Before I move on to Petra and Wadi Rum, I want to tell you about some Jordanian children. I think we were inJerash, but I'm not sure. We climbed to a hilltop overlooking the ruins, when Walid called us together. A boy of about 10 stood with his armload of postcards. At a signal from Walid, he began to ask us to buy postcards – in twenty languages, including Japanese. He rattled it off like a chant, and the wonder of it is that he could pick out which language the tourists in question spoke and ask appropriately. It seems a sad waste of talent that such intelligence is wasted on selling postcards to tourists.
Elsewhere, I again sat sketching while the rest of the group went inside a temple. A four- or five- year old boy dressed in the simple brown robe they all seem to wear, came to watch. He asked if he could see the pictures. I showed him some watercolor sketches I had made in Tahiti, of sailboats and the ocean. He asked if he could have one. I told him they were worth nothing, he could not sell them, and he said I know, but held out his hand. I gave it to him, and he carefully folded it and put it in his pocket. He wanted it for himself, something of his very own, not money to be given to parents, nor any "business"at all. His little sister, maybe 18 months, stood not far away in diapers and a little shirt, chewing on postcards wrapped in plastic holders, occasionally holding it out to a passer-by in imitation of her older siblings.
Everywhere we went, it was the children who touched me the most
Petra is all you have ever heard about it. You approach it by a corridor between two pink stone cliffs, which are striped with layers of color, from creamy to burnt sienna. Troughs have been gouged into the rock on either side, formerly for water to flow down. At the end of the passage you walk into a plaza surrounded by buildings sculpted from the rock, the facades with a strange mixture of Greek, Roman, Nabatean influences. Donkeys and camels and young boys and men stand at the ready to take tourists up the hill, and there is a Bedouin shelter to one side, along with a stand selling jewelry and artifacts.
But it is the color which bedazzles, the marbled streaks of earth tones, looking more like they were painted by an abstract painter than by mother nature.
I only regret that we didn't experience the candle light entrance we have been told about. We were there in the daytime, and though the impact is great, I can imagine entering by candlelight between those immense cliffs.
Petra's success was due to its position on the trade route for incense, including frankincense and myrrh from southern Arabia, copper and iron from Arabia, medicines, spices, gold and ivory from India and China. The city dates from the 6th or 7th c. bce. It's skilled hydraulic engineers built dams, canals, under ground water conduits, and irrigation systems, to develop towns and cities in the desert. But as the Romans took more control of the area, Nabatean power declined and an earthquake in 363 AD finished off Petra. (That is your history lesson, in a nutshell).
We left on the backs of donkeys, a seriously uncomfortable beast, worse even than the camels, and looked down upon the hidden, protected valley of rock.
On the road again, we passed a man training a young camel. The calf's two front feet were bound so it could only take small steps. His terror was obvious. He tried to leap, to buck, trying to escape the encircling rope, twisting and turning. Two adult camels were at his side, trying to comfort him, to calm him. It was difficult to watch, but I suppose it is not so different from training young horse.
We passed a field of black iris, so the bus driver stopped to let us have a closer look at the national flower of Jordan. It is really very dark purple, but I found it a little sinister. I don't want one in my garden, exotic though it is. .
We reached Wadi Rum through countryside more like I imagine deserts to be, all rolling dunes and scrubby bushes. Wadi just means valley, and this one is spectacular. The colors and forms on such a vast scale are breath-taking.
A convoy of jeeps met us, and we climbed into them, three or four to a jeep, for the ride deeper into the valley. Red rocks with prehistoric drawings scratched into them stood at the bottom, and across from them, a black Bedouin tent awaited us with strong, delicious mint tea and little sesame cookies. Inevitably, jewelry and scarves were for sale, but very few children accosted us here. I'm not sure why that is so.
Earlier in our trip we stopped at a Neolithic settlement in Wadi Gilrat dating from 12,000 to 9,000 bce. It has been carefully excavated, and reveals the earliest known formally planned architecture in the world. It was inhabited at the beginning of the domestication of wild crops, and the beginning of agriculture. In this part of the world, those crops included pistachios, sesame seeds, olives, and honey. And it still does. Our leader David later talks about it in his lecture that night. He thinks that agriculture, and its consequent farms, with the need to protect your crops and territory from others, was the beginning of the end of our war-like culture. In the history of the world, we are a failed evolutionary experiment, heading for self-destruction.
But the nomadic Bedouin culture is alive in this part of the world, with families living in those movable tents, as they have for thousands of years, following water. Hard to imagine here in England, where floods and rains are common, but maybe we don't all need as much water as we think we do.
- Ordovician observationist
- Syria and Jordan, Part 3