More Angels than Stars

“In all the years the Bedouin lived in Petra there was not one foreign casualty in the area …” wrote Marguerite.

“But in the years after we moved, several people lost their lives, simply because no one was around to tell them which was the correct path, or to hear them calling when night fell and they lost their way, or even to notice which way they went – so that when they were missed and a search was initiated, no one knew in which direction to look and they found them too late.” – from Married to a Bedouin

IMG_1061 ligh on wadi mussa petra jordan by eva the dragon 2013

The sun set. The beam of light reflected from a Wadi Musa rooftop went dark.

“We must leave now,” advised Juomaa.

We didn’t argue, nor insist on enjoying the after-sunset-drinks the young men at the café offered us.

“Want to stay and party?” they grinned.  Young, old, married or not, it never hurt to offer.  Who knew? Maybe one or two ladies might be tempted to stay and raise glasses to the mountain djinns.

Hungry, our donkey train was ready to return home for dinner.  The breeze must have carried the scent of alfalfa.  On the way down, going through the low tunnel, they would have cheerfully scrapped us off if Juomaa and Maaz had not held them steady.  Fifty-rounds of “Jesus, Joseph and Mary” later, we landed on the empty Colonnade.

Walking the length of the Colonnade, a few shop keepers shined their flashlights at us and called out an invitation for tea.  A couple tourists wondered between the tented shops.  The Treasury coffee shop was still open, but our impatient donkeys wanted to turn around.  Juomaa enlisted the tea man’s help so we could get a night photo.

Donkeys in front of treasury petra at night

Re-tracing our morning steps to the Siq’s entrance, we rode in pitch blackness, holding out our arms to push our donkeys away from the sandstone walls.  To navigate, Juomaa looked towards heaven and followed the star trail above the canyon walls.

Not a soul shared the Siq.  They had adjourned to the sky.  It’s been said there are more angels than stars.  If that night was an example, then their numbers cannot be imaged by humans.

We could not get over our good fortune.

The man at the ticket office was wrong about that Wednesday night.  Someone had arranged with the Bedouin for us to see Petra.  And the day ended when Juomaa and Maaz valeted our donkeys at the Movenpik’s front door.

To be continued…

ABOUT JUOMAA KUDBLAN THE PETRA BEDOUIN GUIDE

Jouma Petra Bedouin Guide Jordan by Eva the dragon 2013

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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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.

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.”

Get Your Ass Out of My Shop

“So we meet again,” I said to the brown donkey.

Jouma, our Bedouin guide, looked puzzled.

“Your donkey is a good salesman.  He was afraid we would walk past Haroun’s café and started braying.  And now, here we are, your afternoon customers.  Who is this?  Your son?”

Holding two white donkeys was a small boy dressed completely in brown.

“No.  He is part of my tribe.  His name is Maaz.”

“No school today for you young man?” Louise asked.

Jouma spoke on his behalf, “His father doesn’t let him go to school.  I am teaching him how to handle the donkeys.”

With only a halter and reins made of steel, we pulled ourselves onto the saddles. Having had a sneeze attack, I was pleased that the blankets did not smell dusty nor did the donkeys stink. They were well cared for and not too skinny.

Journey to the Monastery Petra Jordan

“Tally ho” we shouted as Jouma and the ten-year old Maaz led our donkeys down the Colonnade in the opposite direction of the tourists flooding towards the Siq’s entrance.  We were in high spirits.  When we passed an acquaintance on the road, I shouted,

“Tell our husbands we are off to live in the Monastery.”

They looked confused as we waved our good-byes.

Once again we came to the boy selling rocks.

“That’s the boy I bought my rock from,” I said.  “I saw his mother tell him to sit by the road and quit playing.”

“He has a bad mother,” Jouma said.  “We have told her many times he cannot sit in the hot sun without a hat.  But she does not listen to us.”

We passed the boy who, unlike my donkey, sat mute and watched his potential customers walk by.

“What is my donkey’s name?”  I asked Jouma.

“It is not a donkey.  He is a mule,” he explained.  “I have been experimenting crossing horses and donkeys.  You ride him like a horse.”

“I used to ride horses but never with a halter.”

Our caravan positions worked out quite naturally.  Jouma led Louise’s donkey.  I rode solo on my mule.  Then Maaz followed leading my friend from LA’s donkey.  Donkeys are not guided like horses.  As they wander to the left, the driver hits their neck with a switch until it veers right.  But along the stairs, switches were not used.

The eight hundred stairs to the Monastery began behind the restaurants.  As we were going up, we dodged people walking down.  Along the trodden path, Bedouin women set up stalls selling trinkets and water.

My back straightened when a Bedouin man called out, “Nice mule.”

“Careful, careful,” his wife scolded as our donkeys weaved between her small tables and poked their nose under the tent coverings.  Jouma ignored her hiss of distaste.

I felt vindicated after a European guy said, “You are smart” as he stepped aside to let us pass.  “There are a lot of steps.  It takes about forty-five minutes.”

His friend, however, grumbled while dodging the donkey pies our steeds laid.

“Sorry,” I called out to him.  It did not take me too long to quit apologizing for my mule.

The Monastery trip was my first donkey ride – excuse me – mule ride.  I felt like an overloaded burden balanced on tiny ballerina hooves.  My mule preferred to either hug the stone cliff, scraping my stirrup along the red rocks, or to tiptoe on the stairs’ edge as I looked down into the canyon floor that fell further and further from sight.

From the beginning, Louise proclaimed she was afraid of heights.  She was determined not to let her fear ground her and kept her gaze fixed away from the edge.

Donkeys are less spooked than horses.  But, my half-horse’s nervousness came out when confronted by the extraordinary: music from a disco-ball decorated cave, flapping tent corners or cursing Irish.

When Louise’s trip-trapping donkey stumbled on the stones, she exploded.

“Jesus, Joseph and Mary!  I can’t look.  I am too frightened.  Don’t leave me, Jouma,” she screamed as she grabbed his shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I will take care of you,” assured Jouma whose whispers soothed sixteen children, two wives, an extra boy, horses, donkeys, camels and terrified tourists.

To be continued….

ABOUT JOUMA THE PETRA BEDOUIN GUIDE

Jouma Petra Bedouin Guide Jordan by Eva the dragon 2013

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 donkey were well-cared for, and he is a kind, stable individual.

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.

Wanna Buy A Piece of History?

The Colonnade was empty except for the lone toddler selling Petra rocks by the side of the road.  He was actually even dustier than we felt.  I snapped his photo and gave him a JD.  Leaving his plate of rocks, he jumped up and ran towards the bushes behind him, waving his bill, while shouting, “Mama!  Mama!”

Half past noon, we were all hot and needed a break.  But the thought of walking to the end of the Colonnade where the tourist groups filled the tables at the all you can eat buffet restaurants did not sound appealing either.

As we stood next to a pistachio tree, a donkey started braying his lungs out.  His initial call trumpeted his displeasure then became a mournful crescendo about some personal tragedy.

“Either that donkey needs help or he is calling us to go this way.” I suggested to my friends, “Please, let’s go up this trail.  I want to take pictures of Aphrodite’s temple at the top of the hill.”

The place Jordan occupies in both political and spiritual history astounds me.

Blue Church with royal tombs in background petra jordan by eva the dragon 2013 v2

It is thrilling to be able to literally see how our religions evolved and built upon the past.  Only ten-percent of Petra has been excavated; yet marvelous pieces of our collective history present a unique opportunity to learn something about humanity.

  • The Nabataean tombs were constructed during Egypt’s 18th dynasty.  The 18th dynasty included Hatsheput (1479-1458BCE), the longest-reigning, queen/pharaoh, and Akhenaten (1353-1336BCE) who was called the heretic Pharaoh.   Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti abandoned Egypt’s pantheon of Gods.  Within seventeen years he convinced the entire country that there was only one God.  In ancient Egypt, God was called Aten or Ra.  In modern times, the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb made the dynasty “Born of Thoth” (Thut-mosis) famous.
  • The town surrounding Petra is Wadi Moussa, literally translated as Moses’ valley.  Moses, the Bronze-Age, Jewish patriarch of the mono-theistic religions was estimated to have lived sometime between 1600-1200BCE, during Egypt’s 18th dynasty.  His brother, Aaron, was buried on Mount Hor in Petra.
  • The Nabataeans’ temple dedicated to the God Dushara and Goddess Al-Uzza was built around 30BC.  After the Romans conquered Petra, the temple’s name was changed to Qasr al-Bint al-Pharaun or the Castle of the Pharaoh’s Daughter.
  • Built about 27AD, during the Roman times, the Temple of the Winged Lions (aka Aphrodite’s temple) is dedicated to the Syrian Goddess, Atargatis.  Referred to as the Fish-Goddes, Atargatis gave birth to a demi-goddess then abandoned her.  Desert doves raised the baby until she was found by a royal shepherd.  She became Queen Semirami leading her people to great military victories, founded Babylon and its hanging gardens, created her own religion and made her son king.
  • The Petra Church, aka the Byzantine Church, was built on a Nabataean temple foundation about 530AD.  After being buried in earthquakes, only twenty-years ago, archeologists began excavating the church.  The mosaics depict the ancient symbols incorporated into the new Roman religion, Christianity.  The ancient goddesses of fertility and harvest, spring, summer, fall, doves, fish, and my favorites – rabbits and roosters – paved the path towards the baptismal fountain where the water of life and resurrection was contained.

And under a desert sun, water is life itself.

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