Jordan (Some)Times

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THE (Occasional) JORDAN (Some)TIMES

Sunday 26 May 2002
Volume 1, Issue 10

– Final Edition
Time has run out for the Jordan (Some)Times. This issue will be the last. Even if only occasionally published, and likely less occasionally read(!), it has been a gratifying project for me and, I hope, useful and enjoyable for the occasional reader. It represents my best attempts to share Jordan with readers, my home away from home, and one of the loves of my life, archaeology in Jordan. Hopefully portraying accurately the genuine hospitality of the Arab people, as well as capturing the incomprehensible grief, pain and frustration of the population in the entire region, I have found myself at times ecstatic, at times exhausted.

For those who would like to access them, we will be posting weekly reports with photos of the work of the Madaba Plains Project-`Umayri this summer (more below). These will be mounted each week of the season (19 June through 31 July) under the titles: `Umayri Report - Week #1, etc. As with the web-based Jordan (Some)Times, click on "Jordan Updates" on the MPP website (www.wwc.edu/mpp).

– The Weather in Amman
Yesterday - High 26C/78F - Low 12C/53F - clear skies
Today - High 32C/89F - Low 13C/55F - sunny
Tomorrow - High 35C/92F - Low 15C/59F - no clouds
[Rainfall on 14 May - not so hard as to hurt anyone, but a good rain nonetheless and likely the last until October or November.]

– Overheard in Jordan

"Here, please have more!" - city officials in the mayor's office of the Sahab municipality building, into which I had unwittingly wandered and where I was treated to one cup of Turkish coffee (thick as heavy syrup), one of mint tea, another of Arab coffee.

"Here, take our hands and we'll pull you down from the ceiling!" - Sahab city officials trying to reclaim me among the earthbound, following three cups of high-octane, liquid propellents. [OK, this is a bit fanciful, but that's what it feels like for someone who doesn't do coffee except in the context of a hospitality vortex.]

"Get away from there!" - man with government credentials who piled out of an older Mercedes (accompanied by four other men), charging up the side of Tall al-Fukhar ("Mound of Pottery") in the northern part of Jordan, saying we had no right to be wandering around the site [he was protecting it against vandalism].

"Here, have some of this!" - one of the four bouncers with the man with government credentials who, on finding out who we were, offered me what looked like a cup of water, but which, it turns out, was Arak, an explosive drink somewhere near 748% pure alcohol, which I refused not just because I am a teetotaler, but because I wanted to use my lips, tongue, throat, voice box, esophagus and gastro-intestinal system the next day and for a few more to come.

"This is your home." - our travel agent in Jordan (without much business for months), thrusting a sack with two covered dishes of food into my hands, along with: "I will take care of you."

"Mansaf feasts pave roadways." - Adeeb, who works for the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (and excavated with the Madaba Plains Project long before we even called it that), pondering how to solve a problem between people and resorting to this popular Arab saying about food-function diplomacy.

"Tell the world our stories." - woman in the crowded living/sleeping room of a small block house in the congested Baqa` Refugee Camp (120,000 people in 2 square kilometers) just outside Amman, in answer to a question (What can we do?) Carmen asked a group of Palestinian women whom she, Bev Beem and Sidney Kwiram were interviewing about their lives and the lives of their families following the 1948 and 1967 expulsions from their homes in Palestine [watch the website for two or three photos some time soon].

– Letters to the Editor
[Screened, as usual, by the censorship committee for content, style and, most important, for attitude.]

"I wanted to tell you that I have really been enjoying your newsletters. They have been extremely informative and it gives me a good idea of how the people are over there. Just like most of the people in the U.S., I had quite a different view of the Arab people and through your newsletters I have been shown what a narrow view that was. I was surprised I had that view in the first place, but I guess some traps of the mind never announce their presence until someone shows you that they are there." - a bright young man who loves and lives learning.

"I hope one of these days I can make a trip over there and see everything and experience everything that you write about." - a man after my own heart.

"As always, I enjoyed the update. I have to admit, though, I did quite a double-take at the pairing of 'cold and blustery' with 'Petra.' My mind is still struggling to reconcile the two." - an MPP veteran whose next visit to Jordan will be in January.

"It probably goes without saying, but I will anyway, that your issues of the Jordan (Some)Times are among my most anticipated and exciting reading. I hope you will keep me on your list!" - a retired teacher who also loves and lives learning.

"The Jordan (Some)Times has been both amusing and illuminating. I can only hope that it has also reached several who have had only faint or tainted views about the ME! Thanks for the good work!" - an MPP veteran with strong Middle Eastern connections ... through marriage!

"Thanks, you have notes for a novel or memoir going here. I await your manuscript. Sincerely, your new agent." - Cool!

– Recent Travels in Jordan
Once again, the tightly wound Jeepers rose to the challenge of getting me and my entourage of Carmen and Bev Beem (I almost used the term "harem," as some fun-loving locals have when seeing this crew traipsing around together) to a variety of sites in Jordan. Most of these places are directly related to my research on domestic housing during the early Iron Age (1200 to 1000 B.C.) and some to a related project on locations found in the book of Judges. Bev Beem and I hope for these visits to contribute to a book or two about traveling in the footsteps of the judges and making their stories come alive (sort of, given the gruesome contents of some!), especially for the class on Judges we team-teach at WWC.

In spite of the quality craftsmanship and safety precautions manifest in the construction of vehicles such as Jeepers, driving in Jordan is like taking a crash course in survival on the asphalt. There is no other way to put it. Dangers abound for the driver whose mind wanders for even a nanno-moment in downtown Amman: pedestrians darting in and out of traffic like goldfish attempting to avoid adolescent pet-store clerks netting them for paying customers; cars, trucks, carts operated by people who clearly did not excel in driving school and learned none of the rules of the road, especially in round-abouts where the stiff competition for what everyone assumes are fifteen lanes of traffic (even if really there are only three), creates amazing possibilities; vehicles criss-crossing lanes in a stutter-step dance of opposing forces, like what I saw just today when a car in the second-from-left lane (clearly marked for straight-ahead traffic) turned left across the path of a car in the left (turn-only) lane which proceeded after nearly being clipped across the nose to drive straight ahead; merchandise flying here and there from a truck or shop owner. Carmen has refused to drive while here, even though her name is on the car-rental agreement.

Country driving, while less risky, carries its own potential pitfalls, especially in the rural hinterland. The occasional goat or sheep (usually goats which tend to explore more than the dumb, feet-focused sheep following each other around head to butt, head to butt) have been known to encounter vehicles. Potholes the size of economy rental cars can draw a vehicle in unawares, jolting occupants with sufficient force so as to require them to receive major dental attention. One can get lost not only in potholes, but most anywhere, while chasing down a secluded site of importance.

But there is a system in place which reduces somewhat the possibility of our becoming lost for long periods of time. And the system has many components, some of which work better than others. We use all kinds of maps: tourist maps for a macro-picture of the lay of the land; topographic maps from the Royal Geographic Society (most on a scale of 1 to 50,000 and the northern part of Jordan on a scale of 1 to 25,000); drawings made on table napkins or TP by someone at ACOR who has been to the site before and at least partially recalls the directions. In addition, our high-tech equipment includes a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit which is supposed to place the holder within a few meters of the true location on the earth. Sometimes memory of a visit 25 years prior helps.

As in the past, however, our most tried and tested method for locating sites involves asking someone for directions. The challenges accompanying this approach are many and varied (especially for men), but normally it provides satisfactory results. Language barriers factor in, but normally come down some when accompanied by non-verbal communication like hand motions. More than once I have heard "yamin" (=right) while the hand motions indicated a turn to the left, or have said "yamin" and turned in the wrong direction.

In Sahab, a southern suburb of Amman, we tried desperately to find the 110-meter-by-110-meter ancient walled city (which yielded contemporaneous domestic housing like ours at `Umayri, as well as several large storage jars like the 70-80 we have in Bowers Hall on the WWC campus). Unfortunately, the published GPS coordinates were not accurate and the town had grown up around and over the site, making it a challenge simply to drive up to it for a casual inspection. You don't just pull up to someone's house and say: "I think you built your house on an ancient site I read about once and I would like to check something out just below your living room floor to see if I am correct." Not able to find the site after asking several merchants along the main downtown street, we were finally directed to the municipality building, where I inadvertently ended up in the mayor's office, without any kind of formal invitation - was simply ushered in and plunked down on one chair among many around the office walls, some occupied by this important-looking person or that well-dressed figure, most trying to do business with the mayor simultaneously, all while he was on the line of one or two of the three phones on his desk. Municipality hospitality tided me over until I started talking with a youngish, handsome man next to me who, it turned out, was the city engineer and who, it just so happened, would be happy to take us to the ancient site a few blocks away and who, as a Sahab secondary student in the 70s, had actually helped excavate the site!

Arab hospitality can prove problematic, however, as everyone wants to be helpful, even if they may be a bit fuzzy on the directions to a place or on how far away it might be. Normally, nothing is very far away in the directions we receive. Usually right around that corner or just up the street or not far over that hill. This was the case as we tried to locate Khirbat Hajjar ("Ruin of Rocks"), a fortified hill-top site not far southwest of Amman. Actually one of 18 or 19 such structures from the Iron II period (1000-550 B.C.), Hajjar is important because of the presence of earlier material which appears to have been contemporaneous with our site at `Umayri. The same situation confronted us while attempting to extricate ourselves from the northern Jordanian city of Irbid, in our (repeated) quest to locate the road to Umm Qays. No matter how many stops along the way to shout out the window to almost anyone on the street, "Wayn tariq Umm Qays?" ("Where is the road to Umm Qays?"), we nearly always received generously provided responses ... and spent more time following interesting leads. Getting lost in cities is nearly as easy as losing one's way in the back country.

– Al-Wadeh, The Situation
The continuing problems across the river maintain our attention. We witness over and over the political and human disaster resulting from a situation in which one group of people occupies and dominates another. However complex the issues, however painful the choices, however labyrinthine the history, however many friends we have among those who live here and there, however much we feel for people on all sides of the current conflict, until occupation comes to a close the ethics of fair treatment will not see the light of day, leaving both occupiers and the occupied at deadly odds with each other, devoid of the principles of democracy and without a moral compass. Both sides lose. Neither is free. No one is safe.

As it is, the West Bank and Gaza (as defined by the pre-1967 borders) make up only 22 percent of historic Palestine and something slightly over 50 percent of that is currently taken up by the ever expanding settlements, designated roadways and security zones. That leaves a tithe of Palestine for the inhabitants of the past millennium. Add to this the new plans for carving the territories into small units for travel control and we have, in the assessment Desmond Tutu made in a recent speech in Boston, something like the Bantustans of South Africa, in place until late last century.

Thank you for your continuing interest. We keep praying for movement in the direction of a peaceful resolution. In addition to the normal news sources, check out websites of the reasonably well-balanced Christian Science Monitor (www.csmonitor.com), for example, and The (Real) Jordan Times (www.jordantimes.com).

– The Madaba Plains Project - 'Umayri-2002
Plans for the excavations at Tall al-`Umayri are still on. We have assessed the situation from every angle we can possibly imagine short of infiltrating the secret services of the country, and still find ourselves warmly welcomed. As noted above, there will be weekly (we hope not weakly) reports mounted on the MPP website following each full week of excavation, detailing progress during the week, illustrating with photos finds made by intrepid sleuths of ancient time (some of which some of you know), and relating personal interest stories of striking dig personalities.

In the mean time, if you are feeling generous this summer, there are several things you can do for the excavation:

  • Make a contribution to MPP-`Umayri to help us add a high-speed internet line to the Amman Training College campus where we stay (a United Nations vocational college for students of Palestinian descent), replacing the two slow lines and modems for the 50 computers on campus. - Mail checks (made out to "Walla Walla College-MPP/ATC" to: Douglas Clark, Madaba Plains Project, Walla Walla College, College Place, WA 99324, and our office personnel at WWC will process them and get the funds to us.
  • Make a contribution to MPP-`Umayri's attempts to restore the site and present it to local and foreign publics - for details, click here.
  • Purchase the volume on the MPP excavations over the past three decades: Ancient Ammonites and Modern Arabs: 5000 Years in the Madaba Plains of Jordan - order through the Walla Walla College Store at www.wwc.edu/store. It will soon be available as well at Eisenbrauns Books.

– The News from ACOR Amman
Well, it's been a quiet week (or so) in ACOR Amman, my home town. And it's about time. I mean ... that's what I mean - this edition of the news from ACOR Amman is about time. Time is what we have. Some may not have much money, others lots of it. Some may not have much upstairs, with an IQ not far above room temperature (or, one could say, be a half-bubble out of plumb); others with brains to spare. Some may not have good looks, with a face only a mother could love; others look like Hollywoodized make-overs. But we all have time. Time is on our side. We may or may not have much left, but we do have time. As the Good Book says, there is a time for everything. And, spoken time and again by well-meaning folks, there is no time like the present.

Unfortunately, archaeologists are known by some to have too much time on their hands. It's OK if archaeology is the science which ensures a future for the past, but don't make that past too past. Once I received a Chinese fortune cooky with the inserted message: "You are fated to make the past last!" Making the past last is one thing, but not too much. I have made the mistake of going out into the field with pre-historians and observing what they observe in the surviving records of the desert. If your basic run-of-the-mill historical archaeologists have too much time on their hands, think about pre-historians. And don't even bring up astronomers who think they have an answer for all the questions in the universe (is it 242?) which has been around for a long, long time. A person can see how this could get out of control.

So, how do we measure time? I mean, what methods does one use to determine the times? Archaeologists along with other scientists, of course, use all kinds of "chronometric" approaches, like dendro-chronology (tree rings), ceramic typology (pottery forms), inscriptions, glacial ice cores, calendars, coins, C-14 atomic scales, potassium-argon dating of igneous rocks, thermo-luminescence on fired clay, amino-acid racemization for bones, etc., etc. Some are more short-term than others, but they all, and others like them, are used to mark out time.

But, how does one measure time at ACOR Amman? In Jordan? I have taken a great deal of delight, since coming last December to Jordan, in losing track of time. I hang my watch up in my study carrel and sometimes don't have it on for a day or so. We don't get up on the basis of clock-time anymore, nor go to bed because it is a certain time. When it gets light outside (and hence inside), it may (or may not) be time to get up.

Living in an ACOR apartment with windows both to the north and west, we do have one way of marking time fairly accurately, besides the sun and moon, of course. Almost immediately outside our bathroom window to the west are the remains of an archaeological site (Khirbat Salameh, which means "The Ruins of Peace" - hmmm). It was a small, squarish fortified farmstead over 2,000 years ago with 14 rooms around a central courtyard at least during part of its life span. The ruined walls survive to several feet high in places and, from the vantage point of our bathroom, there are four of them running in parallel fashion across the hill. When the sun comes up on the opposite side of ACOR, the building's long shadow moves along the four walls, from the farthest to the nearest.

When I need to know the time, I go to the bathroom and look out the window. If the morning shadow covers all four walls, I know if I get up then that when I go downstairs to my carrel in the library, chances are that the library will be closed. Experience has taught me that this is not the best time to get up. I am here using BT (Bathroom Time) to advantage. (People designate time differently - B.C. = Before Christ / A.D. = Anno Domini [The Year of our Lord] / B.C.E. = Before the Common Era [= B.C.] / C.E. = Common Era [= A.D.] / A.H. = Anno Hegirae [= The Year of the flight from Mecca to Medina by the Prophet Mohammad] or = Anno Hebraico [The Year according to Hebrew reckoning, that is from creation, that modern Israelis use, making this year somewhere near 5,750].) If, on checking out the bathroom time-measuring system, there is one wall exposed to the direct sun, the odds are better, but not by much, that the library will be open. Two walls exposed can fairly well guarantee that it is safe to get up. Three walls and it's likely there will be people in the office downstairs. If we wait for bathroom time to indicate four walls in direct sunlight, we can pretty well expect that our late arrival in the library will be noticed.

There is another system we sometimes use. Flourescent lights in the Middle East, either because of the 220-volt electrical system or the notoriously slow and inefficient ballasts (is that what they are called?), it takes an interminably long time for the lights to come on. For instance, our small kitchen has two doors across from each other, one leading in from the hallway outside the bathroom and the other out into the living room. There are two flourescent light panels in the kitchen ceiling with four separate lights and their ballasts, each of which takes its own amount of predictably extended time to activate its bulb. If we want to enjoy a lighted environment in which to fix breakfast, we have to plan our day accordingly. Walking through the kitchen, we hit the light switch and from that point on have lots of time for optional activities, before first one, then another, then the third, and finally the fourth light comes on, all in blinding flashes. So, on a typical morning, I can walk through the kitchen, flip the switch, continue on into the living room, turn on some music, return though the kitchen, then on to the bathroom for a shower and shave. Might even catch some synchronized soccer which is readily available 24 hours a day on our nifty 1950s 15-inch, multiple-image black-and-white TV with the special early Iron Age rabbit-ear antenna. By the time I get back into the kitchen most of the lights are on. Although this is another of the many ways to measure time here, we have not yet found a useful purpose for it.

There are in Jordan some standardized time-measuring tools. One is the Five-Minute Rule. Doesn't matter the situation or the circumstances. Doesn't matter where you are or when you ask, but it will always be five minutes. Five minutes until the shop's boss you absolutely need to talk with comes. Five minutes for a clerk to find just what you want in a trinket bazaar. Five minutes until the next bus comes by. Even I used this system to advantage today, telling two friends that I would be five minutes in the office of the principal at ATC. No one was concerned when, 20 minutes later, I emerged and we went on our way.

A similar system is the One-Month Rule. The trail at the Baptism Site down to the Jordan River will be open in one month. This device is so popular that we have heard it several times ... all at the Baptism site. When there with some friends in January, we were told the trail would open in one month. March found us there again with other friends and we were told it would be one month. We went with Bev Beem last week and, for all the world, it would only be one month until we could hike the trail. The only problem with these systems is that flexibility, a must in the Middle East, doesn't help us encapsulate or control time very well.

But maybe that's OK. Maybe it's about time those of us in the west who are slavishly married to our clocks learn something about time, at least for the time being. Maybe Adam and Eve were not, after all, created with watches attached, anymore than they were created with clothes on. Perhaps the human body is better adapted to the easy flow of eastern time frames. Sort of like Jordan time. Or The Jordan Times. Or, to be more casual, The Jordan (Some)Times. And maybe that's all the time a person needs.

That's the news from ACOR Amman, where the directors are strong, the office staff is good looking and all the ACOR fellows are above average.

Editor: Doug Clark
Assoc. Editor: Doug Clark
Managing Editor: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Chair: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Other Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Desktop Publishing: Doug Clark
Quality Control: Doug Clark
Proofreading: Doug Clark
Data Entry: Doug Clark
Marketing: Doug Clark
Circulation: Doug Clark
Censorship: Doug Clark

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