BR-1138: Desert, Camels and Polygamy

A Chronicle of touring Israel with a Taglit-Birthright group: The first Evening

Leaving the Dead Sea resort we made our way south along the shore eventually leaving the Dead Sea and the Judas desert behind and going into the Negev desert.

It was late afternoon when we arrived at our destination, a tourist camp styled after the Beduim (Desert nomadic dwellers) tent camps. We were instructed to quickly gather the cloths and other personal belongings we would need for the night stay and place them in our group’s designated tent. Following that we were led through the camp, to the place where we were to embark on a short camel riding trip.

The sight of the camels themselves yielded much excitement among our group members. While we waited for the second tourist group to get back from their trip (As it turns out, we would be spending the night in the camp in the company of a few other Birthright groups), a rather chubby but nice looking woman gathered us around and gave us instructions for the camel ride in heavily accented English (You ride in pairs, you both need to embark the camel simultaneously as it stands as soon as it feels the weight on its back, if you’re walking on the ground you need to keep at least ten meters between you and the camels as they can kick).

When the other group arrived and disembarked the camels, we noticed to our dread that some of the guys were walking funny, this was followed by them giving us guys stern warning to be careful about how we sit atop the camel as this is a bumpy ride…

Since we were a rather large group, we were split into two groups with one group splitting into pairs and embarking the camels and the other following the caravan on foot taking pictures and shouting calls of encouragement.

We walked a short distance into the desert, about two hundred meters or so, and then the Beduim caravan leaders turned it around and it was our turn to ride (I was with the group that stayed on the ground). I had the pleasure of sharing my camel with Karen.

Once the initial excitement of being atop a moving camel receded a little, I turned my gaze towards the dessert and noticed the sun was coming down and saturating the desert with majestic shades of yellow. Following that, we engaged in short conversation with one of the Beduim caravan guides who tried to explain my American friends, with his severely limited English, that they don’t actually name any of the camels.

Following our camel ride we were led into the main guests` tent where we were met by the camp’s Baduim chief which gave us an interesting lecture about ancient as well as modern Beduim customs. Following are some aspects of his lecture I found particularly interesting:

  • The Beduim tribe elder plays certain rhythms using his coffee mixing pot, the rhythm is unique to each tribe and is a means by which travellers can recognise the tribs` camp form afar. Our host actually demonstrated playing his rhythm.
  • When a guest comes into a Beduim camp the elder would host him for up to three days without imposing on him or asking any questions.
  • The Beduim elder will serve his guests coffee in half-filled cups, a full cup is a sign for the guest that he had angered his host and should leave immediately without question.
  • The Beduim are Muslim and therefore are entitled, according to their religion, to marry up to four wives, they tend, up to this day, to marry two wives on average. Since the law in Israel forbids polygamy, when concerned with the authorities, the Beduim declare they are only married to one wife and declare the second as a house maid. This aspect of the lecture seemed to be particularly interesting for the American members of our groups and prompted many questions from Ariel and other group members, regarding the nature of being married to more then one wife as well and the nature of the relationships between the wives themselves…
  • Our host also took the time to demonstrate playing a certain string instrument which name I fail to remember.

During our talk with the tribe elder, we were served some bitter Beduim coffee as well as some very sweet tea and some very good cookies.

After the lecture we were given some time to get organised in our group tent,  and clean up for dinner. Dinner was served in the big main tent, we split into groups of six to eight people and each group was served with a large tray containing some rice and meatballs as well as a whole fried chicken filled with rice. Follwing a long and eventful day, I was hungry and thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

…to be continued…

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