Getting married again, Bedouin style

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It was kept from us until the last moment – and for good reason. “Let’s just say it will be a celebration” is all we were told. We had our suspicions when we saw what looked suspiciously like an elaborate bridal carriage in the camp restaurant earlier in the day. As we arrived back to the Rahayeb Camp covered in sand and dirt after a day of exploring Wadi Rum, our hosts informed us that we had no more than 15 minutes to get ready for what would be our starring roles in a Bedouin wedding.

The thought would have been horrifying to us both if we had been given advanced warning; Sam in particular hates to be on what she considers to be the wrong side of a camera. But there was no time for dissent. We quickly washed, changed and reappeared, ready for embarrassment.

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In preparation for our visit to Jordan I read the book Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen, and so was curious to see how a Bedouin wedding looked; I just never imagined I’d have to play an active part in just such an occasion, albeit a bit of play-acting.

Ok, a confession. It proved just as embarrassing as I had feared, but a lot more enjoyable. A group of four guys took over my care and helped me dress in my Bedouin outfit. “Sheikh Agab” (the eagle sheikh), they proclaimed as my transformation was complete. While I can’t deny feeling very silly, it was hard not to enjoy being part of the general back slapping, joking and male bonding into which I was invited, despite not understanding a word of what was going on. I was given a few Arabic phrases to shout during the party, and then I was led out by my ‘uncles’ to wait for the bride.

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Sam meanwhile had also been dressed up – I don’t think she’s ever worn as much make-up as was applied to her that evening. She was then required to squeeze into the bridal carriage, which was mounted on the back of a camel. A school group visiting the camp at the time was coaxed into joining in, and they cheered her and her camel into the camp, with singing and the obligatory outbursts of ululation.

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After greeting my ‘bride’ and helping her from the camel, we sat together as we were serenaded, before being dragged up to join in the dancing. I was even handed a sword to complete the act, and instructed to wave it around while dancing – it looked a bit rusty although I’m sure it could still leave quite a mark. I was just glad that the whole performance didn’t extend to people shooting guns into the air.

Our hosts thought it hilarious when we told them that there had been more guests (and infinitely more photographs taken) at our Bedouin wedding than our real one. While I can’t claim it gave us a huge insight into Bedouin culture, it was yet another example of the understated warmth and hospitality which we have been privileged to encounter in our interactions with the Bedouin people during our time in southern Jordan.

Our Bedouin ‘wedding’ took place at Rahayeb Camp in Disi, in the Wadi Rum Protected Area, and was part of National Geographic Traveller’s Digital Nomad Project.

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