Once upon a time I was planning a trip to Jordan. I packed my bags, and committed to shooting my entire upcoming documentary project on film. I took one backpack, filled one third with film, one third with cameras, and the rest with clothing and a toothbrush. Upon arrival, a series of events unfolded and I ended up living in a cave in Petra. On my third day of adventuring around, photographing everything, my Bronica ETRS broke. Leaving me with two gallon sized Zip-Lock bags of medium format film.. only three rolls shot. Unable to fix it, I retired the camera and took up my digital camera to complete (or at that point, start) the project I was going to work on... carrying now half my backpack full of unusable things. As sad as it was, as beautiful as the film would be been with that harsh Arabian sun, my photographs turned out just fine. If not, great. I developed those three rolls just recently, only to find this hidden gem. Omar, a donkey driver who gave me free rides on his donkeys while in the tourist sites. His donkeys were named: Shakira, Michael Jackson, and Ferrari.
While in Jordan I made this photograph one day while driving to the cave. A young boy riding a donkey caring for his sheep. I thought it was interesting in comparison to a throw-back image of mine, taken in the Dominican Republic of another shepherd...or cowboy I guess he would be called. I loved the man on the motorcycle, herding his cattle as well as the boy, perfectly blending into his landscape. Two very different lives and two very different places.
Many of you have been asking about Jordan. My daily life, my living conditions. So, I decided to do a post about it.. a "behind the scenes" if you will. Living in a cave in the Middle East. No electricity, no running water. 2 months. Sounds hard, but mainly it was dreamy. So, in photo format, here is a story and images so you can see what I have been up to.
This was the home. The set up of the caves. There were three, a fourth in a totally different location was being built about a mile away on private land. These caves were from 400 B.C., on government land, they are open for anyone to live in. Private lands have caves too, but you have to own the land to sleep there. On government land you can take anything that no one is currently living in. Locked up by a door you (or previous tenants have installed), it is safe. Your belongings are safe. It's like a home. It is a home.
The kitchen. A built cave.. more like stone hut with a bamboo roof and tarps over the top to prevent rain from creeping in. Yes, it rained And when it rained, flash floods happened, making every road and valley extremely dangerous. Slot canyons death traps.
Inside the kitchen cave at night. Candlelight, editing some photos. There is a light at the top of the photo that can be plugged into a generator. I think in two months we used it 3 times, only when we had a lot of company. I'm sitting by the fire where you could cook slow dinners or just be warm. There was a gas stove for quicker meals. Also, the kitchen doubled as a bedroom for Ghassab (the cave owner) and many of the local Bedouins who would come at night to hang out and often sleep over.
This was my cave.. a sign outside carved in Arabic saying "Christine's Cave" to prove it.
This is inside. Simple, kept my things, I slept here. Notice the rug---it's of The Treasury. One of the main monuments in Petra. Which I find to be humorous.
The landscape was amazing where I was at. These are some of the rocks outside of my cave at night.
To light fire, we had to find firewood. In a desert, this is hard. Bedouins have found a trick to this problem: digging up ancient roots. There are plenty of them anywhere you dig. Vineyards and forests used to be everywhere. Now, you just have to dig and you have firewood for the night.
One of the other cooking methods was this stove Ghassab made from an old can of olive oil. Bent pipe inside, you build a little fire in the opening and put your pot on top. It's just like a stove.
Wildlife in Petra was not as abundant as I thought. There were no creepy-crawly things lingering in my cave. No snakes to watch out for. I was there in winter though, I hear summer can be worse. However, we did have a handful of pets. A donkey at one point (who ran away during a thunderstorm and never came back), twelve cats (4 were pregnant , two rabbits (one pregnant), and my dog which only lasted a few days before his owner came and found him. I was hiking one day when he came around and followed me home. He slept outside my cave, blocking the door when I got up and would follow me to the kitchen where he would stay all day until I went to bed again at night. I would like to say it was because he was protecting me, but in reality it was probably all my leftover chicken I was feeding him..
When I was not hiking, photographing, working, or going on tours, I was helping with a new cave. The one on private land. I was a demolition queen, tearing down a wall and then helping to carry stones to make terraces. One day it will have a big outdoor kitchen, place of tents, and a selection of fruit trees.
Steps to the new cave. It has 56 aloe plants! Collected from the mountains and planted to use for medicine. Aloe plants were Ghassab's specialty, one of the main things he used to treat a variety of illnesses. Notice that beautiful red door in the background? That was my project. I painted it then smothered it with sand while it was wet in hopes of making it blend into the rocks a bit.
Me with Ghassab's famous pink car. Older than I am, that car got me through mountains, sand dunes, and floods. It was how I got water and food from the village.
A portrait made of a friend's father in his tent in the garden.
I made another documentary photograph of him later in my visit.. but this was my very first time meeting him early one morning after my drive into Petra.
I thought I would spend my last day in Petra either smiling or crying. But it was neither. Much like Bedouin life, my last day was just like any other day. There was breakfast to be made, blankets to put out in the sun, and supplies needed in the village. The only difference was that I had my bag with me, and I needed to go one village further to get on a bus. Bedouin life is interesting. It moves and flows from day to day, yet stays static at the same time. There are no new restaurants opening up to look forward to, no TV programs to be excited for the next episode... just each day and the work to be done. Collecting firewood, finding food for the animals, cleaning up the endless sand from the caves. Each day rolling into the next, never seeming to change. And life there will continue. It will roll onto the next day and the next week. So similar and so removed that perhaps it has been a few days or a few months since I was there. No use of asking what has been going on since I was gone.. perhaps a birth of an animal or a flood, but the same news that is always the news. When I go back, things will be exactly as they were before. Maybe a new cave will be cleaned out and moved into, or maybe everything will just be as before. As it has been for centuries. But that is the magic of the Bedouins.
My images of Jordan are not over.. I have handfuls I would like to edit and post. So I will continue to show images of my Middle East travels and of my upcoming adventures. As Jack Kerouac said..
“What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
[image taken in Petra, Jordan on my drive to the bus to leave the country and return to America]
I spend a good handful of time with kids in the village nearby. Where there are groceries to buy or water to get, I run off with the kids like the responsible adult I am. One day while the car was getting fixed I sat on top of this hill and hung out with these kids. I did a quick mini-series with them, taking turns photographing them individually together and then separately.
Over the last two months I have been doing some work with Bedouin Brothers, a travel organization in Jordan. They host eco tours throughout the country, from hiking to camels and rock climbing. They sleep in caves and Bedouin tents, speaking handfuls of languages and cooking delicious foods over fires. They currently have a website, but I am in the process of working on a new one for them full of pretty photographs of adventures and adventurous places to visit. In the meantime, check out some of the highlights from working with this company.
Ghassab, one of the two brothers
An Australian boy taking a hiking tour with Ghassab, hiking form Dana to Petra.
The mountains and dunes of Wadi Araba.
Travelers sliding down the dunes of Wadi Araba.
A traveler riding through the Jordanian deserts in the back of a pickup truck.
Mushroom rock of Wadi Rum.
A hot spring for bathing and healing, feeding into the Dead Sea.
A woman soaking in the salts of the Dead Sea.
A camel driver taking a break on the beaches of Aqaba.
There's a photograph by Diane Arbus that I just love. It's called ""Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park". She circled around this kid with her camera until he got so upset that she wouldn't take the photograph. Then she did. And thus, the image and the expression. It's a beautiful image. She made a lot of beautiful images that I really enjoy. And when I made this image of a kid holding a wrist-rocket made of connected rubberbands, I though, "Diane Arbus would like this."
[Image taken in Um Sayhoun, Jordan]
The best photographs are taken of people you know well. They are honest and real. They tell stories instead of being shallow. In a country I do not know, full of people I just met and a language I can't speak, I spend a lot of time just spending time with people. Sitting around small fires. Making faces at children to get them to trust me. Being patient while I can hardly understand conversations. This is how I spend most of my time. I take a while to hike to these families living in more remote cliffs where they tend their sheep and goats. Then I just watch. Waiting for them to get used to me and I them.