May 15, 2009

CouchSurfing Bedouins
Al-Beidha, Jordan

Talal's family home

Talal, our CouchSurfing host, kindly entered into our empty bedroom in his family's home, bringing breakfast along with him. It was during this moment that he broke the news that we'd generally been expecting since our arrival two nights ago: His pre-arranged guests from the UK were indeed arriving this day, and that he'd need the space to host them.

Breakfast, like most other meals, was derived almost entirely from the animal and plants the family keeps or collects.

Talal, not unlike the vast majority of the local population (Bedouin or otherwise), is a participant in the tourism industry that Petra brings to the area. Although he has BA in archeology and recently worked in the excavations of the ancient city, he's also regularly hired as a multi-day group tour guide for the attractions in the southern region.

As our host gently instructed us to pack our things he revealed that he'd be relocating us to the home of his friend, Nawaf—a Bedouin we were already familiar with (as he had stopped by yesterday for a brief meet and greet, and is also a CouchSurfing host in the area that we'd corresponded with prior to our arrival).

Our relocation this morning was pretty entertaining as we took all this time and energy to repack our backpacks in their special ways only to place them in the back of Talal's old Toyota pickup and watch as he drove us up the street all of 200 yards to our new home. I couldn't help but laugh at the slight misunderstanding and the thought of all that packing effort for so simple a move (which didn't even find us departing the tiny village).

Don't Mind the Dust

Nawaf had left Talal with the key that unlocked property's only entrance: A large, stiff sliding steel wall integrated into an enclosure of concrete bricks. Heaving the gate open revealed a small home that was still quite clearly under construction.

We were shown to a comfortable room (the only that had been completed and furnished), and given a brief explanation of how things worked in the somewhat completed kitchen and bathroom. Clearly this wasn't Nawaf's home, but one he was process of building.

The condition of the place was certainly livable (there was power, water and propane), and the room we'd be sleeping in was inviting, but the place was a construction site… not exactly the location you seek out when in the company of a walking, running 16-month-old baby.

We spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon cleaning the place up as best we could, making it as safe and tiny as we could for our and Aidric's sake.

The home is still very much under construction, but there's electricity in the room and propane for cooking in the kitchen.

Our bedroom. This is the only room that still isn't bare concrete, raw brick and debris.

Petra's CouchSurfing Hosts

In the late afternoon Talal and Nawaf showed up with an assortment of light foodstuffs for lunch, joined not long after by a third Bedouin CS host from the area. Ghassab is generally responsible for bringing CS to Petra, picking up on the site during his time abroad (apparently he was a nurse in Germany and lived there for 17 years).

At the time these men represented the three biggest CS hosts in the area. From left to right: Ghassab, Nawaf and Talal (with my family).

Folks in the Middle East are intrinsically hospitable, and make wonderful CouchSurfing hosts, but an observation that you can't help but make here is the underlying connection between Bedouin guide and Bedouin host. One has to wonder if the CouchSurfing site is being used as a conduit to recruit visitors/guests for their paid tour services. …Then again, pretty much everyone works in tourism here, and the guys who work as guides are already pretty extroverted people.

I'll be writing more on these men and my observations on the topic as our time wraps up here over the next week or so, but as for now I can say that we've been pleased that no one here has yet propositioned us about a guided trip into the desert.

Note: Comments are open to everyone. To reduce spam and reward regular contributors, only submissions from first-time commenters and/or those containing hyperlinks are moderated, and will appear after approval. Hateful or off-topic remarks are subject to pruning. Your e-mail address will never be publicly disclosed or abused.