The Expert Tour

Rajaf, Beidha and Petra, Jordan

Wow. These past two days have been incredible. You can see the best of my pictures here (and more will be coming).

I won’t go into detail here, as the pictures are captioned with just some of the neat new things I learned about Petra, the Nabateans, and the various kingdoms and dynasties that followed them. We’ve been travelling around the south of Jordan with our program coordinator, Chris Tuttle, who is just finishing his dissertation on the Nabateans of Petra. But dissertating doesn’t pay well, so he’s also been coordinating our summer program as part of his job at the American Center for Oriental Research. When he’s not shepherding around Arabic students (which is only part of his summer workload), he’s hard at work helping archaeologists from all over the world come to Jordan and do exciting new projects. He also occasionally escorts media people, like BBC reporters, and the occasional celebrity, like FLOTUS Laura Bush.

This is, of course, not as easy as it sounds. There’s a lot of bureaucracy and red tape, a lot of people who don’t demonstrate much understanding of the archaeological, historical and cultural worth of many dig proposals, and the economic and logistical obstacles that plague any endeavor in Jordan. And then there are the treasure hunters and the tourists. The more Petra and its surrounds are opened up, the better known and more valuable they become. Since Petra was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World about a year ago, tourism has leapt up 68%. This is great for the Jordanian economy, but it means that the archaeological information enshrined in the rocks and soil of Petra will be erased at a far faster rate. When I suggested to Chris that the Lonely Planet tour guide’s entry on Petra needed to be updated, and maybe I should rewrite it with his help and split the proceeds with him, he said, “Great! Write, ‘Don’t bother. Not worth the trip.'” On the other hand, he’ll also be the first to admit that more tourism makes it easier to get the grants to do the archaeology!

Actually, it’s economics as much as archaeology that motivates Chris Tuttle, and this is perhaps one of the most amazing things about this trip for me, more than the sheer glut of information we got about dead people.

You’ll see a picture in my album captioned “Chris Tuttle knows every Bedu in Petra.” This is not much of an exaggeration. Chris has been in Petra every summer for eight years, and more frequently since taking the job at ACOR in Amman. While many archaeologists come and learn to say please and thank you to a few faces they recognize and go home, Chris has made a real effort to get to know the community. He seems to know everyone by name. Though he claims to speak virtually no Arabic, he speaks more than many Peace Corps Volunteers I knew spoke after two years in the village. And last night, while our group was having dinner with some local Bedu after our tour of Beidha (Little Petra), Chris told me that one of his primary motivations behind opening Beidha to excavations was to give some source of income to the families that lived in and around Beidha, whom he had befriended in his time in the area.

A Few Updates

In fact, Chris Tuttle knows the people I was hoping to see in Petra, both of whom were extraordinarily helpful when I came to Petra with Auntie Viv, and with my parents. Unfortunately, I didn’t see Shaher (I think that was his name), who served Auntie Viv and I tea in his brother’s shop when we were very cold, and gave us the best advice for seeing the sunset in Petra.

I did go back to Jeff’s Bookshop, where Auntie Viv and I bought our cookbooks, and where I arranged cars for she and I as well as my parents and I to take us back to Amman by the scenic route. When Auntie Viv and I were arranging our car and commenting on how amazing the shopkeeper’s English, German, Spanish and Japanese were, we learned that one of his brothers, Jeff, for whom the shop was named, was in Denver, Colorado, getting brain surgery for a malignant tumor. I asked about Jeff at the shop this time around, and got more details from Chris Tuttle. The operation was temporarily successful, and Jeff came back looking hale and on the way to recovery (I saw the pictures myself!), but after about 6 months he suddenly declined and passed away. Allah yarHamuhu.

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