The term “Bedouin” literally means “those in the desert,” which is an entirely apt appellation for a group of desert nomads. Throughout history, the Bedouins have herded sheep and camel through the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen), Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. They earned income by transporting goods and people across the desert. Surviving and thriving in such a hostile desert environment engendered a strong kinship network and a profuse sense of hospitality. Any stranger encountered in the desert could be assured meals and a place to sleep for as long as they needed; survival was a team effort.
Bedouins traditionally lived in desert tents, made from hand-woven carpets. These tents were dismantled and transported at each rest stop along the route. Nowadays, it is harder for Bedouins to maintain their traditional lifestyles. Many find themselves working in the tourism industry, taking visitors on camel rides through the desert, and offering them a meal and a night’s rest in a traditional tent. I did this in the Sahara in Morocco and in Wadi Rum in Jordan. It’s wonderful and conflicting and sad. I love feeling like Nicole of Arabia, traipsing through the desert sands, but I hate seeing these people with such a rich culture scraping a living by serving me. I suppose that’s the duality you grapple with when you travel. The Bedouins are a truly kind and welcoming people, though, and it’s worth a trip to the Middle East just to meet them.
Bedouin Tea, boiling on the sands
Read this book if you want to learn more about Bedouins: Married to a Bedouin