Travel back in time with Bedouins of Jordan
Indigenous cultures are often a source curiosity for us; we want to know about the lives which are hard to imagine for us city-dwellers, to know about the ancient cultures which are still preserved and coping with the world of rapid changes. One such encounter I had was with the Bedouins of Jordan.
Despite the constantly changing world around them, the Bedouins have managed to cling on to most elements of their unique culture and lifestyle for countless generations. Most of Jordan’s Bedouin live in the vast wasteland that extends east from the Desert Highway. The eastern Bedouins are camel breeders and herders, while the western Bedouins herd sheep and goats. Where there once was only rock, desert and sparse pockets of Bedouin camps, there are now tour groups from every continent and a growing population of once-nomadic Bedouin whose livelihoods depend on tourism.
As I entered Petra, the very first interaction I had was with a Bedouin who called himself ‘Lost’. His arrogant posture on a mule made me click him. And after a casual hello, the first thing he asked was ‘How many camels for you?’ in the flirtiest of tones. I first found the remark derogatory but later found out that it’s a Bedouin way of complimenting women. The Bedouins generally have strong persona. Their Jack Sparrow like looks, curly hair, be-robed and kohl-lined eyes are hard to miss. Bedouins are talkative, welcoming and happy to share their tradition, culture and life with travelers which made my journey full of such stories of Bedouin interactions.
While walking around in Petra, there were Bedouins of different age, strata and appearance which were mostly involved in providing commute to tourists by mules or camels. One such guy was Ali who I met while hiking to a monastery. He bluntly said no to me for pictures at first and as our conversation grew, we became friends sharing our life stories. And I realized how easy it was to make friends in Jordan than any other country I have been to. He led us on his mule to show the hidden tombs. Later, he invited us to accompany him to his home behind the mountain in the caves, where he stayed with his whole family. And there were many such Bedouins settled in Petra running their small businesses to survive in mountains and maintain their life –style, culture and their free spirited ways of living.
Talking about free ways of life I met an avid climber named ‘Moon’. While I was sipping my lemonade, under a hot sun, in front of a monastery after a tedious hike, I saw someone climbing up the monastery like Spider Man! Before I could believe my eyes, I saw him jumping from one turn to another on the 50 meter tall building. Within a minute, everyone had their camera pointed towards him, and Moon became an instant shining star among the tourists. Such was this young liberated young man who believes mountains are his only home and climbing is his way of life. He promised us to show all the hidden treasures and hikes of Petra once we come back for a longer stay.
When the sun was settling down, making the golden rocks glow, most of the tourists visiting Petra were returning. But I saw a man dressed in pure white clothes sitting on the edge of King’s Tomb. I couldn’t stop myself but hiked to meet this religious man named Mohammad Salama el Mawasa. Mohammad, who claims to remember most of the Quran by heart, recalled his childhood days spent in Petra when there were not many tourists. Under scorching sun during day, cold winds during night and little to no water always, the Bedouins life has been all about survival. He recalled there were no schools; neither there was a need of any. He learnt to speak multiple languages and more importantly, lessons of life from the travelers. Mohammad has ten children and most of them are settled outside Petra in different cities of Jordan. While most of the people he knew have migrated to nearby apartments after such directives from Government, Mohammad cannot imagine his life beyond Petra. He runs a souvenir shop right in front of King’s tomb. His unearthly conversation made me stay till it was pitch dark in Petra.
I was also fortunate to meet some of the Bedouins of Wadi Rum, the moon valley. The Bedouins live here in traditionally goat camps which are supposedly very expensive and provide warmth in the cold nights and remain cool in hot days. Bedouins are famous for their hospitality and I experienced the same being in their camps. They host travelers, offer tea and more, without asking for any money. Perhaps the root of all this hospitality lies in the fact that Bedouins are honor-bound to provide the best treatment to their guests and ensure that no traveler is turned away. I enjoyed sweet tea with them while sharing our lives’ stories and learnt some important lessons of life- money is not everything, may be freedom is.