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Making a Poem

After three tough days of putting up and pulling down camps, we grab a moment with the local camp manager Yousef, to find out more about his life growing up in this incredible region.  Settling down into the shade of a tent, he starts by giving us a quick history lesson on the origins of his name.


His full name is Yousef Abadrubuh Ali Salim Jesus Alhasanat: Abadrubuh was his father’s name, Ali his grandfather’s name, Jesus his great-grandfather’s name and Alhasanat is his tribe’s name, in which there are 15,000 people. He explains that they are part of a greater tribe known as the Laith (Lion), which contains 28,000 people and originally travelled down from Northern Saudi Arabia. They were the only tribe in Jordan to not let the Ottoman (Turkish empire) infiltrate their lands.


We were the guardians of the holy land (Petra) and our tribe did not want any outsiders to know what was there,” he explains. But nothing could stop the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt from disguising himself as a Bedouin—he managed to find the ancient city and open it up to the world.


Yousef was born in a small cave just outside of Little Petra. He has two mothers (his father took a second wife after the first gave him three daughters), six sisters and eleven brothers. His upbringing was spent living as a Bedouin and herding 750 goats; when times were good and water more available, they also became farmers and grew wheat.


Life was tough, one of my brothers and I were born 15 days apart and my father had little money,” he recounts. “He would buy one pair of shoes and I would wear them one day and my brother the next”.


By the 1970s, life in the desert shifted when Bedouins came into contact with tourism for the first time. His family sold all their goats. “My brothers and I joined the Petra Horse Association, I was nine years old at this point. I had a donkey called Shakespeare, he had big ears, and after school I would take tourists on rides to some of the ancient sites around Petra.”


Ten years later, they moved into houses built for the Laith tribe by Queen Nour. This was their first time living in a house, but the tribe way of life remained. “The house had three bedrooms and a bathroom and as years passed my father did not want us to leave and according to tradition, it was important that we all stayed together. Now the house has 19 bedrooms and there are 95 of us living together.”


Most of his brothers still work in tourism, which has been difficult since the Arab Spring swept across the region. However, it seems that nothing gets in the way of the Bedouin people’s in-built customs of hospitality, of providing for guests and always making sure that visitors are happy when they leave.


 “At each campsite so far, the Bedouin family that has been living nearby have sacrificed a goat as a welcome to us,” explains Yousef. “As we are guests in their home while we are here… we call this ‘making a poem’ you look after people so they go away and talk well of you”.


As we conclude the interview, we are hit by Yousef’s sheer contentment and love for his home. He has no inclination of moving to the cities, like many young people from this area. “I have been to this spot a thousand times, and every time I find myself staring at the mountains,” he concludes with a smile. “Life here is simple, people are honest, hospitable and respectful and family connections are strong, we are more loyal to our tribe than our country.”


By Clare Morin

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