Thursday, December 31, 2009

Camp Accommodations

     Not all dig sites and accommodations are created equal, and the Abila dig falls pretty far down on the scale of plushness. When we finally arrived at the location where we would be staying, I knew that the only thing that would get me through this would be J himself and my own determination to survive. After driving through the last vestige of civilization, the city of Irbid, we drove about another 8 miles north/northeast along a lone road to the village (actually, I'd call this something way smaller than a village) of Quawayibah before pulling into a large paved area in front of a school where half of our team would be living. (The dig group picture posted earlier was taken out in front of this school.) It had already been decided by the director that all the single men would be staying here, while further up the road about another 3/4 of a mile another school would house the women and married couples. In Jordan (as in many Muslim countries) boys and girls are separated by gender after primary school, thus the requirement for two post primary schools to serve the local area where we were staying. J and I would be housed in this 2nd school, away from where the main camp activity would be, which would be things like first morning breakfast, dinner, pottery cleaning and reading, lectures, and any basic general socializing (between the guys and girls, or just between anyone who could still manage to get along as the days and weeks slowly went by). This was also where all the sterilized water, food, and general supplies would be kept.
     As it was already past noon, the buses had to be unloaded, and the two camps set up. Our "beds" for these eight weeks would consist of 3-inch foam mattresses, and so J, who had learned that he must always look out for himself, and who would now include me in his care, secured two for each of us. Sheets and pillows, remember, everyone had to bring for themselves from home. J also secured for us a room on the ground floor (both schools were two stories), for two reasons: one, because it would be cooler; and two, he preferred being able to make a quick run for it in case of a bathroom emergency. Each room had individual entrances from the yard on one side and windows on the other, which would help in the way of any cross breezes that might blow through. The floors were concrete (thus the necessity for 2 mattesses, one stacked on the other, which a few people would be upset about later when they discovered what we had done). Each room also had a couple of desks in them, which gave us something to put our stuff on that needed keeping up off the floor, like our snacks. J had also previously warned me about all the critters that we might find in our shoes in the mornings (namely, scorpions), or that might scurry across our faces at night, so we kept as many items in sealed plastic baggies as possible. However, as for ourselves, well, unless we wanted to keep the covers pulled up over our heads all night, we had to be game for whatever! Anyway, while we wouldn't have any place to hang up our shirts and pants, J did string nylon clothesline across the room so that we could hang up our wet laundry. After we arranged our room by setting up our beds, our chairs, the clothesline, the boom box on the ledge of the chalkboard, and then laying out all our food stuffs, we were soon ready for several lectures about all the particular do's and don'ts and how to's concerning the dig and camp life (as well as the cultural nuances we needed to be aware of), including explanations on how to wash our laundry, as well as how to properly use the toilets, flush them, and dispose of the toilet paper (which we also brought ourselves).
     Actually, how to use the toilet would require a short demonstration, which my husband got elected to do. Picture a very large man squatting down, balancing himself  as if he were on skis, explaining how one might best keep one's pants, and anything else that might get in the way, dry! A little comic relief is always good when faced with a potential nightmare! Finally, it was explained to us that two of the toilets (there were only 4) would be converted into showers, which we would also be shown how to use. And just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, we were handed out the daily toilet cleaning assignment schedule, from which no one would be exempt! This I drew the line at, begging J to please do mine for me! I just didn't think I could stomach cleaning up other people's diarrhea! And, like a gentleman, he agreed to do me this huge favor, and so had two cleaning days every week instead of one. Poor J; I really did feel bad for him, and I felt bad for all the other girls who didn't have anyone to save them from this horrific ordeal. That is until some of them started not doing their job, and/or otherwise pissing everybody off for one reason or another. But as far as J went, I promised I would try to find something that I could do in return for him!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Understanding Islam

     It struck me that while I had spent many years during my adult life, thus far, reading and trying to understand different world religions, I had left out Islam. I had read quite a bit about Christianity and Judaism (and Buddhism and Hinduism and Native American animism, as well as a whole host of other earlier religions), but for some reason had stayed away from reading anything about another one of the world's largest and fastest growing religions. And I started wondering why that was. In truth, I hadn't even given Islam much thought. In preparation for this trip I had read up on a few things about visiting a Muslim country, but more in order to understand our cultural differences. However, it would become much more clear to me as I spent time in Jordan that while we, in the US, tried to keep religion and matters of state separate, here it was not the case. Here, religion defined the culture, from public prayer, to food and diet practices, to how women dressed, and how and why it was that men and women were kept basically separate from each other (and so it would be that on this trip I wouldn't actually meet or speak with even one woman), to rules about touching and speaking to someone of the opposite sex; plus it even affected how the very conservative people from the local villages viewed the majority of Americans!
     J had told me about previous digs when the local workers (mostly younger guys) would practice their English on him, and about some of the things they would say. One particularly funny story involved their idea of how rich we all were. It seemed that many of their ideas about us were derived from what they saw on US television, which for the most part was not good! The popular 80s nighttime soap drama, Dallas, was popular over there, as was Knight Rider. One day this kid kept asking J if he had a kit car (spoken in a very heavy Arabic accent). "Do you drive a car?" Yes. "What kind of car is it? Is it a kit car?" A what? "A kit car." What's a kit car? "You know; a kit car!" No, I don't know what that is. " A kit car- you know- it talks to you." Oh! A KIT car! No, that's not real; it's just a t.v. show. We don't really have those in America. "No?" No. "I thought everyone drove one." Nope. "Oh." Of course, even to have this much conversation meant that this kid's English was very good! But most of the time what they were seeing of US television formed much less of an innocent picture of how Americans lived and how we acted! I would see this acted out later in camp. And, I would come to better understand their religion, but for now, I was being driven around Amman's city center, listening to a short lecture on Jordan's government and history. We made a brief stop at the site of the ancient Roman theater and then drove up to the Citadel before we made the hour and a half trip north to Abila.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Arriving in Jordan

     This would be my first meeting with the man who would eventually become a rather significant person in my life. Adnan Shaweesh met our group at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan at around 9:00 p.m. We had all waited together as he secured our group visa, and then motioned for us to move through immigration where he greeted us with a very warm Jordanian welcome. After we passed through the last check point, where we got our passports stamped, indicating where and when we had entered the country and with what type of visa, we finally were able to pick up our luggage and take it outside to be loaded onto the buses that were waiting to take us into Amman to the hotel where we would spend our first night. What a long journey it had been! We were all exhausted and more than ready to stretch out onto real beds, but instead we were all expected to make an appearance in the dining room of the hotel where dinner had been prepared for their esteemed American guests. I don't think anyone felt much like eating, but upon seeing the smiling, welcoming faces of an impressive wait staff offering us their best hospitality, we had to at least go through the motions. Honestly, that first dinner made almost no impression on me, as I was like the walking dead. I had been up literally 24 hours, at least, with almost no sleep, and while I feel certain that I got a plate full of food, I could not give anyone even the slightest description of what I actually ate! Finally, after thanking everyone profusely over and over, we made our way up to our room where we found our luggage waiting. I remember basically getting undressed and falling into bed. There were two, so I took one and J took the other. All we wanted to do was stretch out as much as we could. No touching! It was probably close to midnight by that point, and I had no trouble falling right to sleep. I was in an unbelievably deep sleep when around 4:00 a.m. a sound so loud, like a siren going off straight into our room, woke me up. I jumped out of bed, scared to death at what it might be, and with my heart almost beating out of my chest and my voice shaking, I called out to J, "WHAT WAS THAT?!" J just rolled over and very calmly said, "Oh, I forgot to tell you. There's a mosque right across the street from our hotel and that was a call to prayer." OH! You forgot to tell me! Our bedroom window was open to the night air, as was usual for summertime in Jordan since so many hotels don't have air conditioning (except for the expensive, fancy American ones). The loud speaker on the minaret from which the muezzin's recorded call was being "broadcast" was pointed directly at our room, no kidding! Lasting about 15 minutes, the melodic, yet very loud, Arabic prayer finally ended and I fell back into my deep sleep, only to be awakened again at 6:00 a.m. for breakfast and to get ready to hit the road to Abila. J thought it made a funny breakfast story, telling everyone that I had been so scared by the call to prayer earlier that morning, and that he had forgotten to say anything to me about it. To me, it was my initiation into a strange new world.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Love, Food, and the Flight Over

     I had been from the start physically attracted to J, that is, once I got over resisting how large he was, both vertically and horizontally. Sometimes I would be reminded of this more than at other times, and certainly flying made it very evident. Coach seats on airplanes are unbelievably tight, both in regards to the amount of butt and thigh room there is, but also in the amount leg space between the seats and the amount of room between your meal tray, once you let it down, and your waist! I was already feeling irritatingly cramped, yet we still had another seven hours of flight time left before we would land in Jordan. Never mind that J was completely miserable!
     J had a very healthy appetite for all sorts of activities, and eating was definitely one of them! I think that might have also played a big part in how I won him over. If "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach," then that could be how I clenched getting his (both stomach and heart)! While eating did eventually win out in our marriage over any other activity (read into this sex), from the beginning I was enamored by him enough to turn myself into a combination Julia Child and Betty Crocker. My mother had made cetain that I knew how to replicate everything she knew how to cook, teaching me the art of baking, but mostly frying, a variety of different cuts of beef and chicken, demonstrating how to overcook vegetables, whip up some creamy, buttery mashed potatoes, and make delicious casseroles and baked beans, how to cut, chop, and mix together a mean garden salad, and even how to concoct a variety of beverages (namely, sweet tea!). She also instructed me on how to bake loaves of yeast bread and pans of corn bread, and how to bake a whole array of cakes and cookies and other desserts from scratch! All this I knew fairly well by the age of fifteen when she divorced Dad, leaving me to be the cook for him, my brother, and myself. By then I already owned several heavily soiled cookbooks that I had either inherited from Mom or that my grandmother had given me. I loved to cook, especially when I had someone to cook for who loved to eat!  And so I cooked large, and I cooked fat! Both before and after we were married I would make J huge breakfasts, to be followed up only a few hours later with lunch, which would often be fast food, followed sometime during the evening with an enormous dinner. On top of that, most every night around midnight he would get a craving for something sweet, and I'd oblige him with whatever I could make quickly, often throwing together something like rice crispy treats or brownies or chocolate chip cookies. And so, surprise of all surprises, this did nothing to help him control his weight or me mine. Never mind that we both had hit the age of 30 something when one does not burn off fat like one used to! And now here we were trying to sit comfortably in these stupid airplane seats! Arrrgh!

     I was already glad that we had come prepared to supplement the dig food with our own snacks from America, but I was wondering how closely the food on the plane would resemble what we would have to eat once we were landed in Jordan, and it wouldn't be too much longer before I would find out. Finally, after lunch and another movie, we began our flight over Jordan. Jordan is actually about the size of Indiana, and we would shortly be flying into its capital city of Amman. As I excitedly looked out the window (peering over my seat mate), my heart almost stopped beating. All I could see literally was desert! Brown, sandy, rocky, wind blown desert. I strained to see in every direction even one tree or bush. Nothing! People on the plane started cheering even before we began our descent, happy to be back over their beloved homeland. Me, I started crying! I couldn't help myself; the tears just came, and they wouldn't stop. All I could think about was that I had signed up for eight weeks of this! I get mad if somebody cuts down a tree in the US. Probably because I know what could happen: this! What I was viewing now through the window truly scared me. Suddenly all the stories I'd read in the Bible of people roaming in the desert came flooding (oh, and there was no water in sight either) into my mind. I did not want to roam the desert. I did not want to go on an archaeological dig in the Middle East. Somebody, please, save me! My husband took one look at my face and knew instantly that he was in for one long summer.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Flying on Royal Jordanian Airlines

     This was the first time I had ever flown, and this flight would be about 16 hours long, with a stop in Amsterdam for refueling, where we would stay on board for the remainder of the flight to Jordan. J and I had barely gotten any sleep the night before, and had left for the airport early in the morning, as we had to make connections from Cincinnati to New York. And, since it was an international flight, we had to be there several hours early. This was the case for most everyone, and so by the time we boarded, we were all totally beat. I was still feeling the excitement of it all, even though I was nearly ready to collapse exhausted into my seat. J liked to board as quickly as possible. He had anxieties about not being able to get enough overhead room right above our seats for our carry-on luggage, and thus having to store it further away from where we were sitting, causing a huge inconvenience for the entire flight if we needed anything from our bags. Which, of course, we would! I was clueless, and so let him take the lead on all matters concerning this trip. The airplane had rows of 3 seats lined down both sides, with 8 seats in the center section. My husband was a rather large man, standing 6'3'' and weighing around 280, and so seating for such a long flight was then (and always has been) an important arrangement to him. However, there was always lots of vying for seating arrangements, as family members all wanted to sit together, or be as close as possible to one another. J's biggest concern was that he have as much leg room as possible, but on Royal Jordanian, the bulk heads were always reserved (as is the case on most international flights) for women with small children. And believe me, this flight was packed with women and children (a situation I found extremely unnerving)! Interestingly, the Jordanian government allowed children to fly free in order to insure that children could regularly fly back and forth to the States to see family members, thus keeping family and country ties both strong. This meant that almost any flight on Royal Jordanian during the summer would be filled to capacity with mostly women and children. To us, it was less expensive than other airlines, which kept the costs of tickets lower, and since Dr. Mare was paying for some of the supervisors' tickets, this is the airline he wanted to use.
     J and I found our seats, stuffed our luggage above our heads :) and settled in. We had 2 seats along the side of the plane; I had the center seat and he took the aisle. Some other poor soul had the window seat. Loud Jordanian music played as all the passengers boarded, rearranged all their seating to be more to their liking, made requests from the stewardesses for things they needed, hushed their children (or not), and then finally fastened themselves in for taxiing down the runway. This (and I swear it's true) took almost 2 hours! J assured me that this was not in the least bit extraordinary. I was so tired I stopped caring about how much longer I had calculated we'd be on the plane at this rate. I did, however, still feel like crying. Fortunately (I say this sarcastically) by around 11:00 we were in the air, and I was saying good-bye to New York City and to the U.S.  For all intents and purposes I was already in Jordan. Dinner was served about an hour later, with a choice of either chicken or beef. (This is standard fare for the Middle East). On the screen every so often, besides showing us how far we'd traveled, where we were, and how far we had yet to go (and this gets very boring after awhile, though I was fascinated at first), the location of Mecca would appear. This was so that during the flight the Muslims would know which direction to face as they knelt on the floor and prayed. This happened several times on this flight (like I said, it was a very long flight!). I was somewhat clueless as to what was happening exactly, as there was so much constant activity going on around me, and I was so tired. All I wanted to do was get some shut-eye. I was squished in next to my husband and some Muslim man that I kept trying not to touch, and so getting comfortable was not at all easy! By this time I was feeling very grouchy, sitting up trying to sleep on what was the longest night I'd spent in forever. And then darn it, if it wasn't only but about 2 hours before the sun started to shine in the morning sky over the Atlantic Ocean (remember, we were flying east)! Though everyone tried to keep their window shades down, it was hopeless trying to ignore all those bright rays seeping through the cracks. And yes, using those airline blindfolds over your eyes does work, but I couldn't sleep anyway. Besides, people were beginning to stir, breakfast would be served shortly, and every passenger would ultimately have to use the bathroom!  I tried really hard not to ever have to go to the bathroom (I was younger then), but had to at least once during the night. This meant a long walk past a sea of strangers, waiting in line with women who mostly didn't speak any English (or who didn't feel the need to with me), until it was my turn. I can only say that my first experience in an airplane bathroom was shocking to say the least. By the time I got around to going, they were all in a mess! After I shut myself in, I surveyed the situation, making absolutely certain that I had actually locked the door, fearful that somebody might walk in on me, or that we'd hit an air pocket (either one), catching me with my pants down. Only wearing socks, my feet got soaked, as water and toilet paper both drenched the floors. Hoping that there would be enough paper left, and that it wouldn't get sucked down the toilet, I carefully placed some over the footprints that I faintly saw outlined on the seats! Then I peed and got out of there as quickly as possible! J suggested to me later that the custom of sitting down on a toilet seat was possibly altogether too foreign of an idea to many of the passengers who might have preferred squatting over it. (I would learn more about this later.) I really didn't want to make a second trip to the bathroom, but geez, on such a long flight you have too. So I excused myself again, this time taking with me my toiletry bag so that I could freshen up after my night's "sleep." I washed my face, put fresh make-up on, sprayed my body with some powdery feminine smelling aerosol, changed my underwear (I did all this while trying not to touch a thing!), fixed my hair, brushed my teeth, and exited like a pro. I was only smiling on the outside as I returned to my seat. After breakfast and one movie, we would land in Amsterdam. Half way there, and I would not be allowed off this plane.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Baggage and Marriage

     Baggage and marriage. When you wait until you're 34 to get married, you can bet you'll have plenty of baggage! And certainly both of us did. I was a fairly new Christian trying to quickly learn how to fit into my new life, like any other new bride. I was also a bit of a feminist, trying to fit myself back into a strict and narrowly defined patriarchal social structure. His baggage would run deeper than anyone's I had ever met, but I would discover that little by little as time went on.  I was only just beginning to feel the weight of what I had done, more than I consciously thought about it, though at that point. Still, I was excited that I had been able to so fully embrace this religion that I had most of my life feared and hated, and that I had been able to fall in love with a man who would keep me safe and secure within its social structure, patriarchal as it was. I was too busy being thankful to notice how from earlier back in September until early June severe damage had already begun.  Plus, I was headed off on an adventure; one I had been hoping for, it seemed, for most of my life. Granted, I had not been pining away for a trip to the Middle East, but we were planning on making a stop in Europe on our return trip, and so I had that to look forward to. This first part of the journey (and the longest part of it) would be for J. I would more fully enter his world in hopes that I might be able to share in what he so loved, and in hopes that he would love me more for sharing in it with him. We boarded the plane around 9:00 p.m., as overseas flights often leave later, and from the moment I stepped onto that plane (we were flying Royal Jordanian Airlines), I left behind me everything that I had known up to that point. I had wanted a life of adventure, a life that would change how I saw the world, a life that would open me to ways of loving what I didn't understand. What I was about to learn were lessons from the desert, lessons about laying down your own will, and about loneliness. And just like with archaeology, a discipline that requires that one not search to find, but requires instead that one wait and let the dirt reveal what lies underneath it, so my life would be for the next sixteen years.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Our Packing List

     My passport arrived in the mail by the beginning of February '94. The director needed everyone's passport numbers as early as possible, as he needed to secure visas from Jordan for the whole group. He taught at a seminary in St. Louis, and would be bringing the bulk of the students. There would be a core staff of about ten, traveling from various locations in the US, each bringing with them students from their own universities and colleges. These would include all of the area supervisors, the photographer, surveyor, bone specialist, ceramics specialist, and any other specialist. There would also be various other people, like I said earlier, who would be coming along too for some reason or another, so that there would be around 50 Americans, as well as the Jordanian workers who would be required by the Department of Antiquities to be hired by each dig. Of course, among those would include at least two cooks, two bus drivers, and two Jordanian workers for every "foreigner" on the dig. Most digs are very big productions, requiring quite a bit of money to operate, and so one job of the director is to raise money for each season. Most digs go every other summer, and Abila goes on even years. A lot of the money comes from churches, some from universities and seminaries who join a consortium membership which allows one or two students of their own to go, other money comes from corporate donors, like say, National Geographic (although I don't think Abila had any corporate donors), and still other money comes from rich private donors who are generally interested in archaeology, Biblical or otherwise.  In all, one dig for one summer may cost up to about 1/2 million dollars. Some bigger digs cost more. This is one reason why there is also a dig fee required of anyone wanting to be on one. This money must be paid up front and in full many months before the actual departure date. Also, to ensure that no one will back out, it is non-refundable.
     Anyway, you can't talk about a dig without talking about money, and like I said, J and I didn't have much to spare. There were certain items that had to be taken along, as Dr. Mare was a miser, and unlike directors of other digs, he would not shell out money for all the supplies the area supervisors might need. J had been  supervising Area A for several seasons, and so knew pretty well what he would need and never be able to get from Dr. Mare or in Jordan. So off to Lowe's and Wal Mart we went to check off the essential items on our list. When I think back on how different traveling was before 9/11 it completely amazes me. But then I think about all those trunks the archaeologists from Mallowan's day had to transport overseas by ship and then by camel or donkey to the site. Like I said, it's a major production. One thing that I can definitely brag about is how absolutely little I can get by on in terms of clothes when I travel now! I have it down to an art, causing gasps of wonderment and awe from anyone who witnesses me carrying only my one tiny carry-on bag and purse, even when I'm going to be gone for weeks or even months of traveling! However and unfortunately, on this trip each of us would be carrying two huge suitcases, as well as several carry-on bags, camera bags, food, and pillows. Either J or me or each of us were carrying in our bags the following: one pick and trowel each, one spade each, brushes, plumb bobs, approximately 50 heavy spikes, several rolls of duct tape, colored tape, a knife, clothes line and pins, laundry detergent, several sets of old sheets, sun screen, two folding camp chair, fans, books, notebooks, pens and pencils, rulers, tape measures, a boom box and lots of cassette tapes, handkerchiefs, tissues, hats, several jars of Jiffy peanut butter (there is no such thing in Jordan), bags of hard candy and tootsie rolls (you really start to crave sweets), bags of life savors, beef jerky, all types of cereal bars and nuts, powered drink mixes (to add to our water), several boxes of plastic storage bags (both gallon and sandwich size), rolls of toilet paper, several large bath towels, rolls of string, several flashlights, loads of batteries of all sizes, at least one hundred rolls of film (of course now it's digital photography, and the biggest concern is having enough memory), first aide supplies, medicine for colds, allergies, headaches, upset stomachs, and diarrhea (about 20 boxes of Imodium D), and finally, our passports, our money, and our sunglasses. Oh yeah, clothes! Yikes! I almost forgot, and believe me, J stuffed that in last around everything else, thinking that most clothes items were not essential! His philosophy was to pack everything you thought you needed, then take half of that out, and then take half of that out yet again! He kept reminding me, as well as everybody else going on the trip, that we were not packing for a beauty pageant. So we took something like two pairs of pants each, 4-5 short sleeved t-shirts each (with no indentifiable writing on them), one long sleeved buttoned down shirt each, one skirt for me, a pair of shorts for him, a bathing suit (for me) and trunks (for him), enough underwear and thick socks for maybe eight days, a pair of sandals each (I also threw in a pair of flip-flops), tennis shoes, and heavy soled boots (which we wore on the plane so as to not take up space in our bags)! We also took enough shaving cream, razors, and toothpaste to last for 2 months, while I also had to take enough feminine products to last for two months (eee gads!), and make-up and hair products (although why, I'll never know). You should have seen all 50 of us when we gathered at the international airport terminal in New York! Real archaeologists always laugh at the Indiana Jones character who only travels with his bullwhip, his revolver, and his fedora. They wish! Ha!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Agatha Christie

     The dig would last eight weeks, plus we wanted to take some time on the return trip home to break our flight and tour around Western Germany and Austria for another week or two. My girlfriend, Cindy, agreed to keep Christie during the time we would be gone, as she had a son Christie's age around whom Christie had spent most of her life up to that point. (She and Shaunn were both 12, and while I do vaguely remember life becoming very awkward for boys and girls at that age, I expected that they would just play together as they always had. Unfortunately, she says that they hardly even spoke! Sorry, Christie! :)) So, that would take care of one problem. Still, the money would be tight, but Dr. Mare had agreed to waive my dig fee. (I can't remember about the air fare.) We would just need to live frugally.
     Being the literary person that I am, to offset my fears about basically being on survival mode for eight weeks, I read up on the life of Agatha Christie. Already a very famous mystery writer, she met her future husband, Max Mallowan, while she was traveling in Turkey, where he was digging at Ur, a site thought to be the capital of Mesopotamian civilization. He worked there from 1925 to 1931; they were married in 1930. It was then that her books started taking on Egyptian and Middle Eastern themes, as he later dug in Aswan, Egypt, among other places. I particularly loved the pictures I had seen of her sitting under an umbrella in a comfy camp chair out of the fullness of the desert sun, all dressed up in a long white Victorian dress, writing witty thoughts in her journal (this part I am conjuring). Interestingly, rumor has it that she would order everyone around to get her this and get her that. She was already so famous that everybody was intimidated by her, and so jumped at her every request! Also, keep in mind that archaeology was done very differently back in the late 1800s and early 20th Century. Then, it was much more of a treasure hunt, and the European archaeologists oversaw the digging, which was done by the local men (not themselves, of course, as they didn't want to get dirty unless something spectacular was discovered, for which they would then take all the credit!), and so with all the mystery and adventure that had surrounded the archaeologists of those early days, combined with the Indiana Jones of the movies, who wouldn't prefer the myth to the reality? Of course, I too, prefer myth, and so I easily pictured my own husband beckoning me to come look at what amazing find he had uncovered, and then me scurrying over to gaze in wonderment, agreeing with him that this would, indeed, secure for him a better, more prestigious university position! (Whoah! Cut! I must have been making a Victorian movie in my head. Reality check, please!) Back to Max, he was a Professor of West Asiatic Archaeology and the Director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq for a couple of decades, and while they were happily married for the first several years, she unfortunately had to endure Max's many affairs (which didn't keep him from being knighted), most notably his affair with Barbara Parker, whom he married (get this!) only a year after Agatha died (in 1976). He died a year later, so he only got Babs for a short little while (I'm happy to say!). I was paying more attention to what Agatha Christie had said about liking to be married to an archaeologist, saying, that the older things got the more he liked them! Ha! (He was also 14 years younger than her, and, again, she was probably desperately hoping this would indeed be true!) I wondered if maybe she traveled with him, not so much as fodder for her imagination, but more to keep her eye on him! I already knew that my own J had fallen for a girl or two while away for summers at Abila, as only a year before a letter had been sent to my house (by mistake?) pleading for J to understand that she was already engaged to another guy! (This had caused another blow up between us, but still I married him amyway. And my J never promised faithfulness, only loyalty.) Ultimately, though, I had to prepare for the reality of things, not the way I dreamed them up, but the way they would be. And so I prepared my packing list for the items we would need to take with us for our eight week stay in Jordan. This was the late 20th Century, after all, and archaeology had changed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Volunteers and Dig Fees

     J had been telling me many stories over the years we dated about his travels in the Middle East, and especially about the archaeological dig he had been participating in over the past ten years. Since his first trip in 1984, he had been "promoted" to assistant director at the Abila dig (most likely because he had been one of only a handful of guys who had kept returning year after year, and did the director's bidding), and so because of that the director of the dig, Dr. Harold Mare, paid J's airfare plus waived his dig fee. Dig fees could be anywhere from $1000 to $2000, and went to support the dig (which would be typical on any dig in the Middle East). Supposedly the money went towards your food and camp lodging, but that was always questionable at Abila, as life there had been reduced to its lowest terms. (In order to place it geographically, Tell Abil is located in the northern most tip of Jordan, about three miles from the Yarmuk River valley, a very deep gorge which forms the modern border between Jordan and Syria. Abila is mentioned in the New Testament as being one of the ten cities of the Decapolis, but is known in modern times for its spring, which is called Quweilbah.) Archaeological digs rely very heavily on volunteers who are interested in participating for a variety of reasons. Most are seminary students, or students of biblical studies, anthropology, geography, ancient history, art history, or really, just about any discipline that might touch on the history, culture, politics, language, geography, or geology of the Middle East. However, not just students want to dig. Old priests (we had one, Father Leo, from WV who was about 90!), gay priests (I say this because I swear another particular Father on this dig was gay--he always brought some young, hot gay guy(s) with him every season!), your average religious lay person, and even non-religious very rich older women who have a lot of extra money to throw away and who want some adventure and/or meaning in their lives all want the experience of digging in the Middle East (you guessed it-we had one of these too, as does probably every dig). Okay, so just about anyone, really, who has the time and the money and is not afraid of flying can find their way to a dig  Me? I just wanted to go in order to be with my new husband of eight months. I had no particular interest in the Middle East, or in any desert region for that matter! Nor did I have any particular interest (as of yet) in Jordan as being part of the Holy lands. Well, I was sort of interested in Petra, as I always thought, until I learned better, that I might have to escape and hide there during the end times (and believe me, that's a whole other story! I was raised in this wacky occult religion run by Herbert W. Armstrong. Please. Don't get me started on that!). Okay, where was I going with all this? Oh yeah, I mostly just wanted to go to anywhere in Europe, but now that I think about it, how adventurous would that have been? J thought it was hilarious that he, a regular Protestant guy, would be the one to take me to Petra for the first time, and we would just walk in and walk out, and the world would still be going on as usual!
     Well, like I mentioned earlier, money would be our biggest obstacle, not for him so much, but for me, and so we would have to wheel and deal with ol' Dr. Mare, who was a notorious miser. J felt like he owed him his entire academic career up to that point, but still we had to ask if he would pleeease waive my dig fee, and maybe pay some of my airfare too, pleeease! J was not only a little afraid of Dr. Mare (who was around 70  years old), but there was this whole gang of really old guys (crotchety "gerriatric" academics) at this dig that had been controlling Dr. Mare's perception of how things should be run at Abila, and J was extremely intimidated by them (he had loads of horror stories about them as well), and had me scared to death too. J had also drilled it into my head that life on this dig would  be no picnic, providing me with every minute detail of the conditions under which we would eat, drink, sleep, shower, pee, poop, and yes, dig! He didn't want me saying that he hadn't warned me. And so, thus, we would use the term "honeymoon" very loosely.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rocky Start to Marriage

     My marriage got off to a bit of a rocky start. The more J kept saying, "I can't believe I have a wife and a daughter" (he always insisted that he was joking when he said this, though it never felt that way to me), the more I felt like he thought he had made a huge mistake. He began talking to me about adopting my daughter, and while she was fine with it, she didn't want to change her last name to his. His response to that was, "Then what's the point?" And so it seemed to me that there wasn't one, and we dropped that discussion forever more. We were also trying to make it financially on adjuncting jobs and his campus ministry position. At one point we realized that we were driving one car to work in two different time zones and three different states! He was teaching introductory western civilization courses at colleges in both Ohio and Kentucky, and I was teaching Freshman composition in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Together we were juggling three part-time careers, our newly formed family, and our pathetically meager finances. (My car had  been repossessed some time ago, by the way.) There was a lot of tension besides, as he had finished his PhD coursework, and was taking dissertation hours and applying for full-time positions all over the place. That meant attending at least two conferences a year, presenting papers, and interviewing as much as possible. He often felt as if his two MA degrees from the seminary were a black spot against him whenever he applied to secular universities and colleges, and that his MA and PhD from the state university were virtually being ignored by Christian colleges affiliated with his own denomination. Plus there was the fact that he was still ABD (all but dissertation; he hadn't actually earned his PhD yet)), which was weighing on him too. The one bright spot in all of the career building he had been involved in, and the focus of his dissertation, was the archaeological work he had been doing in northern Jordan since 1984. He went every summer on even years, and 1994 would be no different. Our biggest obstacle would be money, but he was determined to take me, and I was determined to go.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I Convert to Christianity

     The moment a person decides that one thing is more true than another, and then decides to accept that, doesn't really change that person into anything better or different than they were before, at least right away.  And this is what I assume when I think about how so much paganism got mixed in with Christianity in the first place. Those Romans (and Celts and everyone else) couldn't just throw out everything that they had believed in, along with every last ceremonial practice, at the moment of their conversion, and why should they have? As we can attest, Christmas and Easter sure make for two joyful occasions that who knows what they would have looked like without all their symbolic pagan pomp attached. Stripped to the bare bones, much more like their Jewish counterparts, I imagine. And so it was with me. I couldn't just toss to the wind all my former beliefs and practices. Nor was I ready to enthusiastically embrace everything that came with my new religion. Well okay, I might be jumping the gun here a little because I only had an idea about what Christianity might mean for me in terms of my daily life, and so far as I was aware, I only knew one family who were professing Christians, and they were my daughter's best friend's family, and they had been so helpful to me as a single mother that I could hardly fault them on anything as far as their demonstration of love. But I did know that I could never join their church, as Christie had attended with them many times and they truly scared me. Plus, I had already spent a bit of time trying to undo the psychological damage that I had felt they were laying on her.  For example, sometimes she would come home crying, saying that she wasn't saved because she couldn't do certain things. Then I would have to explain to her why she shouldn't worry about it, and this on several different levels. (To answer the question as to why I let her attend in the first place--she was only 7 or 8 when she started, her attendance was sporadic, the programs consisted mostly of very shallow children's materials and games, and they served food and lots of sweets, so it was always this fun party atmosphere. It would make me feel too mean to say no.) And there was J, who, as I mentioned earlier, was also an Evangelical Christian. However, to the best of my knowledge no one else in my life that I knew of was Christian. (Woops, I forgot. My mom's husband was a much lapsed Catholic.) So, not a lot of potential influence coming from any direction. However, even though the idea scared the b'jeebies out of me, I decided rather quickly that I probably needed to pick out a church (remember, nothing was going to appeal to me at this point. I could barely even stand the idea of going to church; I just thought that maybe I should. Plus, I still had lapsed worries about building up bad Karma for so strongly disliking Christians!), and since I just happened to live in a church parsonage, and that church just happened to be the one where J attended, problem solved.

    Only J didn't seem overly excited by my conversion or by my attending his church. I think he had doubts as to whether I truly converted or was just pretending. Honestly, who could blame him for that, except that he had been in on every conversation that I had had about Christianity, and had even recommended reading materials, which I had actually read, etc., etc.. But then there was the fact that my nature was not changing hardly at all, and I was still being such a negative influence on him, i.e., he still had trouble resisting me, and I wasn't even trying to make it easy for him not to. I think his mantra was, "I'm only human, after all." And while I do think he was maybe more than a little concerned with what his fundamentalist friends might think about his dating a new convert, I think he was more afraid of what I might say or do in front of said friends, which would have, I guess, reflected poorly on his judgment. And so we continued off and on for two more years! No one knew we were seeing each other. In all honesty, he was the most secretive guy I  ever met, and as time passed I was beginning to feel more and more hurt by his not introducing me to anyone, or involving me in his campus ministry activities. It's not like either one of us was married, for goodness sakes!  Also, fortunately or unfortunately (I've never been really sure which), for the most part, during those entire four years, I kept my daughter out of our relationship, as I was never sure where it was headed. He also never seemed to be bothered by this.

     Alas, finally, and as fate would have it, just when I was beginning to decide that I had had about enough (and after I had finally met his mother, who was extremely antagonistic and disapproving), he asked me to marry him! We had argued about this a week or two earlier. In a rather heated, intense moment he had looked squarely in my face and asked (read: almost yelled), "What do you want from me?" I told him that I wanted to marry him, and he responded with, "And then what? What will you want after that?" I very calmly and quite cleverly (I thought, since I was so upset), said simply, "Anniversaries, like anyone else would want." At the moment when he asked me to marry him I had just enough left over feelings for him still lingering around in my psyche that even though I replied with so much less enthusiasm than I otherwise would have, I said yes. There he was, again in front of me, but this time on his knee offering me his mother's wedding rings from her 2nd husband who she had divorced and didn't really like. (Maybe she had given them to him to help save him from spending money he didn't have--or maybe not.) In any case, no one other than my daughter (who by this time was 11 years old) and one close friend of mine and his girlfriend came to our wedding. (And knowing that we had no one else to invite who would want to come, we kept the event very small and private. A friend and colleague of his who was an ordained minister performd the ceremony in his home. I still think even now that everyone assumed we were doing this rather quickly, and therefore something  had to be amiss! Like I said, no one knew we had been dating for four years, and J never made the effort to clarify this.) Anyway, I wore black and cried the whole time as we stood there exchanging our vows. Afterwards we took a short Labor Day weekend trip, as we both had to be back in school on Tuesday. The real "honeymoon" would come the following summer when he would take me for a two month trip overseas to Europe and to Jordan. Maybe that would make up for everything.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reading C. S. Lewis

. . . And so I began reading The Screwtape Letters. This story was an excellent treatise on understanding the human condition and the psychology of temptation from the perspective of hell. It takes the viewpoint that devils are not engaged in the pursuit of something actually called “evil,” but are more motivated by either a  fear of punishment, or else by a kind of hunger, something  rather like a corrupted ravenous passion to dominate, or make some one’s intellectual and/or emotional  life an extension of their own. It’s kind of like the very unhealthy flipside of “Love” that we are all too familiar with on the human plane.   The devil, Wormwood, would basically “feed” on his victim, destroying him from the inside out, by zeroing in on character flaws that he could use to tempt his victim into further developing those same flaws, thus moving him further away from the experience of a truer, healthier love (which is God).  The Great Divorce continued with the theme of hell, examining the nature of good and evil, saying that the two could never exist together, that it must be “either-or.”   The real sins that would more likely keep a person from Heaven, or Love, would be character flaws like false pride, possessive love, lustfulness, cynicism and doubt, self-pity, grumbling, materialism, and the like. Not the big things like, say, murder, which an individual would be far more likely to see as wrong and thus ask forgiveness for.  It would be one’s free-will, combined with one’s corrupted passions, which would keep an individual basically living in his own “hell,” until he becomes so utterly unwilling to let go of that passion that it literally “eats him up” and keeps him always separated from anyone he could not affect by his own corrupt will. We might also say that he has become so “consumed”  that he is burning up alive, or rather more realistically, living in his own hell. Pure evil is a purely corrupted passion let loose in its extreme form!  Living in eternity consumed by the flames of hell can now be seen as both symbolic and literal.. Wow! Lewis was stretching my imagination while at the same time giving me something that made sense. I had surely seen this kind of corruption of human nature in action, and I had read about it in literature from the beginning of time!  I wanted to know more about this C.  S. Lewis guy, and what else he may have written that would give me more food for thought.
Ultimately, to make a long story short, reading more Lewis (his autobiography Surprised by Joy, as well as his apologetics works) brought me eventually to the place where I could accept Jesus as God who came to earth in the body to make the ultimate sacrifice of dying in order to save me from having to keep trying to do it for myself!  I knew I needed saving from Karma, at least; I knew that I didn’t want good and evil to exist together into eternity, and that something ultimately had to work to keep them separated so that Heaven, or Paradise, could actually be experienced;  I knew that  every human being had the potential to be or do “evil,” and that coming back to earth over and over might increase the odds of that happening, not decrease them. And so in one moment I acknowledged my need and Christ’s gift, feeling in that moment of accepting this “grace” a huge relief and thankfulness! No other religious system described a god who so loved what he had created that he died for them so that in accepting him they were free; Instead, they had more or less offered up a formula for how you might do it yourself.  And good luck! (But you can have all the time in the world that you need.) On the human plane, laying down your life for someone had always been perceived as being the ultimate act of love, so why wouldn’t it be true on the Divine level? Well, I held that Grace in my heart for all about 5 seconds before my true nature took back hold of me and I thought, Oh shit! You’ve got to be kidding

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Problem of Evil (and Karma)

     (Read this entry at your own risk--I only hope it makes some kind of sense! It's a little philosophical, so sorry! ) Like I have said earlier, I was not a big fan of Christians, and so had thrown Christianity out with the same bathwater (so to speak) that I had thrown Christians. I had also tried to let loose of any preconceived ideas I had of God, and so god had become for me entirely gentle and kind and loving, and in everything, sort of like a huge essence of light and love permeating the entire universe. Everyone was traveling their own path as they eventually evolved into more perfect beings, filled with perfect love. I rested in this for awhile, but something kept nagging at me. I could never find a really good explanation as to why over the history of mankind, so few people had seemed to reach that ideal level of spirituality that would make the rest of us all so inspired that we would want to emulate it. I had read a lot of literature and a lot of history, and in no period of man's existence had there been just love and peace in the world. History and literature  both were racked with stories of war, disease, famine, poverty, hatred, jealousy, lust, greed, and every form of fear and oppression that one human could put another human through.  Man has consistently stolen, cheated, and lied, hurt, and killed to get whatever he wanted. As a whole, we did not seem to be evolving towards the light so much as we were headed straight into a big black hole! And then, let's say, hypothetically, what if we lived forever as spirits, how black could those souls get, and what if they never decided to change, and how would other "good" souls escape that darkness when not in their bodies?  Plus, when a soul chose to reincarnate, how much control could there be over where and how it came back to the earth? I was having a hard time accepting that so many souls had chosen their own destinies when most people's lives sucked so much! Why would we choose all this hurt? Karma was certainly one answer. I had already gotten rid of a god who would sit back, seemingly not caring, and let all this happen, but even still it seemed we were stuck with the same problem of evil. I could easily see how a person might just throw up their hands and say that there was no god! And yet, if we were living just for the mere sake of existence, why then did mankind seem to have a moral conscious? Most of the human race had set the same standards for themselves along with appropriate penalties, and while I got it that this could be explained as social evolution (for which all guilt could be explained as well), how was it possible that the gods mankind had "created"  could show characteristics of say, a strong authoritative feminine divinity, when the culture it sprang from exhibited only oppression of women? In other words, if archetypes did exist, where did they originate?  These thoughts bothered me, and enough scholars way smarter than me had contemplated the existence or non-existence of god to make me, especially at such a young age, question how I could possibly assume I had all or any of the right answers! Afterall, I was in graduate school finding out that there was a whole bunch of stuff I didn't understand or know anything about! Wow!

     And then even Karma was wearing on me, because I noticed how few people took Karma very seriously, and just referred to it as a form of justice that would "get" people sooner or later, and so gave them a sense of fairness about life that seemed to me to be one more thing we all hoped for! And why do we so desperately want life to be fair? Think about it! We want it on just about any level of life, starting from our earliest childhood! That's why most people who don't like the Christian God don't like him: because he doesn't seem fair! And as for me, I was trying to give Karma  (which seemed much more fair!) some real serious consideration. Karma, the universal law of cause and effect, works on all levels of existence, including the physical, mental, and spiritual planes. Of course to Buddhists, the first cause is unknowable (but of course, so here we go again with the whole faith thing!), but it does get rid of the need for a Savior! This was what I found so appealing, and what I think lots of other people find too. You just have to do these eight things: have a correct mental attitude (which means dropping all specific views of everything), maintain right motive (not seek for anything), and have right speech, right action, right livelihood (which could maybe be summed up as thinking before speaking or doing!), right effort (and in the right direction), right meditation, and right discipline. (This is a whole lot of rights, and I guess Karma is the judge as to how successful anyone is.) This was a true do-it-yourselfer, and every other theory on Karma came pretty close to this one. The idea, no matter what else you believe exactly, is to get out of the Karmic cycle! But whoah! On second thought (and on not that close of an examination), this didn't seem like it would be all that easy! It was going to require way too much self-control! So if I were to decide I didn't like karma either, and that I'd throw it out with all that other dirty bathwater, I was starting to not be left with much I could live with, except for maybe the whole "live and let live" philosophy that in no time of mankind's existence did we seem willing or able to do! But, mankind has always had a strong desire to live, to persevere, to keep dreaming and building, even when he knows that it will all eventually turn to dust. And so do we just keep hoping for the best? Even in the face of all the evil man commits? It would still take a whole lot of faith to believe in that.
     These are some of the discussions that J and I would have, which would ultimately lead to my asking him what he thought the answers might be. When Tolkien came up, and how much I loved that story of good versus evil, and how little self-control was exhibited when the chance to wield great powers were at stake, and how the worst of everyone started to come out so that ultimately sides had to be taken; and how only an act of sacrificial love would save Middle Earth (like almost all  heroes journey stories, where the hero must go into the underworld, face himself or some form of evil, and either be defeated by it or return triumphant to save the day) I thought, yes, I'd like to read another author who wrote like Tolkien, even if only slightly. I was still hoping someone would point me in the direction of a real hero, or at least something I could believe in.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dating Off and On for Four Years

     J and I dated for four years off and on, though there were, it seemed, more long stretches of off than on. He was a serious flirt, and had other young women chasing after him besides me, plus he had his own classes and teaching assistantships to be concerned with. I had my coursework and teaching assistantships too, which kept me plenty busy as well; and for relief from all the stress I'd often make weekend visits back to WVa in order to keep up some semblance of a social life. When we were on he'd come over to see me and I'd make sure that my daughter would be away for the night at her best friend's house. Every now and then when we were just sitting around talking I'd ask him some question about his theological views on something or other, and he'd answer me honestly and intelligently, offering thorough explanations that wouldn't make me feel that I was being judged. However (and unfortunately), all along he was judging himself more harshly than I could ever know at the time. He not only had earned two MA degrees at a Christian seminary (one in Christian Apologetics and one in Near Eastern Antiquities), he was serving as a campus minister while he worked on another MA and PhD in ancient history at Miami University. His Christian views on dating and relationships were in direct opposition to what he was doing, and the guilt was eating him up! But God always has a plan, and the truth of the matter is that any real goodie-two-shoes Christian wouldn't have given me the time of day, nor would I have him! Anyway, during one of our conversations J suggested that I might like to read C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters and/or The Great Divorce, also by Lewis, as he knew that I was a huge Tolkien Lord of the Rings fan, and the two authors had been colleagues and friends. My daughter's 2nd grade teacher had read The Chronicles of Narnia (also by Lewis) to her class, but I had not heard of him otherwise. As J's suggested readings were both works of fiction, I thought that no harm could come from reading more mythopoetic works, as I already loved that genre. It would be nothing too overtly Christian, and nothing "preachy." Okay, no problem; I looked forward to it. How could I have known how much it would eventually shake up my whole way of thinking!

Friday, November 20, 2009


     So here's what I think. I had this whole New Age spirituality thing going on, mixed in with a bit of feminist thinking, meaning I had read Elaine Pagels and pretty much found her view of Gnostic Christianity to be appealing, as well as that of anyone else who subscribed to a theological system that could include female deities, or "God as Mother" imagery. I was heavily reading a variety of world mythologies, and marveled at any that elevated feminine aspects to the level of the divine, while otherwise still oppressing women socially and culturally. In my enthusiasm, I had hung a poster of Lilith up in my office at Miami University (in Jewish mythology she was Adam's first wife, who gets supplanted by Eve, and then roams the earth as an evil spirit, stealing children). It was seeming to me that every woman throughout the history of mankind who rebelled against the social norms of culture, or who made her spouse/lover unhappy, had to be turned into some form of evil demi-god (and be labeled a child hater, as nothing could be worse than a woman who doesn't really like kids; and you could see how I might relate to that!). And believe me, if I could have found a poster of Medusa, I would have hung her right up there on my wall beside Lilith! Okay, so I was a bit of a theological liberal. And then there was my belief in reincarnation. Well, suffice it to say that it had ceased appealing to me that getting only one chance to "get it right" or else, when so many people had suffered such oppressed lives and who were more or less on survival mode (and if you've read any theories on social evolution, you understand how regretfully real this all is), then maybe if they had another chance (or chances), they might be born into different circumstances that could be potentially more conducive to living  morally upright lives! I thought that even I, as imperfect as I was, would probably give at least some people that chance (granted, I would probably only pick out the ones I thought I could like, or who might improve themselves in my time frame according to my ideals; okay, so no one would ever appoint me as god!). But still! It made me feel like I could breathe easier and longer! And so could everyone else.  So now, enter J. This is maybe what he meant about it not being "prudent" to see me. Plus, there was the fact that he found me so doggone sexually appealing (I was still only 29 when we met), and maybe even challenging! (And he would hate it that I might point this out.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pagan Girl Meets Christian Boy in French Class

     I've always told people whenever they ask how J and I met that J won me over in our French class with his ooh la la (which I always say using my sexiest French accent!), but the truth is that along with his animal magnetism (did I mention that he's a Scorpio?) and his undeniably rediculous sense of humor, he was smart as all get out, plus he had an entire repertoire of adventure stories, as he had by this time already made four trips to the Middle East; plus he had traveled around the Mediterranean area, and had even gone into Eastern Europe. What girl wouldn't get hooked?  Especially me! I was itching to travel the world, and anytime anyone told me about an overseas trip they'd been on I'd burn with envy! So this was a huge element of attraction for me! Now, when I looked at him I saw this "man about the world." Except for one thing--he was an Evangelical Christian, and I had by this time developed a rather strong dislike (interpret: hatred) of anyone who held to any Christian belief.  For him the problem was that I was more or less a practicing pagan (who was studying Buddhism on the side), and that I didn't really care all that much for Christians (I couldn't use the hate word to his face, now could I?). So we were doomed. Two star-crossed lovers never meant to be. I'd read my tarot cards and even consulted a psychic on the matter (who, by the way, told me that J would be absolutely no good, which I disregarded, as I thought she might have said that because he was a Christian, and I supposed she wasn't; but then, everybody always finds a way to disregard anything they don't want to hear, right?). Anyway, let me just say that we saw plenty of each other all during November and December, and then after Christmas he announces to me that seeing me anymore "just wouldn't be prudent." Those were his exact words! This man, who had told me how he virtually saved a woman, as she had roamed off alone (their group was on a sightseeing daytrip), from an Arab attacker who was on leave from the Jordanian Army, lurking about this castle, no less, fending him off as the man swung a long thick chain at him in one hand while wielding a knife in the other, and while the woman's husband was nearby watching (who, by the way, developed a bit of a dislike for J after this incident; though, really, what man can stand nearby watching another man save his wife and end up feeling bitter towards him? This, in my opinion requires a huge ego!). J managed to work his way down towards their bus to where the bus driver was able to witness the now attack on J and call the police who arrived in time to save J, and take the man away (he was charged and sentenced within days of this incident--talk about quick justice!), and make a hero out of J, who thankfully survived the whole affair! This man thought it wouldn't be prudent to see me anymore! After he had already re-ignited my imagination for adventure to exotic lands where danger in the guise of dark strangers lurked within castles walls, and where the good guys truly did save damsels in distress from being sexually ravaged (okay, this I probably picked up from having read all those sappy/trashy R- rated novels!) or saved them from certain death (see any Disney fairytale for this one)!  What was not prudent about seeing me? He never told me, exactly. I had to guess.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

At Miami Univeristy, King Library

     I met J my very first semester at grad school. I had to take a reading intensive course in a modern foreign language, and so I took French. That first day the desks were all set up in a circle around the room, and I took a seat across the room over by the windows. Much to my dismay there was this guy sitting over by the door with whom I felt this unbelievable magnetic attraction! I couldn't believe I was feeling this, because in my head (and to myself) I thought I would never like a guy like that. He was very tall, somewhat overweight, and a more than a little nerdy looking with very short hair and glasses. The next day it was the same thing, only now this guy had moved over to my side of the room, sitting right next to me on my left, so close we were almost touching. I had a stack of books on Buddhism I was trying to stuff under my desk (I was interested in practicing Buddhism and so was trying to learn all I could about it). He made some comment on all those books (meant to be funny, of course) which got my full attention and made me laugh. Again I felt this magnetic energy pulling me towards him, and again I thought you've got to be kidding! Eventually we got to move our desks out of that stupid circle and put them in rows like normal people (I still dislike sitting in circles, even now when I'm the prof.). I struggled with learning French, and told my department chair that I would stand a better chance of learning it if I just moved to France! That was also an idea I found far more appealing than taking this class. The professor was extremely arrogant, and preferred teaching to the students in the class who already knew the language (I suppose, who wouldn't?)! This meant that we went flying through all the material, leaving me basically in the dust. J seemed to be having some difficulty as well, but not like I was (I found out later that he had already studied 5 other languages, and while languages were never his favorite subject, he could manage them). When I went to see this professor in his office, he made some really flippant, hateful remark that made me so mad I dropped the class. And this could have meant the end of the story with J. I never saw him outside of class and spoke to him only a little in class, as there was never much time for socializing.

     Well, one day I'm in the library (where you basically live when you're a grad student, except that I was also a mom so I tried to not be there so much). I'm sitting at a table when I look up for just a moment from whatever it was I was working on and there stood J. He asked me how I was, and I just blurted out that all I did was eat, sleep, and breathe school, and that I really needed to get a life! Good thing I wasn't really thinking, because I guess this could have been interpreted as a pick up line, only it wasn't. I was just exasperated. However, it got results, because J asked me if he could call me sometime, and I said sure, as I quickly wrote my phone number down on a scrap piece of paper and handed it over to him. A few days later he called, but as fate would have it I truly was too busy to talk, but tried assuring him that I did want to and to please call me again soon, which he did. The following Friday night he came over to my house, and whew! What an evening. There was so much raw animal magnetism surrounding us that only one thing could be done. Still, I couldn't believe it! I was not physically attracted to him, so how was it even possible that I could sexually feel something for someone that my mind could not yet feel? (I suppose, now that I think about it, guys probably experience this all the time, but I hadn't ever!) Anyway, he asked me out for Saturday night; I was all too happy to have human contact with someone other than my 7 year old daughter (though I had by then made friends with two great women who were also studying English). We drove down to Eastgate (an outer suburb of Cincinnati) for dinner and a movie (we saw Always with Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter. The year was 1989). We stayed out really late, talking and laughing the whole night long. And thus began our rather tumultuous four year courtship.

Friday, November 13, 2009


     It's common for most girls to think that life will begin when they get married. I spent most of my own girlhood dreaming about who I might marry, where I'd live, and how many kids I might have, along with what I'd name them. My dad, in true fatherly fashion, and also after having me read Letters to Karen (a book of letters by a father to his daughter on the topic of marriage and how to be a good wife),  told me to take secretarial classes in high school just in case I didn't get married. I loved shorthand (it seemed like writing in secret code), hated typing (we still had manual typewriters at our school in the early 70s!), and discovered for certain that I never wanted to be a secretary! I also knew one other thing--I hated babysitting too (one of the few available jobs for young girls in school who wanted to make some legitimate cash). I got paid the going rate of 50 cents per hour, and by the time I was 15, I boldly declared to my mother in true young feminist fashion that if she ever got me another babysitting job I would never, ever have any kids when I grew up! Matter settled; another potential career (one as a stay-at-home mom) that I knew I wasn't suited for, marked off my list. I was still considering whether or not I was too tall to be an airline stewardess, though it was my poor eyesight and glasses that ended that career before it ever had a chance of getting off the ground (pun intended). I thought the whole flying and traveling thing sounded really fun!  Oh well, sigh! I didn't know if any girl could actually make money being a detective (I was a huge Nancy Drew fan), and so marriage seemed like the most viable option, though maybe with only one kid. So this was my plan right up until my parents got divorced.  End all plans!!
     Now, since this story is not about my parents' divorce and how screwed up I became, I'm going to make a long emotional story very short: I swore I would never get married. Okay, I did get married a year after graduating from high school, but that's only because I still didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I was not at all in love with the guy. He wanted to marry me, I had become temporarily homeless, plus I was only 19 (and a little screwed up). That marriage lasted one year. It was after that that I swore off ever getting married again! And I stood my ground until I was 34. (Though I had a baby sans marriage when I was 23; but again, another thing this story is not about.)
     So I became a single mom for eleven years.  But here's the thing: I got motivated! I figured out what I wanted to be, and where I wanted my life to go, at least for the most part. I started school and then kept going. I began reading, not sappy love stories where the women got married and lived happily ever after, keeping house and doing who knows what else; I read the kind of literature that opened my eyes to a past that I had not up to then learned anything about, and to an understanding of the human condition of peoples back in time and around the globe that I might not ever be able to fully appreciate. At the same time I was also studying literary criticism, and while it also definitely expanded and challenged my thinking, I knew that I never wanted to be a critic, nor could I ever be a true academic. But I did want a bigger life! I still wanted adventure and travel, but I also wanted the chance to really experience other cultures and people. I didn't want to "sit out" life. I wanted to dance! And this is when my heart began to open up enough to let a certain young(ish) graduate student working on his PhD in ancient history take hold of my imagination so that I might eventually once again consider marriage.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Journaling is like Excavating Your Life

     An anonymous writer once said that keeping a journal is like excavating your life, that the more you write, the deeper you dig and the more you learn about yourself, uncovering the many layers before you discover the original self.  I particularly liked this analogy, not just as a writer and journaler, but as an "armchair archaeologist."  It made me think that the self could be likened to a tell (which is a mound found all around the Middle East, composed of the remains of successive settlements built  over hundreds and hundreds or more years). I have learned over the years as I have  traveled throughout the Middle East and Turkey how to (most of the time) recognize an unexcavated tell. While many tells have been excavated by archaeologists, especially since the 19th century, there are still so many more that are waiting to unearth their secrets, to say "I was once a great city full of life and commerce." Or maybe even declare itself as once having been in its glory days  an active religious center like Colossae in Asia Minor (which we know today as Turkey), where the seven churches, or cities that are mentioned in the Book of Revelations can still be identified.
     Though I am not an archaeologist by profession or otherwise, I have learned an awful lot about it in the years since I married my husband in 1993. Since the early 1980s he has been part of two excavations, one in northern Jordan close to the Syrian border, and one in central Jordan in the Kerak plateau.  I have been fortunate to have traveled with him over much of the Middle East, throughout Turkey and Greece, and most of Western Europe.  While this is not his story, nor is it in the least academic in nature, it's mine, and I've come to see it as being valid in its own right, especially  in terms of my personal observations and experiences. And like so many of the wives (or male spouses) of near eastern archaeologists, we each have our own stories to tell: of life behind-the-scenes in the dig camps, and about the variety of work done in the field, including how it is to work alongside both the natives and the other foreigners; about selling archaeology to starry-eyed college students who want and expect to have more of an "Indiana Jones" experience; about some of the gossip we've all heard about various well-known, as well as lesser-known archaeologists; about sharing slides and introducing Biblical archaeology into the local churches; about what it's like taking students on Bible Land tours to the Middle East before 9/11, and to Greece and Turkey after 9/11, plus all of the other related traveling we've done abroad, and of  the vastness of the cross-cultural experiences; and finally, how it all had to work at home.
     This is my story. I hope in telling it I dig up some yet uncovered part of myself.