinete. Puede ser porque no llevan brida ni silla durante las clases y tienen a alguien guiándoles.
Volteo hace una buena preparación para el caballo porque durante una clase de hipoterapia el alumno puede montar mirando hacia detrás, tumbada, de lado o incluso de pie, descalzo. Hay algunos alumnos de la hipoterapia que también aprendan a montar, todo depende de su grado de discapacidad.
No olvide que hay que tener una póliza de seguro bueno y permiso por escrito para sacar o usar fotos de los alumnos.
ANIMO ya no está funcionando como centro, pero estamos abierto a ayudar a cualquier centro o hacer ponencias y cursos.