Pepsi & Petra, Hamams & Honey

She’s back and badder than ever. Hitting up hamams and swigging Pepsi in Petra, resident Jaunt Contributor, Victoria Yanakos Korosi, is flinging some flair from here to the Middle East (and everywhere).

I feel fairly certain that those black gloves were meant to exfoliate – not draw blood. But with the (not insubstantial) weight of a  jovial singing Arabic woman behind them, whose bosom easily doubled the size of my torso- they took on a persona closer to Brillo pads.

In a hamam (bathhouse) dating back to 940ish AD, and still as opulent and awe inspiring as I suspect it was then, I spent the better part of yesterday getting a whole new view- literally- of the local customs in Syria.

To summarize the experience, there was a lot of public nakedness and being given obscure instructions in Arabic (many of which I suspect were related to my lack of toughness), an exfoliating rub down, massage, sauna, jacuzzi, and getting about as close to being violated as possible without caring.

Joking aside, never have I felt more welcome or absolutely captivated with a culture as I did in that hamam. There is something undeniably intriguing about these Arabic women.

To sit completely revealed together singing old chants that echo in the intimate interior cave of the hamam, and then later leave, all covered  head-to-toe, ankle-to-wrist, mild in manner, back into the rush of the souq; The dichotomy of their lives is captivating.

And while, as a Western woman, I struggle to accept this, to experience their warmth and hear their stories firsthand I know my view is at least  broader than when I started – and my skin excessively softer. In a bit of a haze after an irresponsibly late night out in Damascus, I rolled through passport control in Jordan this morning generally unscathed (which for me is always an accomplishment) and ready for a rapid fire round two.

Currently sitting (at the time of writing this) with my pack on the side of the highway, I am fairly confident that the bus driver and I have had a bit of miscommunication as to where I was headed. And for once it is an actual destination.

Petra.

(Really exfoliated) V: 1

Woman with black gloves: 2

Experience: 358

If I traveled with a guide book, I would request that the following Arabic phrases be included for my benefit.

“Is 6am too early to discuss women’s rights?

“I appreciate that you’ve already tossed my pack from the bus but I don’t think this deserted stretch of highway is my stop. Yes, I can see that you disagree.”

“No really, I’m full.”

“Sure you can practice your English with me. Oh wait, no, I have no idea what an auxiliary verb is”

“I only smoke when I travel. And I can’t keep up if we’re going to chain smoke – but don’t try me because I’m competitive.”

“Can I get a lift?”

I was fortunate enough to spend my last night in Syria with Jawad’s family (and should have known better than to eat that day). It is a rare gift as a traveler to meet a family like theirs; to have the opportunity to ask openly (and with endless curiosity) my questions about culture and religion and be met with such receptive and thoughtful conversation.

And apparently no, breakfast is not too early to discuss women’s rights.

I travel the way I do with the sole purpose of being impacted. To each their own when it comes to this, but for me, the only true discovery of others and myself happens when you get out of what’s comfortable.  And this trip has been just that – in a huge way. And for that, I win.

Pepsi and cigarettes seem to be the currency in Jordan. Since arriving I’ve been “offered” (because of course you can never decline) both with spectacular frequency. Suffice it to say, my 3 hours crowded into a bus with locals left me both light headed and hopped up on sugar for my visit to Petra.

It is a rarity at best that I sightsee. Ever.  And perhaps even that is being generous. Unless, of course, we are going to count the inside of public buses a matter of national treasure. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the concept (or the antiquity) but the act itself is predictable, and safe, and not consistent with my motivations for travel.

But I will make worthy exceptions and when I do invariably find a way to escape the tour groups and make the experience my own (and probably offend some devout sightseers in the process. Win win).

For those of you who followed my monologue through Cambodia you can appreciate my propensity for climbing up things that appear to be stairs – and my always novel discovery that I am afraid of heights. Well, perhaps less “afraid” so much as aware of my general lack of agility and the inherent risk this poses when not lying flat on the ground.

Climbing to the top of one mountain or another on the  grounds of Petra I discovered stunning views (and that no one will stop you if you appear to know where you are going), and a rare isolated moment to lie unbothered in the sun. My decent, or rather my really coordinated tumble through the sand, elicited a good laugh from an on- looking Bedouin family. The simple fact that that they didn’t try to sell me a carpet afterward made Petra just a touch more real.

And yes, the remains of this ancient city are stunning. Awe inspiring at every turn. But short of the fleeting early (early) morning hours when I had Petra to myself, the sight is far too overrun to hold my interest.  But there were a few moments, before the persistent French with their cameras or the American elderly in their capris descended, when Petra was all mine.

Wandering the winding caverns that conceal the suddenly massive Treasury was an inspiring journey that rocked even me. Sitting in silence outside the towering turrets of the ancient tomb I found myself daydreaming as to what this city must have been before… the tour groups arrive and the moment is lost.

Back in Amman, I attempt to escape into some shisha before I cross back over into Syria. I’ve amassed a group of 4 minimum at my table. For traveling alone in the Middle East it is amazing how infrequently you are ever actually alone.

And how much I will miss that when I leave.

Petra: meh
Watching V tumble head first in the dunes: better

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2 responses to “Pepsi & Petra, Hamams & Honey

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