Water Etiquette in the Desert

We are always exploring new and exciting regions that are associated with Abraham’s heritage. Evan Bryant recounts his experiences on one such trip in the southern Sinai Peninsula: 

We arrived at Moiyet Mileihis (Mileihis spring), a magical oasis in an orange, red and yellow striped sandstone basin at the foot of Jebel Mileihis, on the third day of our 11-day trek in the Sinai Peninsula.

A single robust palm tree near a shady alcove in the sandstone cliff betrays the life-giving water flowing from the spring hidden behind it, filling a small manmade pool below. Arriving at this place was a very welcome treat after a long, hot slog through the loose sand of Wadi Mileihis – each step of the way only acheived 70% of what I’m accustomed to with firm footing.

Most of the others in my group were already sitting in the shade by the pool when I arrived sweaty and panting. I promptly dipped my hands into the cool water to splash my face.  Refreshed, I sat down beside the others.

After a short pause our local contact Ben said to our guide Musallem:

“Shall we take this opportunity to talk about water etiquette in the desert?”

Whether the timing of this question had direct reference to me or not, I didn’t know. But at that moment, a creeping embarrassment came over me as I realized that table manners had been nowhere in my mind since coming to the spring, and perhaps my birdbath didn’t quite comply with the desert standard.

“Yes. Let’s talk about water etiquette,” said Musallem.

Ben continued:

“Do you see the teapot and the water bottle there on the edge of the pool? You always use those to take water from the spring. Never use your hands directly in the water. We all have to come to this one spot in the desert, so it’s essential to keep it pristine.”

Now my ears were red. Yes, partially because of the sunburn, but doubly so with the embarrassment. I felt like an awkward barbarian in the presence of Bedouin civility.

Up to that point the real significance of oases in the desert had never occurred to me. Throughout my life I’ve always packed in my own water or used modern filters and tablets for water purification. I’d never relied directly on Mother Nature for my water supply and certainly never in a barren wilderness like the Sinai where that survival necessity is so scarce.

Just then, sitting at the foot of that spring, I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye the centuries fly by and the thousands of desert dwellers and pilgrims who had come before me to that very place to fill their “ghirbes” (Bedouin goatskin water bladders). Who knows – Moses himself could have drunk from these waters!

I was humbled.

And a deep sense of gratitude filled my heart for the opportunity to learn the vital lesson of water etiquette in the desert––at the source.

– Evan Bryant

Photo Credit: Evan Bryant