The first time I heard the Islamic call to prayer, I recorded the sound on my camera like all the other tourists. The second time, I tried to identify the Arabic words and remember their meaning—something about no God but Allah. By the third month of hearing the idhān five times daily, I had to resist the urge to cover my ears when I navigated the streets of Jerusalem. The eerie minor key notes of the Mu’adhen would echo in my head each time the green-lit minaret’s loudspeakers broadcasted the prayer. “Allahu Akbar;” God is greatest. The fourth month, I began to think about the man I recognized bowing towards Mecca every day on an ornamental carpet by the roadside at noon. I started to notice calloused foreheads of the shopkeepers. I began to see their faces for the first time, in the butcher shops and on the stone streets of the old city. This recording was the sound of their salvation; it cleansed them from their evil deeds. Only then did the sound begin to weigh on me; it felt heavier each
Hearing the call to prayer through open bus windows during my drive through the Arabian Desert was no different. Though my group of study abroad students had withdrawn from the commotion of Jerusalem to spend time in nomadic territories of the Hashemite Kingdom Jordan, I felt the familiar weight of the Arabic voice persisting listeners into conformity. While Israel remains home to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, Jordan exclusively contains Sunni Muslims, an obvious reality considering the number of mosques and minarets scattered through the arid landscape.
We were on our way to Petra, the famed city carved into a solid rock canyon at the southern tip of Wadi Musa. Students struggled to listen to our program director, Dr. Wright, as he urged us with a commanding voice through the bus microphone never to stray from the group while exploring. When bus squeaked to a stop outside the canyon, we eagerly discussed plans of action. Finally, our group of thirty college students stampeded off the bus and scattered. As a fresh crowd of Americans tourists, we were bombarded with homemade necklaces, faded postcards, and bold compliments. It was not as if we didn’t trust Dr. Wright’s instructions, but his words faded in comparison to chaotic braying donkeys and pushy Jordanian vendors. The sweaty crowds of other tourists and the stagnant bus air served as a catalyst for adventure, so my friends dodged between the mingling bodies to scramble up the craggy mountain trails.
Most students climbed to the “high place,” a holy site selected by the ancient Nabatean settlers located on a cliff peak. The climb grew increasingly vertical. Granules of red sand snuck into my shoes as I wearily ascended the stone steps carved into the mountain. Red rocks cut into the sky like serrated blades. Sun beat onto my pale, exposed skin and sunscreen dripped down my neck in sweaty streaks. I grasped at rocks to steady myself. We stopped periodically to take pictures from multiple angles; we needed to capture the extreme beauty. Hours sifted away like the sand that blew between cracks in the stone as our feeble bodies weaved farther and farther into the harsh, tested desert. The group dispersed with each step, and eventually, I was climbing alone with my friend Aubrey. Meanwhile, the sun continued to blaze, baking rocks hotter and hotter as noontime came and passed.
After a plethora of pictures, warm water breaks, and giggling, Aubrey and I finally began the long descent down the mountain to explore the rest of the canyon. When we reached the base of the mountain, we spotted the black canvas of Bedouin tents and wandered towards them for shade. Suddenly, I heard a man yell at me. I ignored him at first; there were too many yelling men in Jordan. To my annoyance, he continued to yell. I turned around to see a Bedouin man walking towards me, motioning urgently with his hand for us to come closer.
“You are American group, yes?” he asked in broken English.
“Yeah…” I replied hesitantly.
“Your friend, she fell!” He said. I stared at him.
“What do you mean?”
“Black girl, wearing white, yes? She is hurt. You must stay here.” When he said this, I became suspicious of the situation. I grabbed Aubrey’s arm and started to walk away.
“NO,” he yelled, “stay here.” I realized he was serious. There was something final about his tone. I stepped closer to interrogate the man when I heard a scream. The sound pierced the peaceful silence of the wilderness, and I turned to my right to locate the noise. As my eyes fixed on the source of the scream, I felt my hands begin to shake.
A dark hand hung off a flimsy metal stretcher. Another scream was followed by the sound of sobbing as I observed five men maneuver my roommate, Beatrice, down the mountain. They jostled her body with each approaching step. Immediately, Aubrey and I ran to her and grabbed her small hands. Blood and sand mingled together in patches on her face as tears streaked from her eyes and onto her neck. A neck brace was haphazardly stuck on her neck. Her leg was broken, hanging off the stretcher and covered in blood-soaked towels. I was afraid to look closer. Her deep black eyes locked on me.
“Rachel, I’m so sorry,” she wailed, sobbing harder.
“Tell Dr. Wright I’m so sorry,” she said again. Typical Beatrice, I thought, worrying about others while she experiences some of the most extreme physical pain.
“She falls from there, see?” the Bedouin lifted his arm to point towards a ledge half way up the looming cliff face, and my mouth opened in shock. Beatrice should be dead. Separated from the group, she had attempted the descent alone. Far from the path, she found herself trapped on the edge of a ledge. When she could not grip the stones any longer, she let go and fell farther than twenty feet. I began to rattle off prayers to her, assuring her I would stay and that she would be okay; I would take care of her.
“I slipped,” she said through tears, “In the air, I just yelled His name. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” “I know,” I said, even though I didn’t. I didn’t know what to say, so I wiped blood from her cheek.
“…and He saved me, Rachel. He heard me; He saved me,” she continued, “Praise the Lord.” I admired her faith, but it seemed naïve for her to really believe God physically saved her. Did he intervene by putting a mattress below her? No. Instead, he let her fall and that did not qualify as saving to me. Regardless, now was not the time for a worship service; chaos was escalating.
The IV I was instructed to hold over her arm was clogged and the makeshift splint on her leg was falling off. Voices bickered around me in Arabic. I was bombarded with questions by a man in a uniform, and struggled to answer them. I realized the medics caring for her knew nothing about Beatrice. Her personal information was lost in the fall, along with her Ghanaian passport. Five Arab men were carting her away in a rusty truck to an undisclosed location in a foreign country. Only one man spoke English adequately. I called Dr. Wight; he didn’t answer. The police were firing questions at me, and I answered them as I tried to think of what to do. As I began to piece together the situation, I realized my presence was essential.
“I am going to stay with her,” I told a medic, and he nodded, instructing me to climb into the back of the ambulance, which was more of a rusty broken-down jeep. They drove to the main road as I held the IV in one hand and my roommate’s fingers in another.
“The Lord is with you,” I said, but my promise felt empty when she screamed again in pain as the truck bounced heavily over rocks. The next five hours, my life was Beatrice and the world was her tears. The pungent smell of blood mixed with sweat wafted around the understaffed clinic we found in the nearest town. My clothes were stained with her blood and my hands were red like hers.
Dr. Wright arrived as the doctors reset her leg. I never asked how he found us, but I hugged his tall form and covered my ears, as if quieting the screams would make her pain stop. A near death experience in America would have been one thing, but in the tiny rural town of Petra, Jordan, at a clinic with only one bathroom, dusty hallways, and doctors with bright green Crocs, it was another. I stood over the metal hospital bed, watching the doctor stitch her head up with the biggest hooked needle I had ever seen, and wondering if this was really how it was supposed to be done.
“Honestly, the Lord saved me,” she continued to say, “Praise Jesus, I am alive.” It must be nice to possess that much confidence in God—life or death confidence. I read to her from Isaiah while muttered in agreement to take her mind off the Jordanian doctors crouched over her wounds. The doctor’s needle continued to pierce her skin and reemerge. Minutes passed slowly, and I grew more and more exhausted.
Beatrice was hungry, but we only had a little money, so they sent me with an armed guard to a nearby snack shop. As I walked the streets with the soldier, I felt what seemed like a hundred brown eyes follow me. I didn’t blame them; the soldier carried a machine gun, and wore a tan uniform with black army boots tightly squeezed at his ankles. Next to him, I looked and felt like a stupid American girl. I bought a Kit-Kat bar and a chocolate crunch that looked popular from its central shelf placement, and returned to the operation room.
The doctor paused in his stitch work as I placed pieces of chocolate in her parched mouth, and she slowly chewed between sips of water. I tried to avoid looking at the blood dropping from Beatrice’s head and onto the ground from the ends of her hair. I did not cringe because I knew she was looking at my face.
“Ray, will you sing for me?” she asked suddenly, and I saw life beginning to enter her eyes as the chocolate fed her veins with sugar. I sang “Your Love is Strong,” by Jon Foreman, and my voice echoed eerily between the plaster walls and into the hallway. She was the only patient in the clinic, and one by one, they congregated to the action. Eventually, the policeman, our Jordanian guide, the two doctors, the nurse, Dr. Wright, and the armed soldier all joined Beatrice, and her smile charmed them. She laughed with them, teased them, and asked them personal questions; her joyful attitude was contagious. She liked to sing. Her favorite song was “Amazing Grace,” which we sang slowly as she instructed us; voices blended together in a kind of angelic, eternal harmony. When I heard the words in my ears, I thought of how they would fall on the eardrums of the soldier who was trained to kill with a machine gun and the devout Muslim doctor who was trained to pray and to obey.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
Beatrice smiled and cringed through every word, like she was preaching her own salvation. The Islamic call to prayer could have been eerily echoing on the streets all afternoon, but I would never have noticed because the sound of grace was deafening. Joy leaked out of her freshly stitched wounds and her tear-stained eyes; it cascaded from the rips and tatters of her white blouse like a small stream of water, cleansing ground where we stood.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
As she sang, I realized that if I didn’t believe in the power of Christ to save Beatrice, my faith had already become as empty as the echo of the minarets prayers I fought. Until that moment, I truly believed that her fall was a misfortune, that it was all an accident.