Survival Guide: The Payoff
Art by Istvan Banyai
National Geographic Emerging Explorer
Expertise: Human migration archaeologist
Three days later, when it came time to part ways, he asked how much I was planning to pay him. I had no clue what he expected or what was considered fair, so I hesitantly offered the equivalent of around $50 a day. I’ll never forget the look on his face—something between crestfallen and furious. I hadn’t factored in that we work in the heart of Oman’s petroleum industry, so the locals are used to being paid by oil companies, not tiny archaeological survey projects. I saw the whole summer of fieldwork at risk. To make matters more complicated, we had found incredible archaeology at the site he’d taken us to. He thought it was worth some money.
What alternatives did I have? Perhaps I would be put in prison for not paying. He ushered us into the car and began driving full speed back to his village. There his father, the sheikh, ordered me to pay $100 a day and buy a goat for $100 to celebrate the success of our project. I paid, they slaughtered, all feasted. We got out of there. These days we are mostly looking for caves, where sediments and stone tools are best preserved. The locals avoid the caves at all costs: They think jinn, or demon spirits, live in there. Fine by us.
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