Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ramat Rachel 12 - Soldiers in sequins

Ramat Rachel glass
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana

This is my last entry about volunteering at an archaeological dig in Israel. If you have just arrived, please start at the first entry.

By the way, the photo shows the only piece of glass I found. See the rim? Probably from a glass or bottle from the early Muslim era. Not much, but I liked it.

A few final questions…

What has changed since you were last in Israel in 1997?

The Old City in Jerusalem is a lot scarier than it used to be. I talked to some people who visit the country more often than us and they agreed. More crime, more crowds, more bad manners, and a lot more security.

I also noticed a lot more influence of people from the former Soviet Union than last time I was here. Russian language TV, some store names in Cyrilic.

In 1997 I was astonished by the number of soldiers wandering around with what I took to be semi-automatic machine guns. This time I also saw a few people in civilian clothes carrying them, and a few more with holstered pistols. (One of my fellow volunteers, an American nurse, was thrilled to pieces that the tractor driver who attacked traffic on the day Obama arrived was shot dead by a civilian. She’s a big fan of Bernie Goetz, if you remember him.)

I also saw a lot of soldiers in what you might call partial uniform. One was dressed in fatigues and carrying a white sequined purse (yes, it was a woman). I could imagine a US marine drill sergeant seeing her and having a coronary on the spot.

Can you define the archaeological experience in one word?

Dirty. Let’s not neglect the obvious: you are digging, scraping, loading, transporting, and generally messing around with dirt. We had to shower, shampoo, repeat, and use conditioner, after every days work. I wore brand new sneakers and one shoe lace broke from the sheer strain of being pulled tight with so much sand in it..

Whenever we heard that a photographer was coming to immortalize our site we stopped digging and spent up to half an hour sweeping away at the walls and surfaces with a brush. This is not silly: people will be studying the photos for years so you want the details to show as clearly as possible.

On the other hand, (surprise!) the photos with people in them were staged. The most attractive young people were sent down again and again to have their picture taken. That was silly. Not that I volunteered to pose, by the way. I loved it when Oded tolk Konni to “look like you’re brushing, but don’t brush.”

By the way, our friend Evelyn urged us to buy some of the new nylon hiking clothes and she was right on the money. They were loose, cool, and wore like iron. Terri and I each wore the same pants for ten days of crawling over, under and through dirt, stones and dust. Thedy didn’t develop a tear or even a stain. Wash them out in the sink, hang ‘em up in the tub and in the morning they are ready to play again.

Kneepads came in very handy too, although I didn't spend a lot of time on my knees, per se. They were great for leaning against rocks and for crawling out of pits.

What is the solution to the question of Israel/Palestine/East Jerusalem/Golan Heights/Subprime Mortgages?

No clue.

Would you do it again?

Terri and I reached the same conclusion independently. We are glad we did it, but we don’t plan to do it again. We can only afford the time and money for a trip like this every few years, and there are other places we want to see, When we retire we may have a rethink.

The experience was great. The people were interesting. The work was very hard but fascinating. I would recommend it to anyone with the archaeology jones.

And most important, did the Ramat Rachel diet work?

You mean eat all you want and do manual labor in the hot sun all day? I lost six pounds. Actually, I think the food/labor balanced out. The difference was that the only dessert the hotel had that I liked was watermelon.

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