Sunday, July 01, 2012

This one Iraqi band camp

Somehow I have become a public diplomacy camp counselor.  It isn't the first time either.  Basically, my skills from Seeds of Peace are more valuable for cultural diplomacy at present than my fancy USC degree.  Such is life; so it goes.   

It all started off innocent enough.  After the standard breakfast of naan pita, cheese, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes, we headed over to the University of Duhok's School of Humanities where many of the classes are being held.  Some of the last loose ends were kinda being tied up in the morning, and around 12:30 I went over to the dorms to check in the arriving students.  I brought Aram along with to help with translation. Around 1pm the deluge hit.

The first bus arrived of students from Rania or maybe Koya, and Aram and I told them to sit tight in the small lobby while we sorted out the rooms and got keys for dorms.  As they were waiting, another bus showed up.  And another.  Pretty soon we were swimming in students who wanted to be checked in, needed rooms, had to get their meal badges and didn't want to wait.  And this is the Middle East, so have zero concept of waiting in line.  B.A.L.A.G.A.N.

I pushed back the hordes, forcing people to sit and wait.  We checked in two by two ala Noah.  But even checking in was no easy feat.  Between language issues (Abdul Muhammed.  Which one? My name is Qadr.  ?? Is it spelled Qadir?), the overzealous (I see my name, can I check in?)  and people not listed  (yeah, he couldn't come but I breakdance too), it took a long time and a bit of headache.  And the surging scrum that kep popping up didn't help either.  But I had some great helpers who really helped get us through the check-in and eventually everyone had a semi-functional home.

The next challenge remained dinner.  I had thought we were eating in the dorm, but it turned out to be back in the Hall of Humanities- the opposite direction of where I saw a group heading towards and a place I wasn't really sure where it was located.  I quickly ran out whistling to bring the group back.  I found myself suddenly like Moses, leading a large band of stragglers through a desert unto an unknown land.  Like Moses, I didn't quite make it to the promised land because I got called back to help with some logistal issue as I spied down from Mt. Nebo. 

I dealt with logistics as I worried about what was transpiring in the dining hall.  I had visions of bread riots, and hordes of hungry students tearing the hall apart. A gastro-apocolypse.  Thankfully, when I got there it was only semi-chaotic.  I helped sort out the swarm a few times over, and we ate in a semi-peaceful manner.

After dinner and some logistics work, we returned to the dorms.  We arrived to a cipher, a circle of Iraqi b-boys doing assorted breakdance moves as the group cheered on.  In the distance, violinist and violists practiced- sending notes down the narrow halls.  This was what is was all about.

Today, the YES Academy opened, and I remained superbusy. I have essentially become the Asst. Dir of the YES Academy.  Oh, Fontaine Piper, if you could seem me now.  I am good at picking up honorific titles, but this one I may have earned as I have become in charge of food, lodiging and student issues.  Lucky me.  This is why I get paid the big dinars.

After my attempts at calling up tables one-by-one for breakfast (FAIL! Oh Tim Wilson, if you could see me now), we had the opening ceremonies.  In four languages.  After the poly-lingual ceremony, the kids went off to their classes and for auditions, and I troubleshot for teachers and programs, and dealt with orientation issues. 

The day ran long and exhausting, but done with a smile on my face. Already, I am considering some kind of PD camp or Seeds of Peace-Iraq style in the mountains of Kurdistan.  Oh, Great God Manitou, please give me some wisdom on that.  I need some sleep after two exhausting days, but more to come.

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