By now, if you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you know my somewhat guileless affinity for animals – both wild and domesticated – has often gotten me in trouble during this trip (See posts on the koala, the monkey and the mule attacks). Pursuing the four-legged residents of Petra was not particularly dangerous, but it did place Him and I into some awkward situations.

It was while searching for the path to the Treasury overlook on our second day exploring the ancient ruins that I spied a small herd of goats nibbling on the sparse desert vegetation. Two of the goats were quite young: a light brown kid with floppy ears and a smaller black and white kid, his horns mere nubs. I followed and photographed the kids as they ate. Bemused, Him followed and photographed me.

Suddenly, the goat’s bleats were answered by a guttural, human response. I turned to see a scarfed, middle-aged woman crouched above me on the platform entrance of the tomb for Sextius Florentinus (circa 126-130 AD), Roman governor of the Arabia province.

The woman quickly switched from goat to broken English when she noticed Him and I.

“Tea? Postcards?” she asked, hopeful.

I’m prone to decline most sales pitches — especially while traveling — but this was my first opportunity meeting a Bedouin, and I was curious about her nomadic culture. Anyway, how long could a tea break take?

Him and I mounted the steps of the tomb platform. Expecting to see some sort of concession stand behind the woman, we were instead confronted by a trio of blackened, ashy rocks arranged atop the sandstone. She motioned for us to sit beside the rocks, and we watched as she set about collecting and breaking sticks to rekindle her fire. Periodically, she’d venture to the far corner of the platform, cup her hands around her mouth and shout a single Arabic word. It sounded like a name.

“ABIR!” she called, her voice echoing through the canyon.

Satisfied with the stick arrangement, the woman produced a BIC lighter from a pocket and set the wood aflame. She then poured water from a white plastic jug into a tiny weathered teapot she rested atop the fire.

Bedouin gitl and goat

A Bedouin girl and her goat

As we waited, a small figure, a little girl about 3 years old, rounded the outside of the tomb and made her way toward us. She was riding a skinny piece of plastic piping as if it was a horse. The child’s unwashed hair stood on end. She wore unzipped jeans, a dirty pink sweater with a large hole in the front and a pair of too-large, unzipped canvas boots.

The woman beckoned the girl over, and from the sheepish way she fastened the girl’s jeans, it was clear she was her mother. Realizing this, I understood the woman had to be much younger than her weathered face made her out to be.

Adjustment complete, the woman set her daughter loose to peddle postcards and colorful sandstone rocks.

When we declined both the postcard set and the rocks she forced into our hands, the girl stomped off in a huff and, with practiced skill, threw her arms around the spindly legs of the black and white kid. She carried the goat back to the fire and, when she confirmed Him and I were watching, repeatedly body slammed the animal toward her lap to make his legs fold into a reclining position.

“No!” I shouted.

It was obvious the girl was acting this way to demonstrate to Him and I how she could handle the goat. I resisted the urge to reprimand the child (she didn’t speak English anyway), instead opting to wave my hands each time she forced the goat down. Then I would pointedly stroke the goat’s head, saying, “good goat.”

I attempted to distract the girl by allowing her to try on my eyeglasses and use my camera. Eventually, she forgot about the goat and became focused on my possessions, in turn pointing to the glasses, the camera, my scarf and my watch to inquire whether any of the items happened to be up for grabs.


A Bedouin woman prepares tea for Him and I

And still the water had not boiled.

“Tea,” Him hissed at me. “It had to be tea!”

Like her mother, the little girl would periodically venture to the far corner of the platform and shout a name across the canyon. She did this about three times before a teenage girl emerged. As a berry picker lugs her haul from bush to bush, this girl dragged a large bucket she was in the process of filling. Her haul, however, was not berries but rocks. Sandstone rocks.

As her sister had, the teen tried to sell us her colorful but crumbling specimens. I responded by showing her the rocks already in my shoulder bag, the ones I had just collected from the same canyon floor. No, we didn’t need to purchase any rocks.

Was the tea ready yet?

It was. Syrupy sweet, the concoction tasted like sugar water.

Careful not to offend our host, Him and I drank it all and then paid the woman 5 JD (five times the set price) for her trouble. Delighted, the teen presented us with a rock — on the house.

Months later, I cleaned out my shoulder bag and discovered a handful of colorful sand – all that remained of the soft rocks — embedded in the inside folds.


We drained our second cup of Bedouin tea that same evening as part of “Petra at Night” (12 JD), a candle and moonlit, 2 km walk through the Bab-as-Siq (gateway to the Siq) and the Siq followed by live Bedouin music and drinks in front of the Al Khazneh tomb, aka, the Treasury.

Petra at Night

Line for “Petra at Night”

Inspired by the beautiful photographs taken by a traveling Brazilian couple we met in India’s Bandhavgarh National Park, I was eager to secure a primo vantage point to similarly photograph the candle-lit tomb. With Him trailing behind, I power walked past the other tourists to stride directly behind the tour guide. The man’s accent was strong and we were moving at a rapid pace, but I managed to learn his name was Mahmoud, he was born in a cave and, in 1989, when he was 35 years old, he had witnessed the filming of the “Temple of the Sun” scene for “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Back then, he said, there were more trees and water in the park.

We cleared the last bend in the gorge and stepped into the canyon containing the Treasury and the hundreds of paper bag luminaries casting a warm, orange glow onto the façade. Small rugs were positioned in a semi-circle in front of the tomb, and Him and I navigated around the bagged lights to select a rug to share.

We were soon joined by an orange tabby. I stroked his head and then produced the can of sardines I had promised him.

Petra, you see, is home to dozens of extremely friendly feral cats. And after an embarrassing faux paws (get it?) the previous day, when we had only hummus and crackers to share with Bug and Bug Jr., I vowed to be prepared for future feline encounters. So I purchased a can of sardines from a Wadi-Musa convenience store and carried it around in my shoulder bag (beside the rocks).

My voracious new friend attempted to eat the sardine can before I could peel off the lid. I placed the can in front of Him and I, and we watched as he set to obliterating the contents.

“It’s OK,” I said to the wide-eyed couple sitting next to Him. “We met him earlier in the day.”

The man laughed. His date looked horrified. They began rapidly conversing amongst themselves in a foreign language.

“I don’t think she likes the cat,” Him whispered to me as the show began.

“Kindly be completely silent!” Mahmoud announced. “Por favor, silencio!” As if on cue, a baby in the crowd began to wail.

Who brings an infant to a late-night cultural performance in the desert? I thought.

Another orange tabby joined us during the string instrument portion of the show. I feared a fight might ensue, but the cats amicably shared the slick hairy fish and then took turns sipping at water in my paper teacup.

Finished with dinner, the cats commenced dessert, each audibly licking its fur.

I sneaked a peek at the woman beside Him. She was glaring at me.

It was during the flute solo that one of the cats settled onto my lap and began purring. Then he began hacking.

A singer’s wavering yodel. A baby’s cry. A trilling whistle from a khallool. The incessant, delayed click of my camera’s shutter. Then, “WHEEZE! COUGH! WHEEZE! COUGH!”

Mahmoud, it should be noted, did not engage me during the long hike back to the park entrance.