Sunday, August 10, 2008

Return to Rum

July 29, 2008

“No way,” I said resolutely. “That’s too steep.”

I was staring down a sand dune that came off the rock we had just climbed down at about a 60 degree angle and I was rooted to my spot. My Bedouin guide—let’s call him Mohammed—was several paces ahead of me motioning me forward. I was back in the Wadi Rum desert and all too aware that my last visit had literally scarred me for life.

I had met M. on my first trip to Jordan 3 years ago and the second time, when I was working for the Jordan Times, I had stopped in at his house and seen his family, but we hadn’t managed to meet up. He and his ancestors had lived in this desert for generations. “From when there was only one, “ he had said when I asked him earlier how many generations of his family had called this desert home. As tribal leader, he was known from Aqaba to Wadi Rum, parts of Saudi and even as far as Amman, 500km to the north. A true Bedouin, I had never seen him in western clothes.

“Give me your camera,” he says ignoring my protests.

I hand him the camera and in one smooth motion he slings it across him, grabs my hand and heads for the slope. There was nothing left for me to do unless I wanted to scream like a girl, but my pride kept me silent.

We reached the top of the dune and took the first step over…oh god, here we go…

With the first step our legs sank into the sand almost up to our knees and caused the sand around us to start moving downhill at an alarming rate—an avalanche of sand grains. Another step and more sinking, a little sliding as the sand beneath our feet became more fluid. Then another and we were moving faster, quicker steps and more sliding—it was like surfing the sand with our bare feet—and amazing and disconcerting feeling at the same time. By the time we reached the bottom we were practically running to keep up with the momentum of the sand. I laughed as we landed on solid ground, “That was crazy! I NEVER would have thought we could walk down that.”

He chuckled. “Wait..I’ll take you to some bigger ones that we’ll do at night.” With that he walked away and headed towards the car.

I looked back at the sand dune we just walked down. An alarm belll went off in my head. Bigger? Steeper? At night? Just where the hell am I going to be sleeping tonight? Shit.

A few hours later, I’m at Diseh camp, the site where the festival that I came to cover will take place two days from now. We had stopped in to see how the preparations were coming and of course M. knew everyone there and we received the royal treatment. I’m sitting in a circle, the only woman drinking tea with four Arab men who are fully decked out in their Bedouin garb. They’re speaking Arabic to each other, smoking lazily, and I’m absently staring up at the stars wondering how long I will be able to avoid giant sand dunes in the dark when it hits me: Tim’s right. I’m not normal.

I had started the day in Tel Aviv, waking up at 6am to catch a bus to Eilat, the Israeli resort town next to the Red Sea. My taxi driver had taken me to the wrong bus station, which resulted in additional cab fare and the additional stress of almost missing my bus. After the 5 ½ hr bus ride, I crossed the border between Eilat and Aqaba by foot in temperatures exceeding 105 degrees and stumbled through multiple checkpoints, a retina scan, and fingerprinting before getting in another taxi and figuring out how to get a hold of M. now that my cell phone was no longer working. Now, it’s after 11pm and I still have no idea where I’m sleeping tonight and despite my fervent hopes that I’m wrong, I’m beginning to get the vibe that M. may want to be more than just my guide. I should be exhausted, but I’m wide-awake, thanks to the large amount of tea I’ve consumed.

Incredibly loud Arabic music starts up suddenly, disrupting my silent epiphany and evaluation of my current plight. There’s an Arab man dancing toward me with a huge smile on his face, and while I had distinctly remembered swearing off line dancing about 7 years ago, I looked up at his eager face and thought: What the hell, when in Jordan…line dance like an Arab.