|On our way back to the hotel, we met the New Zealander Marguerite van Geldermalsen who had a poster by her shop located at the heart of the Bedouin area. She wore Bedouin clothes in the photo on the cover of Arabic edition of a book she wrote titled ‘I am married to a Bedouin’ published by Al-Obeikan Publishing.|
Accompanied by her friend Elisabeth, Marguerite had gone to Petra in 1978 as a tourist and met a Bedouin man named Mohammad Abdullah who owned a humble gifts shop. She fell in love with Mohammad and decided to get married. She lived with her husband for 24 years until he died in 2002. They were blessed with two sons and a daughter, and many grandchildren.
Marguerite said she’s still happy living among Bedouins for over 40 years and loves the simple desert lifestyle. She said everything is available in the caves that serve as their home, devoid of the stress of the modern way of life that entails electricity bills, tax, traffic jam, and so on.
Her story reminded me of the English Aristocrat Jane Digby (April 3, 1807- Aug 11, 1881) who lived a life of romantic adventure, spanning across two continents. She had many lovers and four husbands, including King Ludwig I of Bavaria, the son of King Otto of Greece, statesman Felix Schwarzenberg, and Greek General Christodoulos Hatzipetors.
Around 1852, Jane made a journey to Syria at age 46, and the caravan was attacked by highwaymen on the way from Hems to Tadmor, although several tribal men had been hired to protect them. Jane was terrified but Medjuel Al-Mezrab who was a sheikh of the Mezrab section of Sba’a clan of the great Anizzah tribe of Syria showed great courage and confronted the highwaymen. Jane liked his courage and fell in love with him. They got married, although she was 20 years older. Jane left behind a miserable life of luxury to live in the desert with her husband for 15 years, and only visited her homeland one more time. She was submissive to her husband and liked walking barefoot. She was interested in milking camels and fetching firewood. She also provided medical advice to women that trusted her and dwelled with them until death.
In her latter years, Jane wanted to live in Damascus but the husband convinced her to change her mind. They continued dwelling in Hems due to dispute between the husband’s family and other families in Damascus. Jane preferred to stay in the outskirts of the city, so she bought a garden and built her own house there until she relocated to Damascus with her husband, but she kept visiting the desert.
Throughout her 30 years in Syria, Jane was faithful to the husband. She wrote no letters to any member of her family except her brother. She died of diarrhea and dysentery in 1881 and was buried in the Protestants Graveyard in Damascus. Medjuel also died six years later in 1887.
By Ahmad Al-Sarraf