Heart of Edom
A journey through the land of ancient hospitality in the highlands of Jordan.
We veer off the King’s Highway onto a tiny and entirely unassuming village hugging a ridge jutting toward the Dead Sea.
Buseirah is the name, and like most villages in Jordan is home to narrow roads, numerous shops, and friendly Jordanian children waving hello at sight of us foreigners. It doesn’t take long, just one kilometer deeper into the village, until it’s uniqueness stands out. Standing alongside modern houses and cars lie a vast complex of ancient structures, rooms, arches, and alleyways dating back to the time of the Edomites. Uncovering the village’s history, a startling realization is made. Here lies the ancient capitol of the Edomites, founded by Esau himself, brother of Jacob. Though mostly forgotten for millennia, strolling through Buseirah's crumbling streets provides a glimpse into the lost grandeur of this Edomite kingdom that stood resilient for ages and vied for control of precious trade routes along the King's Highway. I find it amusing that such remains lie almost forgotten, but nonetheless in plain site.
For a region situated in biblical legends, we are curious to see if their traditions have changed with the times, or have been passed down unchanged since the day Esau journeyed here.
Our roadtrip continues to the southwest, past rugged, golden hills bountiful in olive trees. We are headed to a Bedouin camp on the edge of the plateau, with views overlooking westwards towards the lowest spot on earth. Our drive is quickly halted, though, as a group of over one hundred sheep spill across the narrow gravel road. The flock of fleece ambles past our vehicle, their shuffling hooves kicking up clouds of dust as they clumsily clamber over the rocky terrain. The shepherd then makes his way over the ridge and down to the road, using his age-old traditions of mastering the sheep to lead them on a save path.
The passages of Isaiah come alive more now than ever before - “He tends his flock like a shepherd, He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” Through this simple intersection in the Jordanian countryside, I'm struck by how much I identify with those headstrong sheep, needing rescue from my own missteps. The Shepherd, though at times stern out of necessity, leads the confused creatures to safety, often without their knowledge of so.
How I feel like those dumb sheep too, and how I should let go and let the Shepherd lead me.
The Bedouin camp of Eid Lhada appears to our right, nestled amongst the rocky golden landscape.
The camp's signature black and white striped tents stand out against the landscape, accompanied by simple stone huts constructed from local materials.
"Welcome!” our host gleefully shouts.
We clamber our kids out the car, this time more ungraceful than others. Zion really had a deal for his dinosaur sticker book at the moment and had a short panic when he exited the car without it. Once seated inside the pleasant communal area, we had a pleasant chat with the host, also a geologist by trade. Together, with his father and brother, they run the place, allowing visitors the chance for an authentic Bedouin experience. Following tea and chatting, we made our way to our living quarters - a simple stone structure with three mattresses on the floor. Though simple, it will more than suffice after a long day on the road. The kids excitedly clamber around their beds as me and Mary take in the incredible panoramic views of the desert canyon from our doorstep, appreciating the landscape's remote beauty. Our camp hosts have already displayed gracious hospitality, with roots dating back to the ancient Edomites.
The landscape seen around us is known as the Dana biosphere reserve, the largest in Jordan. A giant wadi turned to a maginficient canyon forms here, with four different bio-geographical zones, ranging from the lowest point on earth up to 1500 meters above sea level. Established in 1989, the reserve covers over 300 square kilometers of rugged landscape along the face of the Great Rift Valley, harboring a wide diversity of flora and fauna. Here also contains archeological evidence of human habitation dating back over 9,000 years, from Paleolithic, Nabatean to Roman. Even today, the people living near Dana rely on the resources of the reserve, with agricultural and pastoral livelihoods still utilizing the natural areas.
The Dana Biosphere Reserve represents an invaluable natural and cultural heritage site for Jordan and the local inhabitants who have depended on its riches for thousands of years.
Supper, as we’ve come to realize for the Bedouins, begins at least 8 pm following the sunset. And for good reason, as the chance to enjoy the view during the golden hour is worth the hunger - as well as the fact that the flies depart once the sun goes down. Dinner is a bountiful spread of chicken, rice, vegetables, yogurt and fresh salads grown locally. One dish in particular catches my eye - lentil soup. I learn it's a staple of every Bedouin meal, typically served at the beginning.
My mind goes back to the Biblical story of Esau, ancestor of the Edomites who once inhabited this region. In a rash moment of hunger, Esau traded away his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of lentil soup. Now, thousands of years later in the ancestral home of Esau, his Bedouin descendants still eat lentil soup at every meal. I wonder, could this dish serve as a continual reminder of what Esau sacrificed? Or do they simply enjoy its simple flavours over generations? Either way, as I savor the soup, I reflect on the long memory of this land where past and present intertwine.
The choices of their ancestors echo through time, becoming interwoven into the customs of their descendants.
Also like their forefathers before them, the people of this land are still at one with nature.
The leftover food was collected and given to wild foxes that came, quite cautiously, to camp. A simple gesture that even the weak creatures are in need of sustenance. Once darkness enfolded over plateau, the hosts directed our gaze to the night sky which has come alive with a scattering of stars. Our host pointed out constellations one by one with his laser, recounting the ancient folktales behind each pattern of stars. Without distractions, we simply savor this precious time together under the vast desert sky, listening curiously to the stories he recanted. Following long conversations. we revert to our tent when tired and slept for the night. No television or phones demanding our attention, just silence as we enjoy the moment and what we have before us.
The Bedouin understand to appreciate what we have before us rather than always seeking more.
As we reflect on this day's experiences, from the sheep crossing to the Bedouin camp, I'm struck by a simple but profound truth that maybe only our children truly grasp. Like little Zion and Joy River, the Bedouin understand to take joy in the moment rather than seeking more. Watching that timeless scene of the shepherd guiding his flock, I was reminded how I need the Shepherd lead me and find rest as one of the flock under His protection. Likewise at the camp, we witnessed the Bedouin's ancient rhythms - hospitality for strangers, sharing meals, and storytelling under desert stars, all harkening back to Biblical hospitality of the Edomites.
No need to overcomplicate life's pleasures, not when the most meaningful gifts, like family and natural beauty, surround us unchanged throughout time. I'm reminded to appreciate the basics we already have rather than forever wanting more. Our children don't need grand trips and gadgets to be content. Just time together, simple joys like star-gazing, and the freedom to embrace today.
When I return home, I hope to carry this perspective with me. To remember that while so much in life changes on the surface, the essential things remain if we pause to appreciate them.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
We reached the edge of Dana Biosphere Reserve by rental car, traversing the fabled King's Highway that has connected cities and cultures for millennia. Passing first by the crusader castle and outpost of Karak, Dana lay just an hour south, through winding mountain roads that still echoed the footsteps of the traders and pilgrims for thousands of years.
Several accomodation options exist in the town of Dana, south of where we stayed and the starting point for treks into the reserve. However, we chose instead to stay north towards the Visitor Center, at a place called Ein Lhada Bedouin Camp, booked via booking.com. The stay, for a modest price I may add, included a hearty breakfast. Family run, it provided an authentic look into the ancient cultural practices of the Bedouins and the people who live in this part of Jordan.
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