My next trip took me to Jordan and to the capital, Amman. I had never visited a country in the Middle East before so I took some time to do some research. I like to know what to expect of a country, learn a little about customs and the culture before stepping foot there. In particular I needed to make sure I brought the right clothing. Being a Muslim based culture it is important to show respect to clothing protocol. Women must wear full length garments and I also had to consider the weather in the warm month of May. I also recognised the inequality of men and women and so I needed to prepare for this reality too.
I usually like to arrive a few days before any meetings in order to allow recover from a long flight, some recreation and sight-seeing time. In my preparation I found three must-see places – the ancient city of Petra, the Wadi Rum desert and the Dead Sea. My only real concern was safety because Jordan is adjacent to Syria, a hotbed of ISIS activity and fighting. But as I will explain I had nothing to fear.
So my anticipation had peaked by the time I flew out. It ended up being a long trip from Sydney as I had to wait in Dubai for a seven hour layover. This gave me a chance to browse the shops at the Dubai mall. My goodness! The place is huge! I couldn’t believe it. It is also home to a large aquarium inside the mall. The mall itself is four stories tall. From the mall you can see the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa. Despite a large tourism industry people adhere to the clothing protocols and culture, which is nice to see. Plenty of photo opportunities of interesting things and people. Eventually I took my flight to Jordan.
I arrived and met up with my friend, Laith, the WFDYS Secretary. We arranged to stay together for some down time before WFDYS business. I had stayed in contact with Majdi, whom I met at the Turkey Youth Camp in 2015 and had arranged to stay with him. But not knowing if this was appropriate I made sure he checked with his parents before I arrived. Entering the house itself was interesting as Majdi had to ask his parents for permission for me and Laith to enter. This was one of many other interesting protocols. I usually find sharing a room to be normal but here this was not allowed. I was offered a room to myself. Laith slept on the floor and Majdi shared with a family member. It felt a little awkward. I met Majdi’s mother who was lovely. They told me that overall they felt quite safe in their neighbourhood as there was a strong security presence and my observations were also similar.
So in my few days of recreation I had planned a trip to Petra. It was a 2 – 3 hour drive south of Amman. It is really incredible because the city is situated deep within a canyon. We arrived then had to walk nearly 20 minutes through the canyon. The texture of the canyon walls were amazing. Many colourful layers on the smooth surface. It was as if I was walking through a miniature Grand Canyon. The temperature was high but being a tourist area we were allowed to wear short clothing. We walked and walked then all of a sudden in the distance the wall of the city entrance came into view. I stopped, frozen, amazed at the entrance before me. It isn’t huge by any means but the stone carvings are incredible. Hundreds of tourists were milling around the front taking photos and camels were parked waiting for hire. It reminded me of the Indiana Jones movie.
After a short stay we headed to the Dead Sea, another 40 minutes drive. I didn’t realise the sea level was below the land. In fact, from the hotel complex at entrance there are signposts from the top down to the water’s edge showing the level of the sea at different years. Every year the sea level has been dropping and eventually it may not exist due to climate change. So if you are interested in going make your plans quickly as it may be gone in the near future. I changed my clothes and made my way into the water. The feeling of buoyancy was amazing. Due to the high concentration of salt it is impossible to sink in the water but there is always the danger of getting the salt water in your eyes. The salt water stung so bad that you needed to spray fresh water from a hose onto your face. Despite this risk there are health benefits from applying the mud to your skin. You then wash it off in the water and your skin feels like baby’s skin. You can buy the mud and salt from any one of the many vendors nearby.
The weather was hot, the water was relaxing and then it was time for a late lunch. Soon after we headed to the Wadi Rum desert, another 30 minutes south, just as the sun was setting. We weighed up the options of driving ourselves, and running the risk of getting lost, or hiring a driver to take us there directly. We hired a driver. We all piled into the back of the ute and suffered along the windy gravel road. The scene at our arrival was majestic in the setting sun. The sand was a brilliant red colour and I took plenty of great photos. Not long after we turned around and our driver, with skill and local knowledge of the route got us back to the meeting point in the dark where we then had another 4 hours to get back to Amman. I was keen to test my driving skills on the other side of the road so I took the wheel. I even got up to speeds of 170kph on the roads that have no speed limit.
A day or so of rest then the other WFDYS board members arrived and we got down to business. We were all there except for one member, Alejandra. It was an exciting time. We held a number of meetings and also a visit to the Deaf cultural centre. A standout point for me was the small number of women. I am always trying to encourage and support more women to these events. After some socialising and meeting potential youth leadership we got down to our meetings. We picked up from where we left off in Belfast with very productive discussions. After the formal meetings three of us stayed on to run some workshops – myself, Laith and Benjamin. As facilitators it was the right decision to have gender balance because the participants kept to their own gender groups. The men and women did not interact. So we ran our activities in these separate groups. It was all really worthwhile and extremely positive. The participants gained a lot of knowledge. Unfortunately I once again fell ill with a stomach bug in the middle of the workshop days. Thankfully I managed to get through to the end. After the workshop we had a short visit to a Deaf school. That was a great experience. The kids were so cute and curious with their questions about where I was from and the reason for me being in Jordan.
After that we enjoyed a really good meal but I was at the end of my tether. I was ready for the next leg of my trip. I took a side trip to Italy for a two day rest before flying out to Singapore. The national Deaf youth association invited me to give a presentation on the WFDYS which was the first time I had represented the WFDYS in my official role as representative of WFDYS. I provided information on the foundations of the WFDYS and what we do. I then ran a number of activities to help them forge stronger bonds. It was a great event.
Finally I made my way home after being away for about three weeks. A very worthwhile and enjoyable trip.