St. Louis, Seattle, and San Francisco: behind the scenes on the Visionary of the Year tour!

The mighty Mississippi and the Gateway Arch were visible from the sky as we flew into St. Louis early last Thursday morning. The ensuing week has been filled to the brim with talks, interviews, and lots of interactions with local Euphrates Chapters.ENGAGING WITH STUDENTSWe were greeted by the St. Louis Euphrates Chapter upon arriving, and our first stop in St. Louis was with Don Marsh, of St. Louis on the Air from St. Louis public radio. He interviewed Zuhal live on Thursday, September 24. Then it was up to Elsah, Il to the Principia College campus for an afternoon presentation and dinner at the college president's house. Students and faculty were a great audience and appreciated how Zuhal focuses on pointing to the existing good in Iraq, the existing potential for peace and the proof of unity that her orchestra provides.Set against the stunning backdrop of sunset over the Mississippi bluffs, a dinner with enthusiastic students (and delicious food!) was enjoyed by all. Zuhal spoke about her inspirations, her process, and her advice for other young people interested in rallying others around an idea. The takeaway? Just get started. She recommended to students that they break their ideas down into steps, and then just start down the road. A favorite phrase: "turn their 'maybe's' into 'why nots?" along the way.Friday brought a visit with the Principia Euphrates Chapter, brainstorming possible events and again learning from Zuhal as a social entrepreneur! Then it was off to a 'Politics Among Nations' class with Dr. Julie Blase where Zuhal was interviewed about her views on Iraq, the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq, and on her hopes for her country in the future.Soon she found herself sitting on the piano bench alongside Principia music faculty Laura Parker, playing beautifully through Dvorak's Slavonic Dance Op. 72 No. 2 for four hands. Too soon it was time to leave the peaceful campus setting and head into the city for a talk at Principia's sister campus in St. Louis. An enthusiastic group of high school students came over for dinner, peppering Zuhal with questions about her life and her work.Ridgway was a wonderful venue, and Zuhal again received a standing ovation and lots of questions. It seemed like the whole auditorium wanted to greet her after her talk! There was a special focus on the qualities that are needed to do this kind of work, the determination and the optimism. Zuhal also shared how her journey in starting the orchestra wasn't necessarily something she always knew would work - she just knew she needed to try.[gallery ids="2942,2943,2944,2945,2946,2947,2948,2949,2950,2958,2951,2959,2952,2953,2954,2955,2956,2957"] ON TO THE WEST COASTSeattle was cool and breezy and Sunday's talk at a venue in Renton, WA, was a good experience. Luther's Table greeted us warmly, and Zuhal spoke eloquently to an intimate audience. Dinner afterwards was along the waterfront, and we saw the eclipse of the moon on the drive home!Monday brought sun and sight-seeing, enjoying Pike Place Market and some excellent Japanese cuisine for lunch. The views were stunning of the city skyline, and Zuhal was glad to finally be on the west coast-- her first time! The Seattle Euphrates Chapter was a huge help and support to the tour, and we were so glad to meet with them.Cardinal red ruled the day Tuesday, as Zuhal presented twice on the Stanford campus. The first was in formal Arabic to a group of students studying the language as part of the Abbasi Program, and then later in the evening to an open audience through an event for which we collaborated with AMENDS. In the middle, Zuhal was interviewed for a podcast called "Arabology" by the warm Professor Ramzi Salti.Several members of the audience were Iraqi and couldn't have been prouder of the work Zuhal is doing or the way she represents Iraq. She ended her presentation by exhorting the audience to remember that the story she tells is not "outside the norm" but rather the true picture of what the Iraqi people look like: united, rather than divided.Wednesday morning saw Euphrates Founder Janessa Gans Wilder and Zuhal both under the bright lights as a CBS camera crew interviewed them (including a musical performance together!). The footage will air Christmas Eve this year, as part of a larger special about URI.Then it was off to the Presidio to meet with the lovely United Religions Initiative at their offices there. We were treated to a delicious lunch and great conversation-- such joy at Zuhal's presence in the States, at the optimism we all feel about the orchestra based on how successful this tour has been, and at the amazing work that the cooperation circles can accomplish. URI's focus on storytelling and the power of bringing people together for peace is a message that Euphrates is happy to be a part of!


The tour wraps up this Friday night, October 2, in Redding, CA, with a presentation at 7:00 PM. The local paper published an article about Zuhal and the orchestra - read another here!