Updated: Mar 17
Daniel Goleman told Oprah in one of their SuperSoul Conversations that 'on any day of the year, the denominator or kindness will be greater than the numerator of cruelty.'
Our news is filled with drama and fear - it has been designed to activate our limbic system keeping us numb and fearful. We are experiencing a time of unprecedented fear due to events around the world right now.
In my travels over the last decade I have experienced the denominator of kindness that Goleman speaks of, and sometimes it has been in the most 'unlikely places' like Yemen and Syria (pre-conflict).
True kindness is felt in the heart, through simple selfless actions and with such humility that its intent cannot be mistaken. Such was the kindness shown by Fatima when my family first visited Petra.
The spring sunshine rising over the mountains around Petra wasn't enough to keep us warm as we ambled down the gravel pathway towards Bab al Siq (the doorway to the Siq) which leads to the stunning edifice of The Treasury. My Nephew was barely 9 months old and he snuggled quietly in his harness as he was carried through the ancient pathway.
Our excitement started to rise as the Treasury came into view and we burst forth from the Siq to stand in front of its stately rose-coloured magnificence. Travel is about savouring those special moments when your breath is momentarily taken away at the sight of something so unique, so beautiful and so sublime that something inside of you shifts. Petra does this... every time I have visited.
Over the years I have sat in front of the Treasury many times and each time is different. I see something new that I hadn't noticed before, or the sun plays on the edifice in new ways. It is easy to get lost in the angles of the carved stone which incorporate Hellenistic and Mesopotamiam features in a uniquely Nabatean way. The Monastery at the other end of the city evokes similar feelings, and like bookends for this magnificent place, one is best enjoyed in the early morning and the other in the late afternoon sun as the rays turn the site a distinctly golden bronze.
A chill wind blew all morning and it whipped right to our bones as we walked through the outer Siq and past the Street of the Facades which remains in the shade most of the morning. In the afternoon it becomes a shady refuge as people are escaping the beating sun. This city is such a place of contrasts throughout the day. It was still fairly early and the tour buses had not yet arrived. This allowed us to stop for coffee at an almost deserted cafe where we were greeted by a man who looked like he'd just stepped off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean with his kohl-accented eyes, keffiyeh and beard. He plays up to this archetype with gusto making us all laugh spontaneously.
It was here that we also met Fatima, a woman with a sparkling personality who was gifted with people. As the warm coffees came out, we rubbed my Nephew's arms and legs and tried to warm him up. In the blink of an eye Fatima had wrapped his head in a keffiyeh fit for a small boy and wrapped his small body in a larger one. A jovial conversation ensued about our travels, Petra and the what was happening in Jordan at the time (tourism was down due to a region in crisis). When we tried to pay for both fabrics, Fatima wouldn't have it. We were sent on our way with a wave and a smile and a deep knowing in our hearts that we had just been taken care of.
The rest of the day unfolded as if I was seeing Petra for the first time and through new eyes, which I was in a way since I had never been here with family. Although we couldn't explore as much as I normally would given the extra time needed to stop for my Nephew, I felt they could appreciate my love for Petra and her secrets.
Rounding a corner behind the busy intersection that leads people to the restaurants, the Monastery, and the Painted House, we came upon a small garden and house built into the rocks.
I had passed this place relatively quickly in the past as I explored other parts of Jebel Habis but never stopped. The view over the wadi, the flowers in the garden and the shaded terrace make for a relaxing break during the heat of the day. To our surprise, an elderly man emerged from the stone house and invited us to sit with him for tea. The sweet tea is almost addictive and has a distinctive taste that I haven't been able to replicate. My Father and this man swapped a few stories before we were once again on our way with some new directions, a smile and a wave. Although no money was requested of us, it was gratefully received.
Walking past the amphitheatre towards the restaurants we met Fatima once again, and this time I was the beneficiary of a beautiful keffiyeh. I didn't ask for it and felt slightly awkward in accepting it - I've always felt awkward accepting gifts from strangers.
I knew that business for the past two years had not been great because of the Arab Spring, so I was concerned not to take something that could be sold. Fatima would have none of it... We took some photos and I was asked all the usual questions about wife, life, etc.
In the four visits to Petra I had not encountered this grace and generosity, not like this. On travels, heartfelt hospitality is just around the corner when your heart is open to receive. At that time, having an open heart to receive was a huge challenge for me - one I've managed to overcome. Accepting it with grace and love was another challenge I've worked very hard on.
In that moment though, I was so grateful for the beautiful hospitality of the Bedu as I crossed their lands, and thanked the universe for introducing me to such kindness on this amazing family journey.
My parents returned to Petra two years later armed with gifts and photos from the last visit to pass on to Fatima. She wasn't there to receive them, but they were graciously received, and we were assured that they would be passed on. Such is the ebb and flow of life and gratitude.
Our world is gripped by fear and anxiety right now and we are hearing many negative stories. At the same time, if we look, we will find many examples of people taking care of each other. Kindness is free. Conscious acts of kindness for another can have a dramatic impact at times like these.