The Unknown Dangers of Assitantships

Slide CarouselImage by JnL via Flickr
Slide carousel.  They worked via a combo of light projection and cursing   
Part of my "treatment" for my depression the past week has been watching Beavis and Butthead, which I haven't seen since it was on air in the mid-90s.  I still find it hilarious - make of that what you will.

One of the episodes ("Figure Drawing" when they wind up in a nude drawing class) reminded me vividly of a sort-of archaeological story, in the same vein as this one.

So, long ago when I was a poor, naive undergraduate (as opposed to a poor, cynical, crippled post-graduate) I wanted to go to an academic conference.  These things cost money.  They're usually in large, expensive hotels, often in large expensive cities.  You have to pay conference fees, membership fees, pay for a room somewhere and get your ass there. 

This particular conference made allowances for us pitiful, undereducated weaklings and had assitantships that would pay most of the expenses.  Yay.  I still wound up driving 300 miles there and back (and on the last day I had food poisoning) but whatever.  This was my very first-ever grown-up conference.

The assitantship meant I had to help run the A/V equipment.  This was long enough ago that nearly everyone was still using 35 mm slides.  I had never so much as touched a slide projector before.  Plus, I was shy and knew exactly 4 people of the hundreds there.  This was when I learned that some ABDs and newly minted PhDs can be ENORMOUS douchecanoes to anyone they remotely perceive as beneath them.  I was still young enough to give a damn and not be all "whateva' have you seen the job market lately?  Hope you have fun with that attitude at McDonald's."
It was totally not my fault that the hotel had craptastic A/V equipment and that they'd apparently had developmentally delayed wombats erect the projector screens.   Or that some dillholes had loaded their slides wrong.   At least I didn't spill any slide carousels. 


This particular conference had a day set aside for presentations geared toward the general public as well as the specialists typically attending the conference.  In one of the huge hotel ballrooms because I guess they thought a whole lot of archaeological enthusiasts have plenty of time mid-week to travel to a downtown urban area with no parking to listen to lectures on topics they may or may not have ever heard of or care about.

At least all the presenters there were older scholars and most of them were remarkably nice.  One of them was presenting on the Turin Papyrus.
At the time, that phrase meant almost nothing to me.  I figured "hey, a papyrus, with writing, cool."  The woman presenting handed me a stack of transparencies (yes, this was a long time ago, shut up) and said she'd just let me know when to switch them out during her lecture.
And I was still like "cool, this will be easy.  Also, no one is yelling at me for things beyond my control.  Awesome!"
So, she gets to lecturing.  And I'm vaguely paying attention to what she's saying, but more listening for the "next slide, please" cue. 
And she asks for the first transparency.  So I slap that bad-boy on the projector like I know I'm its boss.

Go here for better detail.  WARNING:  Adult content NSFW

And look up.

I'm guessing my face looked more like Beavis.
Turns out, the speaker had decided to talk about the Turin Erotic Papyrus (guess why it's called that) for her public lecture.  Heh.

I swear there were at least 40 transparencies.  In excellent detail.  And while I did spend my formative years in Nevada where it's fairly common to see gigantic billboards emblazoned with women in feather bikinis, I was still somewhat unprepared for 40 damn transparencies of ancient pr0n.  Some of it involving bestiality.  That I was responsible for showing to the public. 

I have since sat through not one but several awkward, repetitive ("that's what she said") lectures on the same or a related topic.  While sexuality and eroticism in the ancient world are interesting topics, I will not weep if I never, ever see the Turin Erotic Papyrus or hear some elderly professor mumble his way through a discussion of it ever again.


Depression Strikes Again

Pharaoh Ramses II of Egypt.Image via Wikipedia
It's the mummy of Ramses II.  Not really applicable, I just wanted to put  it in
I had another bad episode of depression crop up last weekend, which is why the blog has been so quiet for over a week. 
I'm feeling much better now emotionally, though the weather has been hard on me physically.  Almost every day has gotten me a weather warning for either arthritis or migraine.  Buhh.

We're still watching events in Egypt unfold and hoping for the best for Egyptians.

On a lighter note, I've been sleeping in more the past week (into the afternoon, frequently) and it seems as though every time I stagger out of bed, often the first thing I find out is that someone has been deposed or protests have cropped up somewhere new. 


February 5, Four Years Ago

We were finally, after much to-ing and fro-ing and bureacratic nonsense and confusion ready to leave Kareima (Gebel Barkal) for our excavation site.

Some of us, including me, went in the Land Cruiser.  Tom and one of the field directors and our Sudanese inspector went on the lorry with all our supplies.

And thus began a truly surreal and, in retrospect, hilarious experience.

So, the route from Kareima up to the 4th Cataract is over-desert and along rough tracks.  There is no pavement.  No signs.  No lights.  Nothing.  There are no villages until you get back near the river at the cataract.

We were barely out of the city of Kareima when one of the tires on the lorry went flat.  We hung around for a while and apparently they didn't have a tool they needed to fix the tire, so the driver called someone back in Kareima (hurray for cell phones) to send someone out with one.

It was decided that those of us in the Land Cruiser should go on ahead.  So, we did.

We arrived at the village where, the previous day, the directors had arranged to rent a house for us to live in only to find that we were no longer exactly welcome.  Apparently, the man we were supposed to rent the house from hadn't had permission from the omdeh (a sort of combination mayor/judge/community leader).  He did not want us to rent the house because he and the rest of the Manasir tribe were trying to negotiate a better resettlement deal with the Sudanese government and part of their strategy was refusing to cooperate with the archaeological teams trying to do salvage a survey ahead of the dam flooding the area. 
Fair enough.  Unfortunately the Land Cruiser occupants consisted of:
- the driver who spoke very little English and later turned out to be a sexual predator and speed addict
- One of the co-directors who spoke very little Arabic and that badly and who also has a really nasty colonialist streak.  We'll call him by the nickname the local workers we hired eventually started using for him:  Abu Hamar. 
- me who had never been to Sudan before and knew *maybe* 10 words of Arabic.  Also, I was in Sudan at that point mostly because no way was I going to wait at home while Tom was in freakin' Sudan, plus I hadn't been out to dig in 3 years.
- 3 other team members who had also never been to Sudan before and spoke no Arabic

So, one of the words I did know in Arabic at the time was the imperative for "leave" or "go away."  About 10 minutes into the um, I guess it was a conversation, but no one really knew what was going on, I start hearing the omdeh saying "Go away.  No, really, leave." 


That distracted me from my occupation at the time, which was trying to figure out if size and elaboration of sunglasses indicated social status among the men gathered there, especially as the omdeh was rocking some knock-off Chanel sunglasses with the interlocked "C's" where the ear pieces joined the frames.

There was much dithering from Abu Hamar.  There was an attempted strategy session with Sexual Predator Driver that went no where because of the language barrier combined with the general lack of having a clue.  Meanwhile, a larger crowd is growing and while no one looks super pissed, they also don't look terribly thrilled either.  It's getting dark.  We had hoped the lorry which had people who both spoke Arabic and had a clue in it would catch us up, but no.

So, finally I piped up and suggested we go back the way we came to the village where a team of Polish archaeologists is based.  There is no way the lorry can not pass that location (so we'll be able to stop them before they go to the house we are no longer renting) and maybe the Poles can help us out or at least give us a place to crash.  This wasn't an especially well-thought out plan on my part but mostly based on my goals of a) not pissing off people who outnumber us, some of whom might have guns or even pointed sticks; b) kind of wanting a cigarette but figuring then was not the time; c) seriously wondering if we would wind up all trying to sleep in the Land Cruiser with it parked exactly where it was while pretending we couldn't see the people outside if I didn't say anything.

Fortunately, Abu Hamar was sufficiently desperate at the time to accept even one of my lowly female ideas and not pick a fight and/or deliver a long, incomprehensible lecture barely tangentially related to the topic at hand that would manage to be offensive to everyone within hearing and provide absolutely no solution to the issue.   The fact that the Poles probably had alcohol undoubtedly helped my case.   We managed to establish that it was okay for us to leave some delicate equipment in the (not)rented house for the time being and headed back to hang with the Poles.

We fully expected to meet the lorry on the way back or find it already at the village where the Polish team is based. 

They weren't there.  It was dark.  Attempts to call mobiles failed.  I was super cheery after that.

The Polish team welcomed us very warmly, fed us dinner, and offered to let us sleep in an empty house they had rented for expansion of their team.  Great, except all our gear was on the lorry and it gets *cold* in the desert at night.  Abu Hamar said something about waiting up for the lorry to arrive.  I said I would too and was told that wouldn't be appropriate for some reason that was never articulated.  I pointed out that my husband was lost in the dark in the desert in the middle of nowhere and there was no way in hell I was going to sleep until I knew where he was so suck it.  Wisely, the subject was dropped.

Then the Polish team brought out the alcohol.  Alcohol is illegal in Sudan.  Punishment involves caning.  Nonetheless, the Polish team brought and purchased alcohol in Sudan.  Being generous hosts, they begin passing bottles.  I sipped politely and finally gave it a pass when the Eritrean cognac came out.

By this time it was about 10 or 11pm.  Abu Hamar showed no signs of flagging and the rest of us figured the Polish team would want some sleep before work the next day, so we headed off to the house we'd been offered hoping our departure would let our hosts go to bed if they wanted.  The others tried sleeping.  I sat up on a woven bed-frame in the courtyard and chain smoked while imagining all sorts of horrible things that might be happening to Tom and how on earth I was going to explain to his parents what had happened and how very much I wanted to punch someone, anyone really.  Also, it was freezing!

A little after midnight, we finally heard the sound of a diesel engine approaching.  I ran full pelt toward the sound only to be met at the door to the Polish house by Abu Hamar who told me, in what I imagine was intended as a conspiratorial tone, that he was "a little drunk."  I may or may not have managed a really sarcastic "no, really?" before running past him to jump on Tom.  Between the time I left to go be panicky and the time the lorry arrived, they'd managed to kill 2/3rd of a bottle of Johnny Walker Red, half the Eritrean cognac, and at least 2 liters of Sudanese moonshine that smelled and tasted like perfume.

We all piled back into the house.  People kept pouring tea glasses full of cognac and moonshine for Tom, which he shotgunned in the hope that would let him get to bed (he slept really well that night).  They apparently had their own comedy of errors out in the desert.

The guy sent with the tool they needed got his car either lost or stuck.  Then one of the helpers on the lorry thought he could find them and set out only to get lost.  So then everyone fanned out trying to find the lost kid as it was getting dark.  They eventually found him and he was fine.  Then they got the tire fixed and got under way and were shocked to see our Land Cruiser parked by the road.  Apparently it was a long, dusty trip in the back of the lorry and Tom and the other director spent most of it huddled together under a sleeping bag, eating some of our "emergency" supply of Pringles and some melons the driver gave them.

Fun times.
Eventually we had all exhcanged stories and consumed enough alcohol to satisfy everyone and headed off to try to get some sleep.  All our stuff was on the bottom layer of packing in the lorry, so we grabbed what we could to try to bundle up to sleep.  I didn't sleep at all because Tom kept stealing the sleeping bag we were sharing as a blanket, plus I couldn't stop the freezing cold air coming up through the woven bed frame. 


Eyewitness account of violence in Tahrir Square, Cairo

The following was posted by Nicole Hansen, an Egyptologist living in Egypt.  I'm cutting and pasting the text from the "Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum" group on Facebook as well as posting a screen shot.
I was at Tahrir today from 11am until shortly after the rocks started flying. I can confirm that the violence was started by criminals and secret police. They started with sending a prostitute out to taunt the peaceful demonstrators with nasty words and vulgar gestures. There were many plainclothes police in the crowd. Some openly admitting they were police. The peaceful demonstrators were being very vigilant for troublemakers. They stopped one man who they suspected was police and demanded his id. He refused at first but finally handed it over, and ran away. I saw the id with my own eyes. Before we left, we started to see ordinary people dragging away plainclothes police they had caught making trouble and handing them over to the army. The rocks started flying at this time and fortunately we got out of there as soon as a horse came in. I missed the molotov cocktails but I can assure you that it is not possible that this was the ordinary citizens who came in that brought these because the peaceful anti-government protesters were all searched and patted down on entry. The pro-Mubarak ones were allowed in from the other side by the museum, probably without a proper search.

But please understand what circumstances we are all living under here. My husband has just gone downstairs for his neighborhood guard duty of the night, armed with a heavy iron axel taken from a car that is over a meter long. With the complete disappearance of the police (except to make trouble) from the streets and the release of all the prisoners from the prisons, we have no choice. Our neighborhood goes on lockdown at sunset, a lockdown made by the people in order to protect our property, our lives and the businesses and yes even a museum and archaeological site in our neighborhood. We have checkpoints on every block and any criminals caught are handed over to the police. No one who isn't a resident is let in. The area where the museum in our neighborhood is, is being defended by ordinary Egyptian citizens with guns.

We are all very concerned about the Egyptian Museum, but please, what we need first is to restore order and save the Egyptian people.

Snowpocalypse 2011

Someone just came and dug us out, which was nice of them.  I wandered outside in my jammies to take some photos.  Earlier we couldn't get the screen door to open more than a few inches.  Fortunately for Oreo, the back door still opens.
The steps up to street level.  They had been filled in.

Window.  Snow got blown in through the screen.

The sidewalk.  The bigger mounds in the back are cars.

View to the east.

View to the west.

It's about 20 degrees F right now, but the windchill makes it feel -6.  We're supposed to drop to -2 tonight.  Fun times.

The university finally ordered the main library to close, recognizing that people might actually really die if they try to walk home after dark.

We're going to make some hot and sour soup in the Crockpot.  My hands are swollen up and hurt, but I might try knitting or spinning later if only to keep limber.  I'm debating bundling up and going to peek at the lakefront. 

In more somber news, our thoughts and hopes are with the citizens of Egypt right now.

Egypt Antiquities Resources

Compiled by the wonderful Megaera Lorenz
Document is now available on Google Docs for editing or editions.  Check there for the most up to date resources.

Egypt Crisis: Resources by Category
I have not figured out a good way to link directly to Facebook groups (as opposed to pages), so I’ll just list the names of groups here. They are easy to find with the search function.
Sarah Parcak has created the Facebook group "Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum!" as a place to gather information, keep track of new developments, and attempt to analyze the damage as it happens. This group has been extremely active, and is drawing media attention.
A similar group has been formed by Jaques Kinnaer called "Protect Egyptian Cultural Heritage."
The Facebook community Egyptologists for Egypt (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Egyptologists-for-Egypt-Supporting-the-peoples-demands/ ) is also a good source of news, particularly for keeping track of the status of various missions and individuals who are in the field now.

Egyptological Looting Database(http://egyptopaedia.com/2011/): A place for users to submit new information about looting as it comes in.
ARCE (http://arce.org): ARCE is posting updates on the situation in Egypt, and is also collecting contact information for Egyptologists currently in Egypt. Director Gerry Scott is coordinating efforts to help Egyptologists in Egypt leave the country if necessary.
Egyptian Crisis News (http://aiamilitarypanel.org/news/egyptian-crisis-news-and-discussion/): A compilation of information about the danger to Egypt's antiquities.
Egyptologists' Electronic Forum (http://www.egyptologyforum.org/): There is a very active ongoing thread with information about the situation in Egypt ("Unrest in Egypt").
Zahi Hawass' blog (http://www.drhawass.com/blog/state-egyptian-antiquities-today-update): Statements from Zahi Hawass, now Minister of Antiquities.

I'm quoting a document posted by Jaques Kinnaer on the Facebook group “Protect Egyptian Cultural Heritage”:
The following is (to become) a list of official government instances around the world that can be made aware of the threat to Egypt's Cultural Heritage. You can use it to see if it already contains URLs, e-mail address and/or addresses of your Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Science/Tourism or any other official instance that may be able to help in one way or another.
This document can be edited by any member of the group, so if you notice that the information for your country is missing or incomplete, please add it to the document.
The contact information is (to be) grouped by country, and if possible, try to keep them in alphabetical order. I will go through the list regularly to sort it, if necessary, but if the information is entered in structured and sorted way, that will be less work for all of us :-)
Thanks :-)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (webform): 
Egyptian Embassy in Brussels:
European Union
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Egyptian Cultural Heritage Legislation (http://www.cprinst.org/cultural-heritage-legislation-in-egypt): Information from the Cultural Policy Research Institute.
SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone): main site (http://www.savingantiquities.org/) and blog (http://safecorner.savingantiquities.org/)
Blue Shield statement on Egypt from the IFLA (http://www.ifla.org/en/news/blue-shield-statement-on-egypt)
The communications blackout seems to be ending for now, with internet service being restored in Egypt as of today. However, in case the situation changes again, here are several sites with information on how to communicate to and from Egypt via internet or phone.
Telecom Instructions (http://wl-tsunami.posterous.com/egypt-telecomix-instructions-for-net-connecti): Instructions and a list of telecom services offering free long-distance dial-up service for people in Egypt.
Google/Twitter's Speak 2Tweet service (http://twitter.com/speak2tweet): People in Egypt can call +16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855 to leave or listen to voice messages.
Alive in Egypt (http://egypt.alive.in/): Transcriptions and translations of Speak2Tweet posts.

Al Jazeera English (http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/): Live stream of the latest developments in Egypt.
CNN coverage (http://topics.cnn.com/topics/egypt)


So, Laura Ingalls Wilder was even more hardcore than I thought

see filenameImage via Wikipedia
What it looks like outside
We are having a blizzard.

I had to work today.  From 2pm to 10 pm.

At 9pm, the shuttle buses that the powers that be had claimed would run their normal schedule despite the blizzard, stopped running.

Oh yeah.  Awesome.  Lobby full of angry people.  My crippled ass wondering how the hell I'm supposed to get home.  (I didn't call in today because, silly me, I believed the whole "we have no plans to cancel the shuttle service")  The University of Chicago - it's about life of the mind, not life of the extremities.

Tom came to get me.  In the car.  The Saturn sedan.   Did I mention the blizzard?

I was literally whimpering by the time we got from the library to the car across the street.

Tom had to dig me out of the car when we got home.  He is my hero.

The wind is blowing so hard it's being driven through the screens on our windows.

Also, they weren't kidding about the thunder and lightening.  Do you know how weird that is?

Laura freaking Ingalls walked through this kind of shit.  In a skirt.  That my friends, is hardcore.