22 May 2007

The Thin Green Line

Yesterday I got rolled by the U.N.

It was our first full day of survey; we'd done a practice unit the day before in the afternoon, but yesterday was supposed to be the first day entirely in the field for us undergrads. The project had gotten permission from the British to work in the UK Sovereign Base Area (SBA), which is right by the buffer zone between Greek and Turkish Cyprus; indeed, the units we were to walk nearly abutted the buffer. We could see into what Bill (Dr. Bill Carahar, University of North Dakota) knew was the buffer zone. He wasn't sure where the buffer started exactly, since there was a big modern highway on the northern edge of the field that he assumed would have to be in the SBA. But whatever--we started walking.

I discovered that I really like survey. It's not terribly exciting, but it is relaxing. What you do is line up at one end of a squareish plot that's been marked off with flags, take a bearing to the opposite line, and walk straight along that bearing scouring the ground for pottery, glass, mortar, tile, and any other kind of artifact. It's repetitious, by no means mindless, yet allows you enough free brainspace to think about other things. It's a good time.

Partway through our fourth unit (of 15, I believe), a white van pulls up the side road. It's got blue paint on the side: "UN". Bill gets kind of tense, quietly passes by all four of us who were walking and facing away from the van. "Finish the unit and drop your bags by the pin flag. I have to go talk to these guys." We did.

Turns out that the U.N.'s maps differ on the minor point of where the buffer zone starts, and we were in it. Systematically walking in straight lines picking up artifacts in the demilitarized buffer cutting across an island that could blow up at any moment, the island with the last divided capitol in the world.

The Slovakian UN unit kindly asked us to follow them to the base in Pyla.

In the car, Bill kept telling us to keep our heads, not do anything stupid--in fact, just to shut up and let him do the talking. We were not actually trying to restart open hostilities, so we had to make sure our intentions were not mistaken. We met with the base commander, a very nice man from Melbourne who'd only just gotten back from vacation. Bill showed him our permission from the Brits and explained how the maps at the SBA HQ looked a lot different from the one he was looking at here at the UN HQ, and this must be just some confusion here. He volunteered to abandon that field entirely, which the commander readily accepted. The commander seemed very glad to help and to avert the political headache that could arise from a team of Americans wandering into the buffer zone. He called in an escort to take us back to the field to get our flags, so that the UN didn't have to, and then sent us off to get a coffee and wait for our escort to arrive.

We had Cyprus coffee, which was excellent. It's kind of like Greek or Turkish coffee (imagine!), and comes in similarly tiny mugs. Having been surviving on the Nescafe provided by the project, I was glad to have something I didn't have to bury in sugar to get down.

Our friendly Dutch escort arrived and followed us out to the field. We found our flags and collection bags, dumped out the artifacts, and brought the empty bags and flags back to the car. It was a shame to lose the collections. There were some very nice pieces there, including some colored glazes that Bill estimated as medieval. But given the sensitivity of (a) the island, (b) the buffer, and (c) removing archaelogical materials from anywhere, leaving them was our best option. The Dutchman identified our orange flags with his country and asked about the significance of the site, we piled in the car, and we headed back to the range. Joe Patrow, our videographer, was very, very sad that he had missed probably the most exciting thing to happen this season on the project. But that's probably for the best, since he's rather attached to keeping his camera and footage intact.

Welcome to the exciting world of archaelogy, everyone! Fedora and bull-whip donations appreciated.


Joseph Benedetto said...

Holy crap--! I lose internet access for a week, and You get yourself detained in UN custody for trespassing into a demilitarized zone on Cyprus?????

Damn, girl! I just knew some poor shit was going down when I lost access!

Well, at least someone came up with a travel tale that beats my "I got detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police" story....

So, other than causing international incidents, how are you doing?

Slade said...

Yeah, I accidentally wandered into the buffer zone. It actually got weirder because yesterday we visited Nicosia, the last divided capitol in the world, and saw the Green Line there. In most of the country, there's this wide no-man's-land between northern and southern Cyprus. But we were walking down this modern, fairly touristy shopping district and then out of nowhere the country stopped, there was a wall and barbed wire and sandbags and a Greek soldier on duty with (I think) an AK-47. There's a small museum/monument/memorial to the thousands of people who have been missing since the 1974 Turkish invasion. It's very strange and yet hyperreal. David and Katie Pettegrew (asst. director and his wife) crossed over to the Turkish side, but we stayed in the Republic.

It's crazy here. Lots of downtime, but the work times are all work. It's great. God, I miss you. And Kass and Deanna and Pete and Anna and everyone. I'm so sick of being away from you guys, for all that I love doing what I'm doing right now. I should be home Thursday night, possibly functional sometime Friday. Would you be up for Rose Tea Cafe next weekend?

Philyra said...

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