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Bedouin Connection

You know “Lawrence of Arabia.” If you haven’t seen it, you’ve heard of it. Or perhaps you’ve heard IT? The iconic soundtrack? The sweeping strings, epic like that historical drama, epic like that very desert that inspired the composition?

We entered Jordan by Egyptian boat through the Gulf of Aqaba. Despite the call to prayer (loud), and the decade-old shitty Black Eyed Peas single playing, surreally, on the radio in the taxi (louder), heading East into Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert it was impossible for me not to mentally hear (loudest) the overture to “Lawrence of Arabia.” Even in the dark.

Dave’s friend Oliver claimed that he still had “a fantastic Bedouin connection.” “When you get to Jordan,” Oliver insisted, “Track down my friend Mohammed. He’s a dad now, but he’s who you want to guide you into Wadi Rum.” Dave and I had nothing to lose so when we got to Jordan we called the phone number Oliver had scrawled down for us. Mohammed answered: quiet, terse. Dave, a man, did the talking; we agreed that it would have been uncomfortable for Mohammed “the Bedouin connection” to cut a deal with a strange woman over the phone, even a Western woman. So just as the guidebook suggested, I rode in the backseat of the car with a scarf over my hair because I was a woman while Dave, a man, rode in the passenger seat beside the driver. It was close to midnight when Mohammed waved to us from the shadows of the arranged meeting spot. I felt conspicuously foreign, female, not shaking Mohammed’s hand on purpose and instead greeting him with just a nod of my covered head. I got into the far side of his weathered pickup, making a point to not let my knees splay over to Dave’s knees, and we sped into the dark desert without speaking. Dave was my boyfriend so probably knew that I felt uneasy but, on purpose, didn’t reach for my hand. Even though I had a pretend wedding ring on so we could masquerade as married.

Mohammed cut his headlights when we arrived to the camp, a series of primitive structures with two lean-to pit toilets, no lights or running water. There was enough moonlight to unload our bags in the dark and find our way to our beds for the night, a pile of coarse blankets. Because we weren’t sure where to spit and because we didn’t want our headlamps to disturb anyone else, we didn’t brush our teeth and just laid down wearing what we had traveled in all day in. Somehow I managed to locate and wash down my birth control pill in the dark before descending into an uneasy, shallow sleep.

Zipping zippers, German and Arabic, trucks’ ignitions turning over…these are the sounds we woke up to. I forget what breakfast was. I forget what we packed in our daypacks, but I’m sure it was lightweight and practical. What I remember was the weak morning light on the red rocks of the Wadi Rum desert, coming out of our encampment to meet the camel I was going to ride and feeling like I had woken up on the edge of the earth. If I’d been anywhere else more remote, it didn’t feel like it that day.

P.S. Camels make sounds exactly like Chewbacca from “Star Wars.”

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