Sand dunes and trees

The sand dunes of Sossusvlei in Namibia were formed around 5 million years ago, and are some of the highest in the world. The rich orange and red colours of these dunes owe much to the iron content of the sand. Here, embedded in the foot of one of these giants, stands a tree next to a fallen comrade. That the tree has grown, survived, and even thrived in such a harsh environment is testament to its hardiness. You need to be tough to survive in these desert conditions. Certainly my camera gear put up a valiant fight against the sand, with tripod legs being particularly susceptible.

Dead trees of Deadvlei

A unique view of the dead, desiccated trees of Deadvlei in Namibia which I photographed in August 2015. This photo won a Photoburst Travel Photo of the Day.

“Deadvlei” from the English word “dead” and the Afrikaans word “vlei” for marsh. It was once an area fed by the Tsauchab River where trees and other plants flourished. Perhaps 600-700 years ago, maybe 900 years ago, the changing climate and encroaching sand dunes conspired to cut-off the water supply, killing-off the trees and most of the plants.

Today, visitors are greeted by an eerie but spectacular sight. Illuminated by the brilliant blue skies, a white clay pan is surrounded by rust-coloured sand dunes which are reputed to be some of the highest in the world at over 1,312 feet (400 metres). And the trees; dead, desiccated, and scorched black by the sun. Truly a forest of the dead.

Mazgouf in Baghdad

It was April 2011, just after dusk, and we made our way to a restaurant in central Baghdad along Abu Nawas Street by the River Tigris. This area is well known for serving Iraq’s favourite fish dish; the “mazgouf”.

The restaurant, although having a roof, is open to the elements and was filled with many customers; obviously a popular place.

Having selected our live carp (allegedly from the adjacent Tigris but more probably from a fish farm), the cook removed the fish from the tank and then stunned them with a stick, gutted them by cutting along the back, applied some seasoning, and then impaled them to be slow-grilled next to an open fire of burning fruit tree branches such as from lemon trees and orange trees. What we didn’t realise was that it takes about an hour or so to cook the fish, so we had a lot of time to chat!

Carp are bottom feeders and if they were from the Tigris around Baghdad then I’m not sure that I’d have too many fish dinners; there’s just been too much dumped in the river. Once I’d got past wondering where the fish came from, I did enjoy the meal.

But the mazgouf is an important dish to the Iraqis and the Iraqi diaspora, and it helps to unite them through social gatherings and reinforce their identity and uniqueness; something that’s very much needed in these trying times.