On the sandy, unfolding plains of Sanliurfa, Turkey, there are no coffee shops to plug in your all-important smartphone charger. In the day-to-day grind of these Turkish shepherds, there are no buildings of any kind, or road signs, for that matter. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to even find shade. However, there is one thing they have plenty of (other than miles of dusty sand), and that’s sunlight.
With no power source available but the sun, these shepherds take resourcefulness to a new level by using small solar panels attached to the backs of their donkeys to charge up their smartphones.
The images released last week of the whole process in action are pretty astounding. You almost get a bit of old-meets-new culture shock as you see a shepherd on his mobile while playing with a curly-horned sheep, the dusty Turkish plateau stretching on behind him for miles. If this were a movie, critics would be up in arms over anachronisms, but it’s real life. Other photos depict shepherds kicking back on large rocks, or right on the ground, chatting on their smartphones while a tea kettle comes to boil resting on flat stones over a rudimentary campfire.
For shepherds working in the wild, dealing with the elements all day, the durability of the slightly futuristic bendable smartphones might be a good investment, if they were affordable. Although, since they claim to mostly use their phones for music, emergencies, and staying in touch with family, a basic cheap phone purchased second-hand would probably do the job, as long as they follow our guide to taking excellent care of it to ensure it would last as long as possible in the harsh outdoor environment.
Solar panels have been used in lieu of traditional electricity to provide power in remote areas for some time now. For users with no access to the main power grid, there are two main options. The photovoltaic panels pictured with the shepherds take the sun's energy and turn it directly into electricity. Solar thermal panels harness the sun's power and channel it directly into hot water. Savvy homeowners can use both in tandem (these are commonly seen on rooftops nowadays), but for these nomad-like shepherds, the choice was obvious. Lightweight PV cells allow them to turn sunlight into electricity all without weighing down their animals. But this story isn’t significant only for the innovation of modern shepherds, but also for the light it sheds on the rapid technological advancement of the country they call home.
Turkey, the nation sandwiched mainly between Greece and Syria, is undergoing a huge modernization right now regarding cell phone use and prevalence. It has recently developed fantastic nationwide coverage, and cell phone stores and repair shops seem to be popping up on nearly every corner of Istanbul. Out of all phone users in Turkey, more than five times as many people use cell phones as those that use land lines. Secluded areas, like the lands the shepherds use to herd their animals, achieve coverage through a domestic satellite system. The peninsula nation has become very well connected in a relatively short time. Sources vary pretty widely, with some claiming that 59 percent of all adults in Turkey own a cell phone, while others claim that mobile cellular subscription rates show up to one phone for almost every adult in the country. Regardless of the exact numbers, one thing is clear: smartphones in Turkey are there to stay, and they’re becoming more popular by the minute.
Smartphones may not be considered a basic human right yet, but this level of connectivity in such an isolated area is very encouraging for anyone who thinks they should be. Obviously, with no hospitals, ambulances, or immediate medical care available to these shepherds, other than perhaps some packed supplies, the potential for serious injury is cause enough to keep a smartphone on hand and, of course, charged by any means available.
I just hope these guys invest in a good smart phone case, just in case it happens to fall off the donkey.