It is my understanding that every Taglit group gets to have this experience at one point or another during their trip. The itinerary advertises it as a "bedouin hospitality" event following which we spend the night in a bedouin camp. For some reason that I cannot currently recall, I thought this sounded epic and awesome from the get-go. Clearly I had not thought through everything that this would entail, but on the surface to me it sounded like an opportunity to experience a facet of life in Israel that had nothing to do with being Jewish. The bedouins were completely independent of the founding of Israel in 1948, and they sort of continued to live their lives as cities and civilization sprung up around their desert settlements. I am a sucker for genuine historical and cultural experiences and turn my nose up at fakes and posers (cf. my "Authentic Viennese Music Experience" circa November 2009). Everything about the night at the bedouin camp sounded awesome, and from what I had read in my Israel guidebook, totally authentic. Actual bedouins would take you into their homes, feed you, and house you for the night all the while teaching you about their unique culture. I was too excited.
After stopping at a rest stop en route to the bedouin camp from Jerusalem and being completely shocked at how COLD it is (isn't the desert supposed to be hot?) we arrive in the frigid desert at what appears to be a legitimate campground. But an American campground, not a bedouin one. There are a handful of trailers (like a trailer park) scattered around, as well as approximately eight other Taglit buses (we found the presence of other Birthright groups somewhat offensive, as if they were making everything we got to do significantly less special because they got to do it too). We are escorted off the bus and led into a tent, all the while shivering and completely unprepared for these shockingly un-desert-like conditions. Thank goodness the tent has space heaters! Unfortunately for us, we are seated by the edge of the tent where cold air is pouring in. About two hundred Birthright kids are seated on the floor around small iron triangles, set up to hold what would no doubt be a delicious bedouin feast.
|The anticipation is mounting.|
Hummus, pita, pickles, and cabbage: standard Israeli fare. Nothing so special about that which we hadn't already been consuming literally every day since we arrived. But then - the meat comes out! Kebabs splayed out over a platter of yellow rice. But... what was that meat? It was definitely not chicken, that's for sure. Didn't really taste like turkey either. Just like a game of telephone, it was whispered down the Bus 264 line that the mystery meat may have been... camel. We had no evidence to prove or dispute this fact! Were we in fact eating the creatures upon which we would be gloriously and epically riding across the desert the next morning? No one would ever know for sure. All we could do was speculate that the odd piece of non-meat in between the two meat kebabs may or may not have been camel fat. I try to not think about it.
Following our dinner, we were told that we would be receiving a special presentation on bedouin hospitality. We crowded into another tent, sat cross-legged on the floor and eagerly awaited our bedouin. I am kicking myself currently for not taking a picture of him, but that's what Facebook is for. Thanks Mitch for capturing the most interesting presentation of our trip:
During the bedouin presentation, I was in a really weird state of mind. I learned about myself on this trip that when I am especially tired, everything becomes extra hilarious, whatever it may be. I laugh at stupid jokes, I laugh at people, I laugh at everything that happens. This bedouin made me laugh the hardest I had in a while, and I had an extremely difficult time determining whether he was for real or not. None of us could figure out if this was an authentic bedouin camp, or if it was the Plymouth Plantation equivalent of such. This bedouin wasn't helping. All I could think of was that episode of The Office with the Ben Franklin impersonator. I was pretty sure that this was just an Israeli pretending to be a bedouin, but I couldn't be sure. He said "Okay guys?" before and after every sentence. He had the subtlest sense of humor ever, so much that I completely missed when he was apparently making jokes about "automatic camels made by Mazda and Corolla." He called three people from our group up to learn how to play the coffee grinder as a musical instrument (it goes, down down front back down front back). He talked about his four wives and how they received two hundred sheep as a wedding gift (a particular insightful soul from the other Tufts bus asked, "But what do you do with two hundred sheep at a wedding?" Oh dear). I think at this point in the trip, I was so beyond wiped out and exhausted that this presentation was the funniest thing that had ever happened. And after it, I wanted the bedouin to be my best friend. If he was, in fact, a real bedouin. A tidbit of which I would never be completely sure.
Following the event, we were led to our accommodations for the evening:
|Surprise! It's a tent.|
The bedouin tent! Of course, since I was now pretty sure that this was not a legitimate bedouin camp and in fact a touristy campground replete with eight different Taglit buses, the experience on the whole started to feel far less awesome and special. Our bus got its own tent, however. All 46 (and last) of us crowded into the same space. Observe:
|Little room to walk. Or breathe.|
|Roaring bonfire. Used for warmth as well as marshmallow roasting.|
Baffled still by the prevalent lack of toilet paper (must just have not been a bedouin thing to wipe) and after a personal extended tour of the "campground" - finding the camels to say hi to, gazing at the stars, and exploring the dining facilities (not just a tent but resemblant of a mess hall) - I actually returned to the tent to about 42 sleeping members of Bus 264 around 2 am (I was serious about the lack of sleep thing). Trying to not step on anyone's head, I retreated to my "mattress", lay down, and tried to get some rest. But what was that pervasive sound? Oh, of course. The benefit of sharing a room with your entire bus. Snoring. Pretty sure of who the culprits were, I put in my headphones, put on the Shins (always my sleeping music) and tried to forget about the bulldozers in operation in my immediate vicinity. I became aware close to an hour later of how it was no longer warm in the tent, despite the 46 bodies cramped closely together. Someone earlier in the night had turned the heater off since they were no doubt too warm in such close quarters, but now the body heat had died down. I would not be surprised if I found out it was 30 degrees in the desert that night, and then inherently it was 30 degrees in our tent. The space heater was labeled entirely in Hebrew, so heck if I knew how to turn it back on, and everyone else was asleep. Curling up in my disgustingly used sleeping bag and attempting to use my towel as an additional blanket, I shivered the night away literally without catching a wink of sleep. I wasn't even mad when Yael and Yonatan sprang into the tent at 6 am singing "BOKER TOV" at the top of their lungs to wake us up because it meant I could get out of this hellhole.
Still in something of a bad mood (but the Nutella for breakfast in the bedouin dining hall helped a little bit), we drove ten minutes away from the camp, went on our most epic hike of the week (see nature entry), then returned back to the bedouin camp for our turn on the camels!
|They had been doing this all morning. They probably hated us.|
After a brief safety lesson, Brittany and I named our camel Moses and hopped on. This was literally like riding on a carousel because the "bedouins" were leading all the camels in a line around in a big circle that took about half an hour to complete. It looked pretty legit from afar, though.
As much as I had anticipated this life-changing and momentous event, riding on a camel kind of hurts. A lot. It's bouncy and uncomfortable and sometimes the camel behind you comes up and snots all over your leg. It was still cool though, I guess. I'm glad I can say I've ridden on a camel now.
|Moses was too cool to snot on anyone.|
And so then, at last, our "bedouin experience" was over. It was definitely one of the more interesting nights of the trip, that's for sure. It was pretty miserable at some points (lack of bedouin authenticity, coldness, super late and very early hours, snoring, no toilet paper). But aren't those the stories that are the most interesting to tell and the most present in our memories after our trips are over? On a similar note, prepare yourself for the story of our odyssey to Caesarea, coming soon.