BEIRUT: The mountains of Lebanon have always been peppered with sheep and their good shepherds surrounded by their dogs. This scenery, immortalized by painters and poets is often perceived as the epitome of an easy and simple life.
“It seems beautiful to those who never tried to live it, but in reality, it’s a hard vocation," Jason El Akoury, a young shepherd from Qehmez, told Annahar.
El Akoury is in his early twenties and he is currently pursuing his BS in engineering.
“Being a shepherd helped me appreciate and value my ancestor's land and traditions. A shepherd is not a needy person; he doesn’t care about politics or electricity. We eat what we plant and raise,” El Akoury said, explaining that shepherding is not something he can just let go off.
He has been tending flocks of sheep and goats with his grandfather, Camil El Khoueiry, from a very young age. They usually wake up at around 5 in the morning, drink their tea and release their herd. They enjoy their Zouwede (Goody bag) under the tree before milking the sheep, which they later transform into cheese. They escort the herd the whole day and bring it back home after the sunset. Every spring, they shear the wool and sell it.
“My grandfather spends his day praying with his bead, smoking, and working on his crook with his small knife to make it smooth for his hand,” El Akoury said. “Last year, a pack of wolves attacked our herd, they killed 40 sheep, and my grandfather nearly had a heart attack."
With fewer inhabited lands, shepherds struggle to find areas to release their herd.
“Sometimes some sheep get in planted areas or private territories and it can cause problems,” El Akoury said.
However, shepherding is a very rewarding occupation. From sheep, the people are furnished with nearly all necessaries of life: meat, clothing, milk, butter, and cheese. It can also awaken one’s wisdom.
El Akoury explained that as shepherds, they are disconnected from the problems of modern life. Camil, El Akoury’s grandfather, doesn’t have a phone and only uses his radio to hear the news at night.
"He doesn’t care about politics and I only use my phone to check on the weather and show him world maps,” El Akoury said. “Earth has some details you cannot notice when you walk at a fast pace. Shepherding makes you see and feel them. You are more connected to Mother Nature and it feels good.”
And while the modern man looks out for workshops in luxurious conference rooms to learn about leadership, a shepherd empowers his leadership skills by spending days alone with a herd of sheep. What is a sheep without its shepherd? It is a lost sheep.
Unfortunately, El Akoury believes that shepherding is a dying vocation in the country.
“I don’t think the younger generation is capable of replacing the older generation. Even I cannot be like my grandfather. I am an engineering student and I won’t be able to give all of my time for shepherding. It is like living two lives but the real me is when I am alone with my herd. I will make sure to always own sheep and take care of them," he said.
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