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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What You Carry in Your Heart

In the desert, the hour before sunset feels like someone turned down the oven thermometer and set out that day’s pie, with its perfectly golden edges, for everyone to savor.  It is a magical time as the light and the dark merge.

The Monastery was at its breath-taking best; a brilliant carnelian like the gem the ancients placed on the dead to protect them during their voyage to the afterlife.

Less than twenty people sat at the Monastery Café savoring the view before beginning their walk down the stairs.  It was now or never.

Eva anjayasana at Monastery small v2

Emulating the mischievous Hanuman, the saffron-colored, monkey-god, I scrambled up into the cavern.  The Ramayana tells how he used his siddhis to shape-shift.  Perched on the edge, I bowed deep into hanumanasana.  My whole body grew and filled the monastery’s entrance before shrinking down to normal.

Hanumanasana in monastery petra jordan 2013

Amazed, others tried to access the “cave’s” power.

One man did flips.

Maaz tried handstands.

bedouin boys sitting on monastery petra jordan

The Bedouin boys climbed to the top of the temple and dangled their legs over the edge, hoping they would be stretched to the ground.

Their faces, arms and legs remained unchanged.  And my secret stayed in my heart.

The Monastery – 1839 and 2013

Safely reaching the summit, we slid off our donkeys’ backs.  Standing in front of Al-Deir, the memory of our steep journey rolled away.

“It is glorious,” marveled Louise.  “Save for a little wear and tear, it looks just like David Robert’s painting.”

Follow the Brick Road to the Rose City

Starting at the Petra Visitor Center, Louise began asking me, “Is her shop here?”

The woman she was looking for was Marguerite van Geldermalsen.

married to a Bedouin

Louise was fascinated by Marguerite, a New Zealander who married Mohammed Othman, a Bedouin souvenir-seller from Petra.  She met him while on holiday.  After a whirlwind courtship, she moved into his cave where they lived for many years.  We met Marguerite in 2010 at the Dubai Literary Festival where she gave a talk on her memoir “Married to a Bedouin”.

During my previous visit to Petra I saw a stall selling her book.  But I did not think she lived there anymore.

“Do you see Marguerite’s stand?” Louise asked me for the second time as we entered the Siq.

“No, not yet.  We haven’t even entered the city yet.”

To most Westerners, Petra is the rose-colored Treasury featured in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Every year thousands wander through the six-foot wide Siq to glimpse Petra’s most famous landmark.

To the two-thousand, local Bedouin, Petra is – or was – their home.  They literally lived in the caves the Nabataeans carved out of the sandstone over three thousand years ago.

Lived that was, until the 1980s when the Jordanian government declared Petra to be a national landmark.  In the nearby village, Umm Sayhoon, cement block apartments were built to move the cave-dwelling people out the “caves” and off the colonnade streets.  Today some caves are occupied by the poorest families while others have padlocked doors.

“I can just see Burckhardt riding his donkey through here hoping to find the lost city,” Louise mumbled as she imagined herself dressed as a Muslim holy man.  A travel writer she did her research before our trip.  Not only was she intrigued by TE Lawrence and Marguerite, but the Swiss-born, Jean Louis Burckhardt’s account of “discovering” Petra in 1812 had captured her interest.

siq sign petra jordan

Burckhardt kept his discovery of the Rose-red City secret because he was afraid Petra would be spoiled.  His journals were released after his death in 1817, and that was when the Victorian travelers, poets and archaeologists, including the famed painter, David Roberts, flocked to Petra.

Walking through the Siq, a giant rock split apart by a tremendous earthquake, is to be transported back in time.  It is easy to imagine how impressed a desert traveler entering Petra would have been when they passed the channeled water ducts, the many shrines and the immense stone carvings of camel caravans.

As we studied the camel caravan, our American mates from the Mohammed Mutlak camp saw us and stopped to say hello.  They were in such a hurry to hike to the Monastery, had we not been there, they would have walked past the life-size, stone mural.

As we gazed at the ancient signposts, even the school children passed us.

“You want a ride.  It is included in your ticket,” the young horsemen asked us over and over.  They must have assumed we were tired since we walked so slow.

“No, thanks,” we shouted back.  “We’re allergic to horses.”

“Where are you from?”

“Bahrain,” we told them, but they did not believe us.

Without a horse and taking photos, our kilometer and a half walk took about two hours.

All along the way, Louise kept stopping the Bedouins to ask, “When Marguerite?”

To be continued……

ABOUT PETRA VISITOR CENTER

The Visitor Center has been revamped since my last trip in 2009.  The entrance is right outside the Movenpik Hotel.  Taxis congregate at the entrance.  Leaving the hotel, they asked if we needed a taxi. I was wondering where they would have taken us.

Entrance fees have doubled since 2009.  They are posted on the Petra National Trust website.  In 2013, it was for 50JD/day for one day, 55JD for 2 days and 60JD for three days.  If you did not arrive via the airport and pay for a visa, your entrance fee will include a 40JD addition.  Technically, at sunset Petra closes.

In 2009, we hired a guide who spoke perfect English and who happened to be a Petra archeologist.  Unfortunately I forgot his name but I learned so much from him.  Because of my experience, we did not hire a guide from the Visitor Center but there are many available who speak multiple languages.  I linked to Frommer’s website as I agree with what is written there.  We did not hire a horse drawn carriage, but the men told us it is included in the ticket price – perhaps that is why they tickets prices have increased.  However, if you take a horse down to the Treasury you miss exploring sites along the way.

Jordan – The Holy Land Museum

view of holy land from mount nebo jordan by Eva the dragon

“If you put a fence around Jordan, it would be the world’s largest museum,” the archaeologist told me.

Most Westerners visit the Holy Land by flying into Israel to see Jerusalem and, perhaps, Bethlehem.  Jerusalem is important, and Bethlehem is central for the Christians, but if you want to travel the Old Testament, then Jordan is the place to go.

national geographic human migration-990_32314_600x450

According to National Geographic’s Genographic Study, about 50,000 years ago, a large “second” migration out of Africa occurred. These became the first, large settlements in the Fertile Crescent.

Biblical map of Jordan king's highway petra

Modern Jordan is smack dab in the middle of recorded, human history.  Jericho, located on the other side of the Jordan River in occupied Palestine, is considered to be the oldest city on Earth.  But the ancient Nabataean city of Petra, inhabited by Bdouls, has been dated to the same era – 9000 BC.

From 9000 BC onward, Jordan houses remains from every era.

Copper Age (4500-3000 BC)

  • Copper mines are found at the Dana Reserve.

Bronze Age (3300-1200 BC)

  • Egypt’s influence is noted in pottery and jewelry.
  • Canaanites in the Jordan Valley were first mentioned in Genesis 9:22 when Noah cursed his son Ham, the father of Canaan.
  • Abram and his brother Lot, Genesis 11:21, split up.  In Genesis 13:10, Lot choose to move to Jordan to live among the wicked Sodomites.
  • 2300 BC Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed.  Lot and his daughters found a cave to live.  The cave is along the Dead Sea Highway (Highway 65), a bit south of the Dead Sea.

Iron Age (1200-330 BC)

  • Starting with Numbers 21:31, the Old Testament included stories about the three kingdoms of the dreaded poly-theists: the Edomites in the south, the Moabites and the Ammonites.  They occupied the eastern desert of Jordan.
  • These Old Testament tribes occupied Umm Al-Rasas, Theban, Ma’in and Arnon in Jordan.
  • It was the Edomites who blocked Moses and the Israelites.  To get north, they resorted to the mountains along a road which for millennia has been called the King’s Highway.  You can still drive the King’s Highway today.
  • When Moses finally made it north, Deutoromony 34:1 says Moses went to Mount Nebo in Jordan where God showed him the Promised Land.  At the foot of Mount Nebo is Moses’ spring where he is reputed to have opened a rock for his people.

850 BC Israelite Empire was defeated by the Moab king named Mesha.

  • Numbers 32:38 talks about King Mesha who lived in Ma’in, Jordan.
  • The Moabites worshiped Baal Maon which means God of Water and Asherah whom the ancient Sumerians called the Great Goddess.

333 BC Alexander the Great stormed through northern Jordan which became part of the largest empire ever seen.  After his death, Ptolemy I became the ruler and Greek became the common language.

  • During the time of Jesus the Christ, southern Jordan was controlled by the Nabataeans from their capital in Petra.
  • On top of Machaerus, aka Mukawir, is Herod Antipas’ castle.  Here is where Herod imprisoned then beheaded John the Baptist as Salome requested.
  • The Greek Orthodox Church in Madaba has a 6th century map depicting the entire Holy Land.
  • St. John the Baptist Church in Madaba is dedicated to Saint John and a running well dated to the Moabite era.

64 BC Rome conquered Syria.  The Romans began looking south towards the Nabataean capital, Petra, and its wealthy trade routes.

  • 106AD Emperor Trajan finally annexed the Nabataeans and renamed the province Arabia Petraea making Petra its capital.
  • The Roman city of Jerash, north of Amman, is the best preserved Roman city in the world – better even than Rome.

324 AD Byzantine Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official faith of the Roman Empire.

  • At Bethany on the Jordan, a church has been excavated marking the place where Jesus was baptized.
  • Old temples were transformed into Byzantine churches.  These original churches can be seen in Madaba, Umm ar-Rasas and Petra.

632 AD Prophet Mohammed’s death.  His followers began expanding north out of the Arabian desert.

  • 629 AD Islamists lost first battle against Byzantine army near Karak castle.
  • 636 AD Islamists won Battle of Yarmouk.  638 Jerusalem fell. 640 Syria was taken.  Islam became the dominate religion and Arabic replaced Greek as lingua franca.

661-750 AD Umayyad Dynasty.  During this time the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem were built.

  • Desert castles were built in Jordan: Qasayr Amra in 711AD and Qasr Kharana 710 AD.

700 AD the Holy Wars between the Christian and Islamic armies started. 1099 Christians took Jerusalem. 1187 Islamists took Jerusalem. 1517 Ottoman Turks took Jerusalem.

  • In Jordan, you can see the Qala’at ar-Rabad at Ajlun and the Crusader Castles at Karak, Petra and on the Pharaoh’s Island offshore of Aqaba.

WWI the Ottoman Turks and Germans fought against the Egyptian-based British in Jordan’s southern desert.

  • The Hejaz railway bombed by TE Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, and the Arab Revolt is still in existence.
  • In Wadi Rum’s desert, there is a house and a spring both attributed to “Lawrence”.
  • Further south, Lawrence stayed at both the Aqaba Fort and the Azraq Fort.

There was no way we could cover all of Jordan in five days and enjoy the trip.

the monastery by david roberts petra jordan

Instead we focused on the romance of TE Lawrence’s Arabia in Wadi Rum, the Rose-colored city Petra that David Roberts painted, and the easy to reach, high-points in Christian history – Mount Nebo, Bethany by the Jordan, the Dead Sea and Madaba.

ABOUT BOOKS ON JORDAN

Lonely Planet’s Jordan is the book I rely on and carry with me.

My friend Louise also found Jordan: Past and Present published by Vision Roma in Petra.  This is a super fun book which helps you envision the old ruins as they looked in the past.

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