As the sun starts its final descent to it’s resting place, painting the surrounding mountains with glorious hues of gold, copper and bronze, it signals the time for bringing the flock home from their day of grazing to be locked safety in their enclosures for the night.
I love watching this daily ritual. There is something about this time honoured tradition of the shepherds tending to their flocks and leading them home at the end of the day that bestows a sense of peace and calmness and brings a balance back to the day.
I’m not the only one that enjoys watching. Every evening about 40 minutes before sunset, an old red ute pulls up next to the camp where the sheep will rest their heads. An elderly gentleman dimembarks from the vehicle, gathering his robes around him. With his red and white checked keffiyeh held firmly in place on his head by the thick circle of black rope known as an agal, he sets off with his walking stick across the rocky terrain until he comes to the edge of the crop. There he takes his seat and sits and watches.
You can sense the anticipation as his gaze is fixed firmly on the mountains in front of him. His eyes scanning up and down and then he spots what he is looking for. There coming over the crest of the mountain or around the corner on a goat track he spies his wife turning their flock of sheep homewards for the evening.
I’ve felt more adventurous these past few months with my Arabic skills so on several occasions rather than just taking in this idyllic scene from afar I have approached and joined the elderly gentleman and chatted about many things. It has been lovely to learn more about the people that are the central characters to the scenes of this traditional life that I have thoroughly enjoyed watching in the two years since moving into our house.
Although it is hard to know how old anyone is here in Wadi Musa (they often appear far older than they are) I estimate conservatively that this gentleman and his wife are 75 years + in age. I have deduced this by the conversations that I’ve had with him. He is the father to 17 children (2 lost as infants) and his eldest son is around 60 years old. For people of his generation it would not have been uncommon for them to marry in their late teens – he might have been 18 or so when he married and his wife maybe 15 or 16. The first child would have been born not long after 9 months of being married.
What is completely evident from listening to this gentleman talk about his wife and children and then can also be observed by the way that he waits and watches for her to come home with the flock, is the utter and total love and devotion he has for his family. This fills me with such a warmth. Here after 60 years of marriage is a couple that are still wonderfully in love and the care and attention that they give each other is testament to the strength of this bond.
When his wife and the flock reach the crop the elderly gentlemen takes over. The lure of the lush green growth of the crops is incredibly tempting for the sheep and it takes someone with a bit more “spring” in their step to keep up with them and herd them to ensure that the crop doesn’t become a last minute treat on the way home.
After a full day out on the mountains the elderly lady has slowed down for the night and appreciates the freshness of her husband to help her with the last lengths of the journey.
It must be pointed out the the elderly gentleman has told me on numerous occasions that he would like to give the goats away, that he and his wife are too old and that none of their children are interested in taking up the shepherd’s lifestyle, but his wife will have none of that. I think that maybe she enjoys the solitude and serenity of being up on the mountains with the goats and it gets her out of baby sitting duties from the many grandchildren, great grandchildren and even 2 great great grandchildren. After all she has raised 17 of her own, is obtaining a bit of peace and quiet too much to ask for.
I have never asked this gentleman’s name or of his wife, nor they of me. We don’t need names or a common language (my Arabic afterall is still only enough to have basic conversations) but we enjoy each other’s company. The generosity of this gentleman’s spirit and the welcome that he exudes through his very being means that sitting, waiting and watching with him are times to be treasured.
He is a true gentleman in every sense of the word.