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

More than ten women dressed in brightly colored dresses and covered with the Bedouin veil walked toward us.  It is customary for Bedouin women to leave their eyes uncovered, while the tradition of city Arab women is to conceal the entire face.  When these women welcomed us, all their energies flowed out through their dark and vivid eyes.

Our husbands went off with the men to the Sheik’s tent to enjoy tea, while my sisters and I followed the camp women.  The tallest of the women, who was dressed in a brightly colored blue dress covered in gold embroidery was named Faten, and she quickly let us know that she was the favorite of the Sheik’s four wives.   Her eyes flashed with pride as she led us toward her personal tent.

As decreed by the Koran, this Bedouin chief apparently provided each of his wives with her own tent, in the same manner that city Arabs build individual villas or palaces for each wife.

As we were escorted inside, Faten said with a flourish, “As the most favored wife of Sheik Fahd.  I welcome you to my tent.”

As we entered the flapping goat hair door of Faten’s tent, I looked around with undisguised interest.  The interior was dark and stuffy, just as I remembered the Bedouin tents of my childhood.  In the center of the room there was a coffee hearth surrounded by piles of white ashes from previous fires.  Numerous gaudy tints caught my eyes.  Cushions of various orange, blue, and red hues were piled against mattresses, and brightly colored quilts, pots and pans, food items, and folded clothes were heaped up everywhere. 

Everything appeared unclean, and the tent carried the foul aroma of disease.  Saddest of all was the sight of the small children.  The cries of several fussy babies filled the room, and shy, grubby toddlers peeked around from behind their mothers.  I watched sadly as one unhappy little boy, who looked to be four or five years old, used his hands to pull himself along the floor.  When one of the women saw that his pitiful crippled condition drew my attention, she volunteered the information that, when he was only an infant, his mother had accidentally dropped him from a camel. 

I tried to take him in my arms, but in his fear, he began to scream. 

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