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The campsite is also well organised : the goat pen is a little way away from the living quarters, the water tank is about half way between them. There is even a rubbish bag (very rare this!) tied to the tent pole which is close to the pregnant camel who is getting special treatment (if you are interested you can see it better in the first photo in this series). This camel is particularly prized as a "very good mother". Notice also the dog, surveying the goats, and a few chickens scratching around.
Here are some more Bedouin camps among those scattered around Wadi Rum.
Making the tent
This is a Bedouin loom or "shouka". Made of the simplest materials possible it is used for all weaving, from the most complicated to the simplest. You can see a description of the techniques used in the page on the Bani Hamida. In this case the shouka is made of two old toffee tins and a few lengths of wood.
Here Atullah's mother is making a new tent (a Beit sha'ar) which will be some 60 meters long when finished. It will be made in a number of panels which will be stitched together and "lined" with more decorative panels. This particular panel is being woven with undyed goat's wool, which, she informed me, she cut, spun and is now weaving herself. She refused to be photographed while working.
The first photo shows the line of the weaving to be done - it can take two or three women a full day just to string this line. In the second you have a closer look at the weaving - the stick shown is used both for separating the lines of yarn and for beating the completed weave closer to the previous lines. The third gives you an idea of how she works: she sits on the yellow mattress and works - while her husband makes tea and chats to her! You can see at the far end of the shelter from the sun the completed panel. It is about half finished and has taken her some ten days or so to do. I was sorry I hadn't been able to take a photo of the work at the beginning - it must have been very impressive!
I told another Bedouin woman about this work. "Yes", she said. "Sixty meters isn't bad. Mind you, I have done bigger ones...."
Camels and goats
"The gift of God" ("Ata Allah") to the Bedouin, you can see camels wandering almost anywhere in Wadi Rum. There are water points for them, supplied by a regular water tank. They are marked with their owner's name and usually remain in approximately the same territory, but wander within it, moving around slowly but surely.
It is not unusual to see a saddled camel by itself or with a partner or two. These have been turned loose when their owner had no further immediate need for them, and will find their way back to their starting point in a few hours - perhaps as much as a day or so. Tourists are occasionally concerned when the camel they have been riding is chased away with the equivalent of "Shoo!" There is absolutely no need, believe me, a camel can look after itself very well, and it knows its way home. Nobody worries particularly about them, a camel has no natural enemy in Wadi Rum nowadays.
"A wolf might attack a baby camel" I was told. "But even then it will run off quickly when the mother appears. When there were many wolves in Wadi Rum, sometimes they attacked in a group. But you never hear of a pack of wolves nowadays".
Although they do appear to sneer at one, and the noises they make sound very menacing, most camels are docile and even friendly creatures. I agree they do slobber! But the Bedouin seem to consider their camel as an intimate friend, they are proud of them, and will boast about them on the slightest provocation.
Doctoring a camel with a back injury
Incidentally, a ridden camel will normally proceed at about 5/6 kms/hour, its fastest racing speed being perhaps 20kms/hour. Their endurance is astonishing: although a good camel can cover 50 or 60 kms a day for several successive days, over 100kms in 12 hours is not extraordinary. A very good camel can cover 120 or 130kms in 12 hours (see "Attayak Aouda and the camel race"). Some specially bred camels have been known to continue at racing speed (around 20kms an hour) for up to 18 hours. If you calculate the distance this covered, you can see just how valuable they were to the Bedouin and why they earned their name.
Goats can be seen almost everywhere once you get away from the "touristy" part of Wadi Rum. They are not regularly used as a source of meat, "killing a goat" is only for a special occasion. This is not surprising when one considers that a youngish goat will cost over 50JD, and a full grown one closer to 100JD.
During the daytime, they wander a fair distance around the camp, often several kilometers away from it. Traditionally it is the girls and the younger boys who look after them during day, and the very young children look after the baby goats who do not go so far. In the photos below the Hadji's grandchildren have spent their day off from school in the desert, with a freedom away from adult supervision. This is a very good way for the children to "learn the desert", and I was very pleased to see them doing it. You can see the goats being herded back to the tent for the night. The youngest of the boys is riding the donkey; the bulging saddle bags contain what is left from the food and water they took with them for the day. One of the dogs always goes with them.
Back in the camp, their grandfather is waiting for them, and watches carefully as the goats are chased into the pens for the night. Habis, on the donkey, is taking his time; the sooner he is back, the sooner they will give him another job to do!
While the women will go out with the goats when necessary, they are also occupied at milking them, and at making butter, cheese and yoghurt. These are very good, don't miss a chance of tasting any of them if you are offered any!
If you are very lucky you might be offered camel milk to drink. This is considered a very great delicacy and very healthy indeed. Very few non-Bedouins have ever tasted this, even in Jordan. It might seem thin to you at first, the fat content must be practically nil. I have developed a taste for it, and the family always offers me some. But cheese or butter cannot be obtained from the milk of a camel.
Here Habis' grandmother is making cheese from goats' milk. It is boiled down and the resulting paste is rolled into balls. Then it is rolled in flour, and left to dry in the air.
It becomes almost as hard as a stone, and indeed is usually broken with a hammer or another stone. It will keep indefinitely before being used, either soaked in water to soften it, or sucked as it is.
Here, on the other hand, is the real thing!
This is a
photo of one of the herdsmen with the goats, with his face
enlarged in the second photo
There are no springs in the southern part of Wadi Rum where most of the animals are to be seen. A number of "dams" have been constructed in the hollows of the rocks to collect the rainfall. Many of these reservoirs contain a surprising quantity of water in the spring, and remain in regular use.
A simple dam about a meter and a half high. Inside the retaining wall the level of the bottom is at least three meters below the surface outside. This space runs back for a considerable distance, and is separated into two different reservoirs, an inner and an outer one. In other words, much of the water is protected from the heat and the inevitable evaporation. Footholds have been built into the wall to facilitate entry and access to the interior reservoir.
These dams are next to each other. While the first one is nothing unusual, notice the possibility of fencing off the second one and the stones cemented in place to catch a maximum of the rain running down the rock on the right.
©Ruth Caswell 2002