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Arabah, a desert area in the middle of Jordan. The village of Greigra became base camp for a small band of archaeologists and me. While they spent their days digging in the area, I unearthed other secrets above ground by visiting several families in the area. Interacting with the local people, I began to discover the struggles faced by the traditionally migratory Bedouin who, with government encouragement, were settling as agriculturalists. A day in the Badiya From base camp, it was a long drive into the Jordanian badiya, a vast area of arid dryland. Upon my arrival, I found myself sipping sweet Bedouin tea, watching children play while the goats were nibbling at my shoes. One child in particular, Fareed, caught my eye. While his Bedouin cousins were running and playing, climbing small rocky ridges barefoot, Fareed was less sturdy and able; he even wore shoes. This playground was vastly different from his usual one: a three-bedroom apartment on the first floor where he lived with his parents. Haifa, his mother explains this: “Fareed loves it here. The kids are free; they run around, they are happy. The space, the animals – It’s all very exciting to him. In the house, he is locked up; four walls around him. He constantly wants to go out”. Over the last decade, the badiya has transformed. To the foreigner, the changes may seem slight, but Fareed’s father Salem knows that his son’s childhood will be radically different from his own. Fifteen years ago, there was nothing in the area that is now Greigra village. With its three shops in garages it can hardly be called a village. Even now with its three shops in garages it barely justifies the name, but it is nevertheless a settlement. Development and Discord Development started when Sharif Nasser, a member of the royal family, chose the area as his new hunting spot. He intended to spend weekends there and built facilities to suit his needs. Soon water wells were dug and two small houses built, one for storage and one to live in. The houses were used during the hunting season, remaining vacant when Sharif Nasser left. Things changed when he rented the land and use of the wells to a group of entrepreneurial Palestinians. The Palestinians set up a successful, but highly resource-intensive, watermelon farm. Their success attracted others, and soon other buildings emerged in the area. The government paid for most of these buildings under the Bedouin Settlement Programme and encouraged the Bedouin to practise farming and adopt a settled lifestyle. Mohammad Sa’adah, a representative of a tribal group in the area, reports: “Before 1985 there was nothing here. Not even a water well. Then Sharif Nasser came and built a farm. Many more facilities, such as running water and a clinic came to the area and attracted people. That’s why people settled here”. The development of the Greigra settlement has transformed life in the area rapidly. But everyone has not welcomed the change, as the government invested in the area, the local balance of power shifted. Normally, several tribes would visit the Greigra area during their migration cycle. Some would stay longer; others frequented the area only briefly. During their visits, water rights and herding rights over the vast rangelands were managed collectively. Now, with the government and private sector infringing on the land, the tribal groups are subject to ‘renting’ water for certain amounts of time according to household and agricultural use. Government intervention and the organization of the water supply have sharpened contrasts and competition between as well as within social groups.
And. people conduct everyday business in the house. When an agricultural plot is owned. Salem shares Mohammad Sa’adah’s worries: “Everything has become more difficult. the land must be worked. Strikingly. And in order for income to be generated.. you need to pay to build something for the house. To exacerbate Salem’s worries. The water needed to sustain the agricultural lifestyle. she has a kitchen with an oven. Now. If you have all these facilities it is easy. you sometimes can't sleep: you need to pay for electricity. she had to bake bread and meals over a fire. explains. he cannot climb over small ridges. prepared the food and looked after the children. Now. a policy-maker for the Ministry of the Environment. The mother in the house needs more facilities. he 2 . which the government has encouraged. which involves an entirely different set of costs. Mohammad Sa’adah admits. stove and a fridge. while using a traditional tent to receive guests and celebrate holidays. people start to visit the clinic and the school.. The men. Some men work in a local factory a few miles away. Her house has air conditioning.” The symbolic and the real: permanence and un-sustainability As the Bedouin seek to adjust. to pay for the water. many of the houses built through the government scheme end up with Bedouin tents pitched right next to them. In the village. This means that in twenty years it may become impossible to cultivate watermelons. people will need to fall back upon their traditional skills as nomads. That means bills for water and electricity. what will we do when the water runs out? It will be a big problem. it needs to be worked. mainly drank tea and talked politics in the shade. comes from a glacial aquifer: a finite resource. The men of Salem’s generation have not been able to benefit from the new school system and lack many marketable skills. villagers told me. while the women tended to the livestock. with minimal help from any additional cooking appliances. As a man.” Should such a time come. they cannot catch up. The changes to Mohammad’s wife’s lifestyle have been similarly drastic. Before. evidence of the struggles of settlement are visible everywhere. Looking back at young Fareed. you have to pay for medicines.bed apartment. His father jokingly comments: “Look at my son. relationships and work duties have shifted. This way they fall into the social security programmes and into low-paid jobs and income areas. previously. you need to pay to build something next to the house. there is evidence that the Bedouin communities in Greigra may not remain so permanent. They struggle to adjust to the developments. Yet.” he sighs. pay for books. They are so far behind. “Life is more difficult now. men were not involved in work in and around the tent. as a community settles. But the majority finds themselves lost in time. but if you don't have enough money [to maintain them] it is difficult. These concrete homes standing alongside the tents are demonstrative of the Bedouin’s slow adjustment to a settled lifestyle. These things put a big load in the bucket of the men”. my wife is in the house all day now . in his shoes. “Some Bedouin have managed to find ways to prosper and find lots of opportunities. in the comfort of his parents’ three. there is the fact that the area has no industry. There is no other way to survive in the badiya. it is obvious that these skills are easily lost. Most do odd jobs. Tarek Abulhawa. The Bedouin lifestyle that their fathers and grandfathers prepared Mohammad and Salem for has changed unrecognizably.Transformations in the household Settlement also affected gender relationships within households. Mohammad Sa’adah worries about the future: “With a growing village population and an increasing number of people practising agriculture instead of herding livestock.
3 . He is almost always in the house. these may be the skills that will be needed once agricultural development in the area will be forced to halt.falls over quickly on rocky terrain and he needs to wear shoes all the time. the skills required for the lifestyle practiced in this area for thousands of years are being forgotten. Meanwhile. the area they live in is not suitable for this practice. the men’s worries about the future are justified.. Likewise.. the old system of communal land and water use is ignored.. Ironically. He will become stupid!” As it stands.. Whilst the population is being encouraged to become agriculturalists. The development that is based upon the use of water is already causing intense competition.
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