Thursday, November 23, 2006

Married to a Bedouin

I’ve just finished reading “Married to a Bedouin” by Marguerite van Geldermalsen. She was a young New Zealander travelling the world in the late seventies, when she met Mohammed, one of a Bedouin tribe, who lived in caves and tents among the archeological remains of an ancient Nabatean civilisation in the valley of Petra.

She travelled onward, but circumstances brought them together again and she realised that he was the man for her. This is her account of their life together told simply but vividly. She starts off knowing nothing of the language or culture, seeing the Bedouin from an outsider’s view. Gradually she comes to know each individual, adapts to their lifestyle and becomes one of them. She is refreshing in her perspective, neither a saint promoting self-sacrifice for the man she loves, nor a high handed crusader trying to show them the benefits of civilisation. Occasionally her irritation with an incomprehensible tradition or superstition bursts out, but later on she comes to realise that there is a valid reason behind it.

For example, she is initially horrified to discover that a woman is considered ‘unclean’ for forty days after having a baby, as any Westerner would be. The reasons become clear however: the ‘unclean’ epithet isn’t a stigma, rather the new mother is given a chance to recover in a protected space, surrounded by all the other women of the family, friends, neighbours and so on, who cook, clean, fetch water, take care of the other kids, while she has no other duties than taking care of her baby and as a bonus she has the diversion of their company for forty days. No-one but her takes care of the baby and it is not shown around (for fear of the evil eye) until after the forty days are up, thus giving it a chance to develop its immune system before being exposed to the germs of the world.

Their cave, though primitive, sounds snug and warm and over time they acquire some modern conveniences – a gas oven, eventually a kerosene fridge and once Mohammed gets a driver's licence they have a car too.

This book records and encapsulates a way of life that is fast disappearing (by the end of the book the tribe had been resettled into houses away from the archeological site, their children were learning computer skills and many of the traditions of nomadic life had been left behind) and is a fascinating read, both for her personal story and the account of Bedouin life. has an excellent customer review of Married to a Bedouin by someone who now lives in Petra.

To see more details at on Married to a Bedouin click on this title link.


Anil P said...

Interesting. I must check this one.

Rose&Thorn said...

Another great review, have put it on my book list.