April 1, 2009

Article by Steven Youngblood about Peace Camp

DESERT HIGHWAY, SOUTH OF AMMAN, JORDAN--I usually put bus rides right up there on the entertainment scale with dentist visits and estate planning seminars. Thus, you can imagine my surprise and delight at a remarkable "motor coach" trip that I recently took.

The journey, from Amman to Petra, Jordan, was with a bus load of 20 or so high school and college students from around the world who had gathered for Peace Camp, an event sponsored by People to People International.

Before the bus trip, I had the privilege of visiting with the students about peace journalism, and assigning stories, photos, videos, and podcasts that we were using to assemble a multimedia peace journalism project. I was impressed by the level of the intellectual discourse (theirs, not mine) during my presentation. Many students were from war-torn countries past and present like Serbia, Israel, Georgia, and Uganda, and thus had a number of insightful comments about what journalists can realistically do to create an atmosphere where peace becomes possible. I was also impressed by the students' eagerness to tackle a demanding assignment, putting together a multimedia newspaper for the web.

The real fun began after my lecture, when we piled into the bus for a 3 ½ hour trip first to Kerak and then to Petra. En route to Kerak, one of the Peace Camp's group leaders, the effervescent Barb, decided to spice things up a bit. Barb seized the bus' microphone from the tour guide, who wasn't really sure whether to relinquish it. Wisely electing not to cross Barb, the guide handed over the mike, and Barb began to emcee Peace Camp's own version of "Jordanian Idle" by crooning a few bars of that Kermit the Frog standard, "Rubber Ducky." Then, one by one, she called upon the students to stumble to the front of the bus and sing a song in their native tongue.

As the students began singing, I started to get that feeling in the pit of your stomach, much like when your Visa bill arrives each month. You see, I can't carry a tune in a bucket. Without exaggeration, I am the worst singer ever in the history of mankind, including future unborn singers.

As I listened to the students sing, my anxiety grew, particularly since most of them were very, very good. It was cool to hear the pride in their voices as they belted out songs in their native tongues, which included Chinese, Arabic, Serbian, German, etc. The audience was loudly supportive of each singer, regardless of ability. Still, they hadn't heard me yet. Visions of being thrown off the bus and left for dead in the middle of the desert danced through my head as my turn finally came.

I decided not to sing anything in English, figuring that would reduce my chance of utter embarrassment. I wanted to sing something in a language not represented on the bus, so I decided to croon "Multi Ani Traisca", the Romanian language version of the happy birthday song. I figured it was short, and even if I butchered it, no one would know. I finished my task quickly, not lingering, the way one wouldn't linger over a newly cleaned toilet.
Everyone applauded, a sure indicator that politeness won out over taste.
Still, I thought I had survived.

Moments later, to my horror, the Peace Camp's only Romanian student bounded towards me down the aisle of the bus. I had thought this young man was on the other bus, or I never would have publicly sung in Romanian. One again, however, politeness won over taste, as he complemented me on what he said was a good rendition of the song.

Before you know it, those 3 ½ hours had melted away into the desert landscape, thanks to Barb's ingenuity and some energetic, fun loving teee teenagers.

Peace Camp and People to People's motto is "Peace through Understanding." I figured we would all gain some understanding of one another during our sojourn to Jordan. I just never thought it would happen on a bus.

Steven Youngblood is an associate professor of Communication Arts at Park University in Parkville, MO USA. This column appears courtesy of the Parkville Luminary, where he is a weekly columnist. Youngblood is teaching Peace Journalism to the Peace Camp students in Jordan. He has taught Peace Journalism in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and the U.S., and will also be teaching for USAID this summer in Uganda.


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4 comments:

Meg from South Africa- PC 2003 said...

That is amazing :)

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