Iden Baghdadchi

Iden Baghdadchi
University of Michigan,
senior (music, history)

Tottered on: 27 January 2007
Temperature: 32F
Ceiling: gloomy
Ground: half-melted snow
Wind: W at 7 mph

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TT with HD: Iden Baghdadchi

[Ed. note: There's a photograph of Iden (say /aye'-dn/) mentioned in the conversation below that will help orient readers.]

HD: Well, first of all, welcome to the teeter totter!

IB: Good to be here! Thank you for having me.

HD: Let's actually get some teeter tottering action going now.

IB: Oh, good, yeah.

HD: Now, you were warming up just before we climbed on. Is that your standard warm-up routine that you use for drum majoring?

IB: That's more my warm-up routine when I'm cold, I suppose. So less 'warm-up' in the sense of, Let's get ready to do something. More 'warm-up' in the sense of, Hey it's kind of cold! It's good to generate some heat.

HD: Okay, so you are a senior this year, right?

IB: That is correct!

HD: You're scheduled to graduate, and you have a full slate of classes chosen to ensure that that happens?

IB: This is also correct, yes!

HD: So what are you taking this semester?

IB: I'm taking four classes. I'm taking a writing seminar for my thesis that I'm finishing up ...

HD: ... is that in history or music?

IB: History. I'm taking an American Culture class on beatniks, hippies and punks. That's a cool class. And I'm taking a class on American immigration. And my favorite class right now is my class on black comedy.

HD: And black comedy not in the sense of African-American comedy, ... ?

IB: Yes, in the sense of African-American comedy, mostly on TV, but also standup, things of that nature. It sort of recaps the last forty or fifty years of black comics on the standup circuits, on TV.

HD: Hmm, was that a squirrel?

IB: I believe so.

HD: So are you looking forward to the commencement ceremony with Bill Clinton?

IB: I am actually.

HD: Are you expecting great things from that beyond the fact that he is Bill Clinton?

IB: From having listened to Bill Clinton or watched him on TV, he is actually a good speaker. So I think he will put on a really good commencement. And not by merit of the fact just that he's Bill Clinton, but because he actually speaks very well. It's my understanding some of the previous speakers have had varying degrees of name recognition, but I think that Bill Clinton combines name recognition with the fact that he does speak pretty darn well.

HD: Are you looking to be inspired by what he has to say, or are you expecting basically a nice policy speech?

IB: I'm not really looking for a policy speech. I doubt that'd be the case. I think it's going to be an inspirational type thing. And I guess also the fact that, Hey, it's Bill Clinton, that's pretty awesome!

HD: I think he could probably stand up there and recite limericks for half an hour and people would still remember just that, Hey, Bill Clinton spoke at our graduation and that was really cool.

IB: I think that's true for a lot of people. I think it depends on the frame of mind you are in for graduation. I mean, commencement to me is more of a symbolic event. If you're very sentimental at graduations and commencements, I think you will hear what he says and you'll really digest that and it will stay with you.

HD: So how are they working the tickets for that? Are they going to be rationed out, or have they even rolled out the specifics of how the logistics are going to work yet?

IB: From hearsay, someone told me that each graduate gets seven or eight tickets and they can do with them what they want.

HD: Is that going to be an issue for you? If it turns out to be, say, an allotment of eight tickets per graduate, are you going to have to make some tough choices?

IB: Not in terms of family, because I only have a few family members on this continent. So that makes it really easy. I guess I have a few friends who might want to go who wouldn't have tickets normally, and I'd have no problem if they wanted to hang with my family and do whatever, that's cool.

HD: In some ways, your semester will be bookended by Presidents: Bill Clinton at commencement ...

IB: ... yeah, yeah, I guess so!

HD: ... and you started off the year really with ...

IB: President Ford's ...

HD: ... so it wasn't his funeral, but the arrival of the casket in Grand Rapids?

IB: That is correct. That was an altogether a pretty amazing experience.

HD: I would imagine.

IB: It was the strangest birthday I've ever had.

HD: That was also your birthday?!

IB: Yes, January 2nd was my birthday.

HD: Wow.

IB: So it was probably the most peculiar, probably one of the most remarkable birthdays I ever had.

HD: Yeah, it's going to be all downhill from here, I'm afraid.

IB: On birthdays? Probably.

HD: I don't think you're going to be able to top that. So as I understand it, the entire band ended up volunteering to give up the free day that had been allotted in the itinerary to come back early.

IB: Yeah.

HD: So what did you guys have scheduled to do? In other words, what exactly were you giving up?

IB: Well, first off, let me recap how the schedule worked. The morning of January 1st, we probably all woke up around 4:30am or so, grabbed some boxed lunches, which consisted of something like a Subway sandwich and an apple or whatever. 5:15am, board the busses. Around 7:15am, unload busses, get uniforms on at the parade site in Pasedena. Wait for a while. Around 8:15 or 8:30am, roll out, do the parade. That takes around two, two-and-a-half hours. Then it's around noon. Have some In-N-Out burgers. Then we get on the busses shortly thereafter, go to the Rose Bowl itself, do the whole game ...

HD: ... I read somewhere you guys left at halftime?

IB: No! That's not true. Then around 7:00, 7:30pm, we departed for the hotel again, and we had enough time to basically shower up, eat, watch a video of our performance. Then the 150 of us had to load the busses, then we eventually go off to the airport around 11:00pm, fly out that night at about 12:30am. Then woke up January 2nd in Grand Rapids somewhere, we were on the plane. We had breakfast at GVSU ...

HD: ... GVSU being?

IB: Grand Valley State University, in a gym. We went back to the hangar of the Grand Rapids airport, hung out with the military personnel, did a rehearsal of what we had to do. Air Force One landed, we watched it land. The body came out, this big procession. Did the gig. Got back on the busses, got some KFC, drove back to Ann Arbor. This is now the evening of the 2nd. At this point, most of us had not had a lot of sleep in the last two days. But it was the most memorable birthday I'll ever have probably.

HD: I'll bet. So you played four pieces in Grand Rapids, right?

IB: Right.

HD: Now this Ruffles and Flourishes ...

IB: ... that's kind of technically one, I guess. I would classify it as one, but it was four, I suppose.

HD: So Ruffles are drum parts and the Flourishes are bugel parts, is that the deal?

IB: Ahh, well, I think Ruffles is an opening bugel-esque fanfare and then Flourishes is more of the same, I suppose. You know, I'm not really sure, come to think of it, maybe you're right.

HD: At any rate that's what comes before Hail to the Chief.

IB: That's right, that's correct.

HD: So it's Ruffles and Fourishes and then straight into Hail to the Chief.

IB: If you want to double check it, you can see the whole entire clip on CSPAN. It's about forty three minutes long, it's kind of hard to fast forward through it.

HD: So is this on YouTube somewhere?

IB: I don't know, it probably is somewhere at this point. It's also on CSPAN if people are interested in watching it.

HD: Now, Hail to the Chief, is that a standard part of anybody's repertoire who would consider themselves a respectable member of any marching band?

IB: No, no. We actually learned that specifically for it. At the beginning of our trip, we actually only had vague details at that point. We knew we had to learn and memorize Hail to the Chief. The entire band learned and memorized it, not knowing that only 151 of us would go really.

HD: So only 151 went to the Rose Bowl at all?

IB: No, no. Only 151 of us left the Rose Bowl early to go to the Ford arrival.

HD: Oh, I see. So how did that selection process go?

IB: Initially, it was volunteers: Let's see who we can get to go do this? Then it sort of became, Oh, well everyone wants to do this, because I think it was recognized that this was sort of a big deal ...

HD: ... something that everyone wants to be a part of ...

IB: ... right, so then it became, Okay, of those people who volunteered, we'll take the seniors and the best players to make up that band.

HD: So you reviewed the video after the halftime performance and the Rose Parade. You have video people shooting your own, or did you just watch the televised ...

IB: ... we have vid staff people who film all our performances.

HD: So how would you say you guys did?

IB: Performance wise? Pretty good. Very good actually. It was a little bit difficult for me. For all these really big football games they have these like sky cams, which zoom about above the action. But those are not too high up really. Plus, you don't really know where those wires are going to be. So if you're twirling, for whatever reason, and you try toss and there's a wire there, well, then you're out of luck, you might hit something.

HD: Did you actually have occasion to hit something with your mace?

IB: I could have. I had to keep readjusting. This was supposed to my grand finale as far as twirling exhibitions go, so I had to curtail a lot of it.

HD: That must have been disappointing?

IB: It was, a little bit. Because wherever I went, there was a skycam. And I felt like I would get in a lot of trouble if I destroyed one of those.

HD: [laugh] Yeah, I think it was wise to err on the side of caution. So you were still able to do the toss over the goal post, right?

IB: Of course, yeh, yeh, yeh. That was no problem.

HD: And you nailed that?

IB: Yeah.

HD: And you had a perfect record on the backbend and the goal post toss for the year?

IB: Mmm hmm.

HD: That's just expected, though, right?

IB: I mean it happens that people don't do it, but.

HD: So the backbend. I found this picture online ...

IB: ... where did you find it?

HD: It's on Go-Blue-dot-com or something?

IB: MGoBlue?

HD: Something like that. 'For fans by fans' is their slogan, I think. It's a really excellent photograph. You're in perfect focus and everything else is slightly blurred. But it just looks excruciating.

IB: [laugh]

HD: It just looks like an inhuman feat. So what is the training curve for learning to do that? Surely, please don't tell me you just tried to do it one day and discovered that you could do that?

IB: No, it's a lot of stretching. A lot of consistent stretching. A lot of relaxing. It's a lot of having the right mindset and a lot of practice I guess.

HD: So is it more flexibility as opposed to strength?

IB: It's both.

HD: You do situps, or?

IB: Sure.

HD: A special routine for your abs?

IB: It's different muscles depending on how you do it. You can do more back muscles, you can do more leg muscles, depending on how you want to do it. I don't want to say it's excruciating. But I wouldn't recline in that position and watch a game or something, you know?

HD: So how long did it take you to train to the point where you could do it?

IB: Ahh, it took a few months probably.

HD: So you mentioned a thesis you're writing? What's that about?

IB: It is about Arab Detroit and perspectives on multiculturalism post 9-11. To break that down, it's taking a look at the way Arab- and Muslim-Americans in the greater Detroit area view their place in society, and how multi-cultural America actually was post 9-11. So on one side of the coin, the President might say, Well, Arab and Muslim-Americans are a valued part of our society and really tolerance is quite the norm. And then you have other people in the local community who might say, That's not true, there's still a great deal of inequality, racism, racial preference, discrimination that is coming down from the government, coming from people, coming from local community members. So it's examining how these people are viewing the world since then.

HD: So what is the source material then? Is it one-on-one interviews with people, examination of various written texts published in the popular media, what?

IB: To examine the discourse coming from the government, I look at the State Department website--the stuff they have published. I look at the executive press releases from around that time period. I look at legislation that's been passed, statements made in the House and Senate. That's to get an idea of what the government is saying--government being any official part of the federal government that is putting out language. So I want to compare that to the local community. To measure that--which is a bit harder--I'm looking at the Arab American News, which is a local paper. I just finished up looking at that stuff. Next I'm looking at the Forum and Link, which is another Arab-American newspaper. And from there on, I think I'm going to look at some of the papers circulated by local chapters of the ADC, the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee, and ACCESS, which is another Arab-American group. I'm looking at the discourse put out by these groups: What are they saying to these community members? Some of what they say is, Here's a list of rights you have, should you be contacted by an FBI agent. Here are your rights, here's what you don't have to do if they ask you, things like that ...

HD: ... have you talked to any people who've been contacted by the FBI and who've been asked to do specific things that they don't have to do?

IB: I haven't personally done interviews. I know the general sentiment. I've heard people speak about it. So I haven't one-on-one interviewed someone about it.

HD: Who are you working with on the faculty for this thesis?

IB: Several people. My personal advisor is Professor Damon Salesa, whose specialty is actually British Empire and Pacific history, but I knew him very well. I worked with him on a previous project and he's a really great professor, really, really brilliant guy. I also work with Nadine Naber and a little bit with Evelyn Alsultany. Those are both professors at the University of Michigan in American Culture. And they do specifically Arab- and Muslim-American issues. As a side note, it's interesting how in the discipline of history right now on the faculty, there's no one who does specifically Arab-American studies; however, there is Arab-American culture in different departments.

HD: What does Juan Cole do?

IB: Juan Cole is in history. He does Middle Eastern history and U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Particularly, Shi'ism, Muslim Brotherhood stuff in Egypt, more modern issues.

HD: Ever had a class with him?

IB: I have not had the fortune of doing so. But I've read his blog. An interesting note, once upon a time when I wanted to go to grad school, and I was looking at different departments around the country to see who's doing what and who were the faculty, I was having difficulty finding faculty who were doing Arab-American studies or Islamic-American issues and things of that nature. And I found that a lot of them are located in at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor or Dearborn. One of the really remarkable things about the departments here in history and AmCult, they really do have an excellent geographic focus. It's not strictly a very homogenous, white American history. It's really all across the board and even like topics you wouldn't think about. Like, we have a really great Pacific studies program as well--which other universities don't have. Berkeley doesn't have that. Berkeley's on the west coast. We're in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we have these faculty, you know? Some faculties have a person doing South Asia. We have four or five. That's tremendous, that's just awesome. What does that say to me? That sort of says: that's a good focus, we're not looking for a single homogenous history, it's a very wide spectrum.

HD: From the way you phrased your comment about grad school, it sounds maybe like you've given up the idea of going to grad school?

IB: For now I have. But 'given up'? I think it's more like postponed it. I think it more speaks to the fact that I don't know what I want to do with my life at this current moment.

HD: So do you have anything specific lined up after graduation?

IB: Yeah, I'm planning to do a few things right now. My plan is to move to Washington, D.C. and that's because a lot of jobs are there. A lot of stuff I want to do is there in terms of politics, or non-profits, or law. That's what's happening. I know people there, have some friends. There's lots of young people in general in that city, it's diverse, it's large enough that it's a big city, but small enough that I don't need a car. A lot of good reasons that I thought I'd check it out.

HD: So it's not that you have something specific lined up like a job that you have to go to D.C. to do it, you just figure if you move there good things will happen?

IB: Yes and no. Good things will happen--ideally. But also I have a few things I'm applying to right now that are D.C. based.

HD: Anything else on your mind today?

IB: Mmmm, it's actually a nice day.

HD: Yeah, it's not bad. Yesterday was bitterly cold and tomorrow it's supposed to be bitterly cold. We've got a day today, we're going to just manage to make it above freezing, I think.

IB: Yeah? It wasn't so bad ...

HD: ... that's right, you rode your bike over here.

IB: Yeah, well, I don't have a car. So this is the best way to do it. And it wasn't too bad, not at all. It was mostly downhill, so.

HD: Is that generally how you get around, on your bike?

IB: Oh yeah. I love my bike.

HD: Don't take the bus at all?

IB: Well, I used to when I had classes on North Campus, I'd have to. But I still like to ride my bike even when it's cold. You bundle up and you're good to go. It's clean, it's fast.

HD: Yeah, most stuff is within biking distance around here. Do you live in the dorms?

IB: I live off campus.

HD: Has that worked out well for you, are you happy with that situation?

IB: I love it.

HD: Relationship with the landlord has been frictionless?

IB: Yeah, yeah. They've been pretty cool.

HD: Okay, well, listen, thanks for coming over to teeter totter. I'm sorry about that construction noise. I don't know what that is.

IB: My pleasure!