Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jordan’

[ WARNING:  Some of the pictures below may be unpleasant to some.  View with discretion]

When I crossed the border into Syria in the summer of 2010, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  Those that read my blog entry covering those colorful hours of travel may remember my apprehensiveness the evening that our American Voices faculty left Iraq and headed for Damascus.

.

Taxis

This “shady” picture was taken at 3am in the morning, as we were negotiating under a highway bridge for “Syrian Taxis” to take us from Beirut to Damascus. Summer, 2010.

.

At our American Voices workshop at the Damascus Conservatory that summer, I was amazed at the plush facility (since bombed) and the many talented students I met there.  Little did I know, but two of the students would leave a particular impression on me.

.

The Conservatory and Opera House in Damascus.

The Conservatory and Opera House in Damascus.

.

Damage to a Conservatory practice room, post bombing.

Damage to a Conservatory practice room, post bombing.  The Conservatory is surrounded by parts of the Syrian military complex, thus making it vulnerable to collateral damage in any attack.

.

Amjad (piano) and Andreh (violin) were relatively quiet students in the early stages of the Damascus workshop.  What I did notice was their particular love of their instruments, and the sensitive… philosophical…approach they took to their “trade.”  In reality, it wasn’t really their trade yet, at least in terms of how most professional Western musicians might view things.  But they had ambition.  And as one can imagine from reading the news these days, it was not always under the best of circumstances that they pursued careers in music.

.

Amjad and Andreh practicing for an upcoming performance.

Amjad and Andreh practicing for an upcoming performance.

.

05 My class in Syria

Some of our students of the 2010 YES Academy, following a recital in Damascus, Summer 2010.

.

A year passed, and in 2011 I found myself in Jordan (Amman) doing a second summer tour with the YES Academy (Youth Excellence on Stage).  Towards the end of that workshop, and to my astonishment, Andreh made a surprise appearance at a lunch at the Amman Conservatory cafeteria one afternoon.  He had risked crossing the border of Syria by car in order to participate in the capstone workshop performances.  Since the revolt in Syria had started (only months after I left in 2010), I was amazed that he had risked the odds to make the trip.  At the time, the government controlled much of the country through which Andreh had to travel, so to Andreh it was a risk worth taking in order for him to be part of the final orchestral gala that ends each of the YES Academy workshops.  Like the Syrian gala the summer before, the Jordanian gala had the advantage of being broadcast live throughout the country and much of the Middle East.

During our short visit, Andreh and I discussed the events in Syria and I caught up on news of Amjad (who was back in Syria attending school).  After the well-attended gala performance, Andreh headed back to Syria, and I returned to Texas.

Thanks to email, Facebook, and other social media, it was easy for me to keep in touch from Texas.  So as the summer of 2012 and my third tour with YES approached, I raised money to pay the tuition for Amjad to attend the YES Academy that was to be held in Beirut, Lebanon. Though it would only be a 3-hour drive through the mountains from Damascus to Beirut (and no sure thing the roads would be safe), I still had hopes that Amjad might be able to study piano with me again.   At that time, I also had hopes that I would see Andreh and his violin again, as well.

But as the date of the 2012 Academy approached, the violence in Syria escalated.

Andreh, during a cleanup day at the Conservatory.  A bomb blast nearby caused considerable damage to the buildings, and the instruments inside.

Andreh, during a cleanup day at the Conservatory. A bomb blast nearby caused considerable damage to the buildings, and the instruments inside.

.

As things worsened in Syria, I chatted with both guys on facebook, and I began fostering the idea that they consider ways of leaving Syria altogether, suggesting that it might be prudent for them (and the future of their families) for each of them to search out their musical aspirations outside of that country.  John Ferguson (founder and CEO of American Voices) owns some apartments in Bangkok, Thailand, and generously offered them refuge should they choose to leave.  For each of the guys, such a major decision would carry with it different, but equally weighty, considerations.  In my view, both young men were of “fighting age,” and to be caught on the streets by the wrong parties would likely be fatal.  I couldn’t have been more adamant that they should leave, even though I worried that I might be making a mistake should they leave and circumstances keep them from returning home someday.

It was only the second day of our 2012 Beirut workshop, and any realistic hope that the guys would be able to attend had vanished.   By then, the conditions of the war had deteriorated enough that it stopped any but the bravest or desperate of Syrians from making crossing into Lebanon.  But on that day, I was in a car headed to the University to teach and who should jump in for a ride…but Andreh, together with his trusty violin!

Andreh makes a surprise visit to Beirut.  Summer of 2012.

Andreh makes a surprise visit to Beirut. Summer of 2012.

When I asked what he was doing there, and asked where Amjad was, he said that Amjad had been forced to stay in Damascus to take exams.  (Due to the war, the conservatory had to delay its finals.  They were now scheduled during the date of our YES Academy and, as a result, Amjad had little choice but to stay in Damascus to take them.  Amjad was also studying engineering at the University….so exams there may have also been a consideration).  Andreh also explained that, due to fighting that had broken out near the Syrian/Lebanese border, the border closed behind him only moments after he had successfully crossed, thus leaving him unsure whether or not he would even be able to return to back to his home in Damascus when YES was over.  But as in Jordan, the YES workshop was Andreh’s motivation and nothing was going to stop him.

The night before I left Beirut at the end of the two weeks of classes, Andreh was still unsure of his future.  He had only brought a couple of hundred US dollars with him to Beirut, and that was running low.  And with the border closed, we were unsure of how he would hold out in Beirut.  So, I forwarded him a couple of hundred dollars and wished him the best, even if the best was to secure a job in Lebanon in order to sustain himself.  To my surprise, a couple of days after my return to Texas, I received an email explaining that he had used the money to hire a “taxi” to risk the return to his family in Damascus.  Thankfully, that trip was successful and the travel uneventful.

The same couldn’t be said of the months that would follow.

Both Amjad and Andreh are from a suburb of Damascus.  President Assad and his government forces have largely controlled that area of the country.  However, by fall of 2012, rebel forces had made such inroads that safety in the streets of Damascus was anything but assured.

The trouble hit home for Andreh one afternoon as he was out trying to sell his laptop computer.  On the way home, he made a “wrong turn” and found himself in the middle of a firefight between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to the government.  “I didn’t think I would make it out alive,” Andreh texted me, clearly shaken.   “I thought that was it, and I was going to die.”

After getting approval and support from his family, the decision to leave Syria was made.  After consulting with John in Thailand, American Voices paid for the air ticket, and Andreh left Syria, not knowing if he would ever see his family again.

For Amjad, who was still in school in Damascus, the decision to leave rested not only on his reluctance to leave his family, but also in a balancing act between predicting whether or not the regime would survive, or whether the rebels would win.  One miscalculation could effectively end his education.   In Syria, if a young man has a brother, he can be drafted into military service…unless he is enrolled in school.  Andreh is an only son, and didn’t have the draft consideration.  But Amjad has a brother, so for him to leave the country would have meant that he might not be able to return should the war result in a rebel victory.  Should the government win, his return might be possible, provided he follow papers through a Syrian consulate which would allow him to postpone the draft every year and return to Syria without facing arrest.  Of course, it was the “postpone” caveat that caused us the angst in this scenario.  For Amjad to postpone his conscription into military service, it would require him to be in school.  In other words, it depended on his ability to score high enough on the aptitude tests and play a strong piano audition, not to mention raising the funding to attend a university.  Anything less would result in the cessation of his musical aspirations, as well as leave him stranded from Syria and his family.

For several weeks…or was it months…I begged Amjad to leave.  Then, on one fateful day, a car bomb exploded outside of his house, lacerating his face.  Indeed, Amjad was lucky.  What was meant to be two car bombs resulted in only one explosion. The first was meant to attract help into the street, only to have the second do the “real” damage.   Lucky for Amjad, the first didn’t detonate.  For Amjad, the decision to leave was made.  In order to have the best chance to forward his education, and perhaps to even survive, he would have to leave Syria.  Again, John came through with housing in Bankok, and again American Voices paid airfare for the trip, and both of the guys came to share an apartment there as they sorted out what to do next.

08 Amjad hurt

Amjad, following a bomb blast outside his home. 2012.

.

09 amjad patched 2

Amjad, patched up and ready to get back to the practice room.

.

Damage to a home, following the car bomb that injured Amjad.

Damage to a home, following the car bomb that injured Amjad.

.

It was fall of 2012, a time in which many American seniors typically take their SAT’s and apply to schools throughout the country.  For Andreh and Amjad, they would have to prepare not only to take their aptitude tests, but they would also need to prepare musical auditions, as well.  With an emotional focus on the well being of their families back in Syria, and with every reason to feel detached and distracted from their new surroundings in Thailand, both studied and practiced, and managed to find a small studio in Bangkok at which to record and re-record their musical audition tapes.  John, also a pianist, worked with Amjad, though John was often out of the country paving the way for the next YES Academy workshops.  I supplemented with a couple of piano lessons via Skype.  Andreh found a teacher in a local orchestra to offer him occasional guidance on the violin. Frequently, I would receive an email attachment of part of their potential audition material, accompanied with the question, “Dr. Bolen, is this good enough?”

As long as the odds could have been, I am happy to report that both men scored not only well enough to gain acceptance into their respective colleges (Baylor University and McClennan County College ), but both performed well enough to receive the largest scholarships either institution offers.  Needless to say, this was thrilling enough for all of us.  But, just as the way seemed paved for them to come to America for study, there would be visa issues, housing issues, and issues of “petty” finance that all students know too well.

For much of the year, I felt as much like an immigration lawyer as I did a pianist.  One of the biggest decisions was whether or not to have Andreh apply for his visa with his Syrian passport (as his father is Syrian) or his Russian passport (his mother is Russian).  After some deliberation, it was decided that the Russian passport would be the safer route, as the connotations that can sometimes go along with being from the Middle East, let alone a war torn country, could ultimately make things more difficult.   Only a month passed after his application, that the Boston Marathon bombings happened…as the result of Russian born extremists.  My contacts with congressmen and senators made it clear we might have problems.

But, little by little, things began looking up.  The biggest news came when an application I put in at the local Seventh and James Baptist Church for housing was approved.  The church has a long-standing tradition of helping international students in need.  Each year, such students occupy one of 5 apartment units the church owns under their “Dunn House” program, and the church pays their rent and utilities for their duration of study.   We also managed to get financial documents from various sources – myself, the church, the schools — indicating the guys had at least some support.  The result was that both guys received their visas the day of their interviews in Thailand, a better than expected outcome.

Even still, neither Amjad nor Andreh have families with the resources of the typical American college kids.  And in the last few months, the crash of the Syrian currency, along with a 92 percent per month inflation rate there, destroyed any hope for additional help from their families for day-to-day finances.  The total destruction of Andreh’s father’s factory didn’t help matters, either.  During the last year, both men lost friends and loved ones to violence, Andreh even having his cousin beheaded at a roadside checkpoint.

Both Andreh and Amjad will arrive in Dallas on August 1st.  I will be picking them up from the DFW airport.  On that day, they will arrive with little more than they can fit in their pockets, or that their scholarships will ultimately provide.

And on that day, both will be two of the happiest people on the planet Earth.

Andrey and Amjad

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Though the American Voices workshops were cut short this summer, the Jordanian program was a huge success.  It is exciting to see how our presence in Jordan still reinforced the awareness of our work last year in the other countries we visited in the region.  I get daily emails from students eager for us to return next year.  Fingers crossed, kids!

Just as I posted last summer’s epilogue, below are additional pictures and video from some of the highlights of our time in Jordan.

I will continue to use this space to keep people updated on things related to the American Voices experience and mission.  If you have enjoyed reading about our work and my adventures, please consider a small tax-deductible donation to American Voices.  Our work can only continue with the support of music, dance, and theater lovers like you!

Enjoy!

.

A special thanks goes to the Alfred Music Company, and Mary Beth Parker of the Waco Piano Center for their generous donation of music to the American Voices program.  Thanks to them, many boxes of music were donated to the Jordanian libraries this summer.  In this picture left to right:  Mark Thayer (St. Louis), Andreh Maqdisi (Syria), John Ferguson (AV founder and Big Boss), and Aram Kawa (Iraq).

.

Greg Hurley (East Carolina University) takes command of this Jordanian military orchestra rehearsal.

.

Sarah Hamade arrives for the final Gala concert.  The concert sported an audience of 1000 people and live Jordanian TV broadcasts.

.

The Children’s group opens the string portion of the Gala program.

.

Ira Spaulding (City College of New York) gives final instructions to the children’s choir before they take the stage for their portion of the Gala concert.

.

Ira leads the children’s choir in an American favorite.  They have a bit over a week to prepare their performance from scratch.  The children are always crowd pleasers.

.

The American Voices string program is huge, consisting of several orchestras.

.

The intermediate orchestra prepares to take the stage.

.

A student invites us over for traditional “Mansaf”, a delicious dish traditionally eaten with your hands.  Here, we are taught the proper technique.

.

A surprise guest.  The man in blue is Jordan’s Minister of Labor.  He was one of the few cabinet members to survive the government’s dismissal in February.

.

The family gives me a tour of their home, complete with many antiques from their travels to India.  Bruce gives a nice explanation to the Minister, describing American Voices and our mission.

.

A night at a Lebanese restaurant with my “Groupies”.

.

Some fun with the locals along one of the street markets.

.

Making baked goods and Naan bread at one of the local shops.

.

The local cherry salesman takes a breather.

.

A trip to the local pastry shop.  Yum!

.

Waiting for handouts.

.

Heading to Petra.

.

At Petra, just looking at these women was enough to give me heat stroke.

.

This little guy was always waiting for our return to the hotel.

.

The intermediate piano class throws me a farewell party.  I think I need to learn the proper way to wrap the shemagh they gave me.

.

See YOU next year!

Read Full Post »

“Thank You, Welcome to Jordan.”

I must have heard that phrase a dozen times a day while in Jordan, whether in taxis, restaurants, or buying souvenirs.  The Jordanians are without question the most hospitable people on the planet, which is why I quickly realized what the travel guides meant when they said that I could walk anywhere in Jordan without fear and in confidence…which is why I decided that I was going to see Petra one way or another, even if I had to go it alone.

Indeed, it did look like would have to go it alone.  Ira (voice), Bruce (cello), and John Cramer (violin) all were headed to the Dead Sea on our one day off from teaching in the American Voices workshop (Fridays are holy days in the Middle East).  Marc (violin) needed to chill at the ranch, and John Ferguson had a date with the local TV folks for interviews (grandma used to say that it is hell to be popular).  I had no idea what the few others had yet planned. Regrettably, I scarcely saw Michael and Rick  (Broadway and Dance) since they were working at another venue and not at the Cultural Center.

So, on Wednesday I began looking for ways to get to Petra by taxi.  My first quote was from the hotel front desk, for $150 dollars.  This would include the three-hour trip there and back, and 7 hours to look around.  This seemed like quite a deal for someone who can barely get from airports to a hotel in most cities for less than $50 bucks.  And this quote was for 6 hours of driving through the desert!

By early Thursday I had secured a quote from a taxi for $100 dollars.  Wow, things were looking up!  Then, the night before the excursion, I had discovered the “Jet” bus service (thanks to Omar, my favorite front desk clerk), which would also get me there and back with 7 hours to explore, but for a mere $20 US dollars.  That was it. I was going to Petra, and on the cheap!

As fate would have it (and I do mean fate), the Lebanese students — affectionately known as my “Groupies”, which include Sarah, Pascale (“mom”), Tony (“Toooony”) and Joe — decided that they would join me.  Then, at the 11th hour, American Voices instructor Greg (Viola) decided he would also opt for Petra instead of the Dead Sea.  (The Dead Sea was only a 45-minute drive from our hotel, and we still had hopes of getting out there after work later in the week.)  It looked to be the perfect getaway.

Mistake number one:  Don’t stay up too late the night before the trip.

I woke up Friday morning after a short 4 hours of sleep, and headed with the kiddos to the jet bus station.  No problem, I was too jazzed to even notice being tired.

Mistake number two:  Don’t skip breakfast before you go to Petra.

Since the hotel restaurant didn’t open until 7am, I figured I would not worry about breakfast.  After all, I rarely eat breakfast in the States, and had done so only in Jordan since it was so convenient, and lunches usually consisted of lots of bread and fries…with perhaps a touch of meat thrown in for symbolic reasons.  (They wanted it to appear that we were eating sandwiches.)

Once at the bus station, Rania (my prize student and American Voices volunteer) surprised us by showing up, and the seven of us were on our way at 6:30 am.

.

The bus stopped at “Midway Castle”, a chance for snack and souvenirs.  These boys were enjoying a nice game of soccer in the parking lot.

.

By 9:30, it was clear that we were nearing Petra due to the drastic changes in terrain.

.

The approach to Petra.

.

Mistake number three:   Don’t skip a real lunch.

Thankfully, my Lebanese Groupies had the time and foresight to bring some naan bread and cheese.  I had figured that there would be places to get something to eat at the entrance of Petra.  However, there were only a few stands selling snackity items, but nothing with real substance.  I figured we wouldn’t be doing anything so strenuous anyways, so it didn’t bother me at that point.  We hung out under a tree, and put on suntan lotion and ate some of the snacks.

.

The third of the series of “Indiana Jones” movies was filmed at Petra.

.

As we stood in line to buy tickets for entering the park, I marveled at the cost structure.  If you are Arab, you pay one Dinar.  If you are not Arab, you pay 50 Dinar ($70 US dollars).  I wasn’t amused, as I saw a metal plate on the side of one of the information booths that read:  “USAID”.   But, I was going to see Petra regardless of the apparent injustice.  There would always be time to pester my Senators when I got home.

As we began our trek, it didn’t take long to see the first evidence of the ancient civilization that once thrived here.  Petra is peppered with tombs, which were dug into the rocks.  I could only imagine how much time and effort just one of these tombs must have taken to prepare.  Surely it gave a different perspective to the phrase, “digging your own grave.”

.

One of the first tombs along the trail to the “Treasury”.

.

Frequently, we were approached by camel, donkey, and horse and cart drivers soliciting us to buy rides to the main attraction, the “Treasury”, and beyond.  5 Dinar was the going rate for the trip to the Treasury (Interestingly, it would become 7 Dinar on the way back).  There was no way that I was going to plop myself on one of those little donkeys.  The sight made it pretty easy to spot the likely Americans, as well.

.

I did not take this particular picture, but I could have.  USA…USA!!!

.

Just as with dog and cat owners in the West, they say that after a time camel owners begin to resemble their camels.  Matching smiles?

.

Mistake number 4:  Ok, in the end, it may be ok to conserve a little energy and to accept a little help up from the “staff”.

As we entered the Siq (“the shaft”) the signs read that we had a 2 km walk ahead of us to reach the Treasury.  But, the sight was so spectacular that the trip seemed to go by in seconds.  Petra is a protected city.  The only practical way in is through the Siq.  The Nabataeans created an elaborate hydraulic system in order to get water into the city.  They also sold the extra water to travelers along the spice routes nearby.  Water was brought into the city via gutters carved along the Siq from aquifers just outside the city.

.

The “Siq” (The Shaft).  Note the water gutters carved along each wall.

.

Another view of the “Siq”.  Again, note the gutters for water along the walls.
I would learn the hard way that the horse carts aren’t such a bad idea.

.

The cats at Petra find a way.

.

I happened to glance up just as a bit of the Treasury could be seen through the end of the Siq.  I began filming from this point.  Few experiences have taken my breath away like my approach to the Treasury.

.

The detail still visible in the Treasury is amazing.  This was built 2000 years ago.

.

A closer view of the detail of the Treasury.

.

Mistake number 5:  If you are going to continue past the Treasury, plan ahead.

The Monastery sits atop the highest point in Petra.  From one side of the mountain, you can view the Rift Valley, the spot where Moses pointed out the Promised Land.  From the other side, one looks down onto a large portion of the city of Petra.  (It is estimated that only one percent of the city has been excavated.)  So, my “Groupies” and I did the calculations, and we felt that if we didn’t linger, we could just make it to the Monastery and get back to the bus by the 4:30 departure time.

Mistake number 6:  If you are going to the Monastery, be in shape.

For the next several kilometers, the terrain was relatively flat, hindered mostly by the occasional sand we had to walk through, and the fact that the sun was beginning to take its toll.  Though the air somehow felt cool, the direct sunlight warmed the skin…  a strange sensation, really.  Regardless, I still marveled at the sights.

.

A woman rests in the shade along the trail.

.

More tombs along the trail at Petra.

.

Joe and Tony took off for this temple.  At first, I thought they had mistaken it for the Monastery.

.

I must get dropped by AT&T at least twice a day.  Yet, Joe was getting good reception even out here.

.

Another cat climbing along the rocky ledges.

.

Thankfully, this part of the road was flat, though the sand sometimes made walking more difficult.

.

.

Looking back from where we came, this whole mountain range was carved with city dwellings.

.

I had heard about the steps up to the Monastery.  All 900 of them.  At this point, I have to admit that I was somewhat concerned that I spent too much of the year sitting on piano benches, and not enough time riding my bicycle.  As Rania and I pondered our time constraints, we finally decided to make a go of it and head to the Monastery.  At this point, Greg had already turned back, and the others had crept ahead.  I had been worried about Greg (last year he seemed particularly sensitive to heat), so I was somewhat relieved that he wouldn’t be joining us on this part of the journey.  Little did I know that he wasn’t the one for whom I should have been worried.

Mistake number 7:  If you are going to the Monastery, make sure you have time, and do not hurry.

The trail up to the Monastery isn’t terribly exposed, but the cliffs along the trail are a reminder that nothing should be taken for granted.  One wrong step and there will be no second chances.  The thought of sitting up on a donkey seemed rather appalling, even if they are famous for their sure footing.

.

Rania and I try to decide if we can get up to the Monastery and back in time to catch the bus back home.

.

Along the trail, there was the occasional drink stand manned by Bedouins still living in the mountains, or the Bedouin women selling their crafted jewelry.  (I would have loved more time to buy gifts.  For 2 dollars one can buy a beautiful pendant, or ring.)  The final drink stand again doubled the price of water for foreigners.  This time, I let the sellers know of my displeasure.  I could only imagine that I seemed polite next to what other passers buy might have expressed at this point of the journey.

.

Though he had one broken leg, this cat was eager to charge me double what the Arabs paid for bottled water.  I had to resist breaking his other leg.

.

It was a struggle, but we made it to the Monastery.  Interestingly, there were few other people around.  Hmmm….

.

Standing in the doorway, I add a little perspective as to the size of the Monastery.

.

.

I figure that on the return trip I got within 300 yards of the park entrance.  300 yards, with 20 minutes to spare.  Easy.  Though I was “damaged”, I thought that I was just naturally fatigued.  But, it was also clear that I was shutting down… fast.  Suddenly, the horse drawn carts didn’t seem like such a bad idea.  (I should have noticed that the locals were beginning to offer me free return trips on the donkeys to the parking lot.  I figured that they were just looking for tips.)

Finally, I asked Rania to grab a cart.  Screw it… I had earned the right to relax those last few yards, right?

As I waited in the shade behind a rock, I began to feel strange.  Then, I tried to stand up, and whoop…nope.  Have a seat, Bradley.

The cart didn’t come, and I was really worried about holding everybody up from the bus.  So, I took an offer for a horse.  Note to self…it takes as much energy to stay on a horse as it does to walk.  I figure we made it about 5 steps.  I had to get down.

The next sound I heard was an ambulance siren.  I was really upset at the thought that it was for me.  Greg (who had made it to the Monastery after all… by wisely taking a donkey) and the rest of the gang were already at the bus, joking that the ambulance was probably for me.  They didn’t yet realize that it was.  I was still in denial.  However, by the time I got into the ambulance I knew that I was in some trouble.

The ambulance attendants asked me to sit down so they could take my blood pressure.  Immediately, they became worried, and Sarah was particularly insistent that I needed to go the hospital.  My blood pressure had cratered, and the alarm was going off of the pressure meter.

You remember my post about Bruce and the discussion over Pepsi or Pepsi light?  Well, the next 10 minutes were similar, as the attendants debated with each other (and my Groupies) as to whether I needed rest or a hospital.  One of the attendants was sitting on the edge of the portable bed  generally reserved for patients to lay on.  As I felt myself slipping, I said that I needed to lay down…fast.  The attendant broke off from his conversation with the Groupies long enough to say, “just a minute.”  I think the last bit of energy I mustered was spent politely removing him from that position.

As I lay there, it suddenly dawned on me that heat was the issue.  (Yes, I can be slow) Yet, there was no I-V, my hat was still on, and my shoes were still on.  So, once I realized what I needed, I turned to Rania and whispered…”water….forehead…shoes.”

Sarah made a dash for juice, and Rania sponged my head.  As the attendants explained to everyone that I should just rest there, Sarah returned with juice and asked, “so what happens to him during this ‘rest’?”  At that point, it was a mad dash through the mountains to the nearest hospital.  They never even strapped me into the bed.  It was all I could do not to roll off the cart.  I didn’t see stars, but dollar signs, as I imagined what the bill was going to be for this experience.  I figured foreigners were likely to get charged double, or worse.  Hey, it worked for everything else, why not medical care?  At the lowest point, I remember actually saying my goodbyes.  This was it…I was going to snuff it in Jordan without a chance to say goodbye to my family or friends.

As the cool air of the hospital (a clinic, really) washed over me, I began to feel a bit better.  The doctor saw me, and immediately said, “heat stroke.”  It was hard to walk, but once my vital signs were stable I was dismissed (too soon).  In their usual helpful manner, the Jordanians had already arranged another bus, which was waiting a few miles below.  Though I was gouged by the taxi driver for the trip to that bus (for 20 dollars…a fair price had we been in America), I didn’t argue, and managed to stumble onto the bus for the 3 hours trip home.

This should have been the end of this story, except that the air conditioner on the bus went out about half way back, and for some reason I began to crash again.  The girls were quite worried, as was I.  Rania once again sponged my head, and Pascale (affectionately known as “mom”) did some sort of “reflexology” she learned from girl scouts on my hand.  Sarah fanned me, and gave me juice.  In all, I credit the girls for doing as well as I did.  They are extraordinary individuals.

Rania’s father is a prominent pediatric surgeon in Amman, and he met us at the station, insisting that I go to their flat so he could check me out.  After some rest, and delicious pasta Rania’s mother made (for which I still need the recipe!), I was beginning to feel better.  After some time, I was taken back to the hotel, where Bruce — who had gotten word of my demise — was pacing “like a cat looking for his master.”

In the end, the trip was certainly worth it…for me, anyway.  And the bill for the experience?  Zero…not one Dinar.  When I had handed the hospital attendants my insurance card their only concern was how to spell my name.  When I asked the hospital folks why they weren’t charging me, their response was, “It is our duty.”

And of all the things I will likely remember about this adventure — the Treasury…the Monastery view…the incredible help of friends — perhaps the most memorable will be something the ambulance driver said as I exited the hospital, exhausted, and totally spent.

As I stumbled out to get into the taxi the hospital staff had arranged, the ambulance driver shook my hand and said:

“Thank You, Welcome to Jordan.”

.

Ya’ll come back now, ya hear!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »