Tag Archives: kurdistan

Pillaging

The pig freezer

The pig freezer

I had bacon for breakfast this morning. Bacon and freshly ground Starbucks coffee. This surprising bounty came as the harvest of my new found favourite hobby; looting. My housemate and I were invited to come looting by friends who work at the airport. A foreign contractor had evacuated its staff during the incident (like Voldemort, people here don’t refer to IS’s August advance on Erbil directly, mostly so they don’t have to classify it with words that might make people unhappy, such as crisis, near-invasion, when most of my friends left me or the time I realised I wasn’t one of the people with an automatic seat on the last plane). They’d left at very short notice and under some stress and although the company had promised to ship them some of their possessions there was a strict upper weight limit. This left eighteen flats full of expat stuff, much of which could be given to Erbil’s many refugees, but much of which could not; specifically larger electrical items, frozen foodstuffs and alcohol. My housemate’s house was pretty empty, now the two of us have three tvs and four fridges. Being only a temporary inmate, I concentrated my efforts on the consumables, by which I mean meat, the sauces that go with meat, and booze.

I think this is doable in the next five weeks, right?

I think this is doable in the next five weeks, right?

The abandoned freezers produced an astonishing range of world foods, much of it in the form of huge quantities of lovingly curated pork, including tenderloin, gammon steaks, all manner of bacon, ham, sausages, and some kind of so far unidentified Icelandic flat-pack orange-coloured pork chops. There was also Californian fish, Honduran prawns, American hamburgers and steaks and steaks and steaks. And chips and Branston pickle. I also snaffled around 200 abandoned dvds, including at least six copies of Badboys II. Surprisingly none of them have so far turned out to be porn. The alcohol situation is frightening in its possibilities; in the corner of my room, where Kurdish visitors can’t see it, there is a tower of booze. I have four cases of beer (plus assorted others), two litres of rum, three bottles of bourbon, gin, whiskey, wine, Bacardi breezers and a bottle of saki. We are the most infidel infidel’s house in Erbil. If IS come for us I reckon we could drink ourselves to death before they break through our barricade of pork-filled freezers. I also feel I have gained experience which will prove useful after the apocalypse when the survivors will have to live by scavenging from the ruins of our decadent consumer world.

stairway to the underworld, or at least a hefty insurance claim

stairway to the underworld, or at least a hefty insurance claim

On site, things continue to be both dangerous and depressing. Due to lack of funds we’ve gone down to just two workmen to shift the spoil. We haven’t sacked anyone, they’ve agreed to all go down to one day per week on a rota meaning every day I have to explain what needs doing all over again. In the deepest part of the excavation, which I now need to record, we’ve come to the limits of all our sensible ladders. The workmen have instead produced an abomination in ladder form, probably made by one of their children as a school woodwork project, which is long enough but so clearly potentially lethal I’m surprised the teacher let him take it home. It’s full of knots and cracks, creeks ominously while in use and has the fresh sappy smell of utterly unseasoned wood. I’ve banned the heaviest Kurdish trainee from using it, partially because I’m afraid he’ll break it but also because he is the very last person I want to fall on me.

Keeping calm in Erbil

More or less my first archaeological action this season was the satisfying destruction of a nice big wall

More or less my first archaeological action this season was the satisfying destruction of a nice big wall

My first week back in Erbil has been unexpectedly like most other weeks I’ve spent in this part of the world – I’ve had many uncomfortable conversations with taxi drivers, several unpleasant interactions with animals and I’ve eaten five times the amount of bread I’d want to eat in an ideal world. The main difference is that I’ve badly strained the muscles in my face which make the appropriate expression for when someone tells you something really terrible. I usually only get to use these a couple of times a year; when friends suffer a bereavement, and at Christmas and Weddings. Now these muscles are getting a full daily workout. Kurdistan has had quite a scare and a lot of people are suffering but most seem keen to make the best of it and keep looking forward. On Thursday night I went to the German bar where the live music was against a background of ‘Keep Calm’ messages including ‘Keep calm and stay in Erbil’ and ‘Keep calm and trust the Peshmerga’, which I’d like on a T-shirt if possible.

The pant-wetting chasm outside the city wall, into which one of us will surely fall to our deaths if we be not first buried alive

The pant-wetting chasm outside the city wall, into which one of us will surely fall to our deaths if we be not first buried alive

On the excavation things have got off to a bumpy start. In my absence the strategy appears to have been to locate the deepest part of the excavations head down with a sense of urgency. Even by my low standards of health and safety the site is now a massive screaming death trap and if we all make it out alive I’ll never write sarcastic comments on risk assessments again. I’ve been recapping some of last year’s work with the local archaeologists, such as why we sometimes write things down and which side of the tape is in metres. I’m sure it will all come back to them.

This time I’m staying with a lovely lady and her lovely dog. It’s all been lovely so far except my second evening in the house when the Bichon Frisé in question spent half an hour in a concerted effort to have violent sexual intercourse with my forearm. This was accompanied by a background refrain of ‘He’s not usually like this!’ Thankfully things have cooled off and we have since developed an attitude of mutual respect for each other’s bodily parts.

Should have left him there, the little...

Should have left him there, the little…

The other major animal related incident was my heroic rescuing of a kitten stuck on a drain pipe on the exterior of a tall building. I was handsomely rewarded by being scratched and pissed on. It could have been worse in the lottery of cat emissions, as my housemate sagely pointed out.

The fighting season

I’m supposed to fly to Erbil in nine days’ time to continue excavating on the citadel which, all things considered, could have worked out better. The Foreign and Commonwealth office, as of yesterday, advises against all travel to most of Iraqi Kurdistan and the UK government has asked all British citizens to leave Erbil. That’s if I can get there at all seeing as most of the airlines that fly to Erbil are cancelling flights today. I now have to seriously consider the choice between bailing on the excavation, losing my airfare, two and a half months of pay and a certain amount of archaeological street-cred (trench-cred surely?) – we archaeologists traditionally laugh in the face of petty local deadly religious wars (see previous posts concerning Leonard Woolley) – or I could ignore the wise council of Her Majesty’s government and go out to Erbil to be butchered by angry jihadists. It’s all very difficult, on the one hand I really need the money, but on the other hand I don’t want to die and I do want to see the new series of Doctor Who. Seriously, I don’t know what to do.

The new Doctor Who says fuck the fuck off you dickless ISIS  c**ts

The new Doctor Who says fuck the fuck off you dickless ISIS c**ts

 

[On an unprecedentedly serious note, watching a region I’ve come to like very much (in spite of its lunatic minority and poorly justified policy towards bacon) disintegrate into murderous chaos has been exceptionally painful. I’ve been deeply angry and frustrated over the short-sighted inaction of the international community over both the state of Israel’s murder of almost 2000 mostly innocent civilians in Gaza and the unchecked barbarity of ISIS/ISIL/IS in Iraq and Syria, all in the name of supposed just and merciful gods. Other than shouting at the television, my only response has been to give money to the Red Cross for Gaza and to the National Secular Society as mankind’s only long term hope.]

It’s been a bad summer, mostly spent on my parent’s sofa watching the World Cup, Wimbledon, the Tour de France, the cricket, the Commonwealth Games and the Horrible Wars. As well as making this my most physically inactive summer ever, it’s been extremely disappointing; I wanted England to win the World Cup (I know) and the cricket, Roger Federer to win Wimbledon, Chris Froome to win the Tour de France, the Palestinians to win in Gaza, the government to win in Ukraine and anyone but ISIS to win in Iraq. At least we did pretty well in the Commonwealth Games.

Drunk in a pub in Abingdon I experience considerable, if somewhat questionable, pleasure

Drunk in a pub in Abingdon I experience considerable, if somewhat questionable, pleasure

I haven’t been doing much archaeology; I wrote a paper, did some reconstruction illustrations and a very boring desk based assessment for a site in Croydon. I read a vaguely archaeological book this week, written in the 1950s by a journalist travelling through the Middle East; ‘Flying to 3000 BC’ by Pierre Jeannerat. My heart sank during the introduction which was nauseatingly floral (‘The Great Pyramid is no mere bulk of freestone; it is also made of poetry’) but this soon settled down into more readable anecdotes about runaway donkeys and climbing pyramids in eveningwear after dinner parties. The coverage of the archaeology is rudimentary but it’s worth the read because Jeannerat meets some of the more famous archaeologists of the day. He gets shown around Nimrud by Max Mallowan and has lunch with Agatha Christie. He gets shouted at by Kathleen Kenyon from the bottom of her trench at Jericho. Disappointingly, Iraq is more or less skipped in favour of an extended dream sequence which involves Jeannerat reading a book from the distant future in which the world is wisely ruled over by elephants who are struggling to make sense of the archaeological remains of the barbarous human civilisation which preceded them. Going into details of the socio-religious structure of the future elephantine world and biographical details of the elephant author, professor Dermpacky, this sequence consumes around a fifth of the book and is mind-bogglingly pointless.

I find your lack of bacon disturbing

I find your lack of bacon disturbing

Outside archaeology I have amused myself by going to beer festivals and trying to adapt my sleep patterns so that my waking hours overlap as little as possible with those of my parents. My greatest triumph was going to my sister’s boyfriend’s Starwars/Game of Thrones themed birthday party as a Jedi direwolf.

Abandoning ship

up-cycled hanging baskets in a Suleimaniyah cafe

up-cycled hanging baskets in a Suleimaniyah cafe

I’ve been off the radar for a while, in a fairly literal way in fact. But first things first; the end of the Iraqi dig in Kurdistan. It all ended with an uncomfortable amount of paperwork for me as we’d found such a lot of stuff at my site – a valuable reminder to try to find less in the future, or at least to destroy a decent amount of it before anyone sees and makes me give it a number. My relentless toil was interrupted by occasionally scowling at people who were relaxing and having a nice time, and by the house being nearly hit by lightning. The latter was a good source of entertainment(/profound mortal terror). It occurred just as we were finishing lunch, announced by a pant-wetting bang and an explosion of fire and dust, before subsiding into normal general fire. We went to the equipment shed, grabbed some shovels and attempted to help our Kurdish neighbours beat the flames out. This achieved little except minor damage to my sandal-wearing colleagues (I deplore sandals as impractical and unattractive footwear and take great pleasure in observing the many varied ways in which their wearers come to harm) and the brush fire more or less put itself out. The Halabjah fire brigade arrived about fifteen minutes later and were extremely confused to find half a dozen sooty, shovel wielding foreigners (some of whom had burnt their feet) and no fire.

Our work here is done, or at least the fire brigade have told us we can go away now

Our work here is done, or at least the fire brigade have told us we can go away now

After a couple of days in Suleimaniyah drinking, smoking and eating an awful lot of ice cream I flew home for a few days, went to Alton Towers to unblock my channels, repacked and headed to charming Swansea (I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Swansea, I think you probably need to go there to understand the resulting cultural whiplash after more or less five months in Iraq. But then I wouldn’t go unless you really had to. Maybe the same goes for Iraq). I then spent two weeks sailing as a watch leader on a tall ship around the Irish Sea, stopping for extended stout-drinking sessions in Dublin, Peel (catching the end of the TT races), Belfast and Peel again. In Belfast we were moored by the Titanic slipway, next to the big studio where they’re filming Game of Thrones, while Ridley Scott had closed the nearby Titanic Experience to film something or other on the escalators, so there was plenty to watch.

The shape of things in Dublin

The shape of things in Dublin

Sitting on the bits after flaking the fore-upper-tops'l halyard

Sitting on the bits after flaking the fore-upper-tops’l halyard

We ended up in Liverpool, causing several thousand pounds worth of damage by demolishing the signal lights while crashing into the Albert Dock lock (I had a front row seat for this as I stood by with the bow mooring lines). Many things happened over the next few days in Liverpool, ending up with clubbing in Matthew Street, which was an interesting anthropological experience. Worse things happen at sea they say, though I’m yet to be convinced. In Liverpool I also found that everything in Iraq had gone very shooty while I’d been gone; I mean, it’d only been away a couple of weeks. It’s a bit disconcerting to discover one’s general place of work is mostly on fire.

Liverpool Canning Dock. View from the foremast cross-trees

Liverpool Canning Dock. View from the foremast cross-trees

Road kill

Final photography: L promises that she will catch me if I fall off the photography ladder from on top of the 2.5m section

Final photography: L promises that she will catch me if I fall off the photography ladder balanced on top of the 2.5m section

After two days of solid plan drawing, intersected by a rather drunken party, I’m now held together by only my dwindling supply of acceptable instant coffee. My trenches have turned out to be really pretty nice in the end, featuring architecture you can walk through and use as planning tables. It’s always good in archaeology when something looks like what it is. The best looking feature is a pebble paved roadway running most of the length of the trench. My initial enthusiasm for the road has waned somewhat over the last few days due to a number of factors. Firstly, in defiance of Health and Safety directives, L and I abandoned our shoes a few weeks ago after the archaeology became a precious flower not to be trampled, and a pavement of sharp little stones, as it turns out, is not a friend to those who dig in their socks. The second source of my resentment towards the road is its concealment of a dead baby until the second to last day of excavation. The last thing I need when I’m running out of time is an infant smeared over a cobbled surface; it took half a day to get it cleaned and recorded and shoveled into a bucket.

Baby digging in my christmas socks

Baby digging in my christmas socks

The final nail was naturally the back-breaking planning of hundreds of tiny stones. This was made more than usually challenging by the visual distortions produced by sleep deprivation causing the pebbles to sporadically dance about like excited puppies or engage in cellular mitosis. My ruler has also become suspiciously bendy and is occasionally numbered non-sequentially. All in all, I find great pleasure in the idea of taking a very large pick to the road next year. In the meantime L and I found some small satisfaction in smashing up a six thousand year old kiln, which I think might be the oldest standing structure I’ve so far destroyed.

During the week some excitement was caused by one of our drivers doing away with some more wildlife. He was sitting on the decrepit sofa outside the front door (much favoured by the goats) when he was bitten on the hand by a large black snake. He did what any sensible person would do and shot it with his revolver (which none of us knew he carried) and then proceeded to pummel it into the seat with the butt of the gun. He received minor first aid from N for the snake bite and a strong rebuke from Mohammed the cook for what he’d done to the sofa.

Shot snake

Shot snake

Poison

The Halabjah genocide: a true thing of horror

The Halabjah genocide: a true object of horror

On Thursday night I stayed up late and drank quite a lot of gin – L’s brothers had resupplied us with tonic water from Erbil in return for being allowed to sleep on the roof. On Friday morning, wearing my darkest sunglasses, we went to Halabjah to see the genocide memorial museum. This is my third season at this site and up until now Halabjah has figured only as a distant twinkling of lights on the hillside and as the nearest place from which it is possible to purchase (slightly over-priced) beer. The world knows Halabjah for other reasons; the worst ever chemical weapons attack directed against civilians was conducted here in 1988 by Saddam Hussein’s government. Up to 5,000 people died from a combination of mustard gas and nerve agents. After the town was retaken, the Iraqi army razed Halabjah to the ground with bulldozers and explosives.

Dead sheep diorama

Dead sheep diorama

The genocide memorial is an exceptionally ugly monument to an exceptionally ugly crime. Due to the destruction of the town, very few physical objects remain for the museum which is instead filled with the highly graphic photos taken by Iranian and international journalists in the days after the attack. Some of these are reconstructed in manikin dioramas, which are harrowing on several levels. People just dropped dead where they were, the animals died in the fields and birds fell dead from the sky. Many of the photographs showed children. Those with large families found it hardest to get out; they died together in heaps. When they hanged Saddam Hussein they sent a piece of the rope to Halabjah.

Some of the chemical shells dropped by the Iraqi airforce with a truck which was found full of bodies

Some of the chemical shells dropped by the Iraqi airforce with a truck which was found full of bodies

 

Lentil soup at the bottom of my trench

Lentil soup at the bottom of my trench

The week on site has been characterised by lentils. I’ve been digging out the first decent room fill we’ve found here; a good burnt one which all the specialists are disgustingly interested in, and the deeper I go the more lentily it gets. I’ve now reached a seam of almost pure, unadulterated lentils about a foot below the tops of the walls. In some ways it’s odd because there’s a similar lentil plague going on back at the house where we’ve now had lentil soup for lunch for six of the last seven days. This is beginning to seriously upset several team members’ state of mind, not to mention the state of the toilets. I began to wonder today whether I might have fallen into some sort of lentil-induced delirium and was self-generating lentils with the power of thought. Whether these are true lentils or just lentils of the mind, only the floatation residue results can tell. My current running hypothesis for this building is that someone burned down a Late Chalcolithic lentil soup shop; an act with which I entirely sympathise.

The sinister beings living in the house drains have finally been identified as Mole Crickets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwu3CDmFg00

Welcome and unwelcome mice

We drag ourselves up the tell for a sunset can of beer

We drag ourselves up the tell for a sunset can of beer

I was awoken at five o’clock this morning by the merry sound of a mouse attempting to eat my mattress. Finding ourselves in a moment of mutual surprise, he proved the more fully conscious and vaulted my enormous pile of general mess to escape under the door of The Dungeon (this has a clearance at the bottom of several inches, presumably for the delivery of plates of porridge to inmates as well as to facilitate the passage of vermin). The remaining twenty minutes before my alarm went off were wasted in the detection of imaginary scratching noises in all corners of the room.

Sleepy pocket mouse

Sleepy pocket mouse

Work on site has been held up by several delays, chief among which is our entanglement with a two and a half metre long oven just below the plough zone, probably dating to the Uruk (4th Millennium BC). It’s turning out to be horribly deep and difficult, and today it spat out a complete bovine mandible in a final act of defiance. I sincerely cannot wait to smash it up with a hammer when this is all over. A more welcome and less time-consuming delay occurred at the end of last week involving mice. In a reversal of this morning’s incident, I rudely awoke a family of dormouse-like objects asleep in their own home by having one of my workmen cut a section through it, liberally distributing sleepy baby mice over trench G. Suppressing the workmen’s natural instinct to beat wildlife with shovels, L and I scooped up as many as we could find and put them in our pockets and then stored them in my hat for the rest of the day. Unsure of their future, we speculated about taking a couple back to the dig house to keep as pets (perhaps they could be trained to sort floatation heavy residue with their little hands?) but in the end we put them back in the hole in the section and the next day they were gone (optimistically retrieved by their mother, or less optimistically by a crow/cat/dog). I found that one of them had pissed in my hat.

Last week's baby mice: much preferable to this week's baby snakes

Last week’s baby mice: much preferable to this week’s baby snakes

In other news we had a fairly brown-trouser-inducing thunderstorm, which we spent sitting on the patio drinking beer. Yesterday we went to Sulaimanyah for residency cards and essential shopping. We bought beer, tonic water for all the gin and a shisha pipe to smoke at the house. I bought ten cans of diet coke and a bar of soap. Everyone was very happy.

We anger the gods with our heathen ways and constant complaining about the state of the shower

We anger the gods with our idolatrous hording of pottery and constant complaining about the state of the shower

In the dungeon

The view from the dungeon

Captivity: the view from the dungeon

I’m back in Iraq after an all too brief reunion with pork pies and proper tea. In the last two weeks at home I had three very unpleasant trips to the gym, made some money selling paintings and lost considerably more money gambling at Newbury races. I threw away a lot of broken clothes.

Corpse carpet: what did your last site supervisor die of?

Corpse carpet: what did your last site supervisor die of?

Conditions on this project are grim. I’m sleeping on the concrete floor of a half built house in a Kurdish village near Halabjah. My room, which I share with two other women, has a steel door and a single tiny window just below ceiling height adorned with heavy iron bars. The concrete floor appears to suck up ground water and redeposit it to the interior, meaning that any item left on the floor (such as our clothes and mattresses) are rendered damp and clammy within an hour or so. The light does not work. I keep waking up thinking I’m being held hostage in someone’s basement. This impression is not helped by the feeble foam mattress making me feel like I’ve been the victim of a severe beating, and the rolled up carpet laid outside the door which looks uncannily like it contains a corpse. It’s almost exactly how I imagine a particularly brutal Iraqi women’s prison.

The post-apocalyptic living conditions are somewhat compensated for by Kurdistan in springtime which is truly lovely, with snow still on the mountain tops and all the foothills covered with wild flowers. Everything is bursting with life – the turkeys are engaged in aggressive sexual behaviour and the next building over is full of puppies and the animals they’ve killed. Yesterday there was a frog in the shower. Under the influence of moderate gin consumption, one colleague drew unsound parallels between the excavation and The Sound of Music, leading to speculation as to which of the co-directors was Christopher Plummer and which was Julie Andrews. I certainly hope there won’t be any nuns, Nazis or singing.

Springtime in the Kurdish mountains: these are a few of my favourite things

Springtime in the Kurdish mountains: these are a few of my favourite things

Brittain's best ice cream van, discovered unexpectedly near the Iranian border with a valid UK tax disc and all

Brittain’s best ice cream van, discovered unexpectedly near the Iranian border with a valid UK tax disc and all

Work on site has so far been limited to the removal of backfill from last year’s trenches and mine and L’s heroic mastering of the total station in the absence of a competent surveyor. So far all the food has been yellow, which I find to be a refreshing change.

False starts

Today was supposed to be the first day back on site after the Eid break, so I crawled weeping from my bed at 7am (I have been mostly getting up at noon), put my digging boots on, filled my pockets full of knives and string and stumbled off in search of a taxi. The office was locked which was a bad sign. I walked over to the site to find it full of crisp packets and plastic bags and completely empty of workmen. I walked back past Asad the guard; “Nooo buddy here!” he said “Ha ha ha”.

The third worst cup of coffee in the world. The world's worst coffee is of course brewed by the Garden City House Hotel, Cairo, which has now ceased trading for the good of mankind.

My third worst cup of coffee ever. The world’s worst coffee is of course brewed by the Garden City House Hotel, Cairo, which has now ceased trading for the good of mankind.

Determined not to wholly waste the taxi fare I went out through the main gate and down to the square where I sat at one of the tea booths and asked for a nescafe. A nine year old boy made me a mug of something that tasted like the milk from a bowl of Cocoa Pops, if you heated it up and stirred it through with petrol. I pretended to drink it while reading Wolf Hall and refusing a string of offers to have my boots cleaned. The nine year old boy charged me a thousand dinar, which was about three times as much as the going rate for a real nescafe. I rolled my eyes but gave him his money; I try to avoid having fights with primary school children before 10am.

The British contribution to Erbil's historic citadel

1920s water tank: The British contribution to Erbil’s historic citadel

The Eid holiday continued as it started; as a litany of drink related incidents punctuated by extreme boredom and the World Cup Qualifiers. As the alcohol-to-archaeology ratio of this blog is already embarrassing me, I shall instead tell you about a book I partially read. It should have been an interesting book about the British Mandate period in Iraq, but the undoubted talent of the author turned it into a turgid wade through late Imperial bureaucracy, unrelieved by style, narrative or pictures. He leaves out all the fighting.

I did learn some interesting things however. The British took on the mandate of Mesopotamia after the First World War, partially because they wanted the oil, but mostly because they didn’t want the French to have it. The British were initially in favour of Kurdish independence but this mostly fell through because the Kurds were entirely unable to come up with a single leader with whom the British could sit down and have a cup of tea. Frustration over the lack of a proper tea drinking partner eventually led to the RAF bombing Suleimaniya in 1925. Things were not especially helped by Gertrude Bell running around giving some fairly poor advice. Gertrude Bell was an archaeologist, political officer, writer, traveller, spy and mountaineer who was largely responsible for the creation of Iraq. It is possibly down to the fact that she spread herself so thinly that she was able to do a moderately large amount of damage in so many different spheres. I personally restrict myself to the damage of archaeology and that’s enough for me. Perhaps one day I will finish the book and there will be a happy ending (maybe a wedding) but I’m not optimistic. The major legacy of British rule in Iraq seems to be the sensible use of three-pin plugs.

Gertrude Bell, on whom I won £30 at Ascot the autumn before last

Gertrude Bell, on whom I won £30 at Ascot the autumn before last

Staggering on

The Irish drunk - philosopher, poet, knee-squeezer

The traditional Irish drunk – philosopher, poet and knee-squeezer

Against my better judgement I found myself at the ‘Irish Bar’ again last night, drinking a strange beer from the British Virgin Islands and being slowly lobotomised by the mind-buggeringly awful music. I did, however, manage to find something authentically Irish this time in the shape of Paul; a drunk elderly man from County Down. He bought me a beer while slurring incoherently about the Mountains of Mourne and being way too free with his hands. If I could have had a pint of stout and ended the night under a table roaring Whisky in the Jar the experience would have been complete. When I asked what his job was he said ‘Ah work wit m’shovel’.

living on the crumbly edge

living on the crumbly edge

On the excavation, things have achieved a healthy sort of monotony, except for the occasional hangover and deadly car bombing. I was on site when the bombings happened last week; it was quite a bang which scared all the birds off the citadel and made me drop my plumb bob. Everything got back to normal pretty quickly though and we didn’t even get the afternoon off. The main dangers that I’m actually experiencing, other than suicidal Kurdish driving habits, are to do with cleaning off the top of the enormous fortification wall prior to planning it. This involves balancing on crumbling ancient mud brick with a five metre drop on one side and a strong cross wind. I feel my experience working aloft up the masts of tall ships has helped with the emotional background to this process. One of my Kurdish colleagues won’t even go up the step ladder to take site photographs.

Same old, same old. Erbil weather is not the most exciting

Same old, same old. Erbil weather is not exciting

Nice green pot, alas full of encrusted shit as it had been used as a drain

Nice green pot, alas full of encrusted shit as it had been used as a drain

I’m finding that excavating in the middle of a big city is a bit different to the digs I work on out in the middle of nowhere. One issue is that I’m just so dirty. Urban Kurds are a pretty well-groomed lot, overlooking their rather excessive use of powerful aftershaves, and I do get some rather concerned looks walking through town in my best old clothes covered in filth. Taxi drivers in particular seem filled with doubt about my right to be in any such state, being female, alone, very foreign and very dirty. Many seem unprepared for such an exotic beast. On Wednesday the taxi driver who drove me home offered me some of his perfume. I was unsure if he was making a pass or making a point about sweaty, smelly foreigners.