Sunday, July 15, 2007

All is KHOB

We are all fine here in Esfahan, the green veil of the desert resting casually at the base of majestic rocky hills. The city does not seem to have decided whether to go with an "I" (Isfahan) or "E" (Esfahan)--which is the most serious consternation I have encountered!

Esfahan, a former capital of Iran (many times over) is proud of its rich history and heritage. It appears to be in love with a cooling river swirling through it, graced by a series of bridges, among them the 33-arch bridge (circa 17th C / by our hotel), popular parks on both banks that separate the old town from its modern sister. The temperature has been turquoise-hot, but bearable ("Al hamdoo lil-'Allah" for giving humans the ability to understand thermodynamics and the requisite engineering knowledge and creativity to design air conditioners!).

Our experience has been nothing short of wonderful. The organizers and everyone with whom we had interacted in general have been most welcoming, hospitable, and accommodating. (Many seem quite interested in the event and our team being here. Our team received the second loudest applause when on stage at the opening ceremony, after the home team, that is!)

The events are well organized; the meals a bit too abundant (rice with saffron and kabob twice a day--and ample vegetarian choices; and multiple snacks daily, marsaban galore); but this group of students, leaders and observes is clearly a hungry--famished--bunch!). The rides on the large Mercedes buses have been scenic and dizzying (over 20 buses at the disposal of the 76 teams of attendees, often moving in escorted convoys, broken up only by the flying motorbikes zooming the city). Planned excursions will take us to an Armenian cathedral and an old mosque (thousands of Christians, Jews and Zorastrians live in the city), the shaking minarets and the bazaar...and brief stories of soufis like Hafiz ad Amu Abdullah, and the Persian scientists like Ebn Zina.

As for the essential stuff: Contestants will be done with their theoretical exam in about 30 minutes (the leaders approved the exam after 7 hours of discussion yesterday and finished translating way past the 3:30am morning "azan" prayers. The cycle begins tomorrow for the experimental exam with the test on Tuesday. The assessment of the teachers is that the exam is moderately difficult; we'll meet the students for dinner tonight (hosted by the Governor of the Province of Esfahan and the Mayor of the city) to find out their take...Hoping for a number of medals.

Wish us well...Toufic