Friday, December 13, 2013

Bedouin Brewsters

 Part of my wish of living in Saudi Arabia is getting to experience as much of the cultural/ every day living of the locals as possible.  We drive by the houses and I wish to see inside.  We see camps along the highway and I wonder how life is like in the desert.  I want to go to a traditional wedding.  I want to ask questions.  I want to learn.  I want my family and I to experience it ALL!  Last week one of Brad's participants invited us out to his family's Bedouin camp and we were SO excited to accept the offer!  We didn't know what to expect but we were ready to embrace the opportunity!  After driving almost 2 hours, we reached the open desert far away from town and we were able to see the beauty of Saudi Arabia!  There was minimal trash, no smog, open desert, beautiful sky..... beauty all around!  The scene was worth the drive!
 Upon arrival the whole family was so welcoming.  I was told that I didn't have to wear my abaya (although I did, when in Rome, do as the Romans.... right?!?!), I was told I could take whatever pictures I wanted... this was now our "home" too, and we all shook hands to welcome each other (most of the time, women do not shake the hands of men).  Very quickly we were ushered into their tent, told to have a seat, and the coffee and dates were passed around (very traditional).  Joining us this morning was Bdah (Brad's participant) he is wearing the thobe, his 67 year old mother wearing the red dress and pink head scarf, Bdah's second wife who is fully covered in this photo, 2 of Bdah's sisters, and lots of children!  In the beginning my kids were very overwhelmed... it was a lot to take it!
 As we drank our Arabic coffee and introduced ourselves, the older boys went to fetch water that was used to wash up the mugs we were drinking out of..... there was a water truck that was placed at the edge of camp that supplied their water.  As we chatted, the nanny (very common for Saudis to have hired help both for in the house and the work outside of the house) set up our breakfast area.....
 Here is Bdah explaining our delicious spread.  Some of the items were purchased in town and other items were prepared by hand by his mother.  Check back later for proper names of these dishes.... but in the white dish was a wheat paste that is like super thick oatmeal and in the middle is sheep's milk oil!!!  The mother takes sheep's milk and through a very long process gets the sweet oil out of the milk.  You use your RIGHT hand to scoop out of hunk of the paste, dip it in the oil, and eat it!  In the metal dish is another wheat dish that is crumbly pieces... almost looks like ground beef.  This too you scoop out with your hand and eat.  Not picture was hard pieces of dried yogurt... I took what I thought was a small piece but not small enough... that really must be an acquired taste... I pawned the rest off for Brad to eat... that was the one thing we both had to eat quickly out of respect and not go back for seconds.  There was foul and addis but a different version than we were use to and much better.  All of the food was amazing and so interesting to try and experience this.  The dishes in the pots that were hand made were very traditional for Bedouins since they did not have access to going to town back in the day to purchase some of the new traditional dishes.
 In the tent we sat in two groups.... Bdah with his mother and us and then the women and children made another circle and sat to eat.  There was no shortage of food and drinks.  Just when I thought we had tried it all they would bring out olives or fete cheese or a new bread..... the custom here is to eat, drink coffee, and be merry.  And it is impossible (and rude) to say "no".
 So we ate.
 And drank... camel's milk.... warm camel's milk... and I'm the only one in my family that tried it.
As Bdah poured me a mug.... he poured me a FULL one... I quickly asked for a smaller taste to try.... and I tried it.  It was sweet... but different.... I was glad I tried it but a small taste was enough for me.  As I questioned in my head how my body would react to such a new milk Bdah must have seen me pondering whether I should try it or not, "Don't worry, it has been boiled" he tells me.  Great, should that make me feel better about it... I guess boiling it would have killed any germs that would have made me sick.... let's hope! : )
 And we were merry!
The hospitality of this family was amazing.  Their kindness and generosity was overflowing!  So willing to give of their food, drinks, and items!  Bdah's mother gave me her beautiful perfume bottle, extra perfume, and prayer beads.  I tried to tell her it was too beautiful to give to me and Bdah said, "You cannot refuse!"  And you can't.  It is so rude to turn down their gifts.  You also have to be careful what you comment on.  The mother had gotten out her bottle to spray her perfume.... scents are very important here and each family has their own scent that they are always spraying on themselves and around them.  She told Brad to stick out his arm and she rubbed an oil on him and went back to dip the stick in for my oil to spread on Brad and Bdah said, "Enough mom, enough! Not to much!" to which we all giggled.  She spread more oil on Brad and then told him to wipe it under his chin and on his other arm.  She told him she did this every nigh to her husband then and then giggled.  She then did the same to me, told me to wipe under my chin and then sprayed me with her perfume.  We were sharing in traditions that she held fondly in her heart about her late husband.  It was beautiful. I must have told her how beautiful her bottle was... which then meant she should give it to me.  As she gave it to me I tried to tell her she couldn't give me something SO precious to which I was told, "You cannot refuse!" I took it... and she then told me it was as much for Brad as it was for me and then she giggled.... see, the perfume is why she has 7 children.... I guess she thinks we need to catch up! : )  I also commented on the sister's dress... the one in this picture... how I love her dress and the color (I love green and it was SO nice to see the beautiful dresses under the black abaya) and she told me next time I saw her she would bring me one.  Brad was given a royalty thobe and we were also given 10 packages of dates because our children love dates so much.  Generosity overflows..... but the covered face and other outward differences often make us stand back, not be open to friendship, and not see ALL of the things we do have in common.
 The mother was the salt of the earth.  Her heart was made of gold.  Her touch was welcoming.  Her giggle was infectious.  Her love for her family was overflowing.  Her love for my family was bonding.  Her hands were rough from years of work.  Her work was her love.  I will forever hold a special place for her in my heart.
 3 generations of Bedouin love.  This boy is Bdah's oldest son from his first wife.
 After breakfast, the kids and dads went outside to look at the animals.  I hadn't realized they were gone... all I knew as that all of a sudden I was seeing the smiling faces of the women I had only known from behind the veil.  Thankful for their openness, I started to ask questions.  They were able to take their hijab off because the men were gone.  They choose to wear the hijab around men "you could marry"... this means that the only men you do not cover around are your dad, uncles, and brothers.... every other man you have the potential to marry.... even your cousins... you cover around.  As they uncovered they were excited to show me their faces and long hair.  It was a bonding experience for us and I was thankful to get to know them as they "let their hair down" literally and figuratively.  I asked them, "How do you know when to cover up again?" and they told me that they hear the men coming... and they do... it is like their ears are trained to it... as Brad's voice got closer/louder one of the women notice, made a comment in Arabic, and they all started to cover up.
 As the women continued to gather, I decided to excuse myself from the group and go out to explore our surroundings.  Here in this cage were pigeons on one side and goats on the other.  We questioned why they had their animals pinned up like this and not roaming free and we were told it was to protect them from the harsh weather; cold and rain, that we were experiencing.
 See the trailer in the background?  That is where the hired hands live that take care of their animals.  On their farm they have 2 hired hands that live out here all year long... can you imagine?!?!?
 As I walked around with the children and men, the women had moved outside to gather.  It is a common sight to see people gather just sitting on the ground.  I just LOVE this picture.  So Saudi Bedouin traditional.  This is Bdah's mother, sister, and wife/cousin.
Gathering around the outside of the tent in the middle of the desert.
In the openness of our conversations I asked Bdah where his other wife was and how do you choose who to bring with you and how does that wife left at home feel about being left at home.  Bdah was very open and honest with me and I appreciated that.  He was in love with his second wife all growing up (remember they are cousins) but she wanted to finish her studies (she is now a math teacher) and didn't want to get married until she had accomplished her goals.  Bdah's father was sick and said he didn't want to die without seeing Bdah married and see his kids so... there was a friend of his father's that had a daughter so he asked the father if he could marry his daughter... that's how he got his first with with whom he has 5 children.  To marry his second wife (who agreed to get married now that she had accomplished her goals) he paid his second wife 30,000 sr (that's about $7,500) AND his first wife 30,000 sr sort of as a "peace offering".  Each wife has their "own kingdom" as he calls it... their own home where they are boss so there is no feelings of jealousy or anything between the wives.  Gatherings like today he just takes one wife..... I think the second wife was chosen because it was her father we visited today and he said his first wife was with her family for the week but he did bring his oldest son from his first wife.  The wives know they each get their turn so the one that is left behind doesn't feel left out because she knows she will be taken to another event.  He said if it is a big family event he will bring both wives with him.  And that is how you juggle two wives!
 Here is Brad and Bdah with Bdah's oldest son and then nieces and nephews.  I didn't ask much about his sisters and who they are married to or if there are other wives and who exactly is whose child... I'll save that for another time.  I do know that one sister is now living with his mother and is separated from her husband and will probably divorce.... what do you do at family gatherings if it is your cousin you divorce?
These are Bdah's 2 oldest girls... the oldest is 3.5... he has 3 girls and his wive is pregnant with a son... that will make for 4 kids 4 and under!  That will give Bdah a total of 2 wives and 9 kids... he said it is very common for men to have 1 or 2 wives... some have 3 and 4 but that is more uncommon these days.
These children were precious!  They loved having their picture taken and loved following me around.  They had fun trying out their English words with me and were impressed when I knew some Arabic words to talk with them! : )  Despite the language differences, they tired SO hard to interact with my kids and show them around!  Opening the communication between two cultures at such a young age is what gives me hope that one day there will be a worldly acceptance of differences!
 After looking around camp, we got into Bdah's 4x4 and went exploring the desert.  Amazing that despite the lack or roads and signs.... these guys know there way around... even in the absolute dark!  Our first visit the mommas and their 2 week old babies!  It was sweet to see the mommas call for their babies to stand up and follow them as we pulled up in our car.
Bdah raises championship camels and is known for his expertise with camels.  He is often called on to consult with a Bedouin if he is having troubles with his herd.  As we approached the camels Bdah started clicking and making a whooping sound that he said communicates with the camels and relaxes them.  It worked!  We were able to come up to this sweet momma and scratch on her as her baby nursed.  What an amazing experience!
 Bdah explained that growing up his father had a huge herd of camels and sheep and at a young age he would go up to a camel and squeeze milk out from her teat right into his mouth... no boiling or sterilizing.....weird for me to comprehend but, that is the Bedouin way!
 Camel milk is precious so there was no wasting it however, Brad did get a lesson on how to milk a camel and we were told that if we had a bottle with us we could take some with us... thank goodness we had NO bottle so we could politely decline without being rude!
 Coming in for a "good bye" kiss.  I asked him if camels spit... I was told, No... so I wonder if that is an old wives tale or if Bdah is a camel whisper and just his camels don't spit.
 We got back in the car and drove around to neighboring "farms".  Here we came upon a HUGE sheep herd.  Ethan started singing "Baa Baa Black Sheep" right away! :)  We got out to go look at ALL of the sheep and the babies.....
and as soon as we drove up, the hired help came out of his trailer to look over his flock.  The Saudis take pride in their flock, have huge herds, and hire men from India to cover over to Saudi and live in the desert to take care of their sheep!  These guys make about 700sr ($175) a month!!!!
 Some people have their camels behind fences.... especially the camels that are work 1 million sr... the big championship males and females they go and get from all over the Middle East.... others have their camels roam and there is the worker in the middle of the herd that follows them around and leads them to where they need to go.  Today was beautiful weather but what do these guys do when it is 140 degrees outside and no shade or water in sight?!?!  I cannot imagine this nomad lifestyle!
 The majority of camels you see in Saudi are these black ones.  Every now and then you'll see the brown that we are use to (I think these are the ones they call reds) and they are from Oman.  We have also seen a couple of these white camels!!!
 Bdah did some clicking and whooping and got the white camel to cover over for a closer look!!! :)
 Our desert fun had ended... it was time for the next stop on our adventure.  To get there we all piled in our cars and headed into "town".  We went to Bdah's mother house to use the bathroom and drop off some stuff.  I got to see inside a Saudi house... and I used my first Saudi toilet!!!!!  Might as well jump in with both feet.... or squat... and experience it all!!!  Not only was I proud of myself for embracing it all.... sweet Addyson was very open to experiencing it all too.  From Bdah's mother's house to his uncle/ father-in-law's house Addyson asked to ride in Bdah's car.... do you see her in the sea of black?!?!  I was so proud of her for embracing the experience and seeing the smiles and love from behind the hijabs!
 Our next stop was the uncle's house... he is in the white thobe.  At this stop anther family joined us and a brother.  A new house with new people put me back in the position to try to figure out where my place was and how I should do things such as introduce myself.... right away Bdah said it was okay to shake hands... he could see me holding back... and right away the uncle told me to take a seat (this is the "men's" room) in this room and I could take pictures whenever I wanted.  The uncle was a high ranking officer in the Saudi Navy and had spent a lot of time in the US so he was very open and understanding.  It was him that often made comments about how we should all realize that we have more similarities than differences!
One of the main reasons for us going to the uncle's house was to have lunch.  Bdah said it is custom that if you are having special guest over you are to slaughter a goat/sheep to share and that is exactly what they did.  Of course, they paid to have someone slaughter and prepare the goat for them.  When the goat was delivered it was brought on 2 trays... here is the women's tray.  I was very impressed to see this spread that was put onto the floor for us to gather around.  Here we have a back hock with some ribs with delicious rice and Brad said the brown bits were dried liver.
Again, we sit on the floor and eat with our hands.  This was the one time the women asked me not to take pictures... they all had removed their hijabs besides the grandmother.... and they didn't want to be seen on pictures.  I tried to be very respectful of that.  At this point, another family had joined us and the wife was from Yemen.  This was her first time to gather with this family and I could see that some of the customs and traditions were different.  For example, she didn't eat with her hands.  She quietly ate with a spoon and used 2 spoons to tear meat from the bone.  She gave me props for trying to eat with my hands and offered to take my picture so I took her up on that offer so I could document my experience!
 Here was the first time I ate in front of a group using my hands.  You are to pull off a chunk of meat off of the bone... they just DIG RIGHT IN.... and then grab a hand full of rice... make it into a ball in your hand... and some how you use your index finger to get the rice into your mouth without spilling a grain of rice...sounds easy, right?!?!  They were, I was constantly picking off white grains of rice off my black abaya.... not easy to get away with being messy with that huge contrast in colors!!!  The ladies giggled at me but in a sweet way and were trying to show me the proper way to do it.  I sat next to the mother and she was SO helpful!!!  She noticed that I wasn't digging the meat off the bone so she would do it for me and put pieces of meat in front of me.  She kept telling me to eat up.  She was amazing!
Sharing food is such a tradition and it is how you welcome people to the family.  They were all very welcoming.  And we even had fun during our meal!  One of the sisters handed me a bone to take my picture with it!!!  While there was lots of fun, there were still times I felt like an outsider... it is hard not too when customs are SO different.  While I am learning Arabic and they were all very impressed with the "large" vocabulary I did have... I still didn't know enough to keep up with the conversations.  At one point one of the ladies left the room and I don't think she completely covered up thinking she could sneak somewhere without being seen... turns out someone did see her and I asked if it was Brad... see Brad kept walking around into places most men wouldn't since it is their custom... us, well we forget to think about those things so there was a couple of times he walked in on the sister without her hijab and another sister or daughter would quickly walk up and cover her up.  So, trying to be a part of what was going on when she came back in the room saying something happened I asked if Brad had done something.... well that set off a lot of Arabic talk and laughing and I felt SO out of place.... you know, when people laugh or do a lot of talking based on what you said but you have NO idea what is going on... it is isolating.  I shook that off and carried on.... to only make another mistake.... after lunch coffee and sweets are brought back out.  I was asked to hand my cup over for a refill and I handed it with my LEFT hand... the sister was so nice and said, "no, other hand" but I was SO embarrassed!!!!  Here you use your left hand to wipe with (remember there is NO toilet paper) so you ONLY eat with you RIGHT hand..... UGH!!!!  They were SO nice and understanding but I was embarrassed by my mistake and used my left hand about 5 minutes later without thinking about it.  Such a simple mistake but I took it hard.  I really try hard to be mindful but at times you get comfortable... which they want you to and they want you to enjoy... but, the minute you get too comfortable you forget and do things you would do back at home without thinking.
 While I was eating with the ladies, the men and children were eating in the other room... they got the REST of the goat!!!  Look at the size of their plate!!!!  Interesting the differences in what is presented to each group!  I think most of the time the children eat with the mothers but this was a more open minded group and the children were welcomed with the men.
To eat, a plastic mat is spread on the floor and you eat off of the dish.  Rarely are plates or spoons/forks used.  Those things are mainly used for the children.  I asked if this was how they ate every meal and they said for the most part.  You will see NO table in a Saudi house!
 Digging in!!!  Brad said the uncle stuck his hand up into the cavity of the sheep and pulled out some part and said, "This is the best part of the sheep" and handed it to Brad.  Guest are given royal treatment!
And this is what was left of the guys' plate!  See the head?!?!  After the men and women were finished eating, the hired help was called in to eat what was left.  The uncle has 2 men that care for his garden and then a guy that cares for his sheep and camels.
 Chocolate!!!  Did I tell you there was NO shortage of sweets to go around?!?!  The ladies even commented that Saudis like to eat and that there is a weigh issue because of that.  I really wanted this picture to show the couch that is in the ladies rooms.... do you see the difference in this area and the area above where Brad is sitting on the couch in the men's room???  Also in this room is a small stove to heat up the water for tea and coffee since it is the women that prepare it for the men.
 After another feast, we headed back outside to explore the farm.  It was beautiful!  Ethan is looking at this huge herd... I love how Addyson is playing soccer with Bdah's son in this picture!  And the green in the background is the food the uncle is growing for his sheep.  He wants to be completely self sustained on his farm!
 It is amazing the pride they have in their animals and the quality of animals they have!  This was the fourth species of sheep we had seen today!  I didn't realize there was such a difference in species!
 The uncles champion camels.  These are all pregnant females.  Camels are pregnant for 12 months so in about a year his flock is going to double!  These mommas were beautiful!
 We spent 7 hours today exploring the Bedouin life and learning so much about the Saudis their culture and their customs.  I will forever be thankful for Bdah and his family for opening their homes and hearts to us.  For welcoming our questions and showing us that we have more in common than we realize.  While I tried my best to remember and explain every little detail about today I know I haven't done the day justice.  As we were leaving and saying our good byes we all had the same thoughts, our hearts were SO happy!  I was so happy and thankful for them, their generosity, my family and the experience we had, and knowing what a once in a lifetime opportunity we were given.  They were happy for meeting us and sharing their home with us.  They told us they missed us already and hoped we would come back.  It wasn't IF you come back but WHEN you come back.  The mother just kept thanking Allah for the day...."Alhamdulillah" and so did I!
When we titled our blog "The Bedouin Brewsters" before our journey began we didn't fully understand what "Bedouin" meant... we just knew it meant desert dwellers and Bedouin sounded good with Brewster.... now we fully understand what it means to be a Bedouin and while we are far from being Saudi Bedouin in our way of life.... after today... a part of our hearts will always be a Saudi Bedouin.
One day we will see them again.... Insha'Allah and our journey to understanding Saudis and the Bedouin way of life will be expanded upon because of the open hearts of Saudi families that want there to be a greater understanding of their people.  "Alhamdulillah"
Shukran, shurkan (thank you, thank you) Bdah and your family from the bottom of our hearts!

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