Bedouins of Petra
by Marina Ferhatovic
Bob Marley music blasts from the speakers on one of the highest points of the ancient city of Petra. Just a few meters away, two Bedouins have set up a tent selling souvenirs and offering tea. One of them says: ”The sky is my blanket, the earth is my bed, the Bedouins are strong as the desert, move as the wind, soft as the sand, forever free .”
A line to impress tourists or description of his life? It is hard to tell. The Bedouins have occupied the ancient city of Petra for a long time, living in caves and from what they can grow. However, in the mid-1980s, under the pressure from the government, the tribe agreed to move into a small village, Umm Sayhun, set on the edge of what is now designated as Petra National Park. Now, their main income comes from the herds of tourists that invade the ruins every day.
On my walk from one ruin to the other I meet Rawheyah, 60 years old Bedouin woman. Sheltered from the sun by a thin cloth stretched above her head she invites the passing tourists to take a look at her necklaces and other bijouterie. Not many do.
“More and more people come to visit Petra but not as many as we expected. We hope that there will be more during the summer”, she says. It is two in the afternoon and she has two more hours to go before she retreats to her home in the village.
But there are still those who see the ruins as their homes. Further up the hill I meet Ahmed, a 26 year old Beduoin who lives in a cave by the amphitheatre. He visits the “civilisation” every three days in order to get groceries and use the internet. His daily job consists of taking tourists to the “Monastery” on his donkeys and selling souvenirs. But the favourite part of the day is the evening when all the people leave: “We get together in front of the monastery, smoke sheeshas and watch the stars”, Ahmed says.
He tells me that there are around 60 families who choose this way of life. Sad development, in his opinion: “On one hand we have the government which wants to modernize the society and on the other we have the tourism. Between them our old way of life is disappearing.”
“There are mixed feelings. I myself live from the tourists. My brother owns a tourist agency in the town. And of course I want him to be successful.” One part he does like about the increasing tourism is the possibility to meet people and talk about the Bedouin culture. According to him many tourists choose to stay longer and some even permanently. “My brother met a Swiss girl here and now they have a child together.”
“With blue eyes”, he adds showing a picture in his valet of a little smiling boy.
The truth or a line? Hard to tell.