Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pictures from Azraq wetlands

Phragmites in early morning light
Soil Profile - once was spring fed wetlands, now 20 m below wetlands
Azraq wetlands fed by supplemental water

Big Flat - ephemeral wetland completely flooded this spring

Bedouin house at edge of wetland

My favorite picture - sheep and donkey and Bedouin  herders

Sheep with donkey and Bedouin woman herding

Looking at ephemeral wetland

Boys with their toys - American and Jordanian military exercises - scared the crap out of me

Wetland with bombing practice in background

Camels seemingly undisturbed by bombing practice - co-evolved?

Hazem - Project Manager at Azraq Wetlands


Well at Azraq Castle

Coffee Shop in town of Azraq

Desert surrounding Azraq wildlife refuge - significance of wet oasis in the  midst of desert


Town of Azraq early in the morning

Gazelles at Shawmari Wildlife Refuge, Jordan

Big Bad Watch Geese - closer every morning - intention of butt biting

Azraq Lodge Kitty

Kitty on way to wetland

Kitty on way to wetland

Mama kitty nursing kittens at Azraq lodge

Hope - dove nest in desert

Arabian Oryx at Shawmari Wildlife Refuge in Jordan

Pictures of Petra from Jordan trip

Sacred Weather Station
The following images are from Petra. The Environmental Director, Majed,  gave us a tour of the hidden water conveyance systems, the visible water conveyance system, the advance warning flood system, and weather station (almanac in arabic) - not place of sacrifice.

Sacred Weather Station

Deep within the canyon of Petra
Phragmites in Petra water source


Entering Market area at Petra

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wadi Rum and Petra

Wadi Rum and the desert voyage was a wonderful experience. Then Petra. We had a full day with the Environmental Director of Petra named Majed. We met him to discuss the area in a cane like restaurant the night before for cappuccino. The next day we started at Petra at 7:00 am, and were made aware of this complex water system conveyance system, flood advanced warning system, and sacred weather station. Going with Majed made the place come alive. I did lose my camera with everything on it in the womens bathroom; some Japanese tourists looked at the pictures and found Clara to return it. I was panicking!

In the afternoon we went to Little Petra and looked at large water storage systems. then a wonderful walk at Wadi Musa, looking at a wonderful hima and restoration site. We walked down a drainage very incised and head cut. The agricultural part, of winsome ancient dancing olive trees, grapes, figs, pomegranate, prunes, apricot and apple trees. Beautiful riparian patches with willows. Birds singing everywhere He had his colleague bring us tea as we sat peacefully in the grass under the trees, listening for the athan singing prayers, looking out at the sunset over Petra. One hillside was deforested and eroding drastically, the other vegetated with agricultural and wild vegetation, and was whole.

Some Syrians had some green finches on a string to call in other finches, cage them, and sell them for 30 dinar ($40). This was illegal and they were busted!

Such a nice day,  learned so much about this ancient water system. Ended the evening with Petra by night. At 8:30 walked in the luminaria lined stone path through the narrow canyon, ending at the Market. There were over 500 flickering luminarias. First we heard a traditional stringed instrument, then a flute. A story teller told us about the area as we sipped tea, then out the canyon. The full moon was rising, so beautiful and soft and cheerful. What a magical day. I am so grateful for the wisdom from Majed, and hospitality. People who are so inspired make my heart happy, and these beautiful caring people are all over the world. It gives me hope. Below are images from Wadi Rum

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer Solstice at Aquba

This morning we did our last walk to say good- bye to Azraq wetlands. The four watch geese at the Bedouin home by the reserve have come closer every morning as we walk by. This morning their confidence had built to a peak and they were ready for an ass kickin. The middle white goose rushed out at us, and they all honked wildly. It's lucky we are leaving, because tomorrow we'd have goose beaks firmly gripping our butts. One great outcome of our visit is building the goose self  esteem - they'll be talking about their prowess for a long time to come.

We said goodbye to our friends this morning, and Sharrif gave us a ride to Al Zarqa to catch the bus to Aquaba. It was a long cramped loud ride. We were so glad to get to our wonderful hotel.

I have had many interesting discussions about how Jordanians perceive the refugees and the Arab Spring. They liked the Iraqi refugees; they were upper class, knew they would only be there for a short while, and felt grateful to Jordan for taking them in. I have heard several Jordanians who feel Saddam Hussein was a great leader, not understanding how much suffering his regime caused to the people in the south and north of Iraq - 2/3 of the population. Destabilization of the Iraqi government has certainly created a whole new level of suffering, economic and security downturns, and heavy losses. I am concerned it is getting too dangerous to go back in October, and I feel so sad at the violence that is erupting every day. A bombing occurred in a popular restaurant in Baghdad recently.
I have heard Jordanians say there is no Arab Spring, and that America is behind the unrest. Even in Tunisia and Egypt. It's disturbing to realize how deeply disliked Americans are throughout the Middle East, not us as individuals but the government as a whole.  The perception is vey damaging to us as a nation, to our credibility, and to bringing peace into the world. For Jordan, being a friend of America hurts them with other Arabic countries.

Another thing iI learned is that Jrdanians are very apprehensive about the Syrians coming into the refugee camps. There is concern that the uprooted are middle clas, that they feel entitled to certain treatment, and there may be unrest in the camps creating dangerous conditions for people working there. Many Jordanians will only work in the headquarters of the NGO's, not the open camps.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chechen breakfast and Ansel Castle

This morning I woke up at first light and walked to the wetlands. There are lots of kitties here, and they have mites on their noses, and underfed, unhealthy and prolific. If my friend Mary were here, she would commission one of those big cargo planes, load up all the kitties, and take them back to the U.S. for veterinary care and love.

The gate to the wetland reserve was locked, so I walked out into the desert behind the reserve to get a sense of how big it was, and what it looks like from behind. This is a virid, vital postage stamp wetland where once it stretched for miles and miles. Its like the pulse on your neck; one spot on the whole body, and the pulse for the whole system.

The four big sacred springs are gone. Water is pumped into the reserve, with the people of Azraq first. They only get water three days per week, and usually the water doesn't arrive on time. People wait to take showers, wash clothes, wash their hair. The reserve comes last, but today the water is flowing out of the pipes, and the wetland is a virid green oasis.There are many layers and colors of vegetation; the tamarisk trees, Phragmites taller then the trees, and the reeds and cattails in rounded clumps around the water. As I walk to the edge of the reserve, the piles of sediment dredged from the bottom on the pools is stacked with roots/ rhizomes of Phragmites and Typha. Inside the pools agtails dip and bob, herons and egrets reflect and ripple in the water. White egrets perch in the Tamarisk, and a stilt cries out and flies across the pool. So small, so fragile, so precious.

Hazem, the refuge manager, has gone out of his way to take Clara and I to meet people and to teach us all he can about the Azraq aquifer, the fight for the wetlands, and the needs of the Azraq people. Azraq means blue. The remaining water, the remaining wetland, is a treasure - like the blue diamond in my wedding ring. Surrounded by gold, the gold of the Chechen, Druze and Bedouin communities. Over this past week, we have been invited to homes of leaders of each of these community groups, and people have been so generous with their time and knowledge. We sit in their guest rooms, drink coffee, drink sweet tea, have some fruit. We spend hours talking, listening, and laughing, making new friends. Something that never happens in my academic environment - people never, ever have the time to sit and visit, to talk and listen to each other. Too busy to listen, to share.

Today we went out to a local farm. Olives, pomegranates in bloom, date trees with a spray of new dates, apricots. He also has a big house for  doves to come and go, pipe shelters for turkeys,and a hutch for bunnies. We sat and talked outside, the cool breeze under the trees a perfect temperature. A small dog, underfed and unhealthy, scurried by while we sat talking. It hurried out of site, not to appear again.  This farm, like the wetland, also a treasure and an oasis in the midst of this drying, desertifying landscape. No water. Amman has the water, water pirates have the water, and so little remains for the people.

As I write this, the refugee camp continues to be build for 450,000 to 600,000 people. They will have two wells for all those people, and plan to truck out the waste. International humanitarian organizations are providing funds for relief, and soon the refugees will be coming to this hot tent city in the middle of a very barren and bleak landscape . A military base is close to the future refugee camp, and that is where the American and Jordanian miliray are exercising "fierce lion" where they are doing miliatary exercises here on the syrian border.

Many of the first refugees from Syria, as well as from Iraq, are or were rich. They buy property and drive up the price of housing and services. While there will be some jobs in the refugee camp, some people will be able to bribe there way out and move to Azraq and will need jobs. The communities of Azraq fear they will take local jobs, which are few and far between. The unemployment in this area is extremely high after the salt cooperative closed. Unrest on the border has affected tourism and eco-tourism to the area. Water only is delivered three days per week, and limited opportunitiespccur in this rural area for making a livelihood. People tell me they have to buy everything, they can't have their animals graze, and fish and hunt and create a subsistence livelihood like they did before.

Azraq is a wonderful community. We've been treated with such hospitality, and met such interesting people. This wetland, these birds and wildlife, these farms and agriculture sustain the community. Above all, the community needs water. I've been touched deeply, been privileged to learn a great deal from these generous people. I don't think I'll be the same leaving here as when I arrived.

These war planes fly low and fast and loud over the town. The American and Jordanian pilots play boys with their toys, showing off their prowess. This military precense is not who I want to be as an American, this is not how I want to be perceived by people in this country that is one of our few friends in the region . Salam aleikum, peace be to you, peace be to the people of this town Azraq, and peace be to all the animals and plants and living things trying to survive without water.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Shaumary Wildlife Refuge

We drove out to Shumari wildlife refuge, looking forward to seeing the oryx and wildlife. We stopped to look at a reservoir for water storage, and I was focused on the drying clay. Large cracks formed large cracks in the clay, and the soils were a gray blue gleyed color; Iwas in my head thinking of hydric soils and was this montmorillonite? Then a huge boom crashed the air, causing me to jump, and I looked up to see military manuuvers doing bombing runs. F-16 planes, high up almost invisible and screaming in, dropped bombs precisely on their targets. The American military is doing military exercises with the Jordanian military. They are showing their presence, here only about 100 miles from Syria, 130 miles from Iraq, 30 miles from Saudi Arabia. Whats the point? A no fly zone over Syria? Flexing muscles, beating chests? How much does every bomb cost?

At the wildlife refuge, the animals here for captive breeding were nervous at the bombing in near proximity. Not because they were close enough to do damage, but because of the fear because of the loud percussive noice. I think of how much my poor dog is so scared of fire works.  The birds were really scared. We stood on the tall tower, about 40 feet above the growd, talked to the biologist, watching  the endangered Arabian oryx, wild ass, and sand gazelle. The Oryx were bred in captive breeding in the Phoenix zoo, then returned to Shaumari. The reserve was established around 1975, and the enclosures built in 1978. The conservation biologists are testing DNA on the animals, and are careful to breed with other genetic strains to make sure there is genetic diversity among the herd. Right now they have 46 Oryx, 30 Gazelle and 22 Onyger (wild ass).

Oryx were introduced successfully in Oman, but efficient and brutal poaching almost eliminated them. The reserve was pulled from the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

The reserve should have a visitors center open for local to be developed near the administration building within 2 years. They also plan a Safari Project with safari vehicles on a 7 km trail. 

There are 15 gazelle from Syria and 20 from Saudi Arabia.  Apparently, this is a point of recovery of some very endangered species. However, these bombs going off so close don't make anything feel safe. An impending uncertainty settles like dust.

Azraq, Water In The Desert: 15 June 2013

         At a confluence of mighty highways that link Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia in Jordan's great Eastern Desert, lies a small dusty oasis town. Al Azraq was the gathering place for mighty caravans on their way from the Gulf states and weary bands of Bedouin watering their thirsty herds in the shimmering sun. Today, greasy mechanic shops service long haul trucks pounding their way through the sand and asphalt, and the camels are relegated to the few Bedouin tents on the outskirts of town. Azraq as an oasis town is long gone...and today even the water is going away.
         Azraq sits on a mighty aquifer that lies underneath the desert, the oasis, a huge wetland full of birds, fish and plant species was once over 12000 km in area. European explorers had surveyed the site and determined that it was exceptional in quality and importance to migrating birds and mammals. They began a reserve to protect it. But far to the west, the ancient city of Amman was expanding. One of the oldest settled cities, Amman was becoming a burgeoning metropolis. Its new population needed water, and the eyes of the government settled on the aquifers of Azraq to the east. Pumping stations were placed around Azraq in the 1980s, and the drawing down of the mighty Azraq aquifer began.The end for the oasis was not long in coming, by 1993, the huge wetland was dry, and the birds and animals came no more to its shores.
        But the natural ecosystems were not alone in their suffering, the local populations of Druze, Chechen and settling Bedouin began to feel the effects of the dropping water table. Wells dried up, and the city began to be rationed water, six days a week, five, four and finally three. Wealthy and promiment former government officials dug illegal wells along with some of the locals to feed their farms. The remaining few acres of wetland, hastily saved from complete dessication in the late 1990s, were rationed water as well. Outside the tiny remnant of marsh, huge dead clumps of reeds and phragmites remain as stark tombstones to what once was.
      Today, the water returns for the first time in three days, there is quiet celebration, but nothing spectacular, hair is washed, laundry is done, and storage barrels filled, here, no one knows when the water will go off again. Across town the manager of the little wetland turns the big valve, and the soft noise of running water tinkles among the reeds in the dry desert air.