I recently experienced one of the most transformative weeks of my life on the back of a professional trip to Jordan. It was meant to be a six day extended stay to rest from the stress of meetings and events that had extended for months, but it turned into a unexpected journey to self. It is the inspiration for my sharing, with the hope that the journey without mirrors that within — as on the inside so reflected on the outside.
I started at the sea and ended at the sea, the first one Dead and the other Red, and in between roamed the endless expanse of the sacred valleys. The Dead Sea is alive with minerals — water so rich it cradles the body in effortless float. The Citadel of Jerusalem can be seen across the divide. Israel is so close, yet so far. Petra — An intricately beautiful ‘rose-red’ city carved from the very rocks is a true marvel of nature and human ingenuity and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Little Petra is an orgy of sandstone canyons, pink oleander flowers adorn this stretch of cliffs and space. Her awe-inspiring and towering forms curve, narrow and widen, opening up to views of the entire Petra valley — silent but for the sound of the wind. Wadi Rum, a majestic masterpiece of red-hued desert is true to its name — The Valley of the Moon — with her endless slopping jagged rock formations. She stands tall. She is as infinitely beautiful as she is magical. Across the quiet spring kissed valley of Wadi Nakhal, we walk for miles with no soul in sight, picking up fossils and enclosed crystals along the way. I see the truth of water that is never deterred from its course — flowing through and eventually wearing away all obstacles. In the Red sea, I feel the long history of these waters and give thanks under the sea home with fish and sea turtles.
They are the backdrop of my six days spent in the magic of inspiration that was Jordan as seen through the eyes of a solo traveller and my Bedouin guide, Awad — one of the last ‘free’ Bedouins. We were introduced via my dear friend Carole, who too had spent time with the desert.
As the sun goes down in reds and pinks, the temperature drops. Awad makes a small fire and tells stories of ancestors and of energy. In many moments of silence gazing across the void, his voice sings his poetry. It flows and rings across the valley like a folksong carrying tales of his Bedouin ancestors.
His father had been a Sheikh — the head of his tribe. Bedouins, Awad shared, are guardians of the desert. “We Bedouins, we are like wild animals, our government, I don’t think they know what they are doing, putting us in villages, taking us away from the land.” He is referring to King Hussein's modernization program of the 1980s that forced Bedouins out of Petra and into nearby village settlements with the "comforts" of life. “Just leave us alone, we are Bedouins. This land is nothing without us, Little Petra is nothing without us. And in 100 years, there will be no more Bedouins.” He dreams of writing a book to capture and preserve the richness of the Bedouin tongue — that history might remember his people, the free men of the desert.
Bedouins have a reputation amongst tourists as bad and untrustworthy, a rumor Awad insists is spread by the farmers of Wadi Musa, who live close to Petra, in a rouse to keep tourist dollars to themselves. In more than one conversation, I heard the frustration amongst Bedouins of Little Petra as they share various versions of what they felt to be untruths about their values. I am all too familiar with this smear of one group by another — perhaps stemming from the fear of the unknown. In my experience of living with Awad and his family, and in the village, my truth is of the kindness of their spirit and the beauty of their hospitality.
For six days we hiked, and climbed, often without shoes. When we weren't sleeping in caves we slept on the tops of hills or the red earth of the desert under the milky way. We ate always with our hands, sang songs — mine a mix of Igbo and English soulful ballads. We meditated or as Awad calls it — give and take energy. We danced, I cried, we laughed, and shared hopes and dreams.
He called me Afrika, I called him Bedouin. His eyes twinkle. They are lined with black kohl in traditional Bedouin fashion to protect the eyes from the sun. He wears a black scarf and walks with intention. His store is perched at the top of Little Petra, a magical treasure of colours, carpets, hot chai brewing over smoldering ash, tables and protruding rocks bear his wares of crystals, belts, scarfs, swords, and endless knick-knacks that vie for the attention of the rare tourist. Seated in Awad’s shop, I look through the cracks into the vast valley. Before us is symphony of silence but for the buzz of flies, the sound of live fire moving with the wind, and the sporadic jingles of old camel chimes hanging colorfully, guarding the cave-like interior of the shop.
We drink too many cups of sugared chai. I experience the day go by. Friends come by in a slow but steady trickle to visit. Voices float across in a constant flow of stories as emotions play across faces. I do not speak the Bedouin tongue that feels like a lyrical dialect of Arabic but I can feel the weight of their words aided by the ever-changing tones of excitement and patient explanation, the fingers akin to the conductor of an orchestra, leading and following to the music of the story.
A big story of the week was the death of three goats, killed and eaten in the quiet of the night by unseen wolves — two of which had been Awad’s. Unable to cope between his shop, tourist opportunities and being a goat-herd, he had sold the entirety of his flock the very day we met. In the first days I would often hear him sigh, “ah, how I miss my goats”, showing me pictures of the newborn feeding from a bottle supported with narrations of how they would come to him from far afield at the sound of his call.
We watch the sunset, always. We make fires, star-gaze and talk long into the night. He smiles a happy smile. There is joy in the moments together. There is laughter in the air. There is space in silence. We break bread together spending dinner always with his wife and son — Adam — the Bedouin Viking — born of his Danish mother and Bedouin father. I drink chai with Awad’s Egyptian mother, his brother, his friends who are also his extended family — everyone is connected. They always take the time to greet and sit with each other. He teaches me the land, her plants and the wisdom of her mysteries.
It’s easy to be quiet in the desert as she inspires the reverence of contemplative silence. The Bedouins know this truth all too well. When I asked Awad on his history with meditation, his answer was a beautiful reminder to slow down as a way of life. “It’s our way — we live in it. We don't know that it’s meditation. For us, it’s normal. When you live in something, it’s normal. I learn it from tourists and so I know now its called meditation.”
I sit beneath an old tree. Weathered, and cracked, she bears the scars of her many years. In humble defiance, her limbs carry the green spindles of her leaves and the crinkled red cherries of her fruit. In the aura of her presence and in stillness, I stop to listen to my heart speak.
She seems to say, “In quiet, hear my voice. In hearing, move beyond your fears. In quiet, hear my guidance. In hearing, trust your knowing. Life is and always will be a learning process — each moment of each day lending itself to the endless possibilities of the evolution of the mind, of the body, and of the spirit. In all things, give thanks.”
I have found guidance in living life in dialogue with my spirit in spaces of consciousness and attentiveness to the present. I find that all key moments of deep connection to myself start with space. Space to be in balance, to listen, and to hear. In hearing, I seek strength to turn my knowing into action. I am greatly inspired on this journey by Awad — a man that seems to have lived centuries in this desert, manifesting in a presence that is true to himself grounded on a wisdom that is ancient and quiet.
I share with you below my learnings from messages heard in the silence and wisdom of the desert and in the company of one of her guardians with the hope that they might guide you on your own journey.
Open your heart, know the colors of its aura.
From the moment we met, he spoke of energy — the energy of the land, the earth, the desert, its roaming goats, the rocks in which they made their homes; the energy of the the sun and of the sun lit moon. The energy of the song of the wind and her whirling antics; the energy of crystals formed in the harsh heat of the earth’s core, bursting free after millennia of smoldering heat to embrace the sun; the energy in stillness, rocks as old as time. Time as old as rocks. “If only we remember who we are”, he said, “we don’t need to take energy from stones, from trees, we will give energy to all around.”
Open your heart, hear the truth of its guidance — do not give in to your fears.
On a moonless night, by a dying fire, we watch the stars, the milky way is a clear hook of endless distant sparkles — the galaxy and its shooting stars visible against total darkness.
“We have two skies”, Awad shared. The sun obstructs the true sky and its brilliance from us. Just in the one second it takes for the sun to make her final exit, the endlessness of the universe is revealed.
He marvels at the beauty of creation. He speaks of light that is man. And of man that is light. Formed from sand and breathed with the soul of God, there is a privilege and responsibility in being human.
We agree that we have collectively forgotten this simple truth of who we are. We have everything we need, but we are afraid. We are so afraid of death, in all its forms, that we are afraid of living. In our fear we can’t trust, and in our mistrust, we are limited, thus falling short of the grace of the fullness of self.
I know to be true that fear does not serve me. On the contrary, fear has the powerful potential to limit me — mind, body and spirit.
The desert is a great and wise teacher — she shows this truth of being provided for. In opposition to her apparent barrenness, she is filled with life. Oasis and springs rise from dried earth — through the ebbs and flow of life, she thrives. The camel that roams her plains is considered by the Bedouins to be a gift from God. Evidence of the resilience of life against all odds. We are part of life — we have all we need to thrive.
A silence full of words, melodies, and messages.
The hugeness of the desert reminds me that I am only but a seed in this huge universe.
And at the same time, contemplating this overwhelming and powerful beauty, I realize that I am also a part of it all.
"Does the desert make you feel powerful or powerless?" I asked the Bedouins. "Powerful!" they all said.
I, to be honest, felt powerless at first... Before I realized that humility was actually what I was feeling. The desert humbles you, in a good way. It reminds you that you don't control anything, that everything changes and remains at the same time. Drop the illusion that you have to control it all. Be humble, be calm.
Like the mountains, be strong in your presence.
Like the sun, warm everyone with your loving kindness.
Like the moon and the stars, be a light in times of darkness.
Like the wind, go gently from one place to another. And like the sand, forget the traces of the past steps and let life lead you to a whole new path.”— at Wadi Rum Desert, Carole Samirah Noor, my dear friend and guide to Awad.
Open your heart to your own journey of evolution anchored in love and oneness.
We are sprawled across mattresses on the cold earth of the desert night eating a rice and chicken dish and together from one dinner-sized plate. I am struggling with the Bedouin three finger etiquettes of scooping food. Tourists eat inside the tent and around tables. Awad would have nothing of this. He was embarrassed by the concept of a buffet. “This is not Bedouin camp. I am ashamed to go with my plate, get food for me! My plate, my food!” he exclaims with apparent and deep-felt contempt at what he considers an unnatural way of life. “Eating together is Bedouin way.”
We speak of the power of sharing, and the fallacy of upholding the individual over the collective wellbeing. I hear the falsehood of our working ‘survival of the fittest construct’ — the blind accumulation of wealth with no thought to others including the very earth which we call home. Many prophets, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Oprah, have come with this same message, to love self, to love others, to be kind to self, to be kind to one another.
Open your heart, and in all things, give thanks.
Tonight I meditated with two Bedouins in the red desert of Wadi Rum against the backdrop of a setting sun. One clad in white, the other, Awad, in black, leading a quiet meditation of breath and slow movements. My favorite pose: we are sprawled across the ground, the left hand anchored into the red earth, the right props the head up, in what Awad calls a Bedouin yoga pose of contentment. It is the ‘Child’s Pose’ equivalent of the Bedouin at peace in his heart surveying the valleys and his goats.
On another night, we meditated in Awad’s cave — at the core of a mineral rich rock. Awad reminded me that in all things, be happy, because it is from God. Whether it’s a good or a bad thing, or what seems like a good thing, be happy though it might turn into something bad, and same for ‘bad things’. Important to ride the wave of life and find happiness in navigating it. Flow as one with life.
Gratitude for our guides, for omens, for the positive as well as negative, for the learning through difficulty. Gratitude to Global Shapers, and to my beloved who over the course of the last years, for me have been the desert and Awad.
Open your heart and know these words to be true.
There is strength in quiet to know self. Strength in knowing, to trust your flow. There is strength in quiet to know fear, and in knowing, to balance it with trust. To know self is a never-ending journey of discovery and to know another is to hold a mirror to self. To give thanks is water for the soul.
*Gratitude for this life living through us. Gratitude for the love and support of my beloved. Eternal gratitude to you, Bedouin, for teaching me so much, and for guiding me on the path of remembering.Thank you to all those who have guided me, who have supported, who have read painful first drafts on this journey of mine to write and share.