Caught between Iraq and a hard place (Arabic adventure)

2 Jul

I am now at the halfway point of the Jordan portion of this trip. The CIEE program keeps us all busy with plenty of activities, such as service projects and excursions. Classes are going well, language is coming along, and I am going to talk about some of the trips today.

In the last entry I mentioned that the CIEE participants would be going to the Petra site. This turned out to be more than a casual trip to some old ruins. The journey began with an overnight stay at a Bedouin camp in the shadow of Shobak castle, a fortress built by the crusaders in 1115. We had lunch with a Bedouin family, who served us huge plates of Mensef( A chicken/lamb dished served over rice and eaten with torn up flat bread and hands. No silverware). After lunch we were given a tour of the fortress. It was a nice hike up the hill to the castle, but the adventure didn’t stop there. As we walked around the castle a sand storm begin to approach, so we ventured down into a tunnel built under the castle. The tunnel kept going down and at times was very steep and slick, until we reached the end where we proceeded to climb up through an old well and back to the surface. The night at the Bedouin camp was incredible. Some of us sat on the edge of the hill a short distance from the camp and watched a starry sky void of light pollution. The desert is so quiet and peaceful at night.

The next day we made our way to Petra. I was fascinated to learn about how the Nabataeans built this city in the 6th century BC as a center for their caravan trading, and how the Romans eventually absorbed it into their empire. The rise of other empires attracting trade away from Petra, along with a major earthquake in the 2nd century, caused the city to decay and eventually become desolate. A European traveler made an excursion to the site in 1812 and reintroduced Petra to the world. Upon arriving, the tour guide created two groups: Those who wanted to go into the main gate of Petra and another group including those who wanted to take an adventurous hike around the back way in. I chose the second group, and never regretted that decision. We hiked for two hours starting on a desert trail, eventually climbing up and hiking through steep mountainous terrain in the valley called Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses). This is where Moses and the Israelites camped for a period of time, and where Moses struck water from a rock. Along the way various members of the Bdul tribe were camping out and attempting to sell small souvenirs to visitors. They are a Bedouin tribe found occupying Petra at the time of the nationalization of the site. The Jordanian government relocated these people with the promise of healthcare, subsidized living and education. While the tribe accepted this, they still continue to occupy the site during the day and make a decent living by offering camel rides and selling trinkets. Very interesting people though, most do not speak any standard Arabic, yet they speak fairly decent English along with their own Bedouin dialect. I had the opportunity to briefly chill with some of the Bdul musicians in a cave and listen to one man play the Oud (a stringed instrument similar to a lute) while another man sang along. The music of this region is beautiful.

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This was a really neat experience. It was really cool to see architectural remnants of various civilizations scattered throughout this site. It is quite easy to see the difference between the Nabataean and Roman structures. An example of this is a Roman Cardo (a type of Roman street) with remnants of Nabataean buildings on either side. A Byzantine Monastery is located at the site as well. Petra is also known for the beautiful red color of the rocks that surround the city. We visited Petra’s most elaborate ruin, known as the Treasury, and proceeded to exit through the dim, narrow corridor known as the Siq. Nearly a mile long, it helps keep one of the world’s most fascinating sites tucked away from modernity. I truly felt disconnected from the modern world, which is nice once in a while.

Petra and Shobak Castle were part of the most recent excursion. In 2 weeks we will be going to the Jordan River, Madaba and Mukawar castle. Stay tuned for more on upcoming excursions, the service project at the orphanage, fun language stuff, background on the Royal family, and some Jordan survival tips.

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