I’ve been in Erbil for a week now and my general impressions are that it’s a cheery sort of hot squalid city with friendly people, appalling works of public art and a pervading smell of eggs (I suspect that most of the taxis run on some kind of sulphurous biogas). So far I’ve been to four dinner parties and one lecture, got lost twice and been in a car crash. I sustained no serious injury in the latter except getting diet coke in my eye, which was surprisingly unpleasant.
Work on site is slow but steadily improving in standard; yesterday we cracked the difference between centimetres and inches on the measuring tapes. The achievements of the last season, of which I was thankfully not a witness, hang over us like a health and safety officer’s darkest nightmare, consisting of unmarked precipices and vast chasms bridged with planks of wood. My aims for the season are to improve the standard of recording on site, to draw the elevation of the enormous Ottoman city wall and not to break my neck. I find I have been classified by the powers that be on site as a ‘consultant’, which I resent enormously as I feel it implies that I’m doing very little for a huge amount of money when in fact the opposite is true.
If the site doesn’t kill me I fear the social scene might. I’m renting a room in a house with other foreigners and so far we’ve had three large dinner parties with a further one planned for Saturday night. I’m developing excellent upper body strength through carrying boxes of Jacob’s Creek back from the wine shop every night. We also get invited out. Last night two of us went to the American security compound at the invitation of a member of the consular staff who has an interest in archaeology. He treated us to hamburgers and cheesecake at one of the compound restaurants and then took us back to his house where we drank a large amount of whiskey and admired his body armour. On the way back to the gates I sustained moderate injuries to my left arm by drunkenly climbing a wall to steal pears. In hindsight I was probably lucky not to get shot – as it happens, the wall concealed a large amount of satellite communications equipment and several armed guards. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more opportunities to get myself arrested.