Walking in the footsteps of the Pharos: Equine Assisted Therapy in Cairo
By Gale Falcongreen, Equine Assisted Therapist
Before the world went into lockdown and there weren’t even whispers of Corona virus, a childhood-dream of mine started to take shape. Haven’t we all dreamed of going to Egypt? Perhaps we even believed as a small child that we may have been descended from Cleopatra, Nefertitti or some other ancient figure? I can remember as a little girl growing up in the bush in Mtubatuba (Zululand, South Africa) learning about the ancient Egyptians and thinking, “one day I’ll go there. I’ll walk on those sacred and special grounds; I’ll see the pyramids for myself.”
I have been very fortunate to have worked and collaborated in a few different countries, sharing my passion for Equine Assisted Therapy and intuitive/holistic counselling but I hadn’t ever thought one of those countries might be Egypt. Having connected with an Equine Assisted Therapist, and addiction counsellor, through social media contacts, however, I was invited to visit and present at EQUUS Team Behman in Helwan, Egypt.
The Behman Hospital is the oldest and largest private hospital in the Middle East. They have a mission to provide superior standards of psychiatric services, conduct state of the art research in all mental health fields, collaborate locally and internationally and train and educate mental health professionals. After some correspondence with Dr Sherif Atallah, MB BCh, MSc., BCPsych, FRCPsych, Medical Director of the Behman hospital and Joanna Zaki, who with her husband, Mostafa Zaki, look after the Equine programme; I was on my way.
I flew to Johannesburg, South Africa in February to spend a few days with friends and family, including my beloved grandmother who is 97 and in a nursing home. Spending time with her and the other residents really got me thinking about the work I do. I’m so passionate about Equine/Animal/Nature and Art Therapy; I feel truly blessed to share my life and animals in this way. In the nursing home, all the residents are very well looked after with lots of staff, attention, activities and lovely food, but all I could keep thinking is “where are the animals?” Even a cat, dog or bird. It seems to me that it would bring so much joy to so many if we could bring more animals into nursing homes, and indeed, all care homes. I know it’s what I would need if I were in there. I thought of my dear Granny, nearly 100 years old, and what a big part animals and horses had played in her life, how strange now that at the end of her cycle, she was to die without them. I know there are many organisations who are starting to make this happen and I truly applaud them.
Monday March 02/ 2020 I touched down in Cairo. Truly, I have no words for the joy and absolute excitement I felt. My wonderful driver, Hossam was waiting at the airport to pick me up and take me to Intercontinental Seremas on the banks of the River Nile. Now, before leaving, many people told me to “be careful, because “you will stand out with your green eyes, pale skin and blond hair”. “It’s dangerous” was the most common comment I received. All I can say is that I felt perfectly safe the entire time. The Egyptians are beautiful, kind and generous people and if they look at you it is only with interest and intrigue, curiosity and friendship, never anything else. I felt so at home, safe and content.
The time I spent at the hospital with Joanna, Mostafa, the other doctors, staff, interns and patients was very special and informative. I was so honoured, not only to present to the entire team of doctors and guests, acutely aware of the wealth of knowledge and wisdom present, but also to shadow some Equine Assisted Therapy Sessions. It was a great privilege to observe the work and the cultural differences and sensitivities. My presentation was titled “The Deep Wisdom & Healing of the Herd, an exploration into Equine-assisted Psychotherapy through a Trauma informed Lens”.
Initially, the hospital had wanted me to present in a lecture hall but I requested to present near the horses, as with such experiential work, I knew demonstrations and systemic opportunities would come up. I really wanted to speak and share the deep healing and phenomenal results I experience time and again when doing Systemic Constellation Work; I wanted to show up as my true self, not just talk in an academic sense. I was so happy with this decision as I was able to take some of the Doctors into the arena and demonstrate; working with breathing, boundaries, personal space and other systemic issues. Many new connections were made that day and I felt so happy to be standing in the desert in Egypt, pyramids in the background, working with horses (and 2 donkeys). I had to almost pinch myself to believe it.
Egypt wasn’t all work and I made the most of every second I had. I rode a camel in the desert next to the Great pyramids of Giza, visited the pyramids, went deep into a pyramid, sailed a felucca down the Nile at sunset, went to the Khan EL Khallili, visited Alexandria, The Egyptian museum, and was granted so much wonderful Egyptian food and hospitality, my heart was so full (and so was my belly). Hossam and I became firm friends although I think I was better at bargaining than him! The entire time I was in Egypt I truly felt like I had one foot in this world and one in another. I can’t explain it better than that but I was conscious of the gift and the lesson. There were many deep and mystical experiences, some personal and others confidential. Egypt truly touched my Soul and I will return.
Gale Falcongreen is an Equine Assisted Therapist and Somatic Riding expert. You can connect with her via her website https://www.galefalcongreenequine.com/.