I sit in a bedouin tent in the middle of a desert outside the small town of Wadi Rum on the west side of Jordan. The bedouin people are tribes of nomads that live throughout the deserts and caves; they have inhabited these areas for centuries. The tent where I sit is long common tent where we lounge on richly colored mats and drink tea heated within the fire at the center of the room. Several bedouin men as well as ten travelers from around the world sit with me around these flames. One of the men pulls out a lute which looks like a small round guitar. As he plays the other men sing and clap to the mystical sound. Some of us dance near the fire to the music and our shadows play across the walls of the tent.
Last night I was in Jerusalem, Israel. I met a new friend at the hostel. He said he was going to travel to Jordan in the morning. I asked him if there were camels where he was going, he said yes. He had me at camels; I decide to tag along on the adventure.
We left at the break of dawn, jumping on a bus to the town of Eliat. This is the southernmost point of Israel where we could walk across the border into Jordan. Five hours later, surrounded on both sides by beautiful sandstone and granite mountains we approached the border. The conflict between these two countries is evident by the rigorous drill we face in order to cross over. Our bags are thoroughly scanned and hand checked twice and our passports shown close to 10 times at different stations. Our intent, location, and purpose questioned meticulously. After over an hour we were given the green light to enter and we hopped into a cab for the two hour drive into the desert, throwing our packs into the trunk. In the tiny town of Wadi Rum we were greeted by two Bedouin men in colorful head scarfs and several saddled camels. Our little caravan moved slowly further into the desert for the next two hours, passing huge towering rocks jutting out of miles of hot sand. We pass a small boy with a staff urging a herd of goats across the terrain. Otherwise we are alone with the earth for as far as our eyes can see.
Upon arrival my traveling partner and I are greeted by five other bedouin men at a modest camp of black tents sitting against a sandstone mountain wall. As the hour wore on other travelers slowly trickle into the camp and we all climb to the top of the rocks to see the sun set over the dunes. We feel the warm air quickly turn to freeze the moment the sun lay to rest.
I jog back down to the camp and shortly after the bedouin call us outside the main tent into the darkness. There with a shovel and a single headlamp, a man named Zidane dug out a large round metal pot from under the sand. He pulled off the lid and we all let out a sigh of surprise and delight to see it brimming with steaming hot chicken, potatoes, and array of vegetables. This is a traditional bedouin barbecue meal known as Zarb. The food is buried under the hot sand where it slow cooks for the entire day under the rays of a desert sun. The result is nothing less than mouth watering. We ate heaping plates of Zarb accompanied by Arabian salads, hummus, and pita.
That night after dancing by the fire, I lay wrapped against the freezing desert night air within a sheep skin blanket at the top of a large sand dune. Star gazing along with four french travelers in the open air with nothing between us and the cosmos, I realize why this place has been named “Valley of the Moon.” We lay there in the dark staring up at a sky that I have never seen before. The universe going on for eternity, four dimensions instead of three. We lay there engulfed by this sky in the kind of silence that pierces your eardrum until you feel that it might burst. So much so that you think that silence itself must have its own language. Unlike any silence I have never heard.
The dark shadow of towering rocks in front of me, the seemingly endless grains of sand below and behind me. Each star above representing to me a billion moments like this, that we are each offered up and that should never be forgotten. And if I could I would reach up and pluck one down to store safely for a time within this fleeting moment called my life.