Meeting the people of Jordan

The landscape of Jordan
This is a renewal of a previous post – I have been reflecting a lot recently about the people we meet on our travels and I wanted to re-share this post…
I knew very little about Jordan before we visited, and I was not at all prepared to fall so much in love with the country and its people. It’s one of my favourite places in the world – which is saying a lot for a country where wildlife is not the main attraction.

Throughout our stay we were lucky enough to meet and experience the hospitality of a range of people. Take, for example, the gentleman we bumped into on the hike into Wadi Feynan…

It was late afternoon and we’d arrived at Dana later than expected. We hastily threw some overnight things into a small rucksack, grabbed a bottle of water and headed off the hike from the mountain tops to the valley floor where our lodge was located.

Heading deeper into the valley the terrain turned from arid rock formations, into beautiful scented arches of bougainvillea. Momentarily distracted by the scenery unfolding in front of us, we stopped under the shade of a tree to rehydrate. It was then we realised how foolish we’d been. Less than 2 hours into an anticipated 4 hour hike we’d drank most of the water we’d brought! We’d underestimated our supplies and were in danger of dehydration. We took stock of the two options we had a) hike back up the wadi back to the town and obtain more water, by which time it’d be too late to hike and we’d lose our overnight stay b) carry on regardless. We opted for b.

Tired, hot and now quite anxious, we pressed on, hiking faster and harder in an attempt to get to the lodge as quickly as possible.

Through the vegetation we became aware of a figure slowly approaching us. A local elderly and withered man with a donkey emerged from the bushes. He took one look at the sweaty, tired and dehydrated tourists and decided to take matters into his own hands. He beckoned for us to follow him, urging us deeper and deeper into the vegetation, straying further and further from the hiking trail. I became really anxious. The media has taught me to be naturally suspicious of all strangers, and I ashamedly confess that I was not at all comfortable blindly following the local elderly gentleman. My protests fell on deaf ears – my husband is much more trusting than I, and with a large sweep of his hands he cleared a hole in the curtain of vegetation and promptly disappeared through it.  Feeling I had no other choice but to follow, I did so, mumbling as I went about this being the last time we’d ever be ‘seen’. We walked and walked, each step taking us further the valley sides, opposed to into the depth of the valley floor where our lodge was situated.  I noticed the terrain changing – grass started to soften my step, and a breeze filtered through the valley. The sun began to drop lower in the sky and I became very concerned about our ability to reach the apparent safety of the lodge by nightfall. I glanced up to find the gentleman and my husband had ground to a halt. The elderly man was smiling widely to me, gesturing towards an open sided tent. It was a smile I struggled to return and did not deserve. I was petrified, wondering what he was going to ‘do’ to us in the tent. I envisioned this as our last hiding place, the place our bodies would be found in years to come. My feet were rooted to the ground. I started to gently protest, wishing with all my heart that I spoke Arabic. My husband gave me a gentle push towards the tent and we slowly walked in as the elderly gentleman disappeared behind a curtain of canvas strung from the tent’s rigging.

I had never felt so foolish! A few minutes later the gentleman emerged with a huge smile, carrying a tray of Jordanian tea. In spite of my earlier reluctance I eagerly accepted a glass and proceeded to drink the beautiful, sweet amber tea in one. It was the most beautiful tea we’d tasted to date in Jordan – sweet, but full of herbs, rosemary being the dominant taste. The old man laughed he expression of euphoria on my face and promptly refilled my glass.

Drinking the second glass more slowly, and with my initial panic fading, I took time to acquaint myself with my surroundings. The tent was shabby but well constructed and homely. Dotted around the ground sheet were flat faded cushions upon which we were perched. There was little in the way of any other possessions – it was very clear that this man had very little, and yet here he was, offering everything he had to two strangers – one who had the audacity to fear him and suspect his motives. I hung my head briefly in shame as tears swelled in my eyes. I hoped and prayed that this would be a valuable lessons for me – one that would teach me not to be immediately suspicious of people, and to quicker discern harmless from harmful strangers.

I did not get chance to mope for long, as I was snapped out of my contemplation by a gentle braying. Looking up, the gentleman was proudly displaying one of his goats, eager to show us more of his home and possessions. I could not help smiling back, when the second ‘thing’ he chose the bring us was his young daughter. Timidly she emerged from the curtain of the tent – she’d obviously been just as timid of us and I had of them. I gestured for her to sit beside me, and proceeded to dig into our day-pack to bring out our picture postcards of Edinburgh, so we could share with them images of where we lived and what our culture was like. Their eyes shot out of their sockets upon viewing the images of Edinburgh at Christmas. They struggled to understand what the Ferris wheel was, and our mimicry was somewhat to be desired.

After a delightful 20 minutes of so we gestured that we’d have to leave – somewhat reluctantly so. The gentleman protested and drew up his sleeve to display his Casio digital watch. He motioned that the lodge was just 30 minutes away and we had an hour until the sun set. I kicked back against my disbelief as it started to rear its ugly head, and, to the surprise of my husband, agreed to stay for one more cup of tea. When we finally did leave them, it was with much regret, but with a valuable lesson learned. It sounds corny, but that was the making of me – It was a lesson and an experience that has not only changed my outlook on society, but has made me change the way I travel and experience the culture of others.

And of course the elderly gentleman was correct – we arrived at our lodge in little over 30 minutes and plenty time before sunset. In fact, by taking us off the hiking trail he’d actually saved us time by taking us on a shortcut!

More stories from our time in this amazing country are available in our book about Jordan.


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