Who are the Bedouin people? They are known as a small population of nomadic Arabs who have been wanderers of the desert. They stick with their tribal traditions, are strict Muslims who have traditionally roamed the desert. In modern times, they tend to stay within two locations through the year, dependent on weather. They are known to be land rich from heritance in Jordan and Israel, though most are not highly educated. A saying goes “a Bedouin man says if he kills a goat, he will feed his family for 3 days. But if he milks the goat, he will feed his family for a year.” So they are known to eat bread and cheese, and whatever they can scrounge up. On special occasions, certain rites of passage, they will sacrifice an animal. In Israel and other parts of the middle east, there is a popular marketing trend for Bedouin experience in Israel, most common activities are riding camels, having lunch made in the desert and camping.
Our Bedouin Experience in Israel
I have been looking forward to riding camels for a very long time! Visions of me rockily riding through the desert with a tribal man leading it, occasionally stopping for a sip of water out of my tin can. So Tuesday morning, after a modern night life in Tel Aviv, we hopped on a bus to the Negev Desert. It was first a hour and a half ride to Beer Sheva. Then south to Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev Desert. The bus driver was not aware of “Beerot Camping“, where we were headed to, so he dropped us off at the city center of Beer Sheva around 5:30pm.
Hitchiking in the Negev Desert
The sun was setting, the air windy and people were going home from work. The town was on the verge of going completely quiet. We asked a lotto kiosk about how to get to the Beerot camp site. The husband didn’t know much English, but luckily a local man walking his dog came by and helped. He said that this campsite was 15km away and there were no taxis or busses to take us. And that we had to hitchhike (like no big deal). The idea sounded terrifying to us since we hadn’t done it before.
We freaked out a bit, unsure what to do. After some worrying, the stranger decided to calm us down and help. He asked an old couple who were buying their daily lotto ticket if they could give us a lift. They seemed to be well respected and known in the community (it’s a small town). They made a call to a local hotel manager of “Hotel Ramon” and that man, David, by coincidence was headed to our camp site to drop stuff off as he use to manages that site. We felt much safer and the old couple dropped us off with him. There at the hotel we met a young, beautiful African woman who spoke English in an American accent. We started conversating and she said that her parents were from Alabama but she was born in Israel and have lived here since. Interesting!
Finally David allowed us in his rugged pickup truck. He drove us through the windy mountain roads and 5km into the desert road of this camp site. First off, there were no camels at this site. Boo. Secondly, it was almost empty, with 4 Bedouin male workers in t-shirts. The only guests there were an Israeli family with their young toddler offsprings and another 2 guys from Tel Aviv just camping for the night. The sun had just about set by now and we knew there were no way out of the place that evening. Since we didn’t prepare tents, the Bedouin worker, Soleiman, gave us an area slightly walled off by fabric, and a few mattresses to sleep on.
For once in my life, I started to believe that one could die from boredom. Moments later, my travel buddy and BFF, Marissa, and I agreed this was a test and that we’d have to make the most of it, as we always had in the past. We ordered a hookah, a few dark lager Israeli beers and attempted to play backgammon in the main living area. Too bad we didn’t know how to play backgammon so we just stared blankly at it. Soleiman, our main Bedouin host, began to ask us questions and hung out with us. The Bedouins are known to be ingreditably hospitable, gracious people. Another saying displaying their hospitality goes:
“A man kills a Bedouin’s brother.
He will kill the man in revenge.
But if the murdere comes in his tent,
He will offer him tea because he is in his home.
Then kill him outside.“
Go with your Gut Instinct when Traveling
Soleiman was certainly very hospitable. Checking in every 20 minutes to check if we needed more food, tea, blankets, beer, etc. Marissa and I started to wonder if he was creepy & sleazy. Or if that inkling we had was just lost in translation because of language barrier. Until about midnight, we leaned towards the belief that he was not sleazy and just curious of tourists. He served us dinner at 8pm consisted of flat bread, hummus, tahini, spiced eggplants, chopped cucumber/tomatoes and more yogurt. He was bbq’ing chicken with the other Bedouin males. After seeing us eye the meat for some time, finally offered us some. Hours went by, a few more beers consumed just to pass time and hopefully help us sleep earlier.
Around midnight, the camp site went completely silent with the other guests asleep. Soleiman came to sit with us and asked us more questions about our lives back in America. It’s a very common thing when traveling. He had asked us a few times if we were married, which is a standard question. Then he wanted to go through our travel photos, which we thought, why not. Eventually we started to get tired and had the impression that he was either still up waiting for us to sleep, since he was the only one working, or that he was really creepy/lonely. He started to sit closer to us, which I had been adamant the whole time of having my bag and blankets by me so he couldn’t get too close. Eventually we insisted aggressively he could go sleep and not wait up for us. He asked a few times where we were sleeping which made him creepier. I got up to our mattress tent area to take off my contacts and get ready for bed, which was about 100 ft away.
If your Inkling says a Man is Creepy, He Probably Is
When I came back, Marissa had a frightened, disgusted look on her face. She pointed to the next couch over from where we were sitting. We had been sitting in the common area of the campsite with low tables and cushions for smoking hookah. And there, laying under his blankets, eyes closed, Soleiman seemed to be lightly touching himself under the blankets. GOODNESS FUCKING GRACIOUS! That couch was within 10 feet from where we had been sitting! I highly doubt that couch was his bed and he had no reason to be there but to disturb us. We were about to scream, but instead kept our composure and packed up our stuff to head to our sleeping area.
It took about 3 minutes to gather all our sleeping gear quickly. But by then, he was full on masterbating on the couch! We were really confused and frightened by now. It’s 1am, what do we do? Where do we sleep? Because the sleeping area he assigned to us was strategically on the other side of the living area, farther from the camping area the other guests were at. We remembered briefly meeting the 2 Israeli guys from Tel Aviv who had invited us to bbq with them earlier. We were hoping the dear lord (in whatever religion or name) that they were still up. We went over to their camp ground and thankfully one of them was still up! He had a fire going and was wasted out of his mind. But still coherent enough to understand our situation and talk to us. He shared his Arak (anise liquor similar to Ouzoo or Raki) with us and we relaxed under the stars. We stared at the fire, throwing in whatever wood we could find.
When we told the guy what happened, he laughed and said “what do you expect, he’s in the desert all day!”
Sleeping with One Eye Open in the Bedouin Camp
By 3am, he went to his tent to sleep. Marissa and I just slept on some wide rocks. With our heavy blankets and one eye open throughout the night, we couldn’t wait to get the f out of there. I have to say that even with the nasty incident that happened, I looked out to the shining bright stars and appreciated the wilderness. Its rare to be able to enjoy the stars unless you’re out in the desert.
Hitchiking Again. This Time Out of the Bedouin Camp
In the morning, Soleiman approached us as if nothing happened. He offered breakfast and tea. He tried to hand us some bread they had just made and I almost vomitted in his face wondering if he even washed his hands after last night. Dror (Shohams cousin) had agreed to pick us up from our camp around noon, but we weren’t sure when exactly since our phone connection wasn’t working. We needed to figure out how to leave the camp site as just the distance to the main road was at least 2-3 miles. The other 2 parties who had been camping had left, and in came a bus and 2 jeeps of about 30 disabled people. It was their organized field trip day. I’m not sure what organization it was, but certainly a lovely Jewish one. They came and had lunch the same area we were last night.
After lunch, they all started to gather and leave, I guess their Bedouin experience was just lunch and no camping! So we asked a long-haired hippie man who looked like the one in charge if he or the bus could take us into the city. He turned out to be the manager of the desert and said he would ask the bus driver. For whatever reason, the bus driver was being an ass and didn’t want to let us on. He said it was full. And the manager didn’t offer us on the jeep. Marissa said either way, we needed to get out of there because once they leave, we’d be left alone with Soleiman. I knew that also.
Thinking Quick on our Feet (Literally)
With desperation, a lightbulb came on in my head. I told Marissa to hurrily gather ours stuff and to start walking out of the desert. We needed to start walking with our heavy huge backpacks out to the desert road to gain attention and pity from those driving by us. We would strategically manipulate and guilt them into taking us in their cars, How could they let 2 young females walk painfully out of the desert like that!?
We began slowly walking. Within minutes later, the manager who initially declined to take us drove by us in his bus and told us to get in. We crammed into the back of this minibus with 6 down-syndrome looking, middle aged people. At this point, driving away from the Bedouin camp, we knew our nightmare all behind us. We could finally laugh about it. Smile that we came out alive and safe. In addition to our crazy bedouin experience, that we are in a desert in Israel, in the middle of a desert no where, in a car with friendly people who barely spoke the language, getting driven into that small town called Beer Sheva that tourists rarely see. These are moments in traveling that we remember forever. It’s not that we went to some forbidden land and were LUCKY to come out alive. Other families and Israeli soldiers clearly go there too. But we had to learn as female travelers, the type of potential danger, or annoyance that we have to face.
Needless to say, I don’t regret going. My curiousity took me there and it didn’t kill the cat (or me).
When we were finally dropped off at the city center where we first were the evening before, I thought I’d report to the desert manager about our incident. I kind of expected him to be outraged and promised to teach the man a lesson. Instead, he barely flinched, a reaction we would later experience with another dozen conversations we had with Israelis regarding this tory. I quote him “What do you expect? He’s a Bedouin. He’s Muslim. He sees an inch of a woman (and points to the tip of his finger) and he goes crazy.” We were so shocked he said that! He was Israeli and making a racist joke, but oh well. This would we one of many racist comments we would hear from Israelis against Arabs and Muslims thorughout our trip.
We had another hour and half before Dror would finally pick us up since he was coming from Jerusalem and had an overnight work shift. Marissa and I shopped in the supermarket and bought some fruits and cheese for lunch, sat outside on the benches to eat.
Everywhere in Israel you go, you see young soldiers. They are community leaders. We saw a group by us, and on the other table, a lone soldier. We befriended him, name was Daniel, and apparently is Jewish, grew up in South Africa but decided to move to Israel 2 years ago and serve the army. We chatted with him until his lunch break was gone, and gave us much insight into life in the Israeli army, politics, culture and everything witty in between and out. It was cool talking to someone who was not born there but now living there for his perspective.
We told the story to a few other local Israelis and their responses all similar. I think it has a big part to do with their Jew vs Islam war and so it wasn’t surprising to them. Of course I know most muslim men are not like that, especially because I have muslim friends and have read a part of the Quran. I know they are a peaceful religion and would never promote what Soleiman did. I also know that the Bedouin people are not like this for the most part and that our incident was something rare that happened to happen to us. What the locals do say though is that they are mostly uneducated, and wanderers, their view of life way different from ours.
Either way, that’s another travel experience. Life experience to learn and look back to laugh upon. Another adventure I say “at least I came out alive and safe. Next!!” Off more south to Eilat we go!