On days when we have guests, one of the guides drives me and Ibrahim to the desert camp around 1PM. Ibrahim is the camp cook and caretaker. He takes out the groceries and supplies from the village for the overnight guests, cleans the camp from the last day’s guests, prepares dinner and smokes a lot shisha after his evening duties are done.
Every afternoon I help Ibrahim clean the tents, watch him prepare dinner while we listen to his Arabic music, and we chat. Ibrahim is from Giza, Egypt, just across the Nile River from Cairo (basically a suburb – it’s where the pyramids are) and he has been in Jordan two years.
After breakfast we always catch a ride back to Wadi Rum village in a jeep with one of the guides and their guests. Until day three. It was a busy night with guests and there is no room in the jeeps.
“Cool,” I say to myself. We get to hang out at the camp all day. No office work for Terry this morning.
No sooner had I stretched out on the traditional Middle Eastern floor couch in the main tent with my tunes and a book and Ibrahim says, “Yella (let’s go), habibi. We walk.”
“We walk?” I reply in disbelief knowing for a fact it is at least a two-hour camel ride.
“To the village? Through the desert? Us? Now?” I add to make sure we are all on the same page.
“We walk,” Ibrahim confirms.
After I process this, I accept it as a decent proposition. It’s a two-hour hike. No big deal. We have guests who do five-day hikes. Beats a snowstorm. I’m now fully on board, slightly concerned with the quickly rising sun and my heavy kit bag.
Just as I have embraced the situation, Ibrahim says, “Ahmed should come. He comes because you are here. Ahmed not come if just Ibrahim. Ibrahim will walk all the way if you not here.”
So, we begin our trek across the southern Jordanian desert toward Wadi Rum village, both hoping we soon see a jeep and its sandy dust trail on the horizon.
About twenty minutes into the walk I need to shed both my sweater and jacket.
“Let’s stop, habibi. I have to take off some layers. Layers – you know layers? It’s like an onion,” I explain demonstrating onion layers as I know he knows what an onion is.
I don’t think layers translates the same way in Arabic, but he knows we are stopping either for me to take off some clothes or I need an onion.
We both have our phones with our favourite music, so we walk the calm desert, trading off favorite songs, trying to explain the meaning of each. Ibrahim’s playlists contains some pretty awesome Arabic music, but some Back Street Boys sneak in there, as well as Ray Charles. We are indeed hitting the road, Jack. Albeit a hot, dry desert one. And it’s really not a road, but Ibrahim gets it.
With a sight of a jeep on the horizon I am slightly disappointed, then relieved when it is not Ahmed. This is what travel is about. The people. The moments. The cultural exchanges. All enveloped in the quiet of the desert. And the Back Street Boys.
Thirty minutes later, peeled to my last layer, sun rising fast, kit bag absorbing about a half liter of my sweat, I am relieved when Ibrahim sees a Toyota and at about a kilometer away can identify it as Ahmed’s.
It was a good walk with an Egyptian.
Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in. – Andrew Zimmern