The process of wrapping up fieldwork in Tanzania is less complicated than that for beginning fieldwork but I thought I'd run through what needs to be done before heading home.
1. Finalize work at the site. This includes backfilling the excavation trench and picking up any garbage. Like campers, it is the archaeologist creed to restore sites to their pre-excavation condition. It's dirty, hard work that is also a little depressing. Seeing the huge pile of dirt returned to the trench you worked all summer to dig is just sad.
2. Pay hired workers. We have found it is best to pay our workers at the end of the field season with small "bonuses" given throughout the field season rather than pay a daily or weekly wage. We also "gift them" with any field gear we've purchased from local shops, like head pans, hoes, shovels, screens, which are cheaply acquired (for us), and any gently worn clothing which our souvenir stuffed luggage no longer has room for. We also give them copies of pictures that we have taken of them and us throughout the field season - we've purchased a small, portable photo printer so we can do this and have found it was an excellent investment. Everyone loves getting photos and not having to wait for promised ones to arrive in the mail.
3. Revisit local offices and villages to let people know that we have finished our fieldwork and will be departing for home shortly. These are more than just courtsey visits, they are an important means of demonstrating our intention to share the knowledge we've gained through our work. We give preliminary reports of what was accomplished and what we've learned, and reiterate our promise to return with final reports, posters, and other publications for their use.
4. Prepare documents necessary for export permit: letter of request, preliminary research report, and inventory of artifacts recovered/those wanted for export. Many copies of each will be required by the Department of Antiquities. Our Antiquities Officer is crucial in this process as (s)he writes a report concerning our conduct and weighs in on not only whether or not we should be allowed to export our finds but also if we should be given research clearance and excavation licenses in the future. My supervisor has 20 years of excellent standing with the Tanzanian authorities so we usually encounter few problems with this step. It just takes a few days to get the necessary signatures.
5. Once an export permit is obtained, you must have the items valued by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (or "Madini"). My supervisor always remarks how ironic it is that we spend thousands of dollars to excavate these materials only to have them valued at as worthless by Madini. Madini requires us to bring not just our letters of permission, export permits, and inventories but also packing tape, white string (line level string will do), lacqueri (sealing wax), and lighters so they can literally seal the boxes shut once they have examined them. This step is usually very tedious - not in the actual sealing of the boxes - but in convincing the officials that we aren't just wasting their time. They are so used to seeing valuable gemstones come through their doors, they sometimes have trouble understanding why we would go to such expense shipping "worthless" items all the way to Canada. I must admit I can see why this would be difficult to understand if you are used to assessing commercial not cultural and scientific value of rocks and minerals. They are generally good natured about this though and will provide us with the documentation we need as long as we have all the other paperwork in order and pay the 20,000 TSH fee.
6. Find a commercial shipper such as DHL or Fed Ex to have the materials transported back to Canada. Most of the hard work has been done by this point. The tough part with this stage is having enough cash (USD or TSH) on hand if the agent is unable to take credit card (which is often the case). My supervisor has always elected to pay more to ensure the materials are shipped fast (and are tracked at each stage in their journey) ever since we had to take the cheaper option where we did not see our artifacts for almost four months!
7. Forward copies of documentation to the shipping office at the University of Alberta. They will hire a shipping agent who will facilitate the process of clearing the artifacts at customs and transporting them to the UofA. With luck our artifacts will even beat us back to Canada, and the UofA guys will have the artifacts waiting for us in the lab when we return. As I write this our artifacts from this season are already arriving in Canada - it will be race to see "who" makes it to the UofA first!
8. Reconfirm flights. We have found that even in this connected world a quick in-person visit to our airline is a great way to ensure that we have the most up-to-date information concerning the status of our flights and check-in times. Usually we get changes emailed to us, but not always, so it never hurts to just drop in to make sure that the flight information you have is correct.
9. Go shopping! We have always taken this part very seriously. As the first six steps outlined above can take anywhere from two to five days to successfully complete, it is really nice to be able to take the last few days of our trip to play tourist and revisit all of our favourite places in Dar es Salaam (see previous post). It's a great way to stay busy, or "kill time" as my supervisor likes to say, while waiting to make the long trip back home. By this point I'm usually more than ready to head home despite my love for this country and the work I do here so shopping is a pleasant distraction. This step also includes revisiting all of our favourite restaurants and cramming our bellies full of our favourite Tanzanian foods!
It's not a lot of work but it does require at least two high intensity days - most of which is spent in accordance with the Tanzanian motto of "hurry up and wait" - followed by a few days of relaxing which are desperately needed after a long season in the field.