Notes from the field

Maia Matheu 6 March 2019

Before joining the Wadi el-Hudi Expedition, my understanding of Egypt was based on fantastical images of large Saharan sand dunes, massive pyramids, camel caravans, and the tombs and treasures of pharaohs. As I made my way to Egypt, these fairy tale images stayed with me and although I was extremely excited to see the Great Pyramids and museum antiquities, I was also filled with nervous anticipation for exploring the streets of modern Egypt. My journey began at 3:00am in Cairo International Airport and I already felt the first few waves of culture shock. Immediately after leaving the airport, I experienced the concept of baksheesh, an expected form of tipping, as two men helped place bags into a car and required pounds in return. On the highway, brightly decorated trucks with trumpeting horns cruised down the lanes as cars took traffic signs as mere suggestions. In the streets, small fires were burning every other block and small groups of men stood or walked around in the early hours of the day. Hours passed, and before I knew it, I was standing before the Great Pyramids. Words, images, stories, and all that I had known before could not compare to the sight of the Pyramids and the Sphinx in real-life. Although breathtaking, it was difficult to completely enjoy the experience as there was a constant barrage of vendors, camel riders, and other merchants demanding your attention – this event became a sort of theme at other monuments and archaeological sites we’ve visited, though it’s a small price to pay in order to enjoy and appreciate how lucky I am to walk within the Temple of Edfu, Phillae Temple, Temple of Seti, and other ancient wonders. My experience is not only limited to these grand areas of history but also includes the fascinating day-to-day of working at Wadi el-Hudi, wandering the streets of Aswan, and learning something new everyday. I learned my name, Maia, phonetically is the same as the Egyptian Arabic word for ‘water’ to my delighted surprise. I’ve been trying to pick up Arabic here and there, although I mix up ‘Yes’ and ‘You’re welcome’ constantly. My friends and I have walked through the park near our dig house and sat staring at the beautiful blue Nile. We’ve wandered for hours through the twisting paths of the sukh to explore the shops, buy presents, and taste the varieties of street food available. We once bought one of every type of pastry in a particular shop to try the assortment they had to offer. However, hiking to the top of the mountains at Wadi el-Hudi with cameras and a total station, wind blowing and sand flying everywhere, in order to sit and gaze out at a wide landscape of rocky hills, far-off sites, and tiny archaeologists working away to preserve these sites has been one of my favorite memories here. Although my time here is quickly coming to a close, I’m forever grateful to experience Egypt in all its forms.

Chris Brito 1 March 2019

I have been in Egypt for about two weeks now and it’s just as different from everywhere else I’ve been as I thought it would be. This is my first time in a developing country and the Egyptians I have met have been kind. The food has definitely reminded me of home and kept me from feeling homesick. The trips we’ve had to different sites in Egypt have been fantastic – Edfu was definitely my favorite so far because the impressive scale of the structures made me feel small. While surveying within Wadi el-Hudi, I was really excited to find a new set of structures that no one had encountered in almost 4000 years. I also discovered a Paleolithic hand axe that was beautiful, but also felt like it could still be used and worked with. You could even see the flake scars from when it was made. There is always a thrill in finding something while surveying, and that hand axe did get me a free shay (tea) from one of the team members. I really hope that we can excavate soon, as I really enjoy excavating. Although I’m not getting to break ground yet, I’ve learned new and different survey methods, including more creative techniques and lateral thinking approaches to solving problems encountered in the field. I hope that I will be able to come back here, to Egypt and to Wadi el-Hudi, to explore more.

Jessica Howe 22 February 2019

I am currently in Egypt as a team member of the Wadi el-Hudi expedition. As I write this it still seems unreal that I am actually here. Since landing in Egypt less than a week and a half ago, this experience has already been an adventure and taught me so much. I have had the opportunity to see countless monuments that I have studied extensively. I’ve gotten to experience a whole new type of driving, one in which the lines on the roads are merely suggestions and you use your horn to communicate a variety of messages. I have also tried many new dishes – my favorite is Kushari, which is a pasta dish made with a variety of different noodles. I really enjoy the texture of all of them mixed together. Furthermore, actually getting to visit Wadi el-Hudi yesterday was amazing. I have read so many articles and seen so many pictures of these sites, but it was truly a once in a lifetime experience to see the little fortress in the desert. Aside from all the food, the monuments, and Wadi el-Hudi, one of the most profound things I gained from being in Egypt is gratitude. Egypt is the first developing country I have ever traveled to, and witnessing the poor living conditions of the majority of the country is jarring. Despite the hardships, the Egyptian people hold grateful attitudes. Our Egyptian team members and the various other Egyptians I have met, outside of work, have never complained about their circumstances. Instead they have only been thankful and extremely hard working. Being here has truly challenged me to strive to keep a more grateful mindset and a good work ethic.

Marmar Zakher 20 February 2019

My first impression of Egypt was that the people were so nice. Shortly after I arrived in Cairo, I went to buy a cellphone. On my way out of the shop, I had tripped over the stairs and immediately everyone from inside the phone store came out to help me. They even refused to let me out until they were sure I was fine. The second thing that struck me was that Cairo was not like how people described it – the Egyptians I had met abroad had always told me that Cairo is a dirty and polluted city, but walking around it, I didn’t really get that impression. Instead, it just felt like a city. The only real difference from other cities that I have visited was that there were more animals. For example, walking alongside the cars were carriages and carts drawn by horses and donkeys. It was only after moving to Aswan that I really got the sense that Egyptian cities were different. For example, unless you are walking near the Nile or tourist locations, all of the signs are only in Arabic, while in Cairo there was always an English translation. As for things I expected, I had always adored Egyptian food, and as expected the food in Egypt was as good, if not better, than I had expected. Another thing that struck me was that many of the buildings throughout Egypt are old and huge. I still remember how my only thoughts when I first saw the pyramids was, “they’re bigger than in photos.” Every time I see any new monument or site, I still think this.

Carly Pope 14 February 2019

I’m thrilled to be back in Egypt for my second season with the Wadi el-Hudi expedition. I landed in Cairo on the 12th, met up with the team, and spent the next two days driving south to Aswan. Along the way, we stopped at Abydos to see some amazing archaeological sites. Although I’ve been to Egypt before, the scale and intricacy of temples like that of Seti I at Abydos still amaze me. Now that we’ve made it to the dig house – the same one we used last time I was here in 2014 – it’s time to get to work! We need to spend a few days unpacking and getting organized, teaching the CSUSB students how the project works, and generally getting settled in before we head out to the sites. This season we’ll be focusing on mapping, so excavation will have to wait. Personally, I love excavating – something about being covered in dirt, sweating buckets, and being eaten alive by sand flies coupled with the incessant note taking and photography excites me. This season, I’ll mostly be helping with the total station mapping of the sites we haven’t visited before, which will be thrilling – I can’t wait to see what’s waiting for us!

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