Monday, July 12, 2010

Interpreting Evidence and O. J. Simpson

     From about 5:00 a.m. until almost 1:00 Monday through Friday I could be found digging up on Area A, part of an ancient city famous as one of the Decapolis cities mentioned in the New Testament. As I mentioned earlier, we were digging down through layers and layers of history and time. We were trying to ascertain what life had been like in this city over the thousands of years of its existence, studying the layers of dirt which offered up clues of major disasters like earthquakes, fires, and floods. In several of my squares I could literally see the black layers of dirt and ashes from long ago fires; and then from early writers such as Josephus, we knew of two major earthquakes that had occurred in the region. Several times the city of Abila had been destroyed in places, knocked on its ass, so to speak (note that this is not an archaeological term, of course). So I'm filling up goofas full of dirt all day, sifting through rubble, finding potsherds and what not from different archaeological occupational periods, wiping sweat from my brow and trying not to think. By now I am majorly missing my daughter (I talk to her once every weekend, as phone calls to the U.S. from Jordan at this time are expensive and difficult to make from the local pay phones), plus I'm counting down the weeks and days we have left before we can call it quits for this dig season! I'm not completely miserable. I mean, I am having some fun, but it is taking a toll on me.

     Unfortunately, this summer will go down in infamy for a lot of Americans. We have  just recently heard that O. J. Simpson has been accused of allegedly killing his ex-wife (the mother of his 2 children), Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. How embarrassing it is to be an American right now. That blasted TV is killing our reputation! In surreal fashion I got to watch on Jordanian T.V. (in Irbid of all places!) a low-speed 50 mile police chase of Simpson in his white Ford Bronco traveling along the Los Angeles freeways for hours on end until he finally stopped in Brentwood where he lived at the time. This once famous American iconic football star was making world news headlines, not only in the US, but in all the foreign presses as well, and what could any of us say? Stop it; you're embarassing me! Of course this case will drag on for months and months, and what will eventually be even more embarrassing is that O. J. will get off; he'll walk away scot free from a double murder. Even with all the DNA evidence, the bloody socks, the 15 inch German-made knife, the size 12 Bruno Magli shoes, the carpet fibers, the hair strands, the 9-1-1 calls from Nicole, and all the testimonies concerning spousal abuse and her deadly fear of O. J., he will be acquitted. Which just goes to prove that digging through layers of shit to get to the truth does not always get the results you might expect. I guess it depends on how you read the evidence, how you talk it up and present it, which was a lot like what Bill Dever was arguing about in terms of biblical archaeology when he said that bible thumping archaeologists were embarrassing him and other "real" academics with all their so-called "proof" that the Bible must be true! They just saw what they wanted to see and made their interpretations fit!

     This same theory could apply to anything or anyone, though, really. We each of us just see what we want to see, believe what we want to believe. Even with all the evidence shouting something completely to the contrary. We come upon something potentially interesting, and like archaeologists (or criminal investigators) we do an initial "surface survey." This is the outward, topmost layer of what we're  investigating, what we're looking at, what's easily visible to the naked eye. But when we start digging, we start to unearth artifacts that belong to earlier times, layers that may eventually show evidence of violence, of destruction. Evidence that life may have been turned upside down, smacked on its ass. Evidence of something so majorly catastrophic, that without having dug through the layers would have never even been discovered. Wow! And then there's the stuff we find. What do we do with it? Do we keep it or throw it out? What if it's been tainted? Do we cover it back up? How do we interpret it? What if we're wrong? What if we find out something we don't want to know? What if it suggests something contrary to what we initially believed? What then? Sometimes, and maybe just sometimes, we shouldn't go digging. And then maybe sometimes digging is what's absolutely necessary, and truth, well, it is what it is! Nobody said we had to like it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Troubles With Some Local Boys Back at Camp

     I can't say I was all that happy to get back to camp, but we had made some friends over the weeks and it was good to see them. We were still complaining up at Area A about all sorts of things, but we were having fun too! Second breakfast seemed to be getting worse. While we looked forward to the 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 break, our boiled eggs and bread were getting old in more ways than one.  Jordanian flat bread is delicious when it's fresh and soft, but miserly Dr. Mare would buy it old to start with, and then we'd have to eat it until it was gone. Some days we just couldn't, and on those days we'd take to "Frisbee" throwing the hardened round pieces off the Tell to see how far they'd fly. At least the bread made for some cheap entertainment! J and I regularly bought a brand of Austrian sandwich cookies that we'd have every day out on the Tell, and they'd be our little bit of sweet chocolate that we were missing so very much on this trip. We did eat a lot of fresh tomatoes, but like I said earlier, our "dig" salt was useless, though J did manage to find us our own supply and bring it out to the Tell for 2nd breakfast. We just wanted some decent salt on our tomatoes and cold hard boiled eggs. Still, the daily grind of getting up early, working until 1:00 when it was too hot to even breathe, and then returning to camp and more bad food, awful toilets and showers, and several more hours of camp work before finally getting an hour or two at night of quiet time before flopping down on our foam mattress beds to pass out for maybe 5 hours of sleep before starting it all over again was getting tiresome beyond belief. I felt like I was growing more and more selfish as the days slowly passed. I was beginning to hoard and hide (and read: Not SHARE) salt, cookies, peanut butter, cold water, or anything else that I perceived to be a luxury. If I had been back at home I wouldn't have even cared, but here it was different. Life was hard. These things were MINE, and if anyone else wanted what I had they could go into Irbid and get it themselves! But oh my god! I was acting like a two year old! Or better yet, an amoeba!  I thought I was a person who was perfectly easy to get along with, that everyone could like, no problem; but honestly, looking back, I'm thinking in retrospect that I'm probably not the kind of person you'd want to be with in a really bad situation. I can turn really ugly! I might not say anything, or even do anything, but I'd have a big black ugly spot right in the center of my heart! And heck, who knows? If those eight weeks had turned into eight months, I might have taken to actually committing acts of violence! I mean, how well do any of us really know ourselves? Try it. Just put yourself into a really hard situation for a given length of time and see what happens!

Thankfully, there were a couple of people that I felt kindly towards, and they made camp life (and life on the Tell) a little more bearable. However, there were a few people I was growing to hate. For example, there were these two teenage sisters (I think they were around 15 and 17 years old) at the camp whose mom supervised Area AA. She was busy that summer (and from what I gathered, for several summers) having an affair with the Director of Antiquities. While I know that he had two wives, I think he was allowed four, and so pursuing a woman while he was married was not breaking any laws for him (except for the small fact that she was not Muslim!). Several evenings each week he would come and pick her up at the camp in his oversized SUV (which made a statement all its own to the local "peons" that he was very wealthy and important). Who knows what all they'd do, but many a night he would bring her back late, or else he'd hang out himself for several hours before heading back home. And I'm pretty certain that he picked her up on many weekends too. She lived at our camp with all the women and married couples, so I got to witness their comings and goings first hand. Of course, she always looked very happy. He was from a very important, prestigious tribe, and so was "big" in many ways! Unfortunately, (because of this?) her two daughters seemed to think they could do anything they wanted, and so broke every camp rule we had concerning going off alone, and being "friends" with the local boys. It was dig camp policy to not in any way "encourage" the boys' attention, as they would eventually cause disruption of all sorts, which they did. Since these girls were such flirts, and since word spread pretty rapidly that they were "easy," about 20 guys at any given time came from all over the area to our camp to "play soccer" and ogle these American babes. This they would do during our afternoon nap time, which meant that while we needed to keep as much air as possible flowing through our rooms, and thus needed to keep our doors open, there was no way we were going to get any sleep. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh. Unfortunately for us, our room on the first floor overlooked the school yard, which became their playing field. And, to top it all off, they were thieves. Personal belongings and money began disappearing while we were away during the day. Warnings went out, precautions were taken, and those two girls were reminded of the rules of acceptable behavior, while their mother was informed of their misbehavior. All, seemingly, to no avail. Apparently, the three of them thrived on male attention!

       And if this weren't enough, these same two girls would again, without regards to the culture they were in, walk up and down the road between camps all by themselves without any chaperones. Then they'd get all upset when truckloads of boys would drive by and yell obscenities and throw rotten tomatoes at them! What did they expect? In that culture, especially where we were so far out in the country, teenage girls would NEVER be allowed to walk around without being escorted by an older woman or a male relative. Thus, the assumption was that these girls were "bad." Otherwise, someone would have been taking care to watch over them, and since no one obviously was, there could only be one explanation. Plus they weren't covered! Those shameless little hussies would walk around in short sleeved t-shirts, with no scarves on their heads, sometimes in shorts.  In Arab culture they were as good as whores, and so they were being treated as such! The only reason they weren't raped is because they were part of the American group digging at Abila, and as such, under government protection. Just like the story of the guy on leave from the Army who attacked one of the American women several years back, these boys would have been tried, convicted, and sentenced immediately if they would have laid even one finger on those girls, and it was that alone that saved their little butts. Personally, I wanted to wring their necks! Their own mother couldn't keep them under control. Of course, nuts don't fall far from the tree, if you know what I mean! Trouble followed them out to the dig, and while I don't remember exactly what area they were working in (it wasn't ours or their mother's), I do recall complaints being made that boys incessantly hung out too much where they didn't belong because of them. It's sometimes easy to fall back into the archaic thinking that if girls act or dress in a certain way then they are just asking for "it," and thus deserve whatever they get. That's the way it is in most Arab cultures. Males are not held accountable for their deviant behavior. They can't help themselves, after all. I knew that those two girls weren't asking for anything more than some attention, and that they might have wanted that more from their mother (or father). Who knows? But I was sick and tired of their self-centeredness. Their lack of regard for the larger group. And Dr. Mare didn't care because he didn't have to deal with it. So it was just one more thing that became J's problem, and mine. Sometimes I thought this whole dig thing majorly sucked, and that J must surely be insane! Why else would he keep coming back?

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Farewell to Israel

     The next day we had to head back across the border into Jordan, and I was glad. I was ready to leave.  This was not my promised land, and I knew that it would take awhile for me to digest all that I had seen and felt, and thought about this place. It's hard to even write about it, to try to capture it, to do it justice when so many people have visited there, many on their own pilgrimages. Millions of visitors to Israel have been spiritually moved by their experiences, so for me to say that I had mixed emotions about it seems almost heretical. But I don't want to lie. I don't even want to exaggerate. Not this. It's too important. This land is a part of my Judeo-Christian heritage, and so it does mean something. It just didn't feel right is all I'm saying. It didn't seem as holy as I expected it to be, or as I wanted it to be. It seemed sick. Like it had been cut off from something living. Its past and its glory were being remembered; it was being excavated, dissected, researched, and written about. It was being cried over, argued over, fought over. But no one can bring that past back! You can dig it up, put it in a museum. You can preach sermons about it. You can teach history lessons about it. But you can't go back. History keeps being made. And now, Israel needs weapons and money to survive. Now, its climate is more political than it is religious. And I guess that's what I felt. And I was ready to go crawl back into my hole at Abila, the one I was digging that dated further back in time to before Moses was called to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the "Promised Land;" to before the temple was ever even built; to before Jerusalem was burnt to the ground; to before, before . . what? How far back does one have to dig to find even one civilization that existed before mankind started being so arrogant, so selfish, so greedy, so quarrelsome?

     Well, I was headed back across Israel's border again, a border defended by scattered land mines, razor wire fences, and automatic machine guns. What was I even doing here? Learning something useful? Seeing things for myself so that I might become more interested in history, in the Bible, in politics? So that I could go back home, back to my church and say that I had been to the Holy Land? And share what message? Tell people what? In the end, I didn't have to worry because J would take care of all that. Me? I just needed to be still.