Childhood Memories from East and West (Part 2)

Growing up in the 1960s among the brown rolling hills of the San Francisco Bay Area was cheery and carefree; lots of sunshine, infused with drives up Mount Diablo atop the backseat of my dad’s convertible MGB sports car, trips into San Francisco to stroll the lush gardens of Golden Gate Park, and four square at the end of our neighborhood cul-de-sac.  Halfway around the world in Jordan, Bishara, the youngest of six siblings, appreciated time spent with his devoted mother and cherished nephew, Haldoun, and an eclectic collection of family pets, despite pining for his father under contract in Saudi Arabia.  Peaceful days in rustic Mafraq, though, were interrupted by a terrifying hail of bombs that fell during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, which found Bishara and his family huddled together in the middle of the bathroom convinced the end was near.  The warm embrace of his mother provided little comfort for nine year-old Bishara against the barrage of missiles targeting his country.

My own experience of war was through our black and white TV screen, observing the carnage of Vietnam’s battlefields as my parents watched the nightly news, and discerning only that something momentous and formidable was unfolding in a far-off land.  I knew, instinctively, I was shielded from this horror by distance and my ever watchful parents, and viewed the events more like an illusory scene from a play or movie trailer.

Bishara’s real, “life and death,” scare was followed by three brief years of relative calm during which he visited friends to watch wrestling on TV or scoured the nearby desert for edible mushrooms for the evening meal before the Palestinians (PLO) began clashing with the Jordanian government in 1970 in what came to be known as “Black September.”  Bishara’s school classes, along with those throughout Jordan, were cancelled for the month as demonstrations, shootings and general chaos ensued across the country resulting in thousands being killed over a one year period.  Bishara, not fully comprehending the ramifications of the situation, was both relieved over not having to go to school, but scared to his core over the possibility of his home being hit by rockets.  Although the effects of the Civil War were not as intense in Mafraq as in other Jordanian towns, Bishara’s family was under constant fear that the Jordanian army might invade their city, which was under Palestinian militia control.  As a result, Bishara and his family remained largely isolated in their home, playing cards, glued to the radio, and praying for a good outcome.  By the summer of July 1971, acrimony and bloodshed were superseded by the ouster of Palestinian combatants from Jordan to Lebanon, comparative peace, and the return of Bishara’s dear father.

Bishara’s most exciting days were Fridays when his father allowed him and his two older brothers to watch a cowboy movie at the town’s theatre every other week; the three brothers, merry with anticipation, walked a mile to the “male only” movie showings.  Cowboy flicks led to European and American movies of other genres, and to the notion that the world was larger than the confines of Mafraq, and a developing interest in probing other regions.  The quandary in Bishara’s young mind, however, was how he could leave his beloved mother behind.

My domain was widened when as a young teen my family moved from sunny, mellow California to a university town in the southeast, a sort of culture shock for me and my three siblings who had to transition from a more permissive and progressive environment to one permeated with palpable and staid southern hospitality and racial diversity.  Circumspect and reserved, the life shift required patience, grit, and a bit of hurt.  I remained, however, academic and a straight shooter; a girl with a small circle of friends, who envied the popular girls.  On weekends, I watched “American Bandstand,” and loved music, in general, a passion instilled in me by my dad who was hip and introduced me to The Beatles and Ravi Shankar in my younger days.  I savored the hours spent in my bedroom anticipating that special song coming over the airwaves, my tape recorder in hand, and finger hovering over the red record button.

At age 15, Bishara left a Christian middle school for Mafraq Secondary Boys’ School, a larger establishment comprised of nearly one hundred percent Muslim students.  Bishara, somewhat wary, wondered how he would get along with his new classmates.  A couple of months later, his uneasiness vanished, as Bishara relished participating in school sports, including basketball and soccer, with his new Muslim schoolmates, spawning strong attachments with his fellow athletes.  Several of his long-time friends wondered about Bishara’s behavior and questioned why he became sudden buddies with the Muslim kids.  Unaffected by this concern, Bishara knew he was simply expanding his “friend base.”  This revelation bolstered Bishara’s realization that he needed to study abroad after high school to advance his knowledge of the greater community outside of Mafraq.

While Bishara dreamed of expanding his horizons, I co-piloted a single engine plane at age 16 with my dad as pilot ferrying my sister, two brothers, and mother from our hometown in the southeast to California, Washington, and Montana.  I was humbled and gratified to reach the Guadalupe Pass at my calculated time as we sailed over Texas.  Otherwise, life was fairly predictable, and although the smaller moments produced the utmost satisfaction, a restlessness within implored me to connect to a deeper and wider reality.  This sense was magnified when Oma, my German grandmother, moved across the U.S. to be closer to her son and his family.  Oma’s travel stories brought the broader world into her quaint one-bedroom apartment only a couple of miles from our home.  My more treasured times as a high school senior involved leaving school early, walking the short distance to Oma’s apartment and having a homemade German meal while we watched “The Guiding Light” and talked of Oma’s European travels.

As Bishara neared grade 12, he could not wait to finish high school and move on.  But to what and to where?  Bishara felt it much harder to stay in Jordan, and the general region, than to pivot to the unknown.  His mother was his world and the only soul with whom Bishara’s could share his thoughts.  Bishara was happiest when he watched his mother iron his father’s clothes as he sat two feet away doing his homework, or when he silently slipped into his mother’s room during an afternoon nap, and listened to her snore as he pored over the books.  Who’s going to cook for you, and who are you going to watch cooking for you, Bishara’s mother would lament.  “My advice for you, son, is to remove these thoughts from your head.” She would convince Bishara for a day, but he soon had the feeling that his mother was talking from an emotional perspective only, and Bishara knew, in his gut, he must follow his inner voice.

This voice, and the Civil War in Lebanon, led Bishara to surreptitiously leave Lebanon, where he settled with his family following high school, for Western Europe, via Syria, at age 18.  Bishara eventually journeyed to the United States where he was drawn to a college education and a young woman originally from the Bay Area, who he ultimately married.  And she, wanting to fulfill her own fantasies of experiencing faraway cultures, persuaded him to leave a comfortable suburban life in the U.S. and travel back to the intriguing and beguiling world of the Arab Gulf. . . .

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Childhood Memories from East and West (Part 1)

While my husband, Bishara, and I share many of the same tenets in life, such as “be good to yourself and your fellow man,” we grew up half a world apart under widely differing circumstances.  My life began mid-century near coastal California in John Steinbeck territory – Salinas, California, while Bishara, a native of Lebanon, was introduced to the world by a midwife at his family home in Mafraq, Jordan, in one of the most politically unstable regions on the globe.

As a young family, we moved several times within the San Francisco Bay Area in the span of 12 years, from Salinas to San Jose, Berkeley, Lafayette, and, ultimately, Walnut Creek.  My childhood was spent dashing through sprinklers, romping with neighbor friends and cousins, skiing in Lake Tahoe, and dancing to The Beatles and “The ‘In’ Crowd.”  Annual summer trips to my mom’s indigenous Browning, Montana on Blackfeet Indian tribal land punctuated with blurs of color, buckskin and eagle feathers at Pow Wow ceremonies, as well as treks into adjacent Glacier National Park, became a regular and memorable event.  My first memory at two years old is of my family on the outskirts of tiny Browning maneuvering across railroad tracks to enter the home of my aunt (mom’s elder, and treasured, sister), and feeling both mystified and enchanted to be in the company of my three older cousins.

A world away, Bishara’s older sister, Wedad, 18 years his senior, was getting married and Bishara at four years-old noticed his mother and sister crying while Wedad stood at the alter in a beautiful white lace gown.  A somewhat baffling response in the eyes of a young boy.  Bishara, the youngest of six children, and, as such, often the recipient of sibling drubbings, was sensitive, soulful, and, by his own account, a nerd.  Often left behind by his older siblings on weekends, Bishara felt comfort and fulfillment in the company of his mother, the twosome frequently spending time together in the back courtyard of their stone home beneath the olive and berry trees, chattering away about everything while Bishara peeled mandarin oranges for his kindhearted mother.

Although sweet, shy, and reflective, as the eldest of four children, I took a certain satisfaction in playfully trouncing my three siblings, on occasion, in my younger years.  A kind child who, nonetheless, wanted to establish her natural dominance in the family structure as the first born, I had an innate sense of justice and of not wanting to be taken advantage of by the outside world.  Another early memory reveals me as a five year-old walking the short distance between my grandmother’s modest home in Browning to my aunt’s house down the street, my parents shadowing me in their car.  Within minutes, stones hurtled down at me from the windows of a neighboring home.  Initially taken aback by this onslaught by mischievous kids, I impulsively collected rocks from the street and vigorously lobbed them back at my assailants, to my parents’ unspoken gratification.

Just as my first sibling, and only sister, arrived engulfed in my adoration and constant companionship, Bishara’s nephew, Khaldoun, was born to Wedad when Bishara was just five years-old.  Being relatively close in age and location with Khaldoun growing up in a Jordanian town approximately two hours away by car from Mafraq, Bishara played often with Khaldoun and developed a deep-seated brotherly affection for his first nephew.  Joy-filled visits from Khaldoun left Bishara feeling melancholy and disheartened when Wedad and Khaldoun left at the end of a weekend following days spent engaged in hide and seek, tag, and friendly wrestling.

At around 8 years-old, Bishara said goodbye to his father who was travelling from Mafraq to Tabuk, Saudi Arabia to pursue a long-term employment opportunity; one of Bishara’s saddest days.  A world away my father was travelling home from a short stint in Japan as an Air Force reservist with a surprise gift for me – a two-wheel bike.  As Israeli warplanes bombarded Mafraq a year later during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Bishara and his family hid in a 16 square foot bathroom with Bishara convinced that his mother had corralled them into the tiny quarters, so they could die together in close proximity.  Meanwhile, one of my paramount concerns was learning to ride the bicycle from my Dad, and experiencing challenges  braking while navigating down a steep hill; I sustained a mere knot on my forehead as Dad lunged in front of my bike to minimize the impact of crashing into bike racks at the bottom of the incline.

Bikes and pets are prominent features of American life, and for a short time as a child, we had a German Shepard that would regularly jump our backyard fence, follow me to school and steal the kids’ lunches, or hurdle over other fences and end up in someone’s pool.  While this pooch was ultimately rehoused, Bishara had a menagerie of pets while growing up, unusual in the Arab region, including a monkey, dog, chickens, deer, rabbits, and ducks, all kept in the back courtyard.  As a younger child, Bishara indulged in playing with the rabbits, which were raised along with the chickens, and ducks for later consumption, a fact that now produces misgivings in Bishara.  The monkey, Saada, arrived from Saudi Arabia in a truck, a gift from Bishara’s father to the family, and became a close companion to Bishara.  Bishara taught the monkey how to peel bananas, play catch, and even considered marriage to this attentive and shrewd primate.

Besides appreciating the company of his troupe of animals, Bishara played “cowboys” with neighborhood playmates, index fingers or sticks serving as guns; rolled atop, or inside, truck tires down neighborhood streets; and on the weekend attacked kids from rival blocks with stones.  Bishara was skilled at this latter pursuit, being a good aim, and a daring collaborator by zig-zagging between incoming rocks when assailing his opponents.

Summer visits to Ein Eible in Bishara’s native Lebanon to see his relatives were particularly happy days.  Bishara spent time with his grandfather, and once a week borrowed his donkey to go to the family farm and fields to pick figs and grapes, which Bishara brought home in baskets.  Bishara also took walks through the town with his brothers or alone, expressly admiring the beautiful young town girls.  The special times in my life also included occasions spent with extended family, in particular, British and Montana cousins, and my German grandmother, Oma, my father’s mother who eventually became a full-time resident of a nearby California city.  In the summertime, my siblings and I spent many a weekend at Oma’s apartment complex with an interior courtyard containing a pool, palm trees, and amiable neighbors.  Oma had a beautiful accent, wonderful spirit, and was colorful in dress and outlook.  Outfitted in a red flowered bathing suit and gold fringed bathing cap, Oma danced with my siblings and me, in turn, in the shallow end of her apartment pool.  And pool dancing was always followed by sweet iced coffee with milk and ice cream on top, served poolside.  Oma taught me the love of life and travel.

An emphasis on diversity and the broader world were not only apparent in my grandmother’s worldview and everyday life, but in the actions of my father.  I was most excited, when as an elementary school student, my Dad organized having a Kenyan man from Berkeley’s International Student Center come and speak to my class.  Attired in traditional garb, the young Kenyan man gave a fascinating and eye-opening presentation on life in Kenya.

In our prepubescent years, Bishara and I both felt our own budding romances.  At around age 10, Bruce, a classmate, regularly selected me as a square dancing partner in PE, a secret thrill, as this was the first time I was noticed by a boy.  This freckle-faced chap had the gumption to present me with a ring before our relocation from one Bay Area town to another.  In my young mind, I was mightily impressed with the courage and straightforwardness of this boy.  Bishara’s introduction to “puppy love” was quite different.  Living in a more restrictive society where genders were often separated, Bishara and his friends were reduced to jotting down love notes on bits of paper, which were crumpled and hurled at their particular love interest.  Bishara was in serious trouble when someone complained about him and his buddies following a group of girls to school, with the boys ultimately being arrested and taken to the police department for interrogation.  The police officers ultimately took pity on the boys following the arrival of their parents.

Little did I know that 15 years later I would meet, and develop an intimate relationship with, a near-felon, nor did Bishara realize he would rendezvous with a western woman and the “American Dream.”

Pic of Michele

Pic of Bishara

Wonders of Jordan: Wadi Rum

An abundance of fine red sand amid limestone ridges, the land of Lawrence of Arabia’s escapades during the Arab Revolt in the early 1900s, and filming location of the recently released, “The Martian” with Matt Damon, Wadi Rum is a luminous and celebrated desert plain in southern Jordan.

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Wadi Rum

Although a Lebanese native through bloodline, my husband, Bishara, was born and spent his formative years in north Jordan.  We share an enduring love for, and fascination with, Jordan, and have visited family and explored this historically rich country on many occasions.

One of our more inspiring trips to Jordan combined visits to Bishara’s family and childhood friends in conjunction with excursions to Jerash, Madaba (home to mosaic churches), Mount Nebo, Petra, Aqaba, and Wadi Rum.  Our journey to Wadi Rum was our final sightseeing destination within Jordan before our flight home to the Arabian Gulf.  My imaginings of Wadi Rum included a vast sweeping desert landscape, desolate and beguiling, the stuff of epic movies with battles on horseback and political intrigue.

The reality was not so very different.  Following a captivating venture to the ancient Nabatean city of Petra, and a stopover in the Red Sea town of Aqaba on Jordan’s southern border where we enjoyed sheesha and Turkish coffee on the beach, Bishara and I reached Bait Ali Camp, an accommodation fashioned in the Bedouin style, in the Wadi Rum valley.

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Aqaba, Jordan

Drawn to the simplicity of the Bedouin lifestyle and culture, I appreciate the lack of frills, the humble, natural lifestyle, as well as the value placed on unbridled hospitality and generosity.  While in Petra, Bishara and I encountered the ever-present Bedouin, and while some were singularly zealous in selling their wares, the customary undercurrent of altruism, with offerings of tea brewed on aged portable stoves, was indisputable.  Or invitations to visit a nearby family home, as was the case when we met Rose, a 20-something Bedouin who magnanimously invited us to meet her family in nearby Umm Sayhoon village.  The family had virtually nothing, merely concrete walls and floors and not a stitch of furniture to call home, yet they insisted we join them in a feast of lamb and trimmings, which would have required the slaughter of one of their prized sheeps.  We declined, as we were both tired after a long day, and felt we could not appropriately repay this considerable gesture.  We did, however, receive cups of delicious fresh mint tea steeped in a kettle on a portable cooker on the floor.  I was perplexed when Rose’s mother whispered in her daughter’s ear, and Rose disappeared for a few moments into the adjoining room, only to reappear with timeworn Nabatean coins and a hand crafted beaded necklace, which Rose’s mother presented to Bishara and me.  Water welling in my eyes, my visceral reaction was to decline this unsparing expression of generosity.  Her arm outstretched defying my impulsive response, Rose’s mother gently pushed the gifts in our direction.  I could barely blurt out “thank you, shukran, habeeptie.”

Jordanian society operates from an organic essence, the people warm and friendly, the pace slow, and the day-to-day existence transparent and uncluttered with the “heaviness” of life experienced in more affluent and developed countries.  And because it is a relatively small nation, the social connections and affiliations are well-developed and oftentimes quite sturdy.  As we checked into the Bait Ali Camp, our accommodations in the heart of Wadi Rum, Bishara discovered by happenstance that the receptionist, manager of the establishment, was the friend of a Jordanian acquaintance from northern Jordan.  Social ties did not impede the common practice of “drumming up business” experienced at tourist locales throughout the region, especially for  ancillary services, as a youngish male hotel associate and the manager persistently pressed us to take the accommodation’s quad bikes to tour Wadi Rum the following day.  Matching the duos sense of determination, Bishara resolutely countered with our intention to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle with a guide from the nearby visitor’s center in the morning.  Thwarted, the manager made an offhanded remark to the younger man in Arabic.  Bishara leaned in and whispered that the manager informed his staff member he had tried to garner business for the younger man, but we would not budge.

As we drove to our room, following our check-in, the Bedouin lifestyle was palpable in the form of lodging with tents and grotto-like dwellings scattered about the premises.  Initially startled to be confronted with an exceedingly compact stone compartment with a simple wooden front door, I wondered how I would sleep that night.  The interior of our accommodation (“small chalet with fan”) was indubitably austere with twin beds atop wood platforms, one on each side of the room, and nary a couple feet in between.  A similarly meager, although clean and functional restroom, completed the space.

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Our Accommodation at Bait Ali Camp (Wadi Rum)

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Bait Ali Camp

After unpacking and freshening up, Bishara and I headed for the large circular tented dining area, which provided both indoor and outdoor seating.  While most patrons were seated outside the tent at wooden picnic tables presumably enjoying the crisp November evening temperatures, Bishara and I, desert dwellers of the sweltering Arabian Peninsula for quite some years, chose the indoor seating, which better suited our adapted core temperature.  Before being called to the buffet tables, I took advantage of the quiet time, and resumed reading Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a non-fiction account relating the shared cave-dwelling life (from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s) of New Zealander Marguerite and her Bedouin husband, Ali amidst the relics and rubble of Petra.  A bold voice announcing the buffet was open disrupted my musings surrounding Marguerite and her remarkable spirit and life, and found me and Bishara queuing up with other guests to partake in a lavish dinner of mezzah-type selections, including olive oil laden hommous, tabouli, fattoush, labneh, and mounds of chicken and rice.

Ambling back to our room after dinner, an attentive receptionist inquired if we would like to accompany him on a short trek to view the stars of the desert sky; we declined maintaining we were tuckered out after trudging through wondrous Petra the day before, although we were fairly certain the stroll would not be complimentary.  Arriving at our room, we asked for additional blankets and pillows to mitigate the raw nighttime air, as heaters were not part of this unpretentious domain, and in short order I was in a deep slumber swaddled in cozy quilted coverings.  We awoke to the morning light squinting through our curtained window, and I remarked to Bishara that I had the soundest most peaceful sleep I could remember.

Following an al fresco breakfast of babaganoush, hommous, olives, labneh, za’atar (thyme soaked in olive oil), magdoose (pickled eggplant), goat cheese, fried eggs, pita bread, and freshly brewed coffee in an Arab styled gazebo, we mounted the stairs alongside the reception building and a nearby sandstone dome, makeshift viewing points, to survey the Bait Ali Camp grounds and limitless maroon sand drifts and august granite forms.  We traversed the various majless layouts on the property, accepted cumin tea from the manager for Bishara’s slightly unsettled stomach, and received a request to join a sheesha and sweet mint tea respite at the Camp later in the afternoon, before departing for the Wadi Rum Visitor’s Center.

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Grounds of Bait Ali Camp

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Majless (Bait Ali Camp)

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The area encompassing the Visitor’s Center flaunted a chaotic scene; Bedouins in street clothes or worn thobes and ghuttras haphazardly wrapped around heads, all scuttling about, competing to make the sale – to drive anticipative vacationers through the Wadi Rum basin.  We even encountered a shop owner claiming that her brother could drive us through the UNESCO protected area.

We serendipitously located the Visitor’s Center and ticket office, as we sought to avoid the clusters of solicitors.  Selecting the one hour tour, which could be extended to two, with a driver and four wheel drive vehicle, the slight man decked out in a fitted brown leisure suit stationed behind the ticket counter provided us with a map along with instructions on meeting our driver in the tiny town of Wadi Rum.  We began our Saharan expedition thankful we hired a closed truck, as many of the conveyances rambling along the maroon sands had open air backseats filled with patrons protected by facemasks.

Perched on metal bench seats opposite each other in the back of the truck, we sailed along the flaming coral sea of sand peppered with stately sandstone shapes before stopping at a Nabataean temple where our guide provided a brief synopsis on the origins and likely function of the sanctuary in ancient times.  We advanced along the boundless serene rose lake, tourists on camelback and brown Bedouin tents dabbing the horizon, until we reached spots with particularly exquisite panoramic vistas where we would stop, and ingest the precious scenery, sensing a singular connection with the creation of this incredible valley through the effects of rainwater and sand storms some 500 million years ago.  Further into the plain, we ascended soft sand dunes and solid granite abutments only to be greeted by more extraordinary settings, and were ceremoniously invited to traditional mint tea in a red carpeted Bedouin majless.

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Site of Nabataean Temple (Wadi Rum)

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“Tea time” in Wadi Rum Majless

We wished we had allotted more time for Wadi Rum, however, found it imperative to travel to northern Jordan to visit Bishara’s childhood friends and family before returning to the Arab Gulf.  Our four hour drive along the length of Jordan was filled with reflections of our awe-inspiring adventure in Wadi Rum and Bishara’s nostalgic recollections of his former life in Jordan, all accompanied to the music of Fares Karam.

Bedouin Friends in Petra

Traditional Bedouin in Southern Jordan (From: www.dmitrimarkine.com)

Bedouin in Southern Jordan (From: http://www.dmitrimarkine.com)

When I told my Scottish expatriate friend, Pam, that my husband and I would be visiting Petra in Jordan over the Hajj Eid holiday last year she gushed, “Oh I loved Petra.”  Pam recommended I read ‘Married to a Bedouin‘ by Marguerite van Geldermalsen before going on our holiday to enhance the experience.  I followed Pam’s advice and read the autobiographical account of a red-haired, fair-eyed New Zealander, who while touring Petra with a girlfriend in the late 1970’s met a handsome cave-dwelling Bedouin named Mohammad, fell in love and married him.  Marguerite, or Um Raami, (mother of Raami), as she became known, lived with Mohammad in a two thousand-year-old cave for years and bore him three children before the Bdoul Bedouins of Petra were relocated to a cement village.  The book proved to be a fascinating read and helped inform me of Bedouin life and traditions, especially in southern Jordan, and set the stage for our upcoming trip to Petra.

I had spotted Arab Bedouins (desert living or cave dwelling, tribal, and nomadic people) when we lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (in the early 2000’s) during our frequent weekend trips to the desert where we, along with western expatriate friends, set up picnics with blankets, coolers filled with food and drink, sheesha (huka), and a boom box for popular Arabic CDs.  We caught glimpses of  Bedouins in weathered thobes and billowing ghuttras in the distance tending to sheep, goats, and camels in the desolate sahara as we traveled in our convoys along roadways, or desert sand in our four wheel drive vehicles.  On occasion, we detected Bedouin villages with clusters of brown and white horizontal striped tents in remote recesses of the desert; children dressed in worn clothes and mussed hair romping about while camels or goats roamed nearby.

Our trip to Petra was awe-inspiring.  Catching sight of the imposing Treasury building (Al-Khazneh) through the filtered sunlight of the narrow Siq (shaft), sketched in the towering red rocks was a long-awaited sight – something I had seen for years on TV and in travel brochures.  Further along the sandy, rocky pathways we were treated to temples, tombs, a Roman-like open air theatre, and the impressive Monastery (Ad-Deir), all chiseled into the red sandstone rock of Petra.  This was all the handiwork of the Nabataeans, an ancient Arab tribe from the Arabian Peninsula who settled in the south of Jordan more than 2,200 years ago.  The Nabataean community flourished as overseers of trade routes and caravans with frankincense and myrrh from Arabia, silk and spices from India, and animal hides and ivory from Africa until around 106 AD when Petra became part of the Roman Empire.  During their tenure in Petra the Nabataeans were even able to construct an intricate and highly effective irrigation system in the middle of the desert, no less.

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While the Nabataeans represent another time in the region’s history, Petra is now regularly filled with tourists from all over the world and the Bedouin who live in the area, relocated from Petra’s caves (where they lived for many generations) to nearby concrete communities.  Young Bedouin men, charcoal markings framing their eyes, are in evidence even before entering Petra’s Siq, riding, and sometimes racing horses, as well as at the reins of colorful red carriages led by single horses.  Once within Petra, Bedouin men, often with checkered ghuttra scarves wound around their heads, exert their competitive and enterprising spirits with shouts of “Come, I can show you more if you ride my camel,” or “I can give you less price if you take my carriage!”  Further into Petra along the passages and sandstone cliffs leading to the many tombs are makeshift stalls with Bedouin men and women selling their wares: colorful beaded jewelry, silver bracelets, white and black checkered ghuttras, Nabataean coins, and other mementos.  As in the larger Arab world, the art of bargaining is a prerequisite for souvenir shopping, and the Bedouins of Petra are among the best, due to years of practice interacting with people from many cultures, I assume.

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Bedouin on Horse in PetraClimbing the 800 steps to the Monastery, (less than halfway up I certainly wished I had decided on mounting a donkey for the ride up the mountain), we encountered several stands where Bedouins (mainly mothers and their children) were selling more jewelry, trinkets, and postcards.  We stopped at one stall part way up the mountain and Bishara lingered for awhile, always being more interested in “shooting the breeze” than me.  When he saw me moving ahead, he ran up to me and said that the Bedouin young woman, Rose, had said we must stop for tea on our way back from the Monastery.  We pushed on, and further down the dirt path scattered with rocks and uneven stone steps, winded with tired muscles, we stopped at another Bedouin stall under a wide tent canopy to rest.  A middle-aged Bedouin woman with a colorful pink scarf atop her head and black abaye with intricately woven gold designs, and her daughter, wrapped in a purple head scarf and sweater and wearing jeans, insisted we have tea with them.  The older lady yelled out in broken English, “Sit on the blanket, sit on the blanket!”  Out came the silver dented tea kettle, which was set over a small portable stove with a lit fire and in less than two minutes we were served aromatic tea in small tea glasses.  My husband, Bishara, a Lebanese national, told me later that in the Bedouin culture once you sit in their home or tent, you become the most important focus and priority.

Donkey Going Up Mountain Steps in Petra

Bishara & Me with Bedouins in Petra

Me with Bedouins in Petra

Me and Bishara in Mountains of Petra

After finally making it to the top of the mountain, taking a protracted respite, and viewing the magnificent Monastery carved into a sheer cliff, we headed back down the passageway, which I thought would be easier since it was all downhill, but found myself leaning on Bishara for most of the trip.  As we wound around a curve in the path, we saw Rose and her mother in the distance.  Bishara reminded me that we should stop to have tea and say “hello.”  I was hesitant since we just had lunch and something to drink when up at the Monastery and it seemed we should keep moving, as any stop in my forward motion could potentially shut me down.  Bishara was persistent, however, as was Rose, because as soon as we came into view she called out to us to join her and her family for tea.  We were, again, encouraged to sit on a carpet-covered blanket laid out behind the family’s stall.  We sipped our robust red tea in small glass cups that seemed to be comprised of more sugar than tea, made “small talk,” and had a look at jewelry.  I found a silver bracelet I liked, and we were planning to use the bargaining tactic of saying we weren’t interested and walking away expecting to be called back, however, neither Rose nor her mother called us back.  Bishara and I felt bad that we had offered a price that didn’t even warrant a call back, and Rose and her mother had been so gracious, after all, to give us tea during which time other potential customers were neglected.  So, we walked back, looked at the bracelet more carefully and offered the last price that Rose had put forward.  Rose and her mother were all smiles, and Rose’s mother offered me another necklace.  “Thank you,” I said, “I think this is all I want,” pointing to the bracelet I had just purchased on my wrist.  Rose’s mother persevered, “No, this is for you!”  When I tried to give her some money, she adamantly refused.  I was taken aback by her kindness, but had become accustomed to Arab generosity and had heard about the extraordinary hospitality and graciousness of the Bedouin.

Me with Rose and Family in Petra

Bishara in Front of Monastery in Petra

Me in Front of Monastery in Petra

While chatting with Rose and her mother, I happened to mention that I read the book, “Married to a Bedouin.”  Rose, a twinkle in her eye, related, “Oh, I know Um Raami.  She’s in Petra today selling at her gift shop.”  Moving forward I asked, “Oh really, do you think it would be possible for me to meet her?”  Without blinking an eye, Rose responded, “Of course, we can go right now.”  “But what about your shop?,” I queried.  “Oh, it’s okay, my mother can handle everything here,” Rose retorted.

We picked up a girlfriend of Rose’s, who was closing up shop, as we hiked down the mountain, and she accompanied us all the way to the Treasury building. Along the way, attractive young Bedouin men with kohl-framed eyes, on camels and donkeys, flirted with our young friends.  I was able to meet Um Raami and received her signature, and as we left she said, “tsharafna,” in typical Arab style, which means “my honor to meet you.”  After leaving the gift shop, Rose insisted that Bishara and I go to her home to meet the rest of her family.

Several donkeys, street dogs, hens and roosters roamed around outside Rose’s home in Al Beida (Little Petra), about a ten minute drive from the heart of Petra.  In the open adjacent lot sat the typical Bedouin tent, bait shair, (house made of goat hair).  Rose’s home was a simple white cement block.  Inside, there was not a stick of furniture, only a thin foam mattress pushed up against an unpainted gray concrete wall, with a single fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling.  We were ushered inside with much fanfare, introduced to Rose’s father, who had several front teeth missing and spoke practically no English, and told to sit on the foam mattress.  Immediately Rose’s mother appeared with a subdued smile and soft, kind eyes; she squatted down on the brown linoleum floor, placed an old silver pot onto a kerosene portable stove, and sat cross-legged while waiting for the pot to boil.

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After pouring us tea, Rose’s mother insisted on giving me another beautiful beaded necklace, and Bishara several ancient Nabataean coins.  The family, sitting around us in a semi-circle on the linoleum floor, also wanted to slaughter a sheep and share in a meal of mansef (rice and lamb served with yogurt sauce).  When we said we were quite exhausted after a long day of trekking through Petra, and needed to go back to the hotel soon to sleep, Rose’s father asked if we could come to their home the following night for dinner.  At one point, Rose’s sister-in-law entered the house with her young child and seemed quietly mesmerized by us.  There were also a flurry of phone calls and plans made for other family members to come and visit with us, as well as a call from Rose’s uncle and his family about an overnight camping trip in the desert with Rose’s family, which we were told is a normal occurrence.  Rose’s mother rolled up a cloth bag, placing a portable stove inside, as well as a bag of rice, some vegetables, a container of yogurt in a separate small cloth bag, with khobuz (bread) and other essentials in preparation for the trip later in the evening.  Rose’s father asked in fractured English if we’d like to accompany them to the desert, but we said we would have to forgo the trip, as we were simply too tired.  The family was quite interested in where we were from, why we were currently living in Qatar and what we did there, and how we liked Petra.  Our hosts divulged that they loved meeting westerners, and that we weren’t the first westerners to come to their home.  Rose, her mother, and father insisted that next time we visited Petra we would not be staying in a hotel, but rather with them.

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