Curry and Spice

Travel: Amman, or In Which We Don’t Shower for Thirty Days

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2011 at 2:00 am

It has been well over thirty days since my last post, which is not a record, but is pretty astonishing.  In that time, I have experienced so many things that were not only completely outside of my usual framework, but have been both amazing and challenging.

My travels to Jordan went incredibly smoothly.  The Frankfurt airport is incredibly easy to navigate, and the people there are unbelievably kind and helpful.  I spent the first two or three hours there trying to entertain myself and prevent myself from falling asleep while I waited from my friend, who was flying from Dublin to Frankfurt.  When he arrived, we spent a number of hours comparing stories from Ireland and Mexico.  As of May, I hadn’t seen some of my friends for a year, and while it had only been five months since I’d seen him, it was nonetheless very exciting to reunite.  After putzing around the Frankfurt airport for another four or so hours, we finally boarded the plane to go to Amman.  This flight also went extremely smoothly, as did our entrance to Amman.  Customs and immigration went quickly and before we knew it, we were driving to ACOR, the American Center for Oriental Research.  Arriving at ACOR at 4:00 am, we were greeted by the call to prayer, which is not only characterizing my time here, but is also one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.

The next day we spent acclimating to the area here and meeting the various scholars who visit ACOR during the summer, or who actually live here.  Not everyone here is involved in archaeology or anthropology, although those are two very common fields of study.  Everyone is incredibly friendly and enjoyable to be around, although it is frequently overwhelming to talk to so many people who are quite accomplished.

The next day, we headed downtown to the souk.  Gary, our advisor and field director, had to obtain a number of things for our project.  This is where I can begin advising anyone who is considering traveling to Jordan.  I have no idea how many Americans visit Jordan annually, although I suspect it is an incredibly low number, which is unfortunate.  Jordan is a beautiful country (and I’ve only seen very little of it, so far!), and very worth traveling to if you are interested.  If you are intending to stay in Amman, I can safely advise you that you should not rent a car.  Taxis are relatively inexpensive, especially if you are sharing it with others (your family, friends, etc).  Unless you have driven in a Middle Eastern country, I seriously recommend against trying to drive here.  People are not hostile, but the style of driving is incredibly different (different than driving in NYC, different from Paris, etc).  It is well-worth taking taxis, as the drivers are friendly and polite, and much better versed at driving here than you would be.

And then: the first thing that is worth doing in Amman is going to the souk.  There is an endless variety of shops, from traditional spice shops, to coffee shops were you can buy the local cardamom coffee, to small hardware stores, paper stores, and hookah (shisha) stores.  The souk can also be very overwhelming.  Especially as a very noticeable woman, I initially felt rather uncomfortable.  You will attract attention as a Westerner, and as a woman, particularly.  I have thought a good deal about whether it is better to cover my hair here, or do without as a result of my experience in the souk.  I am, at this point (after three months in the sun in Mexico), platinum blonde, and I stick out like a sore thumb here.  I initially thought to cover my hair in part to avoid being noticed as much.  I am also extremely fair-skinned, so I knew that I would be noticeable regardless, but hoped to avoid being quite as visible.  At this point, however, with some more thought, I have decided to keep my hair uncovered in public.  While it is partially a sign of respect to Muslim culture to cover one’s hair, it is also…somewhat uncomfortable, for me.  I am not Muslim, and I felt almost like I was appropriating culture in a way that wasn’t necessary.  Additionally, since being here, I have seen everything from women in black burqas to women in the hijab, and women who wear no head covering.  I have seen women in the hijab and skinny jeans, or women in very Western dress with no head covering.  There is clearly a wide variation in what is acceptable here, and as a result, I no longer feel the need to cover my hair (although I highly recommend a hat or a scarf if you are going to be traveling, as the sun is quite intense).

Back to traveling, however!  Near the souk is also the King Hussein I Mosque, which is incredibly beautiful.  Named for the prior king’s grandfather, this is one of the oldest mosques in the city, and is quite large and spectacular.  While I did not go inside, it is worth seeing, photographing, etc.  This is the extent of my travel in Amman so far, and as a result, that’s where I finish being able to give advice about where to go.  In the next nine days, I will be traveling more around Amman and Jordan generally, so look for updates on that.

After being in Amman for two days, the entire crew minus one (one of the co-directors was arriving late) piled into two trucks, with all the gear, and began the five-six hour drive into the Badia, the Eastern Desert of Jordan.  Along the way, we stopped in Azraq, which we will see again, as it has a Roman fort.  If you happen to go to Azraq to see the Roman fort, I can highly recommend the falafel restaurant with the smashed chickens outside.  While this sounds unfortunate and even gruesome (and vague – I don’t know the name of the restaurant), the falafel at this restaurant is delicious, and apparently the smashed/grilled chickens are as well.  There is also a bakery next door that sells excellent flat bread, if you need some.

From Azraq, we drove to Ruwayshid, which is an even smaller town.  Slightly before the town, we pulled off the road and headed out into the desert on the tracks used by various Bedouin.  After driving around for a while, we finally reached Wisad Pools, the area where we would be surveying and excavating.  There was a lot of excitement, because for the first time in years, the pools had water in them!  Jordan had a late rainy season this year, and as a result, it rained later in May than usual, allowing us to have this wonderful water.  We set up out tents in various locations around the camp, and finally set up our large tent before helping ourselves to a dinner of Ritz crackers and canned cheese (oh, I kid you not.  I didn’t even know cheese came in cans).

The following morning, bright and early at 6:00, we all awoke, got ready, and headed out on our site tour.  The site is about one square kilometer, and has a number of diverse structures on it.  We then dove right into work, starting with the excavation of a looted tomb.  In the next thirty days, we quickly settled into a routine, whereby we woke early, ate breakfast (Azraq biscuits, peanut butter, and nutella), and headed into the field.  We would excavate for about two and a half hours from 7:00 to 9:30, whereupon we stopped to eat second breakfast (more of the same).  After second breakfast, we went back to excavating until 12:30, when we had lunch (crackers, peanut butter, canned tuna, canned cheese, canned meat).  This was generally the hottest part of the day, and as a result, we stayed in the  communal tent until 3:30-4:00.  This became reading, studying (for the GRE, oh joy), and napping time.  Finally we would work a little bit longer in the afternoon, before coming back to the tent for beer, pepsi, snacks, and dinner.  Dinner was composed of a three day rotation of ramen (with canned peas and corn), pasta (with red sauce and beans), and packaged soup (with potatoes, onions, and garlic, when we had them).  For me, the food was a challenge.  I constantly felt a little bit protein deficient (I think I’m still fighting that off), and as was everyone else, bored with the lack of variety.  When we had guests visit, we finally had some variation, which was a welcome relief.

Excavation also quickly turned into a routine.  For two morning shifts, I would excavate while my friend sifted.  In the afternoon, we would switch so that I would sift and he would excavate, and the next morning, he would take the morning shifts excavating.  This both minimized frustrations with our lack of experience in excavation, and also prevented us from getting bored.  It was an incredible relief to have someone else my own age on this excavation.  This is the first time in ten years that Gary has taken two students to the same site, and I am so grateful to have had someone else with me.

The upshot of this trip is that, while I enjoyed excavations, and love anthropology and archaeology as much as ever, I am still not certain that I want to do this for the rest of my life.  I was hoping for some clarity in this regard, and still have none.  I have begun to consider other options besides graduate school when I graduate in May next year.  This is a terrifying prospect in many ways for me, but I am also excited by the possibilities.

And I really didn’t shower for thirty days, by the way.  Thus the title of this entry.  🙂

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