Married to a Bedouin
A New Zealand nurse visited the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, where she met a Bedouin seller of souvenirs and loved him and lived with him in his cave.
By Dr. Haytham Mouzahem —
‘”Where you staying?” the Bedouin asked. “Why you not stay with me tonight – in my cave?”‘
Thus begins Marguerite van Geldermalsen’s story of how a New Zealand-born nurse came to be married to Mohammad Abdallah Othman, a Bedouin souvenir-seller from the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.
In 1978, Marguerite and her companion traveled across the Middle East when Margaret met the Bedouin with a talented personality who convinced her that he was the right man for her.
When Marguerite and her friend Elizabeth sat at the thresholds of the stone-carved “Al-Khazneh” (The Treasury), building, Mohammed sat next to them and then began talking to them.
Al-Khazneh, is an archaeological landmark excavated by Nabataeans in Petra two thousand years ago. It is not known if it was a temple or tomb, while some Bedouin believe that the treasure of the Pharaohs is found in the ceramic vessel on the top of the rock.
The writer later discovered that the Nabataeans were originally nomads and became important for the incense trade across Arabia and Yemen, where they ensured a safe route for camel convoys. At the beginning of the third century BC, the Nabataeans were striking their tents in Petra because they were a natural fortress, with several springs and easy access to protection. In the following centuries the Nabateans built a prosperous kingdom that dominated the beginning of the first century AD on an area that began in southern Syria and spread to the Negev Desert in Palestine and ended in the Arabian Peninsula. Petra was the capital of this state.
As you stroll through Petra’s archaeological sites, you see a woman draws a large sticker near her gift shop. On the poster, her picture appears on the cover of a book she wrote entitled “Married to a Bedouin.”
Marguerite says that when she heard the word Bedouin, she felt as if she was emitting mystery and romance. The tour guide told them that the nomads were a mobile traveler, living in tents and caves in Petra without sanitary facilities, while his tribe lived in the nearby Wadi Musa town of Petra in ordinary cement houses with glass windows and steel doors, running water and some electric generators.
But the disdain for the nomadic tour guide increased Margaret’s resolve and determination to recognize the Bedouin and stay with them.
When Marguerite and her friend Elisabeth sat next to the stairs of the “Khazneh”, Muhammad came and invited them to his house. Elizabeth turned to ask her for her opinion, but her question came late because Marguerite had accepted the invitation. “He was enthusiastic and we were looking for adventure,” says the writer.
That’s how the love story began between Marguerite and Mohammed, and then this young New Zealand woman decided to marry Mohammed, the Bedouin and the souvenir seller, and live with him in his cave in Petra, the 2,000-year-old cave carved in a red rock above the hill.
Marguerite soon became the resident nurse of the tribe that lived in this historic site.
Marguerite, or “Um Rami” (mother of Rami),” told The Levant News how she came to Petra as a tourist. She fell in love with a Bedouin or a peddler who sold gifts and married him and lived with him in his cave for seven years between 1978 and 1985. She also talked about learning to live like Bedouins, cooking on firewood, baking loaves of bread, dragging water from valleys to donkeys to the cave, and drinking local black tea. Then she learned Arabic and embraced Islam and gave birth to three children, two boys and one girl.
In 1985, the Jordanian government decided to transfer the Bedouin of Petra to the village of Umm Sayhon. Marguerite moved with her husband and children to the village.
Her husband, Mohammed, died in 2002. She says she was happy with her life with him after having lived a love story for 24 years.
And about her ability to leave modern civic life and live in a cave,Marguerite says life was easier because it cost nothing. Everything was available and without the burden of expenses, as housing is free and no bills for water and electricity, and the food and drink of the “Halal”, meaning any of the sheep and goats they raise.
Marguerite is currently working in Petra and her place of work is a wooden table displaying silver accessories that she sells to tourists.
After her husband’s death, she decided to write her story in a book explaining how the lives of Petra’s Bedouin before they had water and electricity and enjoyed normal life.
“My marriage to a Bedouin and my children Salwa, Rami and Marwan were a great incentive to write my book. I was lucky when I started publishing my book in London in 2006, I printed it 21 times and it has been printed in 14 languages,” said Marguerite.