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As the women warm up with "You Will Be His," a very special lady joins them in the back (sssh, it's a secret!)

As the women warm up with "You Will Be His," a very special lady joins them in the back (sssh, it's a secret!)

After what Dozan wa Awtar billed as the first combination of Iftaar, plus singing concert, plus quiz game night (probably not hard to be first at that combination, actually) at Books@Cafe, I just returned home from a packed rooftop audience. It was a good night, even though the venue was a little bit cramped (with us in a corner of the outdoor cafe area) but the sound setup was quite powerful – even deafeningly so when I had the accidental misfortune of standing too close to one of their speakers and my ears rang for a good 5 minutes.

We did a compilation of all of our other concerts since the beginning, most of which had been shortened for time limit purposes. Each one of the songs we sang had a question related to it which was put up on a projector sitting on the roof of the main building in front of the audience. Surprisingly, there were about 50 questions, and we as a concert only provided clues to half of them. The other half were related to questions our “DJ” asked in both English and Arabic, and to songs that were played over the speakers that people were asked to identify. There was a good mix of foreigners and locals in the crowd that night, which meant that the questions were mixed as well. Some questions, like “name the main character in this theme song” (Mickey Mouse Theme Song) might have been easy for the Westerners in the group, but when the choir danced out the opening number to an Arab cartoon named “Belle and Sebastian” I certainly know I was as baffled as the foreigners in the audience looked.

During those small mini-intermissions where the audience was working on questions unrelated to our singing ability, the choir members milled about, chatted with friends in the audience, or in the case of Yanal and Nedy and I, sampled the local hot chocolate. Because it’s Ramadan, no alcohol can be served or purchased anywhere in the country for the entire month. Some more liberal businesses have been known to evade the rules, though, and I remember last year, Books@Cafe was shut down for the entire month of Ramadan for alcohol-serving infractions. I was helping Nedy grade some first-round quiz sheets that had come in, and Yanal handed me a white mug in passing and said, “Can you hold my hot chocolate for me?” I grasped the wet base of the mug and looked at him in confusion. “Yanal, this mug is covered in condensate…?” He looked at me blankly and said, “You know, my hot chocolate. Feel free to have some.” Following his directions, I quickly discovered that the mug contained neither hotness nor chocolate.

Wait a second...

Wait a second...

Besides questions on songs we’d already done, and mp3’s courtesy of Yanal’s laptop, many of the singers in Dozan also did solo or small-group bits and pieces from musicals. Besides famous Western ones like Miss Saigon and Grease, there were also (apparently) famous Arabic musicals as well. I was a back-up singer for my English friend John’s rendition of “Bui-doi” from Miss Saigon and part of the militant men’s number of “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables (which took me back to high school when I sang the same song in costume for one of my favorite performances of all time). The last act of the evening, though, was our director Shireen and I singing a little cut from Grease‘s “Summer Nights” which was a lot of fun. I wish they would have let me sing the whole song, but oh well!

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In other news, class has resumed at Ayn al Basha for the second year. I was there on the first day of class on Sunday. It was strange to be there as a technical support contractor and not a teacher for the first time, and many of my former Hardware students or other random people came up joyfully to shake my hand, and expressed their disappointment when I told them I wouldn’t be teaching this time around. I have so many other jobs to do now that I’ll probably only be at the training center one or two days a week to check over the computers and the network.

I have to say, I was extremely impressed with how Jeff handled everything. With both Aaron and Ahmad on vacation, he handled the entire center and everyone’s questions with amazing professionalism and calm. In the half hour before classes started, he probably had 20 people milling around him, demanding to know why they didn’t get into this-or-that class for this-or-that reason (usually no one’s fault but their own for not properly filling out the application previously). As I observed from the sidelines, wrists-deep in a server case that needed to have hard drives replaced, I knew that if I was in his shoes there, I would have gone insane and started shouting epithets in Arabic and Wamidh would have to administer tranquilizers to me with an elephant gun. But Jeff held his ground with every demand and cajole and calmly took everyone’s questions in an ordered and logical matter. If I had been wearing a hat, I would have taken it off to him.

We’re getting good turnout at EGT, or so I’ve heard. There was some worry as to whether or not people would show up because of Ramadan, but people are apparently coming to class as they should be. We had a little “celebration” party and iftaar at my house a week ago to commemorate the end of the first year, and Aaron and Jeff went over the policies of the new year with the teachers. It sounds like things are more strict now then previously in terms of attendance and behavior, but EGT has really built up a respectful name for itself and the students, both young and old, seem to have a craving for rules and order. After living in Iraq, a country that is decidedly unregulated in many respects, it’s probably a breath of fresh air to have a nice daily schedule to fall into.