Monday, April 20, 2009

al Ahwar the marshes April 15

Al Ahwar Field Trip to Marshes April 15
We went on a bus to the marshes on April 15. Driving to the marine science center, we passed extremely polluted water with the algae Dunaliella sp turning the water bright pink. Garbage was everywhere. Stray dogs snuffled through the garbage, well fed but in ill health. Little wetlands were also full of trash. Sheep and goats were moved by a shepherd, taking care that they stay together as they eat sparse vegetation and trash. Kids play soccer in the garbage. Here is the world’s largest economy in the world, with rubble from bombed buildings, trash and filth. Homes are mostly concrete block construction, with almost all of them having satellite dishes. I guess satellite dishes and TV’s are relatively cheap in Iraq.
We got to the marshes, and there were three boats waiting for us. One larger boats had supplies, and the other three were ready to transport us up the river. This are had been drained under Saddam’s rule. During the rehydration phase had been in fairly deep water, and now the water was much shallower. There are not banks, and a very flat topography. Vegetation is dominated by relatively short Phragmites reed, around 4 feet to 5 feet tall. They get much more dense and tall when they are mature.
We passed large piles of dirt. I guess these were bunkers from the war between Iraq and Iran, and a tank would have been behind them.
We saw grass houses along the banks built of reeds with some concrete blocks and barbed wires. They said the men come out here to the marshes to take care of the water buffalo. The water buffalo we saw were sleak and healthy looking.

We stopped for lunch, and they had brought fresh fish. It was my first experience of masgoof, fish cooked over an open fire! The feast was amazing, with cooked fish, Arabic bread, fruit, watermelon, cucumbers, water buffalo yogurt, greens, raw onion. Excellent!
We walked around the marshes after lunch. Someone found a young female Mesopotamian Marsh soft shelled turtle I got to hold, plus a large turtle shell. Some fishermen were pulling in net, very large net and a lot of work. They said there used to be many more fish. We shared our lunch with them in true Iraqi hospitality.
We also shared with Water Buffalo dog. It had been taking care of the water buffalo, and came up to us when it realized lunch was to be served. Very politely, the black and white dog with curly tail sat away from our lunch and waited on the outskirts. As we finished our lunch, he got bread, fish, and doggy feast. He did the same thing when the fishermen ate their lunch and once again was rewarded with his second doggy lunch. A happy dog, looking pretty healthy. I watched him touch noses with the water buffalo and play with them.
I haven’t identified the birds yet. A large kingfisher, some white egrets/ herons, a turn of some sort. Lovely day on the marshes.
I had to go poddy, there was no cover and no ladies room. Walked WAY down the bank, then into reeds for privacy. Definitely got muddy above my knees and almost lost my shoe in the mud. All the men were clean and white, and I was a mud puppy. They laughed but were very polite. When we got back to the Marine Science Center, Dr. Malik said I could not wash my clothes and bring some Mesopotamian mud back to America with me. I did bring the turtle shell back! What a great day.
After lunch the men prayed. Then we had tea, and I passed around Trader Joe’s snack mix. They hadn’t seen dried cranberries or blueberries; not sure the anti-oxidant properties translated. They all told jokes in Arabic, and I enjoyed not having to talk and being in the marshes. A wonderful day! Pictures to come!

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