Searching for Sinai Seeds


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Three years ago, driven by childhood memories of sweet, juicy tomatoes and a desire for organic vegetables, Eid began a search for seeds. He didn’t want just any seeds and he definitely did not want the seeds available on the market, expensive ones sold by multinational companies. So he started asking around, inquiring with Bedouin in Sinai to see if anyone had seeds saved from their past crops. Eid had no difficulty collecting melon, wheat, and barley seeds that have been growing in Sinai for years, but he could not find anyone who had tomato or cucumber seeds. Determined to find a source of seeds for the plants that once grew in Sinai, Eid set out on a mission. With his knowledge of the geography of Sinai, he began searching for the old campsites, where 40 – 50 years ago, Bedouin would spend the winter months. Eid confirmed that the campsites were old and often-used by looking at the fire pits. By digging beneath the sand, he determined which pits had deep layers of sand melted by the fires. The more layers, the older and more-used the fire was. Eid believed that these traditional campsites would have the seeds he was looking for because families would have left or thrown out seeds as they cooked their daily meals, leaving the area scattered with dried seeds. He decided he would irrigate a few of these places and see what would happen. In one of his chosen areas, Haduda, he regularly watered a patch of earth and waited patiently for something to grow. And something did – a few tomato plants have sprouted, flowered, and even fruited! Eid believes these are not your average tomato plants for the fruits do not look like any of the other tomatoes being grown locally. He believes this is the same variety of tomatoes that may have grown in Sinai years ago. Eid is determined to research this further, wanting to know exactly what type of tomato he is growing. His greatest desire is to have local seeds that have not been tampered with genetically or chemically so that the Bedouin can cultivate local organic vegetables. For now, he awaits the ripening of his tomatoes.

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Coastal Clean-Up


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Looking for something to do this weekend? Why not join Bedouin History Desert Safaris and Don’t Mess with Dahab on Saturday, January 25, in cleaning up litter along the coast.

Pick-up at 9 am from in front of the bridge area. (Time and place negotiable depending on who wants to come.)

Please confirm by Friday if you would like to join us so we can plan transport and tea accordingly.  Shokran!

Annual Camel Race Safari 2014


BHDS_Camel Race Ad 2014

 

It’s that time of year again! Join us on our Annual Camel Race Safari. The safari will start January 9th, 2014 and we’ll camp overnight in Wadi Zalaga nearby to where the camel race will start early morning on the 10th. After the race, we’ll spend the day and the night in the area, returning to Ras Sudr on January 11th. You can also start and end your safari in Dahab or Nuweiba.

Contact us for details:

eidalatrash [AT] hotmail [DOT] com or +0122 2681 938

Springtime Goodness


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It’s springtime in Sinai! And thanks to winter rains the desert wadis and mountains are bursting with fresh green plants.

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So we stop several times on our way to camp to collect these fragrant desert herbs. Here, Freyj collects “sheeh” (Artemisia herba-alba), a wormwood used by the Bedouin both for medicinal and culinary purposes.

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For two to three months in the spring, many Bedouin return to a more traditional life in the desert. One of the main reasons being so that their herds of sheep and goats can graze on the nutritious desert plants. Each evening the women collect milk from the goats. Most of this milk is consumed fresh, without any “processing”. Bedouin call this milk “haleeb”. In the morning, the haleeb is mixed with sugar and sheeh, heated by the fire, and enjoyed – on its own or with tea – by both adults and children. Even the youngest of children drink warm goat’s milk from their bottle. Chunks of fresh hot bread are also dunked into the warm milk and eaten as a small morning meal.

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If the women collect the milk for several days, they have enough to work into “samen sheehi” and cheese. To do this, the women pour the milk into a specially-prepared sac, add a pinch of salt, and shake the sac until the milk thickens. The thick curds are scooped out with a spoon and mixed with sheeh and other herbs to make samen sheehi, an herb ghee or butter. The liquid that is left is called “leban”, or simply milk, but it has fermented some and is now a bit sour, like buttermilk, and is consumed by the glass or used in savory dishes.

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“Liba” or “ti-baana” is the name of the thick bread, baked beneath hot coals, which is an essential element of Bedouin meals. Prepared by either the men or women of a family, this afternoon Freyj and his daughter care for the baking of the bread together.

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But it is Freyj’s daughter who has prepared the main meal, a simple dish of rice and vegetables over which we poured some of the sour leban – a feast full of springtime goodness!

Happy Sinai Liberation Day!

April 25 marks the anniversary of the final withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Sinai peninsula in 1982.

Zuara at the tomb of Sheikh Haboos


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The tomb of Sheikh Haboos.

Small, domed tombs, like the one of Sheikh Haboss pictured above, can be found throughout the Sinai peninsula. When Bedouin need guidance, a blessing, or help with a problem – for example if a relative is ill, a wife is pregnant, or good crops desired – many will visit and pray at a holy sheikh’s (like a saint’s) tomb to ask for an intervention of their behalf from Allah. When this takes place on a sheikh’s birthday, it is called a “mulid”. Otherwise, this practice is known as a “zuara” and, depending on tribal traditions and the tomb visited, happens only on certain days.  Mondays and Fridays are reportedly the busiest days for a zuara at the tomb of Sheikh Haboos, although it is  not uncommon for one to happen on other days as well. Typically a zuara involves the sacrifice of a lamb, a shared meal, and – during a mulid celebration – much music and dancing. Nearby to most tombs you will find small stone buildings, “maq’ad”, used as shelters for praying, meeting, eating, and – of course – tea drinking!

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Men from the El-heywaat tribe slaughter a sheep at the tomb of Sheikh Haboos.

On a recent safari to the area near Sheikh Haboos’s tomb, we were invited to join a zuara by a group of Bedouin from the El-Heywaat tribe who were visiting from the Taba region. That’s an invitation that is hard to refuse! So we turned the truck around and backtracked to the tomb. Our guide, Freyj, happily helped set up carpets inside the maq’ad. As the man who would slaughter the sheep cleaned and readied for the sacrifice, the others prayed, started the fires, and began the preparations for the meal. Dried palm fronds that had been collected along the way and a large palm trunk found next to the maq’ad were used for the fire that would cook the meat. Smaller dried plants were lit for the fire built inside for tea.

The cooking pot on the fire.
The cooking pot on the fire.

Chunks of meat were thrown in the pot of boiling water with several handfuls of mountain salt. Livers and other innards were chopped and placed in a separate pan with oil and water. It would take several hours for the meal to cook so the men sat inside, sheltered from the chilly wind, as they drank tea, smoked, and chatted about a variety of topics. Eventually, the liver was served on a large round metal tray that we all sat around using pieces of thin fresh bread to scoop up bites of liver. After about another hour and a half, the meat was ready. Although we did not stay to share in this meal, the men would not let us leave empty-handed, being sure we had plenty of meat, both raw and cooked, to take back to camp with us.

Mulids are celebrated throughout Egypt, by both Muslims and Christians, and the Bedouin of Sinai have their own unique traditions for these rituals, traditions that have changed over the years to these more simple, quiet affairs. You can read more about mulids in Egypt here.

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Reference:

The Bedouin Tribes of the Sinai: Lecture Book by Larry Roeder (2005)