A big chance to learn

March 25, 2009

Afaf Wahba has worked for the Supreme Council of Antiquities for nine years. She began as a curator at the Coptic Museum in old Cairo and for the past two years, she’s been an inspector at the Central Department of Giza. This job does not usually entail field work, but that did not stop Afaf from dreaming about it.

Afaf heard about the AERA/ARCE Field School in 2006. A colleague encouraged her to apply.

“I never imagine they will take me. I said, ‘No, no.’ and didn’t apply.”

Afaf Wahba at the AERA residence.

Afaf Wahba at the AERA residence.

One week before the application deadline, a friend sent her the application and insisted she apply. Despite the late date, she got an interview and was accepted into the Advanced Field School. She was determined to excel.

“Zeinab [Saiad Hashesh] and me, we drive our instructor crazy, study all the time. Sleep only one, two hours every night. She said, ‘Please, please sleep.’ But we want to do very well.”

Her instructors sensed her ability and during the course of the field school, she was encouraged to do things she thought she couldn’t do. “I would say, ‘I don’t think I can do this.” And they would say, ‘Yes, you can do it.’”

Afaf graduated with distinction. She, Zeinab, and Ahmed Gabr are now helping to teach their Egyptian colleagues in the field school.

Afaf’s passion is osteology, the study of skeletal remains. It distresses her to think of how much archaeological information was lost in the past due to poor techniques for excavation and study of skeletons.

“It is important to have Egyptians do this work. Of course, yes, I respect the instructors, but we are here all the year. We are everywhere in Egypt.”

Afaf wants to build a network of Egyptian osteologists with her colleagues. “I can see the difference now between the handling of the bones before and after the field school.” She wants to make sure her colleagues all over Egypt have the support and training that they need.

At AERA’s twentieth anniversary talks at the SCA, Afaf gave a lecture about the methods employed in AERA classes, and the importance of teaching students to think, not just memorize.

Even her family life has been brought into her passion for osteology. Her five year old son, Karim, sits and draws bones with her. Smiling broadly, she said, “He can draw the humerus.” 

Asked about what the field school means to her, she replied, “Personally, it is a big chance for learning osteology. Second point is teaching this to other Egyptians. This means very much to me.”

Brian Hunt

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