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Katherine Hacthoun CC’19 in Jordan's Wadi Rum Desert, on the way to an overnight stay in a Bedouin camp. Photo: Courtesy Katherine Hacthoun CC’19

Reflections from the Desert

“Never in my life have I been as ecstatically calm as when I ate breakfast in a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum after watching the sunrise at the top of a sandstone mountain.” —Katherine Hacthoun CC’19

Katherine Hacthoun CC’19 spent Summer 2016 studying on the Columbia in Amman and Paris: Middle Eastern and North African Studies program as a 2016 Presidential Global Fellow. The Presidential Global Fellowship program, funded with a seed grant from Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger and established in 2014, covers the program fee associated with a Columbia global program, as well as a stipend to cover round-trip airfare and living expenses, for students to study in a location at or near one of the Columbia Global Centers. Here, Katherine reflects on her experience.

Wake up to the desert quiet and pull back the woven blankets. Stare outside of the wooden window at the blue-ing sky and put on your sand-filled shoes. Scuff around the desert floor and leave tracks beside the lizard’s. Pull yourself up the side of the smoothly eroded sandstown mountains with your hands and legs, stopping to appreciate the new calluses and take in the wide expanses of land that have been left alone. Upon reaching the top, you sit and watch the sun climb over the mountains and warm your skin. The sand changes colors from dusky grey to burnt orange. An hour and a half slips by. You feel completely alone, but completely comforted. You have never found a place that makes you quite as calm nor quite as happy.

You climb, or rather, slide back down the mountain and sink your feet into the sand. Walk back into the camp and sit with new friends and fellow classmates. Fill a plate with hummus soaked in olive oil, goat cheese, halva (a sweet paste made from nuts), and za’atar (a mixture of herbs, spices, and sesame seeds, said to make children smarter when eaten for breakfast.) Lift everything onto pieces of pita and eat. Eat as many plates as you can. Drink multiple cups of sweetened tea, with flavors of mint, sage, and cardamom. Practically drown yourself in tea. When the Bedouins encourage you to try tea with camel milk, do not hesitate. Wonder why camel milk is not sold in the United States and how this is a travesty.

Never in my life have I been as ecstatically calm as when I ate breakfast in a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum after watching the sunrise at the top of a sandstone mountain.

Katherine Hacthoun CC’19
2016 Presidential Global Fellow
Amman/Paris: Middle Eastern North African Studies


Learn more about the Presidential Global Fellowships

Published Friday September 16, 2016

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