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Bedouin weddings and desert sunsets

10.06.2001, Wadi Rum: Jordan

Desert hospitality

The drive up to Wadi Rum from Aquaba is spectacular. There are huge, towering, pink mountains on either side. The arid desert seems to only support tufty scrub to the untrained eye.  Camels greet you at the town’s entrance with their lazy eyes and ornate saddles.

At the café, I met my new ‘best friend’ Aodeh. After enquiring after my marital status he arranged my entire stay in Wadi Rum. Visit the town spring with me, join my desert tour, stay in a desert tent, sleep under the stars, watch a sunset, come to my cousin’s wedding, watch a camel race…there’s a 3 day party in Wadi Rum!  Does Aodeh have an ulterior motive?  Should I be suspicious?

Wadi Rum is special for many reasons, but I will tell you of two – the Bedouin people I met at a wedding, and the sunsets. Bedouin weddings are different. Very different to ours. The men and the women are separated; there’s no drinking; no party dresses; no table settings or seating plans; you eat with your hand from a shared platter on the ground; and the guests take the leftovers home. The more sheep you slaughter, the better wishes for the marriage.

I was ushered into the ladies part of the celebration. Aodeh introduced me to his sisters and then rather quickly scarpered (no boys allowed!) and I was on my own.  Everyone welcomed me – despite my bare head and lack of language. (This was my first day in an Arabic speaking country!) I danced with the teenagers to Arabic pop songs from the tinnie trannie in the corner. The girls clapped and practiced looking coy. I taught them the “under the bambushes” song and clapping game which was a hit! The older women gossiped, their traditional tattooed chins both surprising and reminding me of the mokos the Maori women have at home.

Dinner was served on the largest round platters I have ever seen. About 10 women surrounded a heaped plate of mutton and rice and squatted on the ground. With our right hand only we all scooped the greasy and slippery concoction into our mouths. It was well flavoured with spices, super tender and rather delicious. But damn, it was hard to eat! I watched the ladies’ technique and succeeded in spilling far more and feeling decidedly gauche. Then suddenly the platters were picked up (still heaped) and divided into containers for the visitors to take home with them, thus extending the hospitality of the wedding.

After dark the wedding joined parties, the women veiled all in black, kohl eyes shining brightly. We sat in a large black tent made of goats’ hair, expectant and excited. The clapping, singing and dancing began. Whole songs are clapped and the women make a high-pitched yodelling type sound from deep within their throats. The men respond by linking arms and clapping, making equally unusual guttural sounds accompanied by rocking and pelvic movements. Dancing women twirl temptingly in front of the line of men. The turn-taking continues through the night.

Aodeh sheltering from the heat under the Rose Bridge

Wadi Rum sunsets are gorgeous.  Silence pervades, the wind has died, even the birds and insects quieten out of respect for the sunset.  The rocks and crannies that capture the final rays turn pink, as if they are blushing. The glow moves across the desert valley, chased by the shadow. The mountains tinge blue before it’s the sky’s turn to blush with hues of pink, turquoise and blue. The temperature plummets. Millions of stars come out. The turn-taking continues through the ages.

I’m glad I trusted instead of being suspicious.