“Vast, echoing and God-like” – these are the words T.E. Lawrence used in describing Wadi Rum, the largest and most magnificent of Jordan’s desert landscapes. As we made our way through the maze of monolithic rockscape by 4×4 into the setting sun, I had finally felt like I was part of Jordan, enjoying the tranquility of the boundless empty spaces. At that point, I had no idea just how much I was going to learn about the land, the culture, and the people. Wadi Rum was a life-changing journey; here, amid the stupendous cliffs, canyons, and endless deserts, Jordanian life took on a different perspective.
We stopped at a stone bridge and were given the opportunity to climb to the top for a photo. Rather than being consumed with getting a great shot, I took my time at the top and scanned the spectacular treasures the vast wilderness placed before my eyes.
We arrived at Captain’s Desert Camp for the evening and a more authentic exploration began. After settling into our Bedouin style tents, we gathered for dinner. Our meal consisted of traditional Jordanian foods including hummus, meats, and shraak bread that was made fresh right before our eyes. Two local hosts played music and smoked hookah pipes while we shared stories from our travels.
Dinner was fantastic. The family-style environment and local entertainment made me feel relaxed and at ease. Dancing followed dinner and everyone joined in. Our guide, Ibrahim, encouraged even the shyest guest to shake their grove thing. He was so free-spirited without a hint of embarrassment. It was like watching an innocent child filled with complete happiness and liberation. I wondered when was the last time I was so uninhibited. Could that be a cultural thing? Are all Jordanians so willing to dance? Are they all such good dancers? My mind started to drift to the dozens of cultural questions that I had. I realized how little I knew about Jordanian culture.
Samer, one of our tourism reps, and a local, was sitting on a blanket and taking in the beauty that filled the night. He was alone, and I saw it as the perfect opportunity to chat with him and ask a few cultural questions.
Two hours had passed and we were still deeply immersed in conversation. We covered everything from relationships, marriage, and family to religion, government, and culture. I even asked what seemed like taboo questions and the conversation never turned awkward. Samer’s outlook on life, family, and relationships is so welcoming and beautiful that I have a new respect for his culture and faith. I’m considering going to a mosque now that I’m back in North Carolina because I’m still so curious about Muslim faith and beliefs. Before, I didn’t even know if I was welcome in a mosque, and I didn’t know who to ask. It all seemed foreign to me but with his conversation, I feel a little more connected.
Under a blanket of stars, I was given an unexpected gift of knowledge. I went to university for seven years and studied history my entire life, but I gained more understanding of Jordan in those few hours with Samer than a lifetime in the classroom. Wadi Rum wasn’t just a connection to the land, it was a connection to its people.
Thank you Samer!