Yom Rishon, Sunday, the first day of the workweek for Jews in Israel and
I was headed once again to the bus station, once again heading south.
Dr. Sirik had a busy schedule at the surgical clinic so we were on our
way bright and early to the central bus station in Ramat Gan. The
loading area was crowded with Israel’s youngest soldiers, apparently
returning to their bases in the south after a weekend of leave. By this
trip I was used to the idea that in Israel everyone puts their baggage
in the cargo holds of the bus and it is “safe” there, so, I put my bag
with my precious photos in the hold, too. It was a relief not to have to
drag it onto the bus and struggle getting it under the seat.
The now familiar landscape began to roll by, gradually descending from the coastal cities into the Negev. As the color and vegetation change, the contours of the hills soften, the irrigated fields create a green and burnt sienna checker board, and block and marble apartments give way to open space dotted here and there with tents and encampments. As I reflect on that journey, through so many small towns along the bus route, the stone buildings, the one room markets at street level where people buy fresh rolls and yogurt, the nursery school playgrounds, the women walking, pushing strollers…..it all felt like I remembered Israel twenty-three years ago. This Israel, these towns…cutting edge development, high tech industry and science seem to have either not yet arrived, or passed by. Nothing seemed to have changed.
The journey was reflective and before long, the bus pulled into the central bus station in Beershevah right on time. I claimed my heavy black bag, which despite having wheels was cumbersome to drag along, and headed towards the now routine meeting place where Andreea would collect me. The corner where I wanted to cross to reach the parking area where I’d meet Andreea had a metal railing around it, probably to discourage people from crossing there, but I was determined. I assessed the space between the rails and thought that if I were younger, I could squeeze through, but I was afraid, at 57 I might not make it, so I rolled the bag under and started to follow the railing around. Half way around the barrier the security police pulled up to my bag, eyed it and were just about to open the van door for a better look when I got their attention. They reprimanded me for leaving the bag unattended, even momentarily.
Andreea pulled up to the parking area and yet again I loaded myself and my stuff into her van. Today, she said, we would first go to the plaza to have the best ice cream in Israel. We drove around old Beershevah, down narrow streets lined with shops and businesses of all kinds, looking for a parke to the plaza and people could sit at tables outside to eat. This is what we did. The ice cream was delicious, light but full of flavor leaving no fatty residue on the tongue like the premium grade ice creams I’m used to in the USA. Since I was running out of film, we took the opportunity to do a little tourist shopping because I had not had a moment to buy a single gift. So, we walked up and down the street through the plaza looking for film and gifts. I bought a few gifts but Andreea thought the film was too expensive, so I didn’t buy any, which proved to be a mistake, because there was no time later and I ended up being given film by people here and there or buying it at truly astronomical prices. This, of course, was a little mistake; but I won’t make it again. I’ll buy film where it is available in quantity if I run out again travelling.
We walked back to the van and drove to Andreea’s beautiful flat where Shalom Shtokelman was to meet us. The plan was to visit Saluqis at a place called Abu Khaf, and then Shtokelman was going to take me to the moshav where he lives in the Aravah, the southernmost region of Israel, right above Sinai. Shalom Shtokelman has been involved with Saluqis since the early 1970s. And, like my visit with Rashid Darawshe, it proved to be an incredibly small world…..but I’ll get to that. However, from our brief phone conversations, I knew Shtokelman had definite ideas about Saluqis, so, I was anticipating “impassioned” discussions. Neither of us was disappointed.
As we pulled up to Andreea’s, Shalom, a tall, lean, active mannered man, with the walk of a Bedouin, an Israeli bounce added, greeted us. As I got out of the van we assessed each other as we shook hands, then Shalom began to chat with Andreea as we climbed the steps to the apartment. Andreea had to take her dogs out for a little run, leaving Shtokelman and me to each other. Though the bus trips were becoming routine, they were still a bit tiring so Shalom offered to make coffee. I zoned out for a moment or two….then was handed my coffee. It tasted like straight seawater! Instead of sugar, Shalom has put salt in it. He was flabbergasted that this had happened and with utter disbelief said there is a saying if one puts salt instead of sugar in a guest’s coffee, one is in love! And so my delightful visit with the Shtokelman family began.
Andreea returned and Shtokelman told her the sugar-salt mix up and asked if she knew the saying, which she did, further amusing him. This trip we’d go in Shalom’s van, so we climbed in and were off to Abu Khaf to meet Sami and see his dogs and other Saluqis in the area. A short ways outside of Beershevah we pulled off the main highway and down a dirt track to a block building with a nice, friendly, finely built mature dog tied to a tiny tree and two healthy pups playing around a stripped car. Sami, accompanied by his Russian Jewish wife dressed in proper Bedouin style carrying their rosy cheeked baby daughter, greeted us. (To give you some sense of my state of mind at this point in the trip, though I heard Sami’s wife speaking Hebrew with a Russian accent, and noticed her beautiful blue eyes, it did not even dawn on me that she was Jewish or that there was actually anything unusual here. It was just another place to see Saluqis….I was becoming oblivious to everything else.)
We drank tea and I was able to measure the male Saluqi easily. He had the same sweet temperament of most of the dogs I’d seen. He also had a look about the head and expression that was becoming familiar, possibly a family group, but trying to record all the pedigrees, in addition to the measurements and photographs, was too much for me. Pedigree information, how the local Bedouin and Arabs breed their dogs, what choices they make, will be the topic of focus for my next trip when I cannot possibly be as overwhelmed. My point here is that I was beginning to see “a look”, commonalties in some of the Saluqis, which I assume is due to shared ancestry. This will be something to follow up on.
As we drank our tea Sami looked at my photo survey cards and shared with me a few ideas about the breed. He told me that some people believe the pup born last runs the best so he kept the last born. The last born is closest to the mother’s heart so got the best food from the mother. Others believe that the smallest at birth will be the best. He believes that a Saluqi that is high in the rear and short bodied will be a good runner over both short and long distances. The dog should be short from the shoulder to the hip. Bowlegged rear legs are good and a slight sickle hock is good because the dog can “roll” the hock.
Sitting in the shade, looking out over the area I saw a boy approaching with a beautiful cream Saluqi. It turned out that this was the Saluqi Andreea had found roaming loose in Beershevah. She wanted to keep him, but he created havoc when she left him in her flat with her other dogs while at university and work, so she had to give him to the Bedouin in Abu Khaf where he could be confined safely and it didn’t matter how much noise he made. Scud, as he was called, would not let me measure his head or tail but was friendly otherwise and really good looking. Though Andreea had searched and searched for an owner, nobody ever came for him.
We were told that there were more Saluqis in the large compound down the road so we walked down there. There were lots of children playing outside and numerous adobe houses and other buildings, some in stages of completion, some with only walls, and many large pens for livestock, which included sheep, goats, camels, and ostriches. There were wire cages for fancy chickens and peacocks. Scud was kept securely in a very large cage, maybe five feet square and six feet tall, which was used to hold compost. There were white guard dogs chained to dog houses in the middle of one of the large pens. Why Shtokelman wanted to razz the guard dogs, I have no idea, but he ran towards them in a challenging manner causing them to leap and bark at him. Most of the livestock was out grazing; this was clearly a prosperous family group.
The house at the far end was totally fenced and the owner was not home. Guarding the gate, however, were two beautiful red and white feathered Saluqis, male and female littermates in lovely condition, barking a most convincing warning that we shouldn’t even think about entering, let alone putting a hand on either one of them! All I could do in the fading light was try to get a few photos. Obviously there was a lot that could be learned at this compound, but time was short, the light was all but gone, and I was out of film. We took our leave and headed for the super market because not only was I out of film, I was starving. Hunger would hit me suddenly at some point during these stimulating days and I would feel like I’d faint if I didn’t eat something.
The film at the supermarket was way more expensive than the film in town, but I had no film, so no alternative at this point. We bought borakas and some fruit, but when we got into Shtokelman’s van, he announced that he had an unbreakable rule….no eating or drinking in the van. This he decided when they bought the van. Israelis pack food and eat on any trip over half an hour, and food gets ground into the seats and floors of family vehicles. The Shtokelman family and guests would discipline themselves to eat before they got in the van or when they stopped but never in the vehicle. The result was the van looked like new but I thought I’d die! The delicious smelling borakas remained in the bag until we got to Andreea’s where as I was stepping out of the van to say good bye, I was stuffing food into my mouth.
It turned out that Shalom had had a very long day. Though he prides himself at being “just a farmer”, which in Israel is highly technical due to the modern developments for arid region agriculture, he also does some sophisticated work searching for missing persons and he had been doing research all day for a case that he was working on. As we drove through the velvet darkness of the desert night, making our solitary way towards the moshav of Ayn Yahav, where Shalom and his family live, the two lane highway climbed and descended like a narrow black ribbon marked with chalk edges. As we wound our way down the switchback road at Sidon, despite the total darkness, I knew where we were exactly…..I was beginning to feel the landscape. And I could also feel how tired Shalom was and I just hoped we didn’t have too much farther to go.
We reached the gate of the moshav (a community where families own their own land and houses but market their produce together and hold the palm groves as community property), which was surrounded by rolls of razor wire and chain link and had a guard post to enter the residential area. Shalom commented that here we are in Israel, where no Arab town or village or settlement has a fence around it, but Jewish settlements are fenced and guarded in our own country. Ayn Yahav is located only a few kilometers from the Jordanian border, which today is jointly patrolled and enjoys much cooperation, but this was not always the case. The fences remain in place; the guard post manned.
As we pulled into the Shtokelman compound, Saluki pups raced out to meet us and Shalom seemed to revive at the sight of them. He loves Salukis. As I was shown to my room, a separate building with bathroom usually occupied by their son who was currently on holiday in London before he begins his military service, Shalom began to feed his dogs. Leah led me into the main house where I was introduced to part of the Shtokelman clan. Shalom’s brother with his two children was visiting from California, two daughters and a son and a son-in-law were all sitting at the large round wooden table off the kitchen. The table was spread with delicious, fresh Israeli produce, yogurt, cheeses and breads. There was the customary cucumber and tomato salad, olives of several varieties, humus, melon, tea, coffee, pop…..whatever anyone wanted seemed to be produced from the refrigerator. And, this table was spread several times a day yet no one in the family was overweight. It was also around this table that I learned my granddaughter had been born, so there was heart felt mazal tov in addition to the delicious food.
Since Shalom had his second wind, and I had been dragging photographs all around the world to share with him, out they came and we started our Saluqi conversation, with the whole family at times, because the Shtokelman Saluqis were a part of all of their memories. Though I had sent a copy of The Saluqi to them, airmail, it had not arrived (and did not arrive for a full three months!) so I couldn’t show them the photos of their Tarabin Saluqis, Hassan and Nejma, that were actually in the book. They were not identified by name because I had no information on them when the book was published other than their first owner and that they were from Sinai. Small world! Shalom’s foundation Saluqis were pictured in my book. The minute I saw his Saluqi photo album, I recognized Hassan and Nejma. Our conversation carried on and on through endless sweet tea, memories, preferences, stories, into the wee hours of the morning. What a wonderful tradition of warmth and hospitality exists among both Jewish and Arab Saluqi lovers. Genuine warmth, genuine hospitality, sincere connection and real pleasure at the presence of a guest in the tent, house, courtyard.
The next morning, after a delicious breakfast, Leah, Shalom’s wife, took their niece, Tamar, and nephew, Ori, and me for a ride around the moshav to see the Shtokelman fields as well as the other areas under cultivation, including the communally owned date palm grove, with the majestic palm crowns ringed with bunches of dates ripening in net sacks so the birds could not damage the precious fruit. Anyone who has read about the Bedouin knows how much of life depends on dates….people and animals. In some regions of the Middle East wealth is still measured in date palms. The Ayn Yahav grove was really beautiful, the trees mature and tall with neatly trimmed trunks, the irrigation canals straight and clear, the leaves shiny as though polished, the trees robust and the fruit clearly premium grade. One could easily imagine such groves providing inspiration for ancient builders who created row upon row of fluted columns. Leah explained which crops were grown and how they were grown under the plastic of the greenhouses which provided both trellising and protection from the shriveling intensity of the desert sun.
Later, just before sunset, Leah took us all again in the jeep, with the addition of twelve year old Alpha (a pseudonym because this Saluki’s actual name might offend some readers), their Jordanian Saluqi. Alpha was remarkably nimble for her age and repeatedly jumped in and out of the jeep. Leah took us through the desert tracks slowly climbing to a plateau where we could see the whole moshav and the vast expanse of the Aravah fanning out all around us, and we could even see into Jordan. It was starkly, magnificently beautiful, and ancient, and eastern…..and I felt that I could easily live there in body and soul. It was the time of day when the light lingers, touching everything with golden fingers…..the children, the Saluqi, the land, Leah…..it was a moment etched in golden light as a dust devil swirled in the vast distance in silence.
Also during this day, Shalom, his younger brother, Ache Ezer, and I went to see some local Saluqis. Shalom, though not the owner, had a deep interest in a particular three and a half year old male, Agab, which he believed descends directly from his original Sinai hounds, Hassan and Nejma, and which lives with the Bedouin at the camel farm. So, first we went there, a short drive through the summer sizzling Aravah. There were several lovely Saluqis around the large concrete building which had once been an industrial site of some sort but now seemed abandoned except for providing housing for several Bedouin workers.
There were a few puddles of water and a few of the dogs were lying in them to keep cool. Agab was one of the tallest Saluqis I’d measured and was also square (26 inches tall and 26 inches long); in addition he had quite a bit of bone, not exactly typical of Sinai, in my experience. On the other hand, his head, expression, ink black pigment with golden eyes, and cream smooth coat all suggested Sinai to me, too. Agab is to be Shalom’s genetic road back to the Bedouin type he feels he’s lost in his current hounds. The other male that I measured was a two and a half-year-old named Harris and he was a lovely hound. The others were under a year so I didn’t measure them. Shalom said we’d return later to see the camels, which were also at this site.
We drove to a cattle feed lot where there were two young Saluqis descending from Shalom’s breeding, which has a number of western imports blended in. It was terribly hot and the pups, though not shy, didn’t want to be bothered, and particularly didn’t want to come out from the shade under the trailer where we found them. Shalom attempted to get them out, which was successful, but they just took off towards the livestock pens, and more shade. They had much the same air about them as Agab, similar bone, but they were grizzle rather than cream.
Later in the day we all got back in the car, this time with Ori and Tamar, and returned to the camel farm of renowned Professor Reuven Yagil (*refer to note for more information). Dr. Yagil is an authority on the adaptation of mammals to desert environments, camels in particular. He has participated in conferences and seminars throughout Asia and Africa, in countries where the camel remains the basis of local economies, has perfected milking methods which vastly increase the amount of milk yielded, and has even developed camel milk ice cream, which is delicious. Unfortunately, due to always pressing and vying needs of Israeli society, political intrigue and power brokering, Dr. Yagil’s camels, work area, and conference hall have yet to occupy a permanent facility.
Though Dr. Yagil’s stories of his travels to seminars in camel breeding countries were intriguing, conveying the large measure of common sense and respect in his approach to working with tribal people who rely on nomadism and their camels to sustain themselves, his own camels were in a rather sorry state. So, whereas with some of the settled Bedouin I saw tick covered, dirty Saluqis, but the few camels I saw in such environments were clear of ticks and filth, at this famous camel farm I saw filthy camels with ticks but clean, well cared for Saluqis! Though obviously healthy, it was sad to see camels, so precious to the Bedouin, covered with caked urine and dirt and ticks. No Bedouin would ride such a dirty animal and the camel to the Bedouin was not merely a milk producer but a source of transportation and pride. So, clean Saluqis, filthy camels and a subtle cultural message is transmitted. One can only speculate that the large number of camels and lack of water must in part be responsible for the neglected state of hygiene, though the camels were apparently healthy and producing large quantities of milk. Every Bedouin mount and tethered camel that I saw, also in places lacking water, was cleaner, to my recollection.
As we drove back to Ayn Yahav from the camel farm, Ache Ezer started to explain to his brother what he was working on in the States. He went into the most sophisticated description I have ever heard of molecule splitting, folding, and processing to create protein bases for new drugs and other research. Shalom told Ache that that was all very interesting but in a few years the chemical gas that they use as a pesticide, shooting it under the plastic where the crops grow will be banned due to it’s effect on the ozone layer and he needs a new pesticide and that would be far more interesting to him. As we drove through the thick desert night with bugs the color of chalk pellets spiraling through the headlights, I was listening to a discussion of cutting edge science for the 21st century, all somehow perfectly congruous with everything else about this remarkable family.
Once home, around the large table spread with the evening meal, the trip to Eilat, to give Ache’s children a special day at the aquarium, was discussed and I was invited to join the family. This is such a wonderful family to be around, I was delighted to be included in their plans. After more intense Saluqi discussions, I went to sleep…..time was flying….the next day was August 10th and on midnight of the 12th I would be leaving Israel! Shalom had announced that along with no eating in the van, we would not say the word saluqi during the whole trip….not once. And, when Shalom makes a rule, everybody sticks to it.
As we drove from Ayn Yahav to Eilat, maybe an hour and a half or so drive, Leah pointed out places of interest to the children and me. As we came to Nahal Zin, an enormously wide dry streambed, now spanned by a bridge, Leah told us a story that conjured an image so surreal I laughed until I thought I would burst. You must picture Nahal Zin, surrounded by nothing….nothing in its purest form….open desert. The bridge is of recent construction. Before the bridge was built, when there were flash floods, people had to wait for the water to pass before they could ford the streambed. To make sure people were not reckless, the police would set up barriers and guard them until it was safe to drive on.
Leah described an incident in 1991, during the Gulf War, when Sadam Hussein was shelling Israel with scuds. About 200 cars were lined up, waiting to cross. The people were all standing around talking when the news came on and the police vehicle turned the megaphone on. The news announced that scuds had been fired. Instantly everyone rushed to their cars, got in, rolled up the windows and put on their gas masks! This is how everyone sat for several hours until the flood subsided. Then, still wearing gas masks, people started their engines and continued travelling. The image of gas-masked drivers in the emptiness of Nahal Zin was so incongruous it struck me as hilarious.
The trip to Eilat and the aquarium, where I had taken my own children in the mid 1970s, was great fun and a good break. The underwater viewing station is fascinating, for the fish, coral, and all the varied humanity it attracts. Israelis and tourists of every background, from the far corners of the world, all the colors of the human rainbow, and as many religions and traditions, were all there to see the wonders of the sea. Ache and Shalom and the children went in the submarine, which actually submerges and travels around the Gulf of Eilat (Akaba), while Leah and I had something to drink in the packed cafeteria. After the aquarium we went into Eilat and had a delicious fish dinner and did a little tourist shopping. The saluqi ban remained in force until we got home, and, since several hours had passed since we last ate, the table was spread yet again, the ban lifted, and serious ground covered in our last discussion. I even managed to do a very brief interview with Shalom because he is if not the Israeli with the longest continuing tenure as a breeder, then certainly one of them. Since Ache Ezer had graciously volunteered to take me to Jerusalem where I would pick up my South Africa luggage, then on to Ramat Gan, where I would spend my last night in Israel, Shalom and I could talk until the wee hours. And, we did.
Short interview with Shalom Shtokelman, Ayn Yahav, August 10, 1999
What is recounted here is from notes rather than a tape recording.
Shalom got his first Saluqi in 1972, a smooth dog from Yavnel. This was a Bedouin hound and he got him from a vet. Shalom said at the time he simply didn’t know what he had….today he knows. He saw Bedouin dogs but didn’t appreciate them.
Next he got a feathered American Saluki and he found a Sinai Saluqi in the street. He fell in love with the character of the breed. But, he had to give the feathered dog back because it killed all the turkeys in the moshav, Bustan Ha Galil, where he was living. This was the same moshav where Igal Sella lived.
About 1974 or 75 he got Hassan and Nejma from Mike Van Grevenbroek (pictured as puppies in The Saluqi, pp.253-54). He thinks Mike gave him these Saluqis because they made “big trouble” for him on the kibbutz. Hassan was a good hunter as well as a good guard dog for the Shtokelman family. But, the Sinai Saluqis were aggressive towards some of the moshav members, especially if they were riding bicycles. Hassan and Nejma had several litters but the rule was, if the dog bit someone, it had to be given to the Bedouin, so, most of the pups were given away. One particular Bedouin, Shalom believes, still has this bloodline, Hareb Al Awashle, who lives near Dimona.
Shalom was fascinated by the group interactions of his Saluqis, how they lived together and hunted together. He hunted with Bedouin a few times, but it was difficult….a big problem (which went unexplained). He feels the Saluqi is like a feral animal, a wild animal, natural…..a perfect balance between muscle and bone. He cited some research on desert animals done at Tel Aviv University by Amiram Shkolnik….the biology of desert animals and how they have adapted to survive. How does the Saluqi survive on minimal water? The blood concentrates and the dog does not go into shock. It is clear that Saluqis have many characteristics that modern people don’t pay attention to.
In 1977 Shalom acquired Yossi, a black smooth dog from the brother of Salim Ibn Jahzi. Yossi was one solid muscle with a beautiful temperament with the family but he always competed with Hassan for the alpha position. Shalom gave Ibn Jahzi a pup from Hassan and Nejma for Yossi. Before he could sire a litter, Yossi was poisoned and died. Hassan died in 1980.
Of all the pups from Hassan and Nejma, only one was feathered. This cream bitch was named Alfa (pseudonym because the name would be offensive to some readers) was heavily feathered and went to Kibbutz Urim (where she was photographed by American Saluki breeder and judge Dale Wright during one of his trips to Israel! Talk about a small world). This bitch won first place at the International Show in Ashkelon one year (maybe it was the year Dale judged).
Two black feathered Salukis were brought into Israel from Jordan. Shalom got the male after a car accident. This male was bred to a daughter of Hassan and Nejma, in 1981 or 82. One of the puppies was a heavily feathered black fringed red, a bitch, and she was given to Ruthie. Her name was Seffi and she was eventually bred to a Nueba type smooth cream dog belonging to Bedouin from Beershevah. One of these puppies, a bitch, was a heavily feathered tricolor like the Jordanian grandsire. This was about 1988 and the bitch was Alpha. All of the other puppies were given away.
In about 1991 Alpha was bred to Joker, a western import but Shalom no longer remembers from which country. He was not Sinai type. Shalom thought the puppies were awful. He didn’t like them at all and thought there was something the matter with them because they had so much body hair. He worried that maybe they weren’t purebred. He told the people who took them, “This is the father, this is the mother, and you get a donkey!” He didn’t breed another litter for eight years. In the end, when they matured, the puppies turned out nice.
Alpha was bred a second time to Psic, whose dam was Seffi (Jordanian sire x Sinai dam) and whose sire was Dahab, a tall golden dog imported from the USA or South Africa. This litter is now three years old and a bitch has been bred to Musdies, Shalom’s black feathered import from Scandinavia. These pups will be a year old on December 24, 1999. He has also bred a second bitch from this same litter to Musdies and these pups were three months old at the time of my visit.
One of the Psic x Alpha puppies, as mentioned, now three years old, was Best of Breed under Scandinavian judge, Espen Engh, at the recent Ashkelon International show. Shalom’s Scandinavian import was Best of Opposite sex. So, Shalom Shtokelman’s blended gene pool, blended type, is now producing Challenge Certificate winning show Salukis in Israel. And, he plans to use the Sinai type male, Agab, as sire of his next litter. He feels that in this way he will be returning to the roots of his experience with the breed.
With the interview accomplished, brief though it is, and Ache Ezer’s incredibly kind offer to drive me to Jerusalem the next day, then on to Ramat Gan, where I would spend my last night in Israel, I headed to bed. As I walked to my room I reflected on what Shalom had done as a Saluqi breeder, and that he had been faced with similar problems to those that I had faced breeding Bedouin Saluqis straight from the tents and the rigors of “survival of the fittest” in Sinai in a western house-and-yard environment. The Sinai Saluqis were entirely too primitive, too intense, even in Israel, for most western owners and urban or even semi-urban environments.
Their temperaments simply had to be “diluted”, softened, since their work and lifestyle changed so drastically from the pressures they had evolved under. Shalom gave dogs with typical, desirable Sinai Bedouin type temperaments to the Negev Bedouin because they could hunt with them and their guarding qualities were useful. I was fortunate to have open field coursing available to me, so I could take my own direct desert descent Saluqis into the field to focus all that intensity in the direction they had evolved to use it. I did understand fully what Shalom had done and to a great extent why. But he had bred with an eye towards the show ring; I had bred with an eye towards the field. Listening to his experiences was fascinating. And in moments, I was sound asleep in the Aravah silence.
The next morning I was up, showered, packed and ready to take leave of part of the Shtokelman family. Ronit would be joining us for the ride as far as Beershevah, to Ben Gurion University, where she had an exam in one of her courses. Ache Ezer and his children would be going to the seaside city of Natanya, where they had a friend’s house awaiting them, and a week of sun, sea and relaxation before their return to the States. So, we would be parting in phases. I was going, via Jerusalem, to Dr. Sirik’s flat, for my last night in Israel. After a final delicious breakfast and not good-byes but, “when will we see you agains”, the journey to Beershevah began. Ache quizzed Ronit on the material for her exam, which he seemed generally familiar with, and I played innumerable games of tic tac toe with Ori and Tamar. Well, Tamar played Ori, who though a very clever six, needed some coaching to keep his spirits up against his expert ten-year-old sister.
We found parking at the University and Ronit left us for her exam. We made our way to the book store where one copy of Clinton Bailey’s now out of print book, Bedouin Poetry from Sinai and the Negev: Mirror of a Culture was still available and reserved for me. I was thrilled to have it after so many years of trying to get ahold of a copy. I also looked for activity books for Ori to provide him with amusement during the long ride to come. Tamar, fluent and literate in both Hebrew and English, chose a few books in Hebrew. Then we went to the Bank Leumi on campus and I got in line to change a travelers check to shekels so that I could pay for the Bailey book, which was extremely expensive for a book with very few pictures! It took ages…..every time I had changed money in the bank it took ages and what seemed like a hundred forms. It reminded me of crossing the Egyptian border…..it just looked more efficient because computers were on the desks….what for, I have no clue. Anyway, I did get the shekels and paid for the book and we were on our way again.
For the final time during these magical weeks, I watched the landscape change from dry rolling hills, dotted with clusters of tents, adobe dwellings and flocks of sheep and goats, tethered donkeys and occasional verdant irrigated fields, to rocky, craggy, lichen dotted gray rocks, pine covered hills, and stone buildings. As we reached Jerusalem, city of towering apartment buildings, perched in flocks on every available hilltop, appearing to totter down the hillsides due to sheer numbers, the traffic began. Having been an officer in the Israeli Airforce, Ache Ezer navigated like a fighter pilot, and in no time at all I was at Michael and Melanie’s flat. Ache and his children went on to Hebrew University to visit a cousin while I had my last delicious lunch with the Coffman family and gathered my luggage for South Africa. After lunch I read the Dr. Seuss books that I had bought for my granddaughter to the Coffman children one last time. It was decided, since Erin was too little to understand the stories yet, the books would remain in Jerusalem.
There was a knock at the patio gate and it was time to leave. How could three weeks have passed already? I remember getting off the plane, looking up at the terminal where it says “welcome to Israel” and thinking that I should if not kiss the ground, touch it……and now, I was leaving. We loaded the car, hugged and kissed good-byes, and I was on my way again. As we descended from Jerusalem, Ache pointed out to his children the military vehicles left along the roadside from the 1948 war to remind each generation of the sacrifices made and lives lost in creating the State. There were many battles and bloody confrontations trying to break the Arab blockade around Jerusalem in 1948. Only when an alternate and secret route was discovered through the hills was the Jewish population saved. I remembered the hollow wrecks…..they had been there twenty-three years ago, too, but they seemed smaller than I’d remembered. The military cemetery, however, was bigger.
In no time at all we had passed Latrun, the sunflower fields, the prosperous looking Arab villages, the apartment building studded hills, everywhere, every hill sprouts an apartment building, the dusty olive groves, the industrial sites, and were entering the Tel-Aviv area. Dr. Sirik had given Ache good directions, and with no trouble, he found her building. The whole family helped me carry my bags on the elevator and into the flat, where Twiggy, Puzzle, and Spot barked greetings. These sweet tempered greyhounds enjoyed the attention of Tamar and Ori, while Ache looked at The Saluqi, which though sent airmail months before my arrival at his brother’s, had not arrived. The comment was made that the Israeli postal system operates like a terrorist organization that sometimes delivers mail. Laughing over this comment, we said our good-byes. The Shtokelmans had been so kind to me, so hospitable, I felt like I was parting from my own family. It was really a difficult good-bye.
For a few moments there was silence…..just me and the beautiful greyhounds, in the airy, bright sitting room with dog sculptures and paintings, books and rugs…..Zafra Sirik’s space. Dr. Rita Trainen had called and asked that I contact her before I leave; this was the last chance. Dr. Trainen had gone to Sinai with Igal Sella in the late 1960s and had been instrumental in registering the Saluqis from Sinai originally. We had been in touch over the many many years that had passed but we had never met. I called and Rita suggested she take me for coffee. In no time she was at the flat and we went to a lovely coffeehouse that served all sorts of exotic coffees, teas, and pastries. I had the most delicious strudel and tea.
We talked about this and that, and the fact that Israel was not currently recognized by the American Kennel Club. When I had mentioned this to Dr. Sirik, her response was, “That’s your problem, not ours”. At first I didn’t understand what she meant, but as I thought about it, I did. But, it’s a catch 22 because, for example, the Saluki Club of America cannot petition the AKC to accept the Israel Kennel Club….only the Israel Kennel Club can petition on its own behalf. Dr. Trainen told me that several Israeli bred dogs from many breeds were doing very well on the continent and these dogs had offspring in the USA, and there were plans being made for the future of these dogs. Though cryptic, I can only hope that the AKC will accept Israel as it does other once British colonial spheres of influence such as India, Kenya, South Africa and other far flung lands! Afterall, there was a Palestine Kennel Club from 1917 or so until 1948 when it became the Israel Kennel Club.*
Dr. Trainen dropped me back at the flat and I had to call Judy Herbstein, the producer for the Animal Planet shoot to see what time I had to be ready. Then, at midnight, I would be on the plane to South Africa…..unbelievable…..everything had fallen into place, I had gotten around the country from the north to the south, to Sinai, to the Palestinian Authority territory, everywhere. And everywhere friendly people, hot tea, delicious food and Saluqis. Only a single day left…..but no time to reflect….and certainly no time to have a bit of a cry. I heard Zafra’s key in the door, and the greyhounds started leaping around in anticipation of their walk. I joined them for a last outing then off to bed…..tomorrow would be a marathon day. Even those thoughts did not prevent me from sleeping like a stone.
Zafra was up and out with the greyhounds, leaving the table set with the usual delicacies of cheeses, smoked fish, fresh rolls, olives, cucumber and tomato salad, before I even got up and into the shower. Since Judy was arriving at 9 a.m. I had to hustle. The idea of being followed around by a TV video team was so intimidating, I simply repressed any case of nerves I was having. Besides, I told myself, by the time we would get anywhere, I’d be so hot and so exhausted from the drive and my nerves, I’d just do my thing…..which would be seeing, once again, some of the Saluqis I’d already visited, and possibly some new ones…..the only difference being a camera following me. With such thoughts filling my head, Zafra offered me, in addition to the feast already laid, scrambled eggs. This lovely breakfast set the tone for the last day.
Judy arrived right on time. I think I was surprised when my knees did not wobble as I got into the elevator, I was so nervous. But, no time for such nonsense…..we had to hurry straight into Israeli rush hour traffic with a new twist! The traffic signals at the first major intersection we came to were not working due to a sudden power failure! Within minutes the usual gridlock turned to bedlam! I have never witnessed anything like it. Every driver tried to continue driving! There was no attempt to set up a voluntary four way stop pattern, they just kept moving until there was a solid mass of vehicles facing each other!
Finally a passenger got out of one of the cars and started to direct the entangled vehicles in one direction, just to get the mess moving. An elderly woman driver was wedged in the middle somehow and she refused to drive in the direction she was being waved to go. There she sat, with short-fused Israeli drivers encircling her in every direction. Inch by inch she edged her vehicle in the direction she was determined to go. Suddenly the signal began to work but the woman was still in the very middle of the intersection! By some miracle nobody hit her car and she finally got out of the intersection and resolutely drove down the street.
It turned out that Judy Herbstein is an Emmy Award winning documentary news producer as well as a documentary film maker. As we drove towards Beershevah she told me about the filming of the career and life of a Bedouin woman activist, her work with her people, and her marriage. It was a fascinating story about a fascinating woman. The camera man we would be meeting is a veteran of Israeli TV, who has also done some foreign footage, Danny Bar Nea. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the sound man’s name. The cellular phon we would be meeting is a veteran of Israeli TV, who has also done some foreign footage, Danny Bar Nea. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the sound man’s name. The cellular phone served in place of a road map and Judy periodically checked for directions and would then adjust our direction of travel. We pulled into a gas station, convenience store and there met the rest of the crew with their van, got something cold to drink, some chiclets (which I had rediscovered in Sinai), and switched vehicles for the rest of the trip to Rahat, where Juma’s tent would be the first stop of the day. Judy had set the schedule…..I just followed along.
Judy wanted to show how difficult it was to even get to the places, such as Juma’s tent, to see Saluqis, but there was no practical way to do this since Danny was not up for trekking along beside the bouncing van carrying a large camera in the already high temperatures. So, they settled for filming me walking into the tent…..which was absolutely full of people…..all men, of all ages. During my first visit, Judy had enjoyed watching me do my picture survey with Juma and the measuring and discussion of points that he looked for in his Saluqis, so she wanted me to do this again, for the benefit of the shoot, which I did. I quickly became oblivious to the camera, Danny was absolutely unobtrusive, or, I was so nervous I just didn’t register what was going on. I do remember that the long table was full of store bought cake and plastic cups for cold drinks, as well as the traditional coffee pots, tray, tea glasses and cups. As usual, I got out the Sighthound Review magazine for the new visitors to look at and one of Juma’s sons asked for my photo albums, which I was delighted to produce from my trusty camera bag. Once again, the men poured over the magazine and the albums.
I have no clue how long we were in Juma’s encampment. I remember seeing a saddled Arabian horse and remembered from my interview with Gideon that this is essential for a “traditional” Bedouin. I vaguely remember that everyone was having such a pleasant time that more refreshments were brought from somewhere and at one point it was suggested that I hadn’t taken enough refreshment, to which I responded by pointing to my red cool aide colored tongue, which may have been a horrible cross-cultural faux pas…..but, trying to understand and respond to really interesting discussions in Hebrew was all I could deal with. Only in retrospect did I realize that showing my tongue might have been some gross cultural transgression. At one point a young man who had looked at my albums came up to me and said, “I have a Saluqi at home that I know you would really like…..I’d like you to see him.” I felt honored and said I’d love to see his Saluqi.
Off the fellow went and in no time, he was back with a camper full of Saluqis, adults and puppies. Out they tumbled, the puppies in lovely condition, healthy looking and very nice hounds. The adults, too, were very nice. The puppies headed straight for the shade of the vehicle and only their master’s voice could get them out in the sun. If he called them, they ran to him immediately, immediately! His adults were also absolutely obedient. I asked him if I could measure his hounds and he said certainly, and told his four year old bitch, Shuhah (meaning famous, known) “stay”, and despite the heat, she stopped in her tracks and stood. I was astonished at such obedience from a Saluqi. She had stopped on an incline, so we had to move up the hillside, but she stood still exactly when told.
This man’s male, Safaq, was a mature, muscular, black masked red smooth with the common folded back ears that I’d seen so frequently on smooth and feathered hounds alike, throughout Israel. And I caught myself wondering whether he was “purebred”. As I stood there in the baking sun, looking at this hound, esteemed by his owner, brought especially for me to see and measure because he has the same powerful musculature of my own Azal x Div litter, I remembered a story based on correspondence with Mike Ratcliffe which is included in my book. It was an interchange between Mike and a Saudi Arabian Bedouin. Mike tells the man that he thinks his Saluqi has “foreign” or other than purebred Saluqis (by western standards) as ancestors. The Saudi Bedouin, a hunter of renown, replies to Mike, “I don’t care what the ancestors were, MY Saluqi is asil (purebred)”. And since the ultimate evaluation of what is or isn’t asil is that of the knowledgeable Bedouin, I reflected that of course that Saudi hunter was correct. And there I was, in the glaring sunlight of the Negev desert, living the lines I had written years before. In front of me was a hound esteemed by his Bedouin owner…..who on earth am I to imagine it is anything but a fine Saluqi! Why was I there in the first place if not to learn what Bedouin think about their breed? I photographed and measured Safaq, and thanked his owner for the pleasure of seeing him and teaching me a lesson.
By this time it seemed Saluqis were appearing over every hill, there were so many beautiful hounds around Juma’s tent. I don’t even know who they belonged to or when or how they arrived, in particular a stunning gray smooth dog, but there was no more time to measure them. It was astonishing that with so many loose adult dogs and bitches and puppies that there were no fights. Even a loose guard dog, which burst upon the scene, hackles up, to investigate the comparatively lightly built gray male Saluqi, was controlled with no more than a “sssiiii” from one of the men in the tent. At another point, a single dog was spotted moving across the adjoining hillside and the entire pack of Saluqis took off in pursuit. I was sure they would kill the dog, but no, they were back pronto, with no sign of blood on any of them. I must admit, I simply could not watch, and covered my ears anticipating chaos. One of the Bedouin noticed my gesture and asked if I had a headache. The whole situation was remarkable. And Juma was clearly in his element with so many guests.
One other interchange occurred at Juma’s tent, purely personal, deeply important to me. In a way it crystallized the fact that this was my pilgrimage to the mountain, so to speak. In my case it was a Saluqi-experience mountain, but nonetheless an epiphany, in a totally unanticipated way. There was a young Bedouin man neatly dressed in western clothes, with a big wristwatch, close cut beard, and a “schooled” manner about him among the many new faces in the tent. He had helped me record the measurements and written his address in a neat hand in English in my notebook so that I could mail him copies of the photos to give to the people whose Salukis I’d gotten pictures of.
As he was sitting on the cushions in the tent, looking through my photo albums of the generations of Midbar Salukis, starting with my Israeli imports, Dar and Div Tarabin, he looked up at me and said, “We had Sinai Saluqis once, but you have taken better care of them than we did.” This comment went straight to my heart…..what a kind assessment of my Saluqis…..that I had cared for them well. I had always felt that I’d received something precious from the Middle East when I got Dar and Div Tarabin, but I finally understood just how precious they were through this young Bedouin’s eyes. They represented something he felt he’d personally lost, a part of his personal heritage. I will never again be intimidated by the fact that the Sinai hounds look different from todays western show stoppers. That desert mountain is made of granite, not tinsel.
Though no one wanted us to leave, we had several more stops to make, places Judy had arranged to film, so we took our leave. The next stop would be Abu Khaf where Sami had arranged with some friends to allow the camera to film the hounds running behind the car, which is how they condition them for coursing. I was very worried about this since it was about 3 p.m. and the temperature must have been in the high 90s. We arrived and I immediately noticed there were several beautiful young Saluqis that I hadn’t seen before lying in the shade of a vehicle parked in front of Sami’s house. Only the grizzle male, yet another Agab, would stand to be measured; the bitch and other male were not cooperative and there was no time to mess around. Judy did a brief interview with Sami, who is an articulate young man.
To the question where do Saluqis come from, understood to mean “originate”, he gave the answer from Arabic poetry, I think is its source, from Yemen. When asked what is it about coursing that draws people, he responded that everyone has some addiction, alcohol, drugs, gambling…..and some people are addicted to watching hounds chase game…..for the kef…..for the enjoyment of the chase. Come to think of it, his answer reiterates the Arab saying on the cover of The Saluqi, “were it not for the chase there would be no pleasure”.
After the brief interview, the hounds were loaded into the car and we got in the van and followed them across the highway onto a dirt track through powdery brown fallow fields. We only drove a short way when the men stopped, got out, let the Saluqis out, wet the hounds down with water, which I was relieved to note, and started letting the air out of the car tires. Apparently this increases the surface of the tire and prevents the car from sinking into the powder. The camera van drove towards the crest of the hill, I stood at the bottom so I could possibly get a few shots of the Saluqis running. It was sweltering hot. I was astonished the dogs would even break into a gallop at the high temperature, but as the car drove off, the youngsters raced after it while the camera rolled. It was amazing….and I’m sure the footage will be poetic with the Saluqis racing through a powdery cloud across a boundless field…..through the timelessness of the chase.
That accomplished, we said out thank yous and good byes, got back into the van and headed towards Tel Shevah where Judy had arranged to meet Ahmed Abu Rkaiek who would show us his beautiful pups, as well as take us to Sultan Abu Rkaiek and Mahar Abu Rkaiek’s places to film. The light was beginning to fade. We had to hurry. We met Ahmed with no trouble and went straight to the place of Mahar. They had acquired two bitches in just the past week, one pregnant and one, an elderly cream smooth, very lovely and very thin, said to be the dam of Agab at the camel farm. She was tied with a piece of wire so she could not free herself by chewing through it. Fresh chicken heads and gizzards were placed on pieces of cardboard near each bitch but were untouched. The pregnant bitch was in the same sort of large cage used in Abu Khaf to hold compost and the run away Saluqi, Scud. This was not a place to film for a western audience on this day. We thanked everyone for their time and drove to Sultan Abu Rkaiek’s home.
Sultan let us in through the main gate and Danny filmed his goats, and chickens, his Saluqis and his children. A few of the pups were brought out and laid on a woven mat…..they were very quiet, not moving at all…..I don’t know why. At one point I went towards the dam of the pups who had been moved closer to the shepherd dog, chained to the wall. Sultan hollered to me not to go near the shepherd, which at that moment made a serious lunge to the end of his chain…..all teeth! The veteran, Pontiac, was not present on this visit but a young cream male, with the look of Juma’s Saluqis from Rahat, had been added. Apparently Pontiac was visiting some relative because when Espen Engh visited Sultan in October, Pontiac was back.
Judy and I conferred on how to end the shoot, and it was decided that we should go to Ahmed’s compound for the final daylight and final video site. Ahmed’s wife had begun to prepare the pita for the evening meal in the booth in the yard, where a fire was started and the dough was being kneaded. Ahmed’s wife did not wear a veil and he was very concerned Danny would film her face. Danny assured him he was only filming the fire and her hands and the children. Ahmed was really uneasy and irritated over this ….his concern distracted him. Once Danny moved into the livestock area, Ahmed relaxed. He brought out his beautiful, healthy, active pups that had been bathed and tick- powdered for the occasion and they ran around and proved delightful subjects. They were beautiful little Bedouin Saluqis.
As the very last rays of the sun hit the wall of Ahmed’s house, I was directed to sit on a ledge against the wall and Judy began a brief interview with me. By this time I was, as usual, exhausted and can’t recall any of the questions she asked. I only remember that I was worried my hair was sticking out in all directions and they had not suggested or given me time to fix it before this on-camera interview. So much for perfect grooming, which never has been my forte. Why should things be different even for a TV appearance? Judy also directed some questions to Ahmed as the sun dipped beneath the horizon and Danny turned the camera off. The shoot was over. I sat down for a moment on the rugs that had been laid out on the grass and exchanged a few words with Ahmed's wife and thought to myself what a beautiful young woman she is, and how beautiful their little daughter is. But, I was too tired to even try to photograph them. Next time….
We said goodbye and thank you, and got back into the van and drove to the gas station where Judy had left her car. We parted there and in no time Judy had me back in Ramat Gan, at Zafra’s apartment for the final time. There was just time for a shower, a change of clothes, and we were off to the airport for my midnight flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. Zafra got me to the airport in plenty of time. Parting was like saying goodbye to a family member; Dr. Sirik had treated me so hospitably I felt like I’d known her for a very long time. She had been a big part of making my trip so special and so successful as far as seeing Saluqis. She had also entrusted me with the fantastic contact proofs taken in Sinai by Eli Chen and the other precious historical photos, many of which illustrate this series. There was no time for tears, however, because I had to drag my luggage into line and get through the intense security check, and then find my gate and wait for my plane.
The flight was on time, midnight, and though feeling more zombie than human, I walked down the steps, onto the tarmac, into the bus, out of the bus and up the steps onto the plane. I was leaving Israel. But, I had my son, his wife and my first grandchild awaiting my arrival in South Africa…..events were just pushing me along. I must have slept on the plane. When we landed, it was winter, not summer, and a naked man was standing by a luggage trolley smack in the middle of the landing area. We all ogled out the windows of the shuttle bus because the vehicle couldn’t move. There were lots of people standing near the naked man casually chatting as though it was perfectly normal on this winter morning to have a naked person standing among them, looking around, only a passport distinguishing him from Adam! No one gestured towards him or tried to talk to him. When the police arrived, the naked man, clutching his passport, took off running and a stream of people in uniforms with overcoats flapping went running after him. With this bizarre prelude, our shuttle bus drove towards the terminal building.
All passengers from all planes funnel into a hall where the passport control people check visas and whatever. Well, the clerk for my line did her job with a slow deliberation that made every other line look like greased lightning. It would have been absolutely unbelievable had I not crossed from Israel into Egypt and back. The waiting was excruciating. And, I couldn’t get out of my line because new planeloads of passengers kept filing in. Finally it was my turn, I got into the airport, and then had to search for my luggage which had been taken off the conveyer belt because other planes had been unloaded while I stood in that line. Finally I pushed my bags out towards the meeting area and there was my son…..what a joy to see him. And, my South Africa adventure began.
*South African born Professor Reuven Yagil immigrated to Israel in 1956. He currently holds the Bennie Slome Chair for Applied Research in Animal Breeding for Human Nutrition in Arid Lands at the Ben Gurion University. Professor Yagil is a member of the Israel Physiological Society, the Israel Primate Association, and the Israeli and Dutch Veterinary Association. He is a member of the Commission for Sustainable Production and Disaster Prevention of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. He is on the editorial board of the International Journal of Animal Science. Professor Yagil is a consultant on animal breeding to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the International Land Development Co. of Ismailia, Egypt, and the Terra Nova Organization in Sweden. In 1976 Dr. Yagil received the Ben Gurion Prize for Animal Research and has been invited to take part in the preparation of a document entitled World Conservation Strategy for the 1990s, to be presented to the United Nations.
A fascinating research report authored by Professor Yagil, The Camel in Today’s World, is available from the German-Israel Fund for Research and International Development, POB 7011, Hakirya, Tel Aviv 61070, Israel and the Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, Adenauerallee 134, 53113 Bonn, Germany.
* Since the completion of this series, the American Kennel Club has recognized the Israel Kennel Club.