Shepherds

As I mentioned in a previous post I spent two years living in the middle east. There was a large mountain range just north of the city where we lived.  I really enjoyed hiking in the mountains with some of my friends from school.

Around the time we leaving to go back to the US, I wanted to visit the mountains one last time. None of my friends were available so I took a taxi to the base of the mountains and hired a local guide with a donkey to take me up into the mountains. That was some exciting donkey ride. At times the trail was only 2 feet wide with a sheer drop off of several thousand feet one one side and a wall of rock on the other side.

We rode and hiked until we were at 9000 or 10000 feet altitude. There we came upon a shepherds camp. The shepherds were probably relatives of my guide as we stopped there for lunch.

There was a pen for the sheep which consisted of a stone wall about 3 feet high and 20 feet in diameter. The wall had had a gap filled with brush to serve as a gate. Beside the pen was a rock wall about the same height and about 100 feet long. In the middle of the wall there was a gap about 2 feet wide. There was also a shelter for the shepherds that also consisted of a rock wall about 10 feet in diameter and covered with a sheep skin tent.

As we arrived the shepherds were preparing to milk the sheep. The sheep were herded to one side of the wall. On the other side of the wall there were two shepherds sitting on either side of the gap in the wall with there legs blocking the gap. One of the men would move his leg and let one of the sheep through the gap. If it was an ewe and had milk he would grab it by the hind legs and milk it into a pottery container on the ground between his legs. It was not long before they had all the sheep processed through the gap in the wall and the milk collected.

These sheep are called broad tailed sheep because instead of a small tail they have an enormous dinner plate size lump of fat swinging off their rear end. There was also some goats mixed in with the sheep in the flock.

After the sheep were all milked we were invited in for lunch. We all stooped down and went in the shelter and sat down on the ground. Lunch consisted of flat bread and a form of yogurt made from the sheep’s milk. They had put some chopped onions into the yogurt and added some fresh milk to thin it. You would tear off a piece of the bread and use it to scoop up some of the yogurt and eat it.

After the meal one of the shepherds was getting ready for a several day trip to the other side of the mountain. He packed several pots of the yogurt into a bag along with some bedding. Then he got something wrapped in cloth and opened it, inside was a large piece of mutton. He examined it closely and every so often he would cut off a small piece and feed it to the dogs. At first I thought he was just feeding the dogs but after looking closer I could see that he was cutting off the deposits of fly eggs. He did not want the meat to get maggots while on his trip.

Sitting there I realized that the only direct evidence that I hadn’t stepped back in time to the biblical era was their sandals, which were made of car tire tread held on their feet with leather straps.

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