The Jordanian Bedouin and his super sweet ‘chai’

Jordanian Bedouin - rebab

Sitting on his side, the Bedouin man welcomed us to his massive goat tent with a slight smile. He was wearing a brown ‘dishdasha’ (traditional dress worn by Arab men); his head was wrapped in a red and white-checquered ‘keffiyeh’ or head gear. His dress, tanned skin, furrowed forehead and thick moustache bore a striking similarity to some of the Emiratis I saw in Dubai’s neighboring emirates. I would have easily mistaken him for an Emirati if not for his brown dishdasha. Traditionally Emiratis wear a white dishdasha and white keffiyeh kept in place by a black ‘agal’ or ‘igal’ (cord). It was my very first encounter with an ‘authentic’ Bedouin.

Jordanian Bedouin - rebab

I first came to Dubai 12 years ago expecting to see Bedouins living in goat tents and riding camels. Instead I found English-speaking Emiratis living in big houses and driving Hummers, Lamborghinis, Bentleys and all sorts of luxury cars. How gravely mistaken I was. Even so I’ve always wanted to meet an ‘authentic’ Bedouin so meeting the reticent Jordanian who spoke no English at all got me all excited. His goat tent was set in the middle of the sprawling desert of Wadi Rum in Jordan. Our driver and interpreter told us the Bedouin shared his tent with his wife and 11 children, some of whom were out tending goats at the time. The Bedouin motioned us to sit on a thin layer of rug that wound around the sparsely furnished ‘majlis’ or gathering area. Sparse was probably a misnomer. There was little or no furnishing at all except for a small, wooden cupboard and Arabic cushions. I thought, this is authentic Arabia right here. At last.

Jordanian Bedouin - goat tent

We gathered round as the Bedouin started strumming his rebab, a traditional Bedouin musical instrument. I looked around the tent and noticed the old metal kettle lying next to an open fire pit dug from the ground. As if following my gaze, the Bedouin whispered to our driver who then proceeded to pour tea into small glasses for each one of us. Thrilled by the prospect of drinking ‘authentic’ Jordanian tea made by a Jordanian Bedouin, I eagerly took my first sip and almost winced. It was the sweetest tea I’ve ever tasted. It tasted like the traditional Masala Chai, a concoction of milk, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel seed, honey or maple syrup. Only twice sweeter. Out of respect I forced myself to gulp down half of it.

Jordanian Bedouin children

After a few more minutes of a kind of music that made no sense to me but I wished it did, we left a few dollars with the Bedouin and thanked him for his hospitality. Before leaving we checked out the rest of the marquee and bumped into the ‘mistress’ of the house. Shy and frail, she looked like she’s probably in her 50s. To our surprise she was cradling in her arms what looked like a three-year-old boy, her youngest. Next to her stood two other young boys who looked as shy and friendly as the mom. I so wanted to talk to her but like her husband she spoke no English. On one corner of the tent was what looked like a thin picnic mat spread on the ground. There was no bed, not even a wooden one. Only a handful of pillows stacked on top of each other behind the mat.

Jordanian Bedouin - wadi rum

Compassion and awe gripped me. Compassion after realizing that they had very little. Awe because they almost had nothing yet they were willing to offer what they had even if it’s a simple glass of tea. I stepped out and realized how blessed and privileged we were in Dubai. And oh how we often complained of trivial things. As trivial as not finding parking in a mall or eating the same Italian dish that millions would be so thankful to have. As trivial as not having a Louis Vuitton bag instead of a Michael Kors one. Or sleeping on a hard mattress instead of a softer one, surrounded by 3 to 5 pieces of clean, white, feather pillows.

Soon the extra sweetness of the Bedouin’s ‘chai’ was no longer an after-taste I wanted to get rid of. Instead it was a taste I wanted to savor for as long as I could as it has become a taste of contentment and gratitude. I realized then that the Bedouins had understood the meaning of contentment more than most of us ‘Dubaians’ could ever grasp. They had very little yet they were content enough to be willing to share. I uttered a small blessing of prayer for the Bedouin family before rejoining my tour group. I couldn’t help but be filled with gratitude for the ‘chance encounter’ with that Jordanian Bedouin and his super sweet ‘chai’.

The Jordanian Bedouin and his super sweet ‘chai’


  1. […] for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and is the country’s largest wadi (dry river bed). Check ‘The Jordanian Bedouin and his super sweet ‘chai’’ to learn more. Wadi Rum was a sprawling sand desert dotted with jaw-dropping rock formations, […]

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