Bedouins

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.

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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.

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Bedouin Tea

Bedouin Tea, boiling on the sands

Read this book if you want to learn more about Bedouins:  Married to a Bedouin

Bedouin Hospitality

The Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, has some of the world’s best diving.  The Sinai is a fascinating place to visit for other reasons too.  It is the home to Mount Sinai, where Moses received the ten commandments, and beheld the burning bush, and to Saint Catherine’s Monastery.

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It is also stunningly beautiful, it’s landscape craggy and reddish, and covered in sand.  I guess that’s what happens when two continents come crashing together.  The Sinai has traditionally been inhabited by Bedouins, a nomadic people who live in portable tents in the deserts of the Arabian peninsula.  They are renowned for their generous hospitality, which I can personally attest to.

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I found myself slightly stranded on the Sinai last November while I was attempting to bus it (solo) from Cairo to Israel.  Due to several unforeseen challenges, I landed in Sharm al-Sheikh, the southern tip of the Sinai, at about 9 pm, only about halfway to Israel.  There I met a Spanish dive instructor, an Egyptian diver, and a Bedouin man who was offering to drive the three of us about 60 miles north to Dahab.  The Spanish woman promised me she had some Bedouin friends who owned a hostel on the beach, and she would take me there.  OK, I said, slightly annoyed that it would take me 2 full days to go 260 miles (ended up being 450 with previously mentioned unforeseen detours).  When I got to Dahab, the Bedouins were waiting for me with mint tea, conversation, cushions on the beach, and a HUGE plate of freshly caught fish.  When I woke up the next morning, I could not believe how beautiful the view was

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I left the next morning to continue my trek to Israel, severely regretting not having realized how amazing the Sinai was.  I really want to go back, it is basically at the top of my list.  I would love to dive in Ras Mohammed National Park, climb Mount Sinai, and see St. Catherine’s.  I would also just like to spend more time with the Bedouins, a group of people I find fascinating and warm and strong.  They certainly taught me a lesson in serendipity and kindness when I could not have been more annoyed:  slow down, enjoy the ride, and eat some fish on the beach with some nice, new people.

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The Israeli side of the Sinai, Eilat

And with this post, I am giving myself homework.  Two more posts: one on diving in Egypt, and one on Bedouins.  Due: this week.  Stay tuned.

Rai Music

Rai is a form of folk music that originated from Bedouin tribes in Algeria.  It is influenced by Spanish, French, African, and Arabic music, and today also incorporates hip hop, reggae, and funk.  Rai, meaning “opinion” in Arabic, can be considered the Arab equivalent to the blues.  Rai lyrics often address the social issues facing native populations as a result of colonization.  The genre became popular among young people, seeking to modernize traditional Islamic values and attitudes. It has been controversial throughout Algeria and there have been many attempts to censor it.  Rai singers are called “cheb,” coming from “shabaab” for “young,” in contrast to “sheikh,” denoting age and respect.

Cheb Hasni – Chira Li Nebghiha

Cheb Khaled – Ouelli El Darek (come back to your home)

Cheb Tarik- L’Histoire (The Story)