PETRA — Much has changed in the four decades since 73-year-old Ali Bloul first set up his souvenir stand in the ancient city of Petra.
Bloul, better known as Abu Mohammad, said that in 1971, he was one of a handful of vendors plying handicrafts and other souvenirs to visitors.
"There were around 10 traders, who used to live in the caves near the historical sites,” he told The Jordan Times on Tuesday.
“Today, there are countless vendors and I hardly sell anything.”
Abu Mohammad said that he chose his profession because it was the only profitable business at the time.
"I used to go around the area near the Royal Tombs selling handicrafts out of a box. One day, members of the Ministry of Tourism recommended that I sell at the gate of the Royal Tombs. Since then, I have not moved and I obtained a licence as well," he recounted.
Abu Mohammad, like other trailside vendors in the archaeological site, is a native of Petra itself and used to live a simple desert life in one of the many caves that dot the rocky valley.
"When we lived in the caves, families sent their children on donkeys to bring water from a well," he said.
"There were only two taxis transporting people from Wadi Musa to Amman and it cost around 400 fils. I used one of these taxis to bring my goods from downtown Amman, where I paid 200 fils to spend one night at a hotel near Al Husseini Mosque.”
Abu Mohammad fondly recalled that in the old days, a wedding was a huge event for the small local community.
"Weddings lasted one week. Every night, people used to gather and dance. They were great times," he said.
In the 1980s, as Petra gained more currency with international travellers and tourism there began to grow, he and other residents were relocated from the caves to the nearby village of Um Sayhoun.
"I moved to this village in 1985 because when tourists visited these caves and found families living there, they got scared. So most residents moved to Um Sayhoun, which is near the historical sites," he said.
As the tourist numbers grew by the thousands, so too did the number of Abu Mohammad’s competitors.
"I used to earn around JD40 a day during the 1970s. today, I hardly make JD10," he said.
With stiff competition and no help from his 13 children, the souvenir seller said his business was unlikely to outlive him."My children refuse to help me,” he complained.
“They give tourists rides on donkeys, then they spend all the money they earn on cigarettes.”