Posting from the Abila Archaeological Project.
“Break!” Dr. Susan announces.
Excavators drop their picks and scurry up ladders. Wheelbarrows screech to a stop. Empty guffas tumble over stone walls. Binders full of top plans snap shut.
We all know what Dr. Susan’s words mean: it’s food time.
Members of the Abila crew unzip backpacks and pull out sack lunches packed by the camp chef—flat bread, a hardboiled egg, an orange, a tomato and a triangle slab of cheese wrapped in foil. Jordanian team members trail toward their resting spot—the shaded gap between the wall of a Byzantine church and what we think might be an Umayyad building. Colorful blankets bridge the walls, and everyone has to duck to enter.
“Come! Come!” the men yell, waving their hands toward us.
Seconds later, we join the party. As we remove our sunglasses and slap dust off our gloves, the Jordanian staff members spread Styrofoam plates on the ground. One by one, they unpack foods brought from home—olives from backyard groves, honey from local bee colonies and sweet chai from their family kitchens.
The spread varies from day to day, but it’s always shared and it’s always delicious.
Back in the U.S., several friends asked why I wanted to return to Jordan. My answer usually boiled down to the same thing: second breakfast. Friends chuckled at the response, but I sincerely meant it.
This 30-minute breakfast fundamentally changed the way I see the world. For four weeks, I sat with strangers on the ground, sharing whatever food we pulled out of our backpacks and pottery pails. Between swigs of water and mouthfuls of flatbread, we swapped English and Arabic, echoing each other until we got the pronunciation right. We talked about our families and waxed poetic about the naps we planned to take once we got done digging. Sometimes, we even linked hands and danced the dabke in wide circles, kicking up dust as we stomped to the beat.
Second breakfast taught me how to be a guest in a new place, how to listen and ask questions. It taught me how to try something new and fail. It taught me how to laugh and dance with strangers until they became friends. It taught me how a few broken words can say enough. It taught me that our stories are more similar than we think.
And, of course, it taught me how to eat.