Amid the sandstone cliffs of Petra, a group of Bedouin gathers under a starlit sky to share stories passed down through generations. It’s a scene that has been replayed in this ancient Nabatean city for centuries, but today a new medium is weaving its way into the narrative. As TikTok and Instagram gain traction across Jordan, Petra’s Bedouin are using them to connect with global audiences, casting their tales across vast distances and cultural divides.
I arrive in Petra after poring over videos created by the tribes that still call this 2,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site home. They show young men tearing through the Rose City on horseback, or gathering to sing folk songs and smoke shisha. The most popular are short and candid—a teapot brewing, an affectionate camel, or the shifting hues of a desert sunrise.
I’m met by Feras Al Samahin, the son of Petra’s ruling Bedouin sheik, Gasim Abu Feras, and his American partner in business and life, Natalie Snider, who swapped a marina apartment in New Zealand for a cave. “I love being able to share this world with others, and social media is a huge part of that,” she says. “At the same time, it helps me feel connected to the world I’ve left behind.”
Al Samahin and Snider offer their TikTok and Instagram followers an intimate glimpse into daily life as part of the Al Samahin tribe, a community that has traditionally been shrouded in mystery. Al Samahin’s ancestors took up residence here about 400 years ago. One day, we ride past a cave that he casually points out as his birthplace. Later, my mule, Monica, deliberately picks her way along a path strewn with shards of millennia-old pottery.
Beyond exposure to catchy dance routines and buzzy must-photograph spots around the globe, social media has brought prosperity to the community. Snider’s tour company, Coulture Trips (a portmanteau of culture and couture), is a key part of the couple’s livelihood. Al Samahin brings ancestry, while Snider provides accessibility to a Western audience, organizing homestays for foreign tourists. “There are about 42 Bedouin families still living in caves inside Petra today,” Al Samahin explains. “It’s not a lot, but by using social media and opening our homes, we can share our culture with the world.”
Al Samahin and Snider’s cave is tucked behind Qasr al-Bint temple, overlooking a deep jagged valley that cuts through an imposing rock face, steps away from an ancient well. They share it with two camels, five mules, one horse, and Al Samahin’s two children.