Bedouin hospitality is considered the best in the world. And that hospitality is found among Israeli Bedouins who have roamed the Holy Land and Levant region for centuries. Now a unique tour company Bedouin Experience –– run by an Israeli Jew and her Bedouin partner –– offers a unique window into Bedouin culture and what goes on inside their tents.
The center of their new social entrepreneurial project is to offer tourists the ability to get close and personal with a culture that was largely private and isolated until about ten years ago. The heart of the Bedouin Experience and how they do this is a home stay in a Bedouin village with a Bedouin family.
The company offers a number of enticing options like the Tent of Elias in the Village of Hashem Zaneh where Atia and Naame open their homes to visitors, as well as give outsiders the opportunity for full room and board while sleeping overnight in a Bedouin tent.
Offering home cooking, traditional Bedouin stories, and tours in the Negev Desert around them, the experience gives both Israelis and foreigners the chance to peek inside the “tent” and taste Bedouin life which has had to rapidly adapt to a non-nomadic lifestyle. A home-stay in a tent means that visitors have to be ready to expect conditions not found in five-star hotels: there can be animal noises outdoors and dust on your cushions. (We were bitten by mosquitos)
But no luxury hotel in the world can package and sell the cool and fresh desert air that wafts through the tent at night helping guests sleep in tune with the nature around them. Despite the very rough conditions we stayed in the cool air was a welcome reprieve from the hot humidity of Tel Aviv.
For a more American-style overnighter, Bedouin Experience can also arrange a stay at Ship of the Desert Khan, a large assortment of Bedouin tents owned and run by Israeli Bedouins. Expect traditional Bedouin food, kosher even, along with a never-ending pot of Bedouin tea or sweet coffee. The facilities with group toilets and showers can cater to large tour groups, weddings even, while the ample staff of Bedouins communicate the true, and sometimes gritty rural life of living in their own tents in the villages south of Beersheba.
The Ship offers cabin upgrades with air conditioning for those who aren’t comfortable sleeping out in the wild in semi open tents; and many groups come for the one-hour camel rides arranged for a small fee. The staff can also arrange desert safaris and 4×4 tours of the desert region, closing the night off with Bedouin drum circles. We stayed there for a night and had the whole camp to ourselves. A bit lonely, but on the other hand the staff had only us to look after so we could ask them endless questions about life in the Bedouin village nearby.
Yeela Ranaan (below) co-founded Bedouin Experience after years working to help the depressed Negev Bedouin earn their social rights. She is on a mission to uplift the community and expose their unique way of life through personalized home-stays and trips to unique Bedouin projects and companies.
“Our aim is to market Bedouin tourist attractions and to help others so they too can enjoy economic prosperity,” says Ranaan. “We’re the first stop when you want to experience Israeli Bedouin culture. We arrange the booking, package tours, everything.”
Her mission is to also offer a well-rounded cultural experience, both by day and night so people can get to know the same things that she has grown to love about Bedouins over the years.
One of her favorite stops for any group would be a seminar and personal encounter with Miriam Aborkeek, a Bedouin woman who founded Desert Daughter, a Bedouin cosmetics company based on 400 years of traditional healing practices handed down to her from her grandmother.
Aborkeek was born in a Bedouin tent where her grandmother also lived and it was there that she was infused with the skills and knowledge for picking desert herbs and turning them into healing soaps, ointments and salves that are also considered beauty products.
Using local ingredients like camel milk and black cumin (Islam’s miracle cure), she fashions preservative-free soaps, oils and ointments for cleansing and treating skin disorders such as skin dryness and eczema.
A 15-minute drive from Tel Sheva where Desert Daughter is located in a series of tents and cabins is another remarkable Bedouin women’s initiative called Sidreh. Bedouin Experience also adds this as a highlight to any Bedouin-style tour: Sidreh is founded by Bedouin women from the village of Lakiya and there the women spin coarse camel, goat and sheep wool into traditional Bedouin carpets and cushions that can be purchased for a little more than cost price at the center.
Similar products can also be found in the Flea Market at Jaffa in Israel at an upscale store for a much higher price.
While showing guests how the carpets are made, the Bedouin women from the village weave into the experience stories of a people in transition and how this center has uplifted an entire community of women from the confines of the home, and without a say in the household, to women who are now free to work outside the home, drive cars, and even help support their daughters who want to go to university.
Once nomadic people, they explain, the Bedouin who now live in permanent towns and villages have had to adjust to new cultural norms. How can the women leave the house without encountering strange men? How does this traditional society of men cope with the newfound freedom their women? How does what they do at Sidreh influence other women in other Bedouin villages?
Any question can be on the table to the open-minded and communicative women of Sidreh who help cater to groups by offering them traditional meals as they enjoy the new cultural experience–– Bedouin style: unlimited handmade flat bread, labane cheese, olive oil and za’atar. Of course served with that endless pot of tea.
To have your own Bedouin Experience contact Yeela Raanan, Bedouin Experience