By: Christine Amour-Levar
Of French and Filipino descent, Christine Amour-Levar is a freelance writer and co-founder of Women on a Mission, a non-profit entity that combines physically challenging expeditionary travel with support for humanitarian causes. Here she recounts last year’s Jordan Campaign, undertaken by 12 Singapore-based women to raise awareness and funds for three key charities: Women for Women International, UN Women Singapore and Aware.
See all of the photos from Christine’s tremendous journey in the gallery above…
It seems fitting that the very first recorded successful ascent of the mountains of Wadi Rum in Jordan, in November 1952, should have been accomplished by women. According to original documents from the times, two intrepid British female mountaineers summited Jebel Rum and other peaks in the area, guided by Sheikh Hamdan Amad, as they journeyed across the region. These adventurers were Charmian Longstaff and her stepdaughter Sylvia Branford, on a quest to retrace part of the route taken by British officer T.E. Lawrence, often referred to as Lawrence of Arabia, who passed through this desert on several occasions during the Arab Revolt of 1917-18.
Six decades and one year later, during the same month of November, as if drawn by distant sisterly voices, a team of 12 determined women from Singapore – which I had the privilege of being a part of – made their way to this same site in Jordan, on a mission to raise awareness and funds for women survivors of war, and victims of human trafficking and rape.
Shortly after arriving in the Hashemite Kingdom’s capital, Amman, we made our way to its celebrated desert of Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon, an expanse of amber-coloured sands and high sandstone cliffs that is the traditional Bedouin homeland.
On the first day of our journey, our Bedouin guides opened up their homes and shared their food with us. Their boundless hospitality touched us profoundly. Bedouins are considered the guardians of Arab virtues as well as the caretakers of the land’s historic memory.
For centuries, when the weather changed or foraging became difficult, they simply moved with their herds to find new lands. However, various forces, from the evolution of international borders to the vagaries of the modern global economy, have started to alter this. I asked Abdulla, our guide, if he felt the Bedouin’s rural way of life was being threatened.
“To me, being a Bedouin isn’t just about your herd or your tribe,” he replied. “It’s about freedom to choose how and where you want to live your life.”
As we began our journey, a spectacular landscape of ancient riverbeds and sandy desert unfolded before our eyes. With its staggering rock formations known as jebels, Wadi Rum possesses one of the most stunning geographies on the planet. We knew that each team member’s endurance, balance, skills and mental preparation would be put to the test.
Our desert expedition included an average of seven to eight hours of hard hiking per day, carrying packs laden with supplies and precious water. We trekked under blistering heat and on a multitude of terrains, across an expanse of over 100km. On occasion, we encountered scorpions and snake tracks. The team scaled numerous vertiginous rockscapes and, as we manoeuvred our way around difficult ascents and negotiated passages along exposed ledges, we bruised, scraped and cut our hands and knees on a daily basis.
Scrambling upwards, we quickly learnt to determine what kind of rock to rely on. The problem for climbers in Wadi Rum is the porous quality of the rock; it tends to crack easily. This can be tricky, especially when using bolts or abseils already in place. We soon realised that the darker the rock, the firmer it was; lighter-coloured rocks were more likely to give us problems.
After a few days of training and familiarising ourselves with the geography of the area, we set out to climb to the top of Jebel Burdah’s famed Stone Bridge, a natural arch high up on the mountain. After several taxing hours of traversing various unprotected sections, my teammates and I hoisted ourselves onto the top of the spectacular bridge for a dazzling 360-degree-view of the Wadis below.
The most challenging ascent, however, was the dizzying heights of Jebel Khazali. This one had us departing camp at six in the morning in total darkness, using our head torches, and commencing our climb in the filtered dawn light as the sun started to edge above the horizon.
Still, the team summited Jebel Khazali after only four hours of fast-paced scrambling, so the training of the previous few days had obviously paid off! Without stopping for lunch, and after a short triumphant moment on the summit of the mountain, we continued across the plateau to find our route back down. We were under some time pressure to complete the climb before nightfall, but finally, after eleven hours of scrambling and five challenging abseils, we walked into camp, shattered and exhausted, as daylight began to fade.
We celebrated by the light of our campfire and stared up into the brilliant star-lit night, grateful to be part of this extraordinary adventure. The evening sky was so dark and vast it was almost too easy to spot shooting stars – we caught several and made many wishes!
Our dinnertime set-up consisted of Bedouin mats and blankets, laid out on the ground, wedged up against the walls of one of the stone facades, while a large fire gave us light and warmth. We slept in individual tents that we would assemble every night as soon as we got into camp, and disassemble at first light. When water was available, our guides would use cords to wedge a bag of water into the grooves in a wall around the corner from our campsite to allow us to wash off the dust and fatigue of the day.
We learnt many new climbing techniques we would never have learnt on synthetic climbing walls in Singapore. We saw vistas of the Wadis that took our breath away. We even got to float in Jordan’s famed Dead Sea. But nothing prepared us for the euphoria that overtook our senses when, at the end of our journey, we came across the ancient city of Petra.
There was laughter and there were tears, of both exhaustion and triumph. Undoubtedly, the desert of Jordan and the Valley of the Moon have cast a spell on us; we will always carry a fervent longing to return. But what we discovered at the end was something far more rewarding. We had come to know a people who cherish their liberties enough to want their country to stay out of conflicts and instead chart its own path.
And we knew we had embarked on this journey to support women who have lost everything to war and conflict, and been robbed of their dignity and their right to live in peace; women whose bodies have been violated, and whose self-esteem and freedom have been taken from them. Our expedition is dedicated to these mothers, daughters and sisters who need our help and encouragement to climb out of their misery and conquer their own personal summits.
True to our mission, the creed of our team is simple: Follow your dreams. Live to the fullest. Push your limits. Always challenge yourself. Give back to those who need it most. Celebrate often. Keep humble. Be thankful always. Travel whenever you can. And write your own rules, because footprints on the sands of time are not made by sitting down.
Like this? Read more at our travel section.