Thursday, December 23, 2010

Falconeering in the Desert (Syria)

The desert is unusually busy this time of year, every twenty miles or so you can find an outpost of falconers, poor Syrians hoping to catch the world’s fastest bird, which they will in turn sell to Arab sheiks for prices occasionally reaching seven figures.
Haji too has falcon dreams. In eight years of coming to the desert he has caught one bird, which he sold for $9,000.
So how does one catch this rare feathered treasure, who’s only pier in aerial combat might be an F-14 fighter jet? With bait. When the Syrians see a falcon overhead, they release a pigeon, a tasty morsel for this bird of prey. But the pigeon has a trap on its back that that ensnares the falcon’s talons, forcing it to land where the bird is, at least in their dreams, scooped up by the locals for a big pay day.
We stop by a band of falconers, check out the video below to see how they equip the bird. Haji is seen briefly with the cigarette …

Smoking and Dental Plans in Syria
Speaking of cigarettes, I estimate that about 85% of people in the Middle East smoke, which means that what few remaining teeth most Arabs have are yellow and stained. Most Syrians make the British Book O’ Smiles look like a children’s fairy tale. It is rare to find a full set of teeth here.

The Trip Home
We drive through a sand storm. Haji shakes his head thinking of all his friends still in the desert less fortunate than us. We drive for hours, staring at the vast expanse of empty space around us. Even the German jokes have subsided as Annie sleeps in the back.
The sky looks threatening, but it doesn’t seem to be another sandstorm. “Those look like rain clouds,” I remark to Haji.
“Let us pray,” he responds.
An hour later it starts to drizzle, turning into intermittent showers. It is the first rain they have had all year. “Allah ahkbar,” (God is great) I smile at Haji.
“Allah ahkabr,” Haji responds with joy in his heart, “With the sand wet, perhaps we might go a few days without a sand storm. Maybe there will be more vegetation for our Bedouin friends and their sheep.”
“Let us pray,” I respond.
As I see it, the environment in the Middle East seems to be a lost cause. With sparse resources, huge families, a fast growing population, and seemingly zero environmental consciousness the Middle East had better start harmonizing with Mother Nature, or life will surely get worse there. Already river beds are becoming parched, water scarcer, and pollution blankets the entire region.
It’s not that I think the rest of us are doing well managing the world’s resources, it’s that the Middle East is probably most emblematic of the crucible mankind is putting the environment through.
Eventually we got back to Palmyra. Annie and Lars decided to head to head out onto the first buses to their respective Syrian destinations. I decided to hang out in town for the rest of the afternoon. As it turns out, I went to sleep, and didn’t wake up til long after the last bus had left. It looks like my trip to Jordan would have to wait a day.
Sunset in Syrian desert

1 comment:

  1. Another beautifully written blog post!! =) So glad to see it. I really am loving your posts so far! What an amazing, fantastic journey you're on. And I never knew all that about falconeering! Very interesting. Thanks for posting it =D I hope you update soon! I can't wait to read more!


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