Many Bedouin families usually camp in the same area, only moving a few kilometers from their previous camp.
Our father always liked the distant places: he likes to be alone, and you might find his Bedouin tent far to the south in Wadi Saabit, or perhaps in the North near the Barragh Canyon.
This means that our family knows the hidden corners of the big area around Wadi Rum better than many others of the Zalabiah tribe. Men from our family have always spent a lot of time on the summits looking for forage for camels or taking goats higher up the mountains in the summer when there is no pasturage below.
Traditionally, Bedouin women and girls look after the animals and are responsible for weaving. Formally, all tents were made by the Bedouin women on a ground loom from very simple material: a stick or two and perhaps some stones to weight it. Women also milk goats and make cheese and yoghurt out of milk. Camel milk is very healthy, but it has no fat, thus, cheese cannot be produced from it.
Men also herd goats (girls usually take the smaller ones which do not wander so far) and hunt.
When we were kids ibex were numerous in Wadi Rum, but now they are protected and men only hunt rabbits and pigeons. This is already showing results, and we are beginning to see them on the traditional mountains, from Jebel Rum, Jebel Khazali and Jebel Um Ishrin. Our grandfather was a great hunter, and when the Zalabiah “went to war” he was always one of their leaders. We ourselves do not hunt nowadays, but we still go up to the jebels, and perhaps we shall be leading camera safaris one of these days – we very much hope so !
Our other grandfather was Hadji Attayak. He rode with Prince Faisal and Lawrence to Aqaba and died when he was over a hundred years old. He was one of the first Bedouins to join the Arab Legion, and was the chief of King Talal’s bodyguards when he retired from the Army.
Many young Bedouin men join the Army; it is traditional and some regiments are composed just of Bedouins. The Jordanian Special Forces are also largely composed of Bedouins, and the royal bodyguards are nearly always entirely from the Bedouin tribes.
When we were kids we were going to the boys’ school in Wadi Rum village and most of the time we slept next to it in bedouin tents. We were going back to our family only during week ends when the camp was far away.
From the beginning, our parents taught us to survive in desert. We learned where to find snakes and scorpions, how to stay away from them and what was to do in case somebody was beaten. We learned how to take care of the animals and how to ride a camel. We learned to differentiate all kinds of plants in the desert and to use them for their medicinal properties. We also know all the wild animals from their tracks, we can recognise them, their size, their speed, and know when and where they were. We can even recognise a particular camel from its tracks… We learned to set up a bedouin tent, to drive a jeep in deep sand, to fix it, to make tea for the guests, to traditionnally welcome them and to cook when our mother and sisters were not there.