30 Days of Indie Travel- Day 8…LEARNING

BootsnAll says: Travel and learning go hand in hand. Travel teaches us not only about the world and the people in it, but also more about ourselves and our own ideas and values. What has travel taught you this year?

I’m a history buff. I’m one of those weird people who even got a degree in it. One of my favourite aspects of travel is visiting cool historical sites and learning more about them. To think that we can hop on a plane and see Macchu Pichu, the Pyramids and Petra is incredible to me. I think it’s great that so many of these sites are open to the public and a source of income and tourism for the local economy.

On my recent trip to Jordan, I got some food for thought about this. Jordan is of course synonymous with Petra, one of the new wonders of the world. A relic from the Nabateans (and home to many peoples over the years) this city carved out of rock is a sight to behold and has stood the test of time surprisingly well. It was the focus of my visit to the country, as it is for most people going to Jordan.

Jordan likes its tourists, and with good reason. Tourism accounts for 40% of the country’s GDP. 40%, an insane number. Understandably, they take measures to ensure this continues and have a special branch of police fully dedicated to the welfare of tourists. If you make a complaint about a theft or some form of harrassment in Jordan, you will more than likely be sitting in front of some very high-level police officers within a few minutes.

This eagerness to exploit its potential as a tourism destination has not always meant good news for the people of Jordan. In the 1980s, King Hussein took it upon himself to “modernise” and make his country as attractive as possible for outsiders to visit. Jordanian Bedouin who had been living in Petra for centuries, were forced out to nearby Wadi Musa so the site could be developed fully as a tourist destination.The focus was on integrating the nomads, much like the integration programmes for Native Americans in the US.

Traditionally a nomadic people who enjoyed living in the desert surrounds of Petra, the Bedouin tended to go one of two ways. Some, like my driver Mohammed, moved to Wadi Musa and reluctantly integrated. He now works for the government as a driver part-time and as a taxi-driver the rest of the time. He seems happy and earns a good wage but, when pressed, he admits he misses living in Petra. Whenever we drive past a particularly stunning view of the city, he points areas out with obvious pride and an element of sadness.

Some Bedouin abhorred the notion of city living and felt that the desert was in their blood. They relocated to the deserts outside Petra (Wadi Araba, Baydha) and continue to eke out an existence living in tents, raising goats and walking dozens of kilometres a day to sell jewllery and other souvenirs inside the grounds of Petra.

It’s not as if they’re bitter. Every Bedouin I spoke to was happy that people were flocking to Petra because they consider it their homeland and are proud of it. But it’s hard to imagine that they don’ t look back on the days when Petra was theirs and wonder if it was all worth it.

This experience with the Bedouin of Petra made me question values I’ve taken for granted for years. History for everyone. Culture for everyone. But at what cost? Travel has taught me to question things I once took for granted, even if it is not an enjoyable task.

Aerial view of Petra

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Posted on November 9, 2011, in TRAVEL and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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