Saturday, April 10, 2010

Help Me

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Friday was a rest day for the band due to everyone observing the Sabbath in this part of the world. We all slept in and then started our day with lunch at a trendy downtown restaurant. After lunch we headed to the US Consulate to do laundry at the Consul General's house. Technical difficulties (a major water leak) forced us to move over to the Marine house for laundry. But it was great fun hanging out with Marines, even if we were doing our laundry! The Marine house felt like a little bit of home and they have a very small refreshment area that is a oasis for many a thirsty traveler. Before we left I gave a quick harmonica lesson to Public Affairs Officer Dina Badawy and her friend Meryl. They were quick learners and we discussed adding two more Mississippi Saxophones to the band. While there, we were also privileged to meet Martin R Quinn the Consul General of the US. He warmly welcomed us and we chatted about our tour so far. It is amazing to have the opportunity to meet so many very distinguished and special people who serve our country.

But the real special people were yet to come. On Saturday morning we drove to the Help Center to set up and sound check for an afternoon performance. After the sound check, we dashed back to the Consulate for a remote radio interview. Some of the questions dealt directly with US /Saudi relations. Robbie elegantly stated that we are on a cultural exchange mission and I echoed that with the statement that music transcends national borders. Everyone agreed that our tour is a unique opportunity to connect people through music. We shared that our experience in Saudi Arabia has been very positive and enriching and that whatever fears we might have had were put to rest by the warm reception of our new Saudi friends.

After the interview, we then returned to the Help Center. The Center was co-founded almost 25 years ago by Maha Al-Juffali in response to the need to help special needs children learn the skills for life. The family is a very wealthy Saudi family (Mercedes Benz dealers) and they wanted to find a way to give back to the community. So they started the Help Center where children with cognitive disabilities, from infants to 18 years old, participate in day programs in a world class facility with “tip of the top” staff and curriculum. I have been in many schools and the Help Center is perhaps the finest program for special needs kids I have ever seen.
Looking out at all the smiling faces at the Help Center

The best part of the day was our musical performance. As soon as Joey struck up the band, big smiles broke out and everyone was having a total blast. The kids, the band, the Help Center staff and the Consulate staff all joined in the moment. Of all the incredible experiences I’ve had on this Rhythm Road adventure, this was my peak experience of the tour so far. I sensed the instant connection of our music with the kids and the more we played, the more joyful the moment became. We had dancing, swaying, boogie-woogieing, singing, handclapping, smiles, laughter and love. I am so fortunate to get to do what I do!
The Blues healed me!

Dancin' to the Blues.

With some of our new friends...What a joyous experience!
This is what I love doing!

Our days are rich and rewarding on the Rhythm Road, so full of incredible experiences.  Tonight we’re having a big jam session with Abo Siraj, a Saudi folklore group. It promises to be interesting because there will be traditional oud and string players, percussionists, and even dancers. We’ll be jamming at a private residence. It should be big fun.

Tomorrow could be another groundbreaking event. We’ve just received word that the concert at Effat University for Women will go on as scheduled. More on that as it unfolds. Again, as they say here, En’shallah….if God wills it.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful experience.
    It has to feel so good to make so many fine people smile and move to the sound of your music. I look forward to reading more of your blog.