Drinking tea with Bedouins and other adventures

by Sarah on May 21, 2011

Eilat mountains, view to Jordan

Our car clonked out on us right after the zigzaggy accent of the Arava, a land of scruffy sandunes and electrical poles. It’s not exactly a convenient place to breakdown, especially not on the evening before a holiday when nothing is likely to be open. Cars and trucks whizzed past, leaving rude whirlpools of dust that never seemed to settle.

northern negev

I wondered if my husband’s cellphone was working since mine blipped its last somewhere in Eilat, after two nights of desert camping and a day at the beach. We were stuck with no plan of action when a car swerved onto the shoulder and four men jumped out.

“What’s the problem?” one asked in an Arabic accent as they approached us. We weren’t exactly sure. Talking in Arabic amongst themselves and car jargon to my husband they quickly assessed the situation.

“Get behind the wheel, turn the switch, push the gas..…it’s the charger” We would have to call for a tow truck and that would take hours. Without hesitating our rescue team offered to charge the battery and follow us to Beer Sheva where we would find a garage.  But we never made it. They pulled over seven times to jump start our useless car, seven!

“Don’t use the windshield wipers” they warned after handing us the cables for the fourth or fifth time. As if on cue, the cloud that was following us from Dimona had a temper tantrum, dumping more water than I have ever seen in that arid part of the country. We turned on the wipers and the car stalled again. By that time the Bedouins had relayed information to their mechanic friend in Tel Sheva, the Bedouin town nearby “My friend has the part. We’ll take you there”

bedouin town, tel sheva

The mechanic didn’t have a compatible replacement so one of the Bedouin men offered to bring it from the adjacent down. We waited in a courtyard, a gravel parking lot between four houses where young Bedouin girls played a rough game of tag, jumping on the roof a car and over cinder blocks. They were cousins, the daughter and nieces of the mechanic, who was one of eleven brothers, several of whom lived within this extended family compound. Horses were tied to the backyard and chickens ran around freely. The matriarch, in her flowing white head shawl strolled out of one house, looked up at us quizzically and continued on her way. A tray of sweet tea was passed around and we sat on the castaway sofas in the corner of his shop. In the background gun shots could be heard, a wedding celebration at the grass green mosque nearby.

Who were these people who stopped to help?

negev highway, sunset

After several hours, the key was put into the ignition and we heard the lovely brmm, brmm of the engine, humming softly like there was never a problem. They drove my husband to the local ATM, but being Friday, the Muslim day of rest it was unplugged so they left town again to find one that worked. We paid the mechanic and wanted to compensate the highway rescuers for their time and help. They were angry and pushed it away. Instead they gave us advice “You have a flat, there’s a fellow who’ll fix it for twenty shekels on the way out of town”.

Could I be blamed for imagining our car dissected into a thousand pieces in this Bedouin town? The car dump yard in the middle of town filled with rusted skeletons of vehicles did nothing to calm my suspicions. Later, back on the road, my husband told me that the Bedouins were on their way back from Jordan. “We go there every two weeks”, the Bedouin told him, “For travel” he added. What other reason could their be? On one of his trips the car broke down on an empty stretch of the Arava, dead in the night. “Nobody helped” he lamented “and when I saw you I had to stop.”

Who were these people who stopped to help?


A more relaxing way to meet Bedouins is to go on Ben Brewer’s Negev food tour.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Turkey's For Life May 22, 2011 at 12:46 am

Sometimes you have no choice but to put yourself at the mercy of others and isn’t it lovely that these people stopped for you? Great story. :)


Sarah May 22, 2011 at 12:52 am

Thanks Julia, It is wonderful that there are still people willing to help without expecting anything in return


Yael May 22, 2011 at 4:24 am

Now it makes a great story but I bet at the time it wasn’t much fun. Beautiful post as usual.


usha May 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Lovely story. Brings to mind a passage from the Bible…..
” Be kind to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels.”


Miriyummy May 22, 2011 at 11:26 pm

I wouldn’t have wanted to be you at the time, but now I envy you and your story. And that tea must have tasted wonderful!


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