WADI MOUSA AND ITS PEOPLE
(Most of the photos are "thumbnail images", click on them for a larger version)


Wadi Mousa and the hills above the village
The centre of the village with the shops is in the fold of the hills towards the left of the photo

Some history and some archaeology
Problems with weather
Tribes of Wadi Mousa
Fruit and olives
Horses, goats and yoghurt
Honesty
Growth of the village

 

 Wadi Mousa is the name of the village closest to Petra, and is the destination of buses going there. It is the official address of hotels and so forth.

Originally, this was the name of the valley, rather than the village, which was named Elgee. (Those who have wondered about the origin of the name of the Elgee Hotel need wonder no longer). As the village spread from its original site, the name of the valley gradually came to be applied to the whole conglomeration of houses.

These houses were grouped around a spring, which has gone underground in modern times. This was also a settlement which goes back at least to Nabatean and Roman times.

Recently (in 1995, as far as I can remember), when the Alanbat Two Hotel was being built in the very centre of the present day Wadi Mousa, the destruction of the old houses uncovered a great arch. The Ministry of Antiquities was duly informed and excavations showed the remains of an impressive palace, probably that of a Nabatean noble. There was a decorated colonnade, a number of frescoes and what were described as the finest mosaics of the period to have been found in Jordan. The arch itself was believed to be part of the cistern that served the Roman bath system which was also found on the site - oddly enough almost exactly above the present day Salome Turkish Bath. It was a pity that the arch was recently demolished. The palace was beautifully sited, to get the finest view of the Petra mountains, the same view that inhabitants of Wadi Mousa covet and try to give themselves today.

The archaeologist was staying in one of the (luxurious) bungalows of the then Forum Hotel (renamed to "Crown Plaza Hotel" in October 2001), and when I visited her, she had many of the finds propped up against the walls there - with earth falling off them onto the carpet and ants everywhere, but who cares? She said that it was one of the richest sites that she had ever worked on, with literally hundreds of perfume bottles, coins and small lamps.

[Incidentally, one of the young men from the village remarked that they had always used to play football on this site, "and we were always finding coins and bits of pottery". One becomes used to this sort of remark in Wadi Mousa.]

I asked her why the palace had been abandoned. "We think it just fell into ruin", she explained. "There is no sign of any deliberate destruction". Presumably another family that fell on hard times....

The frescoes and mosaics were eventually taken to Amman "for restoration". It wasn't feasible to leave the palace on its original site - right in the middle of the village - but the locals were promised that it would be reconstructed later, either near to the Petra Visitors' Centre, or down in Petra itself beside the Museum. I understand that many of them are now being displayed in the Museum, but I was unable to get down there in my last visit to Jordan.

The Roman Baths were apparently judged to be of little importance and were covered up again. However, the owners of the Turkish Bath were fascinated to hear of the underground spring and the origin of their problems with periodic floods, the water apparently coming from nowhere.

A panoramic photo of the valley of Wadi Mousa giving an idea of the hills around

"The Valley of Moses" is also supposed to be the place where in early Biblical times, Moses struck the rock "to bring forth water". There are certainly enough springs around to provide the twelve tribes of Israel with water - there is one in nearly every fold of the hills in the valley. In the summer they are reduced to arid stream beds and it is difficult for the casual visitor or the tourist to realise just how quickly they can become torrents after rain. It is rather frightening to see the water come boiling over the edge of a two or three meter deep ditch, often after only twenty minutes of rain.

When you are at the Visitors' Centre, look up at the hills around. You will realise that the site of Petra is right at the bottom of a great basin, and that all the water that falls on the surrounding hills runs down through the valley and to the Siq. This can be an awful lot of water. It cascades down to the half dozen stream beds that run through the Valley, gathering more water from the roads and tracks and is all funnelled down to the same place. Occasionally there is no rain at all in Wadi Mousa itself when this happens, the water comes from rain falling in the heights around, sometimes twenty or even thirty kilometers away.

This happened in April 2001, and several bridges and a good deal of road was completely washed away when two successive waves (each of them about 4 or 5 meters high) came down from El Hai in the mountains. Since then, considerable work has been done in the valleys, and a number of coffer dams have been built up in the hills to contain as much of this flood water as possible. It is rather odd to see them in dry country but nobody who has seen one of these waves of water finds it funny. The disturbing thing is that there is no warning whatsoever of these flash floods, perhaps light drizzle at Petra, perhaps no rain at all.

When you are visiting Petra in a temperature of over 30°C, it is difficult to realise that Wadi Mousa is regularly cut off from the outside world by snow in the winter! the road to get there goes up to something like 1200 meters above sea level, which is higher than Salzburg! Not so very long ago, the water tank lorry had to be called in to haul the Jett bus out of a snowdrift. The same year, after the road was blocked for three successive days, the tourists were finally evacuated from the village by helicopter. The tourists complained bitterly, everybody wanted to take photographs of Petra in the snow. They were partially soothed by the realisation that Petra was closed and would remain so for a while, and by the helicopters taking a wide turn over the site for a "photo opportunity" on their way out.


There are several families (tribes) in Wadi Mousa. The largest is probably the Hassanat (more than five thousand of them); they are very closely followed by the Nawafleh who also have two or three secondary schools where all the pupils are from the family ! The Nawafleh are the largest and the most active branch of the Alaya who are the oldest family in the valley. Also descended from the Alaya are the Masa'adeh and the Amarat. Across the valley to the south, you have the Fallahat, the Farajat, the Salameen and the Maashallah. Nearer to the town are the Hillalat. The Hamadeen are higher up the hill and the Twaissat are small families mostly near the town. The last one is the Shamasin, a very small clan right up above the Nawafleh. As you see, each tribe has its territory, although things are getting a bit mixed up nowadays as people sell land out of the family. One still talks about the area of the valley by the family name : "Jebel Masa'adeh", "Jebel Hamadeen, "up to Nawafleh" "down to Fallahat" and so on.

Most of these tribes are known for family characteristics - the Nawafleh tend to be the management types, the Masa'adeh are rather fond of collecting money and land (same thing!), the Amarat are more peaceful and homeloving…. They also have distinctive family facial characteristics, I enjoy trying to identify people's tribe from their visual appearance - I am right less than 50% of the time, but never mind!

The Hassanat - ah the Hassanat!!!!

They have rather a special reputation even for Arabs. They are very good at parties and also thoroughly enjoy a fight - any fight in the village with no Hassanat in it took place so quickly that they didn't get the news. [They remind me exactly of the Welsh! Perhaps this is why I feel so thoroughly at home among the Hassanat]. There was one major battle a while ago, it seems to have started when somebody was unloading a lorry, and put something down on somebody else's foot. Mahmoud Hassanat said "why did you put that down where his foot was", and got the reply "why did he put his foot where I was going to unload ?" Well it is, I suppose, a point of view.

Unfortunately Mahmoud was already in a bad temper and within 5 minutes members of the Hassanat family were arriving from all directions to join in, most of them having no idea of the original reason for the fight. Then of course, the police interfered [spoilsports!] and no fewer than 22 of the Hassanat found themselves in jail, where they promptly threw a party (it is a fairly relaxed jail). They all got off with 10 days in jail and 10JD fines.

While they were in jail I gather that visiting hours were spectacular, with their women and children arriving in buses and the actual visits being limited to 15 minutes each so that everybody could have a turn!

Their dancing, men and women, is marvellous, quite different and much more exciting than that of most of the tribes of Wadi Mousa. I am always an eager participant in weddings among the Hassanat! While I am happy to join in the dancing almost everywhere else, in Hassanat country I sit and admire!

There used to be a "folk lore band" in Wadi Mousa in which about 20 men, almost entirely from the Hassanat tribe, presented the Bedouin dance which I call "Wakhid wa nuss" (or "one and a half", the name being taken from the usual beat). This is a wonderfully exciting dance, where the men circle (usually) the fire, their hands on their neighbours' shoulders, and advancing in rhythmic jumps interspersed by a hard stamp on the ground. It doesn't sound very interesting described like this, but with the fire, the music from the drum or the shababa, the Arab costumes and head-dresses, and usually at least one sword being waved by the dance leader, believe me - it is! This is basically the dance that the men do at most village weddings, but compared to the Hassanat on a good day (night!) it is just prancing! In any case the men usually enjoy performing it. (I remember that at one wedding, they called for "twenty or thirty" people to dance it. About two hundred men immediately stood up!)

You can see a photo of this on the page "Petra Horse Guards' outing" if you wish.

The women's dancing is basically a fully dressed version of the "belly dance", often done with a scarf or wide girdle tied tightly round their hips so that the "belly" stands out, so to speak. Most women have their own particular variation, but they will only dance in front of other women or in front of their brothers or husbands. Even a woman tourist would have to be quite lucky to see this.

The Hassanat also have style! at one time somebody threatened to find and beat up one of them when his family wasn't around, so all the Hassanat men got together and marched through the village street. Since the tribe numbers around 5000 members, even if one eliminates old and young and those not free that particular day, it must have been an impressive sight, but the Hassanat went one better. It was watermelon season, and they all carried bits which they cut off and threw down to walk on, so that it looked as if they were walking on a river of blood ! The village got the message and how! All for one and one for all describes it perfectly. I arrived in Wadi Mousa just after this particular occasion, but the village was still talking about it. I do like the Hassanat ! they make good friends and rather bad enemies, luckily, for the moment at any rate, I am counted as a friend by a good many of them.

The Hassanat "immigrated" to Wadi Mousa some 50 or 60 years ago, some even later than that. They were originally from "El Hai" a smaller valley, higher up the mountain, west of the road to Shobuk. El Hai is now a deserted village, in a beautiful site - but rather cold except in high summer. Most of the Hassanat families in Wadi Mousa still own land there. There is a good spring which is closed off most of the time, you have to sort of unscrew it, and this water chills one's teeth, including in high summer!

The Hassanat, like the Hillalat and the Maashallah, are generically part of the "Bani Sakher" tribe, one of the great Bedouin tribes in Jordan. They are only a couple of generations removed from Bedouin themselves, and the men are nearly all experts on desert living and camping out.

The Alaya, with their sub tribes, claim to be the original inhabitants of Wadi Mousa. The others, all of whom are closer to Bedouin than they are, do not dispute this. Several people, and not always the oldest, claim to have been born in a Bedouin tent (ask Mahmoud Asri Hamadeen, the usual driver of the bus going to Wadi Rum!) Among these families many outright Bedouin customs persisted until very recent times. But whatever their claims, they must all nowadays be considered as fellahin ("farmers" or "countrymen"). I have called these people "villagers" to distinguish them clearly from today's Bedouin. The French translation would be "paysans" or "peasants" but in English this word has derogatory connotations which do not apply here.

Incidentally, you will meet many people in and around Wadi Mousa who claim to have been "born in a cave in Petra". I suggest you take these and similar remarks with at least one grain of salt!



Sorry, this is not a thumbnail photo

Nearly every family in Wadi Mousa has at least some land, they grow fava beans (broad beans in English) to make the favourite breakfast food of "fool", onions, potatoes, olives, various fruit. The water running down the valley has a complex timetable for being directed to each sector according to the day of the week. Some people might have noticed that water was running under the windows of the Alanbat Hotel (for instance) one day and that the next day the stream was dry. Similarly, the concrete channels of water sometimes hold water, and sometimes don't. The families are responsible for actually watering their terraces along which the water flows. The word used for "gardens" or "terraces" in Arabic is the same one as "trees" and I took a while to realise what exactly people were doing when they talked about "watering their trees".

The fruit grown in Wadi Mousa is prized all over south Jordan and taxi drivers bringing fares to Petra will stock up before going home. In the summer, the apricots, peaches, nectarines and greengages are wonderful. Later come the little green figs, as sweet as honey. Incidentally, everybody squashes these between finger and thumb before they eat them. I asked a friend why.

"You remember the saying about the early bird catching the worm?" he asked. "Well, don't ask any more questions, just squash them!"

I gazed at the figs in some trepidation and did as he said. But I have never yet found a worm in one, and heaven knows I am a complete pig when it comes to eating them!

Most households owning fig trees preserve the fruit in the sun. The figs are split open and then laid out on trays covered with a fine netting. The result is something quite different from the dried figs one finds in the shops in Europe - and indeed in Jordan. These sun-dried figs are better than any sweets I have yet to eat, and in fact, few of them last very long, unless the housewife is very severe!

Tomatoes are dried like this as well. They are cut into slices, according to the household custom, sprinkled with salt and placed on the roofs like the figs. These usually do last a fair while, although nowadays tomatoes are available in the winter, and there is no real need to preserve them. They taste rather nice, though.

A pomegranate tree A grape arbour

After the figs, the grapes and the pomegranates. Again you would think you were eating honey. And I know no prettier site in a garden than a bush of ripe pomegranates, almost like a Christmas tree with red globes instead of glass balls - unless it is a grape arbour with the great bunches of green grapes hanging in the green shade of the leaves. Nearly every house has one of these grape arbours, they serve not only to provide the grapes, but also a pleasant place for the family to sit in the shade, sometimes people sleep there as well in the hot weather.

The olives come later, usually in November. Nearly every family owns a few olive trees, and gathering in the olives is hard work. When picked, the black olives are spread out on a cloth in the sun to be checked and ripened before being taken to the olive press at Shobuk to be pressed for oil. Families are proud to be able to produce their "own olive oil" when guests are present. The green olives are treated differently : they are slit, or sometimes crushed slightly before being preserved in water with a little salt and sometimes slices of lemon. No other spices or vinegar are used. They would keep for several years like this, but are usually eaten by the time the next harvest comes along. In "olive season", in every house I visit the women are busy doing this, which often takes hours. Since I inevitably join in, my fingers and nails turn black from the olive juice. I must admit it is very satisfying to look at all the big jars of olives when one has finished.

Most families also own various animals, donkeys, goats and sheep, horses, and of course, poultry. The horses are usually used for working in Petra. Several families have two or more of them, even if they only own one "number".

The "number" is the usual name given to what is in fact the authorization for a horse to work with the tourists in Petra. The authorizations are strictly limited, at the moment there are some three hundred of them. In a busy tourist season a horse can be used by two or three, sometimes even more, tourists in one day (without counting the unofficial "hires"). The horse is identified there by its number, and they are called on in strict rotation. It is a valuable asset. A horse can cost several hundred dinars, to buy the number can run into several thousand. In fact they are rarely if ever actually sold, although they are sometimes "lent" in the family for various reasons. It is usual for the rider to be a son of the family, the horse being owned by his father. When the son finds steadier work, his younger brother takes over. Occasionally a family owning a number is without a horse temporarily, sometimes for a longer term. For a short term, they are often "helped out" by a family owning two horses, the "helping" family making do with the tips given by the tourists to the riders. Incidentally, the money paid by tourists to the office goes to the owner of the horse, who is seldom the rider. This is why the riders always claim their tips, otherwise they themselves have no return for their day's work. These numbers do of course, bring in a fair amount of money; during the tourist season a horse can earn two or three hundred dinars a month - but only during the season.

A few years ago "the Horse Guard" mainly consisted of older men, who often had problems walking up and down the Siq, (at that time the horse ride continued down to the Khazneh or "Treasury"). The Ministry of Tourism regularly produces plans for limiting or even halting the use of horses to go down to Petra, but so far they have been unable to find a solution which is acceptable to everybody.

One can also hire small carriages, seating three people if you are friendly. These are supposed to be reserved for invalids, but in practice anybody can hire one. While the horse ride stops nowadays at the entrance to the Siq, the carriage continues down through the Siq to the Khazneh (the much photographed "Temple of the Grail"). I see that I forgot to specify that a "horse" or "carriage ride" also includes the return trip. One can be very relieved indeed to see one's carriage waiting for the return ride after a full day in Petra! Don't forget that the Siq is some three kilometers long, and this can be a long way back uphill after a hot day.

Incidentally all the horses in Petra must pass a regular veterinary inspection, and if there is any problem will be "laid off" until whatever is wrong is healed. Inspectors move around who can send a horse for inspection or even directly home at any moment if they see something wrong. They also can and do "stop" a horse (ie suspend him from working for a few days) if they see the rider doing something against the rules - galloping where he shouldn't, mounting two adults on one horse or any other of a number of things.

A word about the goats kept by families in the village : these goats spend their day up on the mountain, mostly the one opposite to the village to the south. If you have sharp eyes and are looking in the right direction at the right time (usually about 5pm or so), you can see the goats "coming home" : a black mass of them appears running fast from the crown of the hill in the direction of the village, crossing the stream bed high up and heading for their respective homes. When they reach the familiar doors they break off from the crowd, five here, ten there, fifteen or twenty in another place. I always enjoy watching them, and wonder at how they all find their homes without any human guidance.

It is perhaps a pity that the young women in Wadi Mousa are not more enthusiastic about looking after the goats nowadays. When the present generation of mothers in law disappears, probably the goats will do so also, in great numbers. The goats are a tie, they have to be milked and fed morning and evening (EARLY morning!), and they truly don't smell very nice! The girls reckon that they have enough to do without adding in this chore - although they enjoy drinking the milk and the yoghurt, and "killing a goat" for a feast or to celebrate an event is always an occasion.

"Celebrating an event" incidentally, can mean a number of things besides the normal occasions. If a member of the family is seriously ill then his recovery can involve the killing of a number of goats in gratitude to God, and the meat is distributed among the poorer families of the valley. Again when somebody dies his family might kill a number of animals to "feed the poor", surely this custom comes directly from "the sacrifice of an animal" in older times. "Killing a goat" for the Feast days has almost certainly the same origin - again a prosperous household might kill several more animals than they require for themselves and distribute the meat among poorer relatives. A very prosperous household might kill a camel in the same circumstances (in Wadi Rum Attayak Ali's father killed a camel when his youngest son returned from a lengthy stay in hospital).

It's no use being squeamish about this in Jordan. You can avoid the actual sight of the killing and the subsequent butchery, but it is something that every young man learns to do early on, and it is part of everyday life in the country everywhere. Just tell yourself that if it wasn't for what they produce (milk, meat and wool), most of these goats would not have been born anyway.

I mentioned "yoghurt" higher up. This is actually what is left when the milk has been turned into butter. It is always pretty salty, and is a very refreshing drink indeed - drink it with dates if you get the chance. Tourists tend to consider it "an acquired taste"; I caused something of a sensation when I loved it immediately, and continue to do so when in answer to the question "would you prefer tea or coffee?" I ask "do you have any yoghurt?" Now of course, most people are ready for me and produce a glass without waiting for me to say anything. I am always expecting it to upset my stomach when I drink several glasses in a day, but the "real yoghurt" has yet to do so. I have tried the bottled version, but it's not at all the same thing. The real yoghurt is seldom if ever found on sale, households with a surplus dry it, roll it into balls and store it for the season when there is no milk. You can sometimes find the dried balls on sale, smash them down and suck the bits, especially with tea! Otherwise these balls are usually used to make mansaff, after being crushed and added to water.

Incidentally, don't miss tasting the butter if you see any! It is occasionally found on sale, almost blue/white in colour. Goats' butter on hot bread - mmmm!

I count myself very lucky that my neighbours keep me supplied with both yoghurt and with butter!


I have said elsewhere that these people are in general, fairly poor. They are however, scrupulously honest. I met this for the first time in Amman of all places.

I was visiting friends there, in company with a friend from Wadi Mousa. I am always quite incapable of travelling with no luggage at all, and had put a few "absolute necessities" in one of those sort of sausage canvas bags. I had no handbag with me and put my passport, credit card and a fair bit of money in a wallet inside the canvas bag. My friend put his papers inside as well [does anybody else find that any man she travels with ALWAYS gives her his papers to carry?].

My friend's father had a souvenir shop in Petra and Naif had bought some goods for him. When we reached the Wahedat, we looked for a service taxi (this was before the regular buses started running). One was there and loading, but the luggage space was already full. Naif stacked his parcels against a convenient lamp post and I put my bag on top.

"Let's go and get some tea", he suggested, walking off.

"Yes, but my bag, the passports are in it…" I panted after him.

He looked at me incredulously, and with some sympathy. "We don't need our passports to have tea!" he explained.

"Oh yes, stupid of me" I apologised and followed him over to the coffee shop. I did cast several nervous glances towards the lamp post in the next quarter of an hour, but couldn't see it from where we were... I was extremely relieved to find everything still there when we got back.

A little while later, in Petra I heard about Ali. He is Naif's cousin, a fair bit older than him, and at that time he drove one of the carriages that take tourists down to Petra. A Japanese man gave him ten dollars at the end of the trip, a nice tip. When he got home, Ali sent one of his sons out to buy him some cigarettes, giving him the $10 to pay for them. The son came back, saying that the shopkeeper didn't have change. Ali looked more closely at the note and found that it was in fact for 100$. The tourist had made a mistake. Ali got up and took a taxi down to the hotel where the Japanese man had said he was staying, to return the money, but the group of Japanese had already left. On Ali's insistence, the hotel telephoned to the next one where the group was supposed to go, and left a message for the tour leader to give to the man. In the meantime, Ali left the note with the hotel in Petra.

After some two weeks, they called him and said the tourist had never called, so he had better come and get the money - $100 I remind you. Somewhat hesitantly, Ali did so. Finally he kept $10 from the total, saying that that was fair and gave the rest to the mosque for charity. Ali's monthly income at that time was just about $100.

There have been a number of other incidents like this one over the years. A video camera was handed in when found up at the Monastery : the Bedouin boy who handed it to the Tourist Centre described the tourist, but said he didn't know his name or where he was staying, and the lad had walked the three miles or so to the entrance to Petra, and walked back again afterwards. The tourist called in a bit later, he had hurried back to the Monastery and was upset to find it gone, he was incredulous when he heard that it was waiting for him. This camera represented much more than a month's income for the boy's family.

Seriously, "ripping off" in Wadi Mousa is frowned on by the locals. They distinguish clearly between "asking for a good price" and downright cheating. When word went round about an excessive amount charged by a taxi driver for taking somebody to Amman, everybody started calling him to expostulate. The house I was in at the time had to try a number of times before getting through - the line was constantly busy - and my host got a very rude reception from the driver, saying that it wasn't anybody else's business, and he didn't know why they were all getting at him. But I never heard of him doing this again! "Ripping off" is considered bad for everybody, for the victim obviously, for the person doing it (who becomes known as "a bad person" and who is seldom recommended to other tourists in the future), and for tourism in general.



The "Shaheed Circle" in the middle of the village at 7am. This is the rush hour, with people going to work, to market, to school... A bus for Aqaba is waiting behind one for Ma'an, the one for Amman left just before the photo was taken

Wadi Mousa has grown at an incredible rate in the last fifteen years. When I first came there, there were no taxis anywhere, very few tins of food in the shops (!), no pharmacy, only one bank, and only four hotels : two cheap high up on the hill, and two expensive down near the entrance to Petra. One seldom if ever saw a tourist in the village street, which meant just one coffee shop catering for the locals.

I recently found a photo I had taken of the village some twelve years ago. It showed the village shops at the Shaheed Circle (but without the Circle itself - some day I must find out about that monument), and the valley and the mountain behind. The mountain and the valley were practically bare of houses, the shops appeared to be glorified sheds. I showed it around and asked people if they recognised it. Hardly anybody did, a few people decided that it was an old photo, possibly of the upper circle - most people got the mountain - and yet... When told where it was, everybody snatched it back again. "My God, she's right! there's my aunt's house" "Look at the olive trees, they're still there". The shops were identified, in fact they are exactly the same with a few new ones, and often a second floor added. I considered getting the photo enlarged and displaying it at the photographer's studio. He was all for it, but I never did anything about it.

The shops are no Safeway, but one can in fact get most things there. The women jumped at all the cake mixes which have made an appearance - so much easier to make a cake like this! I enquired the price of cream crackers. "One dinar a packet" I was told. I returned the packet to its shelf, expecting the shop keeper to sneer. Not at all, on the contrary he surveyed me with deep approval. "Only the stupid people buy them!" he said. Guiltily, I also rejected muesli and peanut butter. (I would buy the peanut butter later in Ma'an where nobody knows me!)

There are a large number of taxis, and it is very easy to take one to get down to the gate to Petra. Fifteen years ago, everybody tried to hitch lifts with the horses when they were going home! Several people made a fair living as an unofficial taxi, accepting half a dinar from people wanting to go home at the end of the day. Otherwise, everybody walked up the hill to the village, and very often as far again or further to get to their houses. Those who could brought a donkey down with them, ready for the return home.

I am honestly not sure how many banks there are, I can count six for sure, I have a feeling there should be more. There are at least five ATMs - fifteen years ago most people in the valley regarded Visa cards as something of an "American" aberration, now they have passed the status symbol level and become an everyday object that makes life a bit easier. Even the children know how to draw money from an ATM.

I should love to avoid the subject of the hotels. At last count there were over 70 of them, catering for all budgets. In fact this was an explosion that happened before the valley facilities were ready to deal with it: there were innumerable problems with water pressure, with sewage (only septic tanks were available), and even with staff. Men came to Wadi Mousa from all over Jordan, sometimes I think from all over the Middle East, looking for work. Fifteen years ago, one could walk down the street and be sure of knowing 90% of the people one met - not so now, even for the locals. Besides the Egyptian and Syrian workers looking for labouring jobs, Jordanians arrived from places like Irbid and Salt and I don't know where else, and on the whole have stayed. At least now there is a mains water system.

Telephones are another thing that are taken for granted nowadays. Before, there couldn't have been more than 50 or so private houses with their own telephone, and nearly all belonged to the valley notables. The valley people have taken to the telephone with enthusiasm, and are quite capable of calling somebody by phone when a loud shout would do the job just as well. I am considered a bit funny in preferring the loud shout! Don't let's mention mobile phones! I sometimes feel that I am the only person in Jordan without one. Perhaps I shall get one next time I am there!

Wadi Mousa also takes video for granted, and the latest step is computers and the Internet. Since the price of Internet access has been lowered considerably lately, an altogether surprising number of homes now have their own computer and log on regularly. They are even learning how to use it, and nearly all my visitors want to see me working online.

Yes, today Wadi Mousa is a prosperous village. But listen.

I came back from Syria once with a sad story: I had been visiting some friends near Palmyra. A couple of Bedouin girls came to ask Fadwa if she needed any help in the house. She greeted them with relief - everything was late and she hadn't even started to get lunch. So she and I and the girls were in the kitchen together. Fadwa was preparing the chickens, one of the girls was peeling potatoes and chopping tomatoes and onions, and I and the younger girl were making salad. Then the girl with me took a tiny piece of bread, no bigger than my thumb nail and popped it into her mouth. A few minutes later she did the same thing. I said to Fadwa "can they be hungry?" She looked at me and then asked them outright "are you hungry?" They shrugged their shoulders. She opened the fridge and produced bread, cheese, tomatoes, olives and said "Eat!" They started stuffing the food into their mouths before they remembered their manners and ate more slowly. Later she told me that their father had died and they lived with their uncle, who already had problems supporting his own family. The last meal they had had was breakfast - the previous day. I was struck by the fact that although there was food everywhere in the kitchen, they hadn't really tried to eat anything without being invited, and hadn't tried to ask for food until they had earned it.

I told this story to some friends in Wadi Mousa. Ibrahim Hassanat said to me : "Yes, there is nothing like that here in the wadi. You see us, we work with tourists, most people have money, we have cars, video, satellite television. But I swear to you, Ruth, you go back ten or fifteen kilometers into the hills and you will see an entirely different world. There are people there who will buy one aspirin at a time, and that when somebody has a violent fever. You just cannot imagine the poverty that still remains away from the towns". I believed him, few people know the back country like Ibrahim.


 Anyway, this is a bit about Wadi Mousa. I shall probably talk more about it before I have finished creating this website!

"JORDANJUBILEE" is now available as a book, which is much more convenient for reference if you are travelling around. You can buy it online if you wish by clicking on our securized site, or it is on sale in a number of places in Jordan

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Links to pages and information about Petra

Petra, Wadi Mousa and Baida - A walk around Petra - Map of the site of Petra - Photo map of Petra - Visiting Jordan Section - Map of the region around Wadi Mousa - Meet the People section -
Villagers of Wadi Mousa - Petra Horse Guides' annual outing - Jordan out of doors - Hiking in the Petra area - Photo Gallery Petra - Photo Gallery : Petra rocks - Photo Gallery : the Baida area

 

 

January 2003

 

İRuth Caswell 2002