In October, as the Bedouin sit drinking tea, their eyes anxiously scan the skies. The people are waiting, searching, hoping for any hint of a coming storm. They pray to Allah to deliver water to their desert home. Their livelihood depends on it.
This year, on the 17th of January 2010, their prayers were answered. The skies grew dark and threatening, the clouds full and heavy. Lightning flashed. People smiled. And finally, it rained – and the sighs of relief sounded almost as loud as the thunder. The Bedouin rejoiced and gave thanks to Allah for this precious gift.
But the rain wasn’t light and it didn’t stop. For the first time in nearly 40 years, enough rain poured down to cause flash floods throughout the wadis and plains of both north and south Sinai.
Unfortunately, with these storms and floods came destruction. People were killed, animals and vehicles swept away, houses collapsed, and roads washed out. Ras Sudr and El Arish received most of the damage in Sinai. *
Although the rains can sometimes be devastating, Bedouin mostly find them to be refreshing, helping to keep their land healthy and clean – and reassuring, providing an essential ingredient to their life in the desert.
After the rain, as the water soaks into the ground, the desert springs to life. Small green sprouts begin to appear. Throughout springtime, both young and established plants continue to grow and bud, sprinkling the desert with red, yellow, white, pink, and purple blooms.
Bedouin begin to collect herbs such as Chamomile, Lavender Cotton, Judean Wormwood, and Nihaida. The herbs, used either individually or in a mix, are sprinkled onto salads, boiled in soups, or infused in hot water to prepare healing drinks.
The herds of goats, sheep, and camels kept by the Bedouin munch happily on the fresh greens. The goats will provide nutritious milk that the women will then make into ghee and cheese. The camels will grow strong and healthy, giving them energy to carry the Bedouin and their supplies on their desert journeys. The wild animals – the gazelles, foxes, and rabbits – are also drawn to the extra water and vegetation. The people are delighted to see the return of these animals to their environment. For the Bedouin, this is as it should be, this is how it always was.
The rain also refills the underground reserves of water that the Bedouin tap with wells to draw drinking water. Rain water is also collected, if there is enough, and used to irrigate crops of fruit trees.
The silt that is carried through the wadis with the rain is rich in nutrients, perfect for growing plants. If the rains come early in the season, between October and December, the water helps the Bedouin to grow crops such as wheat, lentils, and barley. Rain that falls later in the season, like the ones this past January, is good for growing watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins, and sweet melons.
In April, Eid began planting seeds – watermelon, sweet melon, and pumpkin – in a valley in Zaranik. He describes the earth of Sinai as a bowl, a bowl that collects and stores the rain water. If there’s enough water in the bowl, it breaks through to the surface in the form of a spring or oasis. And it is from these underground bowls that his seeds will draw their water. After digging dozens of rows of shallow pits and planting the seeds, Eid will do little else besides an occasional check-up. He does not need to bring water or worry about pests. His crops are completely organic and their roots will grow to reach the water stored below ground.
In August, the melons will be fully ripe. But in June and July, some of the young watermelons will be harvested early. These baby melons will be used to prepare a traditional Bedouin dish – Watermelon Fettah. Eid has promised a safari to Zaranik where he will prepare the fettah for me, so stay tuned for Part II – the recipe and photos of this unique meal. My mouth is watering already!
* Happening only a week after the horrible earthquake in Haiti, the international and English-language news coverage of the floods was limited and brief. Here are a handful of news accounts for those interested: