The first alumni from my course - minus a couple, and plus a few guys that happened to walk past and wanted to be in the picture.

The first alumni from my course - minus a couple, and plus a few guys that happened to walk past and wanted to be in the picture.

Well, it’s been a wild first three months as a “teacher” here in Jordan, but I’m very proud of my first graduating class of Iraqi students. Graduation yesterday was crazier than the wedding in Tibna and the dance party in Wadi Rum, but somehow I was able to make it through it without being dropped (more on that later) and make it to the resort on the edge of the Dead Sea where I am at this moment.

The morning had started off with Philip and Nancy rushing out stacks and stacks of sweets and baked goods from our house, goods that Nancy’s students, all Iraqi women, had been baking all through the past few days. With Qayssar gone at the UN Refugee center to do his interviews for emigration, I had told my students to come a little bit later in the day, since all we were going to do was disassemble the computers we had built, and put their parts away for the last time. They were all positively giddy with anticipation, dressed up in their best suits. Jasem, one of my favorite students with a very dry sense of humor (that Qayssar has to translate for me entirely), had brought his little daughter Fatima, who was simply the cutest little girl I had ever seen. Ghazwan, the most enthusiastic young man on the entire campus, was practically dancing on the tables, pumping my hand excitedly and saying, “today is the day, Mr. Zach! We get our certificates today!”

The work for the day was limited. Ra’ad, one of the older gentlemen and a national chess instructor (having written a book on the subject), translated for me in Qayssar’s stead, and there were no problems as the computers were carefully and lovingly taken apart, their innards stacked neatly in front of me on my desk. I informed them that the celebratory lunch would take place promptly in one hour, and official paperwork dispersal with IRD a half hour after that. I then joined Aaron and Jeff in the administrative office to affix my official signature onto my class’s shadat; certificates.

Hamdilallah for good next-door neighbors (with generators!)

Hamdilallah for good next-door neighbors (with generators!)

Except the certificates weren’t ready. In fact, they hadn’t even been printed yet. Literally as they were about to start printing them off on our specially-ordered thick paper, the lights flickered, and then the entire campus went dark. Power outages are frequent here, and they’re often very long. We had one last week that lasted for 6 hours as they were working on a gas station down the street. We stared in horror at the darkened laser printer and our computers. The admin staff started debating whether it would be better to wait it out, find a printing shop in town, physically move the printer and computer to another place, or try to get a really long extension cord. Amazingly enough, the last idea proved to be the best – the window factory next door had their own generators, and were kind enough to allow a cable snaked over the fence and through one of our open windows that we could plug a power strip into. I was shaking my head at the amazement of the bad luck at this, but everyone else who’s lived here longer than I only chuckled dryly as the printer started spitting out the beautiful certificates. They all know how Jordan works.

My guys were positively beaming as Aaron, Jeff, the IRD representatives, and myself stood at the front of the room, and called out their names. As each one came forward, I shook their hand, and ceremoniously and dramatically stamped their shadat with the official EGT seal (the one I made for us many months ago when I first arrived). Aaron and Jeff had been hoping to get through each class room in about 10 minutes, but with the hugging, shouting, dancing, and massive, massive amounts of photograph-taking, it was more like a half hour in each room. The two of them looked positively haggard by the time they were done. Each class went out and posed with their degrees next to the admin buildings with their teachers, and then the merrymaking began.

Everyone was dancing, and Ghazwan struck up a group singing, in Arabic, what Ra’ad told me was “Mr Zach is the strongest, the smartest, our hero,” and two of the guys picked me up and made me a throne and carried me around the campus as I tried not to spill my tea all over them. Jasem’s daughter shyly came up to me and offered me a little bundle of rosemary flowers, which Jasem then proudly tucked into my shirt’s buttonhole. One of the students from another class had brought an electric keyboard, which meant that the Dapka dance began. I was hoisted up several more times onto people’s shoulders (once while carrying a mug of hot tea, as I shouted “no! wait! guys!” then realized it was useless as I was shouting in the wrong language), as everyone snapped pictures of me with their cellphones.

When Jeff and Aaron had finished with each classroom, there were 120 new graduates, and the kitchen was filled with drinks and chips. Smoking rules were utterly disregarded (more than usual, that is) and the keyboard followed us all into the kitchen where the Dapka continued. Even Aaron danced a few minutes, although I was unable to get a picture of this amazing occasion.

The cooking class thanks Abu Saif, their teacher

Finally, around 3:30 everyone was feeling pretty exhausted, and in small groups or one-by-one, the happy graduates left, embracing their teachers, exchanging email addresses, and of course with the brotherly Arab double-cheek kiss (my own cheeks were practically rubbed raw by dozens of stubbly chins). Jeff was practically falling over with tiredness at this point, but I know that we were all proud and relieved that we had successfully finished the first session.

And in four days – we start all over again with a brand-new group!