Monday, December 12, 2011

Petra, Jordan - Pt. 2

The singing, call-to-prayer from the loudspeaker on the top of the mosque behind our hotel began this morning at 4:30 am. I woke up briefly to notice that there were also a few roosters signaling the dawn but then I passed back out until around 8:00. Our hotel room was cold since we only got two hours of heat in the evening before they turned it back off. I attempted a quick shower but since the water wouldn't come out the top of the shower, I only succeed in washing my hair and flooding the bathroom. As run down as our hotel is, it is hard to be angry because the owner is so kind. He spent twenty minutes last night telling Bill and LaVonne a bit about his life and his frustrations with his business which he finds easier than his previous herding life but a good deal more boring and unsatisfying.

We left to walk down to the Petra monument at around 9:00 but got derailed when one of the shopkeepers recognized me and called me out on my unfulfilled promise to have a look in his shop yesterday. He wanted us to have tea (offers to sit and have free, "hospitality" tea are commonplace) and wrapped Vaughn's head up in a scarf but I decided to quickly purchase a tiny wooden box with crushed incense (Good for smelling nice and warding off the evil eye!) so that we could be on our way. In the time it took me to shop, Aaron had sat down to help the owners with their laptop problems and said he'd catch up with us in the park after he got them debugged. While we waited for Aaron to catch up with us at the entrance, Vaughn petted stray cats and watched the man near the gate doing sand bottle art. I had to laugh as I overheard him high-five Vaughn and refer to him as his “brother from another mother.”

A few words about Petra: It was named one of the BBC's "Top 40 Places to See Before You Die"; it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it was in the running in 2007 as a contender to be one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. It is over 2,000 years old but was not discovered by the Western world until 1812. Near the entrance to the monument, you walk through an awe-inspiring gorge know as al-Siq where the sandstone walls rise up to 600 feet on either side of you. Petra was the capital city of the Nabateans and they used it to control their caravan trade of frankincense, myrrh and spices. The buildings are carved into the sides of the sandstone mountains and the elaborate facades draw thousands each year to marvel at the ancient architecture. We spent the day hiking through the monument and made the trip up the 800+ steps to the monastery.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Bedouin people have filled up the expanse of the monument (including the steep trek to the monastery) with their tourist trade. If you don't want to ride a horse, camel, or donkey, they will sell you scarves, jewelry or brass statues. Postcard selling is left to the children, including one I saw today who was no more than four. We went into the park, past the usual gauntlet of equestrian offers, this time feeling more confident and comfortable in our refusals. Two girls, about age 12, perched on a rock yelled down to find out if we'd buy postcards. Vaughn called back, "no thank you" which got back an aggressive, "what?!" This continued on for four more exchanges of "no thank you"/"what?!" until I finally stopped dead in my tracks and turned and said, "why are you saying 'what' when he said 'no'?" I almost instantly felt guilty and bad about my loss of composure, snapping at a girl whose life I knew nothing about except that it was undoubtedly hard. Just how hard, I cannot say. It's hard to know what life is like for these people. It looked like some of them might be living in the caves (although the hotel owner assured us that this might have been the case 25 years ago but it wasn't legal now). At any rate, it is a fascinating culture and I'd like to learn more about it.

If you go to Jordan you can bet that everyone you meet will first ask you, "Where are you from?" and this will be immediately followed by, "You are welcome" and it is sincere and warm and honest. The people we met were lovely and gracious. I encourage you to go to Petra and be amazed - you will be very welcome.

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