Find yourself in the middle of the Jordanian desert and you find yourself nowhere, except right on top of millennial underground layers of history dating back to the Iron Age.
For six, long, sizzling weeks under a scorching Jordanian sun, I and team members of the Dhiban Archaeological Field School excavated pottery, pottery, bones, pottery, bones, more bones (oh! a coin from the Roman period), pottery, pottery…and more bones, dating back from the 9th BCE to the Byzantine period. I can recollect pieces of my heat-stroked memory: waking up at 4am, then breakfast at 15 past that, waiting for the bus at 4.45 sharp en route from Madaba (second largest city in Jordan almost at the level of Jerusalem), where we stayed at the roach infested Mariam Hotel, to Dhiban (I still don’t know exactly where that’s on the map). After an hour ride, you realize at 5.45am that six hours of digging lie ahead of you under 40F heat, under conservative dig clothes you are required to wear in order to conceal any inch of skin that could alarm the propriety kept by Dhiban’s Muslim norms, or the sun’s wrath, and under the supervision of overstressed and under-washed grad students eager to dig out the maximum area of dirt for each of their specific research needs.
But beyond the discomforts of working in a field that’s not my own area of study (my majors are political science and Spanish literature), with the program I traveled around most of Jordan, missing only the sandy Wadi Rum, the desert where “Lawrence of Arabia” once battled for a half-baked Arab liberty (pun intended) during the Arab Revolt.
Cal Bears, you don’t want to miss Petra, a place made familiar by Harrison Ford.
To all brave Oskis out there, dare feel the desolate, warring spirits still alive and inside medieval Crusader castles in the high desert.
Ladies, take the challenge to practice your unforgivably bad Arabic with a genuine Jordanian Bedouin. But! Be warned! You will get unsolicited marriage proposals and you will be worth, I assure you, many camels.
Visit the holy sites: Mukawer – where Salomé oh so sensually danced for Herod King – and Mount Nebo, believed to be the panoramic point where Moses still in charge of the Israelites spotted the Promised Land (you can see Jericho from here too). Dhiban is after all a holy site, I deem, as it was here where the Mesha Stele was found.
During the program, I was quick to friend my dear Lucia F., and we had a great time. We would sing our Disney ballad to bond, but mostly cope with, the day’s intensity. But far from the true sands of Arabia, Jordan is definitely a country of the Levant with welcoming people, charming families and pushy store vendors that invite you for tea with (TOO MUCH) sugar in it.
But sometimes, when you are that far away from home, some of that kind of tea sits well with your nostalgia because you realize: you are indeed on your own in a whole new world…
Image source: Susan Urrutia, Daily Californian Contributor