Thursday, May 22, 2008

Innocents Abroad Part 5: Bedouin Life

One of the most entertaining and interesting jaunts on our trip to the Middle East was the opportunity we had to spend time with a Bedouin family. Our Archeologist Guide spent a lot of time at a dig in Petra, Jordan and got to know some of the Bedouin workers there. He arranged for us to share and evening meal with this man, his two wives and his children. We literally broke bread together and got a small bit of insight into the lives of the Jordanian Bedouins.

The only “furniture” in the room was couch pillows arranged on the floor around the walls of the room. The walls were decorated with murals painted by our host of sunsets over the Persian Gulf. Our first “course” was a choice between a sweet tea or a high octane, concentrated coffee in cups the size of shot glasses. I chose the tea. Rushing in and out of the room were the children of our host who were introduced and became immediately shy as a result. The women prepared the meal as each child made an appearance and sat for a while with the father so he could display them like all proud parents.

Next a plastic, tarp-like mat was placed on the floor in front of us and soon after a huge platter with rice and various cut up pieces of chicken. Our host then poured a sauce of some kind over the whole mixture and then threw down a paper thin form of bread made on a rock out back. He then sat next to me and reached into the pile of food with his right hand (common plates ALWAYS demand use of ONLY the right hand) and quickly formed the rice mixture into a golf-ball sized bite and popped it into his mouth so quickly I wasn’t sure if he hadn’t just thrown it behind him. No utensils, no plates, no problem. I tentatively tried it and it tasted good but the rice and sauce spilled all over me and the mat. He smiled and said “no problem” and proceeded to down another golf ball with hardly getting his hand dirty. I went back to the old standby of using the bread to grab my food and ate that way. The pile in the middle was hardly touched as we motioned that we were full, I wasn’t; I was just tire of working so hard to get food to my mouth. How sad is that?

The Bedouins seemed to me to be a study in contrasts and contradiction. They are a loving people who will kiss you on both cheeks and smile easy yet carry an offence even longer then they carry a gun. I see them in their tents made of wood poles and rugs but also air-conditioning. I would see some come meandering up perched on the hump of a camel chatting away on a cell phone. They would proudly show off their children in the home yet keep them dirty with ratty hair for the sympathy of the tourists and a few more Jordanian Denars. Contrast and contradiction between their actions and their words and, wait a minute, that kind of describes us too. Hmm.

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