Jordan // Petra //

Married to a bedouin

When New Zealander Marguerite van Geldermalsen came to Petra on holiday in 1978, she fell in love with a local souvenir-seller – and then stayed with him to get married, settle down and raise a family. In 2006 she published Married To A Bedouin (w, a wonderfully evocative account of their life together; we give more details in “Books”. Here, Marguerite reflects on the changes she has witnessed.

I started writing Married To A Bedouin when I realised how much our way of life had changed.

When Mohammad and I were married in Petra in 1978, about seventy families lived in the ancient site; some in tents of woven goat-hair and others, like us, in 2000-year-old caves. They herded goats, planted winter crops and sold trinkets and old coins to the tourists. I learned to live like them – carting water from the spring, baking bread on an open fire and using kerosene for our lamps.

In 1985 we were moved to the overlooking hillside of Umm Sayhoon, partly to protect the archeological site but also to improve our quality of life with running water and electricity. Our children attended the village school and we became commuters – going into Petra to tend our souvenir and coffee shops, then riding home on camels and donkeys to turn on our televisions, put laundry into our washing machines and, eventually, hook up to the internet.

Mohammad and I had been married 24 years when he died. Soon after, I left Jordan. I felt my reason for living there had gone.

Now I understand that I left to write my story; I needed the distance to see clearly. Although Mohammad is no longer in Petra, through him I have become woven into the fabric of the place. In 2007 I returned – and settled straight back in.”

Today Marguerite – known as Umm Raami – still lives and works in Petra. You might see her jewellery stall by the path as you walk down from the theatre. It offers a perfect opportunity (among many) to inject a little cash into the local economy.

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