No one is more excited than I am when the weather turns cool. I just don’t like the heat. After all, you can always put on more clothes or blankets. But there is a limit to how much you can take off and still maintain public decency. Actually, it reminds me of the time I lived in the desert for almost two months in March-April 2006.
The place we stayed was a rural village in Egypt, about three hours east of Cairo. It was the home base for the archaeological dig at Tel el-Borg, an Egyptian fort in use during the 13th-12th centuries BC. We stayed in a nearby compound with housing that also had facilities for preserving and storing artifacts we discovered. There was a separate apartment for tourist police who had been assigned for our security.
One of the first days a field supervisor and I walked out to visit a first century Roman port. It was only about one hundred yards from where we stayed, literally in our backyard. We walked down silent streets that must have seen Roman soldiers, busy merchants, and local politicians. We saw the outlines of buildings long collapsed. I looked down and saw a tiny piece of metal. I showed it to my companion, who identified it as a first century Roman coin. I asked why no one had taken it. He said that there were stiff penalties for anyone caught trying to smuggle so much as a single shard of broken pottery out of the country. The possibility of sitting in an Arab prison for fifteen years with a fundamentalist Islamic cellmate named Abdu seemed less attractive than having a little bit of corroded metal sitting in a box in my closet. I tossed the coin back onto the ground, wondering to whom it might last have belonged.
In one of my playlists on my iPod I still run across some of the songs I listened to while in Egypt. When one particular song plays, I am there again. For a fleeting moment, I am standing there in the desert, feeling the hot breeze on my face, looking out over a desert landscape as beautiful as it is desolate. I hear the laughter of our Arab friends as they work. I feel the shovel in my hands. I look at the ground, wishing it could reveal its secrets. And then I am back in the real world again. The door to the past gently closes, my memories of Egypt flitting away to return some other time.
I won’t ever visit Tel el-Borg again. The dig is now closed. But I return periodically. And each time it is always as magical as the last.