In the vast and endless desert of southern Jordan, tucked away under the monoliths of sandstone and granite, there lies a village full of life and rich in culture.
Wadi Rum Village is inhabited by Bedouins of the Zalabia tribe and number around a thousand. Though Bedouins are renowned for their nomadic lifestyle, many in Wadi Rum have migrated to the small community since its creation in the 1960s.
The area is quickly becoming widely recognised as a centre for eco-adventure tourism. The day is occupied with rock climbing, hiking, jeep safaris and camel tours, while at night tourists are given the opportunity to experience the genuine and traditional Bedouin lifestyle in the desert. This entails gazing at the vivid Milky Way and its brilliant meteor showers, eating mansaf or maglubeh and drinking sweetened black tea in abundance, clapping along to the husky vocals and intricate oud picking that marks a Bedouin song, and soaking in the warmth of the flickering fire.
Such nights proved to be my favourite part about staying in Wadi Rum for one month. I lived without money, volunteering for Salem, an experienced local guide with a big heart. My work, if you can even call it that, involved maintaining the desert camp and assisting the tourists in any way I could.
Construction techniques were for the most part sustainable, utilising local materials such as chunks of rock for walls and firepits. Tents were created from woven goat, sheep or camel wool and were extremely versatile so to accommodate the changes in wind and sun. In contrast, the village was built-up with concrete homes for a sense of permanency.
Many people kept camels, donkeys or goats as either a source of income or to assist with daily tasks. Flocks of goats could often be seen foraging in the desert with an elderly shepherd bringing up the rear.
The tribe itself is well-knit, with everybody knowing the names, faces and happenings of the rest. Walking down the street it is easy to perceive the sense of community that prevails. I often played football with the young men and children alike, each of us pretending that we were Ronaldo or Messi as we weaved through thobe-covered legs. I found it incredible that the simple feat of leaving the house had me instantly greeted with smiling faces and genuine interest in my day’s activities and personal well-being.
The hospitality of Salem, his wife, children, brothers and cousins was also to be admired. I was part of the family from the moment I stepped foot in Wadi Rum and that will never change. We had great evenings huddled around the fire drinking tea, telling stories and discussing interesting topics.
Their faith in Islam was one of these. I learned a tremendous deal about their religion and how it is ingrained into their culture. I was regularly informed that their faith required them to be kind and generous, to love thy neighbour like they would themselves, and to treat animals with respect. And that is exactly what I witnessed.
From their selfless welcoming of strangers into their homes to the happiness and kinship that permeates their lives, we can surely all learn something from the Bedouins.
Having travelled alone for the better part of two years, when I found a home in Wadi Rum, I was a nomad no more.