Another day in the sand storm.  Visiting Ur and Eridu.

The novelty of the sandstorm had worn off after one day and one awful night.  We could not open the windows at the hotel:  within seconds you had so much dust in the room that you thought you would choke.   The air conditioner was not working and it was hot.  There was no relief.  It did not help, that we were staying at the worst hotel that night where nothing much was working at all.  There were no towels, no sheets, and the paint was peeling off the wall and onto our beds…  Miraculously, around half-way into the night, the air conditioner did kick in and we got some sleep.  But when I stepped out to board the bus in the morning, I thought that by accident I had put on the wrong glasses!  Picture a dense fog with visibility of 100 meters/300 feet and imagine wearing some of those aggressively yellow tinged sunglasses.   That’s the sight we were facing at 7 AM in the morning; unbelievable:  Breathable death!

This is not how I had envisioned the visit of one of the most important and best preserved ziggurats of all of Iraq:  The Ziggurat of Ur.  A zealous archaeologist from Great Britain digging there in the 1930’s equated a layer indicating a flood at Ur with the biblical dates of the flood and attempted to prove the scientific accuracy of the biblical record.  Aside from that nonsense, tremendous treasures were found at Ur which proved that Ur was a major city state in the 3rd Millennium BC.   Many of the objects are now found at the British Museum.  What is left in situ is more than  many other archaeological sites in Mesopotamia, but still nothing much.  The entire city is huge.  We only visited a small portion, including a fenced-off area in which digging is still expected to continue – some day.  The ziggurat has been restored but thankfully with many of the original bricks.  Of the several levels it once had, only 1.5 levels remain.  To envision the size of the full structure is hard, but it must have been intimidating.

Today, we had the most annoying crew of soldiers with us.  Their captain had a walkie-talkie with him which constantly beeped a sequence which reminded me of the Twilight Zone.  At Ur, the current archaeologist, a renowned Iraqi scholar met us to lead us around.  As we were trying to listen to his introduction, the captain’s beep nearly drowned him out.  The soldiers were constantly in our way, smoking, and taking pictures.  Granted, this is still a very sensitive area – there is not a sign on the road that points to this magnificent monument.  Our escort got lost twice trying to find it!  Right next to the ziggurat is a military base.  Had it not been for the sandstorm which limited our views to a few hundred feet, we would have been constantly reminded not to take pictures in one or the other direction.  I guess the storm was good for something after all.

The archaeologist volunteered to accompany us to the next site, but a discussion over his authority ensued and numerous phone calls had to be made to please the captain of the escort.  As we were driving out there, through the plain desert, along trenches that had been dug for tank movements, with not a single paved road or sign, I wonder if we would  ever have made it to Eridu without the archaeologist and his knowledge of the area.

I have not stopped to be amazed over the state of historical preservation.  We ended up in the middle of the desert in front of a slight hill.  No fence, no sign, no guard, no sign of life.  Yet, behind the hill there was Eridu – or what little remained of it.  Here as in Uruk, piles of pottery shards and even some of the cones that once made up ancient wall mosaics were littering the ground.  The ziggurat was little more than a pile of bricks covered with sand.  The obnoxious Beeper Captain seemed to have made it his personal mission to follow me.  With a ratio of ten soldiers to only 7 travelers plus our two own guards, there was really no escaping them.  I wonder when the last visitor has stepped foot onto this site and when the next visitor will dare to look for it in the middle of nowhere.   Many legends surround Eridu and much of the knowledge about it comes from written sources.   In its heyday in the 3rd Millennium BC it must have had a port that connected it via lagoons to the rivers; unimaginable today.

In Nasiriya we were rewarded with the best hotel on the whole trip.  Everything worked – and that included plumbing which had let us down in every location so far; it also included free internet in our rooms.  Nothing has come close to this yet.   Plumbing seems to be a weak point in all of Iraq still, and electricity.  An outage per hour is common, at times there are more.  One of us counted over 30 outages in one night – he was on his I-pod and noticed.  Everyone has at least a tiny generator; hotels, and public places have large ones, often caged in.  I think the Iraqis would have forgiven the Western powers almost all the destruction of their country if we had just delivered hundreds of thousands of generators right after the war was over.  It’s the little things that make the biggest difference, I am convinced of it.

Good night.

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