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Bedouin Vignettes

May 26, 2012

*Note: If you haven’t read the previous post before this one below, read that one first!

Too much happened this weekend that I learned, that made me laugh, or affected me in some way, to write it all down. I won’t subject my professor and very small audience of family and friends to an overblown piece of writing. Instead,  a collection of short vignettes of my favorite moments in the Badia – Tffaddali (here you go).


  1. Reach under back of your shirt and grab the bug crawling up your back. “CRUNCH.” Then fling it across the room.
  2. Ignore Hiyat screaming, “Wejdan, Wejdan, WEJDAN!” every ten minutes from 7 a.m. on to get out of bed.
  3. Ignore then intensified yelling from Hiyat, coupled with knocking on the window.
  4. Ignore the rooster crowing directly outside your window.
  5. When you finally roll off your pad, you must do the Bedouin stretch or else your body will atrophy as you sit on your arse/sleep for the remainder of the day.


My favorite part of this experience was witnessing the family dynamic. I can now say I’ve found Bedouin Tabeeks. In this small tribe, violence equals affection. Uncles, aunts, cousins, grandchildren and family friends drifted in and out of the house, wrestling and smacking each other endearingly. After Hiyat smacked her youngest brother’s butt as he was leaving, he grabbed her masap and wrestled her to the ground. Hiyat must have known what was coming next because she hid behind Sam as her brother left, then ran back in, grabbed the water bottle out of her hand, and emptied it over her head. Where are these conservative and serious Bedouins we heard about?


Our first night before sunset, we took a ride in our host father’s broken-down red car to his brother’s “farm.” Wejdan and I pushed the car through their yard until it started, then we roared off. The farm we arrived at was deserted, with different areas sectioned off for animals and a farmhand who wasn’t there. Only a handful of overgrown rabbits in heat and a couple of chickens meandered through the stone enclosure. Abu Sultan took us walking in the surrounding area of the farm after, pointing out a treasure map etched in a stone and medicinal plants. I climbed atop a rock and Abu Sultan held up his arms as Sam took a photo – I did the same.

On the road with Abu Sultan.

A soft place to lay your head.

Abu Sultan Says.

Wejdan, Abu Sultan, and I over a patch of zatar.


Sam and I had wanted to get close to the chicks, but every time we tried, the hen would get defensive and head for its pen with the chicks, or sous, in tow. So, on our first night, Hiyat decided she would grab some sous for us. She didn’t tell us what she was doing though, so we followed her closely as she walked into the henhouse.  All we could see from where we were standing was the shadow of her druid-like figure with a plastic pipe in her hand. Suddenly, a dijaaj, chicken, came flying out of the stone pen. Sam and I grabbed each other and screamed, trying to run from the dijaaj. The druid came out, victorious, with a sous in her hand.


Every interaction with Abu Sultan, usually over our collective meals, was a hilarious one. Every time we met eyes, he would grin and give a thumbs-up or ask, Quoise? (Good?) Our first night, Abu Sultan wrapped his keffiyeh around his head to make two ears and stuck the stray ends of either side into his mouth. He growled at Yamen on his hands and knees, shaking his head as Hiyat’s brother looked on, laughing: “He crazy.” I was particularly touched when Abu Sultan raised his thumbs-up to meet mine, delighted, then dissolving into laughter. My favorite.

Yamen takes over after Abu Sultan.


Both of the mornings after Wejdan, Sam and I got up, we had tea under the staircase with Hiyat and her mother. The first morning I asked Hiyat’s mother about the tattoos covering her face. She told us she had it done when she was 11 years old, “to be more beautiful.” Wejdan explained to us that many women of her grandmother’s generation had this done because they didn’t know that the religion of Islam forbade it. Most Bedouins no longer put the tattoos on their faces. This is one of the many changes from today’s generation of Bedouins to previous ones.

Grandmother in the Badia.


One of the simple pleasures of village life is sitting with people you enjoy and drinking delicious tea with mint picked from a bushel in the front yard. We sat and watched feral children play in the street in front of a deserted house, laughing as one of the boy’s pants kept falling down. Fatma and Nirsirine in particular were the spiciest women we met in Mukayfita.

Porch-watching in the Badia.


In two cars, we journeyed to the village ecological center — Merkez Beie — all  of us. Babies, small children, four Americans, and women and men piled in. The scene was a little sad – some of the cages were empty and the hyena snarled in the corner, covered with buzzing flies. The experience itself though, walking through the center with the weight of a baby in my arms in the midst of a big family, felt really nice. Uncomplicated.

Me and Yamen.

How did all these people fit into two cars?


After the visit to the environmental center, we headed to a long-dormant volcano, berkan, called Gesies (Disclaimer: try as I might, I still could not figure out the story behind this volcano), that I believe is now being used as an asphalt mine. At the acme of this “mountain,” you could see the Syrian border no more than three or four kilometers in the distance. It felt really strange to be standing in Jordan, which has become a safe haven for so many Syrian refugees, on top of a former volcano looking at the unguarded boundary to a place that has become hell for so many people.

Jordan ahead, Syria behind.


Last night, Sam and I met Abdullah, who is the oldest sibling of 11 in Hiyat’s large family. Abdullah, a general in the Jordan Air Force, was a rare find for us: male, spoke English and was willing to have a conversation with us. When we first began talking, he talked about the reasons why a Bedouin life among family was best: “You can feel the life. You can taste the life,” he said. But later in the conversation, he talked about the many difficulties of life in the village: his commute to Amman for work, the poorer education and the “simple people.” Abdullah said he believed his father had made a mistake when he moved back to the Badia from Amman with them as children. He hopes that he can provide a different life than his father did for him and his siblings by sending some of his children after they are married to the city, so they might have an easier, better life.


“I wish we could just bottle this up, you know?” Sam said, as Sultan’s black Kia whipped along the pot-holed ridden road to the volcano. My words are insufficient to aptly “bottle up” the lightness, and the feeling of belonging and utter rightness in the world I felt at that particular moment in the backseat, the wind tangling my hair. This’ll have to do.

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