Tuesday, February 23, 2010

18th Blog, February 23, 2010

This past week was a week of celebrations. I turned 67 years old and Carl and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. Neither of us can believe we have been together so long, but we both agree that we really made a good choice and love our life together.

But the real story this week is for the past 24 hours, we have been experiencing a dust storm, our first since arriving in Iraq. As Carl and I came out of the faculty meeting yesterday at 4:30, the air was yellow—a little bit like what the weather looks like in Indiana when a tornado is blowing in. By the time we walked from the Administration Bldg. to the area where we pick up our nightly ride, my eyes were killing me with dirt caught under my contacts. We realized that at some point in the afternoon it actually rained blobs of mud. When we got to the car taking us home, we could see a massive collection of dirt on its surface and the driver had to turn on the washer fluid and wipers before he could see out the front window to drive us to our apartment. I have placed two pictures here to compare our view from our apartment on a nice crisp winter day vs. yesterday afternoon when we arrived home. You may not be able to see this, but the view is the very same soccer field and mountains.

We chose to stay in last night to avoid breathing any more dirt than necessary but awoke this morning to the same condition. (It will take a major rain to wash the skies clear again.) As we arrived at the University, I noticed many students and staff wearing masks and those of us who had not done this were practically breathing and swallowing dirt. Even indoors, one cannot really avoid breathing the stuff because it filters through the cracks around the windows and doors. Everything in our offices and our apartment is covered with a layer of fine dirt and will require a major cleaning when this condition clears. It really is dreadful!

I have included a few pictures of items to show how the dirt has collected on what are hopefully recognizable surfaces. Any place you see yellow indicates a collection of dirt rather than indicating the actual color of the item: white/gray sidewalk by buildings, blue trash container, black automobile.

When something strange, like this, happens we ask about it: how often does this occur. Some have said that this happens a lot in the spring and it is dirt/fine sand blowing up from southern Iraq; others have indicated that this rarely happens. Take your pick. Should it happen often, we can imagine that eventually the measurement of feet above sea level will actually increase in Kurdistan while the measurement of feet above sea level in Baghdad will decrease.

Do not worry. We are fine. This, too, will pass.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

17th blog

[Carolyn writing] As some of you may know, I was hired to teach accounting 2/3 time and work on special projects for the Finance Department 1/3 time. The second assignment was not specific until I arrived in Sulaimani, but after arriving, it became clear what they needed from me was two things: some basic accounting training sessions for the finance staff, and the selection and set-up of an electronic accounting system. See picture of Director of Finance Carey and me discussing the plan.

The ingenuity of the AUI-S Finance Department staff is so impressive. Without any real experience with double-entry accounting and no electronic program made available to him, Pasha, the second employee of the University, set up a system on Excel spreadsheets that has worked extremely well. The only real deficiency was there was no easy way to gather data to prepare financial statements. As those of you readers who understand business know, the value of financial statements is essential and critical to budgeting—one of the key aspects of running any productive business. Although AUI-S is not a business run to make a profit, it still needs to be able to plan fiscally for the future. See picture of Pasha, Nigar, and Zinya working together.

The plan was that I would work as a trainer of accounting principles for four weeks in November/December. Then upon our return from winter break, we would begin in earnest putting a program called QuickBooks Enterprise into place. There are six members of the Finance Department staff and all six appeared to enjoy the training. I had a great time because it is always fun to work with people who can immediately see how they can apply their knowledge. I won’t bore you with my lesson plans, but I did start out explaining the accounting equation and tried to avoid too much emphasis on debits/credits. What I quickly learned was that all six staff members had more experience with similar concepts and were very bright students. They would bring daily financial happenings to the training session and we would talk about how these events would be booked in an accrual based system. One very important note here—most of Kurdish business events are cash basis and the concept of buy now-pay later (accrual) is foreign to them.

When we returned to work from winter break, all the staff members kept saying, “When are we going to have more training?” They were so anxious to get started. But our next problem was that it is often difficult to get products shipped to Iraq. Intuit who makes QuickBooks does not deal with Iraq so we had to work with them to get special arrangements made for our purchase.

With the assistance of a very knowledgeable IT department, we were able to install QuickBooks the last week of January, Then Carey, Pasha and Nigar sat with me last week to set-up the books for AUI-S. This week, the whole staff has been entering in historical data, and we were able to create our very first set of financial statements for the fiscal year of 2006, the year AUI-S was established. What joy!!! Nigar is very creative and has volunteered to create AUI-S specific forms such as bills to be sent to students for tuition, donor receipts, and other necessary forms. We are in the process of training each staff member, one-on-one, to use QuickBooks, and it really is exciting to see these good people take to this new opportunity.
See pictures: Wrya with Carey, Nigar and Shno, me working with Zinya.

In every good educational experience, learning goes both ways. In working with this very competent staff, I have learned so much about the Kurdish way of business. I will walk away from the assignment at AUI-S feeling not only good about what I was able to share with the students, but also what I was able to do to help the administration of the university.