Receiving mail at the international school where I
worked in Yemen was always a good time.
If a package managed to arrive, chances were that it was from Amazon, or
a friend sending you highly coveted items from the States. So when the campus PA system called us to the
office to pick up mail, we hustled to retrieve our highly anticipated packages. The fact that I had recently ordered a cello
from Stringworks significantly ratcheted up the excitement quota. The very idea of something as large yet as
fragile being shipped to Yemen was so outlandish that a campus betting pool had
commenced, wagering on the condition the cello would arrive in, if it were to
arrived at all. I wasn't worried (too
much) because I knew the cello was being transported via FedEx, and Eric at
Stringworks reassured me that the cello would be packed in such a way that not
only would it arrive in one piece, but also tuned and ready to play. I was so sick of the ¾ Cremona I had been
playing that if Eric had promised to pack himself in the box, come to Yemen,
and give me lessons personally, I would have believed that, too. Nevertheless, the rest of my colleagues couldn't resist scoffing, with the disbelievers settling into four categories:
1) Marianne is off her nut; she will never see the
2) The cello might arrive, at which time Marianne
will need to bribe every Yemeni customs official under the sun to claim to it 50%
3) The cello will arrive, the unavoidable bribery
will take place, but the box will be filled with nice, shiny,
4) It will
all be fine 1% (me)
The FedEx website with tracking information made the
betting pool even more fun. We all
watched online as the cello left the Stringworks studio in Wisconsin, made its
way to Chicago, then on to Paris where it seemed to be stuck for a few
days. I guess if you are going to get stuck
anywhere, Paris is a fine place to do so, right? Then it stalled again in Riyadh, which is
never a good place to get stuck. Images
of Saudi customs officials opening the box and dismantling my cello, looking
for alcohol and porn filled my head.
Finally, the package moved on to Sana’a. On a sunny Friday afternoon in June, my name
rang out across the campus that I had received a package and to report to my
classroom. Lo and behold, there it
stood in my doorway; a box the size of a
coffin that was nearly bigger than the FedEx delivery man. I couldn't believe my eyes. The cello was here, not in some Yemeni mail
gulag. The box also appeared unmolested,
with none of the usual machete slashes in the cardboard that most of our mail
seemed to obtain on its journey through customs. I quickly signed for it and hauled it into my
room, followed by a crowd of students that could hardly wait for me to open
it. Tanya, the Russian music teacher,
violinist extraordinaire, and my best friend, even came by to watch. I got the box open, and instantly Styrofoam
peanuts began to fly around my classroom.
What is it with packing peanuts that forces kids to instantly sink in
their hands, and fling them all over creation?
As I lifted out the beautiful case, I felt like Howard Carter,
unearthing the treasured mummy of Tutankhamen.
I could hardly breath as I unzipped and then opened the case. At the first glimpse of the glossy, deep
brown wood, the kids collectively sighed in appreciation. One of my older Yemeni students, Hayel, from
an extremely wealthy family said, “Mr. Forczyk, you bought this gift for your
wife?” He then nodded his approval. I am not even sure he knew what a cello was,
but clearly, it was so big and so luxurious that it must be something very expensive,
and thus a good gift for a man to give his wife.
I could hardly wait to play it, and in fact, I only had
five whole days to get used to my glorious new cello before graduation, when I
was supposed to play it with the school orchestra. With no time to waste, I packed it up and
headed over to the music room to get started.
I checked the A string, and truly, Eric must possess god-like powers
because it really was in tune. I began
warming up slowly, spreading my fingers to accommodate the longer fingerboard. With the first graceful, beautiful, horribly
pitchy note, (I was in fact a beginner) I had fallen deeply in love with my new
Ide is an international schoolteacher and amateur cellist currently living in
Chiang Mai, Thailand. When not playing
her Artist cello, she teaches government and economics.