The Land of Shared Ancestors

“You want to see my cave?” asked our Bedouin guide, aka Mr. Friday.

Had we not already established a trust, his proposal would have sounded like a proposition.

“Yes, we’d love to,” cooed the three women.

We climbed up a small slope and voila, there in the rocks was Juomaa’s front door – locked against wandering bandits.

“Here is where we kept our fire,” he said pointing to a small pit with ink-colored sand stained by the ash.  “Here is where our cousins slept.  The men here.  The women there.  And over here was the cave the tourists slept.  They used to come up here and we would offer them hospitality.”

The bedroom-sized caves must have been cramped when all the cousins slept over.  I imagined there was a lot of giggling at night.

“At the bottom of this canyon is Haroun’s orchard,” said Juomaa.  As he looked over the site, he sighed.  “I loved living in the caves.”

Without their inhabitants, the caves were not homes, and there was little else to see inside.

Outside, the multi-colored stone was brilliant orange as the sun dropped.  To the right of his front door was a stunning view of the Monastery.

We stood enjoying a quiet anyone living in a city has never heard.  The desert is a place where life is pared down to the bare minimum.  You get enough water to survive – with nothing to waste.  You eat to fill your belly; no left-overs that might spoil.  Your possessions must fit on your back or your donkey’s.  Your entertainment is Nature’s round-the-clock exhibition of her array of colors.  The air was fresh, tinged with the freedom of living without masters.

“I could get used to living up here,” my friend said.  “I don’t think my husband would like it.”

“No CNN or A/C, mine would complain,” I said.  “But I feel free.”

“It is gorgeous.  I can just imagine sitting around the campfire, telling stories and watching the stars,” Louise said.  Her eyes had gone dreamy again.

It was a pity we were unable to enjoy the Bedouin hospitality, but the sun waits for no woman.  If we wanted to end our day in true Thelma and Louise style, then we had to get to the cliff at the top of the world.

Many signs pointed towards the canyon’s lip.

Climbing the mountain, we rushed towards the edge, but our donkey stopped just in time.  Regardless of what anyone else wanted, he refused to take that last step.

Maaz stopped to lean against a fence made of sticks.  My mother’s heart stopped.  My friend encouraged him to step away by asking him to take her photo.  Soon, he was leaping around like a mountain goat snapping shots our stomachs could not endure.

“Over here,” called Juomaa.  Taking off his sunglasses, he squinted and pointed west to some distant spot where his camels grazed.  “Wadi Araba, my winter home.  It is warmer there.  Araba is the real desert.”  He turned and pointed south.

“See the white roof on the top of that mountain.  That is Aaron’s Tomb.  In Islam, we believe Aaron was a prophet and a priest like his brother Moses.”

IMG_1037 aaron cave petra jordan by eva the dragon 2013

My great-grandfather’s name was Aaron,” I told him.  Suddenly the pieces came together.  “His grandfather’s name was Eleazer.  In the Old Testament, Eleazer was Aaron’s son.  Very curious,” I said, watching the sun set.  “It all feels so familiar and comfortable.  This is truly our shared ancestral land.”

“Welcome home,” said the smiling Juomaa.

To be continued….

ABOUT JUOMAA KUDBLAN THE PETRA BEDOUIN GUIDE

Juomaa Kudblan, Mr. Friday, was a man we instantly felt comfortable with.  His mobile is 00 962 7 7753 5425.

You can arrange to meet him at the Petra entrance, or, if you are lucky, arrange to meet him at Haroun’s for a sunset trip to the Monastery.  He charged us each 50JD for our four-hour tour.  His rate matched the rates quoted on Frommer’s.  His donkey were well-cared for, and he is a kind, stable individual.

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Charmed by a Bedouin

Petra Panorama behind blue church Jordan by eva the dragon 2013

Our water bottles emptied, we could not take another step.  The empty café next to the Byzantine church welcomed us.

A majlis of red and black cushions surrounded a jewelry case in the center of the room with a full view of the Colonnade.  A young man stood behind the counter.

“Do you have lemon with mint?” I asked pointing to the picture.  He nodded, unable to speak English.

“How about some juice?” I asked my weary friends as they peeled off their hats and camera bags.  Their mouths were so dry, they nodded.

As we lounged on the couches, the proprietor walked between the necklaces houses in glass shelves, lit a cigarette and sat down.

“Salam ah-lay kum,” I said, starting our exchange with peace.

“Ah-lay kum a salam,” he responded appropriately.  “I hope you are having a good day in Petra,” he said in perfect English.

“Yes, it has been wonderful.  Is this your son?” I asked as the young man brought our fresh juices.

“No, he is my friend’s son.  He is from Egypt.  You know how tough things are in Egypt today.  He needed a job so I brought him here to Petra.  He will learn about tourists and learn to speak English.”

“My husband’s family is Egyptian,” I told him.  “We live in Bahrain.”

“Really?” he raised his eyebrows.  “How many wives does he have?” he asked with laughter in his eyes.

“Only me,” I countered.  “That is all he can handle.  What about you?”

“I only have one wife.  She is from Spain and believe me, she is more than enough for me.  I could not handle anymore wives.”  We all giggled.

“You must know Marguerite,” Louise chimed in.  “We just met her along the road.”

“Marguerite used to be the nurse at our clinic in the cave,” he said.  “That was a long time ago when her husband was alive.”

“Do you know which cave she lived in?” Louise asked.  “Is it that one across the way?” She pointed across the canyon above the other side of the Colonnade.

He corrected her finger and pointed out the cave.

“It must have been extraordinary to have lived in a cave.  What a life she must have had.  Cooking over a fire and raising babies there.  Living among the Bedu.  Extraordinary,” Louise said.

“When I was young, we all lived in the caves,” he announced.

“Really?” we exclaimed.

“Have you been to the Monastery?”  We shook our heads no.  “My family, we lived up there.”  He pointed out towards the mountains.

“That is so interesting.”

He smiled.  “We loved living in the mountains.  Now most of the Bedouin live in the village.  Do you like your juice?”

“Yes, very much.”

“The lemons are from my orchard.  I grow oranges too.  Everything you see here is fresh.  Made at home.”  He pointed to the poster over the table filled with Arabic mezza and salads.

“What is your name?” we finally asked.

“Haroun,” he said pronouncing the h softly making it sound like Aaron.

“Aaron,” I asked, “Like the brother of Moses?”

“Yes,” he said, pointing again towards the mountains.  “We could see his tomb from our cave.”

A man wearing jeans parked his donkey in front of the café.  A blond woman climbed off its back.

Haroun shouted out, “Salam!” and got up to greet the man with a hug and many kisses.

“My Uncle Jouma,” he said.  “He is my uncle, but he is younger than me.”

Jouma took off his Ray-Bans and said hello to us in perfect English.

“Jouma means Friday.  You can call me Friday.”

“This is Saturday and my friend, Sunday,” I said.  “You can call me Monday.”

As more men stopped by, Haroun turned his attention to them.  I felt the push of inspiration.  It would be a treat to be guided to the Monastery by someone who lived there.

“Can you show us the Monastery?” I asked Jouma.  “Wouldn’t it be great to go there with him?” I turned to my friends.

Suddenly a great plan was hatched.  Jouma suggested that we go explore the Royal Tombs.  He would meet us there at four o’clock and take us by donkey to the Monastery for the sunset.

Refreshed and excited about our afternoon adventure, after lunch, we gathered our things and said good-bye to the men.

“Please, the juice and the oranges are my gift to you,” said Haroun.  “My orchid sits in valley at the bottom of Mount Hor.  You must come and see it.  I will wait for you there.  My uncle will bring you.”

“Inshallah,” we said.  “We will see you on our way to the Monastery.”

Then I realized, just like Marguerite, the Petra Bedouins had charmed us.  Enchanted, we were ready to follow a man we had just met to his ancestral cave on the mountain.

ABOUT HAROUN AND JOUMA

Haroun’s Café has a terrific view of the Colannaded Street and the Royal Tombs.  The food was good and the atmosphere was much nicer than the crowded restaurants at the end of the Colannade operated by hotels.

Jouma Kublan was a man we instantly felt comfortable with.  His mobile is 00 962 7 7753 5425.  You can arrange to meet him at the Petra entrance, or, if you are lucky, arrange to meet him at Haroun’s for a sunset trip to the Monastery.  He charged us each 50JD for our four-hour tour.  His rate matched the rates quoted on Frommer’s.  His donkeys were well-cared for, and he is a kind, stable individual.

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