Up Front by Emma Hart


Neither Deep nor Wide

The day we were stuck inside the main tent at Wadi Rum all day because of the rain, our Jordanian tour leader asked me what I did. To keep things simple, I've learned to reply, "I'm a writer," and then try to change the subject almost immediately. 

Too slow. "You will write about Jordan?" he asked me. 

"Oh yes. Yes I will," I said, in the tone of voice that reminds even my closest friends that sometimes I can be kind of a screaming bitch. 

We were having a lovely time in the Bedouin camp. The guys were charming and flirty and plied us with hot sweet tea and dancing. By this stage of the tour, though, some of our group were getting a little uncomfortable. We'd collect at the edges of the fire in twos and threes and murmur, "Where are the women?" For days, the only women we'd seen were other tourists. 

Jordan suffered from a terrible disadvantage for my travelling companion and I. It came after Egypt, where we'd had the most remarkable tour guide. When we'd parted in Cairo, at five in the morning, I'd said to her, "Our Jordanian guide is going to have to work his arse off, after you." 

He didn't. What he did do was give long talks in the bus on Jordanian marriage customs and the Islamic points system. I left Jordan a more committed feminist and atheist. I do try to travel as a guest in a house I have freely chosen to come to; to be gracious and patient and respectful of custom. By the time we left Jordan, if one more guy took my bag, pushed my chair in, or reached around me to give my bill to my male companion, I was going to lose my shit. 

I will do one of the things Basel asked me to do, though. I will assure you that Jordan is safe. We were surprised to find that their tourist industry has suffered almost as badly as Egypt's has, even though Jordan is one of the most peaceful and progressive countries in the Middle East. Tourism is a major source of income, and right now, when a nation of six million is struggling to support a million Syrian refugees, they need the money. Our group was mostly fairly liberal Australians, and Jordan's historic and current attitude to refugees made a mortifying comparison for them. 

Since I've come home, I've tried really hard to not be jaundiced about Jordan. I wasn't angry at Jordan, just disappointed. We went there in the off-season, and we were expecting it to be cold. We weren't really expecting to get rained on in the desert so we had to be moved out of our tents in the middle of the night in case of flash-flooding. We weren't expecting it to be so much harder to get a drink than it had been in Egypt. Our attempts to get a gin and tonic reached near-farcical levels. ("Andrew, the bar is gone! It's just gone. I know it was here because someone's hidden an empty wine fridge by the elevator...") 

Petra was worth it. The site is massive: like Jerash in the north, we're talking about the ruins of an entire city, not just a couple of buildings. Like Jerash, I didn't have the time and energy to see everything I wanted to, hot heavily-mascaraed Bedouin guys aside. The tombs are so weathered they look like they've grown naturally out of the rock. The brilliant colours of the striated stone should be seen, because they're a total bitch to photograph. 

Also, Petra was awesome because there was free internet. Here's something you really need to know about Jordan: there's no 3G. None. Anywhere. Which at least means it doesn't matter that data in Jordan is mind-buggeringly expensive. At our hotel in Wadi Musa, however, they'd give you a day's free internet if you booked in a Turkish Bath. 

The Turkish Bath was heaven. Man. Do that. Unless, I guess, you have issues with being touched in a firm and uncompromising manner by, in my case, a woman who barely came up to my chest. She managed to remove all traces of the six hours of walking I'd done that day, and most of the henna tattoo I got in Aswan. 

Several things gave us culture shock when we arrived in Jordan because they were so different from Egypt. (There was a dog at the airport. It was on a leash. And wearing a coat.) One was the art: the ceramics and the jewellery particularly. So much more ornate and complex and such beautiful colours. Our fellow travellers got used to the sound of me wandering around shops muttering, "No! No more jewellery. No." I did manage to nurse a ceramic bowl all the way back to New Zealand from the mosaic workshop in Madaba. Mosaics are gorgeous, and also very very heavy. 

The Dead Sea was great. I'm not much of a swimmer, but this was basically lounging around in a big wet living room. If floating about there is something you'd like to try, you might want to get on it. At the moment, it's dropping a metre a year. One solution being explored is to pump water in from the Red Sea, but that could also mean an end to the bobbing about. Also, the visible evaporation from the Dead Sea makes for awesome sunset photos. If only there were some sort of blog where I could show you those...

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