Monthly Archives: March 2014

Learning hospitality from Bedouins … or Today would be a good day to be in Wadi Rum

rocks

Monday morning and I’m back into routine, but today I’m thinking about a place about as far away as possible, in the middle of the Jordanian desert. Most tourists to Jordan visit Wadi Rum for a day, zooming through the wilderness in the back of a jeep, and I’ve done so twice in the last few years. It’s a place made famous not only because the Hollywood movie Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here, but because it is the real place British army officer T E Lawrence spent time during World War I. It’s also in the vicinity of where the Israelites travelled from Sinai to the Promised Land, and perhaps one of the easier places to imagine the kind of landscape they experienced during their wilderness wanderings.

landscape

What did I love about Wadi Rum?

Wadi Rum is a place of wide open spaces. The sandy desert is surrounded by majestic rock formations, giving a sense of being cut off from the rest of the world.

open space

It has a breathtaking beauty in its starkness.

sand hill

The colours of the sand and rocks are incredible in their diversity.

sand colour

It is easy to imagine the past in a place like this, particularly as reminders of those who came before and their way of life are all around.

Ancient writing carved into rock caves
Ancient writing carved into rock caves

It is a place where the locals live simply, with many things not having changed for thousands of years.

shepherd

What did I learn from Wadi Rum?

The local Bedouins welcome visitors to the area, and share something of the life they and their forebears have enjoyed in this place for centuries.

Vehicles ancient and modern
Vehicles ancient and modern

The key practice of the Bedouins that is demonstrated with simplicity and clarity is hospitality. The welcome of the stranger as a friend, the invitation to share, making what they have available with open hands.

tent in desert

The Bedouin honour code requires even enemies to be provided with food and shelter for three days. In such a harsh place, where survival is on the line, generosity and hospitality are shown in ways not so common in places where we have so much. Too often we think hospitality is about putting a good ‘show’ rather than genuinely inviting people to share what we have as they have need.

rocky desert

The Old Testament was written in this part of the world, and one of its pervasive underlying metaphors is of God as our host. The God who invites His people to eat at His table, to shelter in His dwelling place, to share His home, and to find protection in His blessing. We can miss the power of this picture if we miss the importance of hospitality to the original cultural context.

bedouin tent

The people we met in Wadi Rum taught and reminded us of the great gift of hospitality, a gift which is not dependent on appearances, resources or wealth, but on a generous heart and a willingness to invite someone into our lives, treating them not as an alien or stranger, but a friend and neighbour.

bedouin girl in tent

They showed me again a picture of the love God has for me as He invites me into His family, and the love He calls me to show to my neighbours, strangers and even enemies.

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Today is a nice day to be in Melbourne (apart from the weather!)

After spending the weekend in Sydney, then teaching a class in Adelaide this morning, this afternoon I am jumping on a plane to Melbourne to speak at a conference for the next few days. I’m trying not to compare these three cities, because I love them all, and I just want to enjoy each one for what it is! Growing up in Sydney, there was often an implicit attitude that Melbourne was second-best. Now I live in Adelaide, where some people still view Melbourne as the enemy, mostly due to our seeming inferiority complex, football enmity and the “stealing” of the Grand Prix (we need to let it go Adelaide, it’s been 20 years).

Looking down the Yarra river toward the MCG
Looking down the Yarra river toward the MCG

But I’m not ashamed to say that I am a fan of Melbourne. I’ve spent quite a bit of time there over the last few years due to work and study, and it has really grown on me. The city is well laid out and easy to navigate, the public transport system is reliable and extensive, and the range of food, art, sporting and other cultural options continues to grow every year.  The weather is even beautiful some of the time (and not so nice other times, usually both within the same day). But even in the rain, Melbourne has plenty of charm.

Full house at the MCG for the 2006 Commonwealth Games
Full house at the MCG for the 2006 Commonwealth Games
What do I love about Melbourne?

Melbourne has some great little laneways and arcades filled with quirky shops and hidden culinary delights. Some recent favourites for dinner include 11 Inch Pizza tucked away on Equitable Lane and the Hutong Dumpling Bar on Market Lane, and for dessert, macarons from La Belle Miette, Hardware Lane or Little Cupcakes on Degraves Street.

The old shot tower inside a modern shopping mall in the Melbourne CBD
The old shot tower inside a modern shopping mall in the Melbourne CBD

The Queen Vic markets are always worth a weekend wander, as is the Rose St artists market in Fitzroy, which is just around the corner from the excellent Veggie Bar on Brunswick Street (I’ve taken staunch carnivores there and even they have loved it.)

Part of the Melbourne skyline
Part of the Melbourne skyline

Melbourne has some gems of museums, and there are often visiting exhibitions of all kinds. The modern Melbourne Museum, right next to the World Heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building in the beautiful Carlton gardens, is a lovely spot with plenty to see and learn from.

Early morning fog at the Royal Exhibition Building
Early morning fog at the Royal Exhibition Building

At night, strolling along the Southbank precinct provides a great atmosphere for people watching with buskers and street artists, lots of places to eat and drink, and the strangely mesmerising “Gas Brigade” of timed fireballs along the river outside the Crown Casino.

The Australian Open
The Australian Open

And of course, Melbourne is famous for its sport. I’ve loved dropping in to the Tennis at the Australian Open, the F1 Grand Prix at Albert Park, and both AFL games and cricket matches at the MCG  – they are all well worth attending if you get the chance. I’d also highly recommend the MCG tour during the day, with time to look and play in the National Sports Museum. Even for a non-sporting-fanatic, this was good fun.

Near empty MCG tour, with some of the Australian cricket team training
Near empty MCG tour, with some of the Australian cricket team training
What have I learned from Melbourne?

Most of all, spending time in Melbourne has reminded me (as a Sydney/Adelaide person) not to judge a book by what other people say about its cover! Every place has its beauty, its charms, its lessons and its challenges. There is always something to enjoy and something to discover, wherever you go, if you are willing to look, listen and learn.

Bridge over the Yarra
Bridge over the Yarra

I’ve also learned that Australians will always compete with each other, and pay each other out, particularly about their home towns. We have that luxury because they are all pretty great, because we live in a country that is rich materially, as well as rich culturally due to those who have chosen to make their home here from all over the world. So it’s no surprise to me that Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne consistently rank in lists of the world’s most liveable cities. I’m grateful that I have had the privilege of exploring and enjoying all three of them. I pray that the people of my nation might grow in gratefulness for all that we have, and in generosity to share it with all those who might wish to join us in the future.