Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism

Herds of hard-working donkeys once carried hordes of tourists on the rocky paths of Jordan’s Petra, but visitor numbers crashed amid coronavirus and the loyal animals now face the chop. (AFP)
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Updated 10 June 2021
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Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism

  • In 2019, the number of visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site topped a million for the first time
  • Since Petra reopened in May, tourist numbers have been slow to rebound

PETRA, Jordan: Herds of hard-working donkeys once carried hordes of tourists on the rocky paths of Jordan’s Petra, but visitor numbers crashed amid the pandemic and the loyal animals are left without a job.
“Before coronavirus, we all had work,” said Abdulrahman Ali, a 15-year-old donkey owner at the ancient rock-carved desert city, where the sure-footed animals carry tourists up steep paths in the blazing sun.
“The Bedouins of Petra made a living and fed their animals,” he said, sitting waiting for a handout of fodder from a charity, explaining that many owners today are struggling to meet the cost of feeding them.
In 2019, the number of visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site topped a million for the first time.
But in March 2020, the famous tourist destination was closed, and the crucial income from the tourists dried up.
“When tourism stopped, nobody could buy fodder or medicine anymore,” said Ali, who could earn as much as $280 on a good day, supporting his mother and two brothers.
“Anyone who has a little amount of money now spends it on his own food, not his animal.”
Before the pandemic, tourism made up more than a tenth of Jordan’s GDP, but revenues slumped from $5.8 billion in 2019 to $1 billion last year, according to government figures.
Since Petra reopened in May, tourist numbers have been slow to rebound.
Only some 200 visitors a day come to Petra, compared to more than 3,000 before the pandemic hit, said Suleiman Farajat, heading the Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority.
Farajat said some 200 guides used as many as 800 animals — including horses, camels and mules as well as donkeys — for tourist rides across the desert site.
The economic ripple effect of tourism was widespread.
“Before the crisis, 80 percent of the inhabitants of the region depended directly or indirectly on tourism,” Farajat said.
“With the pandemic, not only working animal owners were affected, but also hotels, restaurants, those with souvenir shops or stores, and hundreds of employees have lost their jobs.”
Many donkey owners are turning to a clinic supported by the animal rights group PETA, where vets treat maltreated and malnourished donkeys for free.
“Before coronavirus, my family and I owned seven donkeys working in Petra,” said Mohammad Al-Badoul, 23, waiting with four other donkey owners to fill a sack with animal feed.
“We had to sell them for lack of income. Now we only have one, and I can barely feed it.”
Egyptian vet Hassan Shatta, an equine surgery specialist who runs the PETA clinic, said he launched a donkey-feeding program late last year.
“During the Covid-19 lockdown, and with the lack of tourism, people could not afford to feed their animals anymore,” Shatta said.
“Some of them ended up starving and we picked them up brought them here,” he added, noting some 250 animals had been treated, with some 10-15 cases arriving a day.
In the past, PETA had treated animals with deep cuts from being beaten or abused, but Farajat, from Petra’s tourism authority, says the working conditions of the donkeys is now “not that bad.”
But there are plans to replace some of the traditional donkeys with a new system of 20 electric cars introduced by the tourism board next month.
The cars will be “driven by the animal owners,” Farajat said.
Switching to electric cars will, Farajat hopes, put an end to the criticisms against the mistreatment inflicted on animals.


Daily marijuana use outpaces daily drinking in the US, a new study says

Updated 23 May 2024
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Daily marijuana use outpaces daily drinking in the US, a new study says

  • In 2022, an estimated 17.7 million people reported using marijuana daily or near-daily compared to 14.7 million daily or near-daily drinkers,
  • The number of daily users suggests that more people are at risk for developing problematic cannabis use or addiction, says researcher

For the first time, the number of Americans who use marijuana just about every day has surpassed the number who drink that often, a shift some 40 years in the making as recreational pot use became more mainstream and legal in nearly half of US states.

In 2022, an estimated 17.7 million people reported using marijuana daily or near-daily compared to 14.7 million daily or near-daily drinkers, according an analysis of national survey data. In 1992, when daily pot use hit a low point, less than 1 million people said they used marijuana nearly every day.
Alcohol is still more widely used, but 2022 was the first time this intensive level of marijuana use overtook daily and near-daily drinking, said the study’s author, Jonathan Caulkins, a cannabis policy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University.
“A good 40 percent of current cannabis users are using it daily or near daily, a pattern that is more associated with tobacco use than typical alcohol use,” Caulkins said.

Marijuana plants are displayed at a shop in San Francisco on March 20, 2023. (AP Photo/File)

The research, based on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, was published Wednesday in the journal Addiction. The survey is a highly regarded source of self-reported estimates of tobacco, alcohol and drug use in the United States.
From 1992 to 2022, the per capita rate of reporting daily or near-daily marijuana use increased 15-fold. Caulkins acknowledged in the study that people may be more willing to report marijuana use as public acceptance grows, which could boost the increase.
Most states now allow medical or recreational marijuana, though it remains illegal at the federal level. In November, Florida voters will decide on a constitutional amendment allowing recreational cannabis, and the federal government is moving to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug.
Research shows that high-frequency users are more likely to become addicted to marijuana, said Dr. David A. Gorelick, a psychiatry professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.
The number of daily users suggests that more people are at risk for developing problematic cannabis use or addiction, Gorelick said.
“High frequency use also increases the risk of developing cannabis-associated psychosis,” a severe condition where a person loses touch with reality, he said.
 


Russian court fines man for hair dyed in colors of Ukrainian flag, OVD-Info says

Updated 21 May 2024
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Russian court fines man for hair dyed in colors of Ukrainian flag, OVD-Info says

  • Photographs of Stanislav Netesov posted online show the 25-year-old’s close-cropped hair colored bright blue, green and yellow
  • Netesov was found guilty of discrediting the armed forces on May 3, an online court notice shows, although it does not specify a fine

LONDON: A Russian man who had his hair dyed in some of the colors of the Ukrainian flag has been fined 30,000 roubles ($330) by a court for “discrediting” the Russian army, rights group OVD-Info reported on Monday.
Photographs of Stanislav Netesov posted online show the 25-year-old’s close-cropped hair colored bright blue, green and yellow. Blue and yellow are the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
More than 20,000 people have been detained for their anti-war stance since the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with over 900 people charged with criminal offenses.
Netesov was found guilty of discrediting the armed forces on May 3, an online court notice shows, although it does not specify a fine.
In court, Netesov denied his hair color was meant as a statement of protest, saying that he does not support either Ukraine or the Russian army, independent news outlet Mediazona reported. He said he has dyed his hair bright colors for years.
Netesov could not be reached for comment.
The case against the Muscovite began in late April, when he was attacked by unknown people while returning home from work late at night.
The assailants stole his mobile phone and knocked out one of his teeth, Netesov told OVD-Info, which assists those targeted for opposing the war.
When he went to the police to file a report, officers noticed his hair and charged him under the “discrediting” statute, Mediazona reported.
“The aforementioned visual propaganda clearly expressed a negative attitude toward the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” Mediazona cited the police report as saying.
Officers also gave Netesov a summons to report to a military enlistment office. He then revealed to them he was a transgender man, after which they canceled the summons, Mediazona said.


Swarmed with tourists, Japan town blocks off viral view of Mt. Fuji

Updated 21 May 2024
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Swarmed with tourists, Japan town blocks off viral view of Mt. Fuji

  • The mass of visitors and their refusal to obey rules on littering and parking had become a nuisance and traffic hazard

FUJIKAWAGUCHIKO, Japan: Japan’s majestic Mt. Fuji was some 700,000 years in the making, but on one sultry May morning, it was gone.
At least on one side of a busy road, views of the 3,776-meter (12,388 foot) symbol of Japan and the Lawson convenience store beneath it have vanished, as officials finished a 20-meter by 2.5-meter barrier to obstruct a photo spot that had become viral among tourists.
For locals, the mass of visitors and their refusal to obey rules on littering and parking had become a nuisance and traffic hazard.
“I’m really happy that foreigners are coming to our town,” said Kikue Katsumata, 73, a lifelong resident of Fujikawaguchiko. “But when it comes to taking pictures from the Lawson, the road is a bit narrow and it can be dangerous when people dash across without using a crosswalk.”
March and April set all-time records for visitor arrivals, driven by pent-up demand after the pandemic and as the yen’s slide to a 34-year low made Japan an irresistible bargain. That’s been good news for the economy, with travelers spending a record 1.75 trillion yen ($11.2 billion) in the first three months of 2024, according to the tourist agency.
The drastic decision to block the view of Mt. Fuji symbolizes tensions across the country as Japan reckons with the consequences of its tourism boom. The western metropolis of Osaka and the hot spring resort town Hakone are among municipalities considering new tourism taxes to deal with deluge of visitors.
Cyril Malchand, a 45-year old visitor from France, found out about the fence online and made a special trip to be among the last to take in the view. He said he empathized with the locals.
“When I see that there could be problems with people crossing the road without watching cars, I don’t find it that bad that they’re setting up that fence,” he said.


Tears of joy as American reunites with Saudi family after 40 years

Updated 18 May 2024
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Tears of joy as American reunites with Saudi family after 40 years

  • Relatives in Saudi Arabia say they ‘never lost hope’ they would one day find Eid Alsumani
  • Eid and his older brother grew up in Alabama estranged from their father and other family members

JEDDAH: A four-decade long search has finally led to the heartwarming reunion of an US citizen with his Saudi family, putting an end to a painful era full of longing and searches that had long promised to end in disappointment.

Two-year-old Eid Alsumani, now 42, and his older brother’s American mother cut ties with the family for reasons that have not been revealed to the public.

She had met Saud Alsumani when he was a student in the US, after which they married and had two sons.

Eid Alsumani and his family were finally reunited on May 9, with many of them meeting their 42-year old relative for the first time. (Supplied)

Following her return to Alabama with the boys, Eid’s mother cut all communication between them and their father, who returned to Saudi Arabia.

“Throughout that period of time, which lasted 40 years, members of the family were searching for their sons through the American Embassy ... (they) tried to search for the family several times, but no leads helped,” said Bander Alsumani, Eid’s cousin.

HIGHLIGHTS

• A video of Eid Alsumani’s reunion with his family at King Abdulaziz International Airport after 40 years of separation went viral on social media.

• For decades, the family had tried everything including seeking the help of the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

An English teacher at Abdullah Al-Thagafi High School in Jeddah, Bander told Arab News that his family did not lose hope in finding the lost brothers. “We just hoped they were alive.”

After decades of searches that yielded no results, their father died, never having reconnected with his sons. Their uncle, Khalid Alsumani, went to the US, determined to find his estranged nephews.

Eid Alsumani and his family were finally reunited on May 9, with many of them meeting their 42-year old relative for the first time. (Supplied)

According to Bander, while the uncle sought the help of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, the perseverence of another member of the family paid off as they found Eid on Instagram.

“It was the happiest day for the family ... we all were in joy and happiness when we heard Eid is alive and coming back home with his uncle,” said Bander. The joy also came with the sad news that Eid’s older brother had already died.

Eid and his family were finally reunited on May 9, with many of them meeting their 42-year old relative for the first time.

I believe I will visit again in maybe six months. Inshallah, I will continue to learn more about my religion, Arabic, and my family.

Eid Alsumani, Found after 40 years

“It was the most wonderful feeling in the world … just couldn’t believe that the family had been reunited with (their) son after so many years,” said Bander.

A heartwarming video of Eid’s reunion with his family at King Abdulaziz International Airport after 40 years of separation went viral on social media.

When Eid appeared from passport control with his uncle, his cousins and relatives hugged him one after another tightly, shedding tears of joy.

The family hosted a gathering with various members of the family who came from all corners to meet the long lost son and celebrate the joyous occasion.

During the emotional reunion, Eid, dressed in traditional Saudi attire, expressed his immense happiness and relief at being reunited with his extended family.

A US citizen, Eid was raised in Alabama and currently resides in Florida having graduated with bachelor’s of science degree in history and nuclear engineering technology.

Speaking to Arab News after performing Umrah in Makkah, Eid described the scene at the airport as “unbelievable.”

He said: “It was surreal. It was the first time I had been in my fatherland.

“I was extremely excited about the blessings of seeing four family members who greeted me with the legendary hospitality of Saudi fame. It felt like a scene from a movie.”

Eid, who was raised by his mother with Christian values, has reconnected with Islam with the help of his Saudi relatives.

He described praying in the Grand Mosque in Makkah as an unforgettable moment in his life. “When I was in Makkah, I was amazed to see so many people from all over the world who were walking and praying together as one for the sake of Allah,” he said.

Speaking about his future in the Kingdom, he added: “Alhamdulillah, my stay has been extended for a few days … I believe I will visit again in maybe six months. Inshallah, I will continue to learn more about my religion, Arabic, and my family.”

 


US bike shops boomed early in the pandemic. It’s been a bumpy ride for most ever since

Updated 18 May 2024
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US bike shops boomed early in the pandemic. It’s been a bumpy ride for most ever since

  • A surge of interest in cycling in the US pushed sales up 64 percent to $5.4 billion in 2020

For the nation’s bicycle shops, the past few years have probably felt like the business version of the Tour de France, with numerous twists and turns testing their endurance.
Early in the pandemic, a surge of interest in cycling pushed sales up 64 percent to $5.4 billion in 2020, according to the retail tracking service Circana. It wasn’t unheard of for some shops to sell 100 bikes or more in a couple of days.
The boom didn’t last. Hobbled by pandemic-related supply chain issues, the shops sold all their bikes and had trouble restocking. Now, inventory has caught up, but fewer people need new bikes. So, bicycle makers have been slashing prices to clear out the excess. It all adds up to a tough environment for retailers, although there are a few bright spots like gravel and e-bikes.
“The industry had a hard time keeping up with the demand for a couple of years, but then demand slowed as the lockdowns ended, and then a lot of inventory started showing up,” said Stephen Frothingham, editor-in-chief of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News. “So now for the last, a year and a half, the industry has struggled with having too much inventory, at the supplier level, at the factory level, at the distributor level, at the retail level.”
In 2023, bike sales totaled $4.1 billion, up 23 percent from 2019, but down 24 percent from 2020, according to Circana. The path out of the pandemic has been uneven — national retailers, such as REI and Scheels, are stabilizing faster than independent bike stores, said Matt Tucker, director of client development for Circana’s sports equipment business.
For John McDonell, owner of Market Street Cycles on the popular thoroughfare of Market Street in San Francisco, the shift to hybrid work brought about by the pandemic has been particularly tough on business. There used to be 3,000 bikes passing by his shop a day during the summer. That’s fallen to below 1,000, with fewer people commuting to work.
According to Pacer.ai, which tracks people’s movements based on cellphone usage, San Francisco lags all other major cities when it comes to workers returning to offices, with April office visits still down 49 percent compared with April 2019.
“Our downtown is still a wasteland,” McDonell said.
Independent bike stores not only have to compete with national chains, but increasingly, bike makers such as Specialized and Trek as well. They’ve been buying bike shops and selling their bikes directly to consumers, essentially cutting out the middleman. Frothingham estimates there are now around a thousand bike shops in the country owned by either Trek or Specialized.
“They’ve got the money to absorb the fact that bike stores, you know, are not a super profitable thing, and in the process, they’ve also been able to cut us out of it,” McDonell said.
McDonell has been forced to cut down to using a skeleton crew of himself and another staffer, down from five previously. His dream of selling his shop to a younger bike enthusiast when he retires is fading. He might close his store when his lease is up in a couple of years.
“Now I am just trying to land it with both engines on fire and trying not to lose money on my way out,” he said.
In Boulder, Colorado, Douglas Emerson’s bike shop, University Bicycles, is faring better, boosted by its location in one of the most popular places to ride bikes in the country. He’s had the shop for 39 years and employs 30 staffers.
Like other bike stores, the pandemic spurred a frenzy of bike buying at University Bicycles. Emerson recalls selling 107 bikes in 48 hours. But right after the boom, sales slowed dramatically because inventory was scarce, and rentals died down since no one was traveling.
“It became a struggle right after the boom,” Emerson said. “And since then, the manufacturers have overproduced. And they’ve slashed prices dramatically which is good for the consumer. But with the small shops they’re often not able to take advantage of those prices.”
Emerson says the shop reached a “saturation point” – everyone who wanted a bike bought one. Now, he’s selling those customers accessories like clothing, helmets and locks. His shop has returned to its 2019 sales numbers.
University Bicycles has also benefited from some of the shifts in buying patterns. Continued high demand for e-bikes and a growing demand for children’s bikes have helped. And gravel bikes, which are designed to be ridden both on paved and gravel roads, are replacing road bikes as a popular seller.
John Ruger, who has been a cyclist for 50 years and is a loyal University Bicycles customer, hasn’t bought a bike in 10 years, but plans on taking advantage of the current prices to buy a gravel bike. A top gravel bike he’s eyeing that would normally sell for $12,000 to $14,000 is currently retailing for $8,000, he said.
“The timing is good,” he said. “I can get a bike now because they’re less expensive and my bikes are getting old.”
Shawna Williams, owner of Free Range Cycles in Seattle, Washington, didn’t have the sales surge others did because her 700 square foot shop was so small she took customers only by appointment from March 2020 to May 2021.
But Williams did have to deal with the eventual shortages. She spent a lot of time “checking in with other shops to see if we could buy something, even at retail, from them, just in order to get a repair done or a build done.”
She adapted by offering more services like repairs and maintenance to offset lower sales of bikes. The maneuvering helped her keep overall sales steady even throughout the pandemic.
“Bike sales, the way that I have kind of framed the shop, are an awesome bonus, but we really need to be sustaining the shop through repair and, like, thoughtful accessory sales,” Williams said. “A bike sale to me, if we do things well, that means creating a customer for life.”