I’ve been saving this post for a cold, rainy winter day, to remind me of a searingly hot June morning in Beersheva this year. But the rains have made only a reluctant appearance so far, and the weather is maddeningly bright. Never mind – it could be hotter. As it was that morning in the Beduin shuk.
The shuk opens on Thursdays. Now it’s contained inside a parking lot just outside of town, but people told me it once rambled over a much larger area. It has an impoverished look, compared to the hustling, colorful open-air markets in other parts of the country.
There are covered parts where stands display clothes, cheap trinkets, and household goods, but many vendors just spread their wares on the ground and hunker down next to them. This vendor sells spices, herbs, and lupine seeds boiled with turmeric. Spilling out from the red bag in front is some tired-looking sage.
I got a closer look at another vendor’s goods. Bulk-bought seeds: cardomom, flax, nigella, fenugreek. Spices: za’atar, ground turmeric, dried black lemons, more that I can’t identify. There are sacks of bulgur, rock salt, and pebbles which are meant to ignite and be used in incense.
I was struck by all the contrasts. Tentlike black tarps across the umbrella advertising Nestle ice creams – the low, shambling shuk at the foot of modern residential towers in the background – and extreme modesty in clothing next to convenient shorts paired with low-neck tops. A modern Orthodox woman, dressed somewhere in between, walks behind the leggy girls.
There wasn’t much to be seen by way of interesting food or hand-made goods. I think most of the merchandise, including the clothes and these uninspired pastries, is bulk-bought and simply re-sold. If an enterprising person sold fresh coffee and tea made in a showily traditional way, folks would buy, especially tourists.
Seeds and nuts, with a stand selling brightly-colored candies in the back.
The Galabeyah robes for women are mostly black background with embroidery. I used to see hand-sewn embroidery on Galabeyah in Jerusalem’s Arab Shuk, years ago when I still felt safe walking around there, but I understand that much modern Beduin clothing has machine embroidery glued or sewed on. This is all new: the clothes I’d see in Jerusalem had clearly been worn and needed dry-cleaning before you could wear them. This site shows many tribal variations on Galabeyah, one of which is positively spooky.
Two ladies with covered faces turning the merchandise over.
I have never seen so many women wearing Galabeyas and burkas, in Israel. These ladies are very shy and are horrified of the camera. I had to sneak these photos. They drifted around the shuk like ghosts in black, speaking softly if at all, avoiding eye contact.
Some of the Beduin women spoke Hebrew and were comfortable talking to me; others, more primitive, seemed as out of place as wild gazelles in a traffic jam. This shapely Russian stares fascinated at the Beduin woman, who is firmly holding her husband’s hand and totally covered in black.
By contrast, look at the body language of this man. Even from the back, his stance proclaims confidence and power. Yet this field report claims that Beduin women are fulfilled in their subservient roles.
The report is in English, but for those who read Hebrew and might be interested, the rest of the site is worth reading too.
This family, composed of mother, young married daughter and her children (there is a nursing baby in her arms) seem comfortable under the tarp tent and not at all concerned with sales.
You can read more about the Beduin who inhabit the Sinai desert here.
And this is a fascinating report on the foodways of the Negev Beduin.
We left the Beduin to their foodways, and went looking for something we could eat. Near the train station and close to the government buildings in Beersheva there’s an excellent kosher restaurant called Jeruzalem, on Rechov HaTikvah 4. There we feasted on tajine of lamb with apricots
and pargiot – chicken breast meat grilled and poised in a stack over grilled eggplant and bell pepper slices.
I’d like to return to Beersheva and visit the “regular” open-air market. Now that the temperatures are milder, maybe I will.
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