Monday, April 27, 2009

I got a peaceful easy feelin'...

Back to Wadi Rum where the four of us were journeying on in the back of a pickup truck (sounds like a country song, doesn't it?) through the desert. We reached another monolith, this one with red-orange sand like a gigantic dune cascading from it in a steep slope. I climbed it with Thomas, half pulling, half carrying him up. What a workout in the sliding sand! I could see there were no recent tracks to the top, so it was well worth it, and what a view.

Down below there was a young man playing an Oud in a Bedouin tent, the sound ebbing up to Thomas and I as we caught our breath gazing over the desert's shades of blues and oranges, pale sands and purple distances. Soon the second truck carrying the Koreans rattled up and they piled out to briefly attempt climbing up the dune, though they gave up quickly. An obvious sign of intelligence.

Thomas and I slid back down on our bottoms, much to his delight and my dismay when I realised I was dragging my camera, lens cap off and now lost, behind us through the sand. Oh criminy.

I went inside the tent and asked the Oud player if I could have a try. Amazingly, he let me, and though I was too timid to give the instrument a real go, I got the idea. Outside there were some interesting developments as the Korean's driver was doing something to "fix" the brakes. Thomas jumped right in there and was helping out. According to Mike, the fixing techinques employed were both "resourceful" and "alarming".

Not being mechanically inclined like Mike and Thomas, I merely took note that our driver let the Koreans and their vehicle go ahead of us now instead of behind. Not a vote of confidence, exactly...

Thomas and the Korean's driver work on fixing the brakes, as Audi offers his opinion.

The next stop was petroglyphs carved into a cliff face, including a marvelous outline of a camel. The kids were more interested in the nearby Bedouin tent, knowing full well that was the place for tea. Three little boys, obviously at home in the desert were there with their father. I went and got the three apples we'd brought for a snack out of our backpack in the truck and offered them to the children, who accepted them with shy smiles and dark eyes, but would not eat them. We took off our shoes and hunkered down to visit. After encouraging the boys to try the apples, I asked if they did not know the fruit. Their father made me understand that the boys would eat, but not while I was watching.

Encouraged by the communication, however difficult, I inquired after our host's family, as one always should. It conspired that he has two wives, one in town and one in the desert, and so far 10 children, more Inshallah. He told me proudly that his youngest was only two weeks old. I made delighted sounds and eyes and gestures and he decided something. Standing, he gestured for me to follow him and he led me past the tent divider from the men's side (alshigg) where guests are entertained, to the women's side (al-mahram). I never expected to be allowed past the Bedu version of the foyer, and couldn't believe my luck, and his generousity. I waited until he spoke to his wife, then followed, careful not to step in the sand and track it on my socks.

The sweet newborn was carefully swaddled and lying on the woven rugs, his mother fanning his tiny face with her hands. She was probably in her twenties, her face and head uncovered, eyes carefully lined with kohl, and she made no move to drape herself, which was lovely. The baby was very easy to fuss over; bright eyes looking all around, tiny pursed mouth. It was a true privilege. Of course my kids had to come see the baby too, and were welcomed.

I tried to imagine being the desert wife, in this beautiful but silent place, having no one but my husband and taking care of the children, living in a tent, hoping for the generosity of tourists. I decided some things we best left to the imagination.

Back in the men's side of the tent the three little boys were indeed munching on the apples, straight from Washington State. I wished I had money to thank them for sharing their lives with us, but I had to do the best I could with words.

Mike and the Arch at Jebel Kharazeh

The little truck took us to see beautiful arches in the desert, and I climbed the one at Jebel Kharazeh. Atop, it was peaceful to sit on the warm, beautifully striated rock and look over expanses, the lands of the Bedu, the unmistakable shapes of camels dotting the landscape, delighting in the scents on the breezes and feeling a deep peace and contentment.

Our next stop was a wall of ancient hunting petroglyphs that delighted me ( see photo below), including a handprint, a mystical seeming snake, hunters with spears and animals. Then we visited an ingenious water gathering system that had been created to channel rainwater along the rocks into a well. It was very interesting, and also had us holding the children far back for fear of never seeing them again. Even Audi was helping us keep them back and safe, so ominious was the large hole that seemed to go down into the rocks forever. Thomas loved getting an echo and he and Bethy whooped and hollered as we clung onto them.

Here, after everyone else had gotten back onto the truck benches, Audi presented me with a gift. I had said to him, as I climbed down from the arch and he was climbing up, that I thought it was a good place to pray. Perhaps it was this comment which inspired his gesture. I can't believe that it was from the moment before when I was delighted to learn that the numerous tracks I'd taken to be scorpion were actually from the beetles Thomas loves to catch. We'd oohed and aahed over it and Audi had been so pleased to be able to tell me that it was this that was making those marks in the sand I was asking about. He didn't say it quite that way of course, but we were doing well understanding one another.

Regardless, Audi carefully removed my hat and crowned me with a string of black and red beads so that it encircled my head, a tassel hanging down next to my face. I tried to ask him what the beads signified, but the closest we could get to understanding was that he agreed they meant friendship. Happily assured that we weren't engaged or something, I clambered back into the truck where Thomas was collapsing into sleep whenever the truck was in motion, his little face red and his curls all tousled. Bethy was exulting in the air blowing her hair all over from the motion of the truck.

We had to stop once in the soft sands for Audi to add water to the engine, Mike fretting about the ground and getting stuck but the truck proved its worth and we raced across the sands, arriving back in camp with our tired little kids. We were sorry to say good-bye to Audi. He'd been such a thoughtful driver and guide, encouraging photo taking and being good humored and patient with us.

I asked our hosts back in Zawaideh about the beads. It turns out they are prayer beads, something to treasure. Mike had been wanting to try on a kaffia for size, so we were instructed in the art of headwrapping and I thought he looked particularly dashing in Bedu headgear with his vacation beard.

Then we traded desert camping life for the highway, and headed south to Aqaba.

1 comment:

dorothy said...

Ah..vicarious life through Cousin Nat. I love it - what an amazing childhood for the kids and what a cache of family memories for the future.