I was travelling around the world for a year on my own. This was about 3/4 of the way through my trip, and I was in Petra, Jordan. I was staying at a hostel outside of the centre of town, and as I was walking into town one evening, a truck pulled up with two men. The passenger got out, introduced himself as Ali, and was friendly, welcomed me to Petra, asked where I was staying, and suggested I stay at another hostel in the centre of town. I had been travelling long enough to feel fairly comfortable talking with strangers, and trusted my instincts as they had brought me this far safely.
I went to the hostel in town the next day and decided to stay there for the next 2 days of my trip. Ali worked at the hostel as seemingly a kind of social ambassador, likely wrangling potential guests as he had done with me. He continued to be very friendly when I saw him, and I was flattered by the attention, but did not take think of it as more than friendly as he appeared to be at least 10 years younger than me.
On my last night, he invited me to his family’s home for dinner. They were poor, but welcoming. I felt uncomfortable being served with the men by the very subservient women in the family, but it felt like an adventure. When he suggested going to a place in town that served alcohol it seemed fitting to continue this adventure on my last night.
We each had a beer, and he was lectured by a local who was not happy that he was drinking (or so Ali said when I asked what their conversation had been about). He suggested we leave and go back to the hostel since it was not good for him to be drinking alcohol in public. There was a tent outside the hostel with a fire pit. None of the guests staying at the hostel were outside, but Ali had a friend join us who had a water pipe that they said simply had apple tobacco and they served me a tall glass filled with ice and the local liqueur (similar to ouzo). I remember taking one hit from the water pipe and drinking the contents of the glass (which they encouraged me to do quickly).
The next thing I remember was waking up in the downstairs hallway of the hostel, the lights were out, Ali was behind me supporting my back and shoulders and his friend was performing oral sex on me. I remember trying to reach out to push the man’s head away and protesting and immediately passing out again. Then I remember being up in my bed in a shared room with a couple of other girls (Japanese as I recall) and Ali was in bed with me. I remember feeling sexual at that point, but in a dreamlike state, and in and out of consciousness. When I woke up early in the morning, I was horrified. Confused. My brain was in a fog. I felt humiliated and my brain was screaming to leave. I remember going to the bathroom and seeing that my lip was cut and my jacket had a burn in it. I remember Ali seeing how upset I was and it was attracting the attention of staff and other house guests. People were gathered around me asking what I was wrong, but I just wanted to leave that place. I cou ldn’t figure out what had happened. I couldn’t formulate a coherent sentence. Had this all been a nightmare? My brain was so dense I couldn’t make sense of anything. I just knew my head was screaming to leave that place and the people around me were coming in concerned nightmarish waves and I was suffocating. I needed to leave to make sense of what had happened.
My plan had been to go to Wadi Rum that day, so I got on the bus but decided to skip that stop and continue on to Aqaba as I couldn’t imagine going on a sightseeing trip into the dessert at this point. I needed somewhere safer to go and think. I needed sleep. I needed safety. I needed to get out of this place and away from these people. Not long into the trip a guy on the bus a guy from the hostel came and sat near me talking to me. I can’t remember what he was saying but only that I needed him to shut up so I could think. When the bus arrived at the next town. Ali was there with a wailing woman, I assume his mother, but didn’t remember her from dinner the night before. They were begging me not to do anything. That it had been a mistake. That Ali was sorry but please don’t get him in trouble. I realized I had been set up – that the local guy on the bus was there to make sure they didn’t lose me when I got to the next town in case Ali and his mother d idn’t arrive in time.
I remember yelling at them to get away from me and running to the nearest hotel that looked as expensive and secure with a front desk and security. Even there, though, I wasn’t safe. Ali’s friends kept calling my room, trying to offer me free trips and different incentives to lure from the hotel. I told the front desk to stop all further calls and hid in my room until I could formulate a plan. I showered and slept and the next day decided I needed to leave the country and took the short cab drive to the border of Israel and escaped to Eilat.
I managed to put this incident out of my head for the remaining months of my travels, but in the 16 years since, I realize how much was taken of me that day. When I returned home, I had photos developed from that time and saw they had taken some pictures of me around the fire pit outside the hostel. I looked completely out of it and have no recollection of this happening. It upset me so much and triggered such an intense reaction that I destroyed the photos.
I have not been able to have a relationship with any man ever since. My mental health, trust, confidence, and self esteem has eroded to the point that I no longer believe I will ever be able to trust anyone enough to ever let them touch me sexually. I no longer trust my instincts about people and have difficulty making decisions. The emotional toll it was taken on my life has been catastrophic, but I am determined to start telling my story. To get out from under the shame and uncertainty and muddiness of the details. To stop blaming myself for this and to take my life back. I have so much guilt that I didn’t stay to try to prevent this from happening to anyone else, but it was a Muslim country in 1999 and I felt powerless and confused. I was briefly in touch with a woman online through the Lonely Planet message boards who said bad things happened at that hostel and it was run by suspicious characters.
I’m sick that I just left and didn’t stand up for myself. I didn’t defend myself. I ran and I regret it to this day and am not sure how to heal this. It’s already taken too much from me and poisoned too much of my life without my even knowing it because I’ve been in denial about this for so long. I guess I’ve been suffering from PTSD all this time and have let it derail my life in ways that I didn’t even realize were connected to this night.
I hope it isn’t too late to fight fight for myself and tell my story in the hope that someone out there may read this and know something of it, or know someone who this happened to, or can identify with the confusion and heartbreak and damage that has been rippling out from this for decades now.
I support all the brave women who have posted their stories and all the women who have suffered the pain, indignity, and trauma of rape. I wish healing and love for all us.
— Jennifer, Age 47