Yassir, My Favorite Bedouin
At least I think it’s spelled YassIr and not YassEr but I have no way of verifying now so...
Upon arriving at the entry village to Wadi Rum, we were connected with the three Bedouins who would be our roving hosts/entry and exit guide. I was in the car and didn’t actually meet any of the host-guides till we got to our camp, a 10-minute or so drive through an empty span of desert with no roads. It was easiest to remember Yassir’s name as it is pronounced exactly like Nassir’s name and they even joked about this when we all introduced ourselves. Yassir was effectively our point person and we arranged our driving tour for the next day through him.
When these arrangements were being made (in Arabic) I thought it was going to be another instance where I would have no part in the conversation — but Yassir actually made a point of asking if I spoke Arabic and then turned to me and described everything in perfect English. The itinerary involved having a light packed lunch out in the sands which he described as being biscuits and dates. Having asked my food preferences at the start of the trip, Nassir interjected that I didn’t eat bread or sweets and then some other stuff was said in Arabic and they continued to negotiate the terms of the activities and of course the costs. When it was all agreed upon, Yassir stood to say goodbye and I put out my hand and said that in terms of the food, I didn’t want anything different from what would be traditionally eaten — I wanted to eat as they did without exception as our whole point of being there was to experience life as they lived it. He touched my hand with one of his and placed the other on his heart and said, “My dear right now you are my favorite person. So often visitors come and they have all of these special requests and only want to do and eat exactly as they do at home — thank you.” I thanked him in Arabic and he left to make arrangements. Well it turned out that part of what Nassir negotiated was not including food in the tour to keep the costs down and I never got those biscuits and dates.
Yassir came back that evening to chat with us and tell us about life as a Bedouin — that he was born in a cave not far from where we were and that at the time, the entry village didn’t exist and the closest hospital was a three days away by camel. These days he lived in that little village with his wife and four children — all boys except the youngest, a 6-month old daughter. Before we could hear more, he left to greet another group and my next conversation with him wasn't until dusk.
I was leaning out the open half wall of the lodge watching the sun settle and he came up from the outside and pointed in the distance at a camel caravan. I watched for a minute or two and asked if the camels were happy. The camels I had seen at Petra earlier that day were still on my mind — the way the children running them had hit them in the face with their rope bridles and kicked their sides to move them and then later seeing an older guide feeding one Fanta soda. I felt suspicious about the treatment of the camels I was now seeing in said caravan. He touched his heart again, nobody had ever asked him that before. I told him what I had witnessed earlier and he shook his head going on to explain that the camel was a holy animal and written about in the Koran. That as Muslims, the Bedouins had great respect for the camel — it was their transport, their food, their guide — but sadly not everyone followed this. He talked more about how smart the animals were, able to find water and their way home; Bedouins are taught that if they ever lose their way in the dark or a storm, to just let the camel lead the way and they will get to where they need to go.
I didn't see him again until the next evening when we needed to switch camps. When we arrived at the new camp he sat down to drink tea with us and share a poem he wrote. He paused before starting and apologized to me that I would not understand when he spoke in Arabic but then went on in English, sharing a piece about love and seeing the light of one's heart in the sands of the desert, in the shadows of the mountain. He continued in Arabic, either the same piece in the language it was intended or a new set of verses, I don't know, but I knew what he was saying all the same. His expressions, his gestures, his pauses, his tone. When he finished, he placed his hand on his heart, a now familiar thing, and explained that writing was his passion but that he worked as a guide because his passion did not feed him. Nassir then informed him that I too was a writer and I confessed that it the moment my passion was not feeding me either. I described quitting my job to put my energy into this passion and how it was a giant leap of faith, that being on this trip and writing about the experience was a part of it. He laughed and said ahh, that is why you are so quiet! I have never met a woman so quiet! Always [gesture with hand of mouth running] — I laughed too and touched my eyes and ears and then mimed typing to indicate yes, I am quiet because I prefer to watch and listen and then I write. We had yet another moment of identification and smiled at each other warmly. When we parted ways for the last time, he hugged me and kissed my head. It is a rare and beautiful thing to connect with someone so quickly and deeply; meeting Yassir was one of the great highlights of my trip and I won't soon forget him.