May 1996. I'm on my way from Cairo to Mount Sinai, crossing the desert of the Sinai peninsula. It is hot. The area we're driving through is bare - rocks, sand, some dried up grasses, and shades of beige and sienna with hints of red. The mountains are steep and not inviting at all. It is a merciless landscape.
In the distance we see goats and sheep and a handful of women wrapped in black shawls. When we come closer they wave to us, with a friendly smile on their faces. We stop at the next turn and get out. Slowly the women approach us, a bit shy at first. Then they show their crooked teeth in a broad smile. Suddenly children join them, hiding behind their moms and peeking over to us - the rich tourists.
They invite us for tea. We are hesitant - is the water safe? They boil the water for a long time and brew strong, dark tea with a few leaves of peppermint inside and lots of sugar. I'm sure I couldn't drink it without the sugar, and I'm also sure that it will keep me awake all through the night. We sit on the dirt ground and the primitive mug of tea is given from hand to hand. Everybody takes a sip. This is not the time and place to be picky.
The women don't speak English, but there is someone who understands a bit of Arabic. They tell us that they are Bedouins, proud nomads who live in the desert. They live in tents with their children, sheep and goats - no no, the animals are not in the tents. They make their own jewelry and want to sell it to us. Where are the men? We don't see any. They wouldn't tell us.
The children are less shy by now and come over to us. We have a few sweets that we give them. They shout in excitement when they are allowed to look through the binoculars one of us carries around. First they hold them the wrong way. They laugh and giggle just like every child does. They touch our light skin, our clothes. And finally they see us get into our vehicles again because we need to go on. They wave when we leave.
They don't have a steady home. They own only a few clothes and some goats and sheep. Compared to our life they are poor - they don't have a house, a car, a TV; their kids don't go to school; their daily life and work is hard. And still there wasn't any resentment. On the contrary - they proudly invited us to share a cup of tea with them. There was such dignity. And I wonder - would we have been that friendly if we had met them in "our" world?