Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Bedouin Experience

Safaga, Egypt

“Did you know you would be driving through the desert in a 4 x 4,” Moiya asked me when I got back from today’s trip.  I went back to the Shore Excursions Booking From to see exactly what I did know about today’s trip: “a paved road ... veering off into the desert ... aromatic tea ... women making flat bread on an open fire .. ride a camel and sway with its motion”.

All of that was true and more.  David is still my hahbebe, and I told Moiya she will have to inspect his knees tonight, for I sat across from him, face to face, grabbing onto his knees until I began to wonder if he will have to have a knee operation when he gets back from this trip.  The desert road gave me flash backs to those double rutted prairie roads I can remember in the 1940’s, but so long ago that I can only barely remember.  The motion was left to right, intermittently being thrown upward into the air and then down again for the 25 km into the camp.  Only David would inspect the vehicle when he got there.  He whispered to me on the way back, “The passenger side front tire is bald and this vehicle is built with no shocks to give it a longer life.” 

Thank goodness for yesterday’s practise of looking carefully at the desert.  Today I could see the shapes of the sand dunes, the craggy peaks of the mountains, the variation in colour on them as they sat in silhouette in front of us.  The driver gave extra thrills, going up and over hills that weren’t quite on the road, so roller-coaster like we would climb up to the top, not knowing how the descent would be until we crossed the apex and began the downward slide.

Of everything in the village, I would be watching the women and the children.  Three women sat cross-legged, rolling the dough, lifting it onto the fire the heat of which they kept carefully controlled.  I slipped back later to give them some money.  That is when I saw the tip dish, so I knew others had been giving them money.  But it was untouched in the dish and they kept rolling and frying the bread, long after we were gone. I also gave some money to the young child who lead the camel on which I swayed down a few blocks and back – somewhat like the pony rides kids get to take in a big park during the summer.  David told me that he saw the little girl take the money and give it directly to the man who was the head camel driver, and for whom the women and children were working to give the tourists their promised ride.

Two camels were sitting on the ground in front of me.  I could see that I was not going to get my leg up over the saddle of the first, so I choose a smaller camel, not really springing on, but settling into the saddle well enough that I knew the ride was a go for me.  There was no rider for the second camel.  The girl kept his leg folded, and tied a rope around it so that he couldn’t get up while I took my single ride.

There were no lessons on how to get off the camel, though I probably could have got instructions off of the internet, beforehand, if I had thought about it.  But a camel ride was not in my plans.  When the camel goes down on its knees, that is when you rock forward, and the camel driver must have seen enough tourists fall forward and right off at this point, that he has learned to be there, ready to steady you.  Steadied, you then rock way back while the camel gets those other two legs down.  He had motioned that I was to hold on tight to the horn of the saddle, which I was doing.  The horn is wooden and split, so it opened and then closed, taking a small nick out of my fourth finger – just enough blood running that I knew the pain was real.  Good souvenir, I thought.

I was suspicious of the tent where the weaving was done.  If I have enough internet time, I will post a picture of it to go along with this post. Sufficient to say, it runs far back in the tent, maybe four banquet tables long.  A man was demonstrating the weaving method, but his fingers weren’t as deft as the fingers of some of the women I have seen weaving along the way.  And I am carrying with me the information from all of those lectures I used to go to at the university, the ones given to supplement the Lloyd Erickson Prayer Rug Collection that is house at the University of Calgary.  I was looking for the desert dyes, the carding, spinning the wool into yard, and many more looms than I could see.  The products they were selling were original scarves woven in their village. I have seen those same designs on the streets of London and Rome.  Two shoulder bags and one wall hanging that I thought were authentic to the village were visible, but there just wasn’t enough evidence that this tribe are really weavers, so I took my camera out for my free time and roam around the desert houses.  I loved seeing the goat skins drying on pieces of wood, or the pigeon roost which looks like a child’s medieval fort.  There are lots of sticks jutting out for the pigeons to sit on,  food for the pigeons to eat, and I think their finally destination is a good village roast.

I saw one American female tourist pull a large bag of candy out of her purse and give it to one of the mothers of the village.  That tourist is the one I had also seen practising useful Egyptian words and phrases. 

I am doing a lot of practising as well.  Trying to remember the Kom El-Shuqafa Monuments (Alexandria) or the wonder of being physically in Imhotep & Saqqara.  When I have a moment at a meal, I practise writing the names of places I have been or am going to. 

The food is not a surprise to me.  I have practised eating ethnic food for many years, since I never had the idea that I would really ever be in these places.  Harira soup, Kofta, Kebobs, couscous, tahina – all of it sounds mouth watering to me.

As well, I am relying on the Bible stories I heard first at my mother’s knee.  Yesterday I woke Moiya to tell her I thought we had just passed the bull rushes where the daughter of the Pharaoh found Moses.  This morning, I was wondering which side of the Red Sea Moses he was standing on when he parted the waters.  When I see how precious water is here, I think that the miracle of Moses hitting the stone and the miracle of having water run out of it is even grander than words can tell.

When I was leaving for this trip, I asked Ina what she wanted me to bring her.  She said a stone, but not one that I would buy.  One that I pick up along my way.  So today I did this.  Ina, you get a stone I picked up high on the hill where I was checking out the pigeon roost of a Bedouin Village.  In retrospect, I should have picked up a bigger one.  


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