I woke up at 4:30am this morning freezing. I cast about for any extra clothing in reach but found only a microfiber travel towel, which I wrapped round my knees. The temperature at Ur has gone down ten degrees in the last two days which has made everyone very unhappy, especially those of us who are living in metal boxes in the garden. I made a critical decision ten minutes before leaving the house to put a pair of skinny jeans on under my site trousers. This may have saved my life. Two pairs of trousers was indeed the order of the day all round, though I still had a fair amount of trouble with the touchscreen on my Toughbook due to the unintentional double click effect of shivering. There was also the issue of dripping snot onto the keyboard. I thought at one point that my smallest workman Ali (who claims to be fifteen but can’t be more than eleven) might die.
S tends his flag garden; the harvest will be good this year
On site the average mental age is about fourteen
The site is shaping up nicely, if you like sites to be Old Babylonian temple shaped, which I do. It’s still looking a bit two dimensional as we’ve done a lot of surface clearance to get the main walls, but we’ll be heading down as soon as we can all agree on a sampling strategy (or hell freezes over, which looks more likely). It’s all quite colourful as the surface erosion has cut holes through layers of plaster floors and burnt fills producing concentric bands of grey and white and red with lumps of pottery, making it look as if someone has been spectacularly sick in the trench. F has found a pair of bread ovens that look like breasts.
Iraqi orange flavour custard has a half life of 10,000 years
I returned to the house after work to find that my roommate, whom I live to vex, had finally cracked and tidied up my stuff. Instead of the mound of mixed clothes, electricals and snack foods I’d been carefully curating at the foot of my bed, I found my clothes folded and stacked on top of my bag, and my shirts, which have never known such things, on clothes hangers on the back of the door. My clean and dirty underwear bags had been hung on the bed post and all my cosmetics hidden behind the curtains. Everything had been swept. I kicked my dirty boots off into the corner and slouched off to think up more elaborate ways to be filthy. For dinner one of the dig directors made cake served with florescent yellow custard which tasted like Fanta.
Iraqi park life: no camping gas, no alcohol, no ball games, no hand guns
It’s my second day here in Sulaymaniyah, and quite a nice laid back sort of day it’s been. I had cold kebab meat pizza for breakfast and spent most of the day smoking, visiting a horrible prison and helping a nervous colleague buy local trousers. I learned that Kurdish for bad is ‘krap’, which is at least easy to remember, and that Italians get very irate if you steal their milk. The amount of meat available has exceeded expectations.
Yesterday we negotiated the renting of two village houses near the site. They have no interior furnishings and smell strongly of poultry, but there’s a nice view of the mountains. Today I was fortunately given immunity from shopping for household goods and instead went to an exciting museum (which are two words I don’t often use together) converted from the evil ba’athist prison where they used to torture people. We had a nice guide who only seemed slightly disappointed that we weren’t very interested in the delightful Kurdish handicrafts but spent an inordinate amount of time taking photos of broken tanks. The highlight was the prison building itself which had been left almost entirely as it was when liberated by peshmerga fighters in 1991, save the removal of considerable human filth and the addition of some lurid manikin dioramas. The experience was fairly harrowing and surreal in places, particularly when our guide asked us if we would like to pose with the dummies reconstructing a man having the soles of his feet beaten. He looked a bit confused when we declined as if this was the highlight of the tour for most visitors (we in fact later saw some young Kurdish women posing with a man being hung by his arms and electrocuted).
“would you like to stand next to this man? I can take a photo.”
Me and two colleagues then retired to a dark, windowless shisha cafe where we smoked for two hours while watching Blade Trinity on the television and being relentlessly stared at by young men. I no longer consider myself to be a competent producer of smoke rings having been in the presence of masters. I am only at the start of a long and smoky path.
Death’s disco: There are 4,500 little lights, each representing a village destroyed in the Anfal campaign, and 180,000 mirror shards, each representing a person killed