So I’m trying to learn more Arabic, as my discussions with Fuad attest. I’ve also gone to ArabicPod.net to get some podcasts. Those two guys are good at teaching things at different levels, so if you want good Arabic lessons, go there. They are teaching Modern Standard Arabic, but are very good about throwing in colloquial words as well, which is what I want most. I’m still appalled by the state of my Arabic, though, since I don’t practice enough. I’m not practicing because I fear I am no good, yet I’m no good because I’m not practicing. I tell workers where to dig, how deep, and with what tools, but I don’t really hold conversations.
Our students are now arriving in Aleppo each day, varying around our start date. Some grad students have been there for a few days, anticipating the undergrad field school students and getting ready to meet them at the airport. It’s always nice to have someone with some experience of Syria to meet you when you fly in. There will be three different loads of students on different flights. They had to arrange their own and I think the last actually flies in early morning the day after we were technically supposed to start. That means we can’t really start digging even on that day since they will need at least a little time to adjust. So our schedule will already be moved a bit.
Cell phones are a great addition to our project. Imagine the days when we couldn’t communicate that directly, which was only a few years ago. Now we contact our grad students in Aleppo and have some of them come out to help prepare the site, leaving two as liaison for the undergrads. The service load of grads arrives and we continue opening up. Installation of our new appliances is mostly complete and our compound is beginning to look like a dig house should.
Service loads of students begin pouring in. A service (pronounced serveese) is not an abstract service, but a solid van that takes people to and fro. Normally it stops for anyone and everyone for a few pounds, but we hire the whole thing to go from point A to point B. More expensive, but more direct. And the services aren’t exactly pouring in, but they are arriving one a day. We thus begin to meet our undergrads and introduce them to a bit of the horror that awaits them. OK, it’s not really so horrible; it’s gotten so much better in recent years that it’s hard to impress that on the youngsters since they have no real point of reference. But we do have some second years here who remember the dig house sans washing machine and sans sit-down toilet. Then there are grads who have been here several seasons and old hands like myself who have been here off and on for 14 or more years.
We establish houses, and that’s been a bit of a struggle over the past few days. Raqqa had been arranging for us to use the schoolhouse as student housing, but the paperwork was taking a long time and when it finally came in, we saw what they were doing. This was a scheme to keep Raqqa in the loop. They said it would cost us nothing but we would need a paper from the Ministry of Education. But when it came back, it stated clearly that the man who would have been our representative from Raqqa before Damascus stepped in and assigned us a new rep must be here if we were to be able to use the schoolhouse (which would also mean we would have to house, feed, and pay this Raqqa man). We said that was unacceptable and sent him and his letter packing. Thus, we had to scramble about the village renting houses for our incoming students. This is relatively normal, since we have always rented houses in the past, but it does keep us a bit scattered about. My house has been as much as 300 meters away from our central compound in the past.
Students grab their sphungat (mattresses) and sheets (we’ve been washing the stored sheets for the past few days now) and head to their respective assigned rooms. Michael and I spent at least a day inspecting houses and making agreements, but it all seems to be worked out now. The only issue is where to put the cooks, Fuad, and the Damascus rep (Ra’ad, an old college friend of Fuad’s).