The jeep came to a grinding halt in the shade of a huge, sandstone boulder.
flew into our faces as a whirlwind breeze picked up the granules and scattered
them about. I found myself among a group of ten others, waiting patiently in
the isolated desert of Wadi Rum, located deep in the heart of Jordan. We had
half an hour until sunset when the earth would share her beauty with us.
A pile of huge boulders sat on the parched ground. To get the best view possible,
I skillfully climbed the ancient stones with my camera dangling securely around
my neck. I felt confident and happy as I sat down at the smooth, rounded edge
of the boulder and gazed across the arid desert.
The small, sheltered valley was surrounded by towering, red, sandstone cliffs.
The area between them was nothing but coral sand and a few tufts of scrub.
The cliffs looked snow-covered. I was surprised when the guide explained that
it was actually sand that had been plastered against them by the force of the
wind. The sun slowly lowered and the cliffs began to glow. As the hot sand
reflected its color upon them, the clouds absorbed the salmon pinks, orchid
purples, deep oranges and carnelian reds. I gasped with wonder and amazement.
It was breathtaking.
In the still and calm silence everyone seemed captivated by the beauty surrounding
us. From somewhere off in the distance, near the base of the cliffs, I heard
a faint chant. I strained to hear, thinking it was just the wind whispering
through the boulders, but there wasn't even a gentle breeze. I fitted the zoom
lens on my camera and scanned the valley.
The melodic chant became louder as I finally located its source. There were
six men, all dressed in Arab garb - long white robes and a scarf held around
their heads with bands, as in days of old. They were riding camelback, bobbing
up and down as the camels plodded across the scorching sand. The camels were
traveling in a straight line as the ancient Muslim chant grew louder. I couldn't
take my eyes off them. Their voices echoed off the cliff walls and filled the
valley with symphonic vibrations.
At that moment, I felt like I was transported back in time. The sun began
to fall below the horizon. Its rays shot through the sky like shimmering strands
of gold. The camel train moved closer. Like thousands of years ago, I was witnessing
history, as unchanged as the stone cliffs surrounding me. This is how it must
have been two thousand years ago when the caravans passed through, carrying
spices, oils, frankincense, and precious gems to Persia from a distant land,
such as Egypt. I could picture in my mind their leather saddlebags filled with
these rare items as they made their way towards other ancient cities. My heart
leapt. I was witnessing something special.
The men passed right in front of our boulder as the sun set. Never have I witnessed
anything like that before; the colors, the beauty, the sounds, and the riders.
Tears ran down my face. I realized that nothing changes for some. Here were
these men, living as their ancestors of thousands of years ago lived, with
nothing – no modern conveniences, yet they were filled with joy and laughter,
happy with their meager lives. When they passed by and darkness enveloped us,
we sat still. Everyone was entranced by what we'd just witnessed. Millions
of stars glittered in the heavens. What a wondrous, priceless gift we'd been
Later that night we drove back to Amman, the capital city. The next day,
I was to interview the King. As I sat facing the royal family, I was surrounded
by all the riches anyone could want; mosaics, gold, jewel-encased dishes, beauty
of every kind imaginable. Were they any more beautiful than the diamond-like
stars that twinkled above me the night before? Or more than the humble chants
from the Bedouin's sincere mouths? I realized that the simple gifts nature
offers us can bring more joy than all the riches money can buy.