Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wadi Rum (Day Two)

A Story from the Koran: Muhamed ascended to chat with G-d, to ask the Ultimate Almighty Being how the new religion of Islam should be structured. They spoke, and on the way down, Muhamed bumped into the other prophets, Moses, Jesus and Father Abraham. This auspicious group asked Muhamed, "Nu, so what does your new religion have in store for its people?" Muhamed answered, "They must pray 50 times a day."

The other prophets immediately told Muhamed to return and negotiate that stipulation, that no normal human would stick with that kind of demand, that they would get nothing done. And so Muhamed returned with the more reasonable number of five times a day.

(Of course, Muhamed could have mentioned in the Koran that the Muezzin should not start at 4:30 in the morning in a five star hotel called the Taybet Zemen, where certain non Muslim guest are trying to sleep...)

Other things I learned from Ali2 about the Koran and Muhamed:

1. A woman experiencing her "Monthly Secret" [whispered the way people talk about cancer] does not do Ramadan, does not pray, cannot even touch a copy of the Koran. Nor do most woman in most situations, they pretty much get a free pass from the fasting. A man can buy Ramadan points by giving charity to poor people, or by organizing a prayer group.
2. Muslims do not use toilet paper, they must wash out their bodies on the inside with water every time, and they must wash their hands a special way afterwards. They also must shower immediately after having sex.
3. They can have up to four wives, but must treat each wife with "fairness." Which means that a husband must juggle his household with "White Lies." (Ali2's words, not mine) and give all his wives the same gifts.
4. The Koran has answers to every problem that has occurred and that will occur. The text covers physics and space and genetics, and solved the baby switching problem in the US during the Reagan presidencies.
5. Gosh Darnit, why haven't we all converted to Islam? It's such a terrific religion and it respects everyone!

All issues of Ali2's [another guide, also named Ali] proselytising aside, I spent a wonderful day in the Wadi Rum Desert Basin. The color of the sand, the crystal clear blue of the sky, the overwhelming natural beauty of the rock formations, ancient stone carving from the Nabatean and Stone age. We saw it, we walked it, we jeeped it, we built a fire in a cave and had a simple Middle Eastern lunch. When we ran out of specific places to see along the ancient Spice Route, we went on a dune buggy adventure in his 4 x 4, a mini roller coaster ride.

Ali2 also shared ancient Bedouin desert cures and survival skills. We had many discussions throughout the day, including topics of Middle East politics, which I elicited on purpose. He slipped once and called my homeland "Palestine," but otherwise remained quite respectful and open to the idea of peace. He doesn't like Hezbollah any more than I do, they are in his words, "animals."

My guide is quite an interesting man: wife(teacher), five children aged 18-3 years old, degree in Chemistry, served in the UN army in war torn Yugoslavia for a year. The man barely sipped water the entire day in the heat of the desert, instead at every brief stop he lit up a cigarette. Ali said he is planning on using the period of Ramada to quit for good. At least he did not smoke at all near me or in the jeep, though he only used the AC at the end of the day trip, arghh. We did some mounting climbing, me in my hiking sneakers and him in flip-flops, he is definitely part mountain goat.

Funny story, we were at a location called the bridge, a huge natural archway carved out of the stone by water during the flood season, and one of Ali's friends came over to say hello. Ali said (in Arabic) that I was a doctor, and this man shows me his ankle, full of burns. Ali explained to me that this man sprained his ankle, and the Bedouin way of treating sprains and fractures is to rub a special concoction of olive oil on the area, and then burn it. I told Ali to explain to his friend that not only am I a doctor who specializes in this area, but that I myself experienced a bad sprain a month ago, and that he should have done rehab and ultra sound instead. I end up giving a medical consult to a random Arab in the middle of the Wadi.

Moral of the Story: You can't escape your destiny, not in a foreign country where you don't speak the language, even on vacation.
Another Moral of the Story: Can I now write off this Petra trip as a Chiropractic business expense?

Photos cannot capture the sandstorms I witnessed on this trip. The phenomenon seem to appear out of nowhere and to be moved and motivated by nothing visible, except perhaps a will and magic of their own. On the drive to Acquba at the end of the day, a sandstorm literally crossed the highway, writhing in various smoky forms, but with purpose. I commented to Ali that it reminds me of the story of the genie, emerging from its bottle. Which started a whole new discussion about the Koran's view of angels, genies, spirits and the like. Each nation has good genies and bad genies, that speak the mother tongue of their chosen country. And a genie will only hurt you if you hurt them, kind of like killer sharks. Good to know, next time you throw a stone into the air, or a piece of garbage on the ground, you could be pissing off a genie.

Never mind Ali2, the point is that all aspects of nature have a soul of their own, and I absolutely learned and experienced proof of that in the past two days.

The return to Acquba and the border crossing were easy and uneventful; I have to compliment the tour company, I had an escort from beginning to end, right back to the door of the hotel in Eilat where I slept overnight. When I arrived at the hotel, a small kitten immediately gravitated toward me, sat on my (sweaty) lap, and purred itself to sleep; yet more reinforcement that I cannot truly escape my identity and destiny.

Final thought question: Why does Ali2 - Arab parents, born and bred in Jordan - speak English with an Irish brogue? And why can neither Ali properly pronounce the word, "investment"?

(End of Part II)

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