2012 Site Diary

April 10th 2012: Jan Picton

Someone asked about our day so here goes.

The alarm goes at 5.30, and breakfast is served (if we're lucky) at 6. Cold hard-boiled egg, triangles of cheese, tea. I cheat and drink coffee with a biscuit in my room since life is too short to face a hard boiled egg at 6am. We prep our coolboxes with stuff for lunch, get all the kit ready - surveying equipment, stuff we can't leave on site. We are very sophisticated these days, we even have chiller blocks for the boxes. We used to just have everything in carrier bags and cross our fingers.

The ceremonial opening of the first jar of Nutella

The microbus (plus car, plus taxi to take this year's large team) leaves at 7 and we are always prompt. This is bliss for me as a punctuality-freak after previous years when constant chasing was required. Did I tell you how much I love this year's team? I wish the same could be said for our police escort, our not-so-secret policeman, and the various other appendages that we are required to support as a foreign mission in Egypt. The police escort is a bit of a mystery as we are not sure if they are protecting us from 'them', or 'them' from us. Especially since they come and go on a whim and when you can most do with them around, they disappear. We get a kick out of losing them in traffic and watching them panic as they relocate us. Such simple pleasures!

Our journey to site takes us through Faiyum city and then out through the countryside. If you are on Facebook you may have seen the photographs that I cross-posted from Tine Bagh. Or if you know the Faiyum, you will know that we step back a century in rural Egypt and fight for road space with gemusa (water buffalo), donkey carts, local markets that occupy the road, pedestrians who believe they are invincible and chickens, sheep and goats being herded out of village houses. Every day we pass the most extravagant pigeon-house that looks like a crusader castle. (I’ve posted a link at the end to Anna’s album of scenes of Faiyum life). Increasingly we also share the road with tuc-tucs and motorbikes. There is no sight quite as disconcerting as a tuc-tuc loaded with tomato crates that rise about 15 feet in the air, or four men on a motor bike clutching a pane of glass or balancing trays of aish baladi on their heads. The country roads around the Faiyum have some of the most vicious ‘speed-bumps’ erected by the local villagers – lots of cursing when we don’t spot them quickly enough. The quieter stretch takes us along the canal where we see pied kingfishers hovering and diving to catch their breakfast. One of my favourite sights is the tiny children with backpacks as big as they are walking to school.

The Goat shack on the way to site

We get to site on the desert edge at about 7.40. We are always surprised to find the tent still standing, and our new gazebo bought in Carrefour Cairo which came missing many parts, and which is held together with string. It's also nice if the wild dogs haven't peed on the tent. We had one season when gophers (or their Egyptian equivalent) tunneled randomly beneath our mats causing tectonic shifts in our flooring. Getting up and running every morning is a smooth operation as kit is organised, maktafs and touriyehs, workmen and walkie-talkies shared out. The team shares out responsibility for different areas, and it seems to work.

Our lunch is at 11.30am. I must explain our lunch to you. In our first few years lunch was tammiya (falafel) and bread (still dangerous stuff for the teeth!). Year by year it has grown more complicated and, by most digs’ standards, is a veritable feast. So lunch is now a CHOICE of falafel, bread, cheese, eggs, assorted pickles and sauces, bananas, melon, nutella (see the annual ‘opening of the nutella jar’ photograph). Now that we are in the University Tourism hotel the porter gets our tammiya every morning and the seller adds ‘treats’: aubergine (nice), cold chips (not so nice), a weird cheesy thing, or mixed pickle – turshi. Those of us based in the tent get everything ready and the horde descends for a free-for-all buffet. We only have a few seats but as long as everyone is in the shade we tend to just sprawl. We also have our own burner and kettle so get a longed for coffee or tea. Our lunch lasts until 12.30 or so, so that we are out of the heat for the hottest part of the day, bearing in mind that we work through until 3.30 before returning to the hotel and carrying on with ‘house’ work – database, mapping, etc..

By 9pm everyone except the most stalwart are winding down ready for bed and the start of a new day. We groan and complain, but we love it really.

Our season is nearing its end with most of the Copenhagen contingent leaving on Thursday. The rest of us continue through to next Wednesday when we pack up for our return to Cairo on the 19th. I can’t believe the season is going so quickly.

Click here for a selection of Anna's pictures!