Friday, February 9, 2018

2018 Pre-Field School "Prep Week"

After just over a 2 month break for the holidays, Mr. Will and I rendezvoused at Heathrow on Feb. 5 for the direct flight via Egypt Air to Luxor. As serendipity would have it we met in the queue to check in, and miraculously none of our luggage was overweight (despite all the archaeological equipment JJ was carrying). Obviously, the gods are smiling on this trip. Lunching in the same restaurant where we have met in the past, we caught each other up on recent events, including the Philadelphia Eagles upset victory over the New England Patriots, which JJ was forced to miss due to flying to London! Bad to miss the game, but good that Philly won! The flight was pleasantly uneventful and on-time, arriving in Luxor just after 10pm local time. We were met by not only Hazem and our driver Ayman, but Sayed also was there to welcome us back. Those of you who have followed us before will be familiar with both Hazem, as Project Manager, and Sayed, our Epigraphy Assistant. As our flat was not quite ready, we went to Hazem’s house, where upon arrival we were warmly greeted and given a meal and a bed for the night.

Tuesday morning, after coffee and breakfast, we (including Hazem) headed to the west bank for our first round of teftish visits in order to sort out the necessary paperwork to begin the field school. We met Sayed at the teftish and were welcomed by our old friend Mr. Ramadan Ahmed, Director of Foreign Missions Office on the West Bank, who instigated the required procedures. When we entered the office we were delighted to see Sayed’s wife, Safaa, and even more thrilled to learn she would be our inspector for the season! Our former student Abd el-Ghany also appeared so we had a chance to catch up with him as well. After leaving Safaa to sort our permissions with Ramadan, we were ushered into Dr. Fathy Yassin’s office, the General Director of Antiquities on the West Bank, for the final approval for the project to start. Whilst there, as is so often the case, who should walk in but a blast from the past for Mr. Will. Friend and colleague from the Giza Field School Dr. Afifi Rohim, as well as a former student, Eltayeb Mohamed Khudary, neither of whom Will had seen in years! We subsequently found out that they are both part of the Western Valley Excavation project of Dr. Zahi Hawass, and Afifi is the Field Director. Permissions acquired, and stamp of approval given, we adjourned to the garden of Sheikh Ali for the first masbut of the season and to discuss with Sayed and Hazem some of the plans for the beginning of the work. As those of who have followed us will know, Sheikh Ali is the place where Egyptologists run into other Egyptologists, so we were not surprised that the cool-looking dude with the sunglasses coming across to greet us was none other than old friend, and now Director of IFAO (the French Institute in Cairo), Laurent Bavay, who is in Luxor checking in on the work of the French at Deir el-Medina, and in Theban Tomb 96.

Masbuts drunk, we headed back east thinking we might be able to visit the Karnak teftish in order to fill out the necessary paperwork for using the Karnak Lab, but finding that the Director was absent, we opted to have a lemoon at Oasis Palace instead. However, this allowed us to meet up with Yaser, who had secured the permissions for all of the students to attend the field school. Oasis Palace has become something of a haunt for Egyptologists, not just us, as it was to prove today when who should walk in just as we were finishing our meeting, but Francesco Tiradretti, Director of the Italian MIssion at the Tomb of Harwa (TT37). He was as thrilled to see us as we were to see him, and almost immediately extended the invitation to have pizza with his team at Casa Italia, his dig house on the west bank. Naturally, we accepted on the spot, learning that our seasons would happily overlap.

Lemoons finished, we bade farewell to Yaser and headed to Hazem’s for the planned family meal. It was delightful to see his sister Noha and her twin boys Bara’a and Bilal, now 10 months old, as well as Ahlam’s husband Abdullah, both of whom joined us for dinner. Hazem’s borther Ahmed was unable to east with us as he was directing the building works still progressing outside as the family is extending the house upwards to accommodate extra floors for when the sons marry, a long-standing tradition in Egypt. Hopefully there will be another opportunity before he heads to Cairo. The food, which Hazem’s mother had prepared, was absolutely delicious and included many of our favorites. Comfortably full we packed our bags and moved into the newly cleaned and readied flat belonging to Dr. Betsy Bryan, where we have stayed in past years. After unpacking and settling in, we realized the “exertion” had worked up an appetite and we were getting hungry again. It has been at least 3 hours, and as so many of you will remember, we need to eat every 3-4 hours! Aware of an empty refrigerator, Will suggested that the obvious solution was to go to our standby, Pizza Roma, for dinner and a beer to celebrate our return. All in one day we managed to touch base with 3 of our favorite watering holes, which even for us is something of a record!

Wednesday we headed to Karnak to take care of business with Dr. Mostafa el-Sogheir, and get everything prepared to begin teaching in the Karnak Lab on Saturday. Naturally, we ran into yet another friend and former student, Saad Bakhit, who you will recall was our Inspector at Karnak for the digital field school last fall. While our papers were being processed who should walk into the office but one of our new students who is an Inspector at Karnak and was bringing Dr. Irmgard Hein in to finish her permissions. Irmgard is an old friend of Will’s (of course!), and there was much general rejoicing in seeing one another so unexpectedly after so many years. As it proved, she is there to photograph objects stored in the magazine located at the Montu Temple, and hopefully there will more opportunities to see each other while we are teaching in the lab. After finishing up at Karnak, and meeting our Inspector Ali Erfan, we headed for the shops – Aboudy to do a bit of book browsing and Ragab for some more food items. By then we were hungry (again) and headed to our standard – Oasis Palace – for our first lunch of the season. The afternoon was spent working on the planned teaching program for the first week, as we needed to review and perhaps revise what we had taught 2 years ago. Happily, it turned out not to need too much tweaking!

Thursday we planned to spend the morning making sure everything was set up and the tomb was ready for the students. We got a later than usual start, awaiting Hazem to wind up some family business before heading to the west bank, which meant a decadently late arrival at TT110, just in time for tea and second breakfast. When we arrived, not only were our Inspector Safaa and Sayed already at the site, but also our former student Alaa. Much hugging and general rejoicing ensued at the reunion! We had just finished second breakfast only to find out that Hazem had forgotten not only the tea, but also the chato biscuits! Since he had already forgotten (twice!) to deliver the bag of shoes and work materials we had left behind, this amounted to 3 strikes against Hazem and so the team voted to enact the first harama of the season. As many of you will remember, the significance of haram in Egypt entails that when a mistake is made a compensation much be provided to the victim. In this case the entire team, which we counted as 9 people at breakfast! The decision as to the penalty was given by Abu Hamada seeing as he was the individual who had to beg tea from the gafirs at a neighboring guard’s hut. The result – cake and cola for everyone! Safaa insisted that it come from a particularly nice bakery – La Voche – so that Hazem could not cheat by providing a stale slab of sponge cake. Instead, as the name implies, we had fine Parisian patisserie, Egyptian-style, cake enveloped in whipped cream along with cold coke and fanta for the end of the workday.

We had been invited to Sayed and Safaa’s for lunch after the work, but seeing as we had finished early, and both Hazem and JJ had a lot of work to do, it was decided that we would return early and return back to the west around 3, giving Sayed and Safaa extra time to prepare the meal as well. In the end Hazem was unable to join us as he was still collating handouts for the students, but JJ and Will enjoyed a marvelous feast of duck, Egyptian fried chicken, and a vegetable and meat tagine, all dishes that we had been treated to at their house last year. We spent a lovely couple of hours eating, talking, and getting reacquainted with their two daughters, Jana, now 4, and Malak, nearly 1 year old. The rest of the day was spent back at the flat with JJ finishing up her lecture preparations while Will learned further features of his new computer. And of course, JJ followed the Eagles victory parade through Philadelphia in real-time on her computer and through facetiming with Raphael and the boys.

Friday morning we spent working, as we have done in the past, at Chicago House, this time by preparing for when we bring the new students to the library. We were welcomed by the librarian Anait Helmholz, who generously offered to be available to introduce our students to the use of the library. And our good friend Ellie Smith offered, once again, to show the students the Chicago House photo archive. Artists Jay Heidel and Krisztián Verteś were likewise willing once again to let us and our students impose upon their hospitality and visit their work in the Luxor Temple. As in the past, so many friends and colleagues have offered their time in order to enrich the experience of our students in the field school. We once again enjoyed lunching at Chicago House and meeting old as well as new friends. It was particularly nice to see Susan Allen, who is part of the Metropolitan Museum Malqata Team, and whom we had not seen in Egypt in years. And, naturally, Will ran into former students from his time teaching in the AERA field schools at Giza.

We managed to finish at Chicago House just in time to meet several of our former students who we have invited to participate in an object and pottery drawing field school taught by Yaser: Nadia, Mahmoud, Abu el-Hagag, and Sayed el-Rekaby from last season, as well as Alaa from our first season. This gave us an opportunity to try out a newly opened café situated along the banks of the Nile halfway between Chicago House and Karnak, aptly named Marina Café. We sat outside enjoying the view and catching up, and Yaser was able to present his teaching program to everyone. The inevitable group photo followed and in exchange for the waiter taking the photo, the manager had us hold the restaurant’s menus. So don’t blame us for the corporate promotion!

Abu el-Hagag, Mahmoud, Sayed, Yaser, Will, 
JJ, Nadia, Alaa, Sayed el-Rekaby, Hazem

We raced from one venue to the next, needing to be at Hazem’s by 6 to prepare for the dinner with the new students. It was a chance to introduce ourselves more formally to the students and give them at least an inkling of what they had been accepted into as far as the program was concerned. This was held upstairs in Hazem’s house, and then we adjourned to the downstairs dining area for the meal spread out on the floor in customary Egyptian fashion. As in previous seasons, Hazem’s mom outdid herself with the marvelous spread of traditional Egyptian cuisine, and as in prior years our students proved equal to the task of consuming at least most of it, in what seemed to us record time. We subsequently returned upstairs to continue with more discussion about the upcoming school. Yaser presented his plans for his portion of the field school, teaching the students object and pottery illustration, and Hazem clarified the logistics of transport, etc., for the students’ respective commutes the following morning. All of the business concluded, we were finally able to descend upon the cake and tea to round off our first session with the new students. A group photo followed, and we bid farewell to our students for the evening.

Amira, Rehab, Rasha, Hala

Walid, Yaser, Alaa Talaat, Hussein, Mena (Mario), Mahmoud

Back Row: Amira Abdel Koudos Fahim, Rehab Sabry Shazly, Rasha Ahmed Hany Mohamed, Hala Ahmed Mohamed Elsamman, Mudira JJ, Mr. Will, Alaa Talaat Shams El-Din Mohamed, Hussein Ahmed Hussein Hofny, Mahmoud Abdel Wahab Mohamed Abdel Nour

Front Row: Walid Elsayed Abd el-Raheem, Hazem Shared, Sayed Mamdouh, Mena (Mario) Fahim Rezk

Photographer: Yaser Mahmoud

Watch this space to see what ensued the following morning …