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Jordan: A cave in the mountains of Petra

As many of you are probably aware I spent about 3 months in the Middle East bopping around. From Egypt to Israel to the West Bank and to Jordan I explored the various parts of each country and photographed them in my own way. These are my different stories and experiences traveling alone. 

This is a personal story and took me a while to write and talk about. I don't mean for this to be a story of pity or concern. I am fine, this is my way of therapy essentially, I think this story in particular was made more for myself and if you'd like to be part of it I thank you for that. This is a story about growing up and being a lot more naive than I thought I was. 

I ordered a taxi with confidence and said “Take me to Jordan,” to the Taxi man. I crossed the border of Israel and Jordan on January 15, 2017. I tiptoed my way through the checkpoints with baited breath realising I still had the bud I had bought a couple of days before in Tel Aviv tucked away in my underwear bag. I hadn't had the idea of going into Jordan until that morning when I purchased my Jordan visa and the German girl at the hostel I was staying in Eilat, Israel told me security would be a breeze. So I went. 

I stepped up to a door that had the words “Push,” written in yellow letters. Apparently this was the security checkpoint to step into the country of Jordan. I walked inside and had to wait a few minutes for a guard to come. I pretended the sweat beads on my forehead were just because of the beating sun not my mind imagining the weed in my sock. But I breezed through inspection and found myself in the Kingdom in a matter of minutes. 

As soon as I entered the country I was ushered to a taxi driver. I entered the taxi and was on my guard, I knew he would try to up sell me from the original plan of taking me to Petra, the city of ancient ruins. After a few minutes I realised Petra was hours away and the cost would be incredible. So he took me to a shop in the middle of the desert. He told me not to worry, his friend would take me. 

His friend stepped out of his souvenir shop with hair sticking from all corners of his head. He was wearing a long black dress and had brown sandals with scraggly toes peeking out. He couldn’t look at your eyes for more than a few seconds and he kept pacing, thinking.  

He told me “I can take you to Petra and I'll show you around, no problem.” His English was much better than the taxi man's so I figured he was someone I could trust. I agreed and we set off. I didn’t realize what I had agreed to. 

On the way to Petra he began to spew various bits of information about the Kingdom of Jordan as we barreled down the Kings highway. Jordan’s main imports and exports, who was crooked, and how the Jordanian intelligence knew everything. The US and Jordan have been allies for decades and have supported Jordan’s opposition to terrorism, so tourism is a common way for Jordanians to make money. Petra is one of their biggest attractions.

I lapped up the information like a wide-eyed two year old, asking why. He stopped along the way to meet some of the locals and he taught me bad words in Arabic that would make the locals laugh. 

As we made our way down the King’s Highway I sat quietly and listened to his arabic music. I saw him looking me up and down out of the corner of his eye- systematically screening me- searching for clues. 

We reached Petra and I went through the tourism gates. He told me to be wary of the numerous Bedouin men that will try to sell you a donkey or camel ride. He said he would meet me inside Petra and we would sleep in a cave that night with his family. 

So I went - walked the ruins alone, feeling invincible. Thinking I could do anything in this world as I roamed the ancient place. I set up my tripod and created time lapses of the sunsetting on the red colored mountains. 

 So let me stop and give you a play by play of Petra: 

The way Petra is formed - people walk into the ruins, essentially a giant passage of rock formations- it takes about 3 hours to get to the Monastery which is the end of the walk. Once you get to the end you are required to walk back the way you came and view the formations in a different perspective which takes about another 3 or so hours. All along the way you have Bedouin men harrassing you trying to get you to ride their camel or donkey.

Once I reached close to the end I scanned the tops of the surrounding mountains and found the cousin of my guide I had been seeking. A small man with little to no teeth smiled at me with a donkey and dog in tow. We scrambled up the mountain and talked about what we were going to eat. He told me about his dog he named Homeless and how his pup had saved his life more than once. He was unmarried and only 35- I had thought he was actually closer to 54. 

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We reached the cave and immediately the two cousins embraced. They acted as if they hadn’t seen each other in years but in actuality had been weeks. We then met my guide’s other cousin (the owner of the cave) and began to make a fire and get the food started; Jordanian barbecue, with bread, rice and yogurt. The guys offered me a beer and they began to sip on a mixture of Al-Karak (Arabian whiskey) and water. 

After a few minutes mingling in front of the fire and cracking jokes in my limited Arabic and their limited English I realized I would be the only female inside the cave- with 3 fully grown men I had met only a few hours before.

 I didn’t panic, thankfully. I acted calm and collected and reached for my pepper spray in my bag and moved it quietly into my pants pocket. I sat and listened to them chat and joked around with them as well. I didn’t feel fear, more so an awareness of my situation, a young 24-year old woman with strangers in a cave miles away from any civilization or internet access. My only bit of defense training had been at a police station in Miami Beach a couple months prior when I had a Peeping Tom watch me from my window. That felt years away. 

So finally it got to a point where the guys were getting a bit rowdy and boisterous. They stepped outside to what I assumed was to wrestle and be men. The yelling in Arabic to me meant nothing. They kept drinking throughout the night and I slinked away into a darker part of the cave and laid down with my pepper spray under my pillow. 

At one point in the night my guide came back into the cave exasperated asking if I was alright and wanting to know if I wanted a massage. There was a full moon that night and the light streaming in from the door of the cave illuminated a stream of blood dripping down his face. I told him I was sleeping and he went outside again. At another point one of the cousins came back inside asking if I was alright and if I wanted a foot rub. I sleepily told him I was ok and allowed the strange events happening outside of the cave to be a trick of my dreams. The last cousin then came back into the cave and asked if I'd like to go for a walk outside and asked if I trusted him. I said no thank you and I drifted off to sleep at around 4 am. 

I woke up the next morning and emerged from my part of the cave. The men were strewn about the food, passed out in an array of appendages and hair. I picked my way quietly through them and with my camera in tow I walked outside to see the rising sun. 

Now any smart person would have taken this opportunity to run away. But being the naive young tourist I was I didn’t. Instead I stayed. I waited for the men to wake up. We all convened around the dying fire and my guide told me it was time to have breakfast. So we went to their mother’s home at the nearby village. I came in by donkey and the guys scrambled up the mountain after me. We all took off our shoes and sat down at the Bedouin mother’s feet to a breakfast of eggs, olives, cream cheese, and of course bread. She offered to marry me off to her nephew (my guide) and I politely declined. They wrapped my head in a scarf and told me I looked Jordanian. Then we were off again in his blue Toyota Camry. 

It was only four days later that my guide told me what had actually happened that night. 

The bickering in Arabic had actually been the three men fighting to see who would have me for the night. The boisterous rough housing was fighting to decide who the winner of the brawl would get to sneak into my part of the cave. The gleaming bit of blood dripping from my guides forehead had been a result of the fighting. But alas they had all had had too much to drink, passed out and no one was able to have their trophy. 

Now I’d like to tell you that this was the only instance I had put myself in danger. Id like to tell you that I had ordered him to leave me somewhere the day after Petra but I hadn’t. I thought I had been in control of my situation. I felt as if I was completely aware of what I was doing and that I could conquer anything that had come my way. This feeling of control was what I held on to as we again set off to the next destination. 

 

All throughout the trip my guide told me stories of sexual escapades he had had with some of the other tourists he guided. He told me about the time he took a nuns virginity and how there was blood on his robes from it and his nephew has asked him naively what it was. The time a dog had acted as a sexual toy between two of his lesbian guests. He told me of the times he had given a woman 30 orgasms in one night, how he had gone down on his own sister once when they were young. There were more stories, more disgusting than the last but I seemed to have blocked them out of my memory. 

He told me not to publish these stories, that these were between us. For some reason I laughed at them. For some reason I kept acting as if every disgusting detail he was sharing with me was ok. I’ve always told myself I am a strong activist, someone who could stand up for myself if this situation ever happened to or around me. Turns out I wasn’t as strong as I thought. That instead of stopping the stories I was only giggling at them because I didn’t know how to respond.

I'd like to justify my actions by being in a foreign country alone, that feeling that this stranger was my only way of getting around the country, that this man was the only safe thing I could trust. It was as if he was using these stories to make me feel like the relationship we had was the most normal. He kept suggesting we have sex and asking again and again why wouldn’t I have sex with him. 

On the last night we were together. I had been planning to go to the border that night but instead he offered for me to stay with him at his camp in the Wadi Rum.  Instead of saying no and demanding he take me to the border I said fine. He brought me to hang out with some different cousins at the camp. They were all smoking hash and drinking Al Karak. I told them I still had some weed and since I was leaving to go back to Israel the next day I should probably use it up (security check points in Israel are way more intense than Jordan.) So I took it out and shared it with the other men in the camp. It was my guide, 3 of his cousins and I. They were flirting with me and telling me how beautiful I was- they offered me eyeliner they were going to give their wives but instead gave it to me. 

That night I went to sleep in one of the rooms. My guide joined me. He whispered into my ear that all he wanted was to hold me. That all he wanted than more than anything in the world was to hold me close to his body. I knew what that had meant. I knew what he had been attempting to do the entire time I had been with him. And for some reason I let him.

It hurts to type these words. It hurts me to think that I let him in between my legs. 

I started to cry. I started to heave and bawl and cry while he was on top of me. He kept going. I had told him to stop. His hands kept reaching for me. I felt like I owed him sex. I don't know why I felt this way. I read so many articles on rape. I am a journalist and a feminist and I thought I was a strong confident woman but apparently in that situation I was just a scared little girl. I thought I owed this man my body for taking me around the country, for as he had put it “protecting me against his cousins and defending my honor,” when I know now that he had been fighting with them because he wanted me for himself. 

I have never allowed my self worth to be so blatantly tested.

I have no reason to believe that I don't embody beauty in any way but for some reason ever since I was a kid I just figured I was the fat one. I was the one no one wanted, I was the ugly little sister that would end up alone. I've always been confident in many other facets of my life but in this one I'm just a 12 year old kid who doesn't know if Brazilians are still cool to wear or not (I grew up in Miami in the early 2000's so yeah that was in back then.)

 I type these words because albeit I know this isn't true I still think them in my mind when I look at myself in the mirror. I still breathe them in the morning before I've washed my face and brushed my teeth. I still remind myself of this when someone asks me why I've never been in a serious relationship. 

Now this insecurity plays into this story because growing up with supportive family and friends tend to shelter you from the realities of the world. There are bad people doing bad things to good people. When I’m with my sisters Im a Mama bear protecting her cubs. I’m on guard making sure no one even looks at my sisters in a desirable way if they don’t want it. 

But alone I was just a woman who told herself that she isn’t worth attention. I put the fact that I have never been in love a testament to my weight and my inability to love or be loved.

I didn't stop him from trying to fuck me. Instead I let him and I cried while it happened. My tears were silent. He finally finished and tried to walk outside but didn’t find the strength in myself to. It took me some time to write this because I didn't want to be honest about it. I didn't want to feel like my time in Jordan was out of my control. My sisters had messaged me the night of what I now can chalk up to as rape- asking me if I was alright. I had messaged them telling them I didn’t feel safe, that I was too high and too alone. Then my internet cut off they were miles away from me. I had sent them photos of myself laughing and smiling. That night he had given me presents from his souvenir shop. He had made me try on clothes for him, a slinky dress he gave me that I still have tucked away in my traveling backpack. Gifts of cheap plastic and magnets of camels. 

In the morning I was angry. I didn’t know why I was angry but I was angry. We were headed to the border and I angrily told him I only wanted to listen to my music. I slammed the door every chance I could. I was cold. I didn’t tell him why, I was just mean. I kept yelling and snapping at everything he said. When I finally got out of the car and was on my way to back into Israel he said thank you for everything, he told me to keep in touch. He asked me why I hadn’t said thank you to him in return and I said I had- I had given him the money I owed him for the trip. I spat at him. 

 

I am using this blog to share the good and the bad. The truth of my travels. Not all stories will be so alarming but this was one of those memories that stood out to me the most and the one I have learned from the most. This was a reminder that I am not invincible. That I am a woman and for the first time in my life that I have felt targeted against my better judgement. The first time my Western privilege and naiveté had put me in direct harms way.  

Being a female journalist can be hard - separating what you will do for a story from the reality of the situation. In a world that tells you no- no you can't travel alone, no you can't cover conflict zones, no you can't, it tests you. It makes you want to push those boundaries- push and say I can, I will do more, I can go further and so you do. The amount of empathy I tend to feel for my subjects can sometimes make your own trauma feel like a backseat to their pain. Seeing refugee's suffering can make your own suffering seem trivial and miniscule. 

Now Im sharing this story because- well Im not exactly sure why. I guess Im sharing it to feel as if gained something from this horrifying experience. I'd like to tell you that I came out triumphant from this story.  That I can now hold my head up high and say I lived to tell the tale, I told that scumbag what he did was wrong but I haven't. I avoid his Facebook messages,  it was difficult to even share this story to my sisters let alone to the public.

Im using this story to bring myself some closure- some sort of remnants of sanity. No this story didn't stop me from traveling alone, I still went to the West Bank, I still hitchhiked Israel and couchsurfed Egypt so I guess there is triumph in that but I will not be visiting Jordan any time soon. 

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