Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Good News and Threats to Fruit

A New York Times piece today, commenting on the government shut-down of Al-Jezira reporters, was headlined something to the effect “no bad news allowed.” Now, of course, the Times was addressing appropriate concerns that free press not be suppressed. But I must question the very substance of the headline. No bad news? From Iraq?

My impression is that there has been very little except bad news reported from Iraq. This despite concerted and often successful efforts by a great many citizens to calm things down and move life onto a—if not normal, than at least hopeful—footing. The utter failure to report any of the good news has been demoralizing for a lot of people—most of them Iraqi; and a dedicated few of other nationalities--who have not had a day’s respite in over a year. They’d like a little credit for what they have accomplished.

So, I’m not going to deliver bad news today. I’ll leave that to the wire services. Even without Al-Jezira, I am sure they’ll find plenty. I’m going to give credit where credit is due, and concentrate on some good news.

Yesterday evening, after the office closed, I went grocery shopping. This may sound utterly mundane. It was. That’s the point. No-one harassed me. No-one closed the door. No-one nervously thanked me for my custom, then requested quietly that I not come back. I made my selections from well-stocked shelves, paid predictably high-ish prices for imported items, and predictably dirt-cheap prices for local commodities, then went on my way. Nothing at all out-of-the-ordinary happened.

Next stop was a roadside fruit stand. Much haggling ensued over a watermelon the size of New Jersey. Insistence (on our part) that it not be cut for a sample. The melon is cut nonetheless, with a knife worthy of a bad b-movie. Now that it is cut, we don’t want it. Now that it is cut, we must take it. A price is named worthy of a Brentwood organic grocer. For an unwanted, uncut melon? Never! We buy elsewhere. Mundane. Again. Despite much brandishing of melon knives, only fruit was threatened, and in the end we bought two monstrous melons for about $1.00 each.

Of course, you are hoping for archaeology news, mundane or otherwise. Much of the past several days has been mundane indeed, spent reviewing invoices for equipment orders, making final decisions about placement of things like flatbed scanners and fax machines, and figuring out what, if anything, we are to do about the leaky roof at Mosul. As at home, it somehow takes the combined decision-making skills of at four Ph.D.s, the CEO, an IT chief, a senior civil engineer, a security chief (travel to, from, and within Mosul is dicey), a systems integrator, a budget analyst, and a secretary to accomplish this. (And these are only those of whom I am aware). But accomplished it is: installation at Baghdad U., Inshallah, is to be finished this week, and work will start in earnest at Mosul U. in the next several days.

Other good news is USAID’s donation of a used 4WD vehicle for the duration. We must first figure out how to pick it up from an undisclosed location, but it is destined for Baghdad U., so that they can get out to their field school at Sippar.

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