Friday, November 3, 2017

Field School Week 1

When we left off last week we were about to head to Hazem’s to meet up with all of our students over a dinner prepared by Hazem’s mother. Like the infamous Egyptian plague of locusts, our students descended upon the wonderful meal spread out in traditional fashion upon the floor, and as with locusts, within 20 minutes they had decimated nearly everything in sight, leaving nothing but a trail of destruction and dozens of dirty plates.

The before and after photos of the meal

Well-fed and watered the group re-assembled for the inaugural group photos of the combined Season 1 and Season 2 field schools, newly christened Season 3.

Back row: Mahmoud, Sayed, Abu el-Hagag, Peter, WIll, JJ, Alaa, Shaimaa, Nadia
Front row: Abd el-Ghany, Sayed el-Rekaby, Yaser (Hazem is taking the photo)

Now down to business. The real work began with the students converging on TT110 first thing Saturday morning. Following the renewal of the traditional morning tea and coffee, as well as biscuits and chato, prepared by Abu Gomaa with Abu Hamada assisting, we utilized the well-equipped tent to begin the instruction of the students with a review of what each group had done at the end of the earlier field schools. Mr. Will had created an additional 5 steps as a “prequel” to the 5 steps of epigraphy the students had learned in the past. The new 5 steps are designed to provide a system that the students can use to prepare their own program of epigraphy, be it in a tomb, temple, or on a large block. Seeing as in the initial field schools this preparation had been done for the students we decided that we needed to give them the means to do it themselves. The remainder of the day was spent back in TT 110 demonstrating how we had initially created the drawing plan for the tomb back in 2014.

Tea and coffee making in progress

 Teaching at the tent

 Teaching in TT 110

Saturday evening we met Yaser for a coffee, though JJ opted for ice cream, so that he could bring us up-to-date about all that had happened in his professional life over the past 18 months. He explained that he is now the Director for the Scientific Centre for Archaeological Training and Continuing Research (SCATCR), which the Ministry has set up as an umbrella organization to facilitate the training of Inspectors. This is ideal for Yaser, as he has had so much experience with this type of work. Already being downtown, it seemed expedient to have dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant, Pizza Roma. We were welcomed as returning family, and JJ had to apologize profusely for not bringing Declan, as he was known and adored by everyone working in the restaurant.

Sunday and Monday were spent in a larger adjacent tomb which provided an opportunity for JJ and Will to demonstrate to the students the 5 steps of epigraphy preparation on a wall that was new to both the students and teachers. As is always the case with our students, the 5 steps produced 15 steps of discussion, which is no bad thing! The students were then paired off and each pair assigned a specific wall to which they would need to apply the 5 steps. The idea of pairing them was so that they would need to work together and share information, ask one another questions, etc., rather than coming to their teachers for assistance. Will and JJ disappeared from the tomb when the students weren’t looking in order to ensure that they truly worked on their own. While the students were thrashing out their approaches Will and JJ returned to the tent to drink cocktails out of tall iced glasses, you know, the kind with the little umbrellas – just joking! In fact, we returned to TT 110 to thrash out in our own way the issues of hacking and possible re-carving in the cartouches, as well as the names and epithets of the god Amun, the one area that we had left in some doubt at the end of the last field school, in order to finalize the conventions necessary for publication.

Monday evening we were invited to dinner at Yaser’s home which he made clear was at the invitation especially of his wife Manal. We realized it was the first time we had ever visited Yaser at home, though we had met his family previously when they made a fantasia on our boat Isis during our previous field school. Manal made an amazing buffet of delicious foods, some of which we had not had before in Egypt. We were re-introduced to their two children: Mohammed who is now 6 and Tokaa who is 4. Just as we were sitting down to eat we heard what distinctly sounded like a baby’s cry from the adjoining bedroom, and almost immediately we realized that Manal had left the table, only tor return with the newest addition to the family – 4 month old Lamar. Yaser in typical fashion had forgotten to mention the birth of his third child, and second daughter, to us! After dinner we were treated to multiple desserts, including homemade basbousa and fruit salad with jello. Manal, seeing how Will kept surreptitiously having seconds and thirds of the basbousa, sent a plate of the dessert home with him. As I type this he is snacking on it!

After several days of tamayya and fuul trials, with the students deciding as to which was the best source of breakfast, a decision was made to bring everything from one particular place and the meal expanded into a general buffet with many options. By Monday’s breakfast we had not only the staples of tamayya and fuul, but also batates (french fries swimming in oil and mixed spices), roasted beitangan (aubergine swimming in oil and mixed spices), a variety of salads, homemade gibna abyad (white cheese) coming from Gomaa’s home, and even mish (fermented salty cheese swimming in its own slimy secretions of putrification), a true Egyptian delicacy that all the Egyptians love. We thought mulikhaya separated the Egyptians from non-Egyptians, but it’s actually mish! Apparently, word of our fabulous breakfasts had gotten out, as on Monday we were joined by Ramadan, Ezz, and Ahmed Boghdady, resulting in, of course, more group photos!

By Tuesday’s breakfast the students had finished planning their walls, allowing them to begin presenting their work to Will and JJ along with their fellow students. This continued through Wednesday, when Fathy Yassin, the Director on the West Bank joined us for a short while to listen in. He was quite impressed! Breakfasts, as you will have noted, have become a key feature of our work on the west, and Wednesday’s breakfast was no different. In honor of the arrival of Hassan Ramadan Aglan, who had reached Luxor from Berlin late the previous night, Abu Hamada brought fatir, which is the exact opposite of mish – a delectable Egyptian delicacy of layered sweet bread to be either eaten with white cheese, or dipped in sweet thick molasses, a by-product of the sugar cane refining. An Egyptian tradition both JJ and Will approve of wholeheartedly.

Breakfast including Hassan Ramadan (far right) 

The student’s presentations were completed by the end of the day Wednesday and the degree of informed questions and discussions elicited by the presentations confirmed what both JJ and Will had been perceiving through the course of the week. That the students really did understand the complexities of planning a comprehensive drawing program for a wall, and by extension a tomb, and they appreciated that the methodology was applicable not only to drawing traditionally as they had already been trained, but also in organizing the photography they might rely upon in digital work. Therefore, we saw little need to send them to other tombs for additional practice. Instead, we felt the time could be better used on Thursday by setting up the digital component of the program at the Karnak Lab, now that Hassan Ramadan was here. So almost before we realized it, our week in the west had come to an end, and we would need to shift operations to the east and Karnak. This meant transporting our tea and coffee supplies to the east, as well as unfortunately having to say goodbye, at least for the time being, to Abu Gomaa and Abu Hamada, who have other work on the west.

Last day for the school on the west bank

Examples from the students' notebooks showing their planning work 

At the end of the work day Wednesday, the students escaped, while JJ, Will, Sayed, Hazem, Hassan, and Yaser (who joined us after his work day ended at the Sphinx Avenue), gathered in the much loved – by Egyptologists – garden at Sheikh Ali’s for a working lunch primarily to discuss how to go about the digital teaching at Karnak, what approach Hassan preferred to take, and how best to integrate it into the teaching we had already done. Seeing as we now had the following day, Thursday, available to set up all of our equipment at Karnak, it would mean that Hassan could truly start teaching at the beginning of the next week. As is so common, we were not the only Egyptologists there! We learned that Hourig Sourouzian had arrived earlier than usual to begin her season at Kom el-Hetan (Amenhotep III mortuary temple), and it was delightful to see her once again.

On Thursday we met the students at the side entrance to Karnak Temple, and discovered that Saad Bakhit will be our Inspector while we are at the Karnak Lab. This is beneficial for all of us, as we get to spend more time with a good friend, and Saad will have the opportunity of learning some of the digital epigraphy from Hassan. After spending some time setting up the lab for our teaching needs, and organizing the kitchen for teas and coffees, Hassan made a good start in helping the students install the necessary drawing software on their laptops as a preliminary step to learning to use their tablets. Breakfast was had in a shady spot under the trees near the lab, and while the food was nothing by west bank standards, our new tea man Mostafa promises to do better next week! Hazem is guaranteed to help him raise his game, seeing as the students have all been spoiled by Abu Gomaa and Abu Hamada. Hassan taught until nearly 2pm, by which time the students had become familiar with the tablets and were keen to continue the instruction on Saturday.

Will and JJ chatting in the back of the classroom
Thursday saw the end of the first week of teaching for the students, and the occasion of the famed Chicago House Halloween party for JJ and Will. The afternoon was spent fine-tuning our costumes which JJ had especially brought from the US. The only thing you need to know are the words Star Wars. The rest should be obvious! We leave it up to you to identify who we are.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away ……….