where the writers are
Wadi Rum, the Arab Revolt, and Lawrence of Arabia

Wadi Rum in the south of Jordan offers some of the most extraordinary desert scenery imaginable and is one of the highlights of the country.  Please have a look and judge for yourself:


This area, made famous during the Arab Revolt and the presence of Thomas E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia and pictured above) in the early 20th century, remains alluring and forbiddingly majestic.  As with Petra, its appearance changes with cloud cover conditions, angle of the sun, season of the year, and other factors.  Its sunrises and sunsets are fabulous, and it's easy to enjoy the galaxy of stars overhead at night because it is located away from any Jordanian cities and towns.

Although collectively known as Bedouin, the major tribe of Wadi Rum is the Huweitat, who claim to be descendents of the Prophet Muhammad.  Sedentary and nomadic Bedouin throughout the Wadi Rum area number about 5,000. 

I had an unforgettable experience during my first visit to Wadi Rum in the summer of 2003.  I was exploring the recently-excavated (i.e., 1997) Nabataean temple behind the Government Rest House near the entrance of Rum Village when a young Bedouin boy (perhaps 10 years old?) in a red shirt and black pants persistently summoned me toward him.  He just kept waving his hands and saying, "Come.  Come.  Come."  So I approached him, and he joyfully guided me toward his family's tent.  Inside, on one half of the tent, were some brothers and a sister who had prepared tea for me.  Behind a blanket wall on the other half of the tent were some women who occasionally peeked out at me, but were too shy to join us.  Though none of the children spoke much English, and I at the time spoke no Arabic, we managed to amuse and entertain each other for the next hour.  My little host's name was Ra'ad.  His older sister's name was Basma Alia.  She sat opposite me, cross legged on the floor of the tent, drawing pictures and images in the dirt with a stick to give me clues about what they were trying to communicate to me.  At first I thought Basma Alia told me she was the boys' mother and that she was 81.  She looked really good for 81, though I couldn't quite figure out the reproductive math of the situation.  Suddenly it dawned on me (duh!) that I had to read the age upside down, for Basma Alia's writing was oriented for her, not me.  Ohhhhh, OK, 18.  So she's not the mother but the sister.  I laughingly explained to her my mistake, and the children all creased themselves with the hilarity of my stupidity.  They told me they refer to tea as "whiskey Bedouin."  It's truly astonishing how much can be communicated even without a shared language.  Anyway, it was a great cross-cultural experience, and it was an honor and a privilege to be invited into a Bedouin tent and experience the famed hospitality under highly authentic conditions.  As we bade our adieus and parted ways, I cast one last look back at them to capture and savor the moment.  Basma Alia was blowing me kisses, and one of the boys yelled, "We love you" in perfect English.  Now where did he learn that?  Or did all of them understand my English the entire time?  :-)

As for Lawrence, he is a controversial figure in the region.  It is felt that his contributions were not as great as legend would have us think.  Lawrence worked with Arab warriors alongside Emir Faisal and with the support of General Allenby to conquer nearby Aqaba from the Ottoman Turks in 1917.  He then entered Damascus in triumph, marking the final defeat of the Ottoman Turks and the end of centuries of Ottoman rule in the region.  By most accounts, Lawrence, not the most humble of men, did little to alter the perception that he was the figure most responsible for the victory.  In actuality, almost 10% of the 100,000 Arab soldiers involved were killed in the course of achieving victory.  Lawrence later wrote his memoirs.  Actually, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom was written twice because he lost his first manuscript in a London train station.  Egads!

Back when I posted the photographs of Petra, I neglected to offer some Arabic translations that might make the images more enjoyable, so I will do so here:

jebel--a hill or a mountain
siq--a gorge or a canyon
Rum--the name of the village in the wadi (not the alcoholic beverage)
wadi--a valley or a river bed formed by watercourse, dry except after heavy rainfall

Once again, I hope you enjoy the imaginary trip!