From dogs to deserts, Brenda’s journey to finding home in Wadi Rum

Brenda racing her stallion Barq in Wadi Rum (photo by Imke Lighthart)
Brenda racing her stallion Barq in Wadi Rum (Photo by Imke Lighthart)
As a child, Brenda van den Brink always had one wish at the top of her birthday list: a dog.

Her love for animals was undeniable, and growing up in the Netherlands, she eagerly seized every opportunity to spend time with them. Becoming a veterinarian was her ultimate dream, but her mathematics grades stood in her way. However, she refused to let that deter her from pursuing her passion. At the age of 15, she decided to volunteer her services to the village veterinarian, who transformed a room in his house into a clinic once a week.اضافة اعلان

Now, sitting in her sandy yard in Al-Diseh, a village north of Wadi Rum, she describes her love for animals as one of the defining threads in the tapestry of her life. She proudly introduces me to her five dogs and the seven corralled horses, six of which belong to Abdullah Al-Zwaydeh, her Jordanian Bedouin colleague with whom she co-founded Jordan Desert Journeys.

Together, they craft tailor-made tours for visitors to Wadi Rum, offering a wide range of experiences, from multi-day horse-riding treks through the desert to traditional weaving workshops with local women.

Brenda van den Brink and Abdullah Al-Zwaydeh demonstrate how the Bedouin use the plant _ajram as soap (photo courtesy of Heather Surls)

As we settle onto floor cushions in her one-story cinderblock home enveloped by an arrangement of vegetables, flowers, and herbs, she reveals the second red thread in her life: her fascination with skincare. After working in the Netherlands for many years, She began importing Dead Sea products. Her curiosity led her to visit the Kingdom in 2003, eager to witness firsthand where her company's products were manufactured.

A reversed homesickness
“When I went back on the airplane, I was homesick in the opposite way,” she says. “Can you imagine – I have never been homesick in my whole life, but it was like, ‘I have to go back.”’

Van den Brink made numerous return trips to Jordan over the ensuing years. Each visit to Wadi Rum felt like a homecoming. It was in Quweira that she crossed paths with a man aspiring to establish a tourist camp. Recognizing an entrepreneurial opportunity, she decided to invest in the venture and relocated to Jordan in 2009.

A profound sense of belonging in Jordan
For nine months, she lived in a tent at the site where she and her business partner began constructing their camp. Sadly, their partnership soured quickly, plagued by blackmail, sabotage, and exploitation. Despite the urging of her friends and family to return to the Netherlands, van den Brink remained resolute, anchored by a profound sense of belonging in Jordan.

Brenda van den Brink and her stallion, Barq (photo by Imke Lighthart)

Yet, her hardships were far from over.

She agreed to marry a Bedouin man from Petra, only to realize that his motives were rooted in financial gain rather than love.

Trapped within her own home in Petra for three years, she reached a breaking point when she found herself at knifepoint. "He tried to destroy everything, everything, everything,” she recounts. "But he couldn't destroy me."

With covert assistance from the Dutch embassy, she managed to escape her husband's clutches and found refuge back in Quweira, where she was warmly embraced by an acquaintance Ahmad and his family.

For two and a half years, Brink cared for Ahmad’s elderly father following a severe fall. It was during this time that he shared invaluable Bedouin stories and imparted his desert wisdom.

A final wish
Despite his youth, Ahmad had a premonition that his life would be short-lived. Before his passing, he entrusted Brenda with the responsibility of caring for his children. When his brothers attempted to sway her into working with them, she reminded them of their brother's final wish — that she goes to Wadi Rum and work with Zwaydeh.

Ahmad called Zwaydeh the best guide in Wadi Rum, and having observed her misadventures from afar, he was cautious, at first, about working with her, however, when she found her place in the village, everything fell into place. 

Dutch native Brenda van den Brink moved to southern Jordan in 2009 (photo by Imke Lighthart)

Today, Jordan Desert Journeys is operating in its eighth year and everyone knows van den Brink in Al-Diseh: a tall, slim woman, who dresses in long, embroidered dresses, and covers with a headscarf (she converted to Islam after moving to Jordan).   

Horse-riding and desert therapy
Her days include arranging itineraries, jostling over Wadi Rum’s sands to welcome guests, and leading horse-riding trips into the desert. Occasionally, she offers desert-inspired therapy to tourists, a nod to her former career as a massage therapist, in which she claims that she holds healing power in her hands.

As she describes her experience in assimilating in the village, she shares “I feel I belong to the desert and am happy to be here.” 

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