Archive for June, 2011

This was the year I “discovered” Facebook.

It’s not that I haven’t been using Facebook for several years now.  I had a particular blast (from the past) when old friends began reconnecting as time led up to my high school reunion a couple of summers ago.  And it is amazing how many people I have “found” and found me via the site.

I think that my epiphany of Facebook’s potential took place early this spring, early one weekend morning, when I found myself in 6 simultaneous chats…one each from Erbil and Mosul, Iraq, one each from Allepo and Damascus, Syria, and two from Lebanon.  (Come to think of it, I think there was also one from California in there somewhere.) All of the conversations were with new found friends and students (or their parents) who participated in my classes as part of American Voices (AV) workshops last summer, the organization with which I will travel to Amman, Jordan tomorrow morning.  In fact, as I write, the YES Academy Jordan Facebook page is alive with chatter from students, most of whom have not even met each other yet, who are excited and destined to join our 10 days of dance, theater, and music making at Amman’s National Center for Arts and Culture and National Conservatory of Music.

While the plans for AV 2011 workshops began taking shape last December, I would receive daily messages from students of last year’s programs, all with basically the same message:  “How are you, and please come back this summer to teach us.”  And indeed, my plans were to do exactly that.  That is, until the “Arab Spring” arrived.

This year, I applied for a summer sabbatical project via my University (Baylor) in order to fund and enable me to continue a multifaceted mission with American Voices in the Middle East.  Along with the central mission of diplomacy associated with the AV programs, I have been working to explore opportunities for future University recruitment from the region, perform during the workshops, and expand my musical network, including arranging state-side performance and lecture opportunities with other AV faculty.  (I was funded last year, as well…for about three weeks.  Funding was revoked due to “new concerns”…security risk.  Ironically, I was bailed out at the 11th hour from a rather large personal expense for the trip by…wait for it…wait for it…the Iraqi Government.)

To my delight, this year’s sabbatical was approved, but with the caveat that I would have to again visit with the University lawyers (some of whom were the same as those concerned about my travels last year).  Needless to say, I had to work to remain optimistic.  And as the spring semester was about to begin, things did look promising.  After all, I had already been to three of the four countries planned for workshops, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, and as a result, faculty and administration members had a better grasp of what this crazy musician was thinking by going to “those places”.

Then came Tunisia.

One by one, uprisings began in the countries of the Middle East, and these events now occupy much of the news here in the US.  Throughout the spring, civil uprisings appeared in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, as well as large protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Oman, and on the borders of Israel; in addition, there were minor protests in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara.  Among the shared techniques of civil resistancethese countries employed, they shared at least one major influence in their organization:  Facebook.

As Middle East tensions grew, so dimmed the tone of some administrators (no thanks to a new State Department travel warning for Iraq coming out the morning of my last meeting with university lawyers), and so changed the tone of many of the messages I received from students, which ranged from that of total denial that there were even any problems in their country, to aspirations to leave their countries all together.  Communications from Syria dwindled, until even those in the highest state of denial disappeared almost completely (Syria is under the most stress now).  Thankfully, there are still frequent messages from those who feel a bond of friendship, or who are also intent on attempting to study at Baylor, all of whom validate my feeling that the time spent abroad has been worthwhile.

Finally, with the revolutionary writing on the wall, even American Voices had to abandon plans for at least two of the planned workshops this summer (Syria and Lebanon), and at least a reduced presence at a third (Iraq).  That leaves only Jordan on my docket, and an understandably relieved Baylor administration, which gave me the final go for liftoff despite the reduced scope of the original sabbatical proposal.

So, it’s off to Jordan, with love.  And knowing how rewarding the adventures were last year, I am very anxious to meet the students and hear some great music making.  (As anyone familiar with my blog last year knows, I will also be on the lookout for any interesting cats to photograph during trips to the market, or whenever they cross my path.) The flight over the pond should be especially fun since I will join charismatic AV Board of Directors member John Cramer for our journey to Amman.

Come to think of it, I should check to see if he has a Facebook page.

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