Monday, November 25, 2013

Outings and Pictures (Including Petra and Wadi Rum!)

Alright, so this is the post I've been promising for a long time but not delivering.

The Treasury in Petra
CIEE (the program I'm staying with) has hosted a number of outings to different places in Jordan. They hold three, one to Petra and Wadi Rum, two to other places of which you get to choose. The Petra/Wadi Rum trip is overnight, the others are not.

This is the link to my giant Facebook photo album, which includes all the pictures from these trips. I'm too lazy to reupload all of them here, sorry, but this should work okay even for those people who don't have a Facebook. It includes pictures from both CIEE trips and my personal travels.

The trip to Wadi Rum and Petra was especially interesting a variety of reasons. Obviously both places are incredibly beautiful (you can see that in the pictures) but also because it gave a little insight into the Jordanian tourism economy and culture.

A Bedouin goat hair tent, now used to house tourists (specifically me) at a camp near Wadi Rum.
Both Wadi Rum and Petra are dominated by Bedouin workers. Once upon a time, Bedouin tribes were nomadic and essentially lived by traveling in the desert with their livestock. To some degree, this is still true, as the Jordanian government describes it:
Bedouins are often stereotyped as constantly wandering the desert in search of water and food for their flocks. This is only partly true. Only a small portion of Bedouin can still be regarded as true nomads, while many have settled down to cultivate crops rather than drive their animals across the desert. Most Bedouin have combined the two lifestyles to some degree. Those Bedouins who still practice pastoralism will camp in one spot for a few months at a time, grazing their herds of goats, sheep or camels until the fodder found in the area is exhausted. It is then time to move on. Often the only concession they make to the modern world is the acquisition of a pick-up truck (to move their animals long distances), plastic water containers and perhaps a kerosene stove.
A lot of Jordanian hospitality culture has its roots in the Bedouin history of Jordan.

In the Wadi Rum and Petra area, most of the Bedouin have now moved into the area around the historic sites and joined the tourism business. In Wadi Rum, they sell camel, jeep, and walking tours. In Petra, they operate restaurants, give horse/donkey/camel rides and sell trinkets at rather inflated prices ("Made by real Bedouin women, I swear!").

This Bedouin guy in Petra was chilling in a little shade next to his both (propped up by crates).
One Bedouin guy in his mid 20s, operating a store on a very, very high mountain, told me that the Jordanian government encouraged the Bedouin to adopt this new lifestyle in the late 1970s by offering them free apartments and electricity in nearby cities. I asked him where he'd gone to school. "Bedouin University", he told me. I asked what Bedouin University was. "No university," he told me. "I just worked here."

The view from the shop.
This highlighted one of the persistent problems with Bedouin in Petra that out tour guides told us about - the failure of parents to put children in school. I saw numerous children running around Petra hawking souvenirs. Our tour guides encouraged us not to buy anything, because doing so would simply convince the parents that the kids were good earners. Although education is compulsory in Jordan through age 15, this apparently goes unenforced in many cases, and several Jordanians have told me parents requiring their children to work is a problem even in Amman.

In general, visiting touristy places in Jordan is a trade off. Any foreigner is subjected to repeated entreaties to buy things - taxis, junk, tickets to sites, a tour guide, etc. Getting bused around in an air conditioned tour bus with a guide is nice, but doesn't really connect you to anybody in the country. If your goal is simply to be a tourist and you're only passing through for a few weeks, this isn't a bad option. But if you're trying to truly live in the culture, like most study abroad students, it doesn't seem like the best deal. I've had a much better time visiting places accompanied by a Jordanian friend.

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