The End


11-1My last week in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been an extremely busy one. Our excavation ended on Saturday, July 19th. Most of my day was taken up with helping out with cleaning up everyone’s excavation areas for final photographs. This involved mostly brush work. It was time consuming and we wound up leaving the field a few hours later than we normally would have.

The following day was supposed to be the first day of our weekend (our schedule called for Sundays and Mondays off), but a few of us volunteered to return to the dig site in order to backfill some of the more sensitive areas. The bath house complex in particular required some attention because it contained plaster floors that were in very poor condition.

As a sort of “thank you” for volunteering our time, Dr. Smith took us out for coffee at Gloria Jean’s – as close as we could get to Starbucks in Aqaba. The staff there was very kind to us and we had sort of adopted the place as a hangout after work.

There were seven of us who went back to the site that day. In addition to myself, Dr. Smith, Jennifer Ramsay, Greg, Bill, and Miranda Maggie had made a surprise appearance the night before and decided to bid farewell to the site one last time. Maggie was one of those who had signed up for the first half of the season and had left after her three weeks were up. Since her initial departure, she had been travelling through Syria and Lebanon and was on her way to Dahab, Egypt when she decided to take a few days to visit us. Needless to say, we were all very ecstatic to have her back for a few days; Maggie is one of those people who livens up everything!

The work at the site was as to be expected – Hot! The work consisted of us laying plastic over the fragile floors of bath house excavation squares, then filling wheelbarrows with the fine sand from the excavation mounds and dumping over the plastic covered floors. Fortunately, we didn’t need to fill the squares completely – just cover the floors in about six inches of sand. Although it didn’t take long to finish our work, it definitely felt like it took a while. In addition to the heat making life difficult, we had slept in until 7 am that morning (it was supposed to be our day off after all!) so it felt like a late day. Still, we made the best of it, laughing a lot and taking photos. Jennifer even brought out her camcorder and we have some good footage of us off-roading to the site. Hopefully, we’ll get a Bir Madhkur website up and running and we’ll be able to post some videos on there. I’ll keep people posted on that. It won’t be any time soon, though.

That evening, back at the Shokini, we had a final party on the rooftop. Dr. Smith bought a lot of ground beef and we made hamburgers, which we grilled on the rooftop. Bill had somehow managed to scrounge up some bacon, so I commandeered it to make some German potato salad.

11-2While dinner was being prepared, Jennifer (we had begun to refer to her as Momma Jen) and Miranda went shopping. They returned with little handbags filled with knick-knacks for everyone. Every little gift had some symbolic meaning to our excavation. For instance there were little pills of Imodium wrapped in toilet paper, chai glasses filled with sugar (just like the Bedouin use), and little flags of Jordan.

The whole thing was very bittersweet, though. People had already been leaving. Nikki and Emily had left the night before for their tour of Egypt. Their farewell was a big one. Everyone came out of their rooms to send them off, which included Jeremy busting out a guitar to serenade them to the elevator. In six weeks of living in such close quarters, everyone had become very close, so the departure of anyone was a heartfelt one.

After dinner a bunch of us went out on the town. We wound up at a karaoke place run by some of the local Filipino ex-pats. Dr. Smith’s ability to “think on his feet” was put to the test when we cornered him, coaxing him to sing. The song he chose, “I Got a Feeling” by the Beatles, started before he even had the microphone in his hand. He managed to turn his performance into a great lounge act as he adlibbed to the music. We enjoyed it so much we were all in tears with laughter and having a good time. But apparently the people who ran the place take their karaoke much more seriously (though, honestly most of them can’t sing well) and shut down the karaoke machine in order to play what they call “disco”; some kind of “Top 40″ electronic stuff. We were all pretty tired anyway, so we went back to the Shokini and to our beds.

The following morning four of us (Jennifer Ramsay, Bill, Robert and I) made our way back to the excavation site to pack up our tools. Surprisingly, it took us a lot less time to load the trucks than we had thought it would; it only took us about thirty minutes. Abu Musef (the village elder of the local Bedouin) was there and he helped us tie all of the gear down with rope.

We then began the long trip up the Dead Sea Hwy in our two heavily laden trucks. The drive took us nearly five hours; five hours of maxed-out-hairdryer-on-your-face heat to get to Amman. Once we had managed to climb up the plateau on which Amman sits, the weather cooled down considerably. Coming from spending six weeks in Aqaba and Wadi Araba, it actually felt cold.

Driving in Amman was a little worrying. Traffic lanes are optional and it is extremely crowded. I found it best to drive very aggressively by shooting into whatever gaps in traffic were available. It worked! For the most part, though it may seem chaotic, most people are very good drivers in this country.

After unloading the gear, Jennifer took Bill and me out to lunch at Champion’s Sports Bar in the Marriott as a way of thanking us for donating our weekend to help out with the extra work (Robert opted out, since he was going to lunch with Erin). Dr. Smith called as we were eating and told us that he didn’t feel comfortable about us driving all the way back to Aqaba at night and had arranged for us to stay at the Hillside Hotel (the same one I stayed in on my first night here). We could then bring the trucks back to Aqaba the next day after a good night’s sleep. Bill and I quietly protested Dr. Smith’s decision until the realization of just how tired we were hit us midway through our meal.

On our way back to ACOR, which was near our hotel, we saw a billboard advertizing for a Placido Domingo concert at amphitheatre in Jerash – that very night! When we checked online we discovered that the concert was sold out. We decided that we should go anyway, since there were plenty of places around the amphitheatre where we might be able to see and hear him sing.

Jennifer, Bill, and I grabbed a taxi and stopped off at a liquor store on the way out of town to get a six-pack to take with us, which we placed in my daypack. After the driver dropped us off at the entrance, we made our way up the hill that ran along the west side of the ancient city, where the amphitheater sits. Somehow we wound up near what we believed to be the King’s helicopter, which sat in the parking lot just outside of the amphitheater surrounded by military personnel and well-dressed men walking around trying to look inconspicuous. We got to within twenty feet of the helicopter, and while we were watched, no one hassled us.

We found a nice spot at the far end of the parking lot where there were a few boulders lying around and sat down to a few “cold ones” and listened as Placido wowed the audience. We weren’t the only ones, as you could see people doing much the same all around the area. We couldn’t actually see Placido, but we got a good view of the crowd in the upper levels of the amphitheater, sitting there as people have done for two thousand years in that ancient raised semi-circle. I would imagine that there must have been people like us, who were doing something similar to what we were doing – hanging out on the fringes of the amphitheater, enjoying a cool summer night.

We left during the final aria and managed to grab a cab back to Amman before the pandemonium of exiting concert-goers ensued. Once back in town, we stopped for some Turkish coffee and an argilla (water-pipe for smoking tobacco) before heading back to our hotel and to bed.

The next day we retraced our route back to Aqaba via the Dead Sea Hwy. As we approached the edge of the Dead Sea we were flagged down by a pair of policemen who had set up a speed trap. Once we were stopped they tried to “shake us down” for money. I think they wanted something like 50 Jordanian Dollars because we supposedly were speeding. They wanted it in cash! We told them to write us tickets, that we were not going to pay cash but they feigned to not know any English and outright refused when we started pointing at their ticket books, which were in plain sight. Finally, a quick call to our surveyor, Fuwaz fixed the problem. I don’t know what he said to them over the phone, but the two police officers were very apologetic and courteous to us instantly. Soon we were back on our way south. It helps to have connections in this country.

A little further down the road we decided to pull over and take a quick dip into the Dead Sea. Bill and I had not had a chance to experience it, so we decided to see what it was like. The Dead Sea is immensely inundated with salt, which causes people to float. Indeed, people become so buoyant that it’s impossible to actually swim. After floating around for a few minutes in our skivvies we decided to get out and back on the road. The water really wasn’t that refreshing – it was extremely warm and it felt like I was swimming in salad dressing.

I hadn’t thought to bring a towel, so I just threw my khakis on over my wet skivvies, which promptly soaked through my pants. It wasn’t very much further down the road when I noticed that my pants had dried to “Aqua Net” consistency and were stained from the salt, making me look like I’d had a bad accident. Oh well! I’d planned on showering and changing clothes the minute I returned to the Shokini. Bill and I got some funny looks from the others when we got back, but they laughed and nodded in understanding once we explained about our detour.

The next morning we again loaded up the trucks, only instead of field equipment we packed them full of domestic items and luggage – we were all checking out of the Shokini and leaving Aqaba for Amman. Other than the four of us, who were driving or riding in the trucks (Bill and Greg in one, Miranda and I in the other), there were very few of us left. Jessie, Marita, Jenny, Janet, and Janise had left two days prior for a weekend at the Dead Sea. Petra’s father was picking her up and Jeremy and Lindsey were riding with her. This left only Ben, Elizabeth, Tyr, Melissa, and Lisa. However, there wasn’t enough room in the trucks for them, so Dr. Smith gave them some bus fare and they took a nice air-conditioned bus up to Amman.

The drive up the Dead Sea Hwy was, once again, very warm and we only had one incident. We had stopped for some fast food on the way out of town and before leaving we filled our 32 oz. cups full of soda and ice. As we approached our first customs check point (Aqaba is a duty free zone, but you’re not supposed bring anything out without paying a tax on it) Miranda was holding her cup out the passenger side window. A strong gust of wind made her lose her grip on it and the cup and all of its contents flew out of her hands, splattering over the windshield of the other truck (driven by Bill and Greg), which was following close behind us. Seeing all of this happen in my rearview mirror I began laughing and took the wrong turn-off – the one for large trucks instead of the exit for normal passenger vehicles. When I got to the customs booth the guy made us all turn around and use the correct lane. However, I’m sure he contacted his buddies down there about the “scatter-brained” foreigners. Seeing our trucks stacked high with various bits of equipment and luggage, they of course wanted to search through it. Luckily for us, though, we managed to convince them that they only needed to unzip a few suitcases. We really didn’t want to undo the ropes, which were holding everything down.

Once in Amman, I checked into my room at ACOR and cleaned up. Later I met Melissa, Lisa, and Janet for dinner. The girls wanted authentic Middle-East cuisine for their last meal in the country, so we went to the same restaurant that Jennifer had taken Bill and me to for coffee a few days before. The restaurant was a bit “kitchy” – the walls looked like an old foreign legion stronghold topped with battlements and most of the restaurant was covered with a Bedouin tent. The food was really good, though, and inexpensive. We ordered a bunch of appetizers like hummus topped with meat and pine nuts, some spicy olives, and tabouli. We also ordered one main meal of lamb and rice, which we all shared. Afterward, we all went back to the Hillside Hotel and met up with some of the others at the pub to say goodbyes. Just about everyone was leaving the following day.

The rest of the week was spent helping out Dr. Smith and Jennifer Ramsay with tying up loose ends. Equipment had to be accounted for and stored away, soil samples had to be prepared and registered, and reports had to be written.

I did manage to take Friday off and headed up to the Roman city of Jerash with Greg. When we got there we ran into Janet, who was leaving the following day. We had stopped by her room earlier to see if she wanted to come along with us, but had missed her. So, it was fortunate that as we approached the entrance to the archaeological park that Greg spotted her off in the distance (she always wore the nicest scarves, so it was pretty easy).

We were also travelling with a young woman named Ramey, who we’d met exiting the bus. She is a teacher in America and has been travelling around the Middle-East for about a month. She wasn’t exactly sure where she should have been exiting, so when she saw the only other foreigners making our way toward the exit, she leaped up and promptly followed.

The four of us spent a great day together wandering the ruins of Jerash. The rumors are true: this place is amazingly well preserved. And surprisingly, it was not crowded at all. Perhaps it being a Friday – the Muslim day of rest – may have had something to do with it. Sometime around the late afternoon we made our way to a nearby restaurant called The Lebanese House. Ben, from our project, had recommended the place as being good and inexpensive. It was indeed a great place to unwind after wandering around Jerash.

We ended the day in back in the vicinity of ACOR. After sitting on the veranda overlooking the city for a while, we walked Janet back to her hotel (the Hillside) and stopped in at the hotel bar for a quick beer. We exchanged contact information and Greg and Ramey shared a cab back into the heart of the city where they were staying, while Janet retired to her room and I walked back to ACOR.

The rest of the week seemed to “fly by” since that day. Dr. Smith left for home this morning, leaving only Jennifer and I as the last remaining members of the Bir Madhkur Project 2008 in Jordan. We both leave for home tomorrow morning.

As I sit here typing this, I can’t help but feel regret at leaving this place. Don’t get me wrong – I am exhausted and happy to be getting home. I guess I just hate it when good experiences end. With any luck, though, I’ll be back here again soon and for many years to come.

Until next time,
Isaiah

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