By Louise Sarant (Egypt independent)
Around St. Catherine’s Monastery, encircled by the high South Sinai mountains, lie hundreds of Bedouin gardens nested in the nearby wadis, or valleys. These gardens, which were initially built during the Byzantine period by monks, hermits and settlers from around the Mediterranean, have been the responsibility of the Jabaleya Bedouins for more than a century.
A severe drought that lasted for years in the peninsula, coupled with an unprecedented amount of precipitation and snow that fell over the mountains early this year, has badly damaged some of these precious shrines to biodiversity.
Because the houses are built of stone and rooftops from a mix of rocks and sand, the continuous rainfall pushed against the roofs, which finally collapsed under the strain.
With many Bedouin families relying on these mountain orchards for their livelihood, the collapse of the buildings and fences, and the destruction of the trees was a disaster. To finance the rebuilding of these enclaves, members of the Jabaleya tribe have now launched an alternative tourism project inviting volunteers to participate in restoration efforts.
Entitled “Help Rebuild the Bedouin Gardens and Discover the Sinai High Mountains,” the project is still in its early stages but tribe members plan to bring visitors to the gardens to stay with local families and help with reconstruction work. They will also be asked to provide a donation directly to gardeners to hire workers, buy building materials and cover transportation costs.
“These gardens provide livelihoods for us, as there are no job opportunities in the city,” says Sayed Musa, the Bedouin man from the area in charge of the project, who has 10 years experience as a safari and trekking guide. “The situation for many families is now extremely tense. They have lost all their income and are no longer self-sufficient for food.”