Some years ago, I wanted to write an article about the Beduin, who live in the desert in Israel. I did some research and found out about their customs. I started to write the article, but it sounded very dry and academic, so I discarded it. But the idea stayed with me, and I thought about writing a book about these exotic people who lived in the desert.
That also got discarded. But once I went on a trip in the Negev, and by chance encountered a young Beduin girl. As soon as I got home, I sat down and wrote this little pen portrait, which was widely published in Israel and overseas. It was a way of bringing the Beduin to life and it briefly expressed what I was feeling about them – much more interesting than writing a conventional article. Here it is:
The Negev desert is like the landscape of the moon. The mountain ranges are grey, almost without color. A million years ago. it was covered by the sea and even today you can sometimes find a shell, encrusted with salt. You see camels, frogs, scorpions and snakes.The desert can hypnotize you. That is how I felt when I first saw Aisha, the Beduin girl, who suddenly appeared on her donkey. She must have come from one of the black goat-hair tents that we had passed earlier. I had seen women patiently weaving rugs stretched out on the ground there, while goats nibbled at sparse vegetation.
Aisha appeared out of nowhere. She was dark, with black lustrous eyes and she rode her donkey side-saddle. She hummed a melody while the gold coins sewn on her kaftan jingled in time with the tune and the rhythm of donkey’s hooves. She was following an almost invisible trail of goat and sheep droppings, left by generations of animals. The trail led shepherds to water and grass.
We studied each other silently. For a moment our eyes locked until she shyly lowered hers. But as she passed me, although I couldn’t be sure, I thought I heard her giggling.
My tour guide told me: “She belongs to the el-Azazme tribe, the only one of 13 tribes that did not flee the Negev in 1948. She is 12 years old. Soon she will be married to her cousin, her father’s brother’s son. That is the custom.”
“Married? That child!”
“Twelve is not a child in Beduin tradition. They always try to marry their daughters to close kinsmen.”
My curiosity led me later to a journey of discovery about her life as a Beduin girl. She would drink coffee ground with a “djoron”, a brass coffee grinder, boiled in a brass pot over a fire lit from a flint made from a piece of steel and a weed. Or maybe she would drink hot tea with “nana”, fragrant mint. The tune she was humming was probably a desert chant sung by the campfire, and played on a one-stringed rub ba aba. Her meal might have been pickled onions and cucumbers, eggs with camel butter, tomatoes and small pieces of sheep’s liver.
Her tribe is nomadic, travelling in caravans across the Negev. Sometimes they travel to Beersheva for the Beduin “shuk” where they sell their baby camels and goods, buy camel meat for stew and meet friends from other tribes. The Beduin of the Negev own 100,000 acres, but as there is so little rain, they usually only have a harvest three out of five years.
My chance meeting with Aisha was over a year ago. Now, if we met again, she would be married, clad in a black veil. Perhaps she is already a mother, the child Aisha, riding the small donkey.
But I think in the instant our eyes met, we had a fleeting woman-to-woman relationship. She is descended from Ishmael and I am from Isaac, but the father of both was Abraham, so perhaps it was kinship that we felt and recognized.
_Perhaps there is someone you met, or even glimpsed, briefly who has never been forgotten. Try to write a cameo about them – you might be surprised how beautifully it will come out.
If I can help you with your writing, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org . If you would like any of my books, I have a stock of most of the titles. Good luck.
(I welcome your comments)