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The Love of the Desert 

"Bait Sha'ar", traditional bedouin hand made tent

Campsite at Mutla
Families arriving at a desert camp
Group of men having fun in the desert
Tent complete with satellites
The view from inside the tent

Women taking a stroll in the desert

Bedouin hair house
Desert patriotism
Families arriving at their camp
Sheep in the Mutla desert area
Sheep at a camp
The in-ground fire pit that is used for making tea and coffee
Hamming it up in the desert!

(View of a desert camp)

The Love of the Desert

Mia Ponzo

January 2002  

          There is something about being on the open land that gives vitality to a person, inhaling the fresh air, and getting close to the land. It is winter in Kuwait, and we are right in the middle of the camping season. This is the time when Kuwaitis go back to their desert roots and become one with the land again. This is the time when both the bedouin and the village folks (called "hathar") head out to the undeveloped areas of the Kuwaiti desert, set up their tents, water tanks, generators, etc. (and sometimes even sattelites) and have the time of their lives!

          There are loads of places to go in Kuwait for camping. You can go out near the Saudi Arabian border, out near Wafra, to the central desert areas near Kebd, or out to my favorite place in all of Kuwait, Mutla'. This is the area on the way to Subiyyah, (on the way to Iraq) outside of Jahra, that is the only place in Kuwait where there is something that resembles mountains. Now, they are really only sand and rock hills, and mini cliffs, but they will definitely do just fine when you want to go out for a fun day in a 4x4. If you are an experienced driver you can go up and down the steep inclines and die laughing while you practically turn your truck over. Or if you are more faint of heart, then you can stick to the small hills and knolls, which are just as fun, much safer, and more my speed.  My favorite part of all is doing sand donuts, much like what we used to do in the snow in America!!! Almost more fun than a person can stand!

          In some areas the tents are so close together you can practically hear what the people in the other tents are saying, but that doesn't doesn't give you the real beauty of camping in the desert. The real beauty comes from being away from the other camps and on your own, or at least far enough away that the sounds are muffled. In order to get the full impact of the Kuwait desert, you need to allow yourself the peace, solitude, and privacy that the desert offers. 

          When you sit in a tent , especially if it is a "hair house" or "bait sha'ar" you get the feel of the way the desert used to be before the people lived in the cities and towns. The bait sha'ar is the black hand-woven tent that you see from time to time in the deserts of Kuwait and the Arabian peninsula. Usually these are hand made by the women of the family, and, therefore, woven into them is all the love, hard work and sweat that a wife and mother has to give to her family, along with all the emotion that goes along with it. The bait sha'ar is a work of art, and hard work at that. It takes months, if not years, to finish. The bait sha'ar is decorated with other forms of weaving, called "sadu", which are the hand woven sitting cushions, wall hangings, carpets, camel bags, etc. that are all so colorful, and fairly easy to come by in Kuwait, especially at the Friday Market. They are made of roughly hand spun sheep's wool, normally, and sometimes camel hair, or goat's hair as well. This wool yarn is then dyed with natural dyes to the bright and beautiful colors that you see in the home, diwaniyya or tent of any bedouin who is worth his salt. Reds, blues, greens, oranges and earthy colors, too, adorn the imaginative woven delights. The bait sha'ar is abundantly adorned with these gorgeous works of hand woven art, and if you are lucky enough to be able to sit with the bedouins in their tents, you will be surrounded with their wonder. Under you will be carpets of furry, long threads, resembling a long shag carpet, and behind and beside you will be the hand stuffed cushions, again, adorned with the amazingly intricate sadu motifs. Also, hanging on the side walls of the tents will be long strips of sadu hand work, with colorful hanging tassles, all showing the amount of time that goes into these works of love.

Right in front of you practically no matter where you sit, there is the "doowa" (this is usually a metal or brass hearth for charcoal, although, for those people who are less nomadic, often cement hearths are made). There is always someone in charge of the fire, and, along with that, the tea and coffee. It is a Kuwaiti/Arab tradition to have the fire brewed tea and coffee on hand at all times. Of course, it started out that the fire kept people warm in the winter, and, of course, having fresh coffee and tea to serve guests is a prerequisite for any Kuwaiti/Arab family. There is nothing better than to be seated in the midst of friends in the bait sha'ar, while relaxing against the sadu cushions, drinking cups of hot, fresh, fire-brewed tea and bitter Arabic coffee, munching on dates, and "hebb" (white, salted pumpkin seeds), and listening to the wind blow, the sheep and goats bleating, and the sound of the lively conversation, accented from time to time with the distant sound of a hawk, horse, or wild animal.

As the day goes on, a sheep might be slaughtered and prepared in the traditional bedouin way, with a minimum of spices, and rice. This would especially be so if a guest had come by. Otherwise the occupants of the bait sha'ar might be content to drink laban, fresh from the camel or the goats, or to eat some bread with dates, and "samna" (clarified butter), or "zibdah" (butter or goat's butter), and perhaps some yogurt.

As the sun sets over the desert horizon you get a view that you really can't get in the city. With no smoke or haze overhead, and nothing but the backdrop of the gorgoeus Mutla' ridge,  you get to see a sight that only other like-minded people would have seen. The glowing ball of the sun, slowly turning dark yellow and then orange, and finally deep red until it finally disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the Maghreb (sunset) prayer is prayed. You see men and women, young and old, drop whatever they were doing and pray either together or alone, in the tents, or alongside the roads. They are in a hurry because this prayer time goes out more quickly than any other. When the sky becomes completely dark, and the last glow of the long set sun disappears the prayer time is over.

The nighttime in the desert is a most amazing and romantic time. Far away from the city lights, you have never seen the stars quite so clear. It reminds you of the days when the nomads still roamed the deserts of the world in droves, with their full caravans, and every last belonging that they owned. Stopping only in places full of greenery and water for their herds to graze from, or for pregnant women to deliver their babies.

Sometimes, if the weather isn't too cold outside, the people will set out their carpets in front of the tent and have a fire going. It is at this time, when you look up at the stars, that you know for sure that you and everyone else on earth are a part of one vast universe, and the wanderers of the world are some of the closest to knowing the secrets the universe holds. Nowadays the bedouin may or may not be educated, some holding PHD's, while others not even finishing high school, but all of them still tend to have the same closeness to the earth and the universe, as do all people who stay close to the land. Just being around God's creation, whether it is the plant life, the animals, or just the ground, is enough of a connection.

You and I can never be truly bedouin, but we can still get the feeling of the desert. You don't even need to have your own tent, just go out there, and feel it. Climb up the Mutla' "mountains" and feel the sand under your feet. If you have a four wheel drive vehicle, take it out there and see what it can do. Horseback is even better, but just watch out for snake holes and rocks. Breathe in the truly fresh air, and close your eyes, you are there and it's yours too... 



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