Storytelling in the Wadi Rum, Jordan

Storytelling in the Wadi Rum, Jordan

It was two weeks of exhaustion. Hours of teaching – struggling with confusion, fighting against the constraints of language barriers, and repeating directions like battle cries – followed by coaching, activities, night duty, and herding forever wandering students. It was a Pandora’s box of jet lag, the pubescent emotions of students, learning to bond amid cultural differences, and the overwhelming dry heat of the Jordanian summer. Then, when a four hour journey in a rickety bus stuffed with luggage and our motley assortment of teachers seemed like sweet salvation, relaxation was hindered by an airline error that meant the ride was spent making phone calls to representatives in Switzerland, Germany, Canada – hoping to contact anyone who could confirm the upcoming flight ticket. Juggling details and stress, everything finally fell into place as we rounded the bend to see the Wadi Rum checkpoint.

The desert stretched before us in an ocean of red dunes. The colored sands were a reflection of the setting sun, permeated with shades of candlelight yellow, ember orange, and blushing coral. Sandstone and granite rock soared into the sky, their stony cliff faces looming over Wadi Rum in intimidating silence, a true symbol of the sublime. A quote from Anne Carson’s Decreation describes it well: “The Sublime is big… Its bigness is always threatening to go out of control, to submerge and vanquish the soul that seeks to enjoy it.”

Laying on thin mattresses, we cuddled under thick scratchy blankets for warmth despite it being mid-summer. The wind carried the low murmur of men talking and sipping tea around a fire, a desert lullaby.

Squished into the bed of a pickup truck, our group of teachers and fearless driver raced through the sands, teetering at the edge of the sublime with the wind whipping around us. We rushed past camels who ignored our glee and awe, chasing the last rays of sunshine in our journey to the campsite.

When night settled in, our motley crew climbed to an open air platform built into the side of a rock. Laying on thin mattresses, we cuddled under thick scratchy blankets for warmth despite it being mid-summer. The wind carried the low murmur of men talking and sipping tea around a fire, a desert lullaby. The intense darkness encompassed us with an embrace of sky and stars. Huddled together like children at a sleepover, it felt natural that we began telling stories.

“I know a story of young man, who went out on an adventure looking for meaning, for happiness,” began one of my fellow teachers. “So he started walking, and soon he was walking uphill, up steps built into a mountain. But it was an easy walk – the ground was sturdy and grassy and it was a peaceful road to take. And so he kept walking and kept walking until a landing appeared. And on the landing was another man – an older man who looked wise and friendly and calm. So the young man stopped to talk, thinking he could be of assistance. He asked the old man, what is the meaning of life? The old man smiled and replied, walk a little further. So the young man kept walking…”

As I listened, I scanned the night sky; it was a dark void that could have swallowed me whole, yet in between me and the intensity of this sublime was a barrier of stars. The exhaustion of the past few weeks seemed to slip away under their light.

“…and he kept climbing up more and more steps. His joints became stiff, and the steps became steep. But, listening to the words of the old man, he kept walking a little further and a little further until it seemed like he had gone a lot further. Another landing appeared and there, again, was the old man. Hoping he would tell him this time, the young man asked, what is the meaning of life? But the old man just smiled and replied, walk a little further. So the young man kept walking…”

As I listened, I scanned the night sky; it was a dark void that could have swallowed me whole, yet in between me and the intensity of this sublime was a barrier of stars. The exhaustion of the past few weeks seemed to slip away under their light.

Shooting stars continuously flashed across the sky, and with each one, a crescendo of admiration erupted from the otherwise captivated listeners. I kept my gaze upon the sky, studying the constellations for their secrets and rebelling against the sleep I had craved throughout my trip.

“…and he kept climbing up more and more steps, each one rockier and steeper than the previous. But the young man kept walking until he reached another landing. He did not even stop to ask the old man this time, who still smiled and said, walk a little further…”

With the words of the story echoing inside me and the fresh air of the valley invigorating me, I knew that I would weather exhaustion, stress, or obstacles in my own efforts to keep climbing; to keep contemplating the stars and exploring the world. I will keep gazing from the edge of the sublime, searching for stories, and maybe even find mine.

“…The young man kept walking up more and more steps. The journey was tough and draining, but he kept going. Climbing higher and higher, he finally reached another landing and there, as always, was the old man. But this time the young man asked a different question. How can I help, he asked, and the old man linked arms with him and replied, let us walk a little further.”

Blanketed by stars, I succumbed to much-needed sleep, awaking the next day to the desert’s morning glow. With a slight crick in my neck, yet feeling more refreshed than ever, I was ready to walk a little further.

About Jeannette Viens

Jeannette ViensJeannette Viens has had an incurable travel bug since the age of 5 when her family packed up and moved from Western Massachusetts to Belgium for two years. Since then, she has ventured around the globe, visiting countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. One of her favorite destinations is Scotland, where she lived for four years, getting her MA(Hons) of Art from the University of St Andrews in International Relations, which combined her interest in world issues and passion for writing. An avid volleyball player, tea guzzler, and beach goer, Jeannette is always planning her next adventure!

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