Swirling Sands       page 1            go to page  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8

The following days were most pleasant for the whole family.  Our men mounted their camels and hunted desert wildlife while our children played endless games with their cousins.  The women enjoyed long walks around the camp, admiring the scenic vistas and sharing many happy memories of our childhood. 

Three days into our trip, our husbands suggested that we visit the camp of the Bedouin tribe whose men had so startled us on our first day.  We women were eager to go, for every city Arab remains forever curious about the Bedouin. 

All the women except Dunia, that is.

Dunia flatly refused the invitation, claiming that her frail temperament simply could not survive such a shock as visiting a dirty Bedouin camp, so she stayed behind with our female servants and the children.   

People unfamiliar with Arabia believe all Arabs are Bedouin; actually, city Arabs and desert Bedouin Arabs have rarely co-existed peacefully, and even today, a pervasive and continuing conflict exists between them.  City Arabs mock the Bedouin as simple-minded fools while Bedouins revile city Arabs as amoral sinners.  In the not too distant past, the “wild Bedu” would stuff their nostrils with cloth when it was necessary for them to come into the city, to avoid being polluted by the odor of city Arabs.

Still, Bedouins do always extend warm reception to visitors to their camps, even though this hospitality is often short-lived. 

I had been in several Bedouin camps during my youth, and now I was interested to discover if the years in between had brought any improvement to their grim lives.  I recalled that the Bedouin I had seen had been packed into tents filled with their own garbage. 

The life of the Bedouin begins with a high risk of infant mortality.  Those children who survive infancy run barefoot, unschooled and unwashed through the camps.  And, the women!  I could scarcely think of them without an involuntary wince.  Certainly, in every class of Saudi Arabia life, women are looked down upon as naturally and irrevocably inferior to men, but life for Bedouin women is worse by any measure, for they do not have the necessary wealth to relieve their harsh lives.  Bedouin women are terribly burdened by hard physical labor.  Besides waiting on their husbands, and taking care of many children, their nomadic responsibilities even include the setting up and dismantling of camp! 

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