Before this dinner in the middle of the Palmyra desert the only Bedouin I was familiar with was the impossibly glamorous Egyptian star Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia. (But at least he was a native of the region. The nascent Saudi Arabia's King Faisal was played in the movie by that most British of actors, Sir Alec Guinness.) By the time the festivities were over, I was looking at the Bedouin with entirely new eyes.
There was food, wine, music, dancing, story-telling--quite a thumping, fascinating peek at an age-old culture that has, in many ways, also transformed into a tourist product. The ancient Bedouin, long nomads across the vast deserts of Arabia and Africa, have by and large settled and become domesticated. The tent we ducked under for our mass dinner was actually a restaurant; the Bedouin have learned to package their culture and traditions for visitors, much like the Igorots dressing up in their finery to be photographed in Baguio.
Still, it was an atmospheric, mind-altering experience tasting a bit of that culture. Watch the video to know why. And see how my Flip camera is unable to peel itself from the young Syrian dancer who looks like a rough-hewn Gael Garcia Bernal. Strictly in terms of looks, maybe David Lean's casting of a Hollywood heartthrob as a Bedouin wasn't such a stretch, after all.