Declan, Shane, and Xavier in their dinosaur costumes
JJ's pumpkin-carving expertise on display
In between the two holidays, we are engaged in a short, but intense, 3-week advanced field school offered to our students from the past two seasons. Seeing as Mr. Will is digitally impaired when it comes to epigraphy, we have agreed to pass the teaching baton to one of his former illustration students, Mr. Hassan Ramadan Aglan, who will be joining the TT 110 team in addition to Hazem, Sayed, and Yaser, all of whom you will remember from previous seasons. Hassan is currently studying for his PhD at Humboldt University in Berlin and has agreed to join us for two weeks of the field school. Mr. Will, on the other hand, will focus the first week of teaching in familiarizing the students with the process of planning an epigraphic program, whether it be using traditional methods, as taught in our previous schools, or the digital method, to be taught by Hassan. This season’s field school will, in a sense, book-end what we have taught in previous years, so that the students will know how to begin an epigraphic program, as well as publish their work.
Mr. Hassan Ramadan Aglan
As in previous years, JJ flew in from Philadelphia and rendezvoused with Will at Heathrow, and from there they traveled directly to Luxor, arriving on time but quite late on Monday the 23rd. Hazem and our driver Ayman met us, and quickly delivered us to Dr. Betsy Bryan’s flat behind Chicago House, where we have stayed in previous seasons. All was going so well, only to find that the newly cut keys did not open the downstairs front door! Before we could even panic, Hazem noticed a light on and window open from the 3rd floor apartment of the building. And as luck would have it, it turned out to be the window of our kindly landlady, Mrs. Fekhry, who had waited up for our arrival. The Egyptian gods had smiled upon us! Mrs. Fekhry threw the keys down and we were able to enter the building. Leaving unpacking to the morning, thus ended our first few – eventful – hours in Egypt.
Outside our apartment building at midnight
Tuesday dawned much too early with a maximum of 5 hours sleep – in bed at 2 and up at 6. Hazem insisted on an early start in order to meet with all the necessary officials in the teftishes on the west and east banks. It seemed as if we no sooner touched ground on the west bank, then we were being greeted by Sayed Mamdouh, who joined us to make the requisite courtesy calls. First it was to see the new Director of the Foreign Missions Department, and JJ’s old friend, Ramadan, whom she has known from her time tomb crawling 20 years ago in Luxor in preparation for her PhD. It was lovely to see him, and congratulate him on his promotion! From Mr. Ramadan’s office we headed to see the General Director of Antiquities on the West Bank, Fathy Yassin. No sooner had we been seated in his office, then we were joined by former student, and currently head of the Southern Area, Abu el-Hagag, brandishing his 1000-watt smile and hugs all around. After finishing up our paperwork, and the first of what was to prove a long series of teas, we took our leave only to find John Shearman just outside the teftish, thus saving us a visit to the ARCE office to greet him.
All of our visiting and paperwork finished on the west, seeing we’re on a roll we headed to the East Bank teftish to do it all again. As we approached the office, we saw Dr. Ray Johnson (Chicago House) leaving who told us to make haste because Mr. Talaat Abdel-Aziz, now the General Director of Antiquities in Upper Egypt, was still in his office, but preparing to leave. Fortunately we caught him, and there was more tea drinking, hand shaking, and congratulations on another friend’s and colleague’s promotion. As is so often the case in Egypt, we learned that Yaser was literally next door working at the Avenue of the Sphinxes, and if we were to linger over our tea he could be at the office in a matter of minutes. Cue happy reunion!
Both west and east bank business accomplished successfully, and Hazem, Sayed, and Yaser carrying on with the respective days, we retired to the Oasis Palace café for lunch in the hopes that a) it would still be there, and b) it would be unchanged. Having been away for 18 months, one can never be sure of these things! Lo and behold, we were in luck. Not only Oasis, but also our favorite waiter Eyman, who greeted us at door, escorted us to our traditional table, and prepared our personalized fresh lemon drinks. While the menu was even enlarged with yet more tempting offerings to explore, we – of course – had what we always have. The remainder of the afternoon was spent with Will unpacking while JJ caught up on a lost night’s sleep and after a few hours, both were feeling much better and looking forward to the evening with Hazem’s family.
The Belle Époque reception area of the Oasis Palace Restaurant
The big news as far as Hazem’s family was concerned was the arrival of Noha’s twin boys Backat and Billel 7 months ago. Though they were disappointed not to welcome Declan back, JJ had brought a suitcase full of Declan’s outgrown close to pass on to Noha’s babies, so by the end of the evening they were both dressed as mini-Declans, to the delight of everyone.
After a wonderful and filling meal prepared by Omm Hazem, including all of our well-remembered favorite foods, the evening of surprises continued. At the end of our last season Will was reminded of a suitcase that he left at Chicago House over 15 years earlier, and which he then transferred to Hazem’s unable to open it, seeing as it was locked and he didn’t have the key with him. As fortune would have it, Will being Will, found the key back home and remembered to bring it with him. So there was great suspense as everyone looked on to see what would be in this time capsule. And though the key worked perfectly, this being a Delsy suitcase, it demined a 3-digit code in addition to the key. Desperately thinking of all significant 3-digit numbers from his entire life, having no memory whatsoever of having set the code, Will came to the final 3-digits of his 6-digit phone number which he has had ever since he moved to England. By that point, everyone had become bored with the event, and while no one was actually looking, the suitcase popped open as if by magic to gasps of amazement all around. The suitcase was exquisitely packed and filled with not only his clothing (which still fits!), but also a selection of traditional Egyptian handicrafts all in pristine condition. But the crowning glory (at least according to Will) was a much loved vintage Arsenal (Will’s preferred UK football team) backpack circa 2000. A collector’s item if ever there was one.
An early start on Wednesday found us heading back to the west via our old motorboat Isis and its trusty pilot Abu Galan. We were met on the opposite bank by our old friend and driver Abu Hamada, who has passed along the driving duties to his nephew Mahmoud, but will join u in the work nonetheless. Along the way to the tomb we picked up Sayed and were joined by the truck Hazem had organized bringing all the equipment, tables, and tea making necessities to the tomb so that we could set up the facilities for our site. As we pulled up to the tomb, we were joyously met by Abu Gomaa, who will again work for us, taking care of all our coffee, tea, and food needs whilst on site. Our newly assigned Antiquities Inspector is a young woman named Amany, who seems interested in what we are doing. We spent the morning reacquainting ourselves with TT 110, and happily drinking tea under our tent, for which we were joined by our colleague Afaf, who brought us tea and Nescafe – a good thing as Hazem had forgotten to buy Nescafe for the site! Afaf saved the day, and JJ’s need for caffeine. While we were having tea, eagle-eye Sayed spotted our returning student Mahmoud heading along the gebel to Davies House. We waved him over, and as with Abu el-Hagag yesterday, there were hugs and kisses all around as friendships were renewed.
NOT the SS Isis
Having accomplished so much on the west on our first day, on Thursday we changed gears and transferred our attention to Karnak in order to investigate the ARCE Lab and available facilities for the digital training portion of the field school. Meeting Hazem and Sayed along the way to the temple, once inside we were joined by our old colleague Saad el-Bakhit, who was the Chief Excavator for ARCE’s work in the forecourt of TT 110. His excavation concluded, he has re-joined the Antiquities Organization and is now working at Karnak Temple. It was wonderful seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar location to welcome us and escort us to the lab. The teaching space of the lab seems well-suited to our needs, and after a brief survey and discussion of how best to organize our tables, we adjourned to a lovely café, called, of all things, “Sharm el-Sheikh”, and located just outside the temple. There we sat and chatted with Hazem, Sayed, and Saad, and Saad brought us up-to-date with the details of his new position and plans for the future. Noting that the café provided cappuccinos for future reference, we moved on to a working lunch with Hazem at Oasis to finalize the arrangements for the beginning of the field school on Saturday.
4 generations of epigraphers: Hazem, Sayed, Saad, and Will
Working lunch at the Oasis Palace
The work week complete with so much accomplished, we felt we could celebrate by accepting the invitation from the Mexican Mission in TT 39 of Puiemra for a fiesta that evening. We had earlier met the Mexican Director Gabriela in, of all places (ha!), the west bank teftish, where, as you know, everyone pays a courtesy call. As you may remember from 2016, Gabriela had kindly invited us and our students to visit their tomb, which is contemporary with TT 110. The party was lovely and we met many Mexican, Spanish, Polish, French, and Egyptian colleagues. But the highlight by far was the opportunity to dine on homemade Mexican cuisine, including molé!
As is our custom, we spent part of Friday at Chicago House, enjoying the quietude of the library to make our final field school preparations, and of course, meeting our Chicago House friends and colleagues during their delicious buffet lunch. All is in readiness for the arrival of the students this evening for a welcome meal at Hazem’s, a chance for everyone to catch up and renew friendships before the field school begins Saturday morning.
The entrance to Chicago House