Chicken Cholera

Our flock of chickens, ranging from between two months old to 6 months have contracted Chicken Cholera, again! This morning we lost 7 birds, including one point-of-lay pullet. We had been losing at least one a day for the past few days, but because these were mother’s chickens which had been badly fed since the beginning, and which is why she wanted us to take care of them, we thought it was just down to bad health. However, once a healthy pullet was stricken, I knew it was more serious.

DSCN9593I keep our pullets separate from the others, but as one has succumbed I’m not sure if the others will survive. This disease seems to be seasonal and can wipe out a whole flock with a couple of weeks. I hoped that only the weaker ones would die but when Prince, our lovely cockerel, was ill this morning, I knew it could potentially kill any of them.

Last week, while doing some healing on myself, I had an image pop into my head of a black crow cawing into the animal pen. I knew it meant death, but didn’t know of what! Now I know!

When we were able to keep the chickens in the garden, only a couple of them died. But now we have to keep them in the animal pen as the men don’t want the birds in the garden. For me it is the healthiest place for them, and with a little care it could be managed so that the hens didn’t eat new seeds or young plants. But, things don’t work like that here. Common sense is rare here!

So far, it is only our birds dying, none of mother’s or Eman’s. I don’t know why ours were susceptible and none of the others. Hopefully theirs will be OK. We feed ours better, take better care of them, but yet they are ill. Two of the brothers have bought new young rams recently, which are now in with ours, and they might have been around other birds in their previous home. All the chickens run around the animals so if an animal is carrying anything on their feet, they then bring it into our pen. Its the only different thing that has happened recently!

But I decided that if none of the birds survive then I will not replace them until we have our own place and I can build them a house with a concrete, cleanable floor and proper outdoor runs. I will also see if they can be vaccinated. DSCN9563

The only good thing about this situation is that the women will not want to keep their birds with mine if it looks like they are just as susceptible there. That would save me a fortune and a whole lot of hassle!

In the meantime I will enjoy every egg that the hens produce and will eat it with immense gratitude. The sickness does not seem to have effected the ducks so hopefully they will be alright!

Here’s hoping…

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“Let Yourselves Go and Enjoy Life to the Full”

 

timthumb.php“Cease being concerned whether you are growing spiritually or whether you are
 on the right path, or in the right place, or doing the right thing. Cease being self-concerned and simply open your hearts and think of those around you, give to
 those around you, let yourselves go and enjoy life to the full – life in all its
 abundance – all its wonder and glory. Give and give all the time, with never a
 thought of what you can get out of life, for the more you give the more you will
 receive.”

This is guidance which Eileen Caddy (One of the founders of Findhorn) received while living in a caravan in Findhorn, Scotland. It is one of those beliefs that I believed in wholeheartedly while living in the UK and Ireland! Here in Egypt, however, I struggle to enjoy anything. I don’t worry about whether I am on the right path, I know I am, and I don’t worry about whether I am growing spiritually, I am doing that too! I just wish I could FEEL something, other than – nothing! Well – nothing happy, or excited anyway.

2014-10-18 07.25.10This week, after raising our hens from chicks, we finally got our first eggs. A joyful occasion I would normally be over the moon about. But I feel absolutely nothing! I’ve been thinking about why I feel nothing and I think its because there are so many people waiting for these eggs, and coveting them, that I don’t want to feel happy about them. As soon as I feel anything good here about the animals, or the garden, somebody comes along and kills it!

When you give generously here it creates a situation of envy wherein the person you are giving2014-09-02-08.33.17_thumb.jpg to then feels envious, because you have something to give in the first place! Then they start to try to undermine your efforts or make nasty comments. If you give everything here you end up with nothing! So I think that Eileen’s guidance might have worked well in Scotland, but it sure doesn’t work here.

I think altruism has to be reconsidered, taking into account cultural beliefs about generosity and wealth. Its a constant battle trying to maintain boundaries here, and I think that that issue is probably one of the most undermining. If people were taught about how to have boundaries, and how to live honest lives, it wouldn’t be so hard!

Home-grown Wheat.

 

I finally learned how to prepare our own wheat for making into flour. It was not as difficult as I thought it would be. Listening to Omar it sounded like quite a production but it took a half an hour to clean and a few hours to dry! 2014-09-25 09.36.56

This was the wheat which we grew last year and which the family ended up with most of, as usual! I wanted my own grain as we had paid for it and produced it. I was tired of having to be a beggar when we provide it all! Ludicrous. So we brought a large bag upstairs to the flat and I washed enough to keep us going in bread for a couple of months.

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This entailed rinsing the wheat through a large sieve to get the soil out. Omar told me to wash it all in our plastic laundry bin but this didn’t remove the soil so I used our sieve instead. It took longer but was much more efficient.

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Once I had washed enough I laid it all out on a sheet on our bedroom floor, under the fan, to dry. Omar came in and said it needed to be in the sun. I didn’t agree. My father owned a corn factory when I was a child and he used drying machines to dry it. I was pretty sure that if I left the warm air coming in through the window to be circulated with the overhead fan, that it would dry well enough for the mill! It did! Omar took it later that evening to the local mill and picked it up the following day. 2014-09-25 11.29.23

When he came back he was thrilled. He said that the miller had commented that the woman who prepared this wheat did a brilliant job, that it was exactly as it should be. The flour was fine and good enough for cakes. The removed wheat bran/germ was also as it was supposed to be. The miller was also a little surprised as the wheat they normally got from our house was way too dry. Here, the women wash it and put it in the hot sun to dry, which leaves it hard, dry and brittle. The bran that is removed is then used for a base to place the rising dough on so that it doesn’t stick. They don’t actually eat it!Needless to say Omar didn’t mention that his wife had done it. He takes the credit for all my work! God forbid a woman should be smarter or more successful. Egyptian men!

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Omar was so pleased with the flour that he took some down to his mother for approval/competition. Never a good move. I knew it was only a matter of time before there would be consequences for bragging!

That came yesterday. It is the big feast in a couple of days and the women all traditionally make Fiteer. a thin flat bread baked in the oven. It is Fiteer when it is thin and crispy, but Grus when slightly thicker, and layered with oil! However, they had stored their flour badly and beetles had gotten into it, so they wanted some of mine! Every time they are careless with their food and they know I have some, they will just ask me, or rather Omar, who then gives it to them. I was not happy. Normally, when their flour has beetles they sieve them out, so what was different about today? The difference was they knew I had good flour!

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Like a ‘good wife’ I gave them a week’s worth of flour, and told them how to store it so that it didn’t get ants or beetles in it. Why am I, an Irish woman, telling Egyptian women how to store flour they have been storing for  years – badly? Don’t they know this stuff already?

Later on Omar told me that the wife in question had complained that the flour I had given them was not enough so they mixed it with the other flour, which they sieved to get the beetles out, as they normally do! I told Omar that never again is he going to brag about anything that I produce because these women are just downright ungrateful for everything!

I am glad though that I learned how to prepare our own wheat, because when we do have our own place I will know how to do this stuff. However, now we have to keep everything quiet when we do something well, or get anything new.  If we don’t, they demand it all and then ‘send me to Coventry’ if they don’t get it. Personally I’d rather be in Coventry. Its a lot more peaceful there, but it does make me feel sad that they take us so much for granted. These dynamics can make it a pretty lonely place to be.

Crazymakers.

2014-04-03 17.22.35Yesterday we got back our sack of freshly ground wheat, which I had cleaned the day before for the mill. It was lovely and fine and the miller was impressed with how clean it was. (I’ll write that process up in another blog). I should have felt overjoyed, after all Omar grew the wheat, harvested it by hand, and brought back more bags than all of his neighbours. But I felt completely flat! I had no sense of achievement, or pleasure in eating something baked by flour we had grown and processed ourselves.

Back in England, after spending a full day in the garden growing veges, with my friend Chris, I would go to bed at night feeling absolutely and completely satisfied. The feeling came from the knowledge that we were taking care of some of our nutritional needs, rather than depending on the supermarkets. Growing food gives me a feeling which no other activity on earth gives me. It is completely satisfying and nourishing to my soul. DSC_1674The fact that the work in the garden went hand in hand with the knowledge that we were creating an energy-space made a huge difference too. Every plant had its purpose, and was important to the over-all energy.

Here, I never get that feeling. The men grow things, not the women. The men will grow stuff for the women, but they can choose to remove it if they want to grow something else, and the women have no choice about it.

But that is only half of the problem. I spent all night, and most of this morning, thinking about why I feel so dead inside, when we have produced our own food. Some of it is because I personally have not grown it, and have no real part in it, except for financial, and doing the energywork in the field. I have not had the pleasure of planting the seed and nurturing it to maturity, then of the harvest.

The biggest part of it though, I realised, the part that is really important, is that it is not safe to enjoy, or take pride, in anything here. My time here has shown me, that to achieve anything good means to incur the jealousy and envy of everyone. People here are afraid to be proud of themselves, to pat themselves on the back, or to enjoy anything, because they are constantly having to protect what they have created from other people’s bad eyes, or atrocious behaviour! People with money lie about it, and pretend to be poor, because to show you have money means there is someone who is willing to take it away from you, by force if necessary!

DSCN9566I noticed too, that once they started eating the ducks, which we had raised, that I cut off from them to an extent. I stopped enjoying their play in the water. I used to watch them for ages. Now I feed them and fill their bath but cannot afford to enjoy them, because I know that they won’t be with us for long.

This ‘emotional cutting off’ thing started when I was a young teenager growing up in an equally abusive environment in southern Spain in the 70’s. The Spanish people were so abusive to animals, and to each other, that as a young girl I found it impossible to understand it. I was abused too for those two years, so between the abusive boys, and the animals, my only protection was to cut off my emotionally. Every time I did open up and love an animal I lost it, which caused even more pain. The same thing applied to relationships!

Living here in Luxor is like re-living my childhood in Spain, only this time I try to change it and heal it. I knew that coming here would open up old wounds but it is difficult to heal those wounds when people are behaving the same way as they did in my youth! I still find the behaviour hard to manage emotionally, but I try to change it and fight in a way that I couldn’t when I was young. But I cannot change the beliefs of an entire society!

Life here could be so much better if people enjoyed each other’s successes instead of trying to destroy them!

The Birth of a Bread oven.

When we built the new animal enclosure last year we had to re-build the bread oven, putting it outside the new walls. This entailed dismantling the bricks and the concrete disc, a heavy pre-formed disc, which forms the heated base for the bread to sit on, beneath which lies the fire. 2013-06-21 08.48.22

Then the Bread Oven maker came and started to re-build it. He first had to make a circular brick base, about three bricks high, to lay the concrete disc on. This was all coated in mud. The opening at the bottom is the fireplace, where the fire is built and stoked. The opening in the concrete is for the hot air to reach the domed ‘cooking space.

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Once this has been mudded into place, he begins to build the dome with red-bricks, one layer at a time. He continues to build it up, one row at a time until he has his dome shape.

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He builds it up around himself until he is left standing in a hole!

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He tidies up the remaining bricks at the opening of the hole so that he can fix the four bricks that make up the vent at the top.

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Mud is then applied to the vent to complete it. The vent allows the excess air to leave after the bread is cooked, but it is ‘plugged’ while the oven is in use.

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The next step is to build another reinforcing brick wall at the bottom of the oven. This adds to the insulating ability of the oven where the fire is lit. 

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The next step is to apply more mud and finish the shaping of the bread oven opening and the air vents. He also spends time smoothing down the mud with water to give it a smooth, even finish.

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The finishing touches are to apply the decoration!

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And there you have it, a working bread oven. It took the man a few hours to build this oven and he charged a little under £15 for the making of it. The mud dries quickly in the sun so the women were able to use it within a couple of days.

Once the bread is cooked and the oven is cooling down, the women then put fava beans in a pot of water and leave the pot to sit in the hot ashes overnight. By morning they have Fuul, which they can eat for breakfast with freshly baked sun bread!

Bettaw

Bettaw is a traditional, Egyptian sourdough cornbread, but one that you do not see made so often today. It is one of those traditional breads, which seems to be dying out as more people eat wheat bread, especially the nice soft white rolls that you can buy from the local bread-makers.

2014-09-03 08.28.04My mother-in-law was once famous for making Bettaw. When she baked it in the clay oven, where the women here all make their bread once weekly, it could be smelled for miles around and all of the neighbours would beg for just one round! One old neighbour was given three loaves and he ate it a little at a time, everyday. When he died, his daughter was cleaning his room and found a cardboard box beneath his sofa-bed. In it was his last remaining, hidden,Bettaw loaf, as hard as a rock.

Now that we have found the last remaining corn grinding mill in Luxor and we are growing our own corn, Mother was happy to be able to make it again. However, after two tries she gave up in frustration. It just wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, the oven was too hot…she felt dizzy etc. She became depressed and took to her bed, the oven was working against her…It has been six years since she made it last. To her it was a disaster, to me it tasted delicious; the second batch being better than the first. There was far too much emphasis on how it looked rather than on how it tasted.2014-09-06 10.55.33

I decided to do some research online to find out how to make sourdough cornbread, as trying to decipher Mother’s rather secretive info on how to make it, was risky at best. I mainly found recipes, which also included a commercial yeast and white flour; but this Bettaw was basic stuff, with nothing fancy in it. Basically, Mother took some cornmeal and added water to it; she let it sit for a few hours, then she added it to a large pan of corn and water mix with a little salt and left it to prove. When it had begun to crack on top, she took a large wooden spoon and made medium-sized loaves with it, putting some cornmeal on the bottom to stop them sticking to the oven floor. It cooked pretty much as you’d expect cornmeal to cook, hard and dry. I really couldn’t see what they were all going on about! But, it was a dying tradition so I wanted to see if I could figure it out!

First, I needed to understand the whole sourdough thing, so I made up a batch as Mother had made it. I also made a white flour batch. The following morning I inspected it, the white flour starter had lovely big orange spots of bad bacteria on the top, and smelled foul, so out that went. I started again with a jar, instead of a stainless steel bowl. I threw away the cornmeal starter because it too smelled ‘ill’ and started another one in another jar. This time I let them both sit on the counter in my hot kitchen for a few hours but then put them both in the fridge after a few hours of bubbling fermentation.

The following morning I checked them and they were still fermenting, probably because of all the power cuts we have been having thanks to this countries wonderful inefficiency! Everything else was going off in my fridge but it was perfect for my sourdough starters! I fed them both, left them out for a few hours again, and then popped them back in the fridge.2014-09-06 10.58.15

This morning I mixed up my cornmeal, salt and water and added the cornmeal starter, then left it for six hours to do its thing, whatever that was supposed to be! After six hours it had risen and was smelling sour; the top had begun to crack and I had heard Mother saying that that was when you knew it was ready. I decided to try it two ways. I put half of the mix gently in a loaf tin, and spooned loaves with the other half.

Still experimenting, I had no idea how hot the oven was supposed to be but my oven is a Chinese joke and it has taken me the three years I have been here to master it so…I just did what I normally do when making Irish soda bread. I have to be really careful as everything burns in the metal trays and loaf tins if I have it too high, so I have to keep it low, and I can’t have it so low that the bread doesn’t cook at all. A tricky business. 2014-09-06 14.59.08

But they cooked. They look nothing like the traditional Bettaw but they do taste rather delicious with butter and honey, and are not dry. They also have a lovely sourdough taste I have my starter on the go so I will try letting them prove in my muffin tin next time to see how it makes a difference. I’ll also try it with less water and see if I can get it the same as mother’s, then it will look like Real Bettaw! Getting the natural yeasts to work is going to take some practice but I’ll get there. This bread is far more nutritious than the wheat flour bread, as all of the germ and bran is removed from the wheat, but it is left in the cornmeal, and we get two crops of corn a year, which also feeds the animals so a win-win for sure. I’m going to get some Hopi blue corn seeds and grow them here and see how we get on with those.

Hmmm – Blue Bettaw. Sounds interesting, and if the man who owns the corn mill decides to give it up We’ll buy it from him. It is far too valuable to lose! I’ll have to get Omar to take some photos of it next time…or I might just go with him­­ – .

Qurna Homestead update. September 2014.

I haven’t written here in quite a while so I thought I would share how things have developed during the past 6 months.

DSCN9417Omar is still working the eight Kirat field down by the Nile and we are still eating the onions he grew there last winter. However, our flat is the only flat where there are still onions, because the women here have no idea of how to store things and will use veges, etc. in huge quantities as soon as they get their share of the harvest. The result is they have to buy their onions from the souk within weeks.  Omar tells his mother proudly  that I still have most of mine. Bad move!  Mother then goes and tells all the other women who then come to my door asking for onions! We’ve now put a stop to that! I budget my produce so that it lasts me until the next harvest, which is still six months away! I am not giving any away, especially as they received twice as much as we did to begin with. They’ll have to learn just as I did.

We now have a bull calf and cow, 5 ewes and 1 young ram, 4 white ducks, 11 white chooks and 1 beautiful cockerel and 3 hens…and a partridge in a pear tree. No, we don’t have a partridge…or a pear tree…but we have considered quails…

We eat bread made from the wheat Omar grew over last winter’s season, and corn meal from last year’s 2014-04-27 16.21.14maize crop. It is hard to find a mill that still grinds the corn into meal for human consumption, there are a few for animal feed though. Since last year’s harvest Mother had kept back some corn cobs while Omar sought out a mill, but he had no luck finding one. Then, a few nights ago he had a dream where he was given detailed instructions on where he might find one. He woke up telling me about it and wondered if it was real.

At the souk, the following week, he randomly asked a friend he met there if he had ever heard of a mill that ground corn meal in the place he had been told of in his dream. His friend said that there was! Omar couldn’t believe it! He took the bags of maize and took a tok tok (A motorbike with a trailer) to Bairat, (another village a couple of kilometres away) to find the mill. It took him two hours, but he came back with hot meal, freshly stoneground in the only remaining mill to grind flour for human consumption on the Entire West Bank! His mother was elated. She had been dreaming about Bettaw, a sourdough cornbread, which she knew from years ago. She was going to make some in the morning. Omar told her to wake me up so I could see how she made it. 2014-09-03 08.28.04

The following morning she woke me up and I went down to the bread oven, which she was firing up with the straw and dung from under our cows and sheep. All the kids were there watching too. However, mother was guarding her secrets and had already made the Bettaw mixture. Sharing is not a word in her vocabulary, unless of course everyone is sharing with her! I got Omar to ask how she had made it and it took ages because she avoided giving the right info, etc. until Omar became confused and didn’t understand any more. I pushed until I understood that it was just a basic sourdough cornbread! Her final remark, as she put the breads into the oven, was “Of course you have to cook them in this oven…you can’t cook them in your  ‘gas oven’. This is because I bake all of my bread in my oven upstairs and never use the clay oven! I have mastered my oven’s idiosyncrasies! Cheap rubbish from China! But, this was Mother’s way of owning her Bettaw-making! She is the only one who can make it…or rather, was! Mother likes to be the only woman in the house who can do anything…or own anything.

A few weeks ago she did a sneaky thing with me. She has her chicken house and I have mine. Mine is in with the animals and none of the kids are allowed in there unless they are doing a chore. Because of previous disempowering episodes with Mother I decided to push myself into the 2014-05-02 11.19.53space of this house. If we are paying so much to support the twenty people in this house then I want to be able to use a part of it, especially when it benefits the entire household. I refused to be pushed back up into my flat anymore, just passing out finance when they wanted it. It took quite some pushing!!! But, we built a chicken house and Omar bought me some day old chicks, which I raised upstairs until they were old enough to go downstairs. All the women in the house bought some too and we bought some for one woman who had no money. But the tom cats decided that unguarded chicks in boxes on top of fridges in houses with no doors, made a very good meal. The result? A lot less chicks!  So the women gave me their birds to raise upstairs until they were old enough to come downstairs. When they were ready I told the women, but they asked me to keep caring for them, as I do a good job of it, and they have nowhere to keep them  So all the chickens went into my hen house.

2014-06-26 12.46.50All was fine for a while. Omar went to the souk to buy me three ducklings and came back with twelve! So I decided to give each house three. Amira, the eldest girl in the house, and daughter of the brother who everyone thinks of as the ‘Authority’, took hers and kept them with her mother’s chickens. Her mother generally takes care of her own as she keeps herself quite separate to the other women. Mother does not like her because she gives Mother nothing! However, when they saw how well our ducks were doing Amira’s mother said to put them with mine in the garden to fatten them up! At my expense. They were not being fed properly and were half the size of the others. We had made a separate pen in the garden and put a hole in the wall so that the ducks could come out and swim. They spend the day there, while the chickens stay with the animals pecking around in the ground. Good for the cattle and good for the hens!

Mother bought 100LE worth of older chickens and put them in her hen house. But they started dropping like flies. So she put the remaining ones in with mine, thinking that it was the food or something. They feed their birds household scraps, which also DSCN9640includes rusty wire wool from cleaning the saucepans and plastic wrappers from the stock cubes! One by one, all of mine started dropping like flies also. Wasn’t the food! We bought some Dettol and completely cleaned both houses and put Mother’s back in with hers. She had one survivor!! We had quite a few more!!! Thank God! Then Mother began to make her take-over bid, just as she did last time. But this time I was on to her. She wanted me to keep her one cockerel in my house, then she started to feed the ducks and her one cockerel, in my hen house, with the same rubbish she feeds hers with. She kept doing it, purposefully and defiantly. It was her way of saying ‘she owned it’. But we fought her at every turn and put her birds back in her house. If she was going to try and play nasty games with me then she looks after her own birds. Being nice here is not an option! I have lost far too many chickens to that woman!

Everything was fine, Mother was being nice, even swapped her cockerel for a hen but insisted that we keep the hen with ours…again! We looked after her two Muscovy Ducks when one of hers died and fed them. We are still looking after the women’s birds and their ducks for 200LE a month! Mother was singing my praises telling everyone how I had saved her duck and her cockerel. Then the following day Mother has nearly forty new chickens in her hen house, not including the little white ones we had all bought in the souk the previous week. When Omar investigated, it turns out that all of the women had banded together, even the one who didn’t get on with Mother, and had bought fourteen chicks each, which Mother has complete control over in her hen house. But no-one had told me.  I was very hurt as they had all discussed this behind my back and had done everything without thinking of asking me if I would like to have bought some too. Mother was up to her tricks again.. Omar was furious as everything we do is to benefit all of the women and children, and the women know that they are free to take their birds whenever they want. They know we do nothing for ourselves, we have very little compared to what we give them. But because Mother was jealous and wanted to be in control she did a nasty thing.

DSCN9625On one level I was glad that the women all had birds now. Before I came here Mother was the only one who had birds. Now the women are thinking ahead. That’s a good thing. But the way it was done was mean. The woman I had sold our ram for, so she could pay for her C-section, felt guilty when Omar  said that no-one was to come to our door and ask for anything again. She said that walahi (I swear) she bought the three naked-neck chickens for me as she knows how much I like them. A month later however, I still have not received them. I didn’t want them, but the offer would have been nice as it would have meant it was genuine.

Omar and I made a selfish decision then. We decided, that from now on, we keep birds only for ourselves. So the women were given their ducks, which they all promptly ate without so much as a thank you! I still have the original hens, we have four as so many of ours died when Mother had her hens with ours, and I divided the survivors equally between the three women as I didn’t know whose had been killed. One woman has only two, the other has four, which mother sees as hers also, but that woman has since left and I don’t know if she will return. But Mother is not getting her hands on them if she doesn’t,  the eggs will be shared with everyone. We have one cockerel, which we call prince as he is so handsome, and three hens. More than enough for our use.DSCN9632

We have four ducks left, two pairs, and Amira still has one male, which she will kill and eat when her Mother is ready for it, or until it is bigger!!! Mother now knows that my hen house is under my control and even though I share freely I won’t be manipulated or conned into giving her what she wants and more. I know all of her tricks now. But it is all so bloody exhausting.

However, I have learned some valuable lessons! Being too generous and putting ourselves last is not a good idea here. No-one will ever think of us, they will only think of themselves, so its OK to be selfish and take care of ourselves, so long as we are not taking away from anyone else. This is stuff I learned before I came here, but because of the apparent poverty it is hard to be selfish. But we have to be. Or we will have nothing left for ourselves.

Keeping really strong boundaries is a must here, as no-one seems to have any!! (But that will be another blog!) Using personal power wisely is also a must, not allowing myself to be manipulated or controlled by lazy men and selfish women. Its a sad fact that the good women in this house just do not last here. They can’t cope with the games. I have to develop a really tough skin to survive here and stop looking for approval. All of those wonderful things I was learning about on my path of self-discovery become necessity here!!!

You really do have to ‘walk your talk’!! If you don’t, you will be walked on, just like the proverbial doormat!