No matter where I travel, I find the beauty of the lands I explore rivalled by the inherent beauty of the people that inhabit them. In my mind there is no greater example of that phenomenon than my time in Jordan this summer.
From the Arabic word for desert, badiyah, comes the name for the desert’s people — Bedouin. The Bedouin are the nomadic people of the Arabian and Syrian deserts who, for ages, have herded their flocks across countless sandy miles. While most Bedouin have urbanized and settled down across the Middle East and North Africa, their nomadic lifestyle continues in their culture and traditions.
I saw the intense heat of the sun baked desert emanating from the fiery spirits of the Bedouin in their passionate opinions on topics from politics and religion to the shoes I was wearing, which were completely inappropriate for desert shenanigans. In the same riveting scene, the flowing strata of their sandstone cliffs were reflected in the diverse layers that make up who they are and where they have come from. As a wise, old Jordanian man told me, “Bedouin is not a race; it is a way of life.”
Hawaii, my home, is known for it’s warm and hospitable atmosphere. However, I have never known such unreserved warmth and hospitality as among the people of the Middle East and particularly the tribal Bedouins in outlying areas. Their one agenda in encountering a wayfarer is to provide her with the very best treatment within their power and establish her as a guest of honor.
While their customs and opinions on hospitality may differ from Western ideals, there was no lack in my appreciation for the candidness of their hearts. I began to understand what it meant for them to offer me an extravagant meal even when it is far beyond their means, or for a Bedouin sheikh to offer me his protection as if I were one of his own daughters, inviting me back to his home if I'm in need.
Throughout my travels to the visually stunning and mentally stumping wonders of Petra, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, Wadi Rum and others, no ancient material marvel came close to the beauty that lay within each individual heart of the people who made those places their homes. Maybe the two are not mutually exclusive, but I believe that it would have been impossible for me to really appreciate those places without viewing them through my relationships with the people.
The principle, “seek first to understand before being understood” is preferable in every situation, throughout life and especially in travelling and learning about other cultures.
Written by Akela Newman