“Ew! There’s a camel’s tongue licking me!” Fiona pulled her hand away. She
looked up at the hairy beast. Its teeth were coated with brown gunk and
half-eaten plants were stuck in between them. “It’s slimy. P.U. Its breath
is horrible, worse than a troll’s. We must be in Jordan.”
“We’re in Jordan? Are you sure?” Callum saw nothing but sand dunes. The
blazing sun beat down on his head. “We could be in Mongolia, but it’s too
hot to be Mongolia. It must be Jordan.”
“Will you guys be quiet. There is a man over there sleeping,” Elspet said,
pointing. A man dressed in long dingy white robe sat in the sand. His back
leaned against a large rock. He wore a kefiyah, a red and white checked
headscarf. It was wrapped tightly around his head. Tiny drops of sweat
trickled across his bronzed body. “I think the camels belong to him.”
Fiona turned and glanced around. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. Look at
all the sand. That’s all I can see, red sand and red cliffs. The jewel isn’t
far though. I’m not picking up much about its location. It’s too hot out
here and the sun is about to set. Let’s take the camels and find a village
“The camels are lying down. Do you think we can get them to stand up without
waking the man?” Callum saw the knife sticking out of the man’s rope belt.
“He’s got a weapon.”
Fiona grabbed hold of a rope that lay on the burning sand. She tugged at it,
trying to pull the camel up to a standing position. It lifted its head,
chewed its cud and refused to budge. The rope slid out of Fiona’s hand,
burning it raw. She moved to the next camel. Its hump stuck up in the air,
covered with a red, green and blue woven blanket. Clumps of matted fur poked
out from underneath. She stroked its wiry brown fur. “Come on, camel,” she
whispered, “get up. We need a ride.” She turned and looked to make sure the
man was still sleeping.
“That man is a Bedouin. They live in tents made of black goat hair. I hope
he doesn’t wake up,” Elspet said.
“I can’t get any of these camels to move. Surely we can get one of them to
stand up,” Fiona said, annoyed with their stubbornness. “One of you come and
do this. My hand is sore from rope burn.”
“Fiona! Talk to the camel! You always forget you can talk to animals.”
Elspet reminded her.
Fiona smiled. Camels. You’re very nice looking animals. Your teeth are so,
well, I don’t mean to be rude, but you could use a good toothbrush. We need
a ride into the nearest town. If one of you will take us, we promise to
bring you back. We’re not trying to steal you.
One of the camels fluttered her long eyelashes at Fiona. My name is Salome.
I will give you a ride, providing you buy me some dates.
Dates? I didn’t
know camels ate dates. I thought camels only ate grass and flowers and
We eat just about
anything, but I’m partial to dates. Will you get me some if I help you?
It’s a deal. Can
the three of us fit on your back? You’ve got a big hump. It looks like we’d
slide right off.
Don’t be so foolish. I can carry the three of you with no problem. Do you
promise to get me some fresh dates?
I promise. Now, how do we get up there?
The camel stood up and walked about ten feet from the others. It sat down
again and allowed the three of them to climb on her back. Tell them to be
careful of my blanket. I’ve grown quite attached to it. My master, Ahmed,
had one of his wives make it for me last year and I think it’s pretty.
One of his wives? How many does he have?
He’s got four. Their names are Bashira, Fadwah, Kamila, and Warda. Warda is
the one who made my blanket.
That’s weird having four wives.
That’s the way it is done here in Jordan.
Salome stood up.
“Whoa, camel.” Callum nearly fell off and grabbed a handful of her hair.
painful. Tell him to stop pulling my fur.
hurting Salome. Stop pulling her hair. Hold onto the blanket instead.” Fiona
wrapped her arms around Elspet, who sat in the front, near Salome’s neck.
Callum sat behind Fiona. “On second thought, hold onto me.” The camel took a
step. The three of them wobbled to the side, nearly falling off. “Hold on
tight. We’re going for a ride.”
“Where’s the camel
taking us? Is she a nice camel?” Elspet petted the camel’s neck.
“She’s taking us
to the nearest town. We have to buy her some dates and bring her back when
we’re done with her,” Fiona said.
“Where is the
nearest town?” Elspet couldn’t see anything but sand.
Where are you
I’m taking you to
Madaba. That is the closest town. Why are three children wandering around in
the Jordanian desert? It’s not safe and not a common thing, especially for
Girls can do
anything they want, at least where we come from. We’re on a quest. We’re
looking for a jewel.
The camel plodded
through the sand. In Madaba there are a lot of interesting things,
especially the mosaics, but I’ve never heard of jewels, unless you mean
Fiona spoke out loud.
there diamonds around here?” Callum hoped there were.
Tell your friend,
Callum, not to get too excited. While they are valuable, they aren’t real
diamonds. They are only pieces of high grade quartz. However, if you find
one or two of them, put them in your pocket and take them home. They look
like real diamonds, are clear and don’t crack with age. Look for them in the
morning when the sun rises. They produce a soft glow, which makes them easy
to spot on the sand. You can have nice jewelry made from them.
Fiona, Elspet and
Callum glanced down at the sand as the camel plodded along, keeping one eye
open for the diamonds. About an hour into the tiring journey, Callum
complained. “It’s so hot. Can we stop for a few minutes and rest in the
“Good idea. Even
though it’s dusk, that sun is blazing. Salome, please stop for a few minutes
so we can rest.” Fiona felt the camel’s pace slow and stop. “Thank you.”
Salome knelt and they slid off and ran to the shade of a few boulders.
“We must be in
some big desert. There’s still no sign of a town.” Callum wiped his brow.
“The jewel is
somewhere in this area.” She sat down with her back against the rock. Elspet
sat next to her.
Even though it
was dusky, Callum walked around the boulders, looking for desert diamonds.
“Hey! What’s this?” He bent over and saw something golden sticking out from
under one of the boulders. “It looks like gold. It’s not a diamond though.”
He grabbed it and pulled it from under the rock. “Wow! This is so cool. It’s
a magic lamp, like the kind in Aladdin.” He ran to the girls, wiping it with
his shirtsleeve. “Fiona! Elspet! I found a magic lamp!”
They opened their
eyes and saw Callum running towards them. Elspet asked, “What is that,
“It’s a lamp.
Didn’t you ever read Aladdin and the Magic Lamp? If I rub it, do you think a
genie will appear and give me three wishes?” Callum blew the sand off it.
“Callum, don’t be
so stupid. There isn’t such a thing as a genie. That was a story from a book
called ‘1001 Arabian Nights. It’s not real. Tell him, Salome, that there’s
no such thing as a magic lamp.”
what Elspet said. I cannot talk to your friend, Fiona, but tell her that she
should have an open mind. Many magical things can happen in the desert. She
just might be surprised.
“He’s not stupid,
Elspet, but she’s right, Callum. There’s no such thing. Salome just told me
that we should have an open mind and not make fun of Callum and that magical
things happen in deserts. I don’t really believe it’s a magic lamp either,
Elspet. Why don’t you put it in your pocket and when we get to town you can
sell it to someone!” Fiona stood up. “I think we need to get going. It’s
nearly dark now and we’ve got to get to town before it gets much later.”
They climbed on
Salome’s back and within an hour they reached Madaba. “It’s dark and most of
the stuff is shut. I don’t see any hotels. Where can we sleep?” Elspet was
May I make a
suggestion? Warda’s friend, Layla, owns a carpet shop in town. She usually
leaves the back door unlocked. Why don’t you go inside and sleep on one of
the carpets. Just don’t touch anything.” The camel trotted toward the shop.
Here we are. This is Heshbon’s Carpet Shop. Climb down and go inside. I’ll
sleep out here.
They slipped off
her back. Fiona turned the doorknob and peeked inside. “Is anyone in there?”
Nobody answered. She stepped inside. “It smells like dust.”
Elspet and Callum
followed, turning to see Salome lay her head down and close her eyes. “Look
at all the carpets. They’re kind of cool. I think my mum would love one of
these in our living room,” Elspet said.
“I think they’re
all handmade too. Maybe we can take one back with us. We’ll have to see how
long our money lasts and if we have time,” Fiona said, feeling the wad of
cash in her pocket. “That reminds me, in the morning, we need to find a
“I’m going to
sleep on this carpet.” Callum rolled a green and gold one across the floor.
“There’s room for one of you too.”
“I’m going to lie
down on this one,” Elspet said. She unrolled a red, gold and black carpet.
Fiona picked one
out for herself. “I like these earth tones.” She sat down on it. “Let’s get
some sleep. Tomorrow’s a busy day.”
“Don’t you want to
look around first?” Elspet walked to the front of the shop. “This is nice.”
She came through carrying a glass bottle filled with layers of different
colored sand. “Someone’s made a pattern with it.”
Callum sat up and
took it from her hands. “It is cool. I always thought sand was just one
color. You’d better put it back though, right where you found it.”
Elspet carried it
through and put it down. “Look at all this curvy writing. It’s Arabic, I
suppose. It’s much fancier than our English writing.” She walked around
looking at all the symbols painted on the windows. “I can’t understand what
any of it says.” She saw a shelf with blue glass vases. “Hebron glass,” she
said, looking at the sing under it. “These mosaics are cool too.”
“Elspet, come and
lie down. We need to sleep and you’re talking too much,” Fiona called
herself down on her carpet. “I was having fun looking at all the things
Layla sells.” Nobody answered so she lay down. It didn’t take long for them
to fall asleep. They woke up in the morning to Salome licking their faces.
“Gross. Don’t lick
me,” Callum whined.
Fiona. Tell your friends they must get up before Layla comes to open her
shop. Roll the blankets back up and put everything back just as it was.
They cleaned up
after themselves and went outside into the alley. “Which way to the food?”
Callum was feeling hungry. No sooner had they left when Layla ran down the
street and went into the shop. “That was close.”
“I hope you put
everything back where you found it, Elspet. We can’t buy food without money.
I’ve got to find a bank or somewhere to change our British money into
Jordanian money, which I think they call dinar. By the way, last night I saw
the ruby in my dream. You’re not going to be happy. It’s back out in the
desert.” Fiona cringed.
“The desert? We’ve
got to ride the camel all the way back? My bottom is sore,” Callum
“Mine is too.”
Elspet rubbed her bottom.
“We will get
something to eat first. I’ll buy each of us a hat, a backpack and some
water,” Fiona said.
Don’t forget my
dates. The camel nudged Fiona’s shoulder. I’ll stay here and wait for you.
Don’t be long.
Heading to the
main street of Madaba, they looked at all the store signs. “What do
Jordanians eat for breakfast?” Callum saw a man sitting on the ground in
front of the store. He had something in his mouth. “Is he sipping coffee?”
“ I don’t think
so. I think it’s called a narghila,” Elspet said.
“What? How do you
know that?” Callum didn’t believe her.
“I saw one in the
carpet shop. It had a sign on it calling it a narghila. It’s a water pipe. I
don’t know what it does, but I think he’s smoking it,” Elspet said.
Who’s ever heard of smoking water? Strange,” Callum mumbled.
“There’s a bank.
I’ll be back in a few,” Fiona said. When she came out she shook her head
back and forth. “He tried to rip me off. He said that I could only get ten
dinar for all this money. I knew he was lying. Another man came in and hit
the first man across the head and told him to give me the right amount.
Here’s some for each of you. Let’s find a place to eat.”
They saw a café
across the street from a church. “This looks good.” Elspet turned the door
handle and they went inside. “It’s a buffet.” They each paid for their own
meal and helped themselves to figs, yogurt, pita, hummus, olives, and
cheeses. “This is the strangest breakfast I’ve ever eaten, but I like it.
that haven’t seen anything you want to paint. Come to think of it, you
didn’t mention one thing in Tasmania or Yukon.” Callum snickered, putting an
orange slice into his mouth.
“As a matter of
fact,” Elspet said between bites of fig, “I want to paint Donjek glacier one
day and go back to Vincenzo’s vineyard to paint the grapes. I just didn’t
want to bore you both.”
“What would you
paint here?” Fiona looked around at everything. “I think it’s sort of drab
and boring here.”
“What? How can you
say it looks drab? Look at the colors. Did you noticed how the sky looked on
fire last night when the sun set? It shimmered off the red cliffs. The sun
was a golden ball of fire. I’d paint Salome, the camel. She’s interesting,
though I’d not paint her horrid teeth and tongue.” Elspet laughed, trying
not to choke on her fruit.
“We’d better get
back to the desert before it gets too hot. You stay here and finish eating.
I’ll go and find us a backpack and all the essentials,” Fiona said. She
jumped from her seat and headed out the door and across the street.
Elspet and Callum
finished eating and stood outside. They watched the people walking past.
“Everyone here sort of looks the same. They’ve all got dark hair and dark
eyes,” Elspet noted.
“They look like
Jimmy and Jack and Jesse and Julian,” Callum said.
“Not Jeffrey and
Johnny. They look different than the others, don’t they?”
Burill was on the Arabian Peninsula. We’re not that far from it.”
“That’s a cool
church over there. There are a lot of tourists. Should we go and see while
Callum said. They walked across to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George.
When they went inside they noticed the entire floor covered with mosaics.
“This is great. Someone worked hard putting all those tiny pieces into place
to make a map of the Holy Land.”
“It is amazing,
Callum. I think it’s beautiful.” Elspet walked around looking at all the
other mosaics. “I read that Madaba is called ‘The City of Mosaics’. I
believe that now after seeing this.”
Callum looked out
one of the windows. “There are a lot of people here.”
Elspet stood next
to him. “You’re right. There’s Fiona now,” Elspet said. “She’s got the
Fiona waved for
them to come across the street. They headed into the alley and found Salome.
Fiona reached into her backpack. These are for you. I hope you enjoy them. I
got you a lot and the man who sold them to me thought I was nuts for buying
Ah, dates. I’m so
hungry. Put them down on the ground and I’ll eat them. When I’m finished,
we’ll head back. I’m sure my master, Ahmed, will be wondering where I
wandered off to.
Fiona put the
dates down on the wrapper and they watched Salome munching away. “That’s so
gross,” Elspet whispered to Callum. “Look at the dates stuck on her brown
Ten minutes later
they were on Salome’s back. Fiona slipped the backpack over her shoulders
and they headed back to the desert. “Cheerio, Madaba,” Callum waved.
See those boulders
up ahead? That’s where my master waits. Where did you want to go?
I want to go to
that desert castle over there. Fiona smiled and pointed to an abandoned
building a mile or so away.
We call them qasrs,
not castles, but it means the same thing. Very well. The camel stopped at
the entrance to the castle. Stay in the shade and good luck.
But I promised to
take you back.
I’ll be fine. I
know my way home.
An hour later,
Salome arrived to find Ahmed tying the camels together and about to leave.
He turned in her direction and grinned. “Salome! You’re back.” He stroked
his precious camel’s cheeks. “Where have you been, you naughty girl?” She
fluttered her eyelashes in an attempt to charm him. “Don’t flirt with me.”
He laughed. “Never mind. As long as you’re back safe, that’s all that
matters.” He tied her rope to the others and walked toward the rising sun.