Two weeks before Toronto’s Regional Baha’i Conference (one of 41 across the world) , I received an e-mail from Albert Wong asking if I would be a member of the security team, I agreed, and two weeks later I found myself in a meeting room in at a Toronto hotel on the eve of the conference with the rest of the security team. We were divided into four sub-teams with really cool names like Blue Team One and Green Team Two. I was strategically placed in Blue Team One, which was clearly the most highly specialized team because it also had my friend Marjan Bachelor in it. We took the role super seriously and expected to be briefed on what to do in case you suspect that one of conference attendees is a shape-shifting alien, a vampire, a zombie or heaven forbid, an alien vampire-zombie.
Rather then to run through the protocol of what to do in case of volcanic eruption, giant moth attack or alien vampire-zombie breakout, Albert spent most of the orientation meeting recounting stories from the 1992 Baha’i World Congress when 35,000 Baha’is from around the world descended on New York City to mark the 100th anniversary of the passing of Baha’u'llah. My sister and I were “too young” at the time so our parents put us on grandparent’s front stoop in Cornwall, Ontario, rang the doorbell and sped off hooting and hollering. If you were to go to that street now, you will find that the tire marks are still there to this very day. We spent the four days watching cable TV and eating so many clementines that we both vomited. Delicious, juicy clementines.
Albert’s stories illustrated how the spirit of service and flexibility among the security team and the love and excitement of the Baha’is saw them through several unexpected situations and made it a conference that people were still talking about 17 years later in a meeting room in a Toronto hotel and on the internet on blogs that nobody reads. Some of these unexpected situations included everyone being booted out of the building they were meeting in, where the Baha’is lined several blocks and naturally broke out into song. When a pickpocket came, the security team kept an eye on her as the Baha’is taught her the Faith. The other story was of the old Baha’i from a remote Pacific Island who was separated from his group. He could not speak any of the many languages that the assembled members of security team could, so they spent the night laughing and simply saying ‘Allah-u-abha!’ (‘God the All-Glorious’) to each other.
We donned our tags that read ‘Host/Hostess’ with little red ribbons hanging off of them, and we were as ready as were ever going to be. While our conference was was not engulfed in lava, attacked by Mothra and no conference participants showed signs of being alien vampire-zombies, we did still have our fair share of unexpected situations. You could say we had about a thousand of them, because the original expectation was for about 3,000 people to attend and there ended up being way over 4,000. While the security team had a plan of who was going to be where at what time, I found myself a part of many conversations that went something like this:
“What are you doing right now? Are you free?”
“Umm, well Elly told me to stay here and-”
“-Follow me! We need more people managing the lines! Come on!”
My off-duty times were perhaps more frantic than on. There were so many people there that I would be lucky to run into an old friend I hadn’t seen in years more than once. But, that wasn’t really the point of the whole conference, now was it?
The only moments of clarity came to me during the talks delivered by the representatives from the Baha’i World Centre Ms. Uransaikhan Baatar and Mr. Stephen Birkland, who placed into spacial and temporal context the work of each individual, community and institution that has been carrying out the Baha’i and Baha’i inspired activities that they have been witnessing binding their communities and families together.
Click here for my tiny set of photos from the conference. Seeing jet-setting professional photographer Ryan Lash climbing pillars and light fixtures to get the perfect shot, it was clear that it was covered by far more capable hands and cameras. For the Baha’i World News Service’s article on the conference with photos and a video, click here.
There was a great musical showcase on the Saturday night that featured songs from across the region that have inspired communities in their work, and below is one of my favorites. It features Kieth Bartlett with his daughters Natania Hatala and Tahirih North singing a traditional Southern American song, and a version of the Baha’i prayer ‘Is there any remover of difficulties’. It was my first time meeting him after I recently heard about him and how be preformed at my parent’s wedding in Gatineau, Quebec back in 1981.