National Geographic : 1953 Apr
554 The National Geographic Magaz ine The reason was simple. There were no roads in this 200-mile depth of desert battle- ground. This is not to say there was no transport; Dhia's jeep and SO supply trucks operated cross-country, using guides, following camel or police-car tracks. The Iraqis call any faint track a darb -which is not an ex- pression of opinion but an Arab word for road. When our Point 4 pilots , William Schaefer and Keith Anderson, began navigating by these darbs , the term caused much wry humor. There was no humor, however , in one of Dhia's desert rules of the road. The danger of be- coming lost was so great that he always re- quired at least two vehicles to travel together. " And that goes for planes, too ," the pilots agreed after their first desert flight. Dhia's map soon had its face lifted. By kerosene lamp one night he lettered on it the name of each camp in English. The words stood square and uncompromising beside the graceful Arabic script. The pilots were pleased as the names emerged-until they read them: Twai al Hashash, where the first aerial spray- ing was done; Khadhra al Ma, an advance base for the planes, Qasr Abu Ghar, Samah, AI Busaiya.... " Something tells me they're not in the atlas my wife has at home, " one pilot said to the other with a smile. Bedouin Guides Lead Patrols Unwittingly they had touched on an old Bedouin mystery , how one stretch of desert indistinguishable to our eyes from all others can be named , known, and found unerringly by nomad tribesmen who are only confused by a map. The desert war against the locust depends to a large extent on guides who per- form this trick again and again. No nomad , but a Baghdadi, Dhia had to place and oversee a dozen remote camps like AI Busaiya and twice as many in scarcely less isolated areas. During locust months Dhia lived only to kill the insects. A vastly tolerant and friendly man, he became a different person at sight of a live locust. On the way to AI Busaiya we followed a trail full of sand traps. Dhia bulled his jeep through perhaps twenty in a row , hitting the edge of each at exactly the speed to skid and rock him through. But in the center of the next trap he jammed on the brakes, slewing the jeep in up to the hub caps. He had glimpsed a field of hoppers and wanted to examine them. Digging out the jeep could wait. Dhia was host and quartermaster to the U. S. Point 4 Regional Locust Control Project. Among other things, this involved setting up a traveling mess. He was surprised when the men appeared to enjoy the diet of fresh chicken , lamb , and boiled rice. " Why don ' t you fellows tell me what you really want? I know this isn ' t what you'd eat at home. Just what would you like? " The pilots, not wanting to take advantage of Arab hospitality, shrugged. The answer came from the third member of Iraq's anti- locust general staff, entomologist Albert Mey- marian. "Drugstore Coffee" Comes to Iraq "They'd like ' dishwater,' Dhia. Remember the coffee you used to get at the corner drug- store across from the campus? " That's how American-style coffee came to the locust camps. Albert had studied at Texas A & M at the same time the director general attended. His feelings about his alma mater are best ex- pressed by the big silver belt buckle he wears in the field. It says in block letters: TEXAS AGGIES. Albert is the scientist of the Iraq locust- fighting army. Would you like to see a sample of locust eggs? They are in a cigarette tin in his shirt pocket. Or a black locust arrested in its develop- ment by a bath of aldrin? He carries speci- mens of these in a pair of watch crystals that make a transparent case. Or perhaps a full-grown locust? Albert has a glass tube containing a yellow-winged adult. Sharing it is one of the world's most lethal insects, a scorpion caught outside our tent. Albert briefed us on our foe, the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria, page 558) , dur- ing an early patrol into the desert, using the " Yellow Peril " as his classroom. The Peril is his jeep, which came, he says, equipped with dual forward speeds: too fast, and too slow. " I don 't take anything for granted with the locust, " Albert shouted from the front seat. " The insect goes through a number of stages, and he 's fussy in each of them. Unless the humidity and soil and temperature- even the wind and his food-are right, he doesn 't de- velop at all. But here conditions are too often agreeable. He grows and travels. Locusts have traveled as fa r as 900 miles in 14 days. " Locusts-Eggs to Winged Hordes Our own journey was interrupted here by a wait at the single-lane pontoon bridge across the Euphrates at the last town on our route, An Nasiriya. We waited for a camel loaded with date-palm seedlings; for a herd of fat- tailed sheep; for veiled women carrying water in shiny kerosene cans. Then the white-coated policeman warbled on his whistle, and we moved on.