"Jerash on Fire" by John Jessen
The day I arrived in Jerash was pleasant. I got off the Amman-Jerash service bus and made my way to a restaurant far enough from Jerash’s Roman ruins to eat outside a tourist trap. Following a wonderful meal, I made my way to Jabal Al Aghdar, “The Green Mountain,” where I checked into an AirBnB with a view of Jerash’s Roman ruins.
Later that evening, Mizo mango juice in hand, I walked down the mountain to the sound of children playing in the streets, the cries of fruit sellers, and booming Arabic music. Warm light fell on the ruins, turning the temples, theaters, and colonnades pink in the evening sun. Meanwhile, I met a cool breeze along the way, making my evening stroll all the more enjoyable.
When the next morning arrived, I realized I had made two key mistakes in my solo journey to Jerash. The first, neglecting to bring sun block or a hat; the second, waiting until the morning to explore the Jerash’s impressive ruins.
The temperature steadily climbed and the single water bottle I had brought dried up within an hour. Locals hawked water at exorbitant prices in the shadows of Roman gateways and collapsed monuments. At first, I was too proud to buy the water; the idea of paying triple the normal price was absurd to me. Yet, as I trekked deeper into the sun-baked expanse of burning stone, I began to quickly reconsider their offers.
Three hours into my journey I could feel my skin reddening in the sun. Sweat soaked my cotton shirt and my backpack became heavier. This exhaustion mixed with a constant state of awe at the expansiveness and grandeur of the ancient ruins drove me steadily onward, looking for the gate at the end of the ruins. However, when I reached said gate, I was forced to return from where I came. It was sealed shut.
Quickly I tramped down the Cardo, the city’s main road, once a covered arcade. On my way back however, I was shocked to hear the roar of flames. The city had erupted into flames. The brittle ruins once sacked by the Sassanids now were blazing again. The smell of smoke, and the sight of flames licking the great roman columns hastened me on my way. Upon exiting the city, some five hours after entering, I finished a liter of water and a can of cold orange juice, relieved to be out of that fiery labyrinth.