World : Rewarding pastime carries deadly risks. Hunting truffles in Syria is a spring tradition, but is increasingly dangerous.

They are called ''daughter of thunder,'' or bint al-ra'ad - Middle Eastern black and white truffles, which are found in deserts across the region and are thought to the product of stormy weather and lightning strikes.

Larger and less pungent than their European cousins, they are equally prized delicacies. Once the winter storms have passed, Syrian families in the east of the country have traditionally packed up their cars to go camping and forage for them in the desert.

But the cherished pastime of truffle hunting has become a perilous gamble to make money during desperate economic times.

At least 84 people have been killed this year while hunting truffles in the country's central and eastern desert, according to two groups that monitor Syria's war. Some were killed by landmines, others were shot by gunmen or were kidnapped and killed later.

Instead of venturing into the desert with their families, truffle hunters are now taking first aid kits and rifles. Still, they go on expeditions, driven by severe poverty and unemployment, a collapsing currency and inflation.

More than half the population struggles to get enough food. Amid a nationwide fuel shortage, some Syrians have resorted to burning trash and plastic to stay warm or cook.

'' People have started to fear poverty more than death,'' said Baha Sulieman, 28, who lives in Deir aI Zour Province in eastern Syria and went out twice to collect truffles about a month ago.

The Precis continues. The World Students Society thanks author Raja AbdulRahim.


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