Of cell phones and black tents..

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on February 29th, 2008 in Arabia, Syria

It was a hot and humid summer afternoon in Marseille, France, where I was living at the time, and a rather less hot, albeit equally humid afternoon in Bristol, UK, where my friend (and fellow horse enthusiast) Hazaim still lives.  We were in the midst of one of these heated phone conversations about the origin of a particular strain of Arabian horses, with little hope of converging any time soon, when Hazaim said: “Lets just ask the Bedouin who owns the strain!”


“Well, just like we’re doing here: over the phone!”

So we started calling our friends and contacts in Syria, many Bedouins themselves, and we asked them to give us the contacts of the Bedouins horsebreeders they knew.  It often took days, even weeks, before these friends came back to us with the number we wanted.  Sometimes we were lucky enough to get hold of them directly on a cell phone number;  sometimes the number was that of the only household that had a land line in the village, and we had to wait until whomever answered the phone went and fetched the Bedouins we wanted to speak to;  and sometimes, we were just informed that their neighbor or relative had packed his tent and taken his flock some place else, and that we had to call back in the fall.

The way we did it was through initiating a teleconference call: I would call Hazaim, put him on hold, call the Bedouin, and connect the three of us; Hazaim would start the conversation, and I would take notes; the conversation could last hours, and I will spare you the details of my phone bill.  But each conversation was a delight, and each time, after the initial suspicions (“so are you calling from France or from the UK?”; “Why do you want to know about a horse that died 60 years ago?”) were addressed, there was enormous interest in what we were doing. 

Sometimes, our search took unexpected turns:  an inquiry about the owner of a branch of the Kuhaylan Nowag strain took us from a Syrian bedouin to relative of his living on the Iraqi side of the border, who then referred us to his son who was studying political science in Paris, and had kept records about the history of that branch of the strain. 

That was three years ago.  Today, most Bedouins have cell phones, and it’s much easier to get in touch with them.  I now live in Washington, DC, seven hours behind the timezone of the Syrian desert, which makes it more difficult to call.  Still, we have accumulated a database of about 30 telephone numbers in three countries.  We now have dozens of pages of written notes in Arabic and many, many pages of annotated comments, which I am translating to English.  Key aspects of Bedouin history, which had hitherto been transmitted orally from one generation to the next, and which were in danger of being lost forever, are now recorded on paper and inside computers (but then again, the pitiful state of my hard disk makes me wonder whether they are safer in there) .  But I can’t wait to resume this project.  Meanwhile, stay tuned for some of these accounts translated to English.

3 Responses to “Of cell phones and black tents..”

  1. I have said it before and I cannot say it again more strongly how I appreciate so very much all the efforts you have made in obtaining, maintaining, and preserving the valuable information from the tribes for our future learning. If this knowledge is not passed on to the future the magnificent and noble horse of the tribes will be but a dream of the past and we cannot let that happen.

  2. Joe is exactly right. Your experience, your time and efforts have made the new book, Al Khamsa Arabians III, much more useful and authoritative, and we appreciate it so much. Besides, this is just so much FUN, to be able to learn about the horses we love from the source!

    About your poor pitiful hard drive: burn that stuff to CDs or DVDs, leave a copy at your office, get an inexpensive stand-alone hard drive and back it up. Your efforts are worth way too much to lose that data!

    (Speaking from some sad experiences!) Jeanne

  3. Edouard,

    Where do you find the time for all this? Though I cannot imagine the answer I am beyond grateful that you somehow manage. I am hoping you are planning on putting together a book. After spending much time on this site and learning, learning, learning all I want to do is pack my bags and head for a Bedouin tent.

    Thank you so very much.
    Elena Latici
    Bologna, Italy

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