Saturday, 14 May 2016

Wandering in the Negev.Pt 2


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       Once on the road again we started heading towards Dimona, a modern Israeli town with a 'secret' nuclear reactor.  I say secret in parentheses because absolutely everyone, Arab or Jew knew all about it, but when I  raised the issue they 'shushed' me, "It's a secret, we don't talk about it!"  Somewhere in this area we pulled off the road again, for one of those pilgrimages to a Bedouin spontaneous settlement that was virtually invisible from the road, and only after a considerable journey over rocky, uneven terrain, becomes identifiable, when you are a few feet from it.    M pointed out to us a stream that carried the raw sewage from Dimona.  He then pointed out the nearby well that was the water supply, mentioning that in the sandy soil seepage was very likely.  I asked him if the well water had ever been studied for bacteriologic content.  He said no.   He then showed us the  Nissan hut that had been the medical clinic when he was on his FM rural rotation, which he said he had built himself.   He described the difficulty in providing appropriate medical care to  women, who were only allowed to come to the clinic if accompanied by their husband, who remained present during the history and the physical examination. The clinic had been discontinued when he left, and apparently was to be permanently closed down.  The message being that the local people should go to Dimona, which is only a few miles away, where there was a modern well equipped clinic.   My conviction was and remains that this was because after he had left it was impossible to find another physician to practice under those restricted circumstances  He also pointed out that the ambulance would not leave the main road to pick someone up regardless of the severity of their condition.  
    We end up at a traditional Bedouin goat skin tent where we are invited in for tea.  We were seated around the in-tent fireplace where we were offered something to eat, which we politely declined, and were given the hot sweet tea that the Bedouin sit and talk and sip all evening, sometimes very strong bitter coffee was the alternative..  We sat talking for some time, the Sheik sitting reclining on comfortable woven mats that covered the concrete  floor of this communal tent, with their thick embroidered cushions.  His traditional keffiyeh framed his dark mustached face, the gray Western style suit he was wearing forming a strange contrast. Shortly thereafter, the Imam or holy man came into the tent to join us, and was greeted with great respect - everyone stood up and shook hands.  About eight or nine others sat around the fire, the older ones in traditional dress, the younger ones in jeans, but most wearing the traditional Arab headdress.   
      
An Amusing Exchange.
     As we had approached this settlement, I noted that the tents we were approaching were all black.  I wondered about this, because, in the desert, where the sun beats down all  day, surely the tents should have been  white, to reflect the heat and the light of the sun.  M. had introduced me as 'Professor Smith from Canada,' and of course all our conversation in both directions went through him.
     As our conversations drew to a conclusion the Sheik inquired as to whether there were any other questions I  would like to ask.   
      "Yes," I said, "I want to know why all the tents are black, when it would be much cooler to have white tents?"
         All of the occupants of the tent, both old and young, broke out into hilarious laughter.  It went on for quite a while.
        "What's so  funny?", I asked M.
        "Well,"  he said, a smile  on  his face, " the Sheik said , tell the Professor , that the tents are black because the goats are black!"
        After a while we took our leave, and after a long cross-country drive, over moon - like rocky terrain, we passed the Dimona power station and headed back to the road.


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