The following morning, I worked to get the kids checked out of the dorms. A seemingly easy task made monumentally hard by the bureaucracy and chaos. First, the previous day some 300 new students arrived to the dorms, so there were tons of people not connected with the program. Second, we found out that we had to check out each room to make sure that there were the same number of blankets, pillows and chairs that were there when we arrived.
The Baghdad bus was leaving soon, so we took it on ourselves to collect the keys and told the dorm that we would check their rooms after. I then went walking up and down the floors and hallways, yelling “Yalla, Baghdad, Yalla, Baghdad, Yalla, Baghdad; Yalla Kirkuk, Yalla Suli, Yalla Erbil” like I was a barker at an Iraqi bus station.
I then went room to room with the dorm staff, checking out the kids. It was chaotic to say the least. The dorm had been a mess when we arrived, and we sure had not made it any better. More importantly, because the rooms had been a mess, we had to switch rooms for many of the occupants so the numbers related to the names were not fully accurate, even after we had the volunteers try to clean up the list. Meanwhile, the dorm staff claimed the kids had broken chairs, but I pushed back asking how they knew we broke the chairs when the place was so messed up when we arrived. I made them get the log book of their previous occupants so we could cross check whether the chairs had already been broken. I just shook my head and laughed at the fact that my fancy Master’s degree in public diplomacy left me uniquely qualified to count chairs in Arabic and Kurdish in Iraq.
Somehow we managed to get all the kiddiess on their buses, and managed the chaos of the checkout but just barely. Only two kids got left behind from their bus, which strikes me as a success (and we quickly got the buses back and them on). The whole process was long and frustrating. We got enough done that I was able to say goodbye to the kiddies as they pulled away. I had learned how to say “I love you” in Kurdish, so I screamed it in the window, and they screamed back “We love you, Meester Paul.”
And then my volunteer staff did something that left me forever touched. I had been managing our staff of 20 volunteers from Baghdad and Duhok, who had been translators and office staff for us. I had gotten close to many of them, and their support was invaluable. The staff made me a handmade card with a pop-out heart that said “We love you!” with all their signatures. I almost cried.
After the last buses left, the YES Academy staff and the dorm staff sat down together to eat boiled eggs, soft cheese and naan bread together. We drank the sugary-sweet tea, and laughed about the chaos of the kiddies.
After, I went with two of the dorm staff to check out the Baghdad rooms….except that all the keys had gotten mixed, and there were quite a few keys that lacked number tags. I literally was about to slam my head against the wall as I watched them try key after key in a door. I convinced them that they could check the keys later, and to get the copies we needed. Meanwhile, they couldn’t find the Baghdad keys that we had given them. They looked and looked in the key piles. I literally sat around for an hour as they tried to figure out where the keys where. Finally, I asked if they checked their office. Sure enough, right there. And then, we were done.