Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My stint as an agricultural advisor to Sinai Bedouin.


Some time in the mid 1990's I took my aging VW Beetle down to Sinai.  A friend advised us to go off road at a spot on the road from Dahab to Mount Sinai and visit an oasis deep in a valley. It sounds crazy now, but somewhere in the Sinai desert we took our twenty year old Beatle off the asphalt and slowly bounced along a dirt path through the desert. The only air-conditioning was the open windows. After about twenty minutes of this we were overtaken by two Bedouin men in an almost new Toyota pick-up. They motioned for us to stop and suggested that we park our car and ride with them. They were wearing beautiful traditional Bedouin clothing. Given that the Beetle was taking quite a beating on the track I was quite happy to leave it, and they then "hid" the VW behind a boulder.  Although it was the only car on the "road", it was completely invisible and I would never have been able to find it again.

We got into the Toyota with the Bedouin and drove down to their oasis. These were young Bedouin men who had grown up under Israeli occupation and spoke good Hebrew. They told me that the Toyota pick-up was the best pick-up in the world. I had no reason to disagree. We still bounced but now we bounced along the track at high speed, coming to a stop in a wide open valley where a number of dry-river beds met. The valley contained a large village of mud-huts with no electricity or running water and it was where these young men with the truck lived. 

My ex-wife who was with me, had once worked for the Israeli social services checking on primary school enrollment of Bedouin girls and she switched into professional mode checking up on the Bedouin girls. I think we may have brought pens with us to hand out to Bedouin children: these trivial items of schooling can be quite valuable in mud-hut villages with no running water.

Anyway at some point the finely clothed Bedouin gentleman who had carried us in his Toyota, approached me and asked if I could help him with an agricultural problem: he had a small garden with a beautiful fruit tree in it (peaches I think) and it was infested with greenfly.   For the record the Sinai Bedouin often have immaculate tiny farms (more of a garden really) in the desert, some (possibly most) of which are residues of Byzantine terraced farming.

I understood that I was being asked as an Israeli.  I suppose a lot of Kibbutzniks with some farming training used to turn up at Bedouin villages and he figured I might know something.  Well I did.

In the early 90's an old primary school friend of mine, Gur Bentwich finished film school at Tel Aviv University (see this in Hebrew).  His final film was an amusing tale about a couple seeking a cure for greenfly/aphids on their home grown cannabis plant. They go from one weird dope-head to another seeking a solution until a prison inmate comes up with a viable solution - yelled from the walls - which involves boiling cheap cigarettes in water and then spraying the water on the plants. I remembered Gur's movie and told him to boil up some cigarettes and spray it on the tree and warned him not to let anybody drink the mixture as it was poisonous.

Soon after that, The Bedouin, indicated it was time to go and loaded us back into his pick up truck, drove along the bumpy dirt track until he came to a large rock, behind which we found our VW.  I later lent Gur my VW Beetle while he was working on his next movie, Planet Blue.

I subsequently learnt that Native Americans used tobacco plants as a pesticide.

See also my post:
Sleeping amid sacks of Cannabis: My night with Bedouin opium farmers in Sinai