A Bedouin Dinner in the El Wady Desert of the Sinai
by Julia Kaliniak
(Notation: This article was kindly provided by Nature Travel, operated by Gasser Riad, a member in good standing with the AETBI,) Egypt provides many opportunities to tourists for cultural exchange. Indeed, travel operators have lately been innovative in this regard, though there seems to have always been such opportunities. These days, one may take a tour that includes staying with an Egyptian family, and many tours provide for a dinner at the home of an Egyptian family. In fact, these exchanges are often as rewarding for the host family as they are for the tourists, as Egyptians seem to have a natural curiosity of foreigners and enjoy finding out about their culture.
One of the oldest forms of cultural exchange is the Bedouin, or depending on the region, Nubian Dinner. These are most frequently campfire affairs and may include some entertainment. Nubian dinners particularly, usually provided for in more touristic areas of southern Egypt, can be well orchestrated events, with professional bands and entertainers. Bedouin dinners often take place in more remote locations and, while the entertainment might be more crude, it is nevertheless interesting and authentic.
Some days ago I went to the Bedouin Dinner in El Wady in the Sinai. We were driven by jeep to the bottom of the mountain. From there, we took the camels and were accompanied by Bedouin guides as we wound our way up through the mountains.
That was amazing! Continuing up the path we could see a picturesque view of Nuweiba, the quaint beachside resort town on the eastern shore of the Sinai, and across the gulf of Aqaba, the majestic mountains along the coast of Saudi Arabia. Many people don't think of Saudi Arabia as having mountains, but of course they do, and they make a wonderful backdrop to the gulf of Aqaba.
The mountains looked simply fantastic. Riding camels we could leisurely enjoy their beauty. Veins of color flow through these rugged mountains, and the different shapes and colors of the rocks, highlighted by sand dunes strewn with boulders are a memory we will forever carry in our souls.
Our camel ride lasted for about 40 minutes. Many people may think in terms of camels trodding through the desert, but they are actually very good on these mountain paths, as anyone who has ascended Mount Sinai can attest. For Bedouin children, they also make great diving platforms in the shallow shore waters of the Gulf of Aqaba.
As the path zigzagged its way to the top of the mountain, we were met by Ahmed and Aied, two Bedouins, who formally extended to us an initiation to dinner.
Obviously, this was not a catered affair. Everything of course is made completely from scratch. The Bedouins baked bread, fried sheep mutton, managed a salad, cooked rice and even made traditional herbal Bedouin Tea. It was a joy to watch, and at the same time, provided us time to get to know these warm and delightful people. Talking to them, we began to perceive at least a nominal understanding of traditional Bedouin life.
Some Bedouins have become modernized, working and sometimes even owning tourist facilities in the Sinai. This is especially true of the very southern part of the Sinai. However, many others are isolated in their adverse Sinai desert environment and therefore have held on to their traditional way of life, managing to maintain their pristine culture throughout the centuries during very distinct periods.
Bedouins can be recognized by their lifestyle, specific dialects, social structures and culture. They are also organized loosely into tribes that hold onto specific ranges of territory in the Sinai. However, a band within these tribes is usually made up of an extended family. The size of these groups may very considerably.
Bedouins normally migrate only during specific parts of the year, depending on grazing conditions. In winter, when there is some precipitation, they migrate deeper into the desert, while they seek refuge around secure water sources in the hot and dry summer.
For temporary quarters, Bedouins live in tents made of goat or camel hair, as well as fibers from plants. These tents are normally black in color. However, they also construct more permanent housing in small settlements that normally only accommodate extended families. These are usually unadorned, simple houses, built from mud and stone.
The dinner was nice, the food was good, but the company was perhaps the best of all. As it began to get dark, it seemed as though millions of stars burst into the pristine sky, here in this desolate campground far away from the city lights. The moon was all aglow, and everything was quite and peaceful. It was all just a paradise in the Sinai. It was an unforgettable experience of exploration, both cultural and physical, and an experience that defies words. One must do this oneself to fully appreciate a simple dinner but a grand moment.
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Last Updated: June 13th, 2011