Bedouin First Aid

Living a nomadic life in the desert, only recently have Bedouin people had access to Hospitals. Therefore, they have a robust and established First Aid system and knowledge about various plants with which they treat various ailments.

In general they don’t trust the Hospitals that much (I don’t blame them because I don’t either as they seem to be stuck in 1950’s style of treatment) and so traditional methods of first aid are still well practised and well known in the community.

One very fast fading tradition though is that of Midwifery. Women would always give birth at home (in the desert) and those babies born in the last 30 years could have been at home or in the hospital. Prior to that all of them were at home (desert). Most of the women I talk to in their 40’s and older have either had all or most of their babies at home (in the desert). However, now it is illegal for the older women to deliver babies. Any women helping a woman to give birth at home is at risk of being fined or jailed. Now 100% of the time women will go to Hospital. I think this is a great tragedy as a tradition of Midwifery is lost and the number of Cesareans is skyrocketing.

Anyway, I digress BACK to FIRST AID. Some of these things may make you go “eww” but given the very dry desert environment – remember ideal environment for bacteria growth is warm and wet (tropics) – the advice is pretty good and should you ever get stuck in the desert alone with no water or first aid kit, Bear Grylls style, then these things may just come in handy…. : D

The different techniques below are not “all encompassing” what is covered is the things I have seen used, or things I have been advised to do in various situations my children or I have been in:

Open Wounds

These can be treated a number of ways.

Minor – medium bleeding can be stopped by:

  • Urinating on the wound (eww I know, but my mum is a nurse and she says urine is actually sterile, of course it can pick up bacteria on the way out tho).
  • Using some kind of fibrous material, like from the goat hair tent or camel hair. You burn the material then put the cooled ashes into the wound. The fire kills any bacteria and the fibre helps the blood to clot. I have also seen ground coffee used if there is a lack of other materials.
  • Sand can also be rubbed into a minor wound or boil type wound. This can be particularly good for anything oozing because the wound is dried out by the sand. Mostly the sand is fried everyday by the sun and probably has very low bacteria in it. Don’t try this one at home this is not going to work with soil!

Major bleeds:

  • All Bedouin men and women will either have a keffiyah (men) or a headscarf  (women) with them at all times. A strip can be cut from it, or the whole scarf can be used to tie very tightly around a limb to stem major bleeding. In an emergency they would not hesitate to do what was needed.

Burns

I have never seen anyone put water on burns. In a culture where water was very scarce I can see why this would not be part of the practice.

My father in law says you should put salt on burns…. I haven’t tried it. I am not sure what people do with serious burns and I hope I don’t ever have to find out about the details of this.

Scorpion Stings

  • There are two methods which Bedouin use to help protect children from scorpion stings:
    • This first method is a bit like a homeopathic approach. They catch a live scorpion then kill it. You then wrap the scorpion in foil and put it in the hot embers of a fire. After a while you take it out from the fire and crush the burnt body to a powder. This powder the women then put on their nipple and then the baby nurses from their milk which naturally mixes with some of the powder and is ingested by the baby. They say this protects the baby from bad reactions to the sting. Recently a young child died in a village not far from us because there was not anti venom at the local clinic. My mother in law was sad because she said people have stopped doing the practice described above and she said children didn’t used to die if they got stung.
    • The second method takes a spiritual approach. You catch a very small baby scorpion and call it a “sheep” or a “goat” or some other animal that is harmless. Then you put the captured scorpion in a container with some breast milk of the mother of the child you want to protect. Then you say the Shahadah (Muslim testament of faith – I testify there is only one God and I testify Mohammed is the messenger of God) over it, you also ask Allah to protect your baby (insert name) and you say to the scorpion your baby (insert name) is your brother and you are a sheep/ goat etc, while swirling the scorpion in the milk. Then the scorpion looks like it goes to sleep and then you tip the milk and scorpion away.

In an emergency if a sting is received my sister in law says it is also possible to cut the bite and try to suck out the poison.

You can also cut a strip of potato and place the potato on the sting which is supposed to draw out the poison.

My mother in law’s sister also told me she put sugar on the sting when she was stung as a young lady and it was very effective.

Snake Bites

There are a few dangerous snakes here. The most dangerous of all of them is the side winder. This snake is particularly dangerous because it hides just under the sand and it is very aggressive. The snake will often attack rather than run away. I am not aware of any remedies for the bite (Note to self: ask my parents in law and I will update you!). My husband says after you are bitten you have about 30 minutes of life left to you.

The best policy in this case is prevention.

Older Bedouin will always favour closed shoes when in the desert and this is a way of preventing a bite. This is particularly important in the night when they are most active.

Usually your feet are most at risk.

The other kind of shoes men wear are leather “ship ships” which are like sandals but they have a high about 1-2 inch sole. This way the foot is raised off the ground a little and the shoe is also an effective handy, hard weapon to throw and kill snakes or scorpions if needed.

Particular care is always taken when collecting wood and putting ones hand into shrubs, or shrubbery. They can be up in the branches of a shrub as well as at the base of the shrub.

Bedouin will also spot any side winder tracks a mile off and then they will look for the snake and try to kill it if they can. Usually only if they see the tracks in an area where there are a lot of people around. I have seen snakes smoked out of holes in the mountain with some success and some attempts unsuccessful.

I know from a protection and conservation point of view it is not nice to think that these beautiful animals are killed (my mother in law had a fit of tear rolling, laughing hysterics when I said to her snakes are beautiful) but if you are living with something so deadly I think you would not see one next to your house and then leave it to wonder off and potentially bite and kill your child. Personally I advocate a capture and take very far away policy.

My husband says the other snakes are not really dangerous because they will run away in preference to an attack.

Treatment with Fire

There is a method of treatment which slightly freaks me out, but doesn’t seem to phase my husband or family members. Funnily, there are modern treatments which freak them out but don’t phase me at all : D. lol.

Such is the power of Culture.

The treatment of fire can be used for all kinds of problems and sickness. Physical and mental disruption too.

The points I have seen used remind me a little of the Jinchin Do points where energy can get blocked, so I do think there is some holistic validity to it.

The problem is though the skin gets broken so then there is a risk of infection and that along with the pain factor is what freaks me out.

Usually a needle or some kind of metal wire is heated until glowing red hot then very briefly touched to the skin. A sort of “click” sound can be heard and the needle sort of bounces back off the skin. I have seen the needle applied to points at the base of the ear, the back of the neck, the upper arms.

Fire treatment can also be applied to the stomach, torso, back.

Splinter/ Glass

If you get a splinter or glass in your foot you can rub the foot vigorously in the sand and the abrasive texture will usually remove the offending object. This works great with young children who might resist you touching or picking around when they have something stuck in their foot.

Cradle Cap

If young babies or children have cradle cap the mothers put olive on the scalp and leave it on overnight, then in the morning wash the child’s hair and this helps apparently.

Colds or Flu

Eat onion and garlic. This is given to animals in their water too if they have a cold or flu.

To relieve symptoms add lemon to the sweet Bedouin tea.

Herbs

There is a wide range of herbs that Bedouin people use for various ailments. I am still gathering information on them and Insha’allah I will write a post just on this topic in the future.


I hope you enjoyed reading about “Bedouin First Aid” and let me know if you are aware of any practices I haven’t mentioned…. Sorry I took so long since my last post and Insha’Allah more will come soon!

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5 thoughts on “Bedouin First Aid

  1. This post must’ve taken so much effort…. well worth the time! Such deep insight into the bedouin culture. It is really interesting because I haven’t even remotely ever experienced or learnt anything about this. Amazing work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, that is very kind of you and I am happy to know it is interesting to you. At least I am not the only one who finds these things interesting! Al-hamdulilah as my Arabic gets better I slowly, slowly learn more as I can talk to the older women better and they are the ones with the knowledge!

      Liked by 1 person

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