a dispatch from jordan’s dana nature reserve

The Dana Nature Reserve is not far from many things: the Dead Sea, the ancient city of Petra, and the port of Aqaba are all within striking distance. But once there, you feel as if you’re a world away from just about everything (my friend Sarah wrote a beautiful post on just that on her Devour Blog).

mountains upon mountains

Like any place, it is replete with stories of the humans who live there, and like most wildernesses visited by people seeking solitude, in reality you can’t go too far without encountering some evidence of human life, whether that be the tents of nomads, hoofprints left by sheep and goats, or crumbling mines that date back centuries. It was at Dana that I listened to the most singularly beautiful call to prayer I’ve ever heard.

valleys

(full slideshow of images here)

The stories one encounters there are varied…Some men praise the king for creating a permanent, settled village where residents whose Bedouin grandfathers ranged as far as the Arabian peninsula and back can dwell in permanent, concrete homes and send their children to permanent, concrete schools. Others seem ambivalent about the village but grateful that tourism has created jobs for them – as guides, cooks, and hotel workers – that allow them to spend their days in the places they grew up in and their families to live in the same woven tents as always. Some remark that despite all this, no woman wants to marry into a family that still lives a nomadic life anymore – it’s just too hard – in an iteration of the complaint I’ve heard from many a taxi driver in Amman about how women these days expect their husbands to provide them with an easier life.

The Reserve, which is run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, is a curious and wonderful place. The Society’s regulations both protect and limit “traditional” ways of life (which of course have been evolving for decades – a point that is quite easy to forget without the benefit of those stories) in an almost-perfect example of liberal governance. Politics aside, I was grateful for the brief respite it offered us, and for the privilege that allowed me to spend a few lovely nights there.

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