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Cwrs Cymraeg yr Afon Fawr, 2005


This past July 17-24, the annual Cymdeithas Madog Welsh course was held at the University of Rio Grande in Rio Grande, a small town with a large Welsh influence and a very Spanish name located near the Ohio River in southeastern Ohio. As always, the week was packed with Welsh learning and activities. Cwrs Cymraeg yr Afon Fawr (the Rio Grande Welsh Course or the Big River Welsh Course) was hosted by the Madog Center for Welsh Studies at the University of Rio Grande and the Cardigan Club. Jeanne Jindra, president of the Cardigan Club, and Dr. Tim Jilg, director of the Madog Center, were most gracious as the local organizers, and we owe them a big thank you-Diolch yn fawr, Tim and Jeanne!

What happens during the week at Cwrs Cymraeg? To put it simply, lots of learning and fun. The course officially starts with a reception given by the local organizers on the first Sunday evening. With nearly 70 students, young and old (though young at heart), from all over North America, our old friends greet one another and meet the wide-eyed newbies. Here we meet the board of directors, who oversee the scope and details of the course, as well as the tutors, all fluent Welsh speakers and patient teachers.

The daily routine begins early Monday morning with a plenary session led by the three lead tutors (Kevin Rottet, Meredith Roberts Rehbach, and Marta Diaz). We receive announcements, instructions about the day's or week's events, a Welsh song or two, and the daily Welsh proverb such as "Gorau cam, cam cyntaf " ("The best step is the first step").

On to our classes in which we study the Welsh Language. We had seven levels this year from beginners to fluent speakers; the beginners' class was by far the largest and only such an experienced and dedicated tutor as Meredith Roberts Rehbach could have managed to bring everyone along making great strides during one short week. As one student put it, Meredith kept everyone "active and involved." We had two new tutors on the course this year: Annette Evans from Toronto and Winston Evans from Chicago, both of whom are recent arrivals to North America from Wales. Students again appreciated the skill, enthusiasm, and humor all the tutors bring to the classes.

The classes met in the morning and afternoon with a break for lunch and a midday plenary session. These sessions are an interesting mix of speakers and performers on a variety of Welsh-related topics. For example, Welsh poets were extolled. In conjunction with his photographic exhibit on display in the Greer Museum on campus, Rev. Gregory Griffith spoke of the "The Poetry of R.S. Thomas and the Landscape of Wales." In addition, highly acclaimed Welsh poet, Menna Elfyn, was beamed into our auditorium in a video conference straight from Trinity College Carmarthen in Wales where she teaches creative writing. She spoke about her latest work, Perffaith Nam (Perfect Blemish), which explores imperfection in search for completion and answered questions from the audience. All very high-tech, and we have board member and tutor Kara Lewis to thank for arranging the event.

After the afternoon class, students can attend special workshops offered by the tutors. The topics vary but include reading Welsh, learning about contemporary Welsh music, and working on the Course Newspaper.

On Wednesday, we have a special tour of the setting of the course; in this case, the land where many Welsh immigrants chose to settle. This year we had a bus ride through the Welsh Scenic Byway, stopping at the Welsh American Heritage Museum in Oak Hill, Ohio, where Docent Mildred Bangert showed us the collection of Welsh books, bibles, photographs, clothing, etc. We moved on the Tyn Rhos Church where spontaneous singing broke out among the group. The tour ended with supper served at the home of our guide, Dr. Bill Thomas who is a descendent of John Jones Tyn Rhos, one of the many Welsh immigrants who settled in this area.

The evening activities are always great fun. On the first night we dance at the Twmpath; then we stir competitive emotions at Quiz night. Thursday evening we watch a Welsh film, and on Friday, the Eisteddfod, an odd mix of the sublime and the ridiculous in which we celebrate our own great poets and writers. Winners this year were Betty Belanus (beginners' level), Bill Roberts (intermediate level), and Rebecca Redmile (fluent level). Saturday, we have yet another class, a banquet commemorating the week, and finally the Noson Lawen-a joyous medley of laughter and performance with class skits, singing, a science lesson, the lively and lovely sounds of the dulcimer, ending with the superb Cwrs Choir singing "Dim Ond Gair" and "Clychau Aberdyfi," directed by Meredith Roberts Rehbach.

Sunday is a time for goodbyes. Some of us attend the nondenominational church service, a quiet time of worship and song led by Meredith. When we leave, we are all exhausted yet exhilarated by the adventure.

Remember:"Gorau cam, cam cyntaf" for learning Welsh, so come to Cwrs Y Cwm Canol (The Central Valley Course), Cymdeithas Madog's all Welsh all week, next July 16-23 at the University of the Pacific's beautiful campus in Stockton California.