So it crossed my mind that I didn't really describe Bethlehem well. Basically the only area we saw outside was the Manger Square, which is at the top of a big hill. It is a nice square surrounded by tourist shops, cafes and churches. The main church is built over the spot that Jesus was born, (apparently there is a star down in some catacomb underneath it all that marks the spot). Like I said, we didn't go into the church.
The square was full of people selling boiled corn on the cob, people walking around selling coffee and tea, and little kids trying to sell you gum. It was pretty dirty and decently crowded, but you could move around.
Of course one of the strangest things was the military presence. There were Palestinian army guards all over the place (on the roof, in trucks circling, on the ground at every street) with big ol' automatic weapons. So in case something happened and there was some attack in Bethlehem on Christmas they would be able to open fire on the square full of people. Sounds great. Felt really safe... And I don't want to be dramatic, but I definitely felt tension the entire time I was there (mainly because of the guns). And I mean, I grew up on Army bases, I'm used to bomb tests, guns, tanks, and jets flying over. This was different. The peak was probably when we were trying to leave back to Israel. There are a couple of checkpoints that you must pass through. The taxi let us off by the car checkpoint because the road to cross was blocked. We began to walk out and were turned around by the guards, gesturing to a side street that we should take. There were a couple of other groups of people trying to get out so the bunch of us start walking down this street, which leads to another, and another, and another. We kept going in the general direction of the gesture, but it was unclear where we were going and what was down there. Finally we got to a dead end road that led to the wall that we had to pass through. As we were walking down this street, a car zipped by us to the end (turned out to be people trying to sell you stuff) and we walked by 5, equi-spaced 5 gallon gasoline canisters in the street, wet on the outside. That was creepy. We were all tired (it was about 1am) and kind of lost, so that we each looked at them and didn't acknowledge anything out loud. Like I said, I don't want to be dramatic, but it was creepy at the time. Then the walk through checkpoint was at the end of the street and we passed through some extra stuff before getting to the cars to go home.
Anyway, let me try to place the past 24 hours into context. Not having a regular sleep pattern yet is screwing with my perception of days. Yesterday Jason and I helped Elitza log cores in the lab. That involves unpacking each core from boxes in the outdoor freezer, measuring their length and describing how they change (mud, salt, pebbles, etc).
So if you can imagine, there is one core hole (core A) that drilled down over 450 meters into the ground at the bottom of the Dead Sea. They collected sediments cores for this 450+ meters and they are all in tubes, marked so we know what order they go in. So we can describe them and what is in them and essentially describe a column of over 450 meters of what the sediment beneath the Dead Sea looks like. We can see salt indicating dry periods and mud indicating wet periods. We can see where layers are screwed up indicating earthquakes, and organic matter indicating a very different climate. There are even some layers of pebbles, indicating that the middle of the Dead Sea today was above water, meaning it once dried up. All this information is going back approximately 250,000 years at this point.
They've drilled several holes, (we are starting F today), but none have been as deep as hole A. They keep on getting tripped up on the salt, which is very difficult to drill through.
So last night, after helping in the afternoon with core descriptions, I had my first night shift. This involves meeting at the dining hall at 5pm to get dinner to go, then driving down to a dock and taking an hour long boat ride to the platform, which is about 8km out from shore. While the boat ride is very slow for the distance traveled, it was nice last night because I got to talk to the captain, an oceanographer from Haifa, and his helper, a guy who has traveled around and lived everywhere. They both are really nice and interesting people. I'll have a lot of time to interact with them I guess.
So last minute changes made Jason and I share the night shift last night. Jason should be working days, but the normal night shift people couldn't go so they asked him to do it and he (semi-reluctantly) agreed. It was unfortunate because we knew there would be no cores tonight and therefore little to nothing for us to do. The drillers were working all night to set up to begin coring the next hole, but they first needed to send pipes down the 300m of water depth, then another 45 m of sediment before getting to where we want to start bringing up sediment cores. This all takes a looong time. Jason and I had to go on just in case there was any science that needed to be done, but also to try to track whether the rig was moving by using a GPS.
There have been problems with parts breaking due to torque. It is assumed that the platform that we drill from is anchored down and isn't moving, but we're starting to get suspicious that this is a poor assumption. We were hoping that we'd be able to track changes in our position using the GPS, but the thing is over 10 years old... It wasn't clear whether the changes in position that we saw throughout the night are satellite error or actual movement. Basically I got 7 hours of sleep and watched parts of 3 movies with Jason. He brought National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the old Santa Clause movie and Love Actually...I mean, it was Christmas after all.
We were worried that we'd be stuck out on the rig for the day because the winds picked up over the night and the sea was pretty rough. In previous days when there were stormy seas, the boat that shuttles us to shore isn't able to dock up next to the platform without banging against it. There were times when people were out for 24-36 hours before. Luckily today wasn't one of those days and we were able to return at 6am, as expected.
I love the night shift for a couple reasons. I'm more of a night person in the sense that my body feels best to be active at night, but I prefer morning things like sunrise and breakfast versus sunset and dinner. I prefer sunrise over sunset because I don't like darkness, I prefer daytime. I like breakfast over dinner because nothing beats sitting down to a cup of coffee and any food you want when you are hungry and sleepy. So these two things are even better when I've been up all night and my body feels like it's at its peak. So I went and got breakfast as soon as I got back and then walked around the kibbutz this morning taking photos of the botanical garden. There are new photos on facebook, so check them out!
Now I will sign off and hang out until 5pm and I'll start all over again. Hopefully tonight we will be drilling cores. It should be so, but you never know.