Travels With My Cello

  • Mail Call

     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 cello                     25%

    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, firewood                      24%                                               

    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 cello.





     Marianne 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.

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