Personal Journeys


October 12, 2003|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

In a mountain cave, a warm welcome

By Ginda Simpson


It was a clear, brisk day in late November, perfect for exploring the ruins of a pre-Roman Empire kingdom that once flourished in Jordan amid timeless natural splendor.

The rocky canyons of Petra, into which temples and tombs were carved ages ago, are rose-red, changing momentarily when the clouds sail high above, to deeper russet and purple. A rocky path leads thousands of visitors from the ancient city gate to a monastery perched high above what remains of this ancient capital.

Along the path, there is a small cave nestled in the rock in which a family lives. I was easily deterred from the arduous climb when Ismail and Fatma invited us into their home and offered their hospitality.

Wearing a kaffiyeh, the typical red and white-checkered headdress of Jordan, Ismail was handsome in a rugged way. His skin was the color of Turkish coffee if one were to add milk to it, and his eyes sparkled mischievously.

Small and solid, Fatma wore layers to keep warm, the final one a bright red sweater. Ismail and Fatma make their living tending sheep in the desert valley and by hawking souvenirs to tourists. In a rather primitive showcase, Fatma displayed coral and bone necklaces, cheap imitations of Bedouin jewelry, coins, pottery shards and other artifacts.

There were no furnishings in their dwelling except for a couple of floor mats, a chair and a rough-hewn wooden utility box for provisions. We sat around their fire and drank tea. When their little one cried, Fatma put down her cup and tended to her daughter.

I couldn't help but think of the desert hardships that lay ahead for the young girl: The cold will bite her fingers and the blowing sand will dance across her face. Years of sunshine will turn her complexion from tones of copper to bronze.

By age 14, I imagine, she will have grown into a desert beauty, not in the way we classify beauty, but in a deeper, mystical sense. Perhaps she will grow to be like her mother, who seems strong and hard-working but also fun-loving. I imagine that this young girl's skin will be rough, but her ways gentle. And I think she will be generous, like her mother.

The memory I hold of this hour with Ismail and Fatma and their daughter was a generous gift to me, and, unlike the trinkets the couple sell, it will hold its value for years to come.

Ginda Simpson lives in Umbria, Italy.

My Best Shot

Robert J. Hitcho,


Grand splash for 60th birthday

My wife, Karen, wanted to do something to mark her 60th birthday to prove to herself and the world that she's not getting old. So we took a six-day rafting trip covering 187 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I took this photo on May 30, Day Three, her birthday. She is not getting older.

Readers Recommend

Peterhof, Russia

Lois H. Owen, Baltimore

While visiting Peterhof, 18 miles west of St. Petersburg, I saw Monplaisir (pictured), the oldest building in the city. Peter the Great lived here while he oversaw the construction of the main imperial residence in St. Petersburg. He actually preferred this modest, Dutch-style villa to his later, more extravagant living quarters.

South Padre Island, Texas

Brenda Holland, Sykesville

South Padre Island is a typical ocean "city," with hotels and amusement parks along the main strip. But drive north away from the action and you will see beautiful dunes, whose white sand is striking against the blue sky. Many of the dunes have ivy growing on them, dotted with little purple flowers.

Let Us Hear From You

We want to know about your travels, your experiences, your pictures. Here's how to participate in this page:

* My Best Shot -- Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

* A Memorable Place -- In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that changed you, about the nostalgia a certain place evokes, about the power of a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. (Cash value: $150.)

* Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

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