Guardians of the Mountain: How a Bedouin Woman Charts a New Path for Sinai Tourism
The vastness of the Sinai desert is juxtaposed with the small hidden spaces held by Bedouin women. Yet, when one enters these spaces, one realizes that their inner world stretches across the desert and represents a deeper, multifaceted and complex world that intersects with our own world.
For Bedouin women, part of their heart is inside their home, and the other part is in the mountains and the desert. When I walked into Um Yasser’s house, I only felt a part of their heart which contained stories and dreams much larger than their space. Sitting next to her daughter, Yosra, and her cousin, it didn’t take long for the conversations to crystallize and for us to connect through common interests and emotions that we share as women, such as than our favorite Egyptian jewelry, fabrics, perfumes and series and films. that Souad Hosni was playing on their television screen.
Um Yasser is the first Bedouin woman to work as a tour guide on the Sinai Trail – Egypt’s first long-distance hiking trail and the main Bedouin hiking trail in the Middle East. I only hiked with male guides, but this time I was curious not only to glimpse the natural beauty of Sinai, but also the beauty of its people – the women, children and family in its wake. together.
After drinking our tea, we talked about their lofty dreams, while Um Yasser shared with me his hopes to expand his tourism business and bring people from all over the world to Sinai. “I want to know more and better understand how the tourism industry works. I would like to be able to talk or sit down with industry and authorities to find new opportunities, new ways to grow my tourism business and see how I can improve myself. My dream is to see more tourism in Sinai, reaching 100 people for each trip, because everything stopped after the COVID-19 pandemic, ”she said.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Um Yasser has been at home without a job. Tourism is her only way to make a living, but it’s also more than that – it’s also where she got passionate at work.
“There is not another Bedouin woman who enjoys tourist work as much as I do and who is able to cover these long distances in just two days. I do this job because I love it and because there is no other job opportunity to help me survive. When tourism stops, I stop too. I want to work because I love the job, I don’t like just sitting at home.
No Bedouin woman in history has ever worked in tourism before, but after Um Yasser more women were encouraged to do so. “After I started working, more and more women became convinced that it was not bei (shameful) for a Bedouin woman to work in tourism, but that it is work, and work is not shameful. When they (Sinai Trail) told me about this job for the first time, I was in heaven. I was not afraid to work, but I was very happy to finally have the opportunity to be a part of something that will help my family and myself.
Um Yasser also passes on his heritage to his daughter to become a tour guide. “I always tell him to walk with me and explain to him how the tourism industry works. It’s not just about hiking, but also engaging with tourists and sharing insight into our culture with them. Tourism is about people and culture, which is why I try as much as possible to bring bits of Bedouin culture with me. This implies a lot of cultural exchanges and communication for which she must be prepared.
As part of Sinai Trail’s fall trips this year, the two-day trip with Um Yasser was with the Hamada tribe, the smallest and oldest tribe in the area, and included a visit to the high mountains known as of Hajar el Nimr, the rock of the leopard.
His group, which included me, would wake up early in the morning to pray and hear the sounds of birds and animals outside. We would then light a fire, drink a hot cup of tea and have breakfast with fresh Bedouin bread while studying our surroundings more carefully; look around and see the desert, the mountains and the sky.
Initially, Um Yasser started out by only guiding women on the trail. But today, she leads mixed groups. His knowledge of the desert was unmatched. No matter where she went, she found a way to guide us deeper into the wilderness. In the clear and serene atmosphere, she sang songs and poems for us, picked fresh herbs and plants, and laughed with her sister along the way. We also sometimes relax high up in the mountains where the air was fresh and pure, sipping our Bedouin tea and gazing at the clear horizon in pure silence.
Whenever one of us felt a little too tired to continue the hike, she would pull us back and say in a powerful voice, “A Bedouin woman is a keeper of the mountains. We love the mountains. You have to develop your strength like the Bedouin woman.