While visiting relatives in Jerusalem in summer 2010, Rawan Mustafa ’11 did what even the men in the room that day could not do: killed a large, menacing spider with her bare hands.
She was just coming off more than seven weeks of participation on a Pre-Pottery Neolithic archaeological excavation in Hemmeh, Jordan, funded by National Geographic. Among her discoveries in Hemmeh, besides a pre-Neolithic skeleton dating back 7,000 years, was her ability to withstand the elements and persevere—even while living and working in the searing summer heat in a remote area, about a three-hour drive from the capital city of Amman.
During the excavation, Mustafa, who grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but now calls Jersey City, New Jersey, her home, was a member of a team of 20 volunteers, mostly undergraduate and graduate students. They excavated two specific sites where a village of about 30 people once lived. Her expenses were covered by Smith’s Praxis internship program and an international experience grant.
While she had no prior archaeological knowledge or experience, “my internship ended up being incredibly enriching,” says Mustafa, who is majoring in anthropology with a minor in women and gender studies. Despite the often tedious work of the dig, and daily schedules that began in the field at dawn and ended in the lab around dinnertime, she gained primary lithic, faunal and human osteology analytical skills. She also experienced the thrill of being the first on her team to unearth the knee bones of an adult male—which later revealed an entire skeleton.
“By the time I left,” she says, “I was in good shape, physically and mentally. And especially, I learned how to make the best of, and see the good in, any situation.” Now she carries that concept forward into the next chapter of her life, which begins on May 15, the day she graduates from Smith.
“I’m pretty much ready for anything,” she says as she looks for jobs in New York City. “In a picture-perfect world, I would like to start off working for a refugee organization, perhaps working with women’s groups and with chapters in the Middle East,” she says with a smile. That way, she could go back to a part of the world she loves and put her degrees to good use. Likewise, the Arabic she learned as a child from her Palestinian parents and the Spanish she learned in her language classes at Smith should be helpful in her job search.
Mustafa leaves behind her room in Chapin House with its beloved view overlooking Paradise Pond and an elected role as house president, “one of the highlights of my senior year.” She is intensely aware of what she will miss about Smith: the classes, the housemates and friends she’s shared living quarters with in Chapin, all four years. More personally, she says, “I’ll miss having food cooked for me three times a day, and especially how devoted my professors are to their fields and their teaching.”
Come to think of it, she says, “I don’t know when the next time will be that I’ll be among such an intelligent, wonderful group of people.”