Staying as a Bedouin houseguest in Wadi Rum, Jordan let me glimpse everyday life in the village from a perspective perhaps not seen by many travellers.
As nomads the Bedouin traditionally lived in tents in the desert. They made a living raising goats and camels. Today when you travel into the desert in the south of Jordan many of the tents you see will be semi-permanant tourist camps. The majority of the Bedouin in this region live in the village of Wadi Rum, and many of them make their living not from raising livestock, but from eco-adventure tourism. Village life provides electricity, school for boys and girls, haphazard internet and many changes to life for the local population.
Tips for Travellers in Wadi Rum, Jordan
If you arrive in Wadi Rum at night do expect to be blown away by the views that greet you in the morning as you stand in your doorway rubbing sleep from your eyes.
Do expect to drink a lot of tea, if you do not drink tea you should probably take up smoking.
Aside from when you are drinking tea you should use water sparingly.
Everybody smokes everywhere.
Do expect people to be extremely generous.
Do not expect to be given cutlery at meal times, food is taken from communal bowls with torn flat bread, you should eat from the side of the bowl closest to you.
Do expect to have regular naps, especially in the heat of the afternoon.
Strange noises in the night may well be a crazed camel, a rooster, a call to prayer, your hosts praying, goats or mosquito’s.
Men do not do very much for themselves, although when away from the females in their family they can make tea and cook quite competently.
Eating, socialising and sleeping will very likely take place in the same room. If you are visiting in Summer hopefully this will be the one room in the home with air conditioning. Depending on the size of the family several generations of the same family will likely use the same room.
Sitting on the floor or on mattresses on the floor is the only option. There is little other furniture in a Bedouin home.
In Wadi Rum you can be confident that the price you are given is the true price. If you have just arrived from Egypt this may come as a surprise, and I am told that the only shop likely to try for a higher price is the one run by an Egyptian.
Tips for female travellers visiting the Bedoiun in Wadi Rum
The best way to be a good houseguest when staying with a Bedouin family is to be a woman. A male houseguest from outside the family is unlikely and the wife would have no association with him. Thus making every ones life rather difficult. A female houseguest (such as myself) is free to spend time with the wife anywhere within her home, and may spend a limited amount of time with the husband and his male associates.
When in a mans company the less he speaks to you the more polite and respectful he is being. The female guest should be somewhat wary of the tone of interactions with friends and cousins – if it feels as if there are inappropriate attentions from male visitors there probably are. A very chatty man is flirting. Unless you want to encourage the flirting it is best to remain relatively mute.
Tips on clothing for travellers in Wadi Rum
As with the rest of the Middle East Jordan is hot. Wear light weight clothing which covers your sholders, arms and legs.
As a guest you should dress conservatively, and never appear outside of your own room unless fully dressed. This is respectful to both your male and female hosts.
When hanging out your laundry be sure to cover any ‘smalls’ with a sarong. Exposure of ones underwear is most unseemly.