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.
  

Friday, June 18, 2010

Touring More of Israel

     Friday was spent getting to Israel, crossing the border, checking into our room at ASOR, and then walking around the predominantly Arab area of East Jerusalem, close to where we were staying. Saturday was our visit inside the walls of the Old City, and to the Mount of Olives, as well as to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I particularly liked visiting Bethlehem, as it was less crowded. And while it was still hard to imagine Jesus being born in a manger where what is now an underground "basement" area of the church, I knew it had to have happened close by, even if not in that exact spot. And the same with his crucifixion and burial in Jerusalem. As most people are aware, Catholics and Protestants in general disagree as to whether Jesus was crucified at the top of the hill which is now encased inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or a little ways away at the Garden Tomb, which at least looks more likely, whether it is or not.

Now for some reason almost no one was at the Church of the Nativity when we were there, and so we had a much better experience. We didn't have to wait in a single line, which made it easier to get our minds around what had taken place here some 2000 years ago. Of course Bethlehem itself is no longer a small remote village (Bethlehem was not then a Palestinian Territory), and as can be expected, one street close to the church had a row of shops that sold to tourists, and to that end I couldn't help but buy a few souvenirs. In a shop right across the street from the church I ended up buying a bunch of olive wood nativity Christmas ornaments (which I have given out over the years as presents), plus I bought myself one really cool souvenir, something I have worn everyday for the last 16 years since I purchased it -- a thick silver and black band ring with silver flowers adorning it. I call it my Bethlehem ring, and it's a constant reminder to me that Jesus was born into this world in the flesh to save me and all the rest of mankind until the end of time. I especially appreciate it on days when I feel a whole lot like I could use rescuing! When I'm lonely, broken and tired, short of money and short of hope, when I've run out of answers, when I feel no peace! When I need the living waters of grace and love to flow over and through my weary, dried up soul. I need a living God! I need communion with the Divine. I need to let Him do His thing. Get out of His way. Let Him be God. Remember my place in the universe. Remember that my only job is to love Him and love my neighbor.  And I need that reminder here, in this strange, holy land. That somewhere in all the mess over here in this part of the world, Christ was born, he lived, he preached, he loved, he laughed, he listened, he got angry, he pitied, he healed, and he wept. Then he was crucified and buried (and it's not important exactly where). But then, he rose. He's not here in this place. He was raised from the dead, and if I can't feel him in all this mess, well, then maybe at night under the stars at Abila, or in the desert, or back at home, or in my car driving along the highway, or at a friend's house, or in the woods, or in a sunset, or on a mountaintop, or at the ocean, or at school . . . Or on my knees. And Christians everywhere are arguing about the details. And the Jews are still waiting for a Deliverer, and the Muslims say that there is only one God and Muhammed is his prophet. And they fight and they hate, and there is no peace.

   On Friday, the Muslims go to the Mosque to pray, and it's their holy day; and on Saturday, the Jews go to Synagogue, and it's their holy day; and on Sunday, the Christians go to church, and it's their holy day. And so for three days in a row God gets special recognition from these His children who do not get along with each other. But today is Sunday, and we can easily rent a car and travel, as there is less reverence for this day and everything's open for business. So we get a small car with yellow license plates, meaning our car has been registered in Israel (as opposed to the Palestinians who have white plates) and therefore we can more easily travel throughout Israel, Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements, though we will stand out like a sore thumb in the Palestinian Territories. For the most part, while we will be close to the Gaza Strip when we're at Ashkelon, we will stay away from there, though we pretty much have to drive through Jericho Sunday night after dark, as that's about the only way to get back to Jerusalem. There's no way we can make it back earlier, as we need the entire day to go everywhere we have planned. One of the Catholic priests who was at Abila with us also came to Jerusalem this same weekend (also staying at ASOR, THE place for archaeologists to hobnob), and he spent Saturday with us inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was super cool because he knew all the nooks and crannies of the place, and took us into areas that most tourists do not get to see. (Plus he knew where there was a portrait painting of God the Father, and I had always wondered what he might look like! Well, you know, there are tons of pictures of His son, but none of Him. And not surprisingly, he was depicted as being white, elderly, Anglo-Saxon.) So we invited Father L along with us on our Sunday sightseeing trip, which made me feel a little safer, maybe because he was a priest, or maybe because there was more safety in numbers (and because he was a priest)! Besides, this trip was still not feeling like that much of a honeymoon, so who cared if a priest tagged along!

     Now, when I think about all the places we went, I don't see for the life of me how we did all this in one day, so it's possible that I'm a little confused here. I am relying rather heavily on photographs that I took from that year to remind me of everything we did, or otherwise I might get that trip mixed up with others I've taken since. But in any case, I know I'm not wrong about where we went that particular summer. It's just that we might have taken two days to do what I'm about to tell you, instead of one, though in all honesty, J could squeeze more sightseeing into one day than anybody else would ever dream of trying to do! So, if you're not a stickler for an exact itinerary, then we're good. Here goes.
                                            
      At some point we headed south towards the Dead Sea, though we didn't stop. We drove through groves and groves of date palms, which I thought were quite beautiful; and we drove to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and where I, in typical tourist fashion, took a camel ride (you might say I was suckered into making a fool of myself, which J caught on camera!); then, pointed in some direction or other, we drove through the Judean Desert, where there is absolutely nothing for miles and miles as far as the eye can see (though its magnificence was astounding!); then we turned north, making one quick stop (much to my husband's chagrin) to walk around and peer in the gate at Beit She'an (only one of the finest archaeological sites in the country!) and then continued on towards the Sea of Galilee (or, Lake Kinneret) and Tiberias, where we visited the Church of the Bread and Fishes and the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, places where Jesus fed 5000 pilgrims with 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish, and the spot where Jesus made Peter the "Shepherd of his People." Of course we ate lunch overlooking the sea, each of us ordering the famous St. Peter's fish, which comes on your plate complete with head and bulging eyes looking straight at you; never mind that you have to skin and fillet the darn thing before you can begin eating it. WAY too much work! Oh, and I almost forgot -- you do get fries with that! (I want to comment here that, really, everyone should try it at least once just so they can say they've had the same fish from the Sea of Galilee that Peter and the other disciples caught, and that which Jesus multiplied, even though in my opinion it's much too salty besides its being generally overall disgusting! Sitting across the water on that steep bank listening to Jesus speak, I would have probably asked if I could just have more bread, please! Sorry. But I doubt if I'm the first person who has not liked it!) 

     Okay, after our delightful lunch we took a boat ride on the sea, but because we couldn't wait around for more tourists to show up, or afford our own private tour, we ended up on a boat full of Arabs having some sort of party celebration -- music, dancing, and the works! I have to say that all this gaiety detracted quite a bit from my ability to just sit in awe and reflect on the significance and profundity of where I was! Aargh! We did, however, experience a very nice breeze and lots of waves, which aided me in better understanding how rough the sea could get, and thus how scary it might be if a person or persons were on a small boat like the ones used for fishing during Jesus' time. From our boat, once we crossed the water, we could see the Mount of Beatitudes (where Jesus delivered his sermon on the mount) and Capernaum (where Peter lived and where Jesus might have preached in the synagogue). During our little venture I tried hard several times to picture Jesus walking on the water, or sleeping in a rocky boat as Peter and the gang became terrified out of their wits by a storm that had very quickly brewed up on the sea; but, alas, Arab music and everybody's loud talk and laughter kept disturbing my imaginings. This is what happens when you're poor and trying to save money but still see and do as much as possible. But all in all, it was way better than not going. Once we were happily deposited back on land, we drove around to the other side of the lake where we could see the Golan Heights up over our heads, as we made our way to a Kibbutz where Father L knew some "Kubbitzniks" (people who live and work on a Kibbutz). From there I think we must have driven back to Jerusalem by way of Jericho (which I do recall, as it was close to midnight, the roads were desolate, and I was sleepy and scared!).

     But this is why I think we might have spent two days touring: at some point we drove with Father L along the Jordan River. I know this for certain because we stopped at a nice quiet spot and Father L blessed my new Jerusalem cross, the one that I had just purchased.  I figured, why not, as the water from the Jordan is supposed to be holy, and people use it to bless all sorts of things, and while I wasn't Catholic (though I was once for a very short time back when I was 18), I figured that it wouldn't hurt to ask the priest I had right there with me to do me the honors, which he graciously did! And now, while I remember the sun setting on us at the Kibbutz, I also remember J and I driving to Ashkelon and watching the sun go down there over the Mediterranean Sea as we ate dinner.

      I realize that I am rather confused by our long weekend getaway, but let's not forget that I was a tad worn down, both physically and emotionally, and squeezing so much activity into my every waking moment made my days seem to more or less run together. But I do recall how perfectly that sunset dinner inspired feelings of romance, though I have no recollections of anything happening once we got back to our room. Now HOW could I have forgotten THAT?  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jerusalem, The Holy City

     So there I was in Jerusalem! I suppose most people would love to go there at some point in their lives, and I too was happy to be there, and to have such an experience before I had even turned 40 (I was still in my mid thirties, which now seems like a baby!), but I was starting to get really pooped out! I was on the adventure of my life and here I was, completely exhausted! But, as my beloved J would often say, "You can rest when you're dead." Or maybe that was "rest when you get back home" and "sleep all you want when you're dead." Whatever. So, once we were dropped off at ASOR, we went in, said our hellos to the staff, and found our room. I might have sat down for one minute (probably on the toilet, which is sometimes a good place to just sit and rest, and because I could seeing how these were western toilets!). But alas, there was only so much time, and lots to see, so off we went!
     
     ASOR is situated in the Muslim section of Jerusalem, which having just arrived from Jordan, made me feel right at home as we ventured out into the streets. Not too much new too quickly. But for those of you waiting for me to begin a diatribe about how holy and godly the whole place was, here's the thing -- I know that many tourists (millions maybe?) go to Jerusalem every year because it's supposed to be one of THE most holy cities in the world. For Christians, for Muslims, and for Jews. And I'm certain that it once was and still is, I guess, but in all honesty (and it scares me to be this honest, and has even caused me a bit of writer's block), I never felt its "holiness." Not once. I felt, instead, its lack (or loss) of holiness. Maybe this was because I was tired. Maybe I was in some sort of culture shock and my system was on sensory overload. Maybe it was because I was a new convert and didn't have the right attitude. I don't know. I WAS fascinated, though, if that counts.  We walked all around the area we were staying in that first evening before heading back to our room. We even "toured" the ASOR complex, which was exciting as well, as some very famous 20th century archaeologists have stayed there. Let me just drop some names right here, as I was feeling closer to them than to God (at least for the time being): William Foxworth Albright, Nelson Glueck, Cab Calloway, Hershel Shanks, Bill Dever, Al Hoerth, Larry Stager, John Pinkerton, Eric and Carol Myers. I'm leaving out lots of people, both dead and living, I know, but, like I said, I'm no archaeologist, so I'm impressed with myself that I know the names of even these (plus, I'm using the term "famous" loosely, as you may or may not be guessing). But most of these esteemed men and women have passed through these same doors and have eaten and slept in this same place. And here I was! I even had the most delightful chat with Bill Dever's ex-wife one morning out in the courtyard. She had much to say about her ex, and though I see she's currently typing up his manuscripts and papers for him again, at that time she had very little nice to say about him! (You know, all the other women and all. Typical egomaniacal male prowess.) And besides, Bill Dever's an ex-Church of Christ guy (his dad was a preacher) who became so disillusioned with Christianity that he almost single-handedly dispelled the notion of "Biblical Archaeology," though he had to retract a little of what he said since both interest in archaeology and funding by church people began drying up.  Jerk! Okay, enough of that! All of that was my own interpretation anyway (I'm thinking I need to say that for legal protection. I don't know.) What I'm really doing here is putting off the inevitable explanation as to why I didn't like Jerusalem all that much once I got there. And yes, I was a little mad that I couldn't feel all that impressed by it!

     Here's what I saw: I saw lots and lots of people, everywhere. Up and down the streets, Arabs, Israelis, European Jews, New York City Jews, tourists, "pilgrims." And I saw an ancient city built on top of an even more ancient city, now quartered off by different religious sects. In the Christian Quarter I heard voices whispering that under this glass lay a piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on, while a piece of the stone that sealed his tomb lay under another; In the Jewish Quarter I saw men and women, who were separated by gender, placing their prayers on folded paper into the cracks and crevices of a wall, tears streaming down their faces as they cried for a Deliverer, mourning the destruction of the Temple Mount, or who knows what, some with phylacteries wrapped around their arms and foreheads, reminding them to stay close to the law; I stepped over vendors' wares as they were lined up and down the Damascus Gate, selling everything from food to underwear to hats to jewelry to cheap souvenirs; J and I bartered with a shopkeeper for an olive wood nativity set and a silver Jerusalem cross as we walked along the Via Dolorosa where we were followed by young Arab boys who wanted to "give" us tours. (One kid over at the Mount of Olives even wanted me to pay him for an olive leaf he had handed me, but I flung it back at him, telling him he could just keep it!)

    Back inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre my nose and lungs were filled with the smells of body odor, mixed with the smoke of lighted candles and incense that hung thick in the air, as people stood in long lines, shoving and yelling, or else whispering and praying their rosaries quietly, crying as they knelt beside erected shrines made of gilded saints. In the Muslim Quarter, the Dome of the Rock was closed off due to recent Israeli and Arab conflicts, so that no one was allowed to visit, as there had been "trouble" of some sort earlier. We could see the renovated cupola of the Mosque of Omar, gleaming gold with the pride of King Hussein, Protector of the Holy Shrines, the place where Mohammad ascended into heaven, and the hill where Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed. While outside the Damascus Gate I saw soldiers lined up, cocking their guns in preparation for a trip to Gaza. Everywhere outside the walls of the Old City I saw guns. I have experienced so much more holiness in so many other places I have been, and while I wanted to experience it here, and so many people seemed to be able to, I just couldn't! All I could think of were the words of Jesus (Mathew 23:37 and Luke 19:41-44) who wept as he looked out over the city, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How I have longed to gather you up like chicks to a hen, but you were not willing. If you in your turn had only understood on this day the message of peace! But, alas, it is hidden from your eyes!" And that was what I felt. Separation, sorrow, and discord.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Crossing the Border into Israel

     During the dig Dr. Mare gave the volunteer workers one long weekend off, so J and I took advantage of it to make a quick trip to Israel. While we were in Amman the weekend before, we had gotten our visas (at the consulate over by the multi-storied mall complex), as we would not be entering from the US, and so were set to go the following weekend. I cannot begin to say how excited I was to make this journey, though I was a little scared as well. We were going to cross the Jordanian/Israeli border at the Allenby Bridge (though why we did not cross further north at Beit She'an, or the Peace Bridge, is beyond me), and there was trouble brewing in Israel, as there so often is. I had heard stories about how the Israelis often pulled individuals aside and questioned them as to where exactly they were going in Israel and what they planned on doing, and why. I had heard of people getting stuck at the border for days while their passports and luggage were both taken from them. I also knew that we were not allowed to take any pictures at the border. I felt unbelievably queezy about leaving Jordan, where I had begun to feel somewhat safe and comfortable. But still, bible studies had taught me to think of Israel as the promised land, the land of milk and honey, the land God had promised the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 34:1-6) when he chose Moses to lead them out of Egypt, though God never allowed Moses to go in because of his arrogance and disobedience. Fortunately, God did allow Moses to see it from Mt. Nebo in Jordan, where years later I also would catch a glimpse of the panoramic view of the Promised Land.  But now here I was, fearful that I, too, might not be allowed in! What is your destination? Jerusalem. Where will you be staying? At the American School of Oriental Research (ASOR), in the Old City. For how long? Three days. For what reason are you visiting Israel? We're tourists. What were you doing in Jordan? We're on an archaeology dig. We got some time off. Do you want your passport stamped? No, thank you; we will be returning to Jordan. Had we had them stamped, we would not have been allowed to reenter Jordan, nor would we have ever been allowed into Syria (who still refuses to recognize Israel as a nation, and while we weren't certain our travels would ever lead us there, we were hopeful, and one never knows anyway what the future holds in store), and so, instead, we opted to have a single piece of paper stamped and slipped in between the pages of our passports. This, I felt regret over, as mine eventually got lost, and to this day, after many trips to Israel, I still have no actual "proof" that I have ever been there except for pictures I have taken and souvenirs I have purchased. (I have never entered from there, but have always crossed over into Israel from Jordan, and have always left by way of Jordan or Eilat, Egypt.)
    Surprisingly (at least to some), was that the Israeli and Palestinian flags were both flying high at the border crossing, which indicated that some headway was being made in regards to their peace treaties, though much remained unsettled (as it still does today!). Peace talks had begun in 1991 in Oslo, and in 1993 Israel and the PLO had announced their agreement to negotiate Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and the Jericho area, as well as the Gaza Strip, though still by 1994 Israel had yet to fully pull out of all of these territories. Because of all the changes and unrest (there were still plenty of uprisings and terrorist attacks), crossing at the Allenby Bridge into Palestinian territory was a little more "adventurous." Of course we had to leave our Jordanian transportation, cross the border on a shuttle bus, and then make new arrangements to continue on the Israeli trek of our journey. All of our luggage, as well as our persons, had to be inspected by armed customs officers, and then, of course, both transit and bank fees had to be paid. (This is the hardest, most expensive, and scariest country I have ever entered or exited.) Thankfully, a sherut (shared) taxi was sitting there waiting for visitors who hadn't made prior transportation arrangements, though the driver would not make the trip with only the two of us, so we had to wait until there were at least three more people needing a taxi. Before we departed we all had to be clear on and agree to the fare, then wait as the luggage was loaded up, after which we each climbed in, and off we went, a couple of hours later. Finally, we were on our way to Jerusalem, where unbeknownst to me, troops were preparing to storm Gaza. But at that point, I was just glad to be away from where I was!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

60s and 70s News Events

      When I entered college at age 25 as a single mom, I wasn't sure about what kind of future I would have; I just knew that I wasn't crazy about the path I was on. Having grown up in the 60s and early 70s in a small town in Appalachia meant that I had never seen the women around me, the mothers of my friends, work at careers. The majority of women had jobs at home as wives and mothers, so consequently I never heard the women around me talk much about anything other than their children, their husbands, housecleaning, cooking, gardening, sewing, shopping, decorating, or what was going on in the community or at church. Of course because of the political times we were living in, conversations at home every now and then would be dotted with comments about what was happening around the world as it had been seen on the local or national news. It was the time of the British invasion, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon; and it was also the time of Golda Meir, the 4th Prime Minister of Israel, and the first woman I had ever heard of  who had any substantial voice on the political world stage (besides Queen Elizabeth II who acted more as a figure head). Golda Meir entered the living rooms of almost every American on a nightly basis, as she was of great interest to the United States, endeavoring to cement relations with our country and obtain economic aid for Israel. I was young, but I knew that a lot of people in the United States were pro-Israeli, and thus were watching and waiting to see what might happen with this fairly new country that had been formed out of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian territories. The Kingdom of Jordan had been created in 1947, after Britain gave up its mandate to rule Palestine after WWII, while Israel was created in 1948, after large numbers of Jews had fled from Europe to Palestine in order to escape the Nazis, eventually creating a conflict that resulted in the first Arab-Israeli war that began as soon as the last British troops pulled out (though they didn't leave Jordan until 1957). A decade and a half later, and with trouble and fighting continuing, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and its more militant cousin, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (or, the Al-Fatah) both formed in 1964.  In 1967 Jordan experienced devastation after the Six-Day War between Israel and Arab armies, during which time thousands of Palestinian refugees flocked into Jordan, accepting King Hussein's offer of Jordanian citizenship. In 1969 Yasser Arafat got elected PLO chairman, and in 1974, after terrorist attacks on Israel by the PLO, and after King Hussein clamped down on their growing power, King Hussein finally recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

Besides Vietnam, this region of the world took front and center on the evening news when I was in my formative years. Grownups I knew seemed to be much more compassionate towards the plight of the new Israelis, while they loathed Yasser Arafat, and felt thankful for King Hussein's peaceful inclinations. Something I wasn't aware of, but would learn about much later, was that during this time Jordanian women hadn't as yet been given the right to vote, while Golda Meir, an Israeli woman, was speaking for an entire nation, carrying on discussions with these strong male world leaders in a political climate that seemed as tempestuous and scary to my young mind as did the Vietnam War. Ironically, during this same time there was another woman on the political scene, Gloria Steinem (of German and Jewish descent), who talked about a Women's Liberation Movement. After graduating college with a degree in government, she established herself as a freelance writer, not wanting to follow the long established path of women--that of marriage and motherhood--and then joined other feminists speaking out about issues far too radical and close to home for comfort to most conservative,Christian, middle class Americans, and so who, unlike Golda Meir, was not supported in my parents' house, or by most people I knew. I overheard something about women burning their bras, and that was it. Thus it was that I remained fairly ignorant of the ever expanding choices becoming available to women in America, as the voice of Golda Meir quietly died out in 1974 when she was forced to step down from office to be replaced by a man.
     At home in WV, I was transitioning from my freshman year in high school to my sophomore year, and I cared more about dating boys and growing into larger sized bras than what was happening on any political front, whether it was at home or abroad. I was collecting teen idol magazines, dreaming about who I might marry someday, and reading fewer and fewer adventure stories. In fact, my reading eventually turned into more of an addiction to the Romance novel, preferring "adventures" where the female "heroine" finds herself (usually due to a flaw in her own character) overpowered by some strong, ravishingly handsome male abductor who steals her away from her normal yet "boring" life. Over time she begins to fall in love with him until she's finally willing to accept her fate and live alongside him a much less traditional life, if not in a less traditional role. The stories always ended with the heroine in the arms of her lover, and one had only to assume that they lived together "happily ever after" until they died.  Oh, how so very much I wanted that to happen to me! During the years I was hooked on reading these novels I hardly watched any television, let alone any world news, though I did set my alarm to get up early enough so that I could witness Diana marry Prince Charles in England. Thank goodness, by the time I was twenty-five (and after several broken hearts, a failed marriage, and one child), I got the opportunity to go to college, where I began a process of education (mostly under the tutelage of female professors) that would open my eyes to the history and plight of women in the United States, all the while discovering that women had indeed been participants on the world stage, actively defying convention both publically and privately! I also began seeing how they had been challenging the status quo all around the world using their voices and their pens! Now, in 1994, here I was walking the streets and countrysides of Jordan, learning to care about a place in the world that had seemed barren at best, and problematic and troublesome at worst, and I suddenly wanted to understand this nation's political history. I wanted to hear the Arab side of the story. Both the men's and the women's. Unfortunately, on this trip I would not hear from any women, although a seed had been planted in me that would, in another decade, find its way into the light.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weekends in Amman


     The wild, adventurous female side of me, the one who didn't really give a hoot about what she looked like, but who wanted more than anything to go exploring over the whole of the big, wide world, loved these weekend outings! I had read so many adventure stories growing up, and then when I was in college and my reading turned more towards cannonized male authors, I began to dream of living like Ernest Hemmingway, or Jack Kerouac, or Mark Twain, or Henry Miller, being free to travel and come and go as I pleased. To be an observer of and a participant in the world! To be like Amelia Earhart, who flew around the globe before she got lost at sea, or even like Agatha Christie. Of course, I didn't want a lover on every continent, or even one who stayed at home and waited for my return so much as I wanted a lover by my side. One who either showed me the world, or who saw it with me.
And so these weekends in Amman brought out the more spirited side of me as I donned one or the other of the only two clean outfits I had brought with me to change into when I wasn't digging. With my husband I would go walking the streets of this foreign capital city that had evidence of a rich occupational history that went back as far as almost 9,000 years (the city was known as Philadelphia, the southernmost city of the Decapolis, during Roman times), and which was now home to both Arabs and Palestinians alike since 1967. Hailing taxis that would take us exploring around the diverse areas located off of its eight city circles (or major roundabouts), we would visit its many restaurants and cafes and bakeries, its various shopping districts, making a special trip to the suq in the downtown district where interested travelers could buy gold and silver by weight, or to shops where we could purchase in-laid mother-of-pearl boxes or hand-crafted baskets or rugs, or to its more modern area with its multi-storied mall, or to its many museums and galleries, its archaeological sites, or even its grocery stores where we could buy, less expensively, Jordanian teas and spices (especially saffron, which is much cheaper over there than in the US) to take home with us. One afternoon we even went to a local movie theater where Robin Hood: Men in Tights was playing. After we purchased our tickets, we went inside where we were ushered to our assigned seats (which meant we didn't get to sit as close to the screen as we would have preferred). The voices, of course, had been dubbed in Arabic, using English subtitles which we read like with any other foreign film (except that the actors' lips really were moving to English words, so it was a little weird). Halfway through the movie there was an intermission (I think because most Jordanians smoke and needed the break!); again, something Americans are not used to, unless, of course, it is an extremely long Kevin Costner film! Anyway, the movie was hilarious, not only to us, but to the Jordanian movie patrons as well. As I sat there laughing at not only the slapstick humor, but also at some of the more subtle verbal humor, I wondered at how much of it could have possibly been accurately translated into the Arabic language! Even the fact that such a film as this was being shown in a Muslim country demonstrated how much less religiously restricted everyone was in the city (although I have to say, it didn't appear that many men brought dates to that film). But in Jordan everything was different! Everything was exotic! From the storefronts (in the cities and in the villages) displaying outside whatever was being sold inside, from animal carcasses, to tires or mufflers, to kitchenware, to children's clothing, or shoes; from all of the street signs and billboards and menus being written in Arabic (a script I have yet to learn to read, except for the word ALLAH); from the way people dressed, with all the men in their traditional red and white checkered headresses (keffiyehs), while some wore long robes (gumbazs) and sandals, and the women wore their long, sometimes more ornately embroidered robes (thobs), while still other men and women in Amman dressed more like westerners in suits, or slacks and dresses, or jeans (though every woman wore a scarf); from the way taxi drivers honked persistently as they drove, just barely missing hitting each other, screaming out words I didn't understand, and then always saying in English to us how much they wished they could get a visa to go to America. A fiercely masculine culture (and anti-homosexual culture) where young men often held hands as they walked down the street together, and where all men kissed each other on the cheeks when they greeted each other, and where women smoked hooka pipes after dinner along with their husbands and friends. Where restaurants had special seating for men dining alone, keeping them separated from the areas where families dined together, and where women never publicly touched any man, even their own husbands. A culture where there were no copyright laws, and where you could buy any music or movie you wanted if you just waited a minute while the store clerk made a copy for you if it weren't already on the shelf. A culture where you could walk into any drugstore and buy any drug over the counter. No prescriptions were ever needed. A culture where you could never buy alcohol except in fancy hotel restaurants. A culture where weddings lasted a week, where dogs were never kept as pets, and where showing someone the bottom of your foot was a sign of disrespect. All of this I took in and tried to remember and understand. The sights, the sounds, the foods, the smells; the religion, the language, the dress, the culture. It wasn't America, and it wasn't Europe. It was the Middle East, a place I had found myself in (for better or for worse) for eight weeks! And I was falling in love.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

ACOR

     As soon as we got into Amman's downtown bus station we would take a taxi to ACOR where we would promptly check into our rooms (usually located down on the basement level), strip off all our clothes and add them to the rest of our dirty laundry which we would send to the laundress for washing (and while there was a small fee for this service, it was well worth it! Whoever did the laundry at ACOR did a marvelous job, as everything came back within hours smelling and looking clean and bleached, softly machine dried, AND neatly folded. Needless to say, I saw this as a reason to never do laundry at camp!). Within minutes of dispensing of both clothes and laundry J would jump in the shower for about 10 mintes, at which time I would follow, an order we agreed to since I usually took longer. And Oooooh, how unbelievably GOOD that hot, steamy water felt as it powerfully sprayed down over my head and body! I could have stood there forever, lathering up, rinsing off, over and over. Plus I could finally shave my legs decently, and generally pamper myself like I could never do at Abila! The showers here were so clean, and there were no spiders or lizards running over the walls. I would have been in no hurry to get out EVER if it hadn't been for the fact that J and I were both usually starving half to death, and here there was the promise of some real food. On Fridays we always skipped lunch at the dig in order to make our early getaway, so after having taken care of one very essential luxury we embarked on another. Upstairs, the main floor housed a large industrial kitchen used to cook all the meals and desserts which would feed weekend visitors a full lunch (the cost of which was included in the price of the stay), and which fed the archaeology teams who were digging nearby, but who lived at ACOR, three meals a day. I couldn't help but feel jealous about how much nicer these dig crews had it than we did at Abila. The difference between their accommodations and ours was like night and day! Oh well. I at least got to experience a reprieve on weekends, something most of our team members were not so fortunate to get, and I clung to this very selfishly, as there were only a limited number of rooms left on any given weekend, and we three had standing reservations!
Fridays at ACOR the standard dinner fare was spaghetti, and we had permission to help ourselves to the leftovers! J would heat up a big pot of spaghetti, while my assignment would be to make a pitcher of freshly brewed tea (shay, in Arabic), which, let me tell you, was a real luxury, poured over tall glasses of an unlimited supply of ice! All week long at the camp I would drink plain water, sometimes refrigerated, but usually not, and even on our treks into Irbid I could barely satisfy my craving for ice, so this became one of my biggest challenges on our outings, especially since I am a huge ice fanatic, something I didn't fully realize about myself until I left the familiarity of my own country. In American restaurants it's no problem to get all the ice you want, so at the Pizza Hut in Irbid, when I saw pictures on their paper place mats of tall glasses of Coke filled with ice cubes, I felt encouraged to try to communicate my desire to have that which I so desperately lusted after in the illustrations. I would point to the picture and use the Arabic word for ice, talj, and then point to myself, all the while shaking my head yes, and saying "I want, please" (biddi, min fadlak) in Arabic. When the waiter would finally understand what I was requesting, there would be great joy, accompanied by lots of smiling and laughing, followed by my eager anticipation of a glass soon to be filled full with ice cubes. But alas, every single time the waiter would return holding up a bag of about 12 individually wrapped frozen cubes, smiling, offering me very graciously, ONE (wahid)? Oh! You would like TWO (itnen)? Ha! This was very funny! Oh, but could I possibly have THREE (talateh)? Asking this always made me feel like a greedy American who wanted everything in excess. But in America ice was not only abundant, it was free! It was just frozen water! Unfortunately, a commodity that was NOT that abundant in other parts of the world, and especially not in the deserts of the Middle East. And while the waiter at Pizza Hut wasn't going to charge me for that ice, and while I'm also certain that he was indeed very happy to serve it to me, I'm also certain that he never understood why on earth I would ever want such a thing in my drink in the first place. How very odd! Apparently, those packages of ice were something the franchise shipped to them, along with those Coke advertisement placemats that were lying out on all the tables, as was the chrome salad bar that just sat in the middle of the floor with a big bowl on it for serving iceberg lettuce salad, something also not available in the Middle East. Either because lettuce didn't ship that well, or because Jordanians don't use lettuce in their salads, or both, that bowl just sat there empty, as did the rest of the salad bar in most areas. A very visible reminder of a piece of American food culture that was out of place here. So I didn't push it. Most of the time I lived with two cubes and felt happy for what I got, always profusely thanking the waiters, repeating over and over in Arabic, shukran, shukran! But at ACOR, why, I had all the ice I wanted! And so J, Tim, and I almost embarrassingly, yet happily, scarfed down our amazingly delicious early evening meal, and then washed the dishes and wiped off the stove and countertops, making certain that we didn't wear out the good graces of the kitchen staff, before heading back to our rooms for a restful nap, setting the alarm clocks for about 8:00 p.m., so as to leave ourselves a reasonable amount of time for an early night on the town.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Living for Weekends

     So it was that I lived for the weekends! Every Friday afternoon as soon as we finished working in the field J, Tim S. (a close friend of ours, and the dig photographer), and I would head out for Amman. It was a rather long trip so J always wanted to get going as soon as possible. What he wanted (and so what we did) was to be first off the dig bus, run into our rooms, grab the small bags that we had already packed the night before, and then quickly head back out to the road in order to catch the next local bus that would soon be passing by on its way into Irbid, timing this just right so as not to miss it. Translated into girl language, this meant no shower, no clean clothes, no makeup, and no way that I could ever look any worse ever in my life if I tried! In guy language this meant, "We can clean up when we get there. We'll have nice bathrooms and showers, real beds, someone to do our laundry; we'll get some real food. So come on, let's hurry up!" Ugh! Guy language is so much more logical! How I felt about how I looked was inconsequential to him, though not to me. Never mind that I had to ride on the local bus looking filthy dirty in my dig clothes and boots, with my hair all messed up, and  a dirty face and neck that helped clinch the total look I had going of being a homeless wayfarer, but from Irbid I had to ride (and under different conditions I might have otherwise said got to ride, as these were air conditioned!) on one of Jordan's big hijazi coach buses all the way into the metropolis city of Amman, where people were far more aware of good hygiene and fashion. One thing I learned about Jordanians is that staring is not considered rude behavior. Nor is pointing and giggling. On the hijazi women POINTED at me! How humiliating! Thankfully, I was under the "protection" of a man, but I could imagine them all wondering how any man could possibly want a woman like me. Many of them had only Hollywood picture versions of what American women looked like, so what could explain me? Maybe I should have worn a Canadian flag or something! I felt like I was miserably representing my American sisters, and I was so sorry! But my husband wasn't noticing me either. I seemed to be turning into "one of the guys" on this trip, and while J hadn't forgotten I was his wife, taking excellent care of me, he wasn't exactly thinking about me in the way I wanted him to. All the stress and angst, the poor living conditions and long hard hours (never mind the foam mattresses on concrete floors), combined with the fact that keeping romance alive anyway on a day to day basis with someone you see 24/7, all added up to there being more nights when rolling over and saying "goodnight" was the easiest thing to do. So I was a little touchy! But I was hoping that letting go of my vanity might be a good thing, so I held my head up even higher than I did on the local Irbid buses, and stayed focused on how happy I was to be headed towards the more creature comforts that awaited us when we got to ACOR (the American Center of Oriental Research), a home away from home for American archaeologists.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Irbid


    Whenever we'd go into Irbid I would love it! It was like going on a date. At least it was the closest thing to going on a date as anything had been yet on this trip! This was my honeymoon after all, but my "honey" was more often than not feeling very tired, and very mad at the director most of the time. He hated the separate living arrangements, feeling that those of us at the second school were too isolated from the main dig camp, and he hated Dr. Mare's miserliness. As far as he was concerned, running out of water in the showers was unforgiveable! And in general, he not only felt neglected by Dr. Mare, he also felt like he was basically being treated once again like a flunkie grad student rather than a real assistant. This was his sixth dig season with Dr. Mare, and while he was happy to have been given the title of "Assistant," it was also starting to piss him off, which meant that he was more and more willing to perform a disappearing act on any given afternoon, something I was all too happy to encourage! So at least once every week, either on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the two of us, along with anybody else who just wanted to get away and was game to join us, caught a local bus and rode into Irbid. I loved the freedom of it all, but I would have been terrified to ride into the city on my own. Riding on the local buses was quite an experience in itself. We were coming from a very small village, one of the many that dotted the road going into Irbid. You can only imagine what an odd sight we were to the local men and women riding on the bus, as this rather large American "gringo" and his wife boarded, and then traveled anything but inconspicuously the miles into town. While I always made certain my arms were covered, I did not wear a scarf or anything over my short hair, I barely wore any makeup at all, and I often donned my pants (a clean pair) rather than a skirt, as I had only packed one of those. Lacking a certain amount of feminine appeal, I was much more of an enigma to the women than J. One very obvious aspect that I couldn't help but notice about even the oldest woman whose face was mostly hidden by a veil was her heavily charcoal lined eyes! On these rides into Irbid I would often feel those eyes boring into me, only to be followed by whispers and giggles behind sets of hands, particularly if the women were traveling together rather than with their husbands. (No woman ever traveled alone.) But I would hold my head up high and try to retain as much dignity as I could, as I was, unbeknownst to them, stepping out on the town! Ladies, I was on my honeymoon! (These poor women would have never guessed it!) And to this end, I never felt so happy to "belong" to a man as I felt in Jordan!
     Once we arrived at the bus station in Irbid I could escape all the stares and giggles, and walk about more freely, feeling much more like a tourist in the city, and therefore less noticeable. Well, really there weren't hardly any tourists in Irbid, but it was a university town, and there were lots of young people and thus much more hustling and bustling about. J, who loved the adventure of it all, had his own favorite destinations, and one of those was far enough away from the bus station that we had to take a taxi (which in Jordan were mostly older, stripped down, big four door Mercedes, painted yellow). Since food was always J's primary concern, he knew where a lot of good inexpensive local restaurants were located, and depending on how our supply of Jordanian Dinars was holding up, we sometimes first had to make a quick stop at a currency exchange shop. (The rate of exchange at that time was about 70 to 100, which meant that our dollars went a little further there than they did in the U.S., thankfully!) A few doors down from the exchange shop where J liked to go was a restaurant that served the absolute best kababs. For anyone trying out Jordanian food for the first time, and who might not be that adventurous, these are an excellent choice. Jordanians eat meat at nearly every meal, with chicken and lamb being the most popular, and beef coming in third. (Pork is absolutely forbidden.) Shish (which means grilled) were my favorite kababs, and I had no preference over which meat I ordered, as they were all delicious. A shish kabab was made up of chunks of lamb, chicken, or beef with vegetables (sliced onions and yellow, green, and red peppers) threaded onto skewers and grilled. These would be served with a side of yellow rice (given its yellow color by the dye, Tumeric), or with French fries, and pita bread. Most locals would also add to their order taboola, a common salad of diced tomatoes, onions, and parsley. Of course appetizers ( or, mazzat) are very popular in Jordan, with hummous (served with pita bread for dipping) being the singular most popular dish, made up of pureed chick peas blended with tania (sesame seed oil), lemon, and garlic, topped with olive oil and a sprig of parsley. (Our friend, Adnan, who would later come to visit us in Kentucky, taught me how to make hummous during an all evening event that temporarily transformed my home kitchen into a Jordanian culinary school! Something I considered a blessing, being a small town girl from WV). Desserts in Jordan most often tended to be fresh fruit, with  watermelon being served more often in restaurants, and on the dig, than any other fruit. Restaurants and bakeries also served amazingly wonderful sticky sweets like baklava, or a popular angel hair pastry, or cookies stuffed with pistachios or dates, but we rarely had room left over for such rich treats. Along with dessert, Jordanian meals ended with either coffee (often flavored with cardamom), served very strong in small cups, or else hot tea, which was also served very strong and heavily sweetened. All around the city of Irbid, on these outings, we would go in search of what would become our favorite dishes, but our most singularly favorite meal, considered more of a "fast food" in Jordan, sold by vendors along the streets (all around the Middle East, actually), and extremely cheap to pick up was either shawarma or falafel. J preferred the former, and I the latter, though we were happy to share with one another. Shawarma is very much like an Arab version of a Greek gyro. It's a rolled piece of flat bread filled with strips of lamb or chicken, smothered in yogurt, while falafel is pita bread (khubiz) stuffed with a mixture of deep fried chick peas, yogurt, spices, and parsley. Some of my other favorite local dishes were mansaf, a traditional Beduoin chicken and rice dish made in a rich yogurt broth, served without utensils, usually in huge amounts from a big communal platter (and though you eat this with your hands, Arabs never use their left hand to eat, as it is considered to be unclean), kabsa, another chicken and yellow rice dish, oozi, basmati (a yellow rice) with roasted chicken, usually served with roasted potatoes, or green peppers and onions, or both, and kibbeh, palm-sized deep fried balls made of a mixture of finely ground lean beef or lamb, cracked wheat, some spices, onions, toasted pine nuts, and olive oil. While we would have variations on these dishes for lunch back at camp, as well as other typical Jordanian fare like mahshi (baked stuffed eggplant), and baba ghanoush (a smashed, smoky, runny eggplant dish in a molasses based sweet and sour sauce), the food never tasted all that good because of the conditions under which our hired professional cooks had to work, and because of the cheaper quality of groceries that Dr. Mare purchased. All of this was quite unfortunate, as I think it hindered a true appreciation of Jordanian cuisine.
    In any case, I was in heaven when I was in Irbid, visiting restaurants (and yes, sometimes we'd go to the only American joint in Irbid, Pizza Hut, which tasted so much better to me when I was over there than at home) and grocery stores, shopping for snack foods we could take back to camp to get us through another few days until we could make it to  Amman, where we spent almost every weekend.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Middle Eastern Foods


     Besides the unearthing of Artemis, which was a huge boon for everyone (especially for all of us up on Area A), I'd have to say that discovering the many delicious Middle Eastern foods was my next biggest surprise! I'm guessing, though it's probably safe to assume, that by the first time I ever traveled to Jordan everyone else who lived in any large U.S. city, and had any curiosity about foreign cuisine, had probably already been tipped off about the amazing dishes offered by local Middle Eastern restaurants, many of which are tucked away in some quaint corner of their favorite neighborhood. And while I was quick to learn where I might locate such restaurants once I returned home, up to this point food was just another aspect of Middle Eastern culture for which I had no clue! Remember, I grew up eating mostly southern cooking, a lot of fried meat and potatoes, as well as all the other typical American foods. (I will state for the record, however, that when I moved to California I learned to love both Mexican and Chinese cuisine, something we did not have in West Virginia at the time, at least not to my knowledge. I also tried Hungarian, German, and Vietnamese foods, thanks to my mother's boyfriends and husband). Still, experimenting with what I considered "exotic" foods when not in the company of a person encouraging me to do so was out of my range of experience. On the dig, the cooks who kept us fed tried their hardest to make anything American they knew how to make. I can't imagine that our Director encouraged them in this, as I'm not sure he cared about anything other than saving money, but somehow, out of their strong belief in being as hospitable to their "guests" as possible, combined, maybe, with their sense that not doing so could have led to a total revolt on the part of many of the college students who were away from home for the first time, and who were already trying to cope with so many other new experiences and hardships, we ended up eating a lot of cold French fries, served alongside our daily fare of chicken and rice! To any Jordanian who worked in the food industry, the idea was that the majority of young and middle age Americans lived mostly on hamburgers and French fries (don't know where on earth they could have gotten this notion from), but since beef was extremely expensive, having a juicy hamburger just wasn't going to happen (and while I'm not that big a fan of the burger, most afternoons I would have died for one!). In any case, our cooks were so happy to serve us French fries, that in their eagerness to make us all as content as possible, they made up a bunch almost every other day. Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume they had to cook, by the time they ended up on the table for our consumption, they were always hard and cold. The salt purchased for the dig was so old that it had no taste, and the ketchup, if you could call it that, was some Jordanian brand, so nobody got that excited, especially since they were sorely missing their much coveted Heinz or Hunt's, whichever was the case! So, each one of us just had to make due with that runny, semi-pastey red liquid they served, or else go without, and afterwards, if we could muster up any graciousness, thank the cooks profusely! At least they tried. I always felt sorry for them because, while they did have experience cooking in large volume, they had to cook for us from a very tiny school kitchen that had only one stove and one refrigerator, and had been constructed to feed only a small number of middle school children. One of the cooks did bring (from her own home) her own hot plate. (Thank god for an extra burner, right?) Another considerate thing they did was that whenever anybody had a birthday, they would try to bake an American cake, topped with icing (which I think someone actually brought one can of from the states). Our American deserts were also very foreign concepts to them, and so these cakes were never as good as we dreamed they might be (especially since most every American was suffering from chocolate withdrawals, another food staple not readily available in the whole region of the Middle East!), and while they were often barely even edible, we still thanked them for their efforts. You never wanted to be on the bad side of the cooks! J had told me how back in 1986 he and his buddy had taken the cook at ACOR (The American Center of Oriental Research, a center that housed visiting American archaeologists, located in Amman) bags of chocolate chips and brown sugar, neither of which were available in the grocery stores, even in Amman. The two of them were on a 90 day trip, part of which would include Syria and Israel, where they would use local bus transportation, before heading off to Abila for the dig. Needing to leave their dig luggage (and remember what that consisted of) at ACOR so that they would not have to haul it all around with them, and needing permission to leave it, they tried gaining favor with the cook. I'm sure J was hoping to get some chocolate chip cookies for himself out it as well. He had already worked on "friending" the cook two years earlier, and so basically had free reign of the kitchen (something I would be grateful for on this trip), and the cook knew how much J loved to eat (something all cooks appreciate), so the deal was sealed! For anybody traveling in a foreign land, let alone living under such conditions as we were at Abila, what you get to eat becomes of supreme importance! And while our cooks tried their hardest, and did manage to put on the table some excellent local dishes, they didn't compare to what we could get if we ventured out beyond the perimeters of our camp. It was to this end that J made certain that he took me into Irbid, the closest city to Abila (less than 10 miles away), at least once every Tuesday or Wednesday evening for dinner.