Too often as tourists we arrive, grab the glossy brochure, book on the organized event, enjoy the 10am scones and rest by the pool waiting for dinner. I will be the first to admit – I love the glossy brochure, as it gives us great ideas of what to do - I enjoy organized events, especially a seafood braai – and as for the 10am scones, we are not missing that!
Arriving at Hole in the Wall hotel after a long and bouncy ride along the 18km rutted dirt road – which is actually a paved freeway compared to the potholed road prior to it – we dive fully into tourist mode. The 10am teatime treat is a real winner; we even have to race back from an early morning hike to be there in time for this. The seafood braai is fantastic – there is nothing quite like eating mussels, prawns and fresh fish while watching the waves roll in across a tranquil sea.
“Dad, I hope you told her we don’t really know much about horses,” my children had said earlier that morning. And of course they are right – we really don’t know much about horses. However one of our goals on this trip is not just to travel but also to be touched by the lives of others, and to help touch their lives in whatever way we can. In order to do that we will have to go outside of what we “know” or what we are comfortable with. So it is with a little trepidation that we arrive at the Hole in the Wall horse project to meet Marlene.
“Hi Craig,” nice to meet you Marlene says after the enthusiastic cacophony has been stilled. Introductions are made and Marlene is quick to introduce us to her latest two patients, as she refers to the horses she cares for. The time for our lesson, our huge lesson on compassion, cruelty and kindness begins.
"We will try and wash her," Marlene says, "I'm not sure how she will react as she has probably never been washed." Slowly and carefully we rub her oily, thin coat with a medicated soap wash. The horse does not react at all. She simply stands there, favoring her hurt leg and looking at us with sad eyes. We try to remove some of the thousands of ticks as we gently wash her. She just looks at us with those sad eyes.
"Let's allow her to dry in the sun now," Marlene says after we've rinsed the horse. "What should we name her?" she asks. "How about Marmite," Nicky, my wife suggests. The name is perfect - her brown-black, sticky hair looks like marmite. Yet it's more than that. A name somehow imbues her with a little more worth, with a sense of belonging. While she still has those sad eyes she somehow stands a little straighter. She somehow seems to know that she is being loved, as she, for the first time since we have been here, stoops down to eat some grass.
Nearby in Marlene's small garden another horse is grazing. It has a large, raw wound on its back caused by a saddle. It makes me feel slightly sick just to look at it. "I often start retching when I have to treat the horses,” Marlene says. “Time and again I have to walk away and compose myself. But I tell myself to stop being ridiculous, to pull it together, and I try again and again until I get it done. If I don't help them, who will?”