Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Newbie

The Newbie

This year, I am no longer the “new worker bee”. The team here in Kurdistan is comprised of many American Voices veterans-John, Miss Carole, Marc, Dr. Gene the jazz doctor, and of course Mr. Michael. This year in Kurdistan, we have two additional string teachers, a Spanish jazz teacher and a pianist for a total of 7 core disciplines. The first days in the field are always the roughest but particularly so for the newbies who have no real idea what to expect. We all have to take a page from the military practice of hurry up and wait. Translation difficulties, not knowing what to expect, a schedule that is constantly changing, almost having to clean the toilets ourselves, no shows, kids having to be turned away because we are over capacity, half the students leaving their instruments at home, leaking roofs in the middle of auditions, not having a working printer, losing students a half an hour early to the World Cup games—any of these things can be enough to push anyone, much less a jet lagged newcomer to Iraq, over the edge. But the team remained calm and functional yesterday as we all walked the tightrope together today knowing that tomorrow things will start settling in. I can already hear the strings making beautiful music through the office door so we are already well on our way now on Day 2.

Last night, I had a few quiet moments as I was watching football aka soccor in the hotel lobby after dinner (sad for Brazil) to think about how normal the moment was and how strange it feels to not be the newbie this year. As John and I were chatting, Bruce came bounding into the lobby with his cello and a handful of method books. Bruce is probably 6 foot 6 inches of African American positive pep and in comparison makes my enthusiastic self look like Darth Vader. Feeling hungry, we strolled out at about 11 pm to the neighborhood store right next door for some Muesli and ice cream. On the way back, we followed our ears to a Kurdistani wedding just down the block. The fourth wall was open to the sidewalk and so hearing the music we went by to peek in. Bruce got pulled in right away and after a few half hearted protests, my half-eaten ice cream cone was thrown literally out the window by the host and we were “forced” to start dancing with everyone. Believe me, a Western white woman and a very, very tall peppy black man dancing together and with the natives here makes a real statement but we lived it up with everyone for about 20 minutes and then took pictures with the Bride and Groom.

Being invited to participate in one of most important moments in a stranger’s life will always be extraordinary to me, but I have seen it happen more than once as the legendary hospitality of the region and genuine curiosity about us kicks in. Last year, I attended an amazing Palestinian-Swedish Circus Wedding in Southern Lebanon as a guest and again was invited to dance with the guests despite my clear outsider status. Even knowing we were Americans, last night we were very welcome, and in conversations afterwards we explained afterwards that we were here as arts teachers and citizen diplomats rather than with soldiers as they expected. After these moments, I am so aware that sharing this kind of human experience, even as my presence alone slightly pushes social boundaries, is priceless. No matter how many times I find myself in such situations, bonding across cultures always invigorates me allowing me to keep the enthusiasm of a “newbie.” I confess though that falling asleep I wondered what happens to all those photos….hmmm.

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