12 April, 2019
Surrounded by mountains and desert, Umm Yasser, a Bedouin woman, explains to a group of foreign travelers how a local plant has been used in medicine.
Among the Bedouin, women almost never work outside the home. They rarely meet with outsiders. But the 47-year-old Umm Yasser is now one of four Bedouin women working as tour guides in Egypt's Sinai area.
"It is against our culture, but women need jobs," Umm Yasser said. "People will make fun of us, but I don't care. I'm a strong woman."
The women are part of Sinai Trail, a project in which local Bedouin tribes worked together to bring visitors to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
Founded in 2015, the project has set up a 550-kilometer trail through the mountains of the peninsula. Eight different Bedouin tribes provide guides for the trail, which can take up to 42 days for visitors to complete.
Members of the tribes often feel that major tourism development in the Sinai has gone to beach resorts and desert safari companies. The Sinai Trail project has helped the tribes receive tourism money.
Until recently, all the project's guides had been men. Ben Hoffler is the co-founder of the Sinai Trail project. He felt that was not enough. He told the Associated Press, "How can we be credible calling this the ‘Sinai Trail' if the women aren't involved?"
Over the years, Hoffler suggested using women as guides. But almost all the Bedouin tribes reject this idea. Only the Hamada -- one of the smallest, oldest and poorest tribes -- accepted it.
Members of the Hamada tribe live in small houses along the Wadi Sahu, deep in the mountains of south Sinai. They have no running water and only have electricity for about five hours a night. The men often leave the village to find work.
Umm Yasser was the first Hamada woman to become a tour guide. She said she explored the mountains and valleys as a child. She knows the area very well. She asked the families of three other women to permit them to work as guides with her.
There are some conditions, however.
Women guides can only lead tours for female visitors. The tours cannot go overnight. Each day before the sun sets, the group must return to the Hamada's home village in Wadi Sahu. And visitors can only take pictures of the female guides when they are wearing a full covering over their face.
On a recent tour joined by Associated Press reporters, Umm Yasser and three other three women guides led 16 female visitors through the area in and around Wadi Sahu. The women they led came from Korea, New Zealand, Lebanon, European countries, and Egypt.
During the two-day tour, the group walked across mountains and valleys of dry riverbeds. The guides talked about plants and herbs. They discussed local history and told stories of the surrounding mountains.
In the evening, the group returned to the Hamada tribe's village. The women sat on the floor of Umm Yasser's home and visitors asked the guides about life in the village, marriage and divorce.
Some younger Bedouin girls followed the group and talked about wanting to be female guides in the future.
Mohammed Salman is an older man from the Aligat Bedouin tribe. He said the project was a great step for women. "If a woman wants to work, she should be able to have the right to," Salman said. "Many men say no, a woman's place is at home. But I'm sick of this ideology. She's a human being."
I'm Ashley Thompson.
Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on Associated Press news report. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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