Reflections on Married to a Bedouin

Marguerite van Geldermalsen, whose memoir Married to a Bedouin has just been optioned for film, reflects on the writing of the book.

Marrying my Bedouin husband in 1978 and settling into his cave in Petra opened a whole new world for me… and publishing my memoir about it 28 years later opened another. Back then I somehow imagined I might disappear into the ancient site, past the end of the dirt road, and nothing would be heard, or expected, of me again. But it wasn’t to be like that. Travellers passed through and told others, Queen Elizabeth came and we were presented to her (as I was the only British subject in the area) and we were nudged further into the public eye. Mohammad took all these repercussions of his marriage proposal in stride as we put New Zealand onto the map for the Bedouin and Jordan into the itinerary of many New Zealanders and I am sure he would be proud to see the response to the publication of my memoir, Married to a Bedouin.

Petra (back in 1978 a hidden city; little known and less visited) is now a prime tourist spot, one of the ‘new 7 wonders’ of the world, and tourists come from all over to see it. Many have done their research and with the help of the internet know that Married to a Bedouin is the book to read if you want something personal not just historical and practical facts. A good friend here describes it as an ‘accidental ethnography’; because through writing down the anecdotes I have been telling for years I have recorded the last seven years of the Bedouin habitation of Petra before we were moved to a settlement with houses, running water and electricity.

Ever since I married Mohammad tourists had been encouraging me to write a book… ‘You married a Bedouin? You lived in a cave? You should write a book’, but it had come about slowly. At first I had no such intentions, years later I got to thinking ‘maybe someday I will’. That was when I knew if I ever did I wanted to do it myself and then one day in 1997 a visitor had urged me, ‘Write those stories down even if you only do it for your children… and start now; the longer you leave it the more you’ll forget’, and so I had started. Of course my busy life as wife and mother and partner with Mohammad in our concession in Petra continued so I hadn’t finished it but later, after Mohammad’s death in 2002, I moved to Sydney and picked it up again.

It was during publication week, while talking with my publisher Lennie Goodings that I realised ‘this’ was the book I wanted to write and that the place to publicise and market it was Petra. So after 4 years in Sydney I live again in my house in the Bedouin village overlooking Petra and enjoy once again being in Jordan.

My son Raami and I reopened our concession inside Petra where we sell pieces of handmade silver jewellery and copies of my book. We meet people daily who have read it (in English, German, Dutch, Slovenian, Romanian Portuguese or Swedish), some of who are visiting because of it, others who are so excited to meet me that I am humbled by their tears and many others (French, Italian and Spanish most regularly) who complain that Married to a Bedouin isn’t yet available in their language (‘Qué pena!’ ‘Un damage!’). The Spanish have even more of an interest because there is a well publicised Spanish woman married to a Bedouin here as well.

My Bedouin friends fitted me right back in with prideful anecdotes. My nephew Tawiq said, ‘A tourist told me she had loved your book and I could tell her, “she is my aunt”’, and my brother-in-law Hussein tells the tourists, ‘the chapter called A Beautiful Bedouin Baby is about me!’

I’m glad that my book waited for the internet to happen and that I could get an ADSL connection in my village (despite it taking 3 months and being very slow) because just I love receiving emails such as this; Thank you so much for your beautiful book - it has provided such a fascinating glimpse of your life and filled me with such optimism. Your window into the land and people is so special and better than any guide book or gleaming advert.

And this; I just finished your book and my smile is wide and deep.

Mohammad is no longer sharing my days but the adventure he gave me is ongoing.

About article author

Marguerite van Geldermalsen

Marguerite van Geldermalsen

Marguerite van Geldermalsen’s parents were from the Netherlands but she was born in New Zealand where she grew up on an orchard not far from Nelson. She graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1976.She married Mohammad Abdallah two years later, living with him in a cave in Petra. She ran a small...More about Marguerite van Geldermalsen