Greetings once again from the Dakhleh Oasis!
Well, as I said, I thought I’d now take this opportunity to share with you a bit about daily life here in the desert, my now somewhat familiar and beloved home. The dighouse sits a few miles outside of the capital of the Oasis, Mut, and lies atop a small hill that we share with the dighouse for the Dakhleh Oasis Project proper. Daily life at the house begins at 8:00AM with breakfast (my favorite meal of the day!). Lunch is always enthusiastically received at 1PM and dinner at 7PM. Basically our eager stomachs drive our desires and occupies our thoughts as nearly all the students count the minutes until the next mealtime; a habit we have grown comfortably accustomed to due to our outstanding kitchen and our love of food . Tea is served midmorning and mid-afternoon to break up the extended periods of library and work time (and give our stomachs yet another event to look forward to!) and is graciously received. It would be a safe estimate to say that in the past month I have consumed more tea than I did the entirety of last semester and I have grown very fond (dare I day dependent?) on its daily presence.
In the dighouse we also have many curious habits and rules that have been fashioned to adapt to desert living. The bathrooms for example are operated under the maxim: “if its yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown…” well you get the picture! Also, due to our very limited water resources and fairly temperamental waste disposal tank, we only dispose of really REALY dirty toilet paper, throwing the only slightly soiled stuff in the trashcans that are emptied daily for our olfactory satisfaction and sanity. Showering is similarly a no-funny-business, in and out experience as we are all under the “navy shower” rule: rinse, soap up, rinse, and get out. Usually this is a particularly enjoyable experience nonetheless due to the fact that no matter how much you try, you are always a sandy-dusty-dirty individual by the end of even the most indoor-sedentary day. The only possible hitch in the glorious cleansing is the water temperature, which can be temperamental at best. The bipolar hot and cold knobs, despite patient coercion and attempted mastering of the tricky equation of cold to hot so that it stays consistent throughout your allotted 3 minutes of shower time, the pipes more often than not have a mind of their own, changing temperatures from freezing to scalding whenever the mood strikes them and appear to be unwilling to listen to reason. However, the ups and downs of temperature are greatly preferred to the complete absence of H2O, a state of dehydration that occurs relatively frequently around here. For example: yesterday during the middle of the day (prime shower time, as it is often too chilly in the morning or in the evening to shower in the as-close-to-outside-as-you-can-be-with-a-door-and-a-ceiling shower area) the waste treatment plant at Sheikh Wadi, the little town closest to our dighouse, malfunctioned, sending waste water through the fresh water pipes and effectively mucking things up for an entire afternoon as the water was turned off during this nasty backwash.
However, these problems are more entertaining than unfortunate, and are just an amusing part of the Oasis life I have come to love. Having spend the entire morning and afternoon piecing together a shattered Roman-Period fine ware bowl and getting completely caked in charred 2000 year old firing remnants that easily rub off the potsherds, I was filthy and covered in ceramic glue which essentially fused the grunge to my hands, face, clothes, and hair. Of course, I loved every minute of my 3-D puzzle work and grew more and more excited as my teeny tiny sherds, which at the beginning of the process appeared to be as random and unrelated as bread molds and amphorae, began to take shape: coming together to form a piece of pottery that once sat on the table of a resident of Amheida. It was amazing and surreal, and this is just the beginning of many similarly awe-inspiring encounters with the past I will experience as time marches by here in the Oasis.
Since we are still stuck in “permit purgatory”, we as students have been divided up into small groups to be trained in various aspects of fieldwork and excavation. I have been placed in the ceramics group for both preparation as well as the first part of the excavation (here’s hoping), so I am spending time getting to know the fabrics and shapes of Amheida’s pottery, a task much to my liking. This morning, however, we were divided up into two groups to be taught how to take levels, elevations, and absolute heights in the field; an essential skill and a really fun little workshop put on by Roberta and Miriam, two of our phenomenal archaeologists that are the supervisors of the Temple area and the Villa respectively. They had set up 12 points to calculate all around our little hilltop home and we had a blast moving the automatic level around, fussing with the tripod and measuring sticks, and laughing together at funny little mistakes and not-so-little struggles with the orientation of the level to the points of measurement. This is one of the greatest things I have experienced here in Dakhleh: everyone, regardless of age, nationality, specialty, role, or identity with the larger context of the dig is always patient, kind, jovial, enthusiastic, easy going, and so passionate about this place and this excavation that even permit-imposed doldrums cannot staunch their smiles and enthusiasm. I have so much to learn from them and I am reminded daily how truly blessed I am to have that unique opportunity.
Well now that I’ve TALKED YOUR EAR OFF, It’s time for me to go. Stay tuned for more news from the dunes here in Dakhleh, and I wish you all the best. Take care.