"The desert Wadi Rum is very quiet. Good to relax and to clean your mind. And after all, it is my grandfather’s land. My roots." - Huseen Salamah
Huseen Salamah - Wadi Rum's Celebrity Bedouin
In July 2017, I was in Wadi Rum with Sharif Majali from the Royal Film Commission of Jordan. Our task was not an easy one: we wanted to find the exact locations of several films shot in the area so we decided to draw on the geographic knowledge of Huseen Salamah, a local Beduin, and one of the stars of the Oscar-nominated movie Theeb.
"Marhaba. I am Huseen Salamah, from Jordan, exactly Wadi Rum. I am 31 years. I am married with two children. I work as tour guide in Wadi Rum desert. I like to show people the beauty of Bedouin life and the interesting nature we live in."
In 2012, British-Jordanian filmmaker Naji Abu Nowar turned up in Huseen's village to cast local Beduins for the two main roles in his movie Theeb (Arabic for 'wolf'). Huseen must have made a pretty strong impression on the director, as he succeeded against more than a hundred contenders, all hailing from the villages in the area.
The story is set in the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War One, when a young Bedouin boy experiences a greatly hastened coming-of-age as he embarks on a perilous desert journey to guide a British officer to his secret destination.
Setting off into the desert:
The next morning, Huseen turned up in his battered pickup. He looked very much like a picture-book Bedouin, wearing the traditional outfit consisting of a white thoab (dress-like cloth), white serwal (wide white trousers) and a red and white shemagh (head dress).
We jumped into our Landcruiser and headed off into the desert. Naturally, Huseen knows the Wadi Rum area like the back of his hand and it did not take him long to identify the first locations from our film stills. As we drove, we had a chance to talk about more than just film.
Huseen on Bedouin life:
"The Bedouin man is generous and likes to help and welcome people. In Bedouin life it is a pleasure to have guests. The family life is very important for us, also the larger family: the tribe. We are proud about our heritage and lifestyle, which is sometimes not easy because the desert is also a difficult environment to live in."
Our first port of call was the rock bridge of Kharaz, a minor location in Star Wars - Rogue One.
It was early in the morning and the temperatures were still pleasant enough so we quickly moved on to approach one of the more iconic locations from Theeb.
The next port of call on our list was a location from The Martian which Huseen is checking out in the image below.
Huseen on how life has changed since Theeb:
"My life has definitely changed. I travelled outside our country for the first time and got to know 'cinema'. It gave me the chance to work more with movies, not only as actor. Now I know what is needed to make a movie."
Theeb did exceptionally well both with audiences and reviewers and won numerous awards at festivals around the world, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Venice and the BAFTA awards. In 2016, it was nominated in the category of Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.
Huseen took the opportunity to hit the festival circuit: "We travelled to international film festivals, first in Venice, afterwards Cannes, London, Abu Dhabi, Qatar. I met George Clooney and the director of the Venice Film Festival."
"The best festival was Cannes, because it is most famous. Everybody was completely quiet when Theeb started, and when it finished there was applause for minutes. I was impressed that the movie made such a big impact on people. I understood the 'power' of cinema."
Asked about his most memorable experience at the time, Huseen replied that he had the honour to meet the King of Jordan, His Majesty Abdullah II in 2016: "This was very important to me."
Huseen on life after Theeb:
Huseen says that although he would love to do more acting, he has gone back to tour guiding for the time being. "At the moment I am a tour guide again, and I am thinking to make a tourist desert camp with the name Theeb. My specialty is that I can show people the famous place of movies, like Theeb, the Martian, Lawrence of Arabia, because I know the exact place. While in the same time people can experience the Bedouin life."
Huseen has already set his eyes on a location for his camp: at the site of the Mushroom Rock at Jabal Abu Rashrash, which is not only his favourite place in Wadi Rum, but also happens to feature in Lawrence of Arabia.
While Huseen is keen to earn a living, he also has strong views on the preservation of his peoples' cultural past: "In the past we actually lived in the desert with sheep, goats and camels, in tents of goat hair, moving from place to place depending on the availability grazing groups and water. Now we live in the village, in a house, with water, that is much easier, close to the school for the children. But we also start to lose part of our culture, because we watch TV, instead of sharing poetry. The old people know, But the young people start to lose it. I want to give my heritage to my children, but also give them the opportunity to learn in school."
Can visitors to Wadi Rum hire Huseen as a guide?
"Yes, with pleasure, I am on Facebook as 'Hoseen Alsoulheen'. The best way to reach me is by phone +96 2772 189326."
And should you still need convincing that Huseen knows how to combine the worlds of film and tourism, check out Tourism Jordan's promotional video that was produced on the back of the movie The Martian. Recognise the guy from 0:57?