The Aneza of Wadi Rum

One year into my photo journey, I stumbled upon the Aneza family of Abou Mohammad, located in Wadi Al-Yetim adjacent to the mountains of Wadi Rum.

When I first met Abou Mohammed, he was sixty five years old, a remarkably advanced age, considering the harsh living conditions in the desert. His thin body, wizened face and rotting teeth tell the story of his life in that wilderness. He was born around 1932, to a mother from the Guedman tribe. This probably indicates his father's humble status within the Aneza, since Bedouins seldom marry outside their tribe, and they look down on the Guedman in particular. Abou Mohammad's father migrated from the eastern part of the Jordanian desert to settle in Wadi al-Yetim at the beginning of the twentieth century. He married to two women and, along with other members of his tribe, earned money by carrying supplies for the Turkish garrison on camels.

As a boy, Abou Mohammad would often hear his father relate stories of Turkish soldier's brutality. In particular there was one incident when a camel, over-laden with coffee, stumbled and fell from exhaustion in Wadi al-Yetim. The Turkish rider dismounted, levelled his gun, and shot the camel through the head. Distraught, the owner of the camel drew his dagger and attacked the Turk, who fired another shot at the Bedouin guide but missed. The Bedouin ran for his life, leaving behind the rest of his camels and other belongings.

Ironically, what Abou Mohammad finds most reprehensible about the Turk's behaviour was his cruelty towards the camel. He shakes his head ruefully as he elaborates on the cruelty of the Ottomans, remembering when they used aeroplanes (probably in air raids against the Arab armies in the Great Arab Revolt) to kill the Bedouins' camels and sheep.

Abou Mohammad spent much of his youth in the mountains of Wadi Rum hunting the badan (ibex, or mountain goat) and collecting wild honey. In that wilderness he had to go without food for many days; but even today, his tent has the rare distinction among Bedouins in being well-stocked with honey. Abou Mohammad's hunting days are largely over due to to his old age. Nevertheless, oblivious to the laws protecting the badan as endangered species, he hunted on of a few weeks before my visit and hid its head atop of some rocks near his tent, intending to give it as a gift to a dear friend. To his chagrin, a wild cat found the head and ate its ears, destroying the gift. Incidentally, the wild cat itself is hunted as it's blood is believed to have medicinal properties. In another incident, his wife, Bakhita (Um Mohammad), caught a baby ibex that had approached her sheep, and they raised it for five months, before selling it for 5 Dinars.

Abou Mohammad married Bakhita (whose name means fortunate) when she was fourteen years of age, while he, himself was probably not much older. He complains that she has always been a weak and sickly woman, she lay sick for a whole year. Since then, he laments, he has bought her more than a hundred "medical pipes" (inhalers for her asthma), but these remedies did not cure her and she continues to wheeze today.

These complaints belie Abou Mohammad's deep affection for his wife, as shown by the fact that he stayed married to her for a full eight years before she gave birth to a child after she was advised to take harmala for fertility. Normally, a Bedouins would swiftly divorce a woman who does not give early evidence of her fecundity, preferably in the form of an array of boys.

This fate befell one of their daughters, Tamam (meaning perfection), who was married to Salem, her cousin, for two years. Having failed to bear him any children in this period, she was returned to her parents' home. She is now allocated all the hard chores like herding the sheep, although this exposes her to the danger of snake and scorpion bites. In addition to Tamam and their son Mohammad, Bakhita gave birth to another daughter who contracted diabetes when she was three years old and had to be taken to Jerash for medical treatment. She died at the age of eleven.


It is difficult to stay healthy in the desert, where food (particularly fresh fruits and vegetables) and clean water are scarce. Abou Mohammad's favourite meal is cooked lentils, washed down with hot black tea or yoghurt. He avoids fatty meat possibly because of the deteriorated state of his teeth. Dental hygiene is non-existent in the desert, and Abou Mohammad suffers much from tooth ache, which he tries to soothe by smoking. He began smoking when he was only 8 years old, and while the cigarettes eases the pain of his teeth, he complains that they have dried his body.

In all his years, Abou Mohammad has never been outside Jordan. The furthest he has been from Wadi al-Yetim is Jerash, where he took his diabetic daughter to hospital using a friend's pickup truck. Unable to stay in the hotels, he took with him his food supply, consisting of flour, sugar and tea, plus wood to sell for any incidental expenses during his two-day journey.

There is little income that can be made in the sands of Wadi al-Yetim. In 1956, Abou Mohammad was employed by the Ministry of Public Works for two years and earned a daily salary of about 250 fils (approximately 70 US cents). This was his last contact with the civil administration, except for renewing his identity card. Even this practice he found futile and thus abandoned it in 1971. Today his family survives on the small amounts of money which they earn from herding sheep, but the cost of maintaining the animals is often more trouble than it is worth. Abou Mohammad earns 500-600 Dinars ($800-$900) each year from selling the sheep, but this barely covers the cost of feeding them, particularly in winter. 

Tamam son 2006

*Written by Rami Sajdi, Copyright © Rami Sajdi All Rights Reserved