Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Jordan Challenge -- 2. Learn Something about Antiquities

So, when I started my list of Jordan Challenges I purposely left it unfinished, partly because I'm lazy, but at least partly because I (to only somewhat misquote Donald Rumsfeld) didn't yet know what I didn't know.  Tonight I began to fill in that gap a little, when I came to realize that I will never, ever have such an amazing opportunity to learn all about antiquities and archeology as I have right now.  I still definitely want to try to actually go on a dig, but in the meantime you practically can't walk down the street here without bumping into an authority -- local or from the far corners of the earth -- on the Ancient Near East, particularly what is referred to as the Levant (the area encompassing what is now Syria, Israel and Palestine, Iraq, and Jordan).  In addition to the fact that each of these countries has a government department of antiquities and that the University of Jordan has world-class scholars on the subject, the area on across the road from the University is home to several research institutes that host scholars as well.

This picture of Dr. Oleson talking is deceiving.  It looks like there's only a few people when it fact I took it from where I was sitting on the side, in the overflow seating area.  As I mentioned before, there are LOTS of people interested in these topics here.
Tonight, some Fulbright friends and I went to see one such scholar, Dr. John Oleson, give a talk entitled "Sand without Lime" that burst all of our bubbles about the perfection of Roman architecture and construction.  After tonight I can now say with some assurance that faulty architecture, fraudulent contractors and major cost overruns are not the province of modern times -- they date back to antiquity, and there is a lot of lamenting in the records to prove it. The talk was given at ACOR, the American Center for Oriental Research, which sits on a hill and provides a research library, housing and all kinds of other support for the scholars and students who come here from around the world to conduct digs and look through archives and collaborate with their colleagues.
Some of my Fulbrighter friends -- Cooper (who was the only one to obey my instructions and pretend to be having cocktail conversation), Mike, Tess and Christina -- at the ACOR reception after the talk.

One of things that I like best about the Fulbright program is that its designers understand -- clearly and deeply -- that the value of the program is not only about the stated research or teaching project that brings a scholar or student here.  It's also about experience -- everything from learning how people get their day-to-day needs met in a different country and culture to the ways that we differ (and don't) in the sources of our joys and sorrows to the special things that can only be learned in a place where those things are actually common.  Here, antiquities and their study  -- so foreign and exotic to we Americans -- are all around us.  I'm definitely planning to keep taking the opportunities that present themselves to learn more.
This post would not be complete without a special mention of my nearest neighbors - Fulbright students Mike, Luke and Cooper.  In addition to being fabulous human beings, all of them speak Arabic (though they're here in part to learn more) and each has taken a turn in the past several nights sitting in the front seat of taxis and directing the drivers in Arabic to tricky spots that would have defeated lesser humans.

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