Remembering Wendy Botham – A Life that Lit Up Petra

Wendy Botham at work at her desk at Petra Moon in Wadi Musa. (Photo courtesy of Petra Moon Tourism Services.)
Wendy Botham at work at her desk at Petra Moon in Wadi Musa. (Photo courtesy of Petra Moon Tourism Services.)

Wendy Botham, a friend of ACOR and a dynamic presence in the Wadi Musa community near the Petra Archaeological Park, passed away on 25 September 2014 in Amman. Originally from Texas, she came to Jordan in 1992 as a backpacking tourist, became enchanted with Petra and its people, and remained there for the rest of her life.

Wendy Botham joined Petra Moon Tourism Services, a company founded by the al-Nawafleh family of Wadi Musa, and she was the General Manager of that company from 1992–2013. She also served on the board of directors of the Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association. Petra Moon was among the first tourism companies in Jordan to focus on adventure travel and cultural ecotourism. Wendy once commented that Petra Moon was successful because it had an informative website and because the staff followed up on every single email and internet inquiry that it generated. It was the immediate feedback and then the steady flow of communication that generated customers. It was the authentic experience and Bedouin hospitality that earned their loyalty.

Wendy was a vocal supporter of Petra and the communities that live around it. In 2010 she wrote, “Like any precious thing, Petra must be properly polished, cared for and safeguarded” in the Jordan Times. Wendy was a creative businesswoman whose initiatives in Wadi Musa included the popular Petra Kitchen. This cooking school gave instruction for tourists in traditional Jordanian and Levantine cuisine, from making Arabic salads to preparing Mansaf. Wendy founded the “Made in Jordan” boutique in the same building. A beautiful selection of items including soaps, cosmetics and silverwork as well as all kinds of textiles are sold there. She worked hard to find women’s cooperatives for handicrafts all across Jordan to include their unique products in the shop’s offerings. Wendy was part of the initiative to establish the “Petra by Night,” a two-hour evening walk on a path lit romantically with candlelight into Petra, through the Siq, up to the Treasury and back. She had the idea to put candles in paper bags to illuminate the walk, inspired by the “candellarias” she had seen in the American southwest.

Wendy Botham, pioneering spirit and general manager of Petra Moon Tourist Services, was instrumental in developing "Petra by Night," a romantic, candle-lit walk through Petra's narrow Siq up to the Treasury.  Photo Jordan Tourism Board.
Wendy Botham, pioneering spirit and general manager of Petra Moon Tourist Services, was instrumental in developing “Petra by Night,” a romantic, candle-lit walk through Petra’s narrow Siq up to the Treasury. Photo Jordan Tourism Board.

The Petra Moon office in Wadi Musa is a busy place and Wendy was an important presence there, remembered for bringing her pet dog, a miniature Chihuahua named Chiquita, with her to work every day. Eid al Nawafleh, a partner at Petra Moon who worked with Wendy for many years, remarked that she was known and liked by everyone in the town, and that she is very much missed.

Before moving to Jordan in 1992, Wendy had had a successful corporate career in the United States. She studied Accounting and English at the Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and started out as an accountant in an oil company where her father worked. She later earned an M.A. in Accounting at Michigan State University and started a career as an auditor for the retail chain Montgomery Ward. She travelled all around the southwestern states for her work. She held positions of increasing responsibility in Chicago, Alabama, and Florida. Later she moved into the tourism sector, and became a manager at a resort on Sanibel Island, a long barrier island in the Gulf of Florida famous for wildlife refuges and beach holidays.

After some years in Florida, she took off to travel the world, eventually spending nearly a year in Egypt before coming to Jordan and deciding to stay. Eid al Nawafleh remembers that when she first came to Petra, she was writing a book and initially planned to stay only to work on her manuscript. However her aptitude for business and her experience in the tourism sector drew her into management and unfortunately she never finished her book.

Wendy Botham in a Levantine dress. (Photo courtesy of K. Woodruff.)

Wendy greatly admired the book Married to a Bedouin, the memoir of a western woman who married a Bedouin man and lived in the caves in Petra for nearly a decade in the 1970s and 80s. Wendy knew many of the characters in the book personally and she became a friend of the author, Marguerite van Geldermalsen. They shared a love of reading and writing. In an interview for this article, Marguerite commented, “Years ago I was visiting her in the Petra Moon office and some clients came in. She used the map on the wall to explain the itinerary for their day inside the Petra site (where I worked most days) with such descriptive enthusiasm that I wanted to go with them on the tour!”

Wendy had a large personal library at her home in Wadi Musa. It was her wish that her books be given to ACOR after she died. Some of her library has been added to the (non-circulating) ACOR scholarly library, and her extensive collection of fiction and paperbacks is kept on new bookshelves in a hallway of the ACOR Hostel, now known as the Wendy Botham Memorial Lending Library.

Wendy’s sister, Karen Woodruff, wrote, “I know that Wendy lived exactly the life she wanted for herself there in Jordan, and it truly was her home.  She wasn’t a person who could accept that something she wanted to do was not obtainable, and she went after her dreams tirelessly.  I had the opportunity to spend enough time in Jordan to understand how much she did accomplish and that she was much respected and loved.”

This article is based on telephone and email interviews with Karen Woodruff, a sister of Wendy Botham, author Marguerite van Geldermalsen, and Eid al Nawafleh of Petra Moon Tourism Services.

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