I’m hoping to let the photos do the talking today, because I really have no words. (Plus, I’m super tired, and sitting in one of the most comfortable beds of my life).
We left Petra this morning at 9 with Ra’ed guiding us and Maher at the wheel. It was about an hour drive to Wadi Rum, and the road wound through mountains and valleys to get there. While leaving the Petra region, Maher pulled over to show us a view of Petra from above. It was almost impossible to see it from above, which is incredible considering the size of the things we saw yesterday, and explains why Petra was lost to the world for 500 years.
We talked a lot about the effect of refugees on Jordan during the drive. Jordan’s population is about 6.5 Million people, and over 1 million of those
people are recent refugees from Palestine and Syria. Ra’ed explained that Jordan is used to receiving refugees, as they received over 2 million refugees in two months during the 2nd Gulf War, but the refugees continue to cause hardship on the country.
When we arrived at Wadi Rum, we switched from our little car into a 4×4, which was one of the scariest vehicles I’ve ever seen. It was old and missing parts, and did not look like it could hold up much longer. Nonetheless, we climbed in. I went to put on my seatbelt before realizing that it didn’t attach to anything, and that I’d have to go off-roading without being strapped in. Thankfully, the off-roading wasn’t all that intense, and we survived our adventure in Wadi Rum.
We drove through the little village of Rum, which means “Pillars” in Arabic, and then continued on into the desert. Wadi Rum is so hard to explain, because the experience is almost impossible to understand for me. The ground is flat and the sand is dark orange, but giant stone “pillars” surround you as you drive through the desert. You feel very small looking up at the giant rocks. I think T.H. Lawrence said it best when he described Wadi Rum as “vast, echoing, and God-like”.
We got out of the 4×4 on two different occasions to take pictures and explore a little bit. Ra’ed took us to this little cave to show us some of the ancient carvings on the stone. There was Arabic writing inscribed on the rocks, and amazingly, the language used back then is very similar to what I am learning now! It doesn’t use the dots, but I still managed to read one word with Ra’ed’s help, which means “God”. He helped decipher the rest, and explained that it was likely some sort of a prayer for health and wellbeing.
Next, we rode CAMELS! A local man arrived with two beautiful camels and helped Dad and I climb on for our hour-long camel ride through Wadi Rum. I chose the darker of the two which was in the back. His name was RamHan, and he was beautiful. I just love camels. Riding around through Wadi Rum, we really got to experience the desert from such a cool perspective. It was great.
As we drove to the Dead Sea, we spoke with Ra’ed for hours about politics and religion and things like that. Ra’ed expressed his frustration with Islamophobia around the world, using examples of how the Western media has demonized Islam and Arab culture. For example, “Madrasa” is the Arabic word for “school”, but the media has co-opted the term to mean a training school for Muslim terrorists. Ra’ed told us all about the conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, describing how the issue is both theological and political. According to him, theologically, the main difference is in how they view Imams. Sunni muslims “follow” Imams, who are leaders of prayer for them. Shiite muslims “imitate” Imams, who are leaders in general, and whose word should not be questioned. He said that the two branches of Islam were peaceful for a very long time, but likened the more recent conflict to Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Dad asked him if he thinks it is possible for a Muslim country to become a secular state. Ra’ed explained that Islam is a “complete package”, which includes the economical, the social, the political, and the spiritual. That being said, there is no such thing as a completely Islamic state today, because all countries are influenced by other factors. Jordan is a Muslim state, which means it takes religious laws from Islam (marriage, divorce, and inheritance), but also observes civil and tribal law.
When we finally made it to our hotel at the Dead Sea, we had to say goodbye to Ra’ed for good. It was so sad! My eyes definitely teared up a little bit. He has been an amazing guide, but he has also been an incredible friend and ambassador for this country. He was so open with us, and I feel like he got to know us and us him so well. He definitely made Jordan such a special experience for me, and it was so hard to say goodbye. I hope we will get to see him again at some point, inshallah.