Between Two Worlds: MU Geographer Joe Hobbs Works on Bedouin Development in Saudi Arabia

 "Precambrian granite in the research area exfoliates like an onion, creating gaps and crevices. This one almost ate my hand." Joe Hobbs

MU Geography Professor Emeritus Joe Hobbs helps Bedouin people keep nomadic lifestyle, while Saudi Arabia is undergoing massive reform due to leader opening it up for business

By Debbie Cutler

To Joe Hobbs, the people of the northwestern desert of Saudi Arabia and the Eastern Desert of Egypt call to him like a favorite song playing relentlessly in his mind.

This University of Missouri Geography professor emeritus often visits the Bedouin peoples to live with, learn from, publish books and articles about, and even recently help these nomadic pastoralists, known for their resourcefulness and hospitality.

His most recent trips are to Saudi Arabia, where life is changing fast due to a more modernized government, and with those changes come lifestyle differences to the people he loves.

The Arabic-speaking Bedouins have inhabited the region for 10,000 years, and Hobbs accepts and respects their patriarchal, conservative society as it works for them. He interacts with the animals they herd: sheep, goats and camels. He admires the Bedouins’ adaptability, traditionally moving from place to place with their tents while searching for water and plant fodder for their livestock in a land that has sporadic rainfall. Even the birds and mammals migrate in this way to take advantage of the capricious rains.  

“The Bedouin have historically filled a niche,” he says. “They supply meat and wool and desert herbs to people in the villages or towns, and then in turn they buy things that they can’t produce like wheat and rice and lentils they need to survive in the desert. So traditionally, pastoral nomads and settled peoples have depended upon one another.  

“The settled people need the nomads for the produce they bring; and the nomads need the villagers for literally their daily bread — they make bread out of milled wheat every day.”

He’s impressed by the Bedouin’s knowledge, for example in falconry, the process of taming wild falcons to use for hunting — going back 10,000 years. “It’s a really ancient relationship,” Hobbs says. “The falcons hunt a big bird called a Bustard that people eat, and also rabbits and other animals. And it’s also a gentleman’s sport.”

They also are masters of knowledge of camel husbandry and of plants and animals, and are great trackers.

“Some men are expert trackers,” Hobbs says. “So even today in modern Saudi Arabia, I walk with these men in the wadis (valley floors) and they show me tracks of animals including wolves and foxes. They look at human footprints and they can tell you whose footprints they are, a particular man or woman or boy because of the way they walk, as everyone walks in a certain style and uproots the dust and sand differently. So, they can say ‘oh, so and so was here 12 hours ago when he was going to a certain place.’ And they can say the same thing about animals: “here was a wolf with two pups. They were here last night and you can see how they crossed the wadi and then started running.”

He enjoys the wild landscapes, which he calls “absolutely stunning,” with great mountains of granite from the Precambrian era, the earliest geologic period comprising 80 percent of geologic time from about 4.6 billion years ago when the earth began to form.

Hobbs, who spent five years as a youth in Saudi Arabia, and has visited several times since doing field research, wows over Arabia’s northwestern lava fields and cinder cones — an area rich with geothermal activity due to magma being close to the surface of the ground.  He says it makes for spectacular landscapes, black volcanic cones against red granite, which is the basement rock.

He fancies the acacia trees, some large enough and thick enough to form forests, as the most important trees to the Bedouin people as they provide food and fodder year-round for their livestock as well as wild animals.

“Northwest Arabia is the only area in the Middle East I’ve been where the local people refer to ‘forests,’” he says. “They are just gorgeous.”

Just offshore are the islands with their coral reefs -- powerful to the eyes and souls of people who have a chance to see them — complete with abundant and diverse marine life and untold beauty.

"I always follow the proper protocol when entering a Bedouin tribal territory that is new to me. I am asking the Sheikh (Headman) of the Billi Tribe if I can do research in his territory, and if he would provide me with a guide. He spoke of how his grandfather and fellow tribesmen helped defend the Hijaz Railway, just as Lawrence of Arabia and his Bedouin army repeatedly attacked this Turkish asset during World War I." Joe Hobbs

Change, Change, Change

But things are changing in Saudi Arabia — and changing fast, and it is Hobbs’s goal to help save the Bedouin culture while allowing opportunities for economic development that benefit the Bedouin in a new era of leadership. In recent decades Bedouin throughout the Middle East have been settling down, and while they keep their identity they lose a lot of unwritten knowledge of their desert homelands.

Hobbs, a Bedouin ethnographer and terrestrial natural history expert, is working with the Red Sea Development Company, headquartered in Riyadh, which plans to build five high-end resorts inland and on the islands on the Red Sea coast between Umluj and al-Wajh, north of Jeddah. The project is being funded mainly by the Saudi government in partnership with private companies and contractors.

These luxury resorts, built into the desert and rock areas, as well as on the offshore islands, will host people from around the world, including Europeans, Americans, Chinese, Australians, New Zealanders, domestic Saudis and people from the Gulf countries of the Middle East, such as the United Arab Emirates.

The resorts are being designed by some of the most famous, modern architectural firms there are, Hobbs adds. “They want to start construction really soon. They want to get these things going, get them built.” At least 500 individuals are currently working on the project. “But of course, it will get bigger and bigger as it rolls along,” says Hobbs. “These are the very early days.”

There will be the standard tourist fare: tennis courts, swimming pools, parasailing, skydiving, and rock climbing. But there will also be opportunities to learn from the Bedouin. “You can go out into the wilderness and have amazing encounters with the Bedouin. That’s the way I see things shaping up,” he says.

“I work on the Bedouin side,” explains Hobbs, who speaks the Bedouin dialect and has been immersed in their culture for decades. He is there to be their voice in the development project.

“I was invited to join this project because of my expertise on the Bedouin and their relationship with the natural environment, and their indigenous conservation methods.”

The project is promoted on the Red Sea Development Company website as the “the world’s most ambitious and exciting tourism and hospitality project … created around the world’s hidden natural treasures … [it] will set new standards in sustainable development and exceed expectations to create a unique travel experience and unforgettable memories.”

"Here I am walking through a lava field in western Saudi Arabia with the Bedouin sheikh (headman) of the local Juhayna tribe. On this outing we were examining Bronze Age tombs, and I was recording Sheikh Muhammad’s knowledge and legends about the graves and the surrounding landscapes."  Joe Hobbs

Why Now?

As Hobbs explains, the Saudi government is anxious to diversify its economy away from petroleum because for nearly 75 years the Saudis have been ultra-dependent on oil exports.

“In a sense, everybody who is a Saudi gets some money from the oil industry,” Hobbs says. “They get a monthly stipend from the government. Saudi Bedouin and others from all walks of life have relatively been well off compared to others like Egyptian nomads, for example, or Egyptians generally. The Gulf states, where the oil and gas are — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman — they are a lot wealthier than the other Arab states because of their oil endowment.

“But the thing is — the oil endowment is going to run out. These are fossil fuels and so this tourism development that I’m involved with is one of the key strategies to diversify away from a petroleum-based economy toward more of a service-based economy. This is happening really really fast.”

When Hobbs was a child in Saudi Arabia — spending 5th-9th grades there with his family — he says it was impossible to visit the Kingdom as a tourist. In fact, nobody has been allowed to visit Saudi Arabia as a tourist until last fall [September 2019] when tourism visas were first allowed. Hotels and resorts are non-existent in many areas.

Reform is happening now, he says, under the leadership of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS). At home, Salman is known as a leader who is interested in modernizing and diversifying the economy.

The Red Sea tourism project is the Crown Prince’s brainchild, Hobbs says. His overall ambition, called Vision 2030, is part of a 10-year plan to transition from a petroleum-based economy to a service-based economy.

“So they have something to live on when the oil runs out,” explains Hobbs.

Unfortunately, however, COVID-19 and price wars over oil between the Saudi and Russian governments have delayed the work. Hobbs’ plan was to return to Arabia in February, but because of these two factors had to unpack his bags. “Starting in February, the Saudis and the Russians got into a price war,” he says.  “Each one wanted to drive up their share of oil revenue on the world markets by producing more, and that drove down the cost of oil. So, the oil price collapsed.

“So right now they are in a period of austerity and they [the Saudi government and project leaders] are really anxious to get out of it and get past the virus so that they can get back to work on the Vision 2030 program to modernize the country.”

Hobbs says both events were devastating for Saudi Arabia. “Thankfully though, the Saudis have a sovereign wealth fund. They’ve banked oil revenues over the years so they can get by through these periods of hardship for a while.” The hope is for a COVID-19 vaccine and stabilized oil prices.

“If OPEC and Russia can work together and cut production, the oil price can get shored up and then they can get back on track,” Hobbs adds. “So this will force a year or two delay, but otherwise it’s just rush, rush, rush — get everything done today or yesterday in the Kingdom. And it’s interesting because it’s leaving Saudis wondering what their future is.”

"This bull camel was roaring in discontent about being confined to a truck bed while his owner drove him to market. I told him he would be OK, but he was not reassured." Joe Hobbs

More Than Tourism

The Saudis traditionally have been deeply religious Muslims with strong traditions and are relatively inward-looking.

The Bedouin tribes of Arabia have a social organization of patrilineal descent, and many Bedouin can recall their ancestral line on the father’s side going back 20 generations. “They can recite who their great great great great great great grandfather was.”

“Now the Crown Prince wants the Bedouin and all Saudis to be open to the world,” Hobbs says, “to be very multi-faceted in terms of their abilities and interests. He’s liberalized a lot of things that I never thought I’d see. For example allowing women to drive. When I was a kid there, a male driver had to take my Mom out to shop or visit friends when my Dad couldn’t. It was an awesome experience to ride with Saudi women at the wheel when I was recently there. I loved that!”

“Also, traditionally, Islam, their religion, has been [the Saudis’] moral compass. And the Crown Prince has been modifying the role of Islam in everyday affairs. So many Saudis I met are wondering, ‘where do we go from here?’ They are so used to their customs and the reform is coming so fast that they do not know what lies in store for them.”

Hobbs explained it’s not the Islamic religion that Salman is cutting back on. It’s much more the religious restrictions. “The main type of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia is called Wahhabism. It’s very austere. It’s very strict. For example, when I was a kid living there, they had these religious police called mutawas and in the 60s and 70s my friends with long hair were escorted by the mutawas into  barber shops to have their hair cut. “And, if foreign women’s skirts were too short they’d get in trouble. If Saudi women didn’t wear their coverings, they’d be in trouble.”

The Crown Prince has modified some conservative components to the society, says Hobbs. “It’s becoming a more secular country, which I think most Saudis have never expected. I certainly never expected it. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less devout. They are devout.”

Saudi Arabia is proudly home to the two Holy Places of Mecca and Medina, global destinations for Muslims, who are one fourth of the world’s people. It is a pillar of their faith to make pilgrimage or Hajj to Mecca at a prescribed time of year once in their lives, if they can afford and physically make it. Non-Muslims cannot visit Medina or Mecca because they are considered sacred ground.

“When I was a kid, I was on a flight from Dhahran in the east to Jeddah in the west and we stopped over in Medina and everybody got off the plane except for me,” Hobbs says. “I was asked to stay onboard while they fueled the aircraft because I was a non-Muslim.”

Airports in the Kingdom are incredible, added Hobbs. “In Jeddah and Riyadh, there are the most modern, upscale, huge airport facilities that I’ve ever seen. They’ve just opened a new terminal for pilgrims in Jeddah at the King Abdulaziz airport there, which is really impressive. It was built to handle the massive numbers of pilgrims.” As many as three million people come each year during the Hajj. Saudis have recently limited the numbers of pilgrims to thousands to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

"Falconry is an age-old pastime of Bedouin men across the Middle East. At this camp I met a falconer who catches his birds as they migrate south in the fall. He tames them and trains them to hunt houbara bustards and hares." Joe Hobbs

Opening Doors

With the tourism planned in Vision 2030 will come looser restrictions for tourists. There is talk that beer and wine may be available to foreigners in some of the resorts they plan to build. Bikinis and other non-traditional Saudi wear will be allowed within certain confines, as well.

“Hopefully you won’t get rowdy drunken tourists trying to mix with the very conservative Bedouin people out there,” Hobbs says. “Both [Bedouin] men and women have told me that they don’t want women tourists coming out in scant dress around their camps. In the nearby marine area people will be snorkeling and diving and will be wearing bathing clothes. But they don’t want that to happen inland. Men too need to dress respectfully. There will be cultural changes — some of which will be welcomed and some of which won’t.”

Hobbs’ goal is to help educate visitors about social norms upon arrival to their hotels. “So, when they check into the resort, their guide or somebody else in the hotel will have a session to debrief them and explain ‘hey, look, you are in an area with a really rich and ancient cultural tradition that you need to respect. So that means both men and women need to wear no shorts, only long pants or long skirts and cover up their shoulders and arms [when visiting outlying areas]. And while women don’t have to wear a veil, they shouldn’t be wearing what could be interpreted as suggestive clothing of any kind.”

Visitors will be educated on proper etiquette around the Bedouin people, such as keeping out of the camps unless invited, and not approaching their camels and other animals without a Bedouin guide. “The cultural outings into the Bedouin areas would also be escorted by a trained guide who can both inform the people of what the rules are and let them know if they are acting correctly or not,” Hobbs adds.

Hobbs doesn’t expect too many problems of foreigners being disrespectful to the culture because the Saudis are aiming at a well-seasoned traveler market. “It’s going to cost a lot to stay at these tourist places and do these tours,” he says.

The government, adds Hobbs, wants these resorts to be a considerable source of revenue. He says there is a niche for people looking for something new and different. “They’ve done the mass market tourism experiences” he says. “Such as in Thailand and even Machu Picchu. They’ve been to all these places. They are looking for something different and unique and [Saudi Arabia] is where they are going to find it. The Bedouin have this extraordinary culture and knowledge of the natural world. Travelers will have an authentic experience which they can’t get in most tourist destinations.

“So it’s worth the money that the tourists will spend to come away with what the British call a gobsmacking experience — to say ‘wow, those people and their places are really exceptional.’”

"Juhayna tribespeople are proud of their distinctive black camels. Camels can be aggressive with strangers. Here I am testing whether this young female would allow me to get closer. I ended up petting her long nose and scratching behind her ears. Named Umm Raas, “the One with the (big) Head,” she nuzzled my face with her nose." Joe Hobbs

But What about the Bedouins?

But what do the Bedouins think about all this change, after 10,000 years of pride in their ways?

Hobbs, who has visited more than 100 countries, used to lead tours around the world, and realizes it’s very rare to have contact with indigenous peoples, as well as get insight into their unique knowledge. So his aim with the Bedouin is to find out what they want, how they feel, what they will and won’t accept.

“We talked about their concerns regarding tourism,” Hobbs says. “I asked what are the things you think would be good or bad as far as tourism? They want to benefit from it, but at the same time, they want tourists to maintain a safe, respectable distance — especially from their homes.”

Their homes are black wool tents called bayts which are the property of women and are ideally suited to the desert. They are made from goat or sheep wool, and have different sections for various purposes. For example, when men from outside the family come and want to converse, women and children leave the main area of the tent. The men go to the male area where they talk starting with rounds of coffee, tea, and dates. The women go another side of the tent called the hareem so their privacy can be respected.

Women and children take care of the livestock, mainly sheep and goats, walking them to where there is plant life and fodder available for them to eat. The men tend to the camels, which are highly valued and expensive animals. “They don’t want tourists to just randomly come out there disturbing their quality of life and their livestock and [belongings],” Hobbs says.

The women also have traditionally made lots of beautiful handicrafts that are part of their material culture and that they could sell through cooperatives to tourists, he adds. “There are definitely things that Bedouin women can do in the tourism economy. But they’ll have minimal contact with foreign tourists.”

The main benefits for the Bedouin from tourist development are economic opportunities, such as selling crafts, working as guides, trackers or falconers, telling lore and epic verbal poetry with the help of bilingual guides, and having preference in hiring opportunities within the development projects — such as trail makers, construction workers, drivers, mechanics, and much more.

“They want to have first place in that hiring process,” says Hobbs. “So far, the Kingdom has promised local peoples that will happen. You don’t want to bring in foreign workers if you can employ local workers. That’s part of Vision 2030 and what they call “Saudization” — to try to take jobs that normally would be filled by foreign workers and instead have Saudis do them.

“So economic opportunities would be the first thing the Bedouin look at. And I’d say number two and three would also relate to that kind of broad category of  economic welfare.”

Another project area Hobbs might work in is helping the Bedouin reintroduce animals to their historical ranges where they have been hunted out, such as ostriches, leopards, ibex [wild goats], and gazelles [wild antelopes] “So those will be restored ecosystems when they reintroduce those animals, where tourists can see the wildlife adjusting to habitats over time.” Wildlife restoration is something the Bedouin have requested.


So Why Hobbs?

Hobbs was introduced to the Bedouin for the first time when he was 10 years old living in Saudi Arabia with his family. His father, a general manager/engineer, worked for a company that maintained the airport at Dhahran, which serves the oil-producing area of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.

One of his Dad’s friends, a fire chief, invited Hobbs to go out into the desert of northern Saudi Arabia, to look for dhabbs, large burrowing lizards. “I’m a real reptile freak,” Hobbs says.

So, they took off in Chief Hans’ little open-air vehicle, but while enjoying the desert all day they got lost and disorientated after nightfall and couldn’t find their way back to the main road. But luckily they did happen upon a Bedouin family, who were in the desert with their wool tent and their sheep, goats, and camels.

“They fed and watered us, gave us coffee and tea and dates, and made sure we were warm in that cold nighttime air, and then got us back on the highway. We got home late the next morning to learn that my parents were deeply distressed and had sent a search party.

“But thanks to the Bedouin, nothing bad happened to us. I had a really early encounter that left a very favorable impression on me about these people.”

While a junior at the University of California-Santa Cruz he studied abroad in Egypt [1976-1977]. “That’s when I fell in love with Egypt,” he says. “And I was to develop two great interests there. There was a while there that I was really sure I was going to be an Egyptologist. I spent so much time in the tombs and the temples and museums, just fascinated by ancient Egypt. Then I started meeting Egyptologists and found the work they did to be terribly boring, so I’m actually glad I did not go in that direction. I learned Arabic and that let me learn about a fascinating modern Egypt -- but modern Egypt with a lifestyle that goes back 10,000 years with the Bedouin.”

Hobbs’ next encounter with the Egyptian Bedouin was in Egypt in 1980 when he was studying Arabic for a year and doing research on bird migration. He had just received a fully-funded award from Center for Arabic Study Abroad [CASA].

But the Arabic he learned was a mix of classical and Egyptian Arabic, understood by the Bedouin, but kind of a “city slicker” Arabic, he says.

“Their [the desert Bedouin's] vocabulary is 80 percent about rocks and animals and skies and birds and insects and water and tents and camels and places and people,” Hobbs says. “So I had to learn all that vocabulary from them. That took a while. At first I was totally disoriented, even though I was theoretically fluent in Arabic.”

But soon a great opportunity arrived.

“Looking for migrating white storks in the Eastern Desert, I met the Ma’aza Bedouin people and one man in particular, Saleh Ali, who became my mentor and guide. I was in my early 20s and didn’t know what I was going to do for the rest of my life, but a few months later after we climbed Egypt’s highest mountain — we were up there on the summit — I asked him ‘Hey Saleh, what would you think if I came back and spent a year or two with you and your people, and he said ‘ahhh come back, come back.’

“That’s when I decided I needed to get a Ph.D. as a way to spend that time with Saleh’s people. I went back to the University of Texas and enrolled in the doctoral program in geography. For my dissertation research I spent a couple of years with these people out in the desert just learning everything I could about their knowledge and uses of their desert wilderness.

“It’s kind of old school geography, but it’s also ethnography. Basically, I did anthropological work interviewing all these people all of the time, but in an open-ended way, you know, not structured -- about their lives and their interests and their knowledge. That became my dissertation and my first book [Bedouin Life in the Egyptian Wilderness], and then I went back and did a lot of field work after that.”

He says Saleh, who passed away in 2015, taught him everything he knows, constantly coaching him on vocabulary and customs. “I listened and learned everything I could,” he says. “There wasn’t any subject I wasn’t interested in. And everything they talked about I recorded and transcribed. At nighttime, when they went to bed, I rewound my little microcassettes and put it all down in journal, handwritten form. Then I’d go back to Cairo and type it up. I didn’t have a computer. I’d go out about 40 days at a time, take a break, process my notes in Cairo, and then go back to the field.”

He and Saleh and other companions got their supplies in the Red Sea town of Hughada before each trip. While in the field he did what they did, and slept under the stars because they don’t use tents, and helped where needed. “But Saleh always had secret destinations he’d break out as we travelled, and these were the most interesting – like a cave filled with the dried-out, preserved bodies of leopards and ibex carbon-dated as much as 7,500 years ago.

“I did a lot of research after I arrived at MU on these people and their environments,” he says. “Both in Eastern Desert between the Nile and the Red Sea and in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt."

He says some Bedouin tribes of Egypt, including the Ma’aza, are descendants of people who migrated from the region where he is currently working in Saudi Arabia, a migration that happened about 300 years ago.

“They mostly walked overland with their livestock and settled in Egypt and they still have kinfolk on both sides of the Red Sea.” Both the Ma’aza of Egypt and Arabia speak the same dialect, with few variations.

He also had team leader experience working with the Bedouin in a project he helped on in the late 1990s in the Sinai. The project, funded by the European Union, was to create the St. Katherine National Park. Its huge area is home to many Bedouin.

“My role was to find ways that the local Bedouin living inside the park, which belonged to seven different tribes could, from the very get-go, help influence our decision-making about establishing the park. Also, we could help them with ways of earning a living and contributing their indigenous knowledge, which is really deep: how they know the land and all the resources. They know the environment so well.

“It was a symbiotic relationship we created in setting up the St. Katherine National Park between the Bedouin and the park itself, the park management.”

In his current work he is taking the same principle into the field in Saudi Arabia. He worked there twice this fall, and will be ready to go again when coronavirus and the oil markets allow.


Why the Bedouin

When asked what attracts him most to the Bedouin peoples of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Hobbs is quick to answer:

“Their knowledge, their insight, their wisdom, their depth and breadth of experience with nature in a wilderness setting. Their honesty! I have never met anybody who told me a lie or tried to deceive me in any way. Their strength, their endurance. To live out in the wilderness is really a taxing thing to do. It’s not an easy life, but I love their sense of freedom, and that’s something they talk about all the time, that huriya, freedom, they have freedom. And to look through their eyes at people who live in villages and cities — they’re all sort of prisoners of their own homes.

He remembers going into town with his Bedouin friends to get supplies and seeing them get visibly uncomfortable. “They didn’t want to be there more than necessary,” Hobbs says. “They’d come and go in the same day, instead of spending the night. So, you know, freedom under desert skies is very important to them.

“And their faith. They are all very devout Muslims but they never really question me or challenge me about my faith. I just haven’t met a finer group of people anywhere I my life. And I’ve been to a lot of places.”


Could Freedom Be Compromised?

But will these resorts impact their freedoms?

“It could, it could,” says Hobbs. “That’s definitely one of the dangers. There are areas that will become no-go for the Bedouin. If the Bedouin don’t bring their livestock within three kilometers, a mile and a half perimeter from the resort, I think that’s actually a good thing. It will be good for both parties.

“That way men and women can dress the way they want as tourists when they are in the resort, and when they go out they can dress up for the field. I think there will be those kinds of boundaries.

“But one of the issues that came up was if the Bedouin would have to be relocated because of this project, the hotels and such. And they are very afraid about that. When I was there last fall, they asked me, ‘what’s going to happen to us?’ and ‘Are we going to be moved from our traditional lands?’”

Hobbs was assured by Saudi government officials that was not going to be the case. They would not be forced out of their homelands, but possibly in one or two isolated cases: a single household or two households would be bought out and asked to move elsewhere, but they’d be compensated for that.

“So that’s part of the work I did, too,” Hobbs says. “Was to try to build in those assurances and guarantees that their life wouldn’t be impacted so hard.”

He says the Bedouin are excited and nervous, just like everyone else in Saudi Arabia. The country is in a state of change. No one can tell fully what is in their future. “But I didn’t meet Bedouin who said, ‘go away, go away. We don’t want to hear anything about this,” Hobbs says.

“Before I left on the second visit, I wrote recommendations and at the top of the list is that anybody from the company who goes out into the traditional tribal areas needs to call this phone number of the sheikh, the head man of the tribe who lives in a village along the coast and as a courtesy say, today or tomorrow or in two days, we are going to be in such and such an area doing our surveys for whatever they are doing with the project. It’s just common courtesy and it will prevent the kinds of clashes that would otherwise come up.”

And as for Hobbs, working with the Bedouin is his journey, his passion, what makes him happy. “I’ve been teaching at MU for more than 30 years and all my students learned about the Bedouin,” he says. “The stuff I did in the deserts and elsewhere in the Middle East. Teaching Geography of the Middle East is always a joy to me because a lot of it is personal accounts, photos, and videos of not only those people, but of historic things I witnessed, like when the Shah of Iran died -- I was taking pictures in the funeral procession through Cairo. I was there right before and right after Sadat was assassinated in 1981. And I went up to Lebanon during the Civil War of the ‘70s and learned how awful war is. I’ve met Palestinians and Israelis and teach their conflict from both perspectives. I’ve worked and lived and visited a lot of places in the Middle East, and shared experiences there with my wife Cindy and my Mom and other family members. I’ve done consulting in the United Arab Emirates on environmental planning and given papers just like all professors do at conferences — many in the Middle East and about the Middle East. That’s my main research area.

“And I owe it all to Saleh.”

Saleh was more than his mentor and guide. He was a friend he will remember always. In his article titled "MyBedouinWay-Fellow," published in Arab World Geographer in 2016, he wrote:

"What was Saleh like? Charismatic, for starters. Saleh was knowledgeable, and his own people sought him out for information. He was witty, humble, inventive, and loyal. He used his signature belly-laugh a lot, and he was funny: there was the “Mister Mustache” Saleh who wore sprigs of wormwood between his upper lip and his nose; the “Mister Lizard Face” Saleh who sported a fringe-toed lizard on his cheek; and then there was the time he placed a two-foot long adult dhabb (Uromastyx) lizard on top of his head and asked “Do you like my hat?” I cannot remember him angry, except when Subhi ‘Awad cut down and charcoaled a great acacia tree in Wadi Naggat. That was taboo.

"Saleh was generous. He practiced the hospitality Bedouin are famous for, but his kindness went far beyond that. He did not have to do anything for me. He could have said he was busy, instead of giving me 40 days of his life at a stretch ....

"Looking back, I wonder how much I offered Saleh. Certainly not much money – I gave him a nominal “tip” at the end of each trip. Nothing other than friendship can explain it."