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.
Mint, an herb long cultivated across the Middle East and North Africa, is renowned for its cooling and healing properties. Its modern name came from an ancient Greek myth. Persephone, the jealous wife of Pluto, transformed the object of her husband’s lust, the lovely young nymph, Minthe into a plant so all could trample her. Unable to reverse the spell, Pluto instead gave Minthe a pleasant scent that intensified when she was tread on. The name Minthe eventually evolved into Mint. The versatile plant was used by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans in aromatic baths, as a salve for sports injuries, and as an appetite stimulant. In Rome, Pliny the Elder advised his students to wear wreaths of mint to sharpen their minds, and senators wore mint sprigs in the hope of enhancing their oratory skills and suppressing their tempers. It has long been known to serve as a digestive aid, as an antiemetic, and as a cough suppressant. It is refreshing when served cold and soothing when served warm.
Historically, mint is a symbol of hospitality. The Greeks and Romans would rub mint on banquet tables to greet their guests, and today, Moroccans are quick to offer a glass of mint tea as a gesture of friendship.
Both mint lemonade and mint tea are widely drunk throughout the Middle East and North Africa. They are both easy to make, healthy (as long as you are much more conservative with the sugar than they are in the Middle East), and de-licious!