Greetings from the desert!! The mornings are actually comfortably cool, making coffee a great drink. Today I have a blend called “Montana Premium.” I freely admit that Montana is not high on my coffee list of ‘must try’ blends, but the coffee was a gift — a great gift, it turns out. The blend is a nice, dark, very rich mix with a smell to tantalize the senses. I am enjoying the coffee old school American style — black, and no hint of cardamom or sugar to cloud the flavors.
This has been a great Arabic cultural week for us. Wednesday we joined with a group of off-roaders to travel the dunes out in the desert. Our friend Stephen invited us along for the new adventure. We arrived on the outskirts of town and met Marina, an off-road enthusiast. Marina travels the desert 3-5 times a week. She was to be the leader. The car was readied, putting up a high flag for visibility and letting air out of the tires to soften them. Jana joined Marina in her car. Michael, Abby, and I joined Stephen. Off we went, roaring into the sand. The cars slid along ridges of loose sand and twisted and turned among the hills. Every once in a while, the hand held radio would squawk “I need to make another run at the hill….” Someone in the group was having trouble climbing. Everyone has tow ropes for the more than common occurrence of getting stuck. We had a great ride and did not even need to get pulled out. As the sun was sinking, we came upon some men training their falcons. We stopped and were welcomed with tea and dates. The falcons were beautiful birds. One was taken to a far hill and returned to swop and attack a practice disc. After a few passes the bird was allowed to capture the disc and rewarded with a treat. Later, a second bird was unhooded. This was a more mature falcon in his training. For this bird, they took a pigeon and released it. The pigeon had his eyes covered to slow it a bit but was given a fair head start. The falcon took off climbing high and searching. Suddenly he spotted the prey and was off as a shot. Soon both birds disappeared from our sight. Now what? Well, these very valuable birds are equipped with a radio tracking device. The men sent a son off to find the bird. We said our farewells and headed out of the sand to find paved roads before dark. The trip was indeed a memorable experience.
Al Ain is hosting an international Festival of Falconry this weekend (Thursday-Friday-Saturday). People come from all over the world to show their birds and explain their passion. Small falcons to huge eagles perch on their roosts. Some birds wear elaborate headgear; other raptors are allowed to quietly study the crowds smiling at them. Participants wear traditional costumes. Horses perform on the parade ground. A ring of tents contains information about the various home countries and birds they train. Other tents form a ‘sukh,’ or market area, selling falconry supplies and, of course, tourist items. We wandered the displays, increasing our knowledge of this sport. I have always envisioned the middle east/Gulf area from old movies and magazines showing the beautiful Arabian stallions ridden by a hooded man with a gorgeous yet fierce looking falcon riding on his fist. The raptors, the people, the desert, and fragrant tea and dates allow me to realize some of the culture and drama of this region.
As we try to slowly assimilate into our new home area, we are making some progress. We will soon have a car for our use. Our shipment from Kenya may actually be released from customs next week. The shipment will allow us to gain some of our Christmas traditions as we obtain our gingerbread house molds. I will look forward to filling my bookshelves a little. My licensing process is still progressing slowly within the Health Authority. Waiting is a major personal challenge; this licensing process has been one of the most difficult times in my life. In the meantime, Jana and I have started Arabic language lessons. The words themselves are a new challenge; the written language is truly foreign. First, we read right to left with squiggles and curves that vary depending within their position in a word. I grab a newspaper or other Arabic document and try to find the few letters I know and then have our teacher check me. “Pole, pole” (slowly, slowly), as we say in Kenya. Arabic will take some real effort, patience and maybe a miracle for me.
So the adventure continues. Christmas approaches and we prepare our celebrations. The hospital is decorated. Our flat is filled with Christmas carols. We found a tree and decorated it with lights, ornaments and candy canes. On Christmas morn I hear three ‘wise men’ arrive at Oasis Hospital riding upon their camels. Last week at church there was a youth program followed by a large birthday cake. The season is here. Joy to the world! The Lord has come! We celebrate and remain joyfully, thankfully in His grip.