Horse Girl Gone Global
An around-the-world enquiry of the ‘Equine Addiction’
Hello and welcome to Horse Girl Gone Global. A 2019 recipient of the Watson Fellowship, I am currently on a journey to discover the feedback loop between horses, the economy, and the environment around them. This blog will serve as the primary vessel for me to share the stories and insights collected on my 12-month adventure visiting horse cultures in Europe, South America, Australia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
An Interlude in the Middle East
The flight to Jordan was eerily empty on March 11th. The normally bustling Doha airport felt like an unpopular museum; women in hijabs shuffled by, their face scarves shifted down to accommodate bright blue face masks. Bedouin men in flowing white robes drifted through with falcons perched on hands covered in latex gloves.
After a 7-hour layover in Amman, a time that was filled with one Starbucks latte and two panic attacks about COVID19, I boarded the tiny plane to Aqaba on Jordan’s Red Sea and the only other airport in the country.
We arrived in the middle of a storm; the plane barely managing to make it to the tarmac amid the screaming winds and pelleting sand. I converted to at least four religions as I prayed for safety on that miserable 45-minute flight.
In the two-gate airport I met driver number one. I knew who he was when he held out his phone to show a picture of myself glowing behind the cracked screen. After transferring to another taxi at a gas station on the edge of the small town, I let myself settle in as we sped to the Wadi Rum desert. Half brain dead from 35 hours of travel, my eyes slid over the Bedouin houses squatting in the dark. The melodic hum of Arabic swam through the static on the radio. Sand continued to patter against the windows. The muttering of the driver grew louder as the sand came at us faster. Like a snow blizzard it invaded the headlights’ beams, forcing us to slow down from 60mph to 10mph, the opaque burnt-orange curtain closing in on all sides. In the next 20 minutes we turned around, then back towards my destination, twice. The driver’s face screwed in frustration as he shouted over the phone to my host, Sandra. I was glad I couldn’t translate.
After 40 minutes we turned off the main road onto a sand track heading towards a small cluster of dark houses. There were no street signs or addresses, and without phone service we had no hope of identifying which was Sandra’s home. The taxi man back tracked to where we had seen a single police car and then he pulled over and began to haul my luggage out of the boot. As I jumped out and pleaded for him to take me “to Sandra’s,” the Jordanian police officer stepped out of his vehicle, hand on gun. He conferred quietly with the driver then turned to me with an enormous smile: “To you Jordan welcomes!”.
As the wind and sand whipped around us the police officer showed me photos on his phone of horses and falcons in the desert until Sandra finally pulled up. The short-haired Dutch woman didn’t acknowledge my strange arrival, but maybe that’s the way nomads often appear in the Wadi Rum desert. At her modest cinder block house, I met Shannon, another young woman staying with Sandra, as well as the three dogs and four cats. We sat on the floor and had tea with fresh lemon, ginger, and mint before going to bed.
At 5am I awakened from the strange doze so often induced by sleeping on the couch to the smell of dogshit. The large husky-mutt rescue was at that moment pooping in the middle of the living room, two feet from my nose. Fumbling around the stranger’s house, I did my best to scrape the green diarrhea off of the ornate handwoven rug with an empty yoghurt container (no bags to be found). As I stepped outside in search of a garbage can, I had my first glimpse of the landscape in daylight. The red desert sprawled before me was as foreign as another planet. Intimidating rocks broke the rolling sand, their jagged faces moody in the morning sun. I knew I wasn’t on Mars only for the silver pick-up truck and rusting green garbage bin.
The next 72 hours was a whirlwind of adventures. Going to feed the scruffy Arabian horses that have never known a blade of grass in their lifetime, visiting the caves and springs in the deep desert with a local young Bedouin man, “sledding” the car down a 80 degree sand hill, playing FIFA and drinking tea in the makeshift café in town, having dinner over a fire in the hand built camp of Omar and Yasser, dancing in the moonlight at our end of the world party.
Amid these micro adventures I was checking email and Expedia whenever I had the opportunity to connect to WIFI. Covid19 was blossoming like desert flowers after a spring rain, and the world was panicking. Jordan was closing their borders, the Watson Foundation had requested fellows return to the states, Seattle was the viral epicenter of the USA.
On March 15th, saying goodbye to fast-formed friends and the still-alluring desert, I slipped out of Jordan on one of the last flights to leave the country.
Stubbornly determined not to return home, I decided to fly back to Australia where I enjoyed quarantine in the sun and working at a horse yard on the Mornington Peninsula. In mid-April I finally retreated back to Seattle where I have been appreciating the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, enjoying seeing friends at a 6ft distance, and doing everything I can to go safely out of the house as much as possible (like walking 100 miles last week). Working with horses is keeping me sane throughout lockdown, but I am already chomping at the bit for when I can continue to pursue my project once again.
I hope this finds all of you and your loved ones healthy and safe.
~A Socially Distanced Cello Lockwood