Off The Grid: A Visit To A Bedouin Village

Recently, I found out that National Geographic photographers are required to submit at least ten thousand photographs for every project. That really changed my view on what they do as a company, and also shaped my view of photography in general. 

I usually shoot only what I think is worth shooting, and not waste frames, even when photographing with a digital camera. The consequence is that I rarely have to delete my photos, as there are not plenty in the first place. However, I plan to change that in the near future. 

Why ten thousand photos, you might ask? There’s no way all of them can be award-winning photographs, and they’ll take too much disk space anyway. All of that is true, but the reason lies in storytelling. If you shoot ten thousand photographs, and ten of them are good, you’ll have a good story of how you got the good ones.

In the National Geographic magazine, they don’t solely choose the ‘best’ ones, but rather the ones that best tell the story. So from now on, I’d like to shift my focus from composition and lighting to the subject. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll forget about looks, but rather use them to describe the subject and shape the feel that the viewer gets when looking at it. I decided to try doing that and write about my trip to a Bedouin village near Hurghada, Egypt. I stayed there last year when traveling was still possible.

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“A drive to the desert”

The Bedouin people must not be mistaken for Egyptians, as they identify as their own culture and nation. They are a population of nomadic Arabs who have inhabited desert areas around the Arabian peninsula. Divided into clans or tribes, they have a subsistence strategy of herding goats and camels. The majority of Bedouin are of Islamic religion, and many still prefer to live traditionally instead of leaving deserts for a more urban lifestyle. During our stay, we packed our gear and headed about twenty kilometers into the desert with individual quads to visit one of their villages. 

When we arrived, we were welcomed into the shade and served tea. The tea was hot, and despite the midday temperatures in the desert, actually tasted quite good. At that time, our guide had already arrived and surprised us with some knowledge of the Slovenian language. He told us he had already been to Maribor, Slovenia, and learned some along the way. He would show us along the village.

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“Sand, Converse All-Star and hot tea”

The first stop was the church, where they pray in the morning, midday, and evening. It was the only colored structure in the village and had rugs inside to pray on. It didn’t have windows, which does not surprise considering the fact it rains there only a few days in the year. 

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The next, and also the biggest structure was the water well, which was about thirty meters deep and could lift about fifty liters of water at once. Very near the well, there was the only tree in the village. They say it’s sacred – and as long as it’s green, that means there will be water in the village, which is essential for its inhabitants’ survival. If it ever does lose its leaves, the people will move onto a new location, searching for water. 

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“The water well is the biggest structure in the village”
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“The only tree in the village is considered sacred”

My favorite part of the village was the supermarket, which was abandoned a while ago and only remains for the tourists to see. What’s interesting about this nomadic village is that they’ve grown a bond with the local tourist agency to showcase tourists their traditional lifestyle, and get some money and resources in return. 

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“The abandoned supermarket”

For example, they allow tourists to ride their camels and sometimes get some money in exchange for their hospitality. They were also selling jewelry and clothing, so they could buy more resources for their village. The entire village has one truck, which they drive to the nearest town to buy what’s not possible to get in the desert. 

What struck me the most were the children, without any modern technology like cellphones or Nintendo, playing with what they had. To put that into perspective, we played with paper planes or an RC operated helicopter as kids. They literally threw a duck off a cliff. And that was the most interesting part of the day, as we had a chance to play with them and see that their every day is so much different from our own. 

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“Bedouin children don’t have modern technology”

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“They literally threw a duck off a cliff”

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They had a great bond with our guide, which gave us a great insight into their everyday life and showcased the desert playground from their perspective. They couldn’t wait for him to return to the village with a new group of tourists. At the end of the day, we were exhausted from the high temperatures and quad riding and were glad to return back to the hotel, with a new experience we’d never forget. 

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“They had a great bond with the guide”

The photographs I got from this trip were definitely not my best, with high contrast light and shadows, which I found difficult to expose the right way. The desert has harsh lighting and is colorless, which is difficult for the eye to adapt to if you’re used to a lot of green. However, the subject matter was interesting, and it’d be a shame if I didn’t put these photos to some good use. If you found this story interesting, be sure to drop a like or comment on your thoughts.

 

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