All this started when I became involved in helping potential tourists to the Middle East, and especially to Jordan. It is extraordinary how many things are left out of guide books, and that people travelling independently want and need to know. A friend introduced me to the Lonely Planet website “Thorn Tree” and I thought “but I know the answer to this question” – and I had another occupation!
I have been posting on the Thorn Tree for a couple of years now. On the whole people seem to appreciate what I write and I receive a great deal of email asking for supplementary information or more detail about travel in Jordan.
I thought that I would (try to) create a website giving as much as possible of this extra information and also some of the stories I have “in stock “about my experiences in the Middle East. Most of them illustrate the culture of this part of the world which is not too well known or understood.
Many people who write to me ask about me.
What happened was that I went to Petra for the first time some 20 years ago with a group (that is a long story too, I will spare you!), made friends with some people; went back the following year solo to see them, met their brothers, cousins and friends, made friends with them, met the brothers, cousins and friends of the brothers, cousins and friends…. Anyway, I have been back every year since then, first of all for my annual holiday, and more lately just to visit when I could. I rent a house in Wadi Mousa, several of the tribes there count me as one of them (very nice). I feel that I am part of the village. I go to funerals as well as weddings, pay condolence calls, go to congratulate new mothers on their babies etc etc. When I am there, most of my time is taken up by visiting people and sitting and talking ! I do try to go down to Petra every two or three days (the gate people count me as a local so I pay the local entrance price) just for exercise, but even there I walk and then sit with people, drink tea and talk, walk a bit more, sit and drink tea…. I do know an awful lot of the people who live in the valley.
Anyway, I love Jordan and I love the people in Wadi Mousa and I miss them very much when I am not there. I also have several friends in Syria, in Damascus, in Tadmor (Palmyra) and in Latakia, and I try to go and visit them as well, but there, although the children call me “Auntie”, I am not quite as much one of them as I am in Wadi Mousa. I have “family” also in Wadi Rum, and since I love this place too I go there as often as I can find time. I also know people in Amman and in Aqaba, and everyone complains if I don’t go to visit them, sometimes it is overwhelming. A few years ago I arrived in Wadi Mousa the day before the Eid el Kebir (big feast day). It is like Christmas : you have to visit all your friends to wish them a happy Eid. The day of the Eid I was in 17 houses, the next day in 16 and after that I had to deal with all the people who said “you are only coming to us now???”
I post on the Thorn Tree, because it reminds me of my friends in Jordan and because I enjoy very much helping people to appreciate Jordan as much as I do.
Otherwise, I am afraid I am not a very great traveller. Nearly all my travels have been to visit friends in different countries.
I am extraordinarily lucky in that I am welcome in many houses in Jordan and Syria. I am counted as one of the family, so I see how families interact. This is something that very few tourists ever see, and not so very many non-tourist visitors either. As a western woman, I am welcome in the ladies’ private quarters, and can also sit down and chat with the men when I wish. This means that I see both sides of family life and since I am “family” in several different tribes in Jordan, I can ask questions freely and comment on what I feel about what I see. The difference in private customs between tribes, even in the same town, is absolutely fascinating.
One thing I should insist on, is that the people I know best are the RURAL people. They mostly have little money, few have a great deal of education, many of the older men and women are illiterate – but then, so am I in Arabic. I love these people, and should very much like you to appreciate them as I do. The warmth and deep sincerity of their welcome and their help when it is needed cannot ever be overstated. In the houses where I have friends, the ties between members of the family, whatever the difference in their ages, is palpable – children in these houses never doubt that they are deeply loved . However much brothers and sisters might argue or disagree, they always know that they have their place in the family, and in case of trouble of any kind, the whole family’s help is theirs automatically. It is something that has come to be lacking in too many cases in the West.