My husband, Alex, and I got back from Jordan two weeks ago, and although I am just now getting a moment to sit down and write about our experiences – everything still feels so tangible in my mind.
Traveling to the Middle East was one of the most awe-inspiring events of my life, especially since it was within the context of meeting the wonderful people of my husband’s family. We got to spend time in his grandparent’s house eating some of the most incredible home cooking I’ve ever tasted. We travelled to the Dead Sea and floated in the salty water, covered in the nourishing Dead Sea mud.
We went sight-seeing in some of the most modern parts of Amman, stacked with glass skyscrapers and shopping malls, and we shopped in downtown Amman (the Belad), where the streets were lined with bazaars, restaurants and cement structures. Both were beautiful in their own ways, but nothing can or will, I suspect, ever measure up to the immense beauty that was Wadi Rum and Petra.
Petra, widely known as one of the man-made wonders of the world, was truly wondrous. The intricate columns and detailing carved into the ancient rock looked unreal, especially when paired with the colossal cavern pathways that led into the stone city.
The Wadi Rum desert in southern Jordan, which is not far from Petra, was the most breathtaking and vast natural landscape I’ve ever seen. Many Hollywood and foreign filmmakers have chosen Wadi Rum as their backdrop for Mars or an alien planet for good reason. Walking along the red sand amid the enormous rock formations eroded by water millions of years ago made it feel as though we had been transported to another planet altogether.
Despite all the beauty of Petra and Wadi Rum, however, I think the true beauty of our experience came from the hospitality we experienced from the keepers of the desert, the Bedouin people.
After a full day of hiking in Petra followed by hours of more hiking and exploring Wadi Rum in jeeps, we finally made it to our resting place for the night – a Bedouin caravan camp out in the middle of the desert. Once we arrived, one of our hosts immediately noticed I had been sniffling and coughing the whole way. Although he spoke little English, he relayed to me that he knew of a traditional medicinal plant the Bedouins grew that, when dried, made a healing tea. He smiled and handed me a clear glass mug filled with a yellow liquid that smelled of Sage and Thyme, spices traditionally used to make the classic Arabic blend, Zaatar.
After I had been attended to, he then proceeded to make black tea for everyone else. Our group was the only one at the camp, making the whole experience feel even more intimate and authentic. Most of the conversation was held in Arabic, but Alex made sure to dutifully translate as much as he could for me.
Even though I could not understand most of what was said, I could feel the authenticity and kinship that was held among this Bedouin tribe. They took so much pride in their home and in their work.
After the tea, they led us outside to a large mound of sand, explaining that this was where our dinner was coming from. A traditional way to cook meat and vegetables in the desert is to dig out an underground oven filled with hot coals and lined with foil. The racks of meat are then placed in the ground, followed by layers of foil and carpets, finally covered by sand, which seals the whole thing and acts as a pressure cooker for the meat underneath.
Dinner was hosted in the main tent – a gorgeous spread of chicken, vegetables, hummus, bread, and salad. We dined together, enjoying the cool, dry, desert air, and afterwards were treated to a surprise wedding reception. The family found out that Alex and I were the most recently wed of our big group, so they insisted upon hosting a Bedouin-style wedding reception for us.
The men led Alex into the house to dress him in a long, white gown and adorn his head with a red scarf, and I was led into a room with the lady of the house, a beautiful woman in a full, black burka. Once it was just us in the room, she removed her head scarf, revealing her face, and she beamed with delight as she dressed me in her favorite black gown and scarf. Although she didn’t speak any English, she and I shared such a beautiful moment there in the room with my cousin, Tala.
They took us back into the main tent where we proceeded to dance the night away, learning their Bedouin dances and soaking up what felt like the wildest night of our lives. It wasn’t “wild” in the typical sense of the word, but in the sense that being here with people who lived so differently from us gave such a broad perspective on the world that it felt as though life would never be the same.
But, one week and a twenty-four-hour flight later, life did go back to normal. We came home to our house. I went back to work. Everything seemed to continue spinning along just as it did before we left.
One thing is different, however, and those are the memories we took home with us that have reshaped the way we see the world. I have an immense amount of love and appreciation for our unique, Arab-American culture our little family has built, especially now that I’ve experienced exactly what the Arabic piece of the puzzle looks like – and I can confirm – there is nothing more beautiful.