I recently completed reading a fascinating book called “Married to a Bedouin” by Marguerite Van Geldermalsen. The book got me thinking whether we had our life’s priorities properly set out. In the book, the lady protagonist was from a totally different society with different norms, expectations and dreams. But she fell in love with someone whose society (Bedouin) was as different as chalk and cheese from hers and she completely went on to change the rest of her life.
Marguerite Van Geldermalsen was a nurse born in New Zealand and on an ‘’adventure ‘’ tour in 1978; she missed her bus stayed with and came to be married to Mohammad Abdallah Othman, a Bedouin souvenir-seller from the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. She made a home with him in a 2000-year old cave carved into the red rock of a hillside, became the resident nurse and lived like the Bedouin. She learned Arabic, became a Muslim and gave birth to three children. She lived in the Petra region till Muhammad’s death in 2002 when she went to live in Sidney with her children.
The Bedouins are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arabian ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes, or clans. Historically, the Bedouin engaged in nomadic herding, agriculture and sometimes fishing. The Arabian Peninsula is the original home of the Bedouin and from here they started to spread out to surrounding deserts, forced out by the lack of water and food. They live in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel and in Jordan mostly in Petra where the author resided. The Jordanian government provides the Bedouin with different services such as education, housing and health clinics. However, some Bedouins give it up and prefer their traditional nomadic lifestyle.
What was very intriguing about this life story was the way people can be easily transformed from a high class life to a ‘low class’ living with an action as simple as changing ones name. The lady in the book came to be accustomed to living an open life sharing happiness, troubles, misfortunes, etc with her in-laws and friends. Her brothers- and sisters-in-law were constantly visiting and helping with house chores things that were very alien to the author and when she complained about this to her husband, he only said; ‘’what’s a little tea and sugar to us?’’
In a way it made their society closely knit as all problems / solutions were easily shared. Like the time after having bought an old vehicle she was awoken in the middle of the night to transport an expecting woman to the hospital in Ma’an (30 kms away) or the time she had to fill in for the Doctor or the time she made clothes for friends on her treadle sewing machine. And all these gestures were reciprocated by all the inhabitants all over this area.
Having stayed in a 2000-year old cave house with no electricity, water, plumbing, etc and without any problems except for the occasional scorpion, it brings to question why we strive so much for opulence and accumulating stuff which do not add value to our lives. The author was very happy in her abode; wearing a mudraga (cover dress), playing cards with her husband and in-laws, occasionally listening to the BBC when batteries permitted and lived without a worry in life.
The book also got me thinking that religion should play an important role in shaping our lives. For instance all the fortunes and misfortunes that befell anyone was summarised in a simple sentence; “we have done what we could; the rest is up to God’.’ No type of calamity or good fortune could not be summed up in this sentence. This in a way made people have very few expectations of life and only waited for what befell them as they believed that whatever happened was meant to happen. Therefore they did not strive very much with the ‘’expected’’ trend of living like educating their children but only concentrated on the things that were more pertinent in them leading a ‘normal’ life e.g., how to feed the goats, when and where to move during the cold months, where to get a bride from, etc.
In Africa where I grew up and live there is an increasing tendency to try and achieve any thing with European/ American connotations through pursuing western education, wearing western clothes and adopting all things western. Invariably this has led to a societal disconnect between what is seen to be right and what should actually be done. This has lead to all manner of decadence arising from the fact that individuals, in their pursuit of their next car, mobile phone, house, suit, etc, tend to forget that long lasting human relationships are the most fulfilling to make.
The author goes about her life (in the book) within the humblest of means. Simple foods, simple clothing, everything was simplified. From the way they collected water, the donkey rides, the sunsets from their cave ledge, making the taaboon bread, smoking heeshy, the ‘showing of the child’ ceremonies, etc. This is not to say she never faced any challenges, she did especially from the cultural shook, the persistent poverty, the harsh climate, etc.
I now believe that if one surrounds oneself with a good support structure of in-laws and friends one can live just about anywhere in the world. The question remains as to whether this can be achievable in the today’s modern rat -race societies in which we live. And in the words of the author; its best to look at the good things of where you are at the time and to do what feels right in the circumstances.
All in all, it was a good read!