I’m behind on my entries in part because of a night in the wilds of Jordan. After traveling all day my group lumbered into the wilderness to the Feynan EcoLodge. While for the rest of the trip the Associated Church Press tour and the Travel with Spirit film crew have been housed in places like the Marriott and the Movenpick, the Feynan EcoLodge was a hidden gem of the trip. Fenyan describes itself:
Hailed as one of the top 50 ecolodges in the world by National Geographic Adventure Magazine, the solar powered Feynan Ecolodge offers the most developed eco-experience in Jordan; an experience made possible by a unique partnership between EcoHotels and the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, a Jordanian NGO devoted to the protection of the Kingdom’s finest natural landscapes.
As a Quaker a couple of questions crossed my mind in analysis of this experience: Is the EcoLodge actually environmentally sustainable? What is the impact of the lodge on the local people?
My questions about sustainability and the local people were answered in several ways. Our bus drove up to the visitor center where four pickup trucks and their local drivers waited. We loaded our belongings and ourselves into the trucks and drove 25 minutes into the dark. This is the only way that visitors can access the lodge, thus reducing the impact of vehicles on the area. The local drivers are members of Bedouin tribes who live around the lodge. We drove into the darkness until we could see the faint lights of the lodge ahead. The Lodge does not have electricity (except a single light bulb in the bathroom) and uses candles at night. These candles are made by a women’s cooperative that the lodge started down the street. We arrived at the EcoLodge to find hundred’s of candles illuminating our path. These candles lit the hallways, our rooms, and our dinner table.
Dinner was wonderful. We had a variety of choices along a buffet that were all unique. Of the restaurants that my group has visited over this trip, the menus have been fairly similar. The food at Fenyan was traditional and made from local ingredients. The director of the lodge explained to us the lodge’s system of composting and recycling and urged us to try each of the new dishes. He also explained that the flat bread that we ate was made by a local woman up the road. If we wanted to go visit her the next morning we were welcome to. I leapt at the chance!
After dinner we were invited to have tea at a local family’s tent. I wondered about the impact of tourism on the lives of the local Bedouins and about the possibility of cultural appropriation. While I’m sure that some tourists come away from the experience with their Bedouin rugs and their pictures and flaunt their experiences, in actuality the local people are enthusiastic about sharing their culture with outsiders.
We sat around a fire and had tea with the men of the family. They answered many of our questions about Bedouin culture and on the impact of the lodge on their lives. The Jordanian government is pushing Bedouin tribes to settle down so that they can receive governmental services such as health care and education. The lodge has been instrumental in providing not only jobs during this cultural shift but the lodge has also attempted to provide a system of services that respects the Bedouin culture. Most of the families around the lodge still move around, but now only twice a year. In the winter they nestle their tents in the lowlands away from the winds and in the summer they move to the highlands where it is cooler.
While we were having tea with the men, I found the opportunity to speak with the Managing Director of the Feynan, Nabil Tarazi. To my surprise, Nabil is a graduate of the Ramallah Friends School in Palestine. While on one hand it seemed incredible that out here in the middle of nowhere I would run into a graduate of a Quaker school, on the other hand with regards of the environmentalism of the lodge it makes complete sense.
When the group motioned to leave, I asked Nabil if I could visit with the women. Up to this point the women had been in the adjoining room and I had only heard the giggles and cries of the children. Myself and another member of the press tour stayed behind and sat with the women of the family. The children practiced their English with us and I got to speak with one of the women about the region’s education. While language was a barrier, I learned that the lodge is providing teaching training to the teachers at the local school and many of the women are finding employment there. The relationship between the lodge and the local people appears symbiotic; one couldn’t exist without the other. Walking back from the tents the stars glittered above me and I sent a silent thanks out to the universe for this place.
first published at the blog of Friends Journal