It was sunny today and my workmen* were making me laugh and laugh and laugh. I was trying to learn the Arabic word for shadow–something that’s incredibly hard to mime/ask. I have to ask for shadow a lot. The desert sun throws features into incredible relief, leaving the bottoms of pits into deep shadow. To photograph these features we have to shade the entire pit, requiring a huddle of bodies with the cameraperson in the middle.
The proximity that a seamless shadow requires makes my workmen incredibly uncomfortable. My workmen are Muslims from Sudan and though I’m a white non-Muslim woman (and therefore supposed to be treated like a man) and we laugh and joke all day, taking the photograph has become a ritual that must be observed. We huddle together in a contorted mass, I frame the shot in close, our shadows coalesce around the small pit, shoot, then we break apart into our individual pieces again.
I was thinking of this as I moved in to take my very first photograph of a hedgehog. It is the first (live) hedgehog that I’ve ever seen, a fact that is astonishing to the English. I think I’ll show the photograph to my workmen tomorrow and learn what hedgehog is in Arabic.
*I call them “my workmen” with a full understanding of the colonialist possessive intonation. A lot of people treat the workmen as interchangeable hands, but I try to teach them as I’d teach students.
Lately I’ve been finding myself in the incredible position of writing about sharing without sharing, writing about blogging without blogging, writing about photography without taking photographs, owing writing to people and being owed writing, and being surrounded by profoundly bored people without having the luxury/curse of boredom. You’d think it would all balance out, but sometimes it feels like I’m chasing my own tail.
And that’s without the wind.
The wind has several flavors in Qatar, but it’s nearly without pause, and in the calm, blessed moments, there are hoards of flies. The best is to hope for a small respite, enough to ruffle the paper on your clipboard, but not enough to snap your measuring tape–something that happened twice to our team last week. My measuring tape didn’t snap, but it did rip one of my grid pegs out of the ground.
Happily my archaeology has been good lately–I am not allowed to discuss details, but the sequence of my features and architecture has been making sense and what we call natural, which just means stratigraphy beneath the human occupation layers, is showing up in several places. Getting through to the bright whitish-yellow shelly sand is a relief, especially as we only have a couple more weeks to dig before we start shutting things down for the year. Funny ol’ job, methodically recording and removing the traces of other humans.
It also helps that I’m working with really good people, but I think we’re all getting a bit sick of each other.
And the wind. The wind.
That’s my conclusion after checking out My Cartoon Version of Reality, Conor McHale’s brilliant blog. He had a lovely series on the Meeting House Square Excavations, showing some behind-the-scenes sketches, such as this view from the window of a digger (American archaeologists, read backhoe):
If his sketches are this good, I’d love to see his context plans!