La Shukran: Your Free Pass Through Petra

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William approaches the Khazneh

William approaches the Khazneh

Paris, London, Rome, every city has people willing to sell postcards and keychains to tourists–and I’ve purchased my fair share of trinkets. But what I learned a while ago (the humiliating way) in Bolesławiec, Poland is not every person who approaches you to sell something is merely trying to see where you keep your wallet–in fact, most are simply trying to scrape themselves above the poverty line.

In my research on Petra, there were ‘complaints’ about the Bedouins who seem to run the park. It is debated whether they are, in fact, true Bedouins, or simply locals trying to make a buck. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me.

On the drive from Aqaba to Wadi Musa, I caught a brief glimpse into the lives of average people–living in dwellings most of us wouldn’t take camping. So, if they set up their stands in Petra, take care of their horses to drive weary tourists to and fro, I’m not going to throw rocks at them–at least they’re working.

The real ‘complaint’ most people have about the Bedouins in Petra is that they are so persistent when it comes to selling their wares, they won’t take “no” for an answer.

Guess what? They DON’T take “No!” for an answer!

If you tell them “no” as they trot their horses alongside you, they will keep asking, in a variety of ways.

Air conditioned ride

Air conditioned ride

They will talk about their “air-conditioned” ride they have for you. Or the Lamborghinis of the desert, as they pat their donkeys. If you smile, then you are guaranteed an escort down the wadi, until the dust makes your eyes water.

You can say “no” until you are practically at the Khazneh, where the guy with the horses turns back, and a guy with a camel will ask if you want a ride.

Our time at Petra, however, was delightful because of two simple, magical words: “La Shukran.”

You may know this phrase as “No thank you.” But in Arabic, it is a magical pass down the wadi, free from bargaining and banter. It worked like a charm on the most grizzled horseman to the smallest child with her postcards (not that we COULD say ‘no’ to the toothless little Bedouin girl, no older than Libby–I only wish now that I’d bought more from her).

Little girl selling postcards

Little girl selling postcards

It is simple; it is polite; and it is the right way to respond in any country.

The fact that we could walk unaccosted through Petra simply by saying “La Shukran” reinforces my notion that in any country you visit, you should at least learn to say the following:

Yes

No

Please

Thank you

Hello

Goodbye

and “Where’s the WC?”

And if you can learn water, wine, coffee and police, you’ll be fine in nearly any situation.

When my daughter used “la shukran,” the man was so excited, he began rattling off in Arabic, leaving her somewhat bewildered, and leaving me with a desire to learn more languages.

Luxury and comfort rob you of motivation for many things. It is a lesson I am just beginning to fully understand.

The little Bedouin kids run up and down the wadi, selling postcards and things, and even if you don’t buy from them, they might ask for food, which just breaks my heart.

Maybe you think I am a fool, or that they are deceiving me somehow. But I don’t care. If I am being scammed out of a granola bar and a bottle of water, does it matter? I only wish I would have brought more food with me (and this is yet another debate on trip advisor).

If the food I give the little Bedouin girl is immediately turned over to some Jordanian Fagin, it doesn’t bother me, because the only reason I can see for someone asking for food is because he or she is hungry–and that is one scenario in which I will never say “la!”

A boy plays in the dirt while my camel passes by

A boy plays in the dirt while my camel passes by

Traveling is a privilege, and if my presence in a foreign land can somehow bless other people, then it is my duty to look at others as real, living breathing human beings, upon whom I should view as innocent until proven guilty. Don’t most people have the same wants? Peace, respect, a harmonious family, the ability to feed their children–aren’t these things universal desires? If not, they should be.

When traveling, we should be smart and avoid scams, particularly ones that can lead you down some dangerous roads. I am not ignorant, nor do I romanticize the grim realities of this world. However, not everyone is out to get you.

That is the mindset I took with me into Petra, and that is the reason I could chat with the woman selling the fake Nabatean coins, who admired my family, and watch her beam with pride when she spoke of her six sons and four daughters.This is why my heart broke when the Bedouin girl smaller than Libby sold me a stack of postcards for a dinar. These are real people in circumstances that would bring Westerners to their knees.

On the drive to Wadi Musa, I saw a boy standing on top a tin hut, releasing a bird from his outstretched hands. It rose into the air and flew off, and I wondered how hard his life was, and if this was his only play time of the day. Releasing a bird into the air.

How vastly different this is from my world.

How humbled and spoiled and rich I feel.

Now, the only thing to do about it, is to give generously, to view others with respect, and to find ways that I can be a blessing to others.

There are no adjectives adequate enough to describe our trip to Petra–it opened my eyes and my heart, and went so well, that all I can say is al hamdullilah.

*Thanks to Uncle Ghanim and Aunt Carolyn for the Arabic lessons!
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2 responses »

    • I never appreciated how big America was until I moved to Europe. If I drive from Des Moines to Chicago, things don’t change a whole lot. But driving from Munich to Milan brings you to a totally different world. And yet, going to the Middle East was different from anything here in Europe.

      Israel seemed very Western, and Jordan (though I DID see a huge shopping mall in Aqaba) had a lot more poverty–or what we would call poverty. Maybe in Africa they would see a family with a herd of goats and a tin roof over their heads as wealthy?

      The world is smaller than we think. And every corner is important to God.

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