Liverpool woman a Bedouin at heart

Brittany W. Verge
Published on February 6, 2014

Carla Powell has called many places “home” before, but the far-away Middle Eastern country of Jordan has a special place in her heart.

Powell is a local esthetician and when she’s not in Queens County, she’s travelling. She moved here from Drumheller, Alberta to purchase her dream home – a century old house on Bristol Avenue. 

Making the big move however, wasn't daunting for someone who has traveled to over 20 countries.

Powell got hooked on traveling when she visited Russia as a high school student.  After high school she did a farming exchange trip to Denmark and enjoyed being immersed in a foreign culture.

“I got the idea that if I traveled I couldn’t just travel for a week and come home, I always had to travel for longer so I could experience the culture,” says Powell.

Powell has roamed all of Western Europe, Russia, Romania, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tibet, Nepal, and other places as well.

Powell recently went back for a seventh time to a tiny Bedouin village in Jordan called Dana.  The village consists of a few thousand people.

Powell first went there in 2003 on an excursion with a sort of adventure group.  She was about four weeks into her travels in the Middle East when she got to Dana, she felt like she just couldn’t leave.

“There was something about this place, as soon as my foot touched the ground, I just felt captured by it,” says Powell.

 She wandered away from the group and found herself staring at the “wadi” a big valley surrounding the village and fell in love with the area.

“I just couldn’t comprehend how long I would have to sit there and stare at this wadi for me to understand the beauty I was looking at,” she says. “I think I could sit there for years and not even really get a minute of the beauty that was presented to me.”

The group stayed one night and despite the rustic qualities of the village, such as lack of heat or hardly any electricity, Powell found herself incredibly sad to leave.

“I couldn’t get (Dana) out of my system, so six months after I got home, I moved there,” says Powell.

In total she has stayed in the Bedouin village seven times over the past decade.

Powell originally found an empty house in the village and made it livable.   She also made friends with a stray cat who would come and go from the house as it pleased.

“It had the reed ceilings, it was just cement, concrete, stone, I got an old rickety bed that took about 100 nails to piece back together,” says Powell.

Culturally there were some big differences between Powell and the Bedouins, although she has become fairly fluent in Arabic.

“I was propositioned by almost every man in the village,” laughs Powell.

For a while, Powell barely spoke to any women in the village.  She was seen as a possible bad influence on the Bedouin women.

“That changed one night when I needed some salt while cooking,” says Powell.

She says she went to the little store looking for salt and found it was closed.  A man from the village noticed her there and offered to take her to the shopkeeper’s home to get the salt.

Powell was “mortified” at going to the shopkeeper’s home after he had already closed but she followed the man.

“This little Bedouin woman opened the door and I was like ‘oh my god it’s a woman!’” says Powell.

That was the first time Powell met one of the village women.  Their encounter led to Powell being introduced to all of the women in the village and a stream of women inviting her over for meals.

“If I lost this house tomorrow and everything in it and I didn’t have a dime to my name… they would keep me for life without a dollar,” says Powell.

Powell jokingly refers to the villagers as “my Bedouins” and says she feels like they are part of her family. 

“When I go back they all try to get me over for supper and feed me, the get sad when I leave, they cry and get mad at me for leaving,” says Powell.

Powell says a lot of people were surprised when she returned to Jordan just before Christmas in 2013 and spent a month there.

Although Jordan is a largely Muslim country rules were not extreme, particularly in her village. 

Powell did not cover her head and was able to form friendships with the men in the village.  Although her female friends did enjoy dressing her up to see what she looked like in their fashions.  Sometimes children drew on her to mimic Bedouin tattoos that the women have.

The family Powell is closest to consists of a grandmother (Haji) who has nine sons, 55 grandchildren, and many great grandchildren.  She stays with Haji now when she returns to the village.

Life in Dana can be difficult, the smallest things can take much more time than they do in Canada like doing laundry, making a fire, or cooking.  It was a two kilometre walk up hill to go buy things at a store.

 “We are soft, it is hard over there,” says Powell.

She says hospitality is huge in Jordan, particularly with Bedouins largely because they are a nomadic tribe and welcome wanderers.

Powell acknowledges that life there is sometimes a little frightening. 

The last time Powell visited, she accidentally walked into a mine field near the border of Israel.  She and a friend were out on an excursion in the desert and when they stopped to cook a snack, she did a bit of wandering.

"I'm walking through the desert and this whole truck full of Bedouins comes honking and screaming,” says Powell. “I rarely get terrified of stuff but I remember being terrified, I walked backwards out of this area, stepping exactly back in my footprints.”

Despite the harshness of life there, Powell always returns to her Bedouins. She says she gets a greater appreciation for the simple things in life when she stays in the village.

“We shouldn't always have everything we want, I think if we have everything we want, we miss how beautiful it is when we get something,” says Powell.