Travel Back In Time With the Bedouin of Jordan
Hundreds of years ago, nomadic tribes roamed the Arabian and Syrian deserts. Living in tents and traveling on camels, they were the merchants of the desert — operating trade routes and bartering livestock. Over the years, they converted to Islam, and some settled down into villages, and nowadays most carry cellphones; but in one corner of the Dana Nature Reserve in the southern Jordanian desert, not much else has changed except the transportation.
Little has changed for the Jordanian Bedouin in centuries.
Suleiman Hassasseen, 26, helps run the the Feynan Eco Lodge, a fully sustainable hotel in the Dana Reserve that uses solar power, solar heating, and composting to reduce its environmental impact. While he and his family cater to foreigners who come for the nearby 12,000-year-old archaeology sites or the nature hikes, Suleiman still lives much as his ancestors did at the turn of the last century.
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Hanging with Suleiman.
About a mile from the lodge is Suleiman’s (main) family tent, woven by his mother and composed of woolen blankets and plastic sheeting, and another smaller tent, which houses his father’s second wife. Surrounding the tents are pens for the goats and sheep, which Suleiman and his family herd into the nearby mountains daily, and two pickup trucks — the only concession to modernism.
“We move twice a year with the seasons,” Suleiman said. “In the summer we go to the shade of the mountains, and in the winter we move out of the wind.”
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The inside of the tent is split into two main parts. One part (which I was in) is the main area, where the men receive guests and also sleep at night. The other part is for the women — who remained hidden the entire time I was there.
“Women do not come out unless it is family,” Suleiman explained.
“So am I not supposed to be in this part?” I asked.
“No — you are a guest.”
I was still semiconfused but chalked it up to the fact that in many Arab countries and cultures, Western women are treated (socially) as men.
We were joined by Suleiman’s father, Mohammad Hassasseen (who prefers to be called Abu Khalil), who offered to make bread and coffee.
“When we are out with the goats — sometimes for days — we will make this bread, and it will sustain us for the whole time,” Suleiman explained as Abu Khalil kneaded the dough before putting it in the ashes by the fire. Covering the bread with ashes and coals, we sat back, and 15 minutes later, it was done.
“Now we call the neighbors for coffee,” Suleiman said, bringing out a brass bowl and a gong.
“But what if they all hear you?” I asked, a little worried, as coffee is an expensive commodity in the desert.
“Then whoever hears, comes,” he said.
“But what if you don’t like your neighbors?”
“This doesn’t happen, because we pick our neighbors very carefully,” he explained.
Thankfully, only one man showed up, owing to the fact that the tents are very far from each other and it was midday, so many were off at the lodge or herding in the mountains.
Suleiman let me name one of his family’s new goats. I called this one Laverne. The next one will be Shirley.
What was so lovely about it all — beyond the hospitality and being able to see how people so very different from me live — was that Suleiman, his father, and their neighbor all actually talked to one another. No one brought out his cellphone. There were no TVs (or electricity) or iPads. And … it reminded me of my family gatherings when I grew up. Before we all became so digitized.