‘Rollin’ down the street with my homies sippin’ on gin and juice. Laid back.’
In all truthfulness, Fakhri probably isn’t rollin’ around drinking gin with his homies since most of the villagers are devout Muslims and don’t drink alcohol, but hey, it’s a fitting caption for one of my favorite photos. This one always brings a smile to my face. Hopefully you recognize my buddy Faiz from an earlier post sitting on the back of the donkey. Many of the local villagers owned donkeys which are a pretty easy way to get around on dirt roads and less expensive than a car. This particular day, one of the donkeys had gotten loose so a bunch of villagers had to run around to catch him. It was hilarious.
Of all the guys we worked with in our Shabab, I’d say Fakhri was the most chill and relaxed. He was really nice and helpful too. Don’t get me wrong, he was also fun and would enjoy cell phone Shakira just as much as the rest of us but his overall demeanor was usually pretty calm. You need that one guy in the group who doesn’t get overly anxious or excited and gives you a raised eyebrow when you run around yelling at how cool the newly uncovered mace head is. Fakhri would just look at me, shake his head, smile, and get back to troweling.
Fakhri is awesome – he was probably the best excavator we had in our square. His attention to detail was fantastic and he would find even the smallest artifacts. And let me tell you, that’s not always so easy when a lot of ancient stuff is constructed from mud. Sometimes it’s hard to find things made out of dirt buried in dirt. It’s like eating cookie dough ice cream – those chunks of cookie dough blend right into the vanilla and they’re hard to excavate out, thank god for the visibility of chocolate chips. Anyway, articulating mud bricks made of out the same dirt they’re buried in is tough but Fakhri was good at it! That’s a big part of archaeology – digging up dirt in dirt. And of course keeping your dirt clean, but that’s a whole other issue. Every time I’d think it was safe to go back to my own square I’d hear Fakhri call my name and he’d have something new to show me. Rasha and I made A LOT of labels for artifact bags that summer.
One day a bunch of baby turkeys got stuck in our trench. (Dammit Turkey Tom! Control your kids!) Fakhri and Khaled had to chase all the little babies out and basically they just ran around in circles avoiding capture. For some reason they wouldn’t leave the trench and would dart and dive in different directions under and around the guys’ feet. Luckily Fakhri and Khaled were fast enough to catch the tiny turkeys and gently release them out of the trench back to their parents, who were standing by laughing. It’s really not fun excavating a pavement made of ancient pot sherds covered in bird shit. I knew Turkey Tom would get his revenge one day for me wanting to eat him.
Two memories stand out in my mind about Fakhri the most, other than being so good at finding things and so chill. His house was the closest to our trench so it was him and his family that often made the afternoon tea break, well 11am but that’s afternoon when your day starts at 4am. His wife would come over and bring us all fresh tea and his children were some of the ones who would come visit with us. They were adorable! As you all have seen in my previous posts. It’s nice to get to know our workers, but it’s even better when we get to meet their families as well and see what their lives are like on a day to day basis.
The other strong memory I have is Fakhri’s hospitality. One day at the site a huge Khamsin (dust storm) came along in the middle of our work day. It was so bad we couldn’t see anything and all of our equipment and artifacts were blowing away. We gathered up our stuff and ran to Fakhri’s house. He invited us all in to hide out until the storm passed. It was great. We sat around in his living room huddled on the floor, at least 20 of us, watching TV. He had a million channels! We flipped through his satellite stations and argued over what to watch. At one point we all agreed on Looney Tunes. That day I learned that cartoons are universal. Everyone in all countries and speaking various languages loves Bugs Bunny and his friends. We laughed together as Wyle E. Coyote chased the Roadrunner and got himself blown up by his ACME TNT. Eventually the dust storm passed and we had to go back to work which wasn’t as much fun. I would have rather stayed in Fakhri’s house bonding over various TV shows, sports games, and cartoons. One thing that I love about many places in the world is the universal joy of TV. Fakhri may not have had indoor plumbing, the outhouse was a few feet away beyond the garden outside, but of course he had an expansive satellite channel line-up.
I hope Fakhri and his family are still doing well in their little house at the top of the tell next to the 5,000 year old administrative buildings. Their village has been around a long time and despite the ups and downs, rises of complexity and urbanism and declines, it remains. A prime example of the waxing and waning of culture and the ‘footprints’ mankind is leaving on this earth. I imagine today, 5 years later, Fakhri is keeping his calm and even tempered demeanor dealing with the pains of raising what must now be teenagers. Godspeed Fakhri. Godspeed.