We recently spent some time in Jordan so we could get face-to-face with the work going on there, and to visit and encourage our peers. We visited a clinic run by dear friends. The clinic serves many refugee communities. We also visited a school run by other peers. The school serves as a hub for people in the community to come and learn not only English, but to also study holy books together. We also went to several historical sites and had some cultural learning time.
One of my dearest friends in the area told me to call her buddy, Mohammed, and get him to take us around Petra. Mohammed is Bdoule (a Bedouin tribal people) who was born in a cave in the ancient city of Petra. The Bdoule around Petra hail from the Huwaitat tribe, direct descendants of the Nabateans and therefore are the rightful heirs to Petra and this land. However, since UNESCO awarded Petra with world heritage status in 1985, the Jordanian government removed the Bdoule from the archaeological site and their land in order to protect it. The mountains continue to be inhabited by Bdoule people today, although most have been moved to a nearby community that was specifically built for them by the government, known as Umm Sayhoun. Many continue to practice their cultural way of life, choosing to sleep in the desert caves and herd sheep and goats in the surrounding hills. My friend gave me Mohammed’s contact information and said, “Give him a call! He’s the best! You’ll love him! Tell him *Karen sent you, we’re good friends.” All the while, I’m thinking that this sounds unreal. Am I really going to call up a random Bedouin guy and tell him *Karen sent me? And then meet up with him, sight unseen, and go off in to the Jordanian desert on a donkey? Evidently so.
We did call Mohammed and I had my doubts. What are the odds that Mohammed the Bedouin guy is going to actually be there when we arrive at the designated meeting spot? What are the odds that he is trustworthy and safe – safe enough to just jump on donkeys and head off in to the desert with him? Rest assured - after a day full of hiking and riding donkeys in the desert, learning about the history of the area and seeing these amazing historical sights through the eyes of a true local, a man who was actually born and raised in this very spot, we were more than pleased to have met Mohammed! *Karen’s friend was a gem and we had a wonderful day with him in his element.
When it was time to head home at the end of the day, Mohammed said, “I’ll take you home the back way. We will ride out the other side of Petra and take the donkeys home. This is the area no tourists get to see.” So off we went, through more rugged terrain, more caves, and more desert. We came out in Umm Sayhoun, the community where many of the Bdoule now live. We dismounted our trusty donkey mounts and they all turned their faces toward home and walked themselves through the streets. Mohammed said, “They know where they live. They’ll go home alone.” Mohammed put us in his truck and drove us back to the place where we were spending the night.
Before we got out of the truck, Mohammed asked what we were doing for dinner. We hadn’t made plans yet, so he invited us to go out in to the desert with him again, to watch the sunset over Petra, and to enjoy a traditional Bedouin meal. If Billy Drum has a life motto, it is probably, “Never turn down a traditional meal, especially not one cooked on a campfire under the stars!”
By far, this was our favorite part of the day. First of all, you just can’t beat a sunset… never, on any given day, can you do better than a God-breathed sunset! And to watch it while standing in the desert mountains between Petra and the Jabal Haroun ("Aaron's Mountain") was priceless. After sunset, we went to sit around the campfire, where we met up with Mohammed’s brother and two other men of the family. One of them looked like he could have been Moses’ brother, quite elderly (yet still able to sit fully cross-legged on a rock) and smoking. Both of these men were fully dressed in the traditional heavy full-length Bedouin dishdash robe and headscarf.
We were immediately given glasses of hot tea with mint that had just come from the kettle on the fire. I’m positive that our glasses were refilled at least three times - I thought I might float away on mint tea! Then they took our glasses and served tea for themselves. Guests first - Hospitality first, always. I so love the emphasis on hospitality in this culture.
As we warmed ourselves by the fire and waited for dinner to cook, we talked with Mohammed and his brother, Abraham. Mohammed had talked with us freely all day long, but in his brother’s presence, he was subdued and took his place in the family as second in line. Abraham was the leader of conversation for the night.
We discussed life in Petra, life as a Bedouin, and life in general. Abraham entertained us with history and shared stories with us about ancient times in the area. We were sitting in the desert below the area where it is believed that Aaron, Moses’ brother, died and was buried. And that began quite a conversation – a conversation that I never dreamed I would have! Never would I have ever believed it possible to sit around a campfire with several Jordanian Bedouin men and discuss stories from our holy heritage, but there we were, doing just that!
Abraham asked us if we knew of Moses.
“Yes”, we said. “We know stories of Moses. These stories are in our holy book.”
“Yes they are”, replied Abraham. They are in your Book of Exodus. We also have stories of Moses and Aaron in our book.”
We responded, “We have many stories in common. Many of our prophets are also prophets in your Quran. And your namesake, Abraham, is in our book.”
He smiled. “Yes, and your name, Sarah (pointing at our Sarah), is from that same story.”
And so the door was open, and we went on in to the evening, discussing Moses and Aaron and many other stories that we have in common. We are trained for these conversations, we study for these conversations, we always hope for an open door to these conversations, but it is still amazing and breathtaking when we actually find ourselves sitting IN THESE CONVERSATIONS! Divine appointments and blessed interactions. Two different faith foundations finding common ground and building bridges together.
We dined on an absolutely amazing meal of chicken, potatoes, eggplant, onions, and whole heads of garlic, all cooked under the campfire; literally, under the campfire in a pit that was covered with wood and set ablaze an hour ago. We sat on the ground, cross-legged, and ate with our hands straight from the pit that cooked our meal. It was glorious!
After dinner, as the fire died down and the evening was coming to a close, I asked Abraham one last question. “What do you like the most about Bedouin life and culture?”
Without hesitation, he responded, “That’s simple. We live a simple life. The more simple your life, the more happiness in your heart. We are simple people. We have only a few things, not many things. We live simply. This makes us very happy. It’s good to live a simple life.”
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!