24 February, 2006

On Grafton Street

This wasn't how I was going to begin the post, but then I was interrupted by a phone call from The Moroccan back in the US. It really hit me fully how much has changed as I stood in the hallway outside the internet office, trying to keep my voice from echoing too loudly off all the marble. Yes, things began to change over a year ago for the two of us, but in the last few months, since I made my decision and left, life's gone through quite the revolution. At least for me. One song on my iPod that's been in constant rotation is "On Grafton Street" by Nanci Griffith, a truly great singer-songwriter. The line that gets me every time is, "funny how my world goes round without you, you're the one thing I thought I could never live without." I don't really want to engage in e-therapy here, just something for those of you in the know about this. Strange that you have to cross your fingers, step on a plane, and fly off to an unknown country thousands of miles away to find yourself again. Maybe sometimes tracing the run lines isn't what we need, but rather to just head full steam towards the horizon....

I now truly believe this is a small planet. At the airport in Amsterdam, while waiting for the security check at our gate to open I fell into a conversation with a middle aged Syrian man. Turned out he worked in communications and project management with development organizations. We exchanged contact information and chatted throughout the flight. He said he might have writing work for me in the future. Only thing is, when I was settled enough to call, I couldn't find his card. I never heard from him and considered it not meant to be.

So imagine my surprise when, at my interview with FIRDOS on Thursday, he walked up to me in the lobby and introduced himself as the Director of Communications. It took only a second for us to recognize each other and run through the explanations of lost slips of paper and such. My interview was with him and the Executive Director. We hit it off, swapping buzzwords like resident ownership, empowerment, and such. I thought they were only prepared to offer me an internship, but the Director asked what I am looking for and I nerved up to ask for a job. This is a non-profit NGO and since there is nothing in the budget for a job for me, I'm not yet sure if I'll get paid. However the DoC and the ED want me there and I want to be there. DoC said he believes, due to my experience, that I should get paid and that he would try to shift some money in the budget to do so. They will be calling this week with an offer.

I will be assisting the DoC in crafting and executing a communications strategy for the organization, which previously had none. I will be helping design and write the Web site; brochures, donor packets and other printed materials; developing relations with media, donors, NGOs, and the necessary government officials; writing press releases; organizing special events; revamping internal communications; assisting the villagers in telling their own stories, helping make a 20-minute documentary....And then DoC is very open to my ideas for additional projects. All in all, very exciting. The organization went through a restructuring last year. The ED has only been there 4 months, DoC for one month. They will be opening regional offices near the targeted villages this year in an effort to decentralize. This year is their fifth anniversary and the target for the launch of the film is a special event we will be planning for July. I got the feeling these are exciting times to be involved with the organization.

So, for the time being, I won't have much time on my hands. In addition to school, teaching and work, I've promised my former teacher and her sister (my current teacher - see, small world) time for "language exchange" to improve their spoken English and my Arabic. Perhaps someday I will manage to get to Tishreen to swim laps.

Class is still going well. I keep waiting to hit a wall with the language, but so far, so good. I may take time of from my studies in the summer, when I hear the University fills up. By then I should be through at least the third and possibly fourth level. I would return to class in the fall. In the meantime, I would work additional hours, maybe take a course in Turkish (suffix-crazy and possibly a real challenge), hopefully get out of town now and then.

Speaking of getting out of town. I now have an invite to Qamishle, a small town on the Turkish border in the far northeastern corner of the country. An older Kurdish man started up a conversation with me during my bi-weekly "lunch with the Sultan" at Takkia Suleymania. I had rented a great Kurdish film before I left the States ("Lost in Iraq") and we talked, in Arabic, about Kurdish music and such. I learned a few words from the Kurdish language - "Spass": Thank you - and received an emphatic invitation to come and hang out with the Kurds in Qamishle. Hopefully I can take him up on it sometime.

I believe some of you are wondering about life on the streets here. Or, rather, what we wear on the street. I prefer to wear a traditional piece of clothing, called "jeans", or another, called "cords", with another traditional item, the "t-shirt". Seriously, I wear exactly what I wear at home. Ok, I left the shorter skirts at home, but I don't have many of those anyway. And, I am quite frumpy compared to most women here. They either wear jilbab (like a long overcoat) and hijab or all sorts of hip clothing, make-up and lovely hair, sometimes with hijab, a lot of them without. There are niqabis here, including the future doctor I share a room with, who wear a black abaya and the over their face, but it seems rather rare. I live in the big city, so you get all kinds...

We're having a bit of a "family reunion" tomorrow with the remnants of our first class. I'm going to the National Museum with my friend from South Africa and girlfriend from France, who, sadly will be leaving in a month. The rest of the motley crew are meeting later for another long, nargileh-laced lunch in the old city. Our original group remaining at the University has been split into the two classes. Thankfully, as we're next door to each other, it's like they never left. The guys in the other class say we're the "good" class. My friend from Pakistan, who did, indeed get the top score last class, pretended to scold me when he found me in the other classroom yesterday. I assured him I had not "gone over to the dark side."

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