Ameria, the last nomads of the Saint Catherine Mountains

You have to walk two hours from the village of Saint Catherine, in the Sinai in Egypt, to meet him. Penetrating this barren mountain, at first glance soulless. Across steep valleys, almond trees found the freshness and water needed to give their first fruits at the beginning of May. And find out, at last, who Amriya, the last Bedouin woman to live there, is.

Between two sections of the rocky mountain, his Spartan house built of dry stone is visible. She sits a little higher, on a rock, watching her goats. Don’t climb or else they will escape! They just support me.” She said before getting off again, wearing sneakers under her long black embroidered galabiya.

Her veil covers her hair and mouth, according to Bedouin tradition. His intense black gaze alone testified to the strength of his character. For forty years, Amria, 75, has been living here alone. Despite the harsh winters and dry summers. The mountain gives me everything I need. Sometimes I ask God too. If I receive, that’s fine for meHe slips hoarsely, rolling a cigarette between her fingers.

Leaving means losing a part of my culture.

After Egypt retook Sinai from the Israelis in 1982, many Bedouins, semi-nomadic Arabs, descended to live in Saint Catherine, a small town now equipped with a hospital, school, and shops. Like her parents and husband. He was twenty years older than me and wanted to take the kids. Five girls and three boys, the youngest of whom was six years old at the time. you could not. Leaving means losing a part of my Bedouin culture.

The city of Saint Catherine in South Sinai has developed since the eighties in this valley where the various Bedouin tribes used to meet once a year. | Reserved Emily

So she would travel every month to see her family and bring them something to live on. Fruits and vegetables from his garden, milk from his goats. I also collected herbs like thyme and marjoram to sellshe lists.

It was hard. Yes, It’s too hardAnd she admits to letting the tears flow when we try to find out more. But I couldn’t leave. The mountain to me is like a human being. It gives me the energy I need.

At that time, for other nomads, Amria he lost his mind “. Single woman here who let her kids go, any idea? “,”they asked. For me, it was also to show that nomads are able to live here on their own. When I see women waiting for their husbands at home all day, it’s not good. If he disappears, they won’t know what to do.” She says, before she now laments that she has not been successful in passing on these values ​​of independence to her daughters.

The Ameriya Bedouins lived alone in the Sinai mountains of Egypt for forty years. | Reserved Emily

When I arrived in Sinai, at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in 1975, there were only a few Bedouin homes in the valleyFather Justin remembers the monk in charge of the library. Only after 1982, when the Sinai returned to Egypt, the Bedouins gradually migrated to this valley. When we were still nomads, once a year all the tribes of the region gathered here near the monastery. It was also a time of marriage between families,” Salah mentions the owner of a camp for tourists. Today, about 5,000 Bedouins are said to live on Saint Catherine.

The first tourists began to arrive

Years passed and the first tourists began to arrive. The Bedouin community in Ameriya and Jabalia mountain climbersThey are the only ones licensed by the Egyptian government to be guides in this part of Sinai. With these tourists, I started to have some money and gradually expanded my house to accommodate them, She explained. Then I realized that I could do a project to leave to my children. Everyone comes to see her regularly. But after three days they are bored.” She says amused.

On this day in May, in the middle of the feast week, which marks the end of Ramadan, groups of Israeli hikers, led by Bedouin guides, parade. They make use of the Spartan kitchen to heat tea or to prepare a meal. Amria offers them to buy the canvas bags she made. Before disappearing again to climb the mountain in search of his goats.

In his garden, sandwiched between the two sides of the mountain, almond trees, grape plants and apple trees are grown. | Reserved Emily

The sun’s low rays signified that it was time for her to go and water the almond trees, vineyards, and apple trees…Amria is sitting on the edge of her well to roll a new cigarette of Khodari, the herb she grows. An eye on the park next to it. For several years, the Bedouins would return to the mountains for a few months a year. After the revolution, the Covid-19 pandemic… they realized that here we can continue to live in peace, no matter what happens thereshe explained.

Hotels under construction

Saint Catherine’s Valley is currently an outdoor construction site. Under the monastery, future luxury hotels and a museum about the history of this region of the land appear. For the local Bedouins, it’s a shock. They are changing the nature of the site, The mountain guide worries. I Here are already hotels in St. Catherine not working, so why are we building more? Tourists come here to be in nature and not to stay in 5-star hotels.”

Amria keeps herself informed of the projects that are moving the valley. It is not the new buildings that will make us disappear, but we must continue to pass on our culture to the younger ones.

At the moment, Amria also has plans to expand. This morning, the solar panels that had been waiting for a year were delivered by a camel. By drawing in the sand, she explains where you are going to set up tents a little further out in the mountains. Leaving a trail is what drives him. I started from nothing, and today I can leave something for my children. If this place were to live after me, it would all make sense.” Emery confirms, whose first name in Arabic refers to a tree that is at least a hundred years old.

Ameria, the last nomads of the Saint Catherine Mountains

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