Firas Bqa’in: Archaeologist, Academic, and ACOR Administrator

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Firas Bqa'in observes Nabataean inscriptions
Firas Bqa’in studies a Kufic inscription from an Umayyad era mosque in Wadi Ramm

Phone ACOR on a given workday, sometimes even long after the office has officially closed, and the call will likely be picked up by a cheerful man who helps visiting fellows and scholars arrange airport taxis, book rooms, and extend their visas. Firas Bqa’in has been answering such calls since November, when he took over as the ACOR administrator. A printout of Firas’ official job description runs over three pages. Besides helping guests, which he does in Arabic, English, and Italian, Firas has numerous responsibilities including writing government letters, maintaining inventory, assisting with accounting, and generally helping things at ACOR run smoothly. One of Firas’ unique contributions to ACOR, however, has been his extraordinary display of kindness. “ACOR should be a service industry; we’re here for others, and [Firas] really understands that,” explained Dr. Barbara A. Porter, ACOR’s director. “When somebody walks in the door, he wants to help them and he really cares.” Kindness, in fact, is how Firas originally found the position. While working as the events administrator at the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL) British Institute in Amman, Firas attended a lecture at ACOR and heard Barbara announce the job vacancy. Rather then instantly apply, his reaction was to wonder who he could inform about the opportunity. “I was thinking of a friend, I was thinking that she would be a very good candidate for this,” said Firas, “I told her and she [said], ‘But, why don’t you go there?’” For the first time, Firas considered applying for the position. He tentatively asked his colleagues at the CBRL, who overwhelmingly  approved. “They were like ‘you should go, you should apply for that!’” The final push, however, came Dr. Carol Palmer, director of the British Institute in Amman.  “She was very supportive,” said Firas. “If she wouldn’t like, encourage me to come, I wouldn’t come. But she was very supportive.”

"Sunlight Texture" : a photograph by Firas Bqa'in
“Sunlight Texture” : a photograph by Firas Bqa’in

Firas had been one of several candidates for the position, but ultimately was chosen for his academic background. With a master’s degree in archaeology, and experience doing fieldwork on Amman’s Citadel, Firas administers ACOR with full awareness of its challenges and aims. In the few months he has worked at ACOR, Barbara asserts that Firas’ interest in archaeology has made an enormous difference: “It makes our lives so much easier because he understands what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and why it matters. So, that really is an incredible feeling, getting support from somebody who gets it.”

The fact that Firas has outside interests also played a role in his hiring, as ACOR believes that well-rounded candidates are generally more effective and happier in a role that requires juggling so many different skill-sets. Before earning his master’s degree, Firas took six months to explore Italy;  “I wanted to learn the Italian language a little bit, and I wanted to do this experience of going outside [of Jordan], living with different people,” he said. Besides traveling and learning new languages, he has worked on cultivating artistic skills, namely photography and sculpture. Firas has spent the last few years working clay, and carving wood or stone, creating sinewy abstract figures or commanding faces. Finally, Firas’ biggest passion is in the form of devotion to his family. He proudly shows off many photos featuring his smiling wife, Rawan, though the real star seems to be his five-year-old son, Sanad, whose dark eyes and expressive face emit enough emotion to catch Firas off guard.

"A Memory", wood carving by Firas Bqa'in
“A Memory”: wood carving by Firas Bqa’in

In addition to the duties of his position at ACOR, Firas has continued to pursue his academic interests, writing articles for academic journals and co-presenting a lecture on the archaeology of Early Islamic finds in Wadi Ramm.

Though similar to his job at CBRL, there are some differences in his position at ACOR. “It’s bigger volume, there’s a lot of people coming,” said Firas. “And there’s other people helping. But still, it’s much different. Accounting? I didn’t do much accounting, now I’m doing all of our accounting. And I’m happy, because I’m learning.”

Written by Sarah Oeffler

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