Chichen Itza (related to archaeology)
I had never been to Chichen Itza, but I knew his house looked just like it. Imagine the first time a girl sees your house, you have to explain that you are not exactly taking her to the Mayan ruins and convince her that it really is quite beautiful inside. This was our first date and he chose to introduce me to the archaeological site that is his house to see how I would take the shock of it. There were so many features of this house that stopped me dead in my tracks.
The first thing I noticed was that his front door was painted a cornflower blue. I had seen blue doors before, but not like this one. For a moment, I kept feeling like I could almost put my hand through the door. That's how smooth it seemed to me. This worked in his favor, somewhat. Blue is my favorite color, and I know that Chichen Itza has more texture and age than this.
Once we were on the porch, I noticed that everything on the porch was red. The chairs, table, welcome mat and bird feeder all were a deep poppy color. He saw me moving my eyes between the front door and the porch furniture, so he felt a need to explain the colors to me. The blue door kept away evil spirits and the red furniture was an invitation for all visitors to bring their passions with them.
I knew that he was a writer, so I expected some books. His sizable collection hit me right between the eyes as soon as I walked into the front door. Floor to ceiling, there were volumes of poems, plays, criticism and literary journals, some no longer in print. My hands and my eyes stopped at the row of books by Alice Walker. She was one of my favorites.
Before I had a chance to say something about his copy of "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens," he launched into an explanation of why she occupied so much shelf space in this Mayan ruins house. He despised the way the world had made a cult of her work, and he was determined to expose how untalented she was with each new release. I nodded out of sheer desire not to ruin the date. I was not a happy camper when anyone attacked Alice.
Something was peculiar about all the photos on the wall of this Chichen Itza house. They were all of one woman, and she was wearing different shades of blue in every shot. When I asked about her, he did not even blink as he told me this woman was his wife.
They had been married in their native Cuba about 15 years ago. Although they had a deep love for one another, she had no interest in coming to the United States to live. He had no interest in returning to Cuba. So they maintained a house in both places. The house in the states looked more like an archaeological site from the outside, but her house was ample and made of yellow stucco. He had a photo of that house in this house, too.
I could no longer be silent about the obvious conflict. He wanted to start a relationship with me, but he had a wife in Cuba. It went against every ounce of my own personal constitution. I really loved our talks and appreciated how he always managed to keep my mind engaged, but this little drama did not seem to have a future.
Each time I raised an argument, he seemed to have a ready answer to squash my doubts. In fact, he said, his wife had given permission for him to have a live-in romantic interest in the states. She knew that she could not be here as he wanted, so she gave him the freedom to see other women and have companionship and anything else that husbands need in a marriage. This was not my cup of tea.
After I finally convinced him that I could not take part in he and his wife's arrangement, he decided to be a very gracious host to me. He cooked a very good meal for me and even ran a bath for me full of herbs and leaves. I was already spooked by the premise of me coming to the Mayan ruins, so I was not about to get into that bathtub. Once I closed the door, I removed all the herb leaves from the water, let it drain, and took a bird bath in the sink.
I had agreed to sleep downstairs, so that there would not be any confusion about my decision. The room he placed me in had a scary dragon sitting on the dresser facing the bed. On the nightstand, there were cycle goddesses. I understood them because my mother had explained other cultural rituals the first time I had a menstrual cycle.
The cycle goddesses were there to help women renew themselves during each monthly cycle. They looked like Pueblo women with big shawls, but there was an opening where there hands were clasped. You could drop a tealight candle in the opening and say prayers for your own renewal.
It was what happened in the middle of the night that kept me awake. A huge thunderstorm started, and I kept hearing a dog barking at intervals. He had not introduced me to a dog, so I thought it must have belonged to one of his neighbors.
I tried to get up to go look out of the window, and I felt my body begin to levitate off the bed. I initially thought he was trying to play mind games with me, but he was upstairs. Immediately, I closed my eyes tight and prayed for my own safety. Whatever had me in the air gently released me back to the safety of the bed.
I don't often talk about anything that happened in the Chichen Itza house because I don't think anyone would believe me. I never saw him again after that encounter. Wherever he is, I hope he is still not berating Alice.
The sand crept into my pant leg, my socks, and clung to the sweat on my arms. It was hot, and the archeological site I had started to grid out this morning was only partially ready. It wasn't Petra; far from it. But even here in Utah the promise of discovery was compelling.
Even people who don't know much about archeology have probably heard of Indiana Jones, the swashbuckling archeologist of movies who carries a whip and wears a fedora. And that is where my interest in the subject began. After high school I completed a degree in anthropology from the Ohio State University. This was a time when Jurassic Park was pulling many people to study prehistoric animals, but I chose to study humans and how they relate with one another.
Petra is one of the world's most important archeological sites. The ancient city is located in modern day Jordan and was the home to the Nabataeans, a nomadic tribe of Pagans who first settled in the area around 150 B.C. as a trade center connecting the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. According to scientists, only a small percentage of the archeological site has been revealed, leaving much of Petra still undiscovered.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were a huge discovery and provided archeologists with a connection between historical cities (like Petra) and the Bible. This relation between Christianity and history gave passionate Christians the fuel they needed to put Jesus Christ in the realm of the historical figure instead of a simple mythological entity. Not a religious person, I found the connection convenient but not compelling. Still, the Dead Sea scrolls brought many more scientists into the world of archeology.
As a kid, I liked to wander the neighborhood in search of "treasures" from an older time. Pop bottle lids, tin cans and bubble gum packages littered the areas near streams and wooded areas so I never had a shortage of artifacts to study. One time I even found an old glass medicine bottle, still labeled with the patient's name. Each piece that I collected held its own story of the past.
Before I studied archeology, I had a tendency to think that societies of the past were less hygienic and sophisticated than those of the modern time. From then to now, the human lifespan increased as medical discoveries were made and used to treat illness. What I am learning as I visit archeological sites like Petra is that older societies are certainly capable of living a comfortable and luxurious existence.
I can only imagine the life that Nabataeans lived in the ancient city of Petra. There was evidence that the city, built into sandstone mountains, had a complex irrigation system and cisterns for holding water. Evidence shows the presence of a well-developed system of government and an active leisure life, including a theater. It is interesting to think that the Nabataeans, originally nomads who wandered the desert, were able to create such an advanced city.
You don't have to major in archeology to find the joy in working an archeological site. I've joined more than a few expeditions through magazine advertisements. Scientists need workers willing to get dirty. All you need is an unrequited passion for learning and the interest in working alongside scientists in all kinds of climates.
Of course, I dug my first archeological site when I was in elementary school. With a garden shovel, a makeup brush, and a little bit of water, I spent hours digging in the soil behind my house. I found little things like bottle caps and bubble gum wrappers usually. Once I discovered the burial site of a neighbor's pet mouse.
After I had catalogued them in my journal and drawn a picture I put them back where they had been. Every so often I would take a small item from my room and bury it, imagining what people from hundreds of years in the future might think when they dug it up. Would they think we were primitive or strange? Or might they be as interested in our culture as we are of those who lived in the past?
My Utah dig was uneventful when compared to a site such as Petra. I found pieces of a clay jar and some bones that I determined belonged to a bird from the area. Officially, we had discovered a hunting camp from a period more than 10,000 years ago. After cataloguing each piece, I bagged the artifacts for future study.
My discovery was no Dead Sea scrolls, but it gave scientists a view of life in North America before we came along. Every archeological site has the potential to be the world's next "big find" that changes the way we see the past. Most sites are mundane, providing corroboration for current beliefs and not much more. But even the simplest sites help to open our eyes to a culture different than our own.