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“Control your wife!” Yup, the guy was talking about me. And I have to say, I am very proud of the reason he shouted this phrase at Nellu. I only wish I had a better comeback…

Before I get into the thick of this story, I’d like to emphasize our overall impression of the people of Jordan was very positive. In fact, I would say Jordan stood out because the people there were so wonderful to us. But as we like to say, there’s always a jackass. Sometimes that jackass is a donkey and sometimes that jackass is a person. This time, the jackass was a person.

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At the end of our second day exploring the ancient city of Petra, we climb the 800 steps up to the Monastery. It’s a striking building that rivals the better-known Treasury and it absolutely glows in the late afternoon sun.

A man sits on top of the Monastery. Photo by Nellu.

While I set up my tripod to get a couple of video shots, Nellu wanders around looking for the best picture.

When I finish, I notice Nellu off to the side, talking to one of the local kids who roam the site peddling postcards and necklaces. It didn’t look like he was buying something from her, but she was holding his camera. I walk over, expecting to rescue him from this encounter.

“She actually knows a lot about cameras,” Nellu informs me. He introduces me as his wife, but she’s only half listening.

“Let me take another one,” she says looking down at the controls on the back of his camera.

She does and it actually turned out pretty well. But she’s bugged by Nellu’s fish-eye lens. She doesn’t really understand it and it won’t let her get the picture she wants.

Photo by our new friend, Taman

Nellu takes advantage of the interference I am running and turns his attention back to his photography.

“Do you have a cellphone,” she asks me.

“No,” I reply, “But Nellu does. Nellu, let me see your phone.”

“Her sister has an iPhone,” Nellu tells me referring to a past conversation. He hands me the phone he has used more as a music player and an alarm clock on our trip.

“It doesn’t have any service,” I tell our new friend as I hand it over.

She gets really busy pushing a lot of buttons, “Do you have any games?”

“I’m not sure,” I respond. “What’s your name?”

“Taman.”

She answers so quickly that I didn’t catch it. She’s clearly absorbed by the technology at hand.

“What is it?” I ask again.

“Taman.”

“You speak English really well,” I offer as a compliment. “Where did you learn?”

“School,” she replies not even looking up from the phone.

Taman pushes a few more buttons and the notices my backpack. It’s a simple black Old Navy boys backpack that was showing the wear and tear from months on the road. When the first tears started to appear, we bought a spool of bright blue thread in Thailand. Now the bag had bright blue stitches across most of the seams.

“You did this with a machine?” she asks with a confused expression on her face.

“No. I did it myself. By hand,” I say.

“But I thought Americans just throw things away.” You could see her mind wrestling to reconcile what she heard with what she saw. “Like if your shirt gets a hole, you just throw it away and get a new one,” she states matter-of-factly.

Who teaches kids these things?

“We don’t throw everything away,” I counter, “Like shoes. When our shoes wear out we get the soles fixed.”

“Do you have a lot of shoes?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“Like these?” she asks pointing to my dirty hiking shoes.

“No, not really. I have pretty ones. High heels. Red ones, tan ones…” I don’t know why I feel compelled to elaborate.

Nellu returns from getting pictures and I fill him in on our conversation.

We spend a few more minutes chatting with Taman, most of which is spent trying to get Nellu’s phone back.

When we do, she briefly dives back into her pitch “buy something to remember me” before giving up hope of making a sale.

And then she says, “Oh I must be keeping you.” It’s an oddly formal way of wrapping up our visit. She sounds more like an acquaintance you’d run into at the grocery store than the jewelry-peddling, Bedouin pre-teen, we’d spent the last 20 minutes getting to know.

We say our goodbyes and Nellu and I hike up a nearby path to get a better view of the Monastery.

This is the only picture we got of Taman. Nellu took it on his phone after she was done playing with it. This is allegedly her donkey (although she later said it was not her donkey.)

I was struck by our encounter. Taman had a dry wit that could rival any British man and a confidence of someone much older.

On the way back down, we stop at the food stand to get some sweet mint tea and eat cookies we had brought as a snack. Taman walks by.

“Would you like one,” I offer.

“No,” she says as she hurries past, almost acting like she doesn’t know us.

A few feet in front of us there are four guys in their twenties laughing it up over their own snack. They look like locals. We see Taman go over to them. It looks like she might have a crush on one of them by the way she is sashaying in front of them.

One of the guys picks up a small rock and lobs it at Taman as if he’s saying “scram kid.” It doesn’t look like it hurts but he doesn’t stop.

One, two, three, four rocks and without even thinking I’m on my feet.

As I approach the men yelling, a rock launched by Nellu, whizzes by me. “How do you like it,” I hear him mutter.

“You do not throw rocks at children,” I scold.

The man doing the throwing looks up, taken aback. “I am her brother and she should be in school,” he says defending himself.

Now I am the one taken aback. “Well yes, she should,” I stammer. “But you don’t throw rocks at little girls.”

I can see the anger well up in his face. “You should mind your business. You’re in the Arab world now,” he says irritated and now standing. He looks at Nellu. “Control your wife!” he says threateningly.

I am dumbstruck.

I had been so good, so culturally sensitive in this male-dominated world. And most Jordanian men cut foreign women some slack. You’re not required to dress differently or even cover your head in most places. I wasn’t going to flaunt that. But I just couldn’t let Taman see us – her new friends – just sit by and watch as she was humiliated.

I’m sure Nellu responded something to the effect of  “I don’t need to control my wife” but I just stood there shocked.

Another man, who appeared to be the guide for a group of tourists a few benches away, intervened. He spoke in Arabic but by his demeanor we guessed he told the rock launcher not to start trouble. Our bully turned away from us, sitting back down.

We backed away too. All I could do was emphatically restate my initial argument. “You do not throw rocks at children.”

Taman had retreated from this whole scene and we could see her sitting on a hill some distance away, crying angrily. We didn’t go over to her.

I sat stunned on our bench as Nellu quietly lectured me about starting trouble. “You need to be careful. You’re going to get me killed,” he told me. I think I muttered something ridiculous like “we could have taken them.” We finish our tea and snack.

When we get up to leave, Taman gets up too, taking the long way around to meet us on our way back down the path.

“Are you okay?” we ask as we approach.

She nods through her mad and embarrassed tears. “You know he lied,” she says. “He’s not my brother. And you know, I saw him drinking alcohol. I’m going to tell my father. I am going to tell the police.”

I was happy to know that she could tell her father.

“That guy is a jackass,” Nellu says, “You can call him that.”

“Definitely don’t call him a jackass,” I say, “Stay away from him.”

Taman fiddled with the armful of necklaces she had to sell. “Can I have a cookie now?” she asks.

We ate all our cookies but we had some chocolate. “Just give her all of it,” I tell Nellu. I also give her a pen. On our trip, I’ve actually made a point of not giving kids little trinkets like pens because it just teaches them to beg. But I felt so bad for Taman . She would likely have to deal with the jackass and the repercussions of my little culture clash long after we were gone. I probably would have given her my phone if I had it on me.

“You should be in school though,” I say. “You’re smart and you should go to school.”

She changes the subject by making one last attempt to sell us a necklace. Seriously, this kid is all business. We say our goodbyes one more time.

We didn’t see her or the jackass again as we made our way out of Petra.

The confrontation began to slowly eat at me the rest of our time  in Jordan. I began to notice how marginalized women are in the society. Jordanian women seemed to have some flexibility in their dress relative to other countries, only wearing head scarves and rather than abayas or niqabs. Some women in Amman wore none of the above. But I began to notice that you really don’t see women in a lot of places.

The cafe where we went to get baklava and mint tea was packed… with men. I was the only woman there. In fact, all the cafes were packed but only with men. None of the stores were staffed by women either. Even at the Forever 21, a cheap, fast-fashion chain that employs giggling teenage girls in the States, had only adult male sales clerks at the mall in Amman. I like to think of that as poetic justice.

Then there’s the duality.

The shop owner we had befriended in Wadi Musa bragged proudly about his wife expecting their first child and in the same breath shouted cat calls at a foreign woman walking by in a tank top. Not only was she not even cute – she was pretty busted – but it was definitely not warm enough for a tank. I said nothing.

And I did control myself when the man from the Bedouin camp where we stayed seemed incapable of talking to me in the first person. He would instead ask Nellu what I thought, did, or wanted even though I was right there.

Even as I write this post, I am still conflicted by this experience. Was it only that  guy who was such a jackass? Was I so shocked because Jordan is relatively progressive? I wonder how Jordanian women feel. I wish I got the opportunity to ask.

~ Molly

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Jordan wasn’t on our original trip itinerary except as a fly over between Dubai and Israel. But with Egypt still working through its growing pains, we decided to spend some time on the ground in this Middle Eastern neighbor. Besides as we traveled, we met more and more people who told us how wonderful and worthwhile Petra is as a destination.

The Urn Tomb in Petra. Photo by Nellu

Petra was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. The city came to prominence in the last century BC, serving as a center for caravan trade with critical routes through much of the region.

But beyond its ancient purpose, Petra is known for its unbelievably-detailed, Hellenistic-style building facades carved into towering rocks. It is perhaps most recognized by the building known as the Treasury, a landmark used in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Al Khazneh (The Treasury) in Petra

Many visitors spend only a day exploring Petra. We spent two and probably could have spent at least one more. There are very few off-limits places on the site. Yes, you can’t go into the Treasury and the entrance to the Roman theater is blocked off but they really give you the run of the place, allowing you to pretend you are a real explorer.

As an American, I’m always astonished by the lack of limits that much of the world has. There’s no idiot-proofing in Petra. If you want to walk so close to the edge of the cliff that you fall off, go for it.

And even when there are boundaries, they are usually just “suggested” like at the Roman theater. The first day we were in Petra, we hiked up to the High Place of Sacrifice to see the site from above and discover some of the less visited architecture.

Stairs up to the High Place of Sacrifice. Photo by Nellu.

Nellu outside the Garden Temple

On our way back down, we got impossibly lost, ending up high above the city’s main drag with no clear way down the cliff side. A local boy who seemed to be doing some rock scaling of his own (I assumed his parents worked in Petra)  saw us struggling and offered to help us find the route down.

We followed him down the side of the hill right to the top and down through the Roman theater. “I don’t think we’re supposed to be in here.” I told Nellu. But we got down and out from behind the fenced-off theater and no one seemed to notice or care.

Petra’s Roman theatre up close. Photo by Nellu

The boy whose name we never got was an interesting character. He spoke English quite well. As he led us down his path, Nellu got a short distance ahead of me and the boy kept telling him, “You should wait for her.”

He also had a familiar confidence about him acting like it was his job to help stranded tourists. Nellu tried to give him a tip for his guide services but he just returned the coins, saying,  “I don’t like this.” He clearly expected nothing in return.

Our guide down the cliff side. Photo by Nellu

There were many times we found ourselves alone wandering around Petra, which is unusual at such a well-known tourist attraction. There are paths but like the one down from the High Place of Sacrifice, they are not always well marked. But this forgotten detail only adds to the illusion that you have discovered the site’s treasures all by yourself.

The climb to the spot which overlooks the Treasury from above is strenuous. We only saw a handful of people along the way and that  fact combined with the remarkable view made it all the more worth it.

The Treasury from above. Photo by Nellu

The Treasury from above. Photo by Nellu

There are allegedly 800 steps to climb to Petra’s other extraordinary building, the Monastery, but that route is well-traveled and a piece of cake compared to much of the other hiking we did over the two days we were there.

Ad-Deir (the Monastery). Photo by Nellu

Here’s a little music montage of footage I took from Petra:

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One more thing to note: Jordan is extremely close to Israel. Because of our airline ticket we ended up flying between the countries when taking a bus would have saved us time and money. A common route that many travelers take is through the Red Sea coastal town Eilat, Israel up through to Wadi Musa, Jordan, the town outside of Petra. Not including the border crossing, this route takes just a couple of hours. Many tours also package trips to Egypt with Petra because the distances are so close.

~ Molly

We assumed when we left London at the beginning of February, we’d left the only cold we’d see all trip behind as well. When we mapped out our flights, we planned to be  in the Middle East in February and early March so we could miss the cold creeping out of the Northern Hemisphere. We assumed it would be warm in February in Dubai, Jordan, and Israel. You know what they say about assumptions and in our case it’s true. This is the story of how misperception can frost bite you in the arse.

We landed in Amman, Jordan on February 17th. We’d booked two night’s at Genny Bed & Breakfast. It was one of those places where we felt the hosts took pity on our ragged selves, tending to our comfort as if we were their kids, but they were probably just good hosts. We ended up staying three nights on the outset and made sure to stop in for one more before heading out. It was 50 degrees Fahrenheit when we arrived. The moment we pulled up to Genny’s, rain hit and the mercury sank. It snowed twice while we were there. When we asked people if this was normal, we got a consistent response, “Well not really. But it is February,” whatever that means.

Nellu Mazilu

Amman in February. Photo by Nellu. (See more of Nellu’s pictures from Amman by clicking here.)

Despite being relatively unprepared for the cold, we layered up and headed into town to do some sightseeing.

As a woman entering the King Abdullah I Mosque, I was required to wear a hooded abaya (borrowed from the shop downstairs) and cover my hair. These kind of clothing restrictions for women usually get under my skin, but this time I was grateful for the extra layer.

Nellu Mazilu

Happy in my extra layer. Photo by Nellu

Then we headed over to the Citadel in city center to take in the ancient Roman ruins and the Temple of Hercules.

Nellu Mazilu

Temple of Hercules, Amman. Photo by Nellu

Now, I bet you’re thinking what Nellu was thinking, “Wow! Ruins! Ruins are cool.” Well let me set the scene a little better. The Citadel in Amman, as many citadels are, is on top of a big, open hill. This kind of vantage point may have protected the fort during a siege in ancient times, but it left us exposed to the cold and the wind on this frigid day in February.

Nellu Mazilu

We pose for a parent’s picture on top of the Citadel. I know that smile doesn’t say cold but the eyes do.

We spent some time exploring all that the Citadel had to offer. I can’t remember how much time, but it was long enough for the chill to get so thoroughly in my bones that I begged Nellu to leave and find some place warm.

But that was part of the problem in Jordan. Internal heat doesn’t exist in most of the buildings. We were able to find shelter and yummy food at Hashem’s at the foot of the Citadel but most of the famous eatery was open air. We headed to the back corner but the only heat we found came from our hot mint tea.

Looking like a troll at Hashem’s eatery after my deep freeze. Photo by Nellu.

But this day in the cold wasn’t the straw that broke this camel’s back for one important reason: Genny’s had heat.

I didn’t break until we went to Petra days later.

Now just to make sure I don’t get misread on this one – we loved Petra. It was an amazing anthropological site and the reason that Jordan should be high on the list of countries to visit in your lifetime. We’ll have more on Petra in future posts.

Nellu Mazilu

More on the amazing Petra in future posts. Photo by Nellu.

The issue that I had with Petra – or more specifically with Wadi Musa, the town that serves as an entrance to the site – was the lack of heat. We planned to spend three days exploring the area:  the first two roaming around Petra and staying at a hostel in town, and the third day we’d check out “Little Petra” and sleep at a the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp just a few kilometers away.

The weather when we arrived was warm during the day. We shed layers as we toured Petra, climbing up to lookouts and rambling down hillsides. Before the sun went down, we headed back to our hostel. It was cold in our room so we climbed under the thick stack of blankets on our bed. The hostel did have heat but they only turned it on between 6am and 9am in the morning and 6pm and 9pm at night.

“I’m not getting out of bed until the heat is on,” I declared.

But when 6pm rolled around there was no sign of heat. As the sun set, the room just got colder and colder. At 6:15pm, I convinced Nellu that he should be the one to get out of bed to assess the situation. He walked over and put is hand on the heater. “I’ve got bad news for you,” he said, “The heat is on.”

“What!? That can’t be,” I shouted in exasperation, hopping out of bed to check for myself.

It was true. The heat was on, barely, and it didn’t make much of a difference. I felt my spirit of adventure, the one that kept me going through horrible train rides, camera accidents, and costly mistakes, quietly slip away. You could say it froze to death.

I may have been ready to go home the day we left Africa but this was the first time I wanted to go home. “This isn’t normal!! This isn’t normal!!!!” I whimpered.

We headed out of our hostel in search of food and somewhere warm to eat. Most of the restaurants in town were once again open to the cold air. We found food but little reprieve from the cold.

On returning to our hostel, I thought I would try a trick I learned working as a TV news producer. The best way I’ve found to get the cold out of your bones after a long day out in the field is to take a hot shower and dry your hair with a hair dryer. Shooting hot air at your head for a prolonged period of time gives you a warm halo effect that can last for almost 30 minutes.

Lucky for me the hostel had a hair dryer (most don’t), but my warm-up plan was flawed. The water coming out of the shower head was indeed hot but the bathroom was like an ice box including the tile under my feet. You had to work hard to stay directly under the sorry little stream of water to prevent frost bite.

Would you rather take a cold shower on a hot day or take a hot shower in a freezing room? After traveling for more than a year, getting exposure to both situations, I can tell you that I’d take the former any day.

As we went to bed that night, I held onto the hope of a warm day in Petra and the promise of returning to Genny’s at the end of the week.

Thankfully it didn’t get as cold in our hostel the next night. We also found a restaurant that had a warm upstairs for dinner. It was filled, of course, with foreigners.

For our final night in southern Jordan, we headed out to the Bedouin camp. My spirits had been propped up by the promise of a camp fire. And while I was comforted by my direct access to an open flame, the realization that every warm piece of clothing I had would smell of smoked meat until I got the chance to wash and air dry them (much of the world does not have clothes dryers) dampened my mood.

Nellu Mazilu

The fire may be warm but it makes you smell like smoked meat. Photo by Nellu

Oh but thank goodness for Genny’s! After a three and a half hour bus ride and short cab ride back to Amman the next day, I washed and dried the smoked-meat smell right out of my hair. It was wonderful moment for me.

That night, I caught myself staring at the hairdryer similarly to the way Tom Hanks stares at the barbecue lighter at the end of “Cast Away.” He seems to contemplate the ease and comfort of modern life. I can relate.

~ Molly

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