I’m clearly in the land before time. I’m gonna turn the corner and get eaten by a pack of Velociraptor. Either that or Indiana Jones will be fleeing racist caricatures, whip in hand, shouting at Sean Connery. Keifa nakoul “primordial beauty” bil arabi?
This weekend I had the incredible luck of being in the right place at the right time, largely because last week I was in a different right place at a different right time. Walking with a friend downtown, she brought up a trip she was planning to visit some Bedouin friends of hers who run an Eco-lodge in the south, where she had taught English a few summers back. Graciously, she invited me and a few others on the program to come down with her. Freshman year was wrapping up and I figured it would nice to spend sophomore summer outside of Amman for a change. I’ve had good sophomore summers but this was the best.
Where was I?
I honestly cannot say with great certainty where I was. I was in Wadi Dana, next to the Feynan Eco-lodge, close to the villiage Gre-Gra’a, and I have no idea what that means. For all intents and purposes it was Mars. Driving in at night across the desert, I thought it might be the moon had the moon not been illuminating the shattered cliff faces that surrounded us, occasionally dispersing and revealing infinite plains and forgotten ruins. What I can say was that I was folded into the back of an ancient Kia pick-up truck, held together by twine and crossed fingers, careening through the night across what was generously called a road. I shared the back of the cab with three other men, while our two female compatriots shared the front seat, and our driver/guide/host/sage Suleiman sat with his brother in the driver’s seat. I can sympathize with astronauts during re-entry as our little space-shuttle violently attacked the bumps and potholes like it bore them a grudge.
Where did we stay?
Bedouin hospitality is legendary in Jordan. A story we were told during orientation elaborated on the tradition, claiming that historically a traveler was welcomed to stay for up the three days no questions asked. The legends were absolutely true. Our host Suleiman invited us to sleep in his bait esha’ar  underneath the brightest moon I have ever seen, fed us, and served us each about a pint of sweet tea with herbs. The family’s camp was deceptively simple: a large open living area, a cooking area, a covered women’s quarters and a few pens for the herds of goats and sheep. However, they also owned a large house in the nearby village and were clearly better off than the other families in the area.
We woke just before sunrise to the sound of a buzzsaw. This noise turned out to be swarms of black flies that had evidently been eating our sweat and dead skin all morning. We were clearly an exotic flavor. After covering our faces and failing to fall back asleep, we trekked briefly up the nearby hill to overlook the wadi, and watch the sunlight creep across from Israel/Palestine to the west as the Sun peeked over the mountains to the east. The pink dawn lit up the red rock of the surrounding mountains in the same way I might imagine daybreak on Mars.
What did we do?
We started our hike through Wadi Ghwiya early that day and followed the PVC irrigation pipes up to their source at the river. Now instead of Mars we hiked through one of the better suburbs of Mordor, where sheer black cliff faces struggled to bear their own weight over us, and little hardy plants grew in between the shattered bits of mountain that had tumbled off. Here our host was in his element, while we fumbled along behind. Shoes became a bit of a mushkila. Our friend who invited me had broken the leather strap on her sandal. Mafi mushkila. Previously insignificant, each of us had a wish bracelet from the Church of Saint George’s Foot, a small length of green fabric that we repurposed as a means to tie Holly’s foot to her shoe. With a few later adjustments, these straps lasted us the length of our trip, and actually had a hip rustic look that would kill in Oregon.
This is bafflingly in the desert.
Eventually we discovered that we had not yet reached the beginning of the canyon we would be hiking that day. Here we enter the Land Before Time, or Jurassic Park. Nestled between the walls of the canyon which itself was nestled between jagged forbidding mountain faces, was the Garden of Eden. Full of lush vegetation, a literally babbling brook, frogs and crabs, and palm trees growing out of the walls of the canyon. I swear every photo of me captures a ludicrous face of bewilderment. We stopped for lunch and learned that obviously our guide packed a teapot and a bag of flour. We made bread by burying it in hot coals and drank about a gallon of tea each.
We returned around sunset and watched massive storm clouds roll in to thwart my expectations of the desert. Dinner had to be unearthed from a buried oil drum. Within this drum five roasted chicken were dripping off a wire rack over a pot of rice, while whole onions and potato were cooking on the coals. If the Food Network is pornography, eating this chicken was losing my virginity.  Then we of course drank more tea, watched the International Space Station tumble through the sky and passed right out.
See? Freaking out.
The following day we had better adapted to our buzzing alarm clocks and I was able to sleep until an impressive 8:30. We got the opportunity to meet some of the other families in the area, all of whom served us still more tea. We visited an apparently unexcavated ancient ruin. No signs indicated its origin, and no caution tape prohibited our exploration. Our theory, based on a full viewing of all of the canonical Indiana Jones movies, a cursory understanding of the plot of the Mummy, and multiple Discovery Channel marathons, argues that once the wadi was a lush riverbank, overlooked by a decent sized Roman settlement on the nearby hilltop. The tiered city had clear walls and houses with a few remaining arches. We discovered pottery shards in the basement of one house, and collapsed classical columns near another. Needless to say, I was freaking out.
To conclude our trip, we drank more tea, then drank a light cardamom spiced coffee, ate lunch, were eaten by flies, and piled back into our Kia space shuttle for takeoff. Re-entry into Amman, dirty, sore, exhausted, full of tea, caused probably more culture shock than our original arrival in early September. Despite, or maybe because of, this jarring disconnect between the countryside and the city, we all got cheeseburgers for dinner.
 “How do we say ….. in Arabic?” This is the most important phrase I know. I have a habit of talking myself into corners and escaping with “Keifa nakoul, (insert absurd academic term: structural-level racism, hegemony, Edward 40-hands) bil arabi?”
 Attentive readers will recall that the program breaks down conveniently into the four years of college (high school for some.) For clarity, I include the full breakdown of the abroad micro-timeline here: Freshman year, all the Amrikiun travel in packs for about 2-3 weeks, then split up during sophomore summer for the first independently organized weekend trips. (Usually this is where the first hook ups really kick off, though I assure you none happened on my trip for reasons that will soon become obvious.) Sophomore year has now begun. It will last about two weeks. There will be drama as friend groups and romances from freshman year dissolve and reconsolidate. We will realize that school is still school anywhere in the world and that will be a tremendous buzzkill. Junior summer: the program will leave on its first big trip, usually a solid 4-5 day experience to contrast the host city with a neighboring area. Junior year is rough. Midterms hit like a train. Certain personalities become intolerable. Quirks and charms of the host nation evolve into downright injustices. Incidentally, the beginning of junior year, week 5-6, is the week where culture shock may turn into outright depression, according to the US Dept. of State—really. Luckily, in the second half of junior year, as a post-midterm reward, the study abroad program studies abroad. For example, we are going to Morocco for about a week. Finally we return to senior year, ostensibly refreshed and ready to finish strong. This of course does not occur, as students begin to check exactly what “pass-fail” means to their registrar, and procrastinate on the program’s final paper. Second semester senior year is exactly what it sounds like: the program cannot wait to go home, fantasizing about cheeseburger combinations and the comfortably familiar nuances of our native cultures. Yet in the last couple of days the melancholy reality of imminent departure sets in. Then, all of a sudden, you all separate at a major airline hub (Frankfurt, it’s always Frankfurt) and boom, you’ve graduated. Real life resumes as soon as you get off the plane.
 I’m not kidding about the ruins.
 The two girls in the front demonstrate an interesting prioritization of social norms. Generally women are obliged to sit in the back of a cab or car “for their protection.” However, it is more haram for them bounce along these craters wedged between two unmarried men, so they took the front as the lesser of two poisons. Instead I was wedged and bounced to our camp.
 Not their name, nor where they were from, nor why they were leaving. After three days they may reveal this information and stay longer with the host’s permission, or leave. Our host, Suleiman, confirmed that this is not just historical but still very much the case, describing a tale where a man who had murdered someone in the nearby village over a property dispute, sought three days of refuge with his father before escaping to his own tribe in the north. Despite this consequence, the historical reasoning behind the tradition makes a lot of sense. If the only people for miles of desert refuse to take you in, you are probably gonna die.
 Literally “Hair House,” because the massive tent is composed of woven goat hair carpet.
 All poisonous, obviously.
 “Problem,” a crucial word in Arabglese. Essential to the phrase “Mafi mushkila” which means no problem, especially when there is definitely a problem yet your corresponded lacks the nuanced understanding of Arabic to determine exactly what it is.
 An underground oven called a zurb, which to an Arabic neophyte is dangerously close to the slang for male genitalia. Confusion over this distinction caused a few polite silences.
 Sorry CMC Study Abroad.
 See I told you I wasn’t kidding.
 Excluding the fourth. Clearly.