Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm Lovin' it

ate to say it, dear readers, but I'm compelled to tell the truth ... I am blogging from a Macdonalds in Aswan. The pull of free internet was too strong. And beyond that it's been two months since I had a burger (which also a confession that, yes, I did order a Big Mac for the first time in 5 years). Megan and I practically ran here after our seminar tonight, and now (after X orders of fries) the servers (I'm sorry "team members") are our best friends. I should be ashamed, but truthfully, I just can't.

On a less horrifying note, Aswan is beautiful. We've spent the last two days island hopping and visiting temples, tombs, and quarries. This area of the Nile, just around the first cataract in Southern Egypt, really is one of the most stunning places I've ever been. The Nile is clear and blue, and fallukas sail around it in the perfect breeze. The Nubian's are even more friendly as the Egyptians (if you can really make that kind of distinction) and the light is perfect most every time of the day. Our first night here we ate at the Aswan moon restaurant, which is actually a barge tethered to the shore. From the balcony of the hotel room we can see the rock-cut tombs of Qubbet el-Hawa high on a hill on the west bank.

I can't convey anything with words (I am in a "Mac" after all) so I leave you with a photo ... hopefully to make up for the opening image. (It's not even the best I have...)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Arrived in Luxor this afternoon. Talk about culture shock within culture shock.

We left the Oasis after a frantic three days of excavation. Really rewarding but made the departure a little abrupt. It was sad to watch the dig-house and staff go through the back of the mini-bus. One of the more home-y homes I've had.

Luxor is a huge city on the Nile and a far cry from the three avenues of Mut. Our hotel is rather fancy, with a roof-top pool and cafe, and the streets are eerily clean. Too many old tourists in shorts for my taste -- we're going to have to adjust to being treated more as meal tickets than as curiosities. The Nile is absolutely beautiful here. We went down to the banks at sun-set and watched the sail-boats and cruiseships.

Cannot believe I am actually here. I had started to forget I was in Egypt. Suddenly what felt like eaons at the dig-house is a blink of an eye. Tomorrow we head down to Aswan and a bunch of sites around the first cateract. It's supposed to be the most beautiful part of Egypt and I think that will drive it home -- I'm here.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Yesterday, 45 minutes before our deadline, the permit came.

THE PERMIT CAME... freak-out ensued.

Offah. So we're excavating for 4 days. We were out in the field today, but the topographers didn't make it over to our area until the last hour or so, so we had no grids to work with. Tomorrow hopefully we can start work in earnest. The geophysist doing the magnotometry work arrived last night just in time to come out and sit around with us. It should be really interesting once we get going.

Hanshouf ...

("hanshouf" meaning "we'll see" in Arabic)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

" ... do they have purgatory in Islam?"

What a week ... beyond the fun stuff we've been doing our future has been dangled in front of us like a toy mouse. Wednesday it still seemed as though our permit would never come. Enter grand plans of a Nile cruise into Nubia and an extended tour of the Nile Valley. Come Thursday the permit paper-work is miraculously found and Nile cruise dreams are crushed and replaced with a short 10 day excavation season. Too bad I haven't had a souvenir buying excursion ... looks like there will be no days off until the end of March!

While the uncertainty was trying, I have finally gotten excited about actually doing some work. Vacation living is all fine and good, but the American work-ethic has corrupted me into thinking I need to earn my keep. It's amazing how different the Egyptian attitude towards work is. Everyone makes jokes about the Egyptian work week -- and work day. Tea figures prominently three times a day, and Thursday is your day to prepare for your weekend -- Sunday is to recover. I don't think it's totally a bad system. While it makes getting things done harder, it makes not getting things done easier, and who was it that said humans are made for doing things anyway? What about living? Plus, what if you really like tea?

So ... we're still waiting for the magic permit to physically arrive in our hands. Until then the survey team has gotten permission to walk around the site looking innocent and avoiding anything that looks like "work". We'll start practicing laying grids around the house today and then tomorrow (inshallah) we'll begin.

Can't say it's not dramatic!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Da Nile isn't just a river in Egypt

I haven’t been writing because I'd like to stay in denial. We haven’t gotten our permit to excavate yet, and it finally being two weeks late, the odds that we will are dwindling rapidly. The last couple weeks have been frustrating, but we’ve filled the days with lots of interesting things. People from both houses have been coming to lecture to us on their work, we’ve begun learning middle Egyptian hieroglyphs, and on a rotating basis we’ve got to go out with Ellen and Johanna the geologist to do non-survey around the site. Where we can we’ve been pitching in on projects to clean up the artifact database, wash-draw-sort pottery, fix maps, and the like. Everyone’s been a good sport about it, and it’s obviously been harder for the folks who’s year’s work depends on new material that comes out of the excavation. If permission doesn’t come within the next week, we’ll head out to the Nile Valley early, which certainly won’t be a bad thing! We’ll have lots of extra time to see sights off the beaten path and may even get to take a side-trip to the red sea.

We’ve also been taking some incredible field trips. At the beginning of the week we went to the Medieval settlement of Balat. The dark and windy streets are the same as they were hundreds of years ago and the people that live there today live largely the same lives as those at the turn of the first millennia.

Yesterday we climbed the escarpment on the edge of the oasis up to the Libyan plateau. This hike was the most amazing trek I’ve ever made. We got driven to the base of the scarp near the Medieval settlement of el Qasr, and started up the gradual slope. Eventually it turned into giant sand dunes interspersed with limestone and quartz outcroppings. The rocks are amazing and alive and its clear where water or wind have given them wrinkles and winks. All the way up I was stopping to pick up crystals, bright purple rocks, and stone tools.

When we got to the top it was like looking at a satellite view of the oasis. Little swaths of green and yellow and white salt fields. I swore I could see the curve of the earth. After we ate lunch on a ledge we tromped around the plateau. So flat and covered with wind-polished lime-stone that it looked like tundra… snow in the desert. There’s also millions of outcrops of chert cores, which are the smoothest most beautifully mottled stone you’ve ever seen. You just want to rub the stones over your skin all day. The plains look like another planet, covered for miles with perfectly round bowling ball sized rocks.

Eventually we headed down -- running and sliding and falling down a sand-dune the ran the entire descent. There is nothing like falling fast without fear. Honestly the most joyful laugh I think I’ve had since I was three and saw the beach for the first time.

So, despite the real possibility that the future is dig-less, we’re working on some child-like wonder.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Desert Escarpment and Libyan Plateau

going up ...
(not posed)

coming down ...

Sunday, February 1, 2009