Reading abroad

Time stops for no one. Almost three of our six weeks here are now gone, which means soon we’ll be rotating sites so next week I’ll start working with Dr. Johnson in his beloved tomb.

It’s strange how quick we are to become used to daily experiences—no matter how amazing they are—and to begin to take them for granted without even noticing. Sometimes I catch myself speeding through everything without taking the time to marvel again at the beauty in the sights, sounds, and smells that surround me. That’s when I force myself to stop whatever I’m doing and take it all in once more.

From within the triclinium, on the processional way to Petra's famous high place.

I discovered the perfect reading spot—or rather it was shown to me by one of our team members. The rooftop of our building has a breathtaking view of the whole region. From there I can see most of Petra, the villagers of Umm Sayhoon, and the lights and buildings of Wadi Musa. Though I only recently realized how great of a reading spot it is, it’s the perfect time to start my new book.

The view from our rooftop on a cloudy day. Umm Sayhoon, our Bedouin village.

I’ve had more free time for fun reads here than I usually do during the school year. Or maybe it’s just that I find myself wanting so badly to better understand this desert world that I make the time to read more about it.

I finished reading Married to a Bedouin recently, written by Marguerite van Geldermalsen, an adventurous New Zealander. It’s the story of her experiences meeting and falling in love with a Bedouin of Petra, marrying him and moving into his cave, joining the community, raising her children here, and many other experiences that largely ended with the death of her husband. Since then she’s moved back and forth a few times between the western world and Jordan. Though her writing is not exactly the best, her story is so captivating, and the details of life so intriguing, that it was well worth the read. What interesting insights into the lives of the people I interact with on a daily basis here.

Ever since I started reading her book I’ve wanted to meet Marguerite (Fatima is her Arabic name) to hear her talk about her unique experiences. I did get the chance to meet her once when she came into the convenience store where I was buying some water. We talked briefly. It felt strange to think of this woman as a celebrity, but that’s exactly how I saw her after having read most of her book. We may yet have the chance to hear her tell her story since our director has invited her to have dinner with us one of these days, which I sure hope actually happens.

The book I’ve now started to read is T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I’ve wanted to read it ever since watching Lawrence of Arabia while in Jerusalem. I was able to buy a copy on the iBook store to read on my iPad, but the glare makes it hard to read on the rooftop. Besides, everywhere I go I get dirty and dusty and there’s always sand blowing in the air—all things that I thoroughly enjoy about being here, but not an environment conducive to carrying an iPad in a barely protective case. So after asking and searching and negotiating at a couple of local bookshops (the only two I’ve found even remotely close to here), I finally got a hold of a paperback copy to enjoy.

She always makes friends with the animals.

I also got a book of David Roberts’ beautiful lithographs of Petra and the Holy Land, and a book titled The Art of Jordan. The latter is an awesome reference book to understand the basics of the rich history of this country. I of course skipped right to the chapter on writing and language and read it thoroughly. I find myself strangely attracted to anything having to do with writing. More on that later.