Heat seeps under my skin as the sun creeps across the sky. Sticky, slow, sweat. It is inescapable.
Outside my trees, vegetables, and geese wither.
I am in my little house, a tank overhead with water in it. A fridge hums. The electricity is not strong enough to power the air conditioning, but if it was we would have it. When I get desperate I drench my clothes in the precious water.
Not so for the Bedouin living here 50 years ago and more. Within living memory there was no road, no houses, no tanks, no fridges, no tourists. My husbands parents were both born in the desert and spent their childhood there. Only in their adult lives did they start to get things like electricity and other things which are considered luxuries here (water from a pipe, gas hob, lights, fridge, television, the list goes on), but are considered basics in the West. The height of Bedouin female snobbery is getting an oven.
I think about the contrasts between my childhood and theirs and it is humbling. Getting water meant you took your donkey (if you had one) and you walked to the spring where you would fill your skins and then trudge back home. I tell you imagine having to do that next time you leave the tap open. The vast sky above you the sun relentless pounding down. Often a walk of 12KM or more each way. The life was and remains in many ways unforgiving.
Whenever you see older women going out walking in the sun, they always put a folded up prayer mat, or thick piece of cloth on their heads (Bedouin sunhat : D). In the west we see sun and take things off… here the infinite wisdom of a desert Culture adds layers and to the barriers between body and sun.
As a child I walked all over the place (dragged by the parents and grandparents). A light weekend “relaxing walk” was 10 miles, we travelled and walked in many beautiful places in the world. However, the scale here is like nothing I have seen anywhere else. The sand makes your legs work harder to gain those centimeters, and the ever so close towering mountain seems like a mirage, to never arrive.
Al-hamduliliah I do not need to walk to get my water. It usually comes every 4 days from the pipe. We become a busy hive of activity starting the pump to get the water into our tank, and catch it there before it stops. 1-2 hours. Every 4- 7 days. I am lucky, many families share one pipe between 2 or more houses, some don’t even have a pipe, and continue to take water from the Springs here.
I was raised to be aware and “sympathetic”, appreciative of/ to other Cultures, but somehow I think I never truly appreciated what Culture even is until I lived here.
Everyday I am confronted with my own Culture and what it is, and my husbands Culture and what that is. The little world within our home is constantly shifting, as we adjust ourselves to each other. Like waves lapping creating shifting lines on the sandy beach. Like the blending of salt water and fresh water. Blending, swirling around each other but never fully mixing or becoming one. The two identities changed in their arrangement, their physicality, but the essence remains.
Older people here particularly don’t like cold. I seem to feel the weather differently to everyone else. So here is my thoughts on that (and I think this would make a fascinating research project for somebody). My theory is that the perception of temperature is Cultural (does this seem obvious to everyone else? Perhaps this thought is nothing new!).
We are sitting outside in the evening in the intense heat of summer, and my father in law (Am) asks me if I am cold (there is a light evening breeze). I am luxuriating in the brief sensation of coolness. My Am is feeling a bit chilly.
During Ramadan we visit an Uncles family to break our fasts. His wife is very proud of their decorated house, with paint, ceramic tiles, oven and everything. : D. Her husbands mother lives with them, and while I am sitting in front of the air conditioning dreaming of tall glasses of ice cold lemonade, with all but my tongue hanging out, she is complaining about the cold, wanting us to turn it off. In the end she went to sit outside instead. If people had not been fasting it would have been turned off in consideration of her, but during Ramadan the fasting person gets the greater consideration.
At the end of the day during Ramadan we learn gratefulness as we finally enjoy a tall cool glass of water and fresh dates. These are the best drinks and meals of the year. Not because of the content (although that is good too!) but because of the wait and determination it has taken to get to it. I think if we even just had dry crackers to break our fast with we would feel grateful.
Back to heat! Babies start their training early – their bodies learning to function at higher temperatures. They are so wholeheartedly wrapped up in clothes and blankets even in summer they are under blankets. Day naps are taken with a cloth over their faces (protects from the flies). Now my adult husband sleeps with no problem under a blanket. If I try, I come up gasping after a few minutes.
During any Bedouin event (engagements, weddings, births, funerals, visits from family) the children do not seem to drink. The sheer volume of the guests mean the adults are served the drinks formally, the children fend for themselves. All a part of their training. Tourists are always amazed by how little their guides drink, while they spend the whole day gripping their water bottle. The family always laughs at me as I always go to these gatherings with bottles of water in my bag.
Interestingly the Bedouin diet is high in salt and sugar. Tourists often comment on this and how unhealthy it is. Yet I question that sentiment because if we get dehydrated what is the content of the dehydration sachets we drink? Salt and sugar.
When I was a child and we were walking long distances in hot climates my mother would always make up the drinking water with a small amount of salt and sugar – to help us stay hydrated. It makes sense then in the desert, that the bodies need for these ingredients would be greater.
Subhana Allah (glory to God) the world is a wonderful, fantastical place.