Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Rashaida Bedouins

No one I know knows anything about them or where they're located. I met Juma at Metzokei Dragot who gave my number to Mohammad who runs the Bedouin guest tent. Mohammad has called me since every 3 days or so to find out when I'd be coming to visit with them. They've just begun hosting Israelis and internationals at their place so they seem to be over-exuberant in trying to get guests to come.

Hubby was nervous at me going to the middle of nowhere so I gave him Mohammad's number "just in case". What is there to be nervous about if you don't believe the "other" is your enemy?

I went with a couple of my adventurous friends who have travelled extensively. They love new experiences. We travelled to the Jewish settlement of Efrat, then on winding roads east towards Tekoa. In front of us was a sign forbidding entrance to Israelis. To the left was a handwritten sign that said "Maaleh Amos" in Hebrew. That's the Jewish settlement that's closest to the Rashaida Bedouin village. We travelled past hilly olive groves in the valley between desert and mountain ridges. The roads were winding and beautiful. We obviously missed our destination and Mohammed directed us to where we had to go.

"The sign to Maaleh Amos is on a rock" he explained.

Oh, sorry. I was looking for a normal sign, not a Flintstone-type sign. Go figure. We retracked until we got to the sign, up past Bedouin ruins and got to Maaleh Amos. One of the Bedouins waiting there asked if we were going to Mohammed's place. Yes, we are. He jumped into our car as if it's just normal to jump into peoples' cars and directed us past his Bedouin village of Rashaida where the girls' school's windows and frames are colored pink and where camels roamed wild. We veered off the asphalt onto a non-paved road up hills and over who knows what for about 15 minutes until we got to a large tent up on top of a hill with views that were unbelievably stunning.

The Rashaida tribe lived in nearby Ein Gedi until 1948 when they moved uphill and since 1984 lived in the place where they are now living. Our host Mohammad has two wives and 11 children. The younger man who rode in the car with us, spoke perfect Hebrew and told us that the Arabic the Bedouin speak is closest to classical Arabic, which means he can understand all dialects. The families don't work out of their village and all work is done around the home, raising flocks of sheep, goats and camels and some vegetables. I wondered out loud what on earth do they ever get upset about? No mortgages, no taxes, no bills, no rushing to the office, no boss, no standing in line for hours at the supermarket, no traffic jams. Nothing. I asked Mohammad if his wives get along. He says they do. They're mostly secular, although there is a mosque in their village, no one feels pressured to go to prayers, although most fast during Ramadan. Inside the tent, the mattresses are made of sheeps' wool and the covering made out of goat hair, so that when it rains, the hair expands and covers any holes, making the tent waterproof. Amazing self-sufficiency.

Meanwhile, we wondered how in this empty place did people suddenly show up at the tent to check us out? Kids, older men, men in turbans, teens, etc. They seem to have come out of nowhere. A musician began to play on the stringed instrument called "sumsimeyeh" or something like that.

The camels appeared and I was asked to milk it. Huh? Are you putting me to work already? I'm not even there an hour! I squeezed and milk poured out. That milk collected in a tin was our beverage soon after, and I never tasted anything as wonderful and sweet. And of course, so fresh. Not from a shelf in a supermarket.

We took a walk to where Mohammad's dad lives, in the valley below and met with everyone there.

Then climbed into one of their vehicles to ride to an old Jordanian military outpost that was in use pre-1967. I felt like a kid again riding in the open back on the bumpy roads. The young man riding with us told me I should listen to Arabic music. I told him that I do and we sang some familiar tunes. He tells me to listen to Fairuz in the morning.

"I always listen to Fairuz in the morning with my coffee."

"Why? What happens if you listen to Fairuz in the evening?"

"No. She's much better in the morning. I listen to Om Kolthum in the evening. There's nothing like Om Kolthum in the evening."

Hmmmm. Have to give it a try.

It was almost time for us to leave. We didn't want to travel the unmarked, unpaved roads in the dark. But it was hard to leave this serene place. These people, this tribe, is looking to get tourists to visit with them. We joked how we left the car unlocked and it was still there, as was my cell phone.  You and your valuables are safe as a guest of the Bedouin. They welcome people to sleep over in their comfortable tents and share breakfast, lunch and dinner with them, with a bonfire at night and camel riding and hiking during the day. It sounds ideal and we promised that we'd get more people to visit and would visit over the weekend ourselves sometime in the near future.


Ahavah-Shim'on said...

Bedouin guest tent!!!? ohh it sounds wonderful!

Is that a baby camel....

Well, you can count me in as a 'guest'.. now I just have to convince my darling that if we visit Israel we will not be killed before we leave the airport.. sigh...

jerusalemgypsy said...

where are you from? Israel is a much safer place crime-wise than most countries. Theft is horrible in Spain - most of the people that went with me to Barcelona were robbed, S. Africa, S. America, the US is rampant with crime. Ugh. So why is he worred?

Ahavah-Shim'on said...

From the UK... we have some friends who live in Tel Aviv and I once made the mistake of telling the husband that they heard the bombs exploding close to them. (Albeit several miles away and they weren't harmed).

Since then he has Israel pegged as a war-zone.

We went to mainland Spain - once - never again... been to Tenerife several times... and got ripped of by all the locals ....

He does like Turkey (oddly enough) and we are visiting again next year.....

but a genuine Bedouin tent, with camels.. ohh be still my beating heart... :0D

Anonymous said...

I am travelling to Israel with my family in May and would love the opportunity to spend a day with the Rashaida Bedouins, sound slike it was a great authentic experience. What is the best way for me to contact them?

jerusalemgypsy said...

contact me privately (jergysy@netvision.net.il), and I'll give you Mohammed's number.

jerusalemgypsy said...

Ooops that email was wrong. It's jergypsy@netvision.net.il