One of my last days in Israel, I had the opportunity to cross the border into Jordan with a group of colleagues and visit the lost city of Petra.  It happened to be the sightseeing highlight of the trip, but prior to actually experiencing it, I had what some might call a little anxiety.  In retrospect, my fears were completely unfounded, but like many of us, I am a product of what I hear in the news.  Information flows from my computer screen (where The Huffington Post lives), absorbs into the unreasonable section of my brain, and is promptly distorted and archived for opportunities such as my trip to an unknown (to me) Arab nation.   In a nutshell, I was fairly certain that our entourage was going to be kidnapped or arrested and thrown in some Jordanian prison where I would eventually be executed for crimes I didn’t commit.   My family would tie yellow ribbons around the tree and hold candlelight vigils and…..

 I had to stop myself every time I traveled down this ridiculous path because I was being ridiculous, right?  RIGHT?  Outwardly, this was my position.  Inwardly, I wasn’t so sure.

The trip had gone very smoothly and I was feeling relatively at ease when we crossed over into Jordan las week.  Our guide, Quassai, was a heavy set Jordanian man with a friendly smile and a brother in Philadelphia who drives a taxi.  Our driver was a cheerful  older man named Alli.  We all jumped in the van and took off for the two hour drive to Petra.  But the further we drove into the dessert, the faster my heart beat.

I have never seen such a desolate place.  Think of the old Road Runner cartoons where there is nothing to be seen for miles.  No cactus but very hot sun, mounds of sand, and no life forms whatsoever.  We were the only car on the road, driving rather fast.

“This is it,” I thought.  “This is where they are going to pull over to the side of the road and kill us.” 

 My thoughts were unspeakably mean and unfair to our lovely guides but I couldn’t help myself.  Isat in the back of the van and clenched.

About an hour into the trip, we pull over and stop in front a concrete structure.  Outside there were a number of Arab men milling about.  THIS was where they were going to kill us.  But no.  Actually, THIS was a brand new gift shop, just opened and our guide suggested we go inside and look around.  A likely story.  But I had to go to the bathroom so I entered, hoping they would let me pee before my impending death.

As I was awaiting execution, I browsed about along with my colleagues, stopping twice at a display of beautiful scarves.  Everyone in Israel wears scarves – especially around their neck – and they look very chic.  I can’t tie a scarf around my neck even if I wanted to kill myself, but maybe I could learn.  I picked up a red, blue and purple scarf and within five seconds, one of the shop ladies desceneded on me.

“I will tie it for you,” she said.

Ah.  Excellent salesmanship.  She will show me how to tie the scarf around my neck and then I will have to buy it.  I wasn’t entirely sold but she was very sweet and I was so happy she wasn’t going to kill me that I handed her the scarf and nodded.  

But she didn’t tie it around my neck. 

She tied it around my head.  Gently and securely she wrapped this scarf so that it covered and protected me from the hot dessert sun.  My colleagues thought this was the coolest thing ever and, frankly, the way the scarf felt on my head and the tenderness in which she helped me, I couldn’t agree more. 

I bought the scarf and wore it for the rest of the day, relegating my REI running hat to my backpack.  It was one of the most touching moments of my trip.  And by wearing it, I felt as if I blended into the Jordanian background – a background of which I was so fearful just a few short moments ago.  It is probably one of the most comfortable pieces of clothing I have ever worn.

Determined that I would be able to wear the scarf again on my head, my friend Wes Mitchell took a 360 photo study of the knots, twists and ties.  As I look at these photos now, the metaphoric meaning — my complex and twisted ideas about the Middle East and what goes on there — does not escape me.

I will never be able to replicate the intricate system that allowed this garment to remain on my head all day.  Instead, I will try to wear it around my neck, close to my heart as a reminder of my silly fears and the kindness of the Jordanian people.

(Photos by Wes Mitchell)
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