February 8, 2012

Sudan, Week 8: Cabin Fever

Occasionally we have visitors around here. Last weekend we had some
people I knew from the Oriental Institute (where I worked when I was at U of Chicago), although they are both with
other parties now. It was only when they brought us information from
the outside world that we realized how isolated we are – there are
nine of us in the house, eight of whom speak English, and seven of
whom spend all day together; we follow the same routine every day,
Sundays excepted, when we all travel together to visit a site.
As I sat laughing to myself in front of our guests, it occurred to me
that Anna and I have been repeating the same jokes multiple times a
day for seven weeks now. And they weren’t even new jokes – we’ve been
laughing at the same 1-minute youtube video since January.
(It’s the BBC Talking Animals clip, which was the preview for a show where
nature videos were dubbed by comedians, and our favorite ones are
called “Cup of Sugar” and “Nightime/Daytime”. I will describe them for
you below.
1)      Two owls are sitting next to other. One says in a Midlands accent,
“I don’t like that new neighbor of ours,” and the other replies, “Ooh,
yeah, he’s really creepy.” CUT to the big barn owl on a branch, zoom
in on his eyes, Psycho-style, and he goes: “HEELLLLLOOOOOO, can I
trouble you for a cup of sugaaaaaaaar???” We repeat this every time
someone says hello with an elongated pause.
2)      A crane keeps hiding under his feathers and saying
“niiiightiiiime…” and then popping up: “daytime!” He does this a couple
of times until other cranes show up, and he asks if they want to have
a game of nighttime/daytime. The other one responds that he doesn’t
have to play, he has an X-box. We have merged this with a sort of
whack-a-mole in our holes, but it only works when we’re in
shoulder-deep holes. We’ve even taught Omda to play, and have
translated it to “alayl… naha!”
One day, about two weeks ago, a camel died on the route home. Since we
are all very weird and very bored, we took to making a daily “camel
update” where we compare notes on the camel’s decomposition, since we
take two cars and may notice different things. We even named that
stretch of road Rue du Chamel Mort in its honor. It took a few days to
expand with gas, then there was a pop, then various bits of it started
disappearing as it was eaten by various desert creatures. In the last
few days it has stabilized as a pile of bones and fur.

Perhaps you want to know how the excavation is going. Generally things
are good: after the three weeks of severe wind and cold, it got warm
and calm, then warm and windy, and now it is hot without any wind. We
have opened more than sixty graves, but not all of them have been
fully excavated. Our supervisor from the museum, another
bioarchaeologist, arrived here four weeks ago, but is too tall to fit
in the smallest graves, leaving them for me. The workers – Ghazim, the
fat one, in particular – have taken to calling him “Fat Man” because
of the trouble they have holding the ladder for him, to his continual

We are all suffering from stomach illnesses. I never want to even
think about a lentil again.

Three weeks to go…


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