A bus load of tourists look out their window as their professional tour guide points and explained, “that is one of the remaining Bedouin tents. Most of the Bedouins now lives in the village. There are also some who live in caves.”
The Bedouins, as mentioned in my Wadi Rum post, are descendants of the nomadic tribe called the Nabatean. They are mentioned in the bible as people from Canaan. They lived in Petra since prehistoric time and the creator of these magnificent carved into stone structures.
The tourists zoomed in their 200mm lens to closer see what they’re like. Faintly, they saw a man sitting inside the tent, smoking cigarette, drinking tea. A little boy tagging along a donkey minding the sheep. A couple of women with covered faces making cheese from milk. Then the man waved to a group of people walking by. He must have invited them as they walked into the tent and sat down. Teas were poured and cigarettes were offered.
Something’s odd about the scene though. One of the 3 persons is a woman, but wearing pants, drinking tea and lighting a cigarette with the men.
Guess what? The odd one that doesn’t fit in the picture is me!
I was brought into the inner circle of the Bedouins by my host Ghassab. I found him though couchsurfing, the just as magical place where you find instant friends anywhere in the world.
Ghassab is popularly known as the caveman, because he lives in a “furnished” cave, left to him by his grandfather. He’s also known locally as the rasta man, because of his hair, which he told me became so naturally after swimming in a salty water one day. He sport this hairdo since 10 years ago.
He’s a more modern nomad and has lived and traveled the west for 17 years. But he is a Bedouin and was born inside Petra. He came back one year ago because Petra is home. Ghassab and his cousins, and I’ve met so many of them, were my hosts during my too short stay in Petra.
My disappointment with the simulated genuine Bedouin experience in Wadi Rum was forgotten by my experience in Petra. For days I lived in his cave, ate delicious Bedouin food cooked in open fire, and slept under the bajillion of shooting stars.
He took me to little Petra and told me the stories of the stone carved structures. We would stop at every tent, sit with his cousins and would be offered cigarette and tea. The cousins would smile at me and they would chat about in Arabic. Once in a while, after 10 or so minutes, Ghassab would turn to me and explain what they discussed in 2 sentences. I don’t really mind. Mostly I would wander off a bit to take photos. Then we will walk again or sometimes hitchhike a passing truck of one of his cousins.
At night, he will cook or sometimes one of his cousin will bring food from the village and we will share this around the fire and talk about anything.
Ghassab’s family, cousins and neighbors lived inside Petra, in one of those caves or tents. They did until 1985 when UNESCO came and took over the preservation of this magnificent prehistoric artifacts. They built a village just outside of Petra and relocate most of the families there. In here they have electricity, water supply, concrete houses, schools, telephone, internet and such modern amenities.
Do the people like it? I was curious. He thought for a moment and shrugged. Once introduced to it, who could imagine living without a mobile phone or internet? The children born after the 80’s definitely don’t know what it’s like without electricity. But he said that Unesco promised many things that they are still waiting for to be delivered after 25 years, like free electricity and water.
I was fortunate to have been invited as a visitor to one of the houses in the village. It was the house of Khalid, son of the Nabatean chief, who has 2 wives. Khalid has a total of 11 brothers and 6 sisters. Khalid is Ghassab’s cousin and he was my guide inside Petra. And I tell you, you can’t have a better guide than a person who was born and grew up inside the nooks and crooks of Petra.
There are still about 100 families who live inside Petra, in tents and caves. They are few enough to not make any damage to the protected area, and are left to be kind of tourist attraction. These people have 4×4 trucks and mobile phones. Most of them work as tourist guides of Petra. The women sell jewelries and souvenirs and the children take tourists in their donkeys and camels.
After the exhausting approximately 6 hours of walking, sitting, and tour of Petra, we came out the back door (where tourists don’t go to). We hitchhiked with one of Khalid’s brother’s pick-up into the village. Hitchhiking is very common here. They would take anyone walking towards the village as long as they have space. As this road isn’t for tourists, I was not legally allowed to be in this truck going the back gate of the village. They told me to sit low and blend in. Hahaha. One of the girl in the truck used my scarf to cover my head as a muslin woman would. I bowed down and was smuggled into the village.
Khalid’s family has a big house with many rooms and a center courtyard. I was led to the room where women and children sit, the living room with a big television. I was given tea instantly. The men sit in a separate room and watch another channel and smoke cigarette. I was invited to sit with his brothers, but I prefer to sit with the ladies and children. They also let me take their photos, which I’ve yet to send to them.
One of the sister offered their bathroom for shower which I quickly accepted. I was staying in the cave for couple of days with no shower. Haha! Well, water is extremely valuable in the mountain, only for cooking, drinking, and washing dishes.
One of the sister went to the kitchen to start cooking, for the whole clan. I went over to help chop and peel. It’s a big, HUGE, dish of chicken rice with all the spices available in the Middle East. It’s one of the most delicious chicken rice ever! Sadly all these powder spices were unlabeled. Yes, because I thought I could cook them later!
We should be going back to the cave because Ghassab is waiting for us there. But Khalid wanted me to attend this “bridal shower” party of a girl cousin who is getting married. It’s a 3-day affair and the first night (that night), she spend time with all female friends, neighbors, and relatives. The 2nd night the groom’s family come to visit and the 3rd day is the wedding ceremony. It looks like a normal party one would have where the girls are dancing and drinking tea. I sat there watching, not allowed to take photos, and soon the sisters and sister-in-laws of Khalid came they sat with me. They don’t speak English, so we speak in our own language to each other, smiling, waving, pointing and hoping messages were relayed. It was funny.
It was an Amazing experience to be immersed into the core of Bedouin culture and life. Extremely lucky to meet the people I met in Petra who shared with me their home, meals, teas, cigarettes, rides, time, and stories.
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April 23, 2013 at 7:12 pm
Beware.. All the boys from the bedouin village by Petra, Wadi musa, Wadi rum lies! Their Jordan business is to fool all the girls they can into falling in love with them. They do it for business.. For sex and money.. They often have 2-5 foreign girlfriends at the same time. Their family lies and all the “nice” people you meet lies! They all lie for each other because they all want something… Gifts, sex, money, phone, computer, a new donkey but mostly fun.. The money they get from girls they use to get other girls.. They will make you believe that they are different from the others and you will see the love in their eyes.. But it is not true… Don’t ever trust them! I meet them all.. They are all the same.. They do anything to fool you.. They pick you up in the airport, but when you leave they go pick up the next girl. If you had sex with one of them please take a hiv test! They are whores, gigolos and they have sex with all possible… Names I know: Eamad, Khaled, Mohammad, Mohammet, Mohammed, Ahmed and Athman Salm. The worse is Ahmed and Athman Salm… You will believe every lie they tell.. They are really good at this business!!
I’m sorry you had a negative experience Mary. I’ve no doubt something like this can happen but it could happen everywhere. I can say is that in my experience, the families & friends of Ghassab were all very nice to me (men & women). There is a guy who showed interest towards me but I was not interested so nothing happened. Indeed I saw many of these handsome guys have European girlfriends. I think the relationships are mutual and a lot of these girls get into these “relationship” with eyes open. Meaning they are also there for sex & fun; and that money, gifts, and donkeys were given wholeheartedly. I would even go as far as saying some girls go there with the intention of hooking up with these Bedouins. Like dealing with anything/everything in this world, please always be careful.
Wanderlass, you are wrong. Petra, Wadi Musa and Uhm Sayhoun are the new “bezness” locations on the world map. It is no different from Egypt, Marocco, Tunesia, and Turkey. The only difference is: the Bedouins hide it a lot better behind the hospitality, which Jordan is known for.
The Bedouins call it “fishing for tourists” and it is a very lucrative business. Many women have been fooled into an exclusive relationship only to find out that the Bedouin guy has a couple of other exclusive relationships at the same time.
The many stalls inside Petra are investments of the fooled women, who where ditched once they learn the bitter truth. The same goes for quite a few restaurants, small tourist businesses, the many jeeps. All financed by the fooled women.
That is why you saw many “handsome guys” with European girlfriends. The relationship is not mutual at all. For the women, yes. She thinks she is in a serious relationship, and why not? He tells her over and over how much he loves her. He makes plans for the future with her. Calls and texts her and begs her to come back to Jordan, because life is nothing without her.
For the “handsome guy”? No. She is his JOB that he will work on for a long time to get what he wants. She is his walking ATM, his opportunity to a small business, and monthly donations to help out his poor family.
And all that money, gifts and donkeys were given wholeheartedly based on LIES. His mother is not sick at all, there are no medical bills to be paid. His donkey did not die. He did not go to the dentist because he was in so much pain, and can’t pay the bill. His horse is not hungry, because he can’t afford the barley.
All lies to get the women to send him money.
And yes, they are very nice and very friendly and very generous. It is part of the game.
You have no idea how very clever they play this love scam game. And every female visitor is a possibility to become a JOB. You were too.
Every female tourist, even couples that visit Petra will be presented with the opportunity to drink tea, have dinner under the moon and stars, sleep in his cave (there are many caves, also in the mountains around Petra), meet his extended family, have dinner with them, cook with the female members of the family, etc etc.
Nothing is what it seems though. And what to expect, in a heavy tourist area like Petra?
I’m Athman Salm and I want you to erase my pictures and the comments that you made about my person because I’m about to sue all of you having in my hands all your IP addresses and how you are as well after a big investigation.
Just for you to know:
The Penal Code of Jordan defines defamation and libel to include attaching false accusations to a person or treating a person disrespectfully through speech, writing, drawings, and other forms of communication.
Jordan’s existing Press and Publications Law, in articles 5, 7, and 38, and the penal code, in articles 122 and 188 to 200, among others, contain numerous content restrictions, criminalizing defamation including libel and slander, including against entities that are not people such as government institutions, symbols, and religions. These laws make violations a criminal offense carrying prison terms, contrary to recent definitive guidance on the right to freedom of expression by the UN Human Rights Committee, in its 2011 General Comment No 34.
Website editors may be required to take down certain types of offensive comments once they are brought to their attention, but where the volume of comment postings is high, such as on Facebook or Twitter, or the available capacity for reviewing postings is low, such as on personal blogs, it may be unreasonable to expect website managers to preview postings before publication, Human Rights Watch said.
In cases of defamation of individuals’ reputation [on the internet], given the ability of the individual concerned to exercise his/her right of reply instantly to restore the harm caused, the types of sanctions that are applied to offline defamation may be disproportionate.”
Even you are talking about the Petra Government let me tell you that you would have imprisoned for six months anyone who made “unjustified” allegations of corruption. In 2010, the government passed a Law on Information System Crimes, which in Article 8 imposed fines of JOD 100 to JOD 2,000 (US$140 to $2,800) for sending or publishing anything defamatory to another person through information systems, including email, text messages, or the internet.
Just a word of advice, you may want to take down the photos of the women, at least until you can get their permission to post them. I lived with the Bedoul Bedouin for fourteen months and was adopted by a local family there, and know Gassab well; and I also know well that many of the women in the community don’t like their pictures on the internet, it’s something everyone is a little sensitive about.
I have permission to use them. They know I’m a blogger and that I will be writing about this experience. I’m friends with Ghassab and his cousin (the family in the photos) both in couchsurfing and facebook. I sent this blog post link to them when I posted this the first time 2 years ago.
Any hints you can offer on how to pack for a 2 eeek trip to Petra for a woman?