Ahlan! This past weekend was indeed a weekend full of adventures. I had the pleasure of being a stupid tourist and visiting 3 of the biggest sights in Jordan: Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba. Me and 5 other Amideast students contacted a tourism company that had a 2day tour of these three sights. We left at 6:30 AM Friday morning for a 4-hour bus ride to Petra. Once we left the city, I realized just how much desert is in this country. Amman is the capital city, and thus very populated and very busy. However, once you leave the city, there is literally nothing for miles except for a little village here and there. Miles and Miles of desert just lay in front of us. As the miles passed, I ending up talking to a young Arab boy named Rami. He was 17 years old and spoke very good English, the best on the bus. Him and his two friends Faud and Tareq, were really cool guys and we were able to talk and hang out with them for some of the trip. Rami was a good translator for the tour guide and other people on the trip, and with talking to him, I got to learn a lot more Arabic. As the four Hours passed, we finally arrived at Petra. Unfortunately, Rami got sick, so we were separated from him for a while. But we paid the 50 JD (~70$) for the entrance to one of the 7 wonders of the world. It was gorgeous! Over 2000 years old, Petra was a city build by the Nabaeteans in the sides of a canyon. The structures are very similar to Greek in nature, showing much influence of the Hellenistic Period under Alexander the Great. Part of Indiana Jones was filmed in Petra.
We climed up the sides of some parts into the structures on the Canyon walls. The View from the top is just fantastic. Petra is now run by the Bedouins who live there, and they make a pretty good profit too. You’ll find small Bedouin children running around with knick knacks saying “1 JD,” growing up in a simple life style where all they will do is try to get money from tourists. Throughout the ruins, one can rent Camels, Donkeys, and Horses for a prices that always varies, from 25 JD, 15 JD, 10 JD, and as low as 5 JD. We ended up using the horses at the very end because we were going to be late for the bus, but thankfully we got it for 5 JD. They’ll ask for more money but you have to be adamant about what you want to give them.
We ran into Ustaz Amer in Petra! Small world!
Alas, not all Bedouins are out to get your money. We passed one on the trail that was just hanging under his tarp smoking something, and heating up a kettle over a small fire. We talked to him in Arabic, though his English was really good, and he seemed to be a pretty chill guy. My friend Jared, also in the AMIDEAST program, complemented his “The Joker” shirt (Batman). His immediate response was “Want to trade?” and proceeded to remove his shirt. Though it was a cool shirt, Jared did not want to trade… haha. He then made a joke about being Jewish, Jared got all excited (Because he is Jewish), and said “really.” He was like, “No, it’s a joke, but YOU’RE Jewish. You look Jewish.” Jared denied it, and said he was Christian (Because he was instructed to do so, to avoid prejudice, discrimination, and conflict, but the Bedouin would not give in. We eventually left, and Jared later related that it wouldn’t have been a big deal, since Bedouins tend to actually favor Israelis over Palestinians, since the Israelis leave the Bedouins in Israel alone to do their own thing. The Arab-Israeli Conflict is a very confusing and tumultuous debate. My eyes have been opened to how much it has affected people in the Middle East greatly from just a short week in Amman. As an outsider, it seems hard to say who threw the first stone, and which side is right and wrong, but it’s sad to see two groups of people so close together geographically dislike each other so much. Years of bloodshed occurred because two groups of people both wanted control over the land, and couldn’t find a way to coexist in the same place. Thousands of Palestinians have been displaced from their Homeland, drilling in much emotion and disdain for the people who forced them to leave. Now prejudice and mistrust fill the region, and it seems too much is emphasis is focused on who to blame from both sides, rather than how to find ways of coexistence. We can only hope that the future will bring peace.
Anyways, after Petra, the bus was headed toward Wadi Rum, which is basically a desert. We took a jeep ride out to the middle of the desert and watch the sunset. It was one of the most beautiful things I have seen. After that we spent the night at a Bedouin camp, which was basically a huge party. Arabs party in a very interesting way. Unrelated Men and women do not dance together, and it’s mostly just men that dance together. I of course had to join in the dance. I am terrible at Debka, a traditional Arab dance, but Rami and Tareq showed me how to dance to modern Arab songs. It was so much fun. It’s pretty funny to seem how the men dance with each other here. In America, it would certainly be considered “gay.” But not here. Close male friends will hold each other’s hands, rap their arm around their friend’s back, lay in their lap when they are sick, and kiss each other on the cheek. However, the conception of homosexuality is almost incomprehensible. Some how the subject came up, and Rami was talking about the Dead Sea, and how according to legend it was once a city of homosexuals, and God turned it upside down and into a sea, and that’s why it is so salty. I thought it was a joke and I almost started laughing at that story, but stopped myself when I saw how serious he and everyone one else looked. I have gay friends so it’s kind of difficult to just let them talk that way, but it’s their culture, and who am I to tell them they are wrong. One of them did tell me shortly after in an unrelated conversation that he like Ricky Martin. I told him that Ricky Martin was gay, and he looked really confused, as if he didn’t know what to do with that information. I sort of chuckled a little bit, but it also made me think.
Wadi Rum Hill we watched the sunset from
Sunset at Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum Campsight
<iframe width=”560” height=”349” src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/VZPLgLERZXY” frameborder=”0” allowfullscreen></iframe>
These guys talk about how they don’t like different types of people: Jews, Homosexuals, Kuwaitis, Egyptians, Saudis, Palestinians… etc… but every time they meet someone knew its with great excitement and hospitality, as if they don’t even think of the possibility that we fill one of those characteristics, and treat us as if we had been friends our whole lives. Back in America, it’s as if everyone talks about equality and treating everyone with respect regardless of who they are physically or what they believe, but when people meet new people, they are always skeptical of their intentions. When people go other places in a group, they stay in that group and never try to talk to new people, even ones of the same heritage and nationality. You’d never meet some guy in, let’s say the gym, and ask him for his number to hang out after like 5 minutes. In the Arab world, there is this certain brotherhood among everyone. Saying hello to someone on the street will be greeted with great charisma and friendliness. Saying hello to strangers in America can come off as creepy. So who is in the right? Saying they dislike certain types of people, but treating everyone they meet with friendliness and hospitality like in the Arab world, or saying they are “free of prejudice” but treat strangers with skepticism in America. But I say “free of prejudice loosely, for no one is free of prejudice, in fact it’s just as prominent in America as it is in the Middle East. So I hate it when people in America talk about how they think Arabs are prejudiced and unsafe, when, by saying that, they are no better. In my opinion, people are actually more open and friendly here than anywhere in America.
Anyways, Back at Wadi Rum, we ended up taking a little walk into the desert. The sky was beautiful! I have never seen so many stars in my life. We made a fire and just hung out there for a while. After, we returned to camp and went to sleep. The girls had their own tent, but the guys were on their own about where to sleep outside or in the big group tent. I didn’t mind it too much, nights in Jordan are really nice weather wise, and it was pretty relaxing to sleep outside. We left early in the morning for Aqaba, a city on the Red Sea. The beach was amazing, you could see Israel, Egypt, And Saudi from the coast. The ocean was so warm and clear, it was hard to believe it was the ocean until you got a mouthful! The sea was over all rock and no sand, so one had to be careful about the hitting your feet.
Rami, Noah, Tareq, Me, Jared
A park for families with children only
Afterwards, we walked around the city of Aqaba for a while, and ate lunch at a restaurant Rami picked out. I had Ouzee at the suggestion of our other new friend, Yasser, and it was delicious! Afterwards, we began our 4 hour bus ride home. It was really long for the first 3 hours, and I tried to sleep most of the way. However, on the last hour, we had a heflat albus, a Bus Party. The tour guide started it all, called me and Noah up to dance to some Arab tunes. Soon after Yasser, one of the guys on the bus started dancing a long, and soon half the bus was just dancing and having a good time! It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. Soon after, I exchanged phone numbers and emails with a number of the guys on the trip (all but Rami spoke little to no English). And hopefully I will see them at least one more time by the end of my trip.
Overall, that weekend was on of the most cultural, interesting, and fun experiences I’ve ever had, and hopefully there will be more to come!