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“Things We Don’t All See”

A Profile of Osama Cori

As our group carefully picked its way down the wadi’s steep banks, I looked back and noticed that one white-hatted head had fallen behind. Crouched on a rocky outcropping, our companion gazed intently into the sky, apparently trying to focus his camera on some distant object.

“Osama, what are we looking at?” someone called.

Rising and striding toward us, he pointed at a cluster of large birds spiraling upward from the other side of the wadi. As we squinted into the distance, Osama flipped quickly through his bird manual, comparing the book’s images with the close-up photos he’d taken.

This happened frequently during our four-day hike; Osama was often drawing our attention to unique wildlife, plants, and constellations. As one of our group members put it, “He just sees things we don’t all see.”

As a child in Saudi Arabia, Osama had few opportunities to explore nature. He does remember watching a series of documentaries on African safaris with rapt attention, though. As the series was in French, he didn’t understand any of the narration; but the natural beauty and breathtaking adventures fascinated him. Reflecting on those years, Osama laughs in wonder: “Back then, I never thought my life would be just like the next documentary to watch; but that’s how it turned out.”

When he moved to Jordan some years later and began visiting its natural wonders, locals often assumed Osama was a foreign tourist; Jordanians never came to these places! As he considered this fact during his final year of university, he decided to begin a hiking group for Jordanian students. “When I started organizing these trips,” he remembers, “a lot of the people were going out in nature for the first time. So for me, the gift was when they say, ‘Oh, I never knew this kind of place existed in Jordan.‘  You really feel like you’re helping them to know more about their own country.”

In the years following his graduation from university, Osama continued leading weekend hiking trips.  Eventually, though, his goal of introducing Jordanians to Jordan led him to another place entirely.  Chosen by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, Osama was sent to South Africa to study nature tourism and guiding.  Accepting the risk involved in quitting his successful engineering job for something unknown, he departed for five months studying at one of South Africa’s finest academies for nature training and another five months working in nature guiding and adventure in Malawi.

After ten months of new adventures and experiences, Osama returned to Jordan. Today, as he hikes through the country’s steep canyons and arid expanses, many sights and activities prompt a smile and a happy memory from South Africa; it was clearly a transformative experience. At the same time, Osama admits, “Even while I was in Africa, I missed hiking in Jordan. In Africa, you have everything – beautiful, exotic places, wildlife, everything. But I still missed the canyons in Jordan.”

From his time in Africa, Osama has brought back to Jordan an energized vision for the future of ecotourism: “The way they manage ecotourism in South Africa makes it one of the biggest sources of income in the nation, and a lot of local tribes get involved. So why can’t we as Jordanians bring this as a new field that can bring income for people here?”

Having experienced the renowned beauty of South African safaris, Osama remains confident in Jordan’s potential as a unique outdoor tourism destination. To develop this potential, he has plunged into a number of local initiatives – among them, the development of the cross-country Jordan Trail. “Jordan is a very small area,” he admits, “but it’s full of small pieces of everything. Put together into one huge mosaic, Jordan can provide a full package experience.”

“Believe me,” he says of the Jordan Trail project, “every day has a different personality!  Every one kilometer, you find yourself in a completely different place.”

But what is his favorite of these places?  When asked, he studies the rock in front of him for a moment; he then quickly lists a half dozen locations across the length of Jordan, almost tripping over the words in his hurry to name them all. Pausing, he shakes his head and laughs. “Really, it’s all, all amazing,” he says.

Hiking in Abraham’s footsteps, from Turkey to the Holy Land