I met Yousef while taking a tea break at a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum, Jordan.
Truthfully, I almost missed the chance to chat with him. Not because he wasn’t welcoming. Bedouins are known for their hospitality, and the men at this tent were no exception.
It wasn’t him; it was me.
I have an aversion to early mornings and on this particular one, the rising sun was already sizzling, leaving me feeling anti-social and overheated.
So while my travel companions sipped tea and engaged with our Bedouin hosts, I searched for distractions, clambering up some nearby rocks and watching goats grazing in the open area between the towering sandstone pillars.
As the group of goats moved along, one remained behind – bellowing into the chasm, only to have his cries echoed back at him as they bounced off the uncaring crag.
I pitied him. Yet was amused by him.
“You silly goat,” I giggled. “The group is just around that corner. Stop wailing into the wadi and join them!”
And just as the goat’s cries echoed off the sandstone, so too did my suggestion seem to bounce back to me.
You silly goat girl. Join them.
A couple of kind travelers escorted the abandoned goat to his group. And I decided to (still semi-reluctantly) rejoin my own.
I saw Yousef sitting on the opposite side of the Bedouin tent. A sliver of light was shining on the rocks behind him, though it was he that appeared to emit a soft glow. He had a warm energy about him – almost ethereal – and I wanted to capture it.
But I didn’t want to be just another a**hole traveler executing a descend-and-snap attack.
And – I’ve discovered – it can give me courage to strike up conversations with strangers.
I crossed the tent – and crossed my fingers that my request to photograph Yousef wouldn’t be seen as intrusive or insensitive.
His smile dispelled my concerns, and we searched for a spot that had enough natural light to balance out his own.
“Beautiful,” Yousef said, his smile stretching wide across his face at the sight of the fully developed photo. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you – it’s YOU!” I exclaimed, knowing full well that the photo was beautiful solely because he was in it.
It wasn’t me; it was him.
I asked Yousef if he’d write his name on the photo and let me snap a digital pic with my phone, so I could keep a memory of this moment.
He agreed then asked me for a favor too, leading me outside the tent to a table in the opening where the sun was shining and the goats had grazed just moments earlier.
“Cell phones work better out here,” he said, angling his phone up toward the sliver of sky we could see between the soaring rocks surrounding us.
Yousef handed me his phone. “Add me on Facebook?” he asked, his smile stretching further still.
I couldn’t help but smile myself, as I stood in the sun, searching for my Facebook profile on a Bedouin’s cell phone, flanked by ancient sandstone and the spirits of those that had passed through this wadi before us.
Since prehistoric times, humans from a wide variety of cultures have inhabited Wadi Rum and left their mark in the form of inscriptions, petroglyphs, and rock paintings. And why shouldn’t Yousef and I – with our instant photos and digital communication – leave behind our own mark for one another?
It was either amusingly absurd. Or it was cosmically apropos. Maybe it was a bit of both. And weird or wonderful, I was happy to be part of it.
How many days of our lives do we feel we are just hurtling through space – alone, afraid, discontent, disconnected?
Every now and then, something or someone reminds us we are not alone, fear is a fallacy, and happiness is in and around us, if only we are willing to see(k) it.
In that moment with Yousef, however brief, our souls – and Facebook accounts – connected.
Like this story? Want to see more like it? Follow FROLIQ on Facebook and Instagram or click the “JOIN NOW” button in the menu at the bottom of the page to receive updates via email. Additional stories and photos will be posted to the #TAKETWO page over the coming weeks.
A massive شكرا to Yousef Salman for the laughs and light. And to Alper Ertübey for sneakily snapping photos while I was too wrapped up in goat-gazing and instant-photo-taking to notice! This story – and my experience in Wadi Rum – would not exist without you two.