Matt Kauffman in Jordan

Good Times Bad(ia) Times

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Saturday was the end of a little three-day stint in the Badia with our Bedouin family, the Abu Yassers.

Cheesin’ in the Badia

Arriving on Thursday, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I could’ve been living in a nice, but rural home; I could’ve been squatting in a tent. In the end, I settled for something in the middle: a simple box of a house with two sleeping rooms (one for boys, the other for girls), a kitchen, an expansive lounge and a hallway that served as the TV/dining/play/main living room.

The layout seemed like it would be tight quarters for a family of nine children — not to mention the grandchildren, friends and random Bedouin kids that filtered in and out of the house during our stay — but somehow the rooms felt like the perfect size.

Bedouins live in almost vacant houses. Save for some small, portable mattresses lining the walls, a handful of blankets and a TV, there’s a lot of available space, so even when our hallway was packed with the whole family and a few guests too, the place still felt more than half empty.

Thankfully, we were introduced to this gargantuan family slowly. When our big, garish bus rolled up outside a small olive grove, Anthony and I were greeted first by Mahmoud. At 17, he is the youngest boy in the family and undoubtedly the shyest.


After Mahmoud led us through the family’s little orchard and into the giant salon, we met Taseer, 25. An elegant looking guy who carries himself with an air of indifference, Taseer teaches biology at a madrassa (school) nearby.

Over Coca-Cola, we talked about the finer points of life, especially the burning question every Jordanian has an opinion on… No not the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, but Barcelona or Real Madrid?

Climbing the nearby Jabal (hill)

Soon we were welcomed into the house in earnest with our first meal. More than even the communal people of Amman, Bedouins are all about collectivity. This becomes apparent when it’s time to chow down. Hind — the wife of the family’s oldest son, Yasser — brought out a massive tray of rice with pine nuts and various bowls of tomato and potato/lentil dips. No individual cups; water or sheep’s milk was poured into a single cup and passed around. There were no individual plates either.  Instead, we were all handed spoons, thrown a handkerchief-sized piece of Bedouin pita bread and proceeded to “dip and dodge.” I watched our family of pros at work before jumping in myself. Didn’t want to look too much like an amateur. Once we’d had our fill, the remaining pita bread was thrown back in the sack for consumption at a later time.

Super cool rock sculpture we made. Home is the second nearest white building.

The only things seemingly not shared with everyone were tea and cigarettes, neither of which you could turn down either.

Not long after, our parents arrived. Salah, or Abu Yasser (father of Yasser, the eldest son), is a former police officer who now spends his days in prayer, watching nothing but Jordanian government TV and tending to his flock (sheep, goats and a crap-load of offspring). Umm Yasser is a doting mother and was fascinated by my pictures of home and family back in Oregon. They were very nice, but Anthony and I soon learned that interacting with the kids, usually the youngest ones, was the most fun.

Abu Yasser with his flock

I tossed a marble back and forth with a 3-year-old girl (I still have no idea who she was, maybe a child of Yasser’s). As she moved up the stairs, she laughed hysterically when I was unable to throw the gull (marble) back to her.

Iftikar, 15, was their oldest daughter and so much of the housekeeping duties fell to her. She made our meals, served our tea and cleaned up too. She was also a sweet girl with a crush on Christiano Ronaldo and a dream of going to Turkey.

Me-essa, Salah’s youngest at 12, wore a bright pink sweatsuit and thought the number one thing I should do was take pictures of their sheep and goats. She was also a total ham, dramatically spoofing the girl singing “I Will Always Love You” on Arab’s Got Talent and miming an affected concert pianist when I placed my iPhone on the floor in front of her and played Chopin’s “Nocturne #20, poth. C#-.”

Me-essa looking very serious. She was anything but.

Then there was Hamed, a little guy around five who just showed up on Friday and never left. Again, I’m not sure who he belonged to, but the family didn’t seem to mind him hanging around. For hours, he just stared at Anthony and I, speaking constantly in Arabic, none of which we understood. In the end, we figured wrestling was the best communication.

Anthony, Hamed and Abu Yasser.


Hamed and I. He fought, I tickled, we made peace and then I quickly broke it.

Save for the television and cell phones, it was a bit like going back in time. My camera, laptop and iPhone were incongruent to the surroundings. Every once in awhile I’d pull my phone out of my jean pocket, just to make sure it wasn’t slowly disappearing.

In a lot of ways it was a truly singular experience, but lose the details and it’s not all different from what I’d imagine farm life in middle America was like a couple decades ago: big family, austere home, religion and work that sustains their way of life. The simple life, but these weren’t simple people.

Me, Umm Yasser, Hamed (looking very upset about something), Abu Yasser and Me-essa.


Written by kauffmant

28/05/2012 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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