For videographer Oliver Simons, Jordan is a destination best visited with a camera and an open mind. From the sweeping vistas of Wadi Rum to the sandstone beauty of Petra, Oliver captured it during his time in the Kingdom, all while the landscape — and its people — redefined his understanding of the country and its culture.   

Photo by Lotta Stevens

What brought you to Jordan?

I have always had an interest in visiting Jordan, especially Petra, but it felt like a place I would never get the chance to travel to. After planning to visit other countries in the Middle East, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make the trip through this beautiful country.

Where did you visit?

I visited the Ancient City of Petra, Wadi Rum, and the marine city of Aqaba.

What surprised you most about the country?

I was undoubtedly amazed by the diverse impact that tourism has on the Bedouin people of Petra and Wadi Rum — some consequences are readily embraced, while others are distinctly problematic. Jordan is set to be one of the most literate countries in the world, hoping to achieve a  literacy rate of 100 percent by the year 2020. However, the ability to earn a quick, often unstable income from tourism has led to increasing numbers of children selling souvenirs instead of attending school. 

Photo by Lotta Stevens
Photo by Lotta Stevens
For this reason, local tour guides will advise you not to purchase anything from child vendors inside Petra, and this should be strictly adhered to. In support of this movement, a mural has even been created at the school in Wadi Rum as an effort to champion the right to education for every child. The quote written across it reads, “Education is the movement from darkness to light.” If you get a chance to visit the Valley of the Moon, be sure to look out for it.

What were you most excited about filming?

I was looking forward to capturing the sweeping landscapes of Wadi Rum and the ancient petroglyphs that can be found there. The magnificent desert biome evokes an overwhelming connection to nature’s extremes, while also offering an intimate window into ancient nomadic routes and the very roots of humanity.

What gear did you use to film this video?

I tried to keep my gear as barebones as possible. My camera bag contained a Panasonic G80/G85 mirrorless camera with a 12-60 Lumix G lens, a Zhiyun Crane v2 gimbal, and a Tascam DR-05 for audio. One of my favorite (and essential) accessories was a USB camera battery charger, which I used in combination with a power bank. This kept my batteries full while  on the move.

Photo by Lotta Stevens

Did you face any unexpected challenges during your time in the country?

I wouldn’t say there were any challenging moments on the trip, but it was emotionally distressing to witness the ill treatment and the evident suffering of horses, donkeys, and camels that are used for tourist carriages in Petra. While the use of such animals is crucial and an ancient practice in Bedouin culture, particularly in the desolate desert biome, the number of trips taken by tourists in the extreme heat is notably taxing on the animals. I would encourage anyone planning a trip to Petra to walk the shallow descent to the main Siq at the face of the Treasury and take time to reflect on the shared human experience of navigating these ancient pathways on foot.

Did you get to interact with many people on the ground?

If I didn’t interact with the people, the trip would have lost the richness, complexity, and understanding I gained from the everyday experiences of the  Jordanian people. Eased by their excellent sense of humor and aided by their fluency in English (often with proficiency in several other languages), I received a generosity that was greatly cherished.

Photo by Lotta Stevens

Did your time in Jordan have an impact on your travels elsewhere?

It has definitely had an impact on my travels, and I hope to do more traveling in the Middle East soon. However, it has also made me more critical about my own presence in spaces of great cultural significance, many of which have been carved out and exploited for tourist consumption. Undeniably, it’s a highly contentious debate, so I would love to explore active avenues for ethical tourism further and fully engage with grassroots initiatives that offer a sustainable future for indigenous communities.

Are there any notable takeaways from your time in the country?

I would say that the overwhelming optimism and generosity of the Jordanian people was most heartening, particularly where great efforts are being taken to offer better opportunities to their children. The Ma’an Governorate Wind Farm Project in rural southern Jordan is a strong visual symbol of this progress. Funded by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, the project is set to forge greater socioeconomic bridges and environmental sustainability for Jordanians in the remote region of Ma’an. I, along with many others, eagerly await to see what the future will bring to this beautiful country.

For more information about the projects mentioned in this interview, visit their respective webpages.

Photos by Lotta Stevens