Our trip started with a train to Denmark and Copenhagen airport a little before 5am on Saturday, the 26th of March. Our travel went smoothly, with a layover in Vienna Airport, before finally arriving at the destination our group of 14 had been long looking forward to and which we had planned for intensively: Amman, the capital of Jordan. With a new stamp in our passports, we went through security and out into Jordan.
Most of us slept surprisingly well, but were woken up when the muezzin started calling for prayer at 4.10 am. A quick fresh orange juice breakfast to go and four hours later, we sat in our buses and headed up north. Before noon, we arrived in Jerash – the Pompeii of the Middle East – and spent two hours exploring the ancient city and climbing rocks. Although culturally so different, it was very interesting to see that the city’s architecture resembles the one of most ancient Roman or Greek cities, including amphitheatres, pillars, and temples.
We got on our two busses again and headed to the Dead Sea. After a few compulsory tourist snaps, we floated around, tried to ‘swim’, and clumsy-us got some salt in our eyes, as expected. A quite painful experience! Most of us then paid for some healthy skin mud and before long, we were all muddy and black and enjoyed the view to Palestine on the other side of the Sea.
The first official day, Easter Monday started with an early wake-up call to make it to the World Health Organisation (WHO) by 10 o’clock. Even though we were in the world’s 4th driest country, it rained heavily, with people shovelling and brushing water away around us. After a warm welcome, we were introduced to the WHO in Jordan, which mainly deals with communicable diseases and the changing epidemiology of disease, mainly due to the aging population, similarly to many countries in Europe. The situation is further complicated by the influx of refugees from Syria.
Apart from the WHO, we used our time in Amman to meet representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the embassies of Sweden and the United States of America, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), UNICEF, EcoPeace Jordan, and the Royal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought. The meetings provided us with a broad background on Jordan, be it in terms of politics, religion, or foreign aid. We learned about the difficulties of being a journalist in Jordan and the potentially dramatic ecological changes that may arise if the Dead Sea dries out even further. At the School of International Studies of the University of Jordan, we got to meet some of our peers, and we were educated on LGBT issues when we met the owner of an Amman gay bar.
Our most engaging visit, which took place on the sixth day of our trip, was the one we paid to Shefighter, a gym created to train girls in self-defence. Its founder, Lina Khalifeh, greeted us warmly, and, after changing into gym clothes, we gathered round and listened to Lina speaking about her organisation, women in the Middle East, the legal response to domestic abuse, and the ways in which women organise themselves. During the practical part, we learned how to disarm a person attacking with a knife and how to escape from a situation in which somebody is trying to suffocate us.
After four days of interesting meetings and lectures in Amman, it was once more time to take in more of the country of Jordan. Running on only a few hours of sleep, we packed up the vans and headed south for the world-famous ruin city of Petra, which was built around 300 BC. The sun was out and it was the perfect day to explore the historical site.
We continued our journey to the next and final destination of our trip: Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon, which is the biggest Wadi (valley) in Jordan. It is not a desert in the conventional sense – that is, if your mind unintentionally thinks of a vast sea of sand dunes – but rather a mix of various colours of sand, rocky sandstone mountains and numerous plants growing here and there. After adapting to the local clothing style (turbans) we jumped into jeeps and headed off into the desert.
Our first stop took us to a Bedouin tent with a spring. Nowadays, only a few Bedouin families are living directly in the desert – most of them congregate in smaller villages, with tourism being the main source of income. However, due to the negative developments in the region, the number of visitors has dropped significantly in recent times. Nevertheless, Wadi Rum continues to be a popular location for movie productions. Hence, our second stop was not only the main scene for the famous 1960s movie Lawrence of Arabia, but also provided the setting for Matt Damon’s last great extra-terrestrial experience in The Martian.
The jeep tour was not for educational purposes only, though. Our next stop took us to a small mountain with a sand dune, providing a perfect slope for sandboarding, rolling or simply running (and falling) down the hill. After some time, our group split up – while some took the jeep deeper into the desert and close to the Saudi border to enjoy the view a bit more, some others returned to the village and took camels for a ride to the ruins of an ancient temple. After that, our two groups reconvened at the best sun set sand dune in the whole of Wadi Rum, where we watched the sun slowly disappear behind the horizon. Enchanted by an atmosphere resembling A Thousand and One Nights, most of us decided to end the day by sleeping outside in the moonlight-bathed Wadi Rum.
On the next morning, it was time to return to cold, rainy Sweden. After a daring speedy drive to the airport and some difficulties involving the loss of a passport, we finally took the plane back to Malmö.
Written by the travel group, compiled and edited by Michael Schätzlein
Image credit: Carolin Jamusch for Malmö Association of Foreign Affairs