Or “How an archaeologist winds up studying people who are alive while dodging mortar rounds”

Flashbacks are cliche, I know, but for those who don’t already know me, it might be worth a little exposition to tell you how someone with no connection to the military finds herself in a war zone.

~insert time machine noise here~

There I was in the study abroad office, a wide-eyed sophomore at Penn State who’d just made the jump from majoring in astrophysics to archaeology. (Indiana Jones strikes again). I browsed through all the brochures, but I already knew there was only one place for me, one place that I had seen every Discovery Channel and National Geographic Special on since I was a kid—Egypt. I scrimped and saved, studied Arabic and Hieroglyphics, and finally secured a seat in the Cairo program for my entire junior year. I was bouncing-off–the-ceiling excited. My family was less so, but I was 20 and, as my aunt put, “as bullheaded as [my] father.”  So that August, I stuffed as much as I could into two suitcases (a skill that came in handy while working for the Army) and set off to find myself a new mummy or some broken pottery (real life archaeology, it turns out, is not very glamorous).

The year? 2001.

You can probably see where this is going. Less than a month into my adventures in taking fieldtrips to see pyramids and meeting Dr. Hawass (if you’ve seen a special on Egypt, you’ve seen him), some jerk named bin Laden does some terrible things while based in a country no one has cared about since Billy Joel didn’t start the fire. Not long after, the U.S. headed over to said country, which is about when my parents “asked” me to come home. I did, with quiet dignity and grace. (*Five points to the first person to identify that quote.*)

So some extremist jerk had ruined my chance to be a world famous Egyptologist, but though I was pissed at him, it made me realize that living people, their misunderstandings, and the violence that can result from those are actually kind of more interesting than dead people and potsherds. So I switched to anthropology, which is all about understanding peoples and cultures that are still alive. But academia wasn’t going to cut it for my hotblooded self–I wanted to do something relevant and applied. When I finished my PhD, the Army was looking for people just like me, so it wasn’t long before I wound up in Iraq and then Afghanistan.

Which is where I was a decade later when the same jerk who’d started me on this path wound up getting whacked in a compound that wasn’t really all that far from where I was living. There’s a certain poetic quality to that, because without him, I’d probably still be digging away in Egypt, rather than working in a…war…zone…

Huh. Well, maybe I’ll finally get to go back to the Land of the Pharaohs now…