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Second Breakfast

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Tired from a morning of digging, the crew sits under the shade of a tarp, pitched something like a lean-to crossed with a tent. Americans, Canadians, and Brits - they are not used to the Egyptian heat.

Everyone has been up since 4 am; they ate breakfast, were in the field by first light. By noon, they’ll head back to camp, nap, and spend the afternoon washing artifacts, reading pottery, and updating notes.

The mid-field-day meal, served around 9 am, is called “second breakfast.”

It’s usually the same fare, day to day: some local flat bread, Ful (made out of mashed fava beans, olive oil and garnish), some grapes or figs, lots of sweet minty tea, and water.

And cheese.

A local man and his family, hired to help prepare second breakfast, bring the trays to the archaeologists. The trays are filled with the tea and the Ful and the bread and the cheese.

Unfortunately, it’s usually too damn hot to eat much. But whether or not you are going to eat what is offered, you learn very quickly to accept the hospitality.

The first tray is brought to the director of the project, and the government representative from Cairo who looks suspiciously like Dr. Zahi Hawaas (although such an appointment would surely be beneath him). Both are standing at a table, briefly looking over the finds of the morning, as they work through second breakfast.

The rep accepts everything that is offered. The project’s director, worn down from the season, graciously refuses all but the tea.

“Please. Take some food,” the rep recommends. When the director still politely refuses, the rep looks nervous.

“Here, take the cheese,” he says, growing a little more nervous. “It’s Panda Cheese. It’s very good…”

It is too late.

A giant panda appears on the other side of the table, across from the director. Music starts to blare from out of nowhere.

“Just you know why… why you and I… will by and by…”

His shiny black eyes and his smile are almost creepy. His composure is almost too calm. His panda fur is almost that scratchy acrylic found in cheesy costume stores.

He stares the director down. The director stares back. The entire tent filled with people is frozen, watching the two.

Suddenly, the panda grabs the first bag, and dumps the broken shards on the ground. He swipes his arm across the table, and a nearly complete vessel near the edge smashes to the ground.

He reaches across the table, grabs the director’s khaki field bag, and opens it. He pulls out the crew’s dig permit from the Department of Antiquities, and shreds it into pieces.

Everyone – the crew, the director, the rep, and the helpers – all stare in shock at the panda.

After a moment of awkward pause and silence, he panda stomps on a piece of New Kingdom utilitarian ware that is in the pile of broken shards on the floor. It smashes into tiny fragments.

“Just you know why… why you and I… will by and by…”

A black furry hand places a fresh box of Panda cheese on the table, then adjusts it.

A loud voice over the music reminds us…

“Never say no to Panda.”