Al Ahman Stud, Cairo Egypt.
The weather in the high desert of Central Oregon was cold and snowy in February. My schoolwork along with my chores at the Vet clinic didn’t stop me from working with that little colt, Dazshtan. It was convenient living over the barn in our apartment at the vet clinic with mom and dad. My little brother Philip and sister Marion thrived in this horse environment. They were not as “horsie” as I was, but they followed their interests in music and healing.
Phil would bring little baby birds or baby squirrels into the clinic and raise them as pets. It was a real menagerie at times. Marion could sing up a storm. She learned to play the piano and had come up with original songs she would demonstrate to us. Phil said he wanted to be a Chiropractor when he grows up. I could run downstairs at any time to spend time with my little charge, Dazshtan. Those years growing up in Tumalo prepared me for what was to come.
Spring arrived in Tumalo’s 3500-foot Central Oregon high desert and the first of June had come so quickly. Dr. Marsufi and Mike planned for my air travel. The kind Doctor had made available his private jet. There were advantages with his government post. He had connections with the EAO (Egyptian Agricultural Organization), El Zahraa, and many private breeders in Egypt. They would avail themselves of his aircraft to transport horses internationally.
On my long flight to Egypt, I thought to myself “It is a desert in Cairo. Living in a desert with women wearing the hijab must be uncomfortable”. This culture change and my high-minded personality would soon conflict with a certain individual that would have a major influence on me.
Upon deplaning, I noticed the immediate humidity that hit me like a wave. It was slightly scary with the scene in front of me outside of the terminal. I was greeted by Amir, the breeding manager at Al Ahman. lt. A tall lanky man in loose-fitting clothing with a light tunic. He noticed my sense of bewilderment entering a scene I wasn’t familiar with.
“Greetings Miss Peters. My name is Amir.” As he shook my hand, along with his refreshing smile, my feeling of unease began to disappear.
“I appreciate you being here Amir. My Grandpa Mike Chapman said you would greet me.”
He had a slight accent. I could tell that he was well educated with his vocabulary of the English language.
Our good friend Walter Heuser also had arranged along with Amir to meet me. He had a layover in Cairo. Walter was a Chief Purser for Lufthansa Airlines. As we sat down together in the café, Walter said, “The last time I saw you Josie, you were much younger. My, have you grown up. Are you still as horse crazy as when I first met you in Oregon”?
“For sure. Thank You for helping me fulfill my dream at Al Ahman.”
“I will visit you at the Stud later after I get settled in my hotel. The Doctor will be anxious to meet you again.” We both fondly said goodbye.
“I am looking forward to that Walter.”
Walter had taken advantage of his Lufthansa layovers in Cairo. When he arrived, the word would get out quickly with the whistles and musings
“Herr Keuser, Herr Keuser” would erupt as he neared the compounds of the Stud Farms around Cairo, including the El Zahraa Stud and Al Ahman
Walter, with his connections to Marbach Stud in Germany, appreciated the importation from Egypt, valuable bloodlines that existed strongly in Shahwan’s pedigree. He would lend his expertise to pony a small group of green-ridden colts along with him on a four-day trip in the desert. He would ride and educate those colts and visit his Bedouin friends along the way. It was one of his protracted adventures deep in the desert when met up with the Ruala tribe and their Sheykh, SR’Ammeri. That fateful meeting would influence my life in a huge way, the gift of a filly from the Sheykh to Mike and the return of her precious bloodline to the desert combined with the Marbach line from Shahwan.
He and his wife, Marget, also a flight attendant for the same airline, would often layover in Dallas Texas. On one of those occasions, he met my grandpa Mike who was heading home to Oregon with his Arabian filly. That fateful meeting of Arabian horse lovers ignited a deep friendship. In Germany, a colt from “Said”, Walter’s stallion was for sale. Walter mentioned that he was “the finest colt Germany had ever produced. You must come and see him. I can’t see anyone else ending up with him”. It was apparent that Mike had found his soulmate when he met Shahwan in Germany, indeed, he was a magnificent stud colt.
As Amir helped with my baggage, we climbed into the pickup for the long trip to the other side of the bustling metro of Cairo.
Turning to me, he said, “I was asked to make you feel at home Josie.”
The view in front of me, I could see horses and donkeys pulling carts with their produce. The scene was foreign to me with the packed avenues, a mass of people and animals moving about.
“You seem very comfortable with all of this Amir.”
“Yes, I am Josie. You see, I was educated in the US. I grew up here around Cairo.” I met your father during his Veterinary education at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Your Grandfather Mike’s influence with Al Ahman helped me land a position here”.
We traveled quite a distance from the center of Cairo. passing by the Giza plateau. Soon the background slowly changed to green, with lush vegetation native to the Nile Valley. Amir acted as my guide.
“Up ahead you will see our horses grazing on irrigated pastures. This time of year, we are blessed with moisture from the annual monsoon and with the waters of the Nile delta. But for the remainder of the year, there are spaces near here that are in a preservation mode”.
Traveling down a long driveway bounded by palms on either side, there it was, the locale where I was to spend my next three months.
I had seen photos of the barns of Al Ahman sent from Dr. Marsufi. Mike, with his special mare Shahwanyssa spent much time here with my grandmother Marcia at his side. Now I was here! My mind was full of anticipation as we pulled up to see those big wooden doors open with Dr. Marsufi’s figure walking up to greet us.
“Hello Josie. Oh, you have grown since I met you. Your father sent photos of you on your sweet Arab baby-sitter Kash. There are many fine offspring from Kash’s stable mate Shahwanyssa, when she graced our stables”.
Fondly, he mentioned, “We called her by her nickname, “Sissy”. I welcome you here to Al Ahman.”
The formal greeting received upon arrival was short lived, as there were chores and learning to commence. My room was shared by other young women of my age who also apprenticed under masters at the Stud. I chose to be under the purview of Amir in the mare barn. I am inspired by my dad, an equine reproductive veterinarian. Amir invited me to meet all the other staff at a dinner that was prepared for us. The word got around that my family owned the dam of many fine horses represented at the Stud. I started to make many friends of the girls. Questions about what it is like in “America” were plentiful. With us were the boys who did special jobs on the farm which grew the feed for the stables. This Stud was fully maintained on the huge acreage that contained it. Among the boys my age was the son of the Sheykh R’Amerri. Rashad was his name. In Arabic, the name means “Good Judgement”. I thought he had an air of arrogance about him. The other boys looked up to him, but to me he seemed to look down on me. I wondered, and asked the girls what was the matter?
“You did not wear a hijab” The other girls mentioned that he followed the traditions that his father the Sheykh required of him. “The Taqua”, which taught self-discipline. I surmised that the independence that I showed, my self-confidence might have been a factor in the friction that I felt from him, but I had to contain those feelings as he was also an apprentice in the mare barn.
The long hot summer at Al Ahman was full of hard work and learning. We were charged with maintaining the mare barn. Stall cleaning, grooming, cleaning water sources, leading mares and foals out to their loafing pastures. Whenever possible, Amir would allow us to observe his tasks in the laboratory. Mr. Amir required excellence of us. Rashad was accustomed to the regime. We were performing the same jobs with equal effort. That seemed to disturb him. Working side by side in the stable and with him in the breeding shed, he would try to avoid me. But I would just smile. The other girls would talk about him. To me, it was not my focus. I wanted to learn. This was only a distraction to my education.
Communication back home in Oregon was weekly. Mom and Dad inquired of my well-being and performance often. Funny, I was not homesick. But I sure missed Dazshtan. He was four months old when I left. He was seven months old and weaned when I would return. I wondered how he would respond to me. Dad said he was strong and growing like a weed. He would laugh and say “he was much like me, independent and strong willed, following in your footsteps. You learned many fine golden principles from Mike and me. You guided Dazshtan while observing those principles. That should have made an impression on that colt. You still have a chance for redemption”. ” Ha, Ha”. He thought he was funny, but I never took it seriously.
I didn’t think I would get accustomed to the climate. I thrived and retreated with the girls to the water as much as possible. In Central Oregon, the water was frigid all year long.
Before leaving Al Ahman, I was given a report to present to my parents. It was a long and hard summer. Amir was thankful for my help. He complimented me on my ability to work hard and the ability to keep at it when the going got hard. Thirty-seven foals were born that summer. I spent lots of time educating them following Mike’s formula of education.
As Amir dropped me off at the airport, he said that he would recommend I to return to Al Ahman the following season after school was out. I was happy that I proved to myself that being “horsie” wasn’t a passing fad. I loved what I was doing at the mare barn and breeding shed. I was excited to return to the Vet clinic in Tumalo with my family and my horses.
I discovered that I am passionate about the Arabian horse. I knew my destiny. That summer in Cairo changed my life.