National Geographic : 1964 Dec
ELIE SABBAN. COMPILED BY EUGENE M. SCHEEL C) N.G.S. and he exclaimed in astonishment: "What's this you are giving me, a cisternful?" A special friend, our Moslem grocer, first introduced us to the Adwan tribe of Bedouin from east of the Jordan River, a proud, fierce warrior people devoted to blooded horses. The head of the Adwan, Sheik Ali Diab, fre quently came to our house with a mounted guard. I can remember their thundering ar rivals, the horses sweat-covered and breath less after the long climb up to Jerusalem from the Jordan Valley. Each man carried a long-barreled rifle and wore a curved dagger. They hung their rifles and knives on hooks on the living-room wall, making it look like a medieval stronghold. Curious Adwan Count Author's Toes When I was six, we were invited by the Adwan to their encampment across the Jor dan. We made the three-day journey on horse back, over a rough path that followed the old Roman road down into the Jordan Valley, and across foothills to the east side. The visit was the beginning of a happy re lationship between the Adwan and the Spaf fords. I was the first Western child they had seen, and I can remember their polite but persistent curiosity-their amazement at the whiteness of my skin, the solemn concentra tion with which they counted my toes to see if I had the right number. 830 Ancient walls encircled all Jerusalem and Ottoman Turks controlled the city when the Spafford family arrived in 1881 and took up residence at the present site of the Spafford Memorial Children's Hospital. Joined by friends, they were soon known as the Amer ican Colony. In 1899 the colony moved north to a former pasha's palace on Nablus Road. Today, swollen far beyond the old ramparts, Arab Jerusalem lies within the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, separated by no man's land from the Israeli sector (left). My mother wrote to a friend: "We started early in the morning, on horseback, without any protection except our Bedouin friends, who were armed to the teeth with swords, pistols, knives, etc. I wish you could have seen us start out with these wild Ishmaelites." The first night we spent in Jericho, the sec ond in an encampment of Adwan shepherds, where "very soon after our arrival they killed the 'fatted lamb' and 'baked the cake' for us, just like in the days of Abraham." After supper, Mother wrote, the Bedouin staged a war dance, "the wildest scene one could imagine." While a dozen men stood shoulder to shoulder and chanted their song, "a woman danced with a drawn sword in her hand, which she brandished with dexterous skill.... The faster she danced, the more ex cited the men got, until it all finished in a grand finale of noise and dust." Next day we reached the Bedouin camp at Heshbon, atop a mountain south of Amman, now Jordan's capital (map, pages 786-7). "The wife of the great sheik met us with the gracious dignity of a queen," my mother wrote, adding that soon the whole encamp ment was astir with preparations for a feast. "After we had partaken ... the evening fire was rekindled ... Then the court joker and singer came forward and sang the praises of the great sheik-telling about the numerous battles he had fought and won, and recount ing the many enemies he had killed. He threw up the dust with his hand and said,'So many more than could be counted.' " To mark the visit, I was adopted as a mem ber of the tribe. The Bedouin called me Murtha Adwan, the nearest they could come to "Bertha." Grandchildren of Sheik Ali Diab, some of whom now occupy important posi tions in Jordan, today call me "mother." Within a few years of their arrival, my par ents and their friends had assumed a leading role in Jerusalem's social and cultural affairs.