Jordan (Some)Times

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THE (Occasional) JORDAN (Some)TIMES

Sunday 20 January 2002
Volume 1, Issue 2

- Weather Information for Amman:
Yesterday - High 56F/13C, Low 33F/1C and sunny with bright blue sky
Today - High 52F/11C, Low 34F/1C and sunny with a few clouds
Tomorrow - High 49F/9C, Low 42F/6C and rain

- Circulation
The Jordan (Some)Times is circulated to 150 archaeological types via the MPP ListServe (some of whom are more crusty than others and are approaching artifactual status entirely on their own), 300 faculty and staff and some students at Walla Walla College (some of whom are nice enough to have persuaded me of their interest in archaeology [at least they like Indiana Jones movies]), a large number of family and friends all over the world (some of whom have already assessed the IQ of their relative living in the Middle East today as only slightly above room temperature). We intend to expand circulation by placing the (Some)Times on our website where potential volunteers for the project can access them and all the truthful information they contain and convey. We would then be able to mount a photo or two, as well.

- Perspectives on Jordan from Jordanians:
"In conversations with some people you always learn; in conversations with others you lose something." - Dr. Saleh Naji, generous principal of ATC where the `Umayri excavation is housed, thanking us for being such good people with whom to work and from whom to learn.

"The country is for everyone; religion is for God." - Mr. Issa Nino, founder of Samer Car Rental Company, from whom we all rent cars and buses, reciting a popular saying about religious tolerance in Jordan.

"Ahlan wa-Sahlan!" Welcome! - cited by everyone I meet to invite my friends to come to Jordan. I continue to encounter Jordanians (those originally from Jordan and those from Palestine, those of Islamic faith and those of Christian persuasions, those from professional ranks and those in blue-collar jobs, the reasonably wealthy and the poor and unemployed) who assure me of two things: 1) I and all my friends are always welcome and 2) Jordan is a peaceful place to be and live.

"Stay longer and have more tea." - everyone at ATC, where I visited recently to retrieve maps from our storage room at the college. These included the principal who gave me a small cup of relatively high-octane Arab coffee as well as a cup of tea, and the Business Manager (Abu-Mohammad), the Assistant Dean of Women (Siham I) and the dormitory custodial lady (Siham II) who conspired hospitably to provide a large cup of coffee. Given the fact that I don't drink coffee at home, the buzz I get from a hospitality vortex usually lasts about three days (give or take a week), especially with a couple of solid shots like these. Knock ‘em back and the lights come on. Makes a person wired for 110 feel like someone plugged them into a 220 outlet. And, given the fact that there was so much liquid backing up inside my bladder, I thought to make a quick retreat for a relief station, however difficult to find on the women's side of ATC, where we keep our things stored.

[I should soon have a word from people at the US Embassy here about the security of the country at the present time.]

- Letters to the Editor
Following distribution of the first issue of The Jordan (Some)Times, the editorial staff received a number of letters to the editor, some of which will be reproduced below and all of which have been edited for content and sanctioned by the Censorship Committee (even if some of them maintain their sharp satirical bite):

    "I expect that the first issue was free - but when are we going to be hit with the bill for this subscription? Don't know if I can afford it..." - a tight-fisted cynic.

    "Thanks for including me on your list of recipients of the Jordan (Some) Times. I enjoyed it. How did I know you would opt for the red vehicle, especially since the black one interested you so little that its name remained a mystery. Tonka!!!" - a no-nonsense big Chevy pick-up truck kinda guy.

    "Well, don't add carpo-tunnel syndrome (hot-rodding your Briggs & Stratton super-charged Jeeper) to the other one you appear to be incubating!! Jeepers, Doug ...." - a guy who drives a big Chevy pick-up truck like Jehu, glass pipes cranking out about 10 decibels on a good day.

    "As for a letter to the editor, the article regarding the acquisition of Jeepers was rather lengthy and wordy. Obviously the journalist was biased. I wonder how many further references to said Jeepers will be appearing in subsequent issues? Oh, and perhaps a by-line, with the name of the journalist would be appropriate..." - a disgruntled cynic (could be same as above).

    "Nicole has not yet had a chance to read the newspaper, however, when I told her where you are, she replied with a bitter comment about your having access to all that Mirinda and she'll probably die without ever tasting another one! I, however, have a Bitter Lemon sitting on the pantry shelf just waiting for the right time to be used." - someone Clearly Canadian.

    "Thanks, Doug, for the newsy letter from Jordan! I have printed it so it can be read with expression and laughter to my family! My husband will especially appreciate the car rental story as he travels frequently and thus goes through the same odyssey each time." - a nice person.

    "I am enjoying your news from Jordan. So, how many Doug Clarks are working for The Jordan Times? :)" - someone looking for a position on The Jordan (Some)Times staff.

    "What do you mean by (Some)Times? That it really is SOME times, or that it appears some of the times?" - a some time semantics junkie.

- Archaeological Update:
Jeepers has once again made itself useful by conveying several of us to archaeological sites. A week ago three ACORites pull-started the powerful 1.4-liter Briggs and Stratton engine, setting off a roar in the neighborhood and catapulting us down the road through Swayleh to Salt and then down into the northern Jordan Valley for several stops. The first took us into the maze of plastic-covered hot houses which coat the entire valley like a blanket this time of year to a site called Tall Mazar. It stands 24 meters above the surrounding plain and represents an Iron II to Hellenistic settlement (8th-4th centuries BCE/BC). While from the top of this site one has a panoramic view of the Jordan Valley in all directions, it comes from a later time than the focus of my project. But there is a small two-meter-high tellette (Hillock A) a few hundred meters to the north which contains the remains of a large Iron I (11th-10th centuries BCE - my kind of time period!) building of some kind, likely religious in function. I will return to this site later in the winter to examine more closely what survives of these remains.

We also made it to Pella (Tabaqat Fahl) to visit the recently built visitors center overlooking the extensive excavations here. There is Iron I architecture here which will be important for my studies and the colossal Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BCE) temple foundation which is truly spectacular. Of interest to Diane, also an ACOR fellow, was the Umayyad settlement (ca. 650-750 CE/AD) which had provided the source of a number of steatite (soapstone) vessels she is studying, mostly cooking pots. Of further interest to all of us, Carmen, Diane and me, was returning to ACOR in time for Mohammad's lunch at 2:00 sharp. But we had a choice to make - whether to come back the same way we descended into the valley or, as is our practice, to avoid retracing our steps and return another way and thereby risk arriving back at ACOR late for dinner. We opted to stick to our declared principles of travel and came back by way of Ajlun and Jerash. It was the right thing to do. The Ajlun castle, visible along an extended stretch of steep, narrow roadway clinging desperately to precipitous (sometimes snowy) hillsides, levitated majestically above low clouds which almost entirely obscured it. The cost of this delightful diversion? We arrived back at ACOR, having raced only the last 50 kilometers or so to fulfill a prediction I had made in the valley (that if we chose to follow our principles, we would be 15-20 minutes late), about 17 minutes late for lunch, a crime quickly and painlessly forgiven by our gracious ACOR hosts.

Later in the week, Carmen and I stopped into the office of Dr. Raouf Abujaber, major land owner at Tall al-`Umayri. Given the intersection of archaeological objectives for `Umayri, the potential for land-development at the site and government actions to preserve it for research, these conversations can always be dicey. We had a nice time. He was truly grateful for two enlarged photos we had taken of him and his wife at the Sydney conference last summer and brought for him to frame and mount. He was also clear in cautioning us, in the light of current political realities in the region, to keep doing good archaeology without spending a lot of time trying to make unnecessary biblical connections to Israel. He gave to each of us really nice appointment calendars and promised to meet again soon.

In case you have not done so yet, be sure to check out the photos of the recently reconstructed ceramic shrine model at (click on PHOTOS button, then on the Ceramic Shrine Model hyperlink). While similar shrine models exist from the ancient world, while plenty of human figurines have been found elsewhere (everywhere!), and even while apparently part-female and part-male (hermaphrodite or androgynous) figurines are known, I have not yet found examples of all three elements on one shrine model.

- A Day in the Life of an ACOR Fellow
ACOR is a remarkable study/research center, built specifically for this purpose. An excellent library and research facilities, coupled with spacious areas for socializing and eating and hostel rooms and apartments make the transitions from sleeping to eating to studying to relaxing to studying some more quick and easy. The normal schedule for our work at ACOR is something like this:

  • 7:00 am (or so) - waken and stumble into shower (sometimes referred to as "dry cleaning," since, to save water, the baptismal candidate-by-sprinkling gets wet, turns the water off, soaps up and shampoos, then turns water on to rinse)
  • 8:00 am (or so) - continue trying to waken and stumble into study carrel, library or research lab
  • 2:00 pm (on the dot) - lunch at the generous hands of Mohammad and Said Adawi
  • 3:00 pm (or so) - back to the study carrel, library or research lab
  • 6:00 pm (or so) - maybe some lessons in Arabic, the Oud, the Qanun, a return to the carrel
  • 9:00 pm (or so) - leisurely reading, sampling some of the 100+ new TV stations which we may have for a week or so and may not, depending not on what the company can or cannot do, but, apparently, on acts of God
  • 11:30 pm (or so) - to the sack

The ACOR directors - Pierre and Patricia Bikai and Kurt Zamora - habitually go out of their way to be helpful. Pierre even volunteers to fry eggs for breakfast, in fact did so for a whole delegation of visitors just yesterday. This is a great place to live and study. Random acts of kindness occur all the time, making it a delight. Pierre just stopped into my carrel and asked if I needed anything.

This should allay fears about what COULD happen in the daily life of ACOR fellows. Consider the following scenario:

Since all ACOR fellows are above average, one should expect more than normal output from them. And who better to ensure that ACOR fellows are producing to the max than the directors, Pierre, Patricia and Kurt. Patricia claims she doesn't want to play administrative roles any longer, but COULD there be evidence to the contrary? What if our daily schedule at ACOR were strictly enforced by people who grew up walking five miles [eight kilometers] to and from school every day in waist-deep snow, uphill both ways, and who think that since they had to do it everyone else should have to as well? We COULD be required to adhere to the following regimen:

  • 4:15 am sharp (4:30 on weekends) - rising bell
  • 4:25 am sharp - march in unison to library carrels to begin research for the entire day with only brief and tightly regulated breaks for food systems input and output (breaks based on a merit scheme of observing the rules of absolute library silence, maintaining consistent and constant study habits and not publicly embarrassing someone who drops the newspaper holding sticks which create a lively clatter everyone in the building can hear)
  • 10:00 pm - a light supper for those in complete compliance with all the rules
  • 11:30 pm sharp - lights out with strictly enforced curfew

Some indications which COULD be interpreted in this way to the watchful eye have begun to surface of late. Under the guise of purchasing a sewing machine for various domestic purposes at ACOR, could it be that Patricia really wants to design and sew identical ACOR uniforms for all fellows in order better to maintain a study atmosphere? Rumor also has it that she was instrumental in installing the upgraded satellite "TV" system with over 100 channels. Might this be a ruse to place new remote(as in satellite)-controlled surveillance cameras strategically around ACOR with which to monitor fellows in their library carrels? Probably not, but ....

- The News from ACOR Amman:
Well, it's been a quiet week (or so) in ACOR Amman, my home town. Especially quiet because of a heavy snow storm we had almost two weeks ago. Some will remember the weather predictions in the last issue of The Jordan (Some)Times: snow predicted by the weather service for Monday, 7 January and snow predicted by Pierre Bikai on the 15th. Pierre does a lot of things well, but the 15th of January was clearly a miscall. He defends himself by noting that, as the Greek Orthodox calendar for Christmas (7 January) is off by more than a week from the western calendar for Christmas, his prediction should be understood as based more on the Orthodox calendar than the other. Just do the math.

Snow in Jordan is not the expected norm. After all, when was the last time anyone saw a travel poster with the bold-face message: Ski Jordan! This is the land of the Bible, not Aspen or Purgatory. Western visions of the Middle East seldom include high-speed quads and double-black-diamond runs. Sand-skiing maybe, but not snow.

But there was snow, lots of it - three days and three nights of it, biblically speaking. The first night produced about seven inches at ACOR. The next day produced mixed rain and snow, with some melting apparent here and there. Finally, another two or three inches on the last day. The total likely represented over a foot of snow (= more than an inch of moisture), or nearly a tithe of annual rainfall here. According to published reports in The (Real) Jordan Times, with this storm system Jordan has received so far for the rainy season between 30 and 40% of its average annual rainfall. The major reservoirs in the country are to nearly 40% of capacity. Given the drought conditions over the past several years, this is truly good news.

And, it was beautiful, absolutely magical to watch. Snow falling on landscape scarred by the construction of buildings and roadways covers a multitude of sins. Everything was white - the hillsides already ploughed and planted with winter wheat, the flat-roofed homes and apartment buildings around us, the university campus across the valley, the Cypress and Aleppo Pine trees surrounding ACOR, the insane elevated road beds zig-zagging across the slope to the north outside my carrel window.

But there was something else zig-zagging across the hill outside my carrel window as I watched through the blizzard. Vehicles attempting to maneuver a road coming almost straight down one of the steep hills (of the twenty-some which make up Amman) were providing quite a show. How interesting it is that we can go for months without seeing anything like snow in Jordan, often even years, and then blam! a whole foot of the white stuff accumulating without any sympathy for local drivers who travel on snow about as often as sheep think an intelligent thought, and tend to forget that to stop a vehicle on snow takes the length of a football field if they are traveling at anything more than 10 kilometers per hour and pretty much the entire breadth of the country if they are going faster than 50, especially if down a steep incline. I think it was the small school bus that ended up sideways on the hill, front end against a stone wall, that caused this to settle into my mind, enamored as I was by the beauty of the scene. The kids just got out and walked home, but the bus was there for some time while cars of all descriptions attempted to scale the hill, some vainly sliding back down to the bottom, usually avoiding random people and their property. I decided later to take Jeepers out and test its 4X4 prowess and didn't slip a bit. May have been the 375.5 pounds of luggage I put in the back for ballast that helped.

It was lovely, all in all. Lovely until Pierre thought we should shovel the heavy wet snow off the roof of his fifth-floor apartment. Not really prepared for snow storms, we improvised. Pierre had a squeegee, Said a flat-faced shovel, Abed a rounded spade, Caesar another spade shovel and I a flat-faced shovel. I wore my tennis shoes, which have not been as clean since, and several of the others wrapped their shoes in plastic bread bags. So there we were, the five of us, all on the roof goose-stepping around to keep our feet dry, tossing shovels full of heavy wet snow several stories over the edge and watching them splat onto the sidewalk below.

There is still some snow around, now a week and a half after the storm. OK, it's not everywhere. Only on the north sides of things like buildings and high hills. Still some outside my carrel window. Some on the north side of people too who don't move much. An interesting thing about snow, whether predicted by the weather forecasters or Pierre. It sticks around on north sides.

Well, that's the news from ACOR Amman, where the directors are strong, the office staff is good looking and all the ACOR fellows are above average.

Editor: Doug Clark
Assoc. Editor: Doug Clark
Managing Editor: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Chair: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Other Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Desktop Publishing: Doug Clark
Quality Control: Doug Clark
Proofreading: Doug Clark
Distribution: Doug Clark
Data Entry: Doug Clark
Marketing: Doug Clark
Censorship: Doug Clark

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