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Shirak, Chai, and Storytelling

September 30, 2013

The fourth post is a series on the Bir Madkhur Project

Abu playing the Rehab

Abu playing the Rehab

I pull out my dry pita bread for my 9:30 AM breakfast, while the Bedouin bring shirak, tasty unleavened bread baked over a fire.  I am thinking what do I need to do to get some of that yummy stuff?   I try to not stare like a child and while remaining nonchalant.  But I come to realize that I did not need to do anything, the Bedouin will share some of whatever they brought for breakfast.  The Bedouin always offered some of what little they had and declined anything offered in return.  Generosity in all forms, including sharing, listening, solving problems for others is considered honorable in their culture.   Being an honorable member within the tribe is part of the Bedouin ethic that binds and maintains the tribe.  As Westerners, you have to be careful what you might ask for, like the shirt off a Bedouin’s back, because they may give it to you.

Shirak on my knee

Shirak on my knee

Abu, the site guard for the caravan station, shared strong Chai, or Bedouin tea in shot glasses by a fire, while telling Andrew and I the news of the desert.  We generally had little idea what he was saying in Arabic, so Abu used his entire body to convey a story.  For one story, Abu pulled out his rifle and moved like a wolf to describe his effort to scare off a predator that had come by during the previous night.   He showed us the giant Scorpion he was drying over the fire and described how he planned to create medicine for his children by rubbing the dried scorpion remains on the mother’s breast.   When we gathered, he sang and played the Rehab, a Bedouin string instrument.  Abu’s generous spirit made me forget that he had little money, but I could see that he had value, respect and honor from me as well as from our team and the other Bedouin 

Abu showing us the dried scorpian

Abu showing us the dried scorpian

The Bedouin or Bedo meaning “desert dwellers” make up a little over a third of the population of Jordan.   They are referred to as the backbone of the Jordanian Kingdom since the Bedouin clans traditionally support the monarchy.  Traditional Bedouin still exist in Wadi Araba.  They camp in one spot for a few months at a time, grazing their herds of goats, until the fodder found in the area is exhausted.   Then they move their tents to a better location.  Increasingly, the Bedouin have moved into the city or live in village houses, pitching their tents in the backyard while maintaining goats and chickens. 

Too see more images from the Bir Madkhur Project go to

Abu putting away his bed at sunrise in the desert

Abu putting away his bed at sunrise in the desert

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 22, 2013 12:06 am

    Interesting blog. I look forward to reading more.

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