We planned a desert camping trip in Wadi Rum through Engaging Cultures with two other families we work with. We had a Bedouin guide named Mosalem and his friend and our camp cook, Awad. Both men grew up in Rum village which is kind of a depressing place. It reminds me of the First Nations reserves that are found around our hometown, and from what I understand about the history of the Bedouin people in Wadi Rum, Rum village kind of serves the same purpose: the government wanted to control the land the Bedouin people lived on and relocated them to the village, with "incentives" like free education, water, waste management and some other infrastructure. Most Bedouin in Rum village now make their living taking tourists like us on camping or rock climbing trips. Many, like Mosalem, feel more at home in the desert than in the village. Fortunately, because the Bedouin practice a conservative form of Islam, they do not drink, and therefore, they do not suffer from the alcohol and drug abuse that abound on Canadian reserves.
The pictures below speak to the beauty of the desert - for me, the highlight of the trip was learning about the Bedouin people through conversations with Mosalem. He was so open and willing to share the Bedouin lifestyle with us. Some stories that stick with me:
- He has two wives and eight children, and he is only 39! He has seven children with his first wife and one new baby with the second. We had lots to think about when we learned of this fact!
- His grandfather used to hunt tigers in Wadi Rum, but the tiger population was killed off following the building of the Suez Canal, which cut off the migratory routes for the big cats from Africa.
- The men can cook! We ate amazing meals in the middle of the desert with the simplest of ingredients.
- Mosalem and Awad knew the land intimately. They knew where to camp based on the sunrise and moonrise, and which rest spots were still cool(ish!) well into the smoking hot afternoons. Jason has had lots of trouble with his asthma, and it was really bad by the first sunset. On the walk home from our sunset vantage point Mosalem sourced out some desert plant which he added to our evening tea. It had noticeable results in Jason's asthma symptoms!
- They spoke about the ban on hunting Ibex imposed by the government. As educated men they understood the reasoning behind it (the species was just reintroduced to Wadi Rum after being killed off), but they acknowledged that without educating the rest of the Bedouin population the measures used by the government to try to stop the hunting were pathetic. As Moselm put it, "For the one route the government enforcers know into Valley "X", the Bedouin know 100. If they want to hunt they will hunt, and no one will catch them."
- They know how to nap. Every afternoon, following a hot lunch, we all curled up on our eating/sleeping mats and chilled out in the shade! It was so welcome after the morning hike in the gradually intensifying heat of the desert sun.
- They love children. Mosalem and Awad were incredible with the four children in our large group. Hayley was the first to lose it on our hikes, and Mosalem would pick her up, followed by whichever child next decided the Jeep was the better mode of transport. We would meet them at the next rest stop and find them happily climbing over the sandstone rocks, or perusing ancient petroglyphs, bursting to share whatever interpretation Mosalem had explained to them. It was very comforting to know our kids were in such competent company.
I could go on and on. I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking and end with this recommendation - you have to see it for yourself!