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.