Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Arrivals and Departures

Dubai and Basra, 25 April 2014

Image © Jennifer R. Pournelle 2014. Rice souk. Al Ras, Dubai, UAE.

Wandering the alleys of the rice souk in the post-dawn hour Friday morning, imagine my double-take on turning a corner and seeing this signage. "Carolina Gold" rice, the crop that made Charleston, South Carolina the wealthiest city in America in the 18th century, is making a comeback, but as far afield as Dubai? A quarter-hour spent peering through the immaculate wholesaler's windows revealed an astonishing array of basmati and aromatic rices, but no "Carolin." A bit of online sleuthing later, I discovered that the Carolin displayed here is a brand of vegetable oil-based margarine marketed by Ngo Chew Hong Edible Oil Pte Ltd of Singapore. It seems that the British love of buttered Carolina rice became associated with the color, and the rest is, well, marketing.

     Meanwhile, the rest of the team landed in Basra, and endured the usual merry-go-round of passport control without me. It seems that a government-issued visa affixed into a passport is as yet not enough to get one through the gate. Phone calls must be made, numbers must be checked, and, of course, somebody must appear on the opposite side of the immigration stand with a letter of sponsorship and assurances that these are, yes, the people who were invited and expected in the first place. At present, the entirety of immigration control still depends on 3-ring binders full of hand-carried bits of paper, and is utterly geared to processing the revolving door of 200,000 contract workers that rotate through the oil and construction sectors annually. A handful of academics flapping about unsupervised is a head-scratching conundrum that takes an hour to resolve. Note that: an hour. It used to take a day. Or two. Or three. Things improve every trip. #cmarsh

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Dubai Dhows at Dawn

Dubai, 24 April 2014

Image © Jennifer R. Pournelle. Dhows at anchor. Deira, Dubai, UAE.

Uptown Dubai may be dominated by the breathtaking new spires of the ​​Burj Khalifa, but the original heart of Dubai still beats down along the creeks, where dhows are still the workhorses of the regional import/export trade. From Africa, Arabia, India, and point further east, they on- and offload ​​spices, gold, and Samsung electronics, which vie for space within new and old souks of the Old City. Explore them ​​here in 360 views (click white arrows to move through the town). As recently as 30 years ago, dhow traffic was heavy in the Shatt Al-Arab, importing fabrics, spices, and pearls to the souks along Basra's Ashar Creek, and exporting reed mats, rice, and dates - with higher energy efficiency and lower environmental impact than today's trucking fleets. Tomorrow, we follow their route over aquamarine seas by air. #cmarsh

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Final Prep - 4 Hours To Go

​Image (c) Jennifer R. Pournelle. "Setting Up Sidescan Sonar and Sub-Bottom Profiler." 
Shatt Al-Arab, near Al-Hartha, Basra, Iraq, May 2013.

Even when we head of to rather desolate stretches or parched lake beds and windblown silt, we often depend on boats to get there, or to carry instrumentation that allows us to peer far beneath, or far across, soil horizons, And when our work requires systematic survey of water bodies themselves, nothing is more reliable than a stout "Ashar" boat. Powered by a sturdy diesel tractor engine, an Ashar boat can "mow the lawn" back and forth; up and down, all day, day after day, for days on end. Mihaly Czako's generous contribution will cover analyses for the equivalent of a day's worth of water sampling, 

All Ashore Who're Coming Ashore!

​Image (c) The National Geographic Society.

​More than any other watercraft, the kelek symbolizes the geographic unity of Mesopotamia. From the north and east the rivers flow and drain to their common delta, carrying vast torrents, vast sediment loads, and vast cargoes. But upstream dams have blocked the rivers themselves, for rural electrification and tilled agriculture. Those are laudable goals, but in cutting the delta from its source, they have also cut the primary trade route that for thousands of years exchanges culture, goods, blood, and toil. My profound thanks to Lynda Rhodes, who knows first-hand the true costs of  halting those economic (and ecologic) flows.

All Day to Go

Image © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.  
Wilfred Thesiger: "​Thesiger's Tarada in the Marshes." Faraigat Marshes between Qubab and Rufaiya, Iraq, 1953.

​In the 1950s, paddling from marsh fringes to market towns was an all-day affair, but relatively straight forward along well-travelled, cleared routes. Now, a boat trip that would take three hours with a small outboard motor would still take all day - because the direct water routes are gone. In this example, there would be no point to the trip, because Qubab and Rufaiya themselves, left high and dry by drainage, no longer exist. California natives understand well the fate of towns without water; our profound thanks for their sympathy to the cause of wetland restoration.

Only 12 Hours for a Few More Loads!

Image Jennifer R. Pournelle, April 2012. Mashufs, West Hammar Marshes.
These mashufs pulled up in the early morning hours, just in time to offload onto the blue truck in the background. It is bound for the morning market in Suq Al-Shuyoukh, where the harvested reeds will be sold to feed sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys. Just a few more contributions today, and we'll be to the maximum match point for research funds - at $4250 we get a 100% match from UofSC, and thus reach our total campaign goal!

All Hands to the Prow Line! - Only 16 hours left!

Image © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
"Towing Thesiger's tarada." Marshes, 1956, by WIlfred Thesiger. Every DHL shipment to or from Iraq costs a minimum of $130, so we do as much of the lab work in Iraq as we can. However, although U. Basra's infrastructure is improving, some tests just cannot be run there. Therefore, each trip we take, we load up with as many samples as we can possibly carry. If funds are not immediately available, I store them for future processing. That means that we already have some baseline (controls) ready to poke, prod, dissolve, scan, and otherwise coax into meaningful results.At the risk of sounding like a PBS pledge drive, if we make it to $4250, we get the max allowable match from our university.  Only 16 hours left to help move some sediment out of my refrigerator! 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sending Samples Downriver

Image: Dominican Mission to Mesopotamia, c. 1920. "Moussul. Un kelek en radeaux sur le Tigre."
In an earlier version of crowdfunding, during the late 19th - early 20th century, the Dominican Missionary Society of Nancy, France, sold postcards to help finance its campaign to "bring Christianity back to Iraq," (although it had never actually left). Vast quantities of cargo, including prodigious amounts of museum samples, moved downriver to the port at Basra, for shipment back to Europe. Home to early Islamic scholars such as Al-Haitham, medieval Basra was a major contributor to the invention of what we now call science. We're waiting on a kelek's worth of lab analyses, so that we can carry some of that science back to its home port. #cmarsh

Home is Where the Heart Is

Image (c) Duc_Hoiliday, Al-Chubayish, 1977. "Marsh Arabs."
One of the most compelling, and recurring, conversations I have in Iraq is the heartfelt attachment felt by all to the very idea of marshland life. Even those who have never left the concrete tangles of their urban homes wax poetic about the soothing stillness; the cool blues and greens. And even those who have now re-established themselves in "proper" urban trades and "proper" brick homes regret the loss of close community and ample opportunity for cultivation. We'd like to kindle a bit of hope that these children's grandchildren will know the thrill of fishing among the salt grasses.#cmarsh

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fleet Assembly

Image © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.  
Wifred Thesiger: "Boats at a Settlement in the Marshes." Eastern Marshes, Iraq, 1956.

I like this photo because it gives a hint of the many types of small watercraft - each tailored to suit specific essential needs - are actually out on the water on any given day. We have just three days left to assemble our diverse fleet of backers - with all donations matched 100% by the University of South Carolina.  #cmarsh

Basra, A City of Poets

Image (c) Jane Arraf/ The Christian Science Monitor, 2009
"Iraqis on the Shatt al-Arab waterway in Basra dance on a boat on their way to a wedding."

Throughout Basra - both the city itself and the surrounding governorate - poetry, literature, song, and spoken word are esteemed, enjoyed, and encouraged. In every reed coffee-house (mudhif), assemblies often include a poet or singer. In Basra itself, the Basra Writer's Union has a lovely old shanasheel house, where it sponsors a plethora of literary activities. So I, and they, will be honored by our literary contributors, like John Duffy, who has been most generous with his support, sending us to dance along the Shatt Al-Arab in just two weeks! #cmarsh

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Umm Basra

Image (c) Gertrude Bell Archive.
Gertrude Bell. "Bellam." Abu Al Khasib (Basra), Iraq, March 1917.
We know much of the turn-of-the-century history of Iraq and its antiquities thanks to several indefatigable women, chief among them Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), staunch advocate of self-determination in that country. "Umm" literally means "mother of;" figuratively, it means "source." This bellam is dedicated to all the indefatigable "umm"s now working ceaselessly to rebuild that dream. #cmarsh

Past and Future Scenes

"Abadan, Persia, the Oil Quays." c. 1920. 
From A Dweller in Mesopotamia, by Donald Maxwell.
The challenges we face in this project are substantial - but many of them are not new. Oil spills from primary production fields, like the one shown here at the turn of the 20th century, still happen. So does the fallout from unregulated flaring. We are encouraged by the support pledged by those oil operators who understand that this is a longstanding set of challenges, with tails that stretch long into the past,  far forward into the future, and enwrap us all. Last year, G. Bell donated a solid week of his time helping us search the bottom of the Shatt Al Arab for the 19th century wreck of a mahaila very like the one depicted here. We saw firsthand virtually identical shoreside scenes now, nearly 100 years later. #cmarsh

Monday, April 07, 2014

Let the Science Begin!

Image (c) Jennifer R. Pournelle, October 2012. Prof. Brian Helmuth heads to the bellams for our first inspection tour of existing marsh conditions near Basra.
In just three weeks we'll head out to inspect land donated for our test beds. While there, we'll pick up new soil and water samples to compare with those collected on previous trips. Thanks so much to Assoc. Prof. Sarah Rothenberg for funding our first lab test! #cmarsh

Sunday, April 06, 2014

International Backing

Image (c) Jennifer R. Pournelle, October 2012. Prof. Malik Ali, director of the U. Basra Marine Science Centre, East Hammar Marsh.
As a port within a trading province, Basra is a uniquely multicultural city, mixing Arab, Persian, Kurdish, Turkish, Indian, African, and Southeast Asian heritage (among others!). It makes for a great collegial atmosphere, and open-handed support for international collaborators. We sincerely hope for international reach with our project, for Basra shares its ecological crisis with many other delta regions of the world. #cmarsh

Basra Awaits!

Image (c) Ministry of Higher Education & Scientific Research, University of Basra.
A lovely rank of Ashar boats, lined up in a creek off the Shatt Al-Arab following a hard day's work. Profound is our gratitude to Mark Wilson, whose generous contribution Friday morning got us to our initial goal: our fleet awaits! #cmarsh

Friday, April 04, 2014

Front Page News! | University of South Carolina

Jennifer Pournelle Iraq marsh research
Reed-Cutters Near Suk Al-Shuyoukh, May 2012

Online crowdfunding offers alternatives for researchers needing smaller budgets | University of South Carolina
Jennifer Pournelle learned three weeks ago that she had scored a high-level meeting to launch a rescue program for collapsed marsh ecosystems in Basra, Iraq. The catch? It’s expensive. So Pournelle is taking advantage of a new option through the university's Office of Research: crowdfunding. [Read more] [#cmarsh]