Postcards from Wadi Rum, Jordan

Postcards from Wadi Rum, Jordan

In Iran, I fell in love. But, on this occasion, not with a man, but with the desert. I still remember the feel of the dry, warm breeze as I stepped of the train in Yazd. The unexpected sense of home. Last year, as I made my way to Jordan’s famed Wadi Rum, my heart skipped a beat as I explored sun-soaked mountains and glistening sand dunes.

Watching as the Bedouin and their camels made their way through the seemingly-endless desert served as a reminder of what a small space I occupy in the world, and how irrelevant much of what consumes me on a daily basis really is. The simplicity of nature and human interaction never seemed more profound as my desert moments. The partnership between man and beast surviving in the most arid of terrains is one to be respected, and who better to help me explore it than Bedouin tribes.

Fortunately, the Bedouin camp was much more equipped than I had anticipated (but it was already dark, so I didn’t get take photographs). I didn’t have to pitch a tent, let’s put it that way! While the Bedouin slept on thin mattresses (by choice), there were metal bed frames, mattresses, pillows and thick duvets available for us, plus I had my sparkling new sleeping bag. I had never been camping or slept outside, and was filled with the fear of scorpions. I prepared my bed and, with only the moon and my meagre torch for light, I was not completely convinced I had adequately warded off any hiding lethal desert wildlife. But, no time for rest: a desert walk by moonlight followed by tea with thyme prepared on a blazing fire. I just sat in silence, staring at the dazzling sky and observing the closeness of my hosts. True to my introverted nature, I don’t enjoy crowds, anthropogenic noise or excessive distractions. Along with the spiritual element of desert life, I realise this sense of calm is what I crave most.  Later, as I climbed into bed, it occurred to me that I may not wake up. And that’s when things became rather interesting.

There I was, in my pyjamas in the middle of the desert. I could barely walk in the sand, let alone run. Scorpions were the least of my concerns. I thought about my geographical location, the lack of emergency services and the very firm reality that nobody knew exactly where I was.  I felt (as I do frequently) a sense of guilt. The privilege of choosing to holiday in a country an extremely volatile locality and the reality that I had been driving through Jordan, seeing UNHCR camps dotted about and yet, here I am, on holiday. I’ve been neglecting my blog for years as I’ve struggled to find a way to merge my interest in human rights and travel but, going forward, I’ll be weaving the threads of my academic life and travel obsession more closely together. But I digress…

I looked up at the sky littered with glistening stars and accepted that my destiny is out of my hands.

And then I woke up. Some of my fellow camp dwellers talked of seeing shooting stars; I slept like a baby for 8 hours. So much for scorpions or being kidnapped… Feel the fear and do it anyway, as the book says. Sadly, I never saw ‘my’ Bedouins again but members of their family came to collect a few of us for a camel ride. Freshen up, clothes on and I stepped outside the camp at 5:40am to find three Bedouin gentlemen sitting by a fire, speaking gently and waiting for take us for a camel excursion. As always, I sought permission to take a photograph, and they invited me to sit with them. It was only a few moments until the others arrived but I treasure the opportunity to be invited into their world.

About 13 years ago, I rode an elephant in Thailand. I am not proud of it or making excuses, but I was ignorant to the abuse the elephants suffer. It seemed so peaceful and I was certain the elephant could manage my weight. As my ride ended, I rubbed the skin of the intelligent, cute creature and saw that the handler’s stick had a thick, sharp nail attached to the end. I was traumatised; how could an animal lover participate in such cruelty? Since then, I’ve been very cautious about animal-related activities. I was really concerned about the condition the camels would be in. Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about. The relationship between camel and man, in the desert, is about balance and partnership. Sitting atop one of these tall sand beasts, slowly making our way through the desert with nothing but the sounds of nature, I felt a sense of complete, unadulterated peace. I found what I came for.


2017: Birthday reflections

2017: Birthday reflections

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King Abdullah I Mosque, Jordan

King Abdullah I Mosque, Jordan

Browsing through my guidebook, I felt overjoyed at the abundance of mosques and churches listed. My joy rapidly turned to disappointment as ‘non-Muslims are not normally permitted entry’ would appear at the end of each blurb. Was Jordan really open and tolerant? There was no way I was going to an Islamic country and not visiting a mosque; I want to understand more about Islam, more about Jordan and, surprise surprise, ogle the architecture, and the only way that’s going to happen is to interact with people and visit their Holy sites. It turns out that, whilst my guidebook was correct – this is the only mosque in Amman that happily admits non-Muslims, my insecurities about intolerance turned out to be unfounded.

I saw the turquoise dome from the street and I could feel my heart racing – yay, I made it! Despite being Friday, it was possible to visit. For a small entrance fee (less than £2 – free for worshippers) and a mandatory abayah I, after a week in Jordan, finally entered the mosque complex. The mosque was completed in 1989 and, between the courtyard and interior, can house up to 10,000 worshippers. The interior stained glass windows are a real highlight.

My understanding is that Muslims believe the Quran is the direct word of God. I desperately wanted to open a copy but was fearful my curiosity would be deemed disrespectful. I have only ever seen copies in museums and mosques: they have always been elaborately-decorated and I was rather curious about the interior formation. I once read that translations can, in some sects of Islam, be considered as blasphemous, though I’m not sure how true this is. Grateful for any information.

This gentleman at the mosque was very nice (I wrote about him on Instagram) and surprised me…

I’m not an Islamic scholar and will not enter into debates on the role of women in Islam. However, one of the most disheartening aspects during my visits to mosques is that the women’s section is usually an uninspiring back room (Iran was an exception). I recall visiting Istanbul and entering a small, unassuming mosque. Once inside (as a visitor, I was permitted to enter the male section), I was dazzled by its beauty, peace and the observance of the men in prayer beneath glittering chandeliers and an ornately-painted dome. Upon visiting the women’s prayer area in the same mosque, I noted it was a cupboard with mismatched paint. It was explained that this is because women are not obliged to attend the mosque so, often, a female-only space is an afterthought. Again, I welcome any information. Fortunately, the King Abdullah I Mosque was a refreshing change and, in fact, I found the women’s prayer room the most spiritual of the two areas and I very much liked the lamps. An open copy of the Quran rested atop on the intricately-tiled wall; I was reminded yet again of the beauty of Arabic script and grateful to finally see the contents. Two ladies prayed next to each other whilst another sat calming reading, all completely unconcerned with my ‘intrusion’ into their moment with God.

When I first walked in, the lady pictured smiled at me and I noticed her holding a misbaha. As I walked across the room, I expected her to follow me with her eyes, wondering who this ‘impostor’ was. I turned toward her, but was she facing the Mihrab. I felt safe and accepted, and sat a few metres from her. There is such beauty in prayer, all forms of prayers. Finally, we made eye contact, I touched my iPad (as I didn’t want the noise of my camera to disturb anybody), smiled and she nodded and continued. I tried to thank her but she had returned to her prayers with closed eyes. A wonderful way to end my visit to Jordan.