May 16, 2009

The Bedouin Village of Umm Sayhun
Umm Sayhun, Jordan

When the Jordanian government forced the resettlement of the regional (nomadic) Bedouin population in the 1980s they dispensed small plots of land with a rudimentary home to each family. Umm Sayhun represents the largest of these few villages.

Typical of Latin alphabet transliterations from Arabic words, this city name has several popular spellings, including: Umm Şayḩūn, Um Sayhoun and Omsayhoun—not even among our Bedouin hosts is there a consensus.

The village of Umm Sayhun [map]

Umm Sayhun center of town street scene

Since there's a discouraging cost to obtain more land and finite amount of property space—which by the looks of the village has generally been consumed by this point—as the size of the formerly nomadic family increases, so do the number of stories on the home.

Many of these dwellings are haphazardly built.

Uneven heights of the stairs leading up to the next story grow and shrink like the surface of an active ocean, countertops come up to mid-chest in height, and suspicious stress-fractures run rampant.

After all, masonry just isn't a skill set needed when you live in tents during the summer and caves in the winter.

Umm Sayhun Panorama

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Umm Sayhun is its layout. Part of the village—likely the first-built of it—has homes that are bunched together in ovals. Commonly a street bisects through the middle of the cluster, creating a pair of horseshoe-shaped groupings. It's extremely communal and tribe-like in both form and feel.

Donkeys can be found penned or roaming freely. Camels tower over their masters, tied to a car or a spike in the earth.

Lone Donkey

Worn Donkey

Donkey pen with a view

There's a mosque and three small corner stores where you can purchase dusty canned goods or even the occasional awesome (albeit overpriced here) flavored non-alcoholic malt drink to help quelch the mid-day heat.

Everyone literally knows everyone.

Umm Sayhun in relation to Petra and the big tourist town of Wadi Musa

The town is just a short stroll away from Petra, which would be outstanding if we were actually allowed to enter the site via the rear access road. An armed outpost at the southwestern edge of town controls entry to the road, and has good overview of the surrounding terrain.

Naturally, there are no ATMS, Internet cafés or diapers—we're fortunate that I had the foresight/fortitude to grab and haul with us a very large quantity purchased in Jerusalem.

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