I Was a Bedouin For A Day

by MaryLou Driedger, Jun 13, 2009 | Destinations: Israel
Camel riding at a Bedouin camp in the Negev Desert

Camel riding at a Bedouin camp in the Negev Desert

Camel riding at a Bedouin camp in the Negev Desert
The tent where I spent the night
Sunrise on the Negev


I was a Bedouin for a day. There are nearly 155,000 Bedouins in Israel’s Negev Desert. Recently I got to visit a Bedouin camp to learn about their life.

          My first Bedouin adventure was camel trekking. The most exciting thing about the journey was the camel getting up and sitting back down again. For a moment you are sure you will be flung from your seat. Unbeknownst to me one of my traveling companions took a series of photos of my facial expressions as my camel stood up. I look thrilled and terrified at the same time.  I don’t think I’d like having a camel as my main source of transportation. My tailbone is still providing me with a gentle reminder of my camel riding adventure two weeks later.

       We spent time with a Bedouin leader- actually an accomplished lute player who is working on a PHD in musicology- and he told us the sad story of the Bedouin. It is very similar to what has happened to the First Nations people in Canada. The Bedouins used to roam the Negev Desert and make a good living as sheep, goat and camel herders. Now the Israeli government has relegated them to seven official towns in the northeast corner of the Negev Desert.  Here there a few jobs so seven out of ten Bedouin have become unemployed. With nothing to do all day, crime and drug use have become problems in Bedouin settlements. Some Bedouin males have found jobs working for Israeli settlers who’ve established large farms on former Bedouin land, but this means the men are away from their families. This has not been good for family stability. Many Bedouins live on welfare. There are schools in the government-established towns which means Bedouin literacy is improving but also means their language is being lost as their children are taught in Hebrew. The tourist camp where we stayed is a way for some Bedouins to make a living and tell others about their culture and history that stretches back 7000 years.

       We watched a man demonstrate how the traditional Bedouins made bread over an open fire. We listened to Bedouin music, tried some desert dancing and heard stories about brave Bedouin soldiers who have served in the Israeli army. We sat on cushions around low tables in a tent and were served a delicious Bedouin meal-pita-style bread to dip in different sauces, cheese, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and chicken and lamb on skewers.

            As it got dark the stars came out.  Out in the middle of the Negev desert the night sky is a crowded twinkling panorama. It was hard for me to fall asleep in my Bedouin tent with the flaps open to let in the breeze I could hear the wild dogs howling out in the desert. The camp donkeys added their obnoxious braying at various times during the night. It was an interesting lullaby. 

             I got up early and left the tent when the moon was still out. The only other people awake were the camp guards who patrolled the perimeter with their large guns.  It wasn’t long before the sun began to rise. As I watched the bare brown desert slowly flood with orange and golden light I could certainly see the beauty in the Bedouin way of life.