There is much to learn from traditional Bedouin life, such as understanding nature better and engaging with it in everyday life. Inspired by the lives of Bedouins in Sinai, an important community in Egypt's social fabric, Amr Bassiouny has taken the initiative of starting the School of the Desert.
The school is essentially an alternative tourism company: Bassiouny and his partners plan group trips into Sinai and offer travelers tips on Bedouin desert life. Although people do not have to stick to the schedule, and can instead laze about the camp, many go on the excursions specifically to learn about survival and enjoy the phasing out of the city.
“Last trip, travelers were interested in getting back to nature,” explains Bassiouny, who has been traveling to the desert for years. “A Bedouin friend of mine thought of the School of the Desert idea, and after the success of our first trip, I’m planning the next one for 6 October.”
Bassiouny offers the following tips for desert travelers looking to reproduce aspects of Bedouin lifestyle. They include tips on everday life, from personal hygiene to cooking habits and dress code.
– Use the miswak herb to brush your teeth; it can be bought in most supermarkets.
– You can shield your head from the sun by covering it with a shimakh. Start by laying the shimakh on your head, fold the sides, and tie the ends behind your neck.
– Use wood or natural coal to cook, and be economical with the matches. Heat some bread on the coal and eat it with goat cheese and halawa.
– You can make fresh bread using flour, water and salt, and bake it directly inside a bed of coals.
– Make tea using the marmareya herb, which can be found in supermarkets.
– Try to eat using your fingers. There is a belief, common among some Egyptians, that eating with your fingers aids the digestion process.
– Spend as much time as possible contemplating and enjoying the scenery.
Many may fear that such a brief insight into the lives of Sinai's desert-dwelling Bedouin may risk providing an unbalanced and perhaps exoticized view of their culture. And indeed, visitors to the School of the desert should be aware of the dangers of absorbing cultural information outside of its broader context.
That said, there is no doubt that Bassiouny's desert trips provide a rare insight into a culture with long experience of desert life and a wealth of tried-and-tested methods for getting comfortable outdoors.