This is Suleiman, a Bedouin of Mitzpe Ramon. Suleiman can neither read nor write, but he has a Bedouin hospitality tent in Nachal Nafha where he serves tourists. He also has a house in Mitzpe Ramon, and other tents around the area. Literacy is not necessary to be a good businessman. He says he is a widower, but Chaim says he has wives in his other tents. He is looking for another wife and is willing to give five good camels for the right one, just in case you're interested. He uses the pen in his pocket to sign his name and is very proud of the fact that he doesn't have to sign with his fingerprint. The large clip in his pocket is used to hold his medical prescriptions. Suleiman suffers from diabetes and comes to the medical clinic in Mitzpe Ramon every day for treatment.
Suleiman, a Bedouin of Mitzpe Ramon. (As always, click for full size image.)
As you can see, he is a chain smoker. His white beard is tobacco stained from smoking the cigarettes he rolls himself using tobacco he grows by his tent. His was the most fragrant tobacco I have ever smelled. I can still relish the smell of the second hand smoke that surrounds him. I hate the smell of commercial cigarette smoke, a light acrid odor that feels like a rasp in the chest. Suleiman's was quite different; a rich, deep, robust smell of fragrant tobacco that makes you want to share one with him. Fortunately, I was able to resist, not having smoked for the last 30 years. A great cigarette commercial would be 30 seconds of just watching him smoke his hand rolled cigarettes. Where is Don Draper when you really need him?
Rolling your own in Mitzpe Ramon
Suleiman has been to Mecca on the Hajj and was very impressed with the honesty of the Meccans. No doors are locked anywhere, not in homes, not on cars, and your wallet is safe even if you leave it on the street. Why is this? Because, he says, they'll cut your arm off if they catch you stealing in Mecca. Just the same, I think I'll be staying home.
Suleiman is almost never seen without his signature, hand-rolled cigarette made with home grown tobacco.
Suleiman misses the old days before the Russians came ("They're not Jewish"), before there were Black Hebrews in the Negev, and before the PA and Hamas were on the scene ("They just stir up trouble between the Bedouins and the Jews"). Right now he has another job guarding the equipment being used to create a dam and large lake in Machtesh Ramon at the site of an old mineral mine. His philosophy of life is based on respect: resect for yourself and respect for others. No need to ever steal anything, just ask instead.
There is a stately dignity to Suleiman, something perhaps every true primitive has, and a likeability that could explain the Arabist biases of the British Foreign Office which once ruled over these lands. Unfortunately, his modern compatriots are not cut from the same cloth, and probably neither were the old ones either.
Suleiman's card, in case you are in need of some Bedouin hospitality while in the Mitzpe Ramon area.