The Sisters at Petra

The Sisters at Petra

When I first meet the American sisters, I wonder why they would ever move here. Everyone in this tiny Jordanian village belongs to the same Bedouin tribe. Everyone except them. My friend and I sit cross-legged in a shadowy room, our knees flirting with the edge of the crackling fire. Eight others perch around us – all men, save for the two Americans. The sisters don’t wear hijabs; they sport full afros.

Khaled, our new friend and host, sits across from us in his white robes and red-checked keffiyeh. He sucks on a hookah pipe. Smoke seeps from his lips to mingle with that of the fire, while the sisters babble away in Arabic with surprising ease. A boy approaches with a basin and a jug. One of the sisters nods at me, and I rinse my hands as he pours the water. Dinner is served. We’re ushered to a space away from the flames, and someone places our cushions on the concrete floor. The sisters collapse onto them with practiced grace, but I struggle to recover the flexibility of my childhood. I shift my legs as pins and needles begin to tingle my feet. Khaled brings in an enormous round tray, more than 50 cm wide.

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