Archive | October, 2013

Abu Dhabi Blog: Friends, Global Citizens, Countrymen, lend me your ears, uh, eyes.

20 Oct

Playlist—Colin Hay, “I just don’t think I’ll ever get over you”, Ben Harper “Beloved One”, Tab Benoit’s “The Killing Floor”, John Mayer “Gravity”, Beastie Boys “C.A.S”, The Roots “Stomp”, Miles Davis “Blue in Green”, Coheed & Cambria “Feathers”, Soulfly “Prophecy”, Cody ChesnuTT “Til I Met Thee”, Foo Fighters “Everlong (Acoustic)”, Foo Fighters “Word Forward”, John Mayer “Who You Love”

Well, it’s been a while since we last blogged together. Yes, I missed you, as well. Much has happened since we last spoke. Thus, I’ll be separating this blog into parts. How many? I don’t know, yet. I’ve not planned that far in advance; a sign that I’m learning the culture here. I’ll finish this when I finish this. Insha’allah.

I have blog notes for days…see, I’m thinking of you all the time? Are you thinking of me? No? That’s ok, we must live our lives first, then give and glean from the relationships and experiences of others to gain and grow a whole life. (Alliteration is cool, insert Beavis and Butthead laugh.)

This last year, has been a lesson in that for sure. I am returning to a wholeness, and almost everything is in place. Formerly, I believed that doing for others was the way to become whole. While I still love to serve, it comes from a better place now. Just giving and letting go of that gift once it’s given, feels so much better. Giving freely also helps with forgiveness.

Well, enough of that soul discovery schtuff, on to the present…

Prior to the the Eid break we had a celebration at school. Eid al Adha is the Major Festival, it is also known as the the Greater Eid, or the Festival of the Sacrifice (all translations I tried to get through my very limited Arabic). Basically, it commemorates the end of the Hajj, with the worshipers arriving at the Mosque in Mecca. They circle the Kaaba seven times (Google it).

Here are the students participating in the ritual…

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Guess what the gentlemen in the picture teach…go ahead, guess. Incorrect, they teach sewing and cooking…Just kidding, yes, they teach P.E. And yes, they are two of the largest guys here. (Make your own Sasquatch joke—no wonder I can’t find shoes, and XXL is like a Large here.). In addition to celebrating the end of the Hajj (note the gigantic tray of chocolate—there’s a coffee table under there, two guys delivered this, a gift from a parent, and yes, that won’t be forgotten—wink wink), Eid al Adha marks the sacrifice Ibrahim (Abraham, depending on what side of the camel trail you’re on) was willing to offer to Allah. Allah requested Ibrahim sacrifice his first son, Ismael, to Him. (Don’t confuse your tales—not the whale hunter…hmmm, wail..whale? Interesting.) When Ibrahim complied willingly as an expression of love to his god, Allah spared the child, and a lamb was offered up instead. Pretty cool turn of events…unless your a sheep, of course. I wonder if they text their brothers in holiday suffering, the turkeys, in Canada and the US, “Yo, ur nxt, bro! Bah bah…” (Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians…eh!) Anyway, the celebration is huge and families that can afford it order a full sheep, cut it into thirds, give a third to a neighbor, a third to the poor, and keep the other third. Apparently, it’s also the time to go crazy and shop. The prices at the mall plummet for a week. I bought a tailored Pierre Cardin suit, regularly $490, for $130 (shirt and tie included). I’d show a pic, but I’ve just explained a holiday about humility and giving, the pic seems a bit vain, plus its a navy suit, who hasn’t seen one of those?

Here’s something culturally interesting…

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A women’s section and a men’s section of the parent visitors.  Of course, that’s only interesting to us. Normal, and expected here. We lost our bus and hall monitors from last year, and they were replaced with women. Women are not allowed in the school to work (though we have three awesome female western 1st grade teachers), so we have no hall monitors…so, the halls, and the playground, and the bathrooms, and the hiding places…all dangerous, and dirty. More pics, please!

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(Sorry, gotta play it safe.) That boy, everyday, smile, shake of the hand, and the cutest darn, “Good Morning, Mudeer Leeeee!” Makes my day. Funny what we look forward to. The idea that a 7 year-old can contribute to the state of mind of an adult with one phrase or gesture is a testament to the power of human relationships, and what educators do everyday. There is joy available everyday, my friends. Take a minute to appreciate it…think about it now. Find your joy…I don’t mind waiting…one thing, one joy. Feel it.

Ok, you back? Great. It’s good to see you smile. Don’t fight it, I saw that…so did the world.  The next pic is Hallway Futbol.

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Usually, they play with a water bottle or some other piece of garbage. Today, they had a ball—a half-flattened and torn ball our kids would throw away, but a ball nevertheless. I brought them 3 mini balls to play with one day; I have one left. There are two mini-balls in Baniyas with Mr. Lee all over them. Oh, well.

The next picture represents the bane of my existence.

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Remember these? If you do, you probably remember pull tabs on beer, uh, soda cans. We call them click-clack balls, a weapon, dangerous, and forbidden at school—like suspended/expelled forbidden. Here, they’re called Thtick-Thtagga, toys, fun, and “mine, Mr., mine!” Well, we take them away…everyday, and they keep coming back. I suggested small punishments for bringing them since they are also forbidden at school, here. That fell through. So, I was keeping a collection, but then I saw a supervisor’s collection, and it occurred to me, why? Little triumphs are great, but don’t make little battles into wars. It’s just not worth it.

The next pic is “the Polite Cousins”, not their names (I won’t be publishing names), but how best to describe them.

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(I do wish I could show you the kindness in their eyes, but I’m not sure their consent is good enough, and I’m not taking any chances. ) Great kids…LOTS of cousins here, LOTS…I mean, there are a lot of cousins in this school, this small country town. Did I mention Bawadi roughly translates to countryside? Cousins, lots of them. It seems most of the kids are related.  Is this thing on? Am I getting through here?

The last in this series is The Custodians.

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No , not a kooky sitcom about a group of custodians who moonlight as under-the-radar detectives solving crimes that soil the world (but, not a bad idea—hey, where IS Tony Shalhoub? He needs work.) These guys spend their days waiting to pick up after our students, who, as I said before, throw EVERYTHING on the ground. They deserve a hug.

Some local flavor…

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Yes, this is a good driver here–note, he’s not really on the ground, but stopped.  A bad one would have 3 wheels on the curb after cutting the line at the gas station by driving over the curb and around me. Well played, Hassan, Well played.

The next is funny because it happens all over the world…

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…misspelled signs. I think you can see the spelling error. Maybe they got the sign for cheap. Basically, it’s a dollar store….a  3.67 dirham store? (A dirham is worth $.27)

The next I’ve been encountering in many places on my walkabouts.

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These not so camouflaged “Rat Rock” traps appear quite frequently. They are quite large, as well. Unfortunately, the warnings are in English. No touch, kids, no touch. Tell boys not to play with rocks, try it. (Also, people think you’re strange when you take a picture of these.) Anyway, I think we’re safe, until the rats learn to read. I spent 4 hours in Ikea when a friend saw one inside, not sure if it was Emirati os Swedish, though.

The next is a sidewalk on Al Reem Island where I’ll probably live…

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…some day. The whole island is under construction, as just 10 years ago it was water. The picture is unique because the workers leave everything out…shovels, construction hats, scarves, everything, There doesn’t seem to be much theft here. A colleague left her Kindle on the plane, and when she went back to get it, saw a warehouse full of things left on the plane and at the airport. Of course, I walked around the island for about an hour and only saw one person walking on the street…so, one person running with bricks, a shovel, and a hardhat is going to look suspicious.

The next is my contribution to “bad dad jokes”…

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…no that is not to signal slow canoess, it’s the word “Slow” in Arabic…and, no, the sign doesn’t work.

Speaking of Al Reem and where I might live some day. I walked there from the hotel one hot, humid, wet wool blanket of a night. Did I mention it can get hot here?  First, my hotel, then Gate Towers (where I thought I was living), then Sun and Sky Tower (where I might be living)…

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I love the architecture here. Remember when you built crazy structures with Legos when you were young and some older sibling or other dream-crusher told you the building wouldn’t ever work. Well, they were wrong. Those buildings are here. The last is the view of the Corniche from the bridge to Al Reem.

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There’s no sidewalk on the bridge because you’re not supposed to walk it, so I had to act fast.

This next building is proof that your Lego dreams can come true (for children of the 50’s think Erector set, for children of the 40’s think Lincoln Logs on steroids)..

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This is the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC, of course—I’d go into all the AD-acronyms, but who has time for that?). The pointy building is the US Embassy, and the other substantial buildings in the foreground are the Embassies of Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. All a stone’s throw from each other…did I say that? Lame.

A few more random pics before I go…

The first is the helpful grocery basket from the Hypermarket.

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As you know sarcasm doesn’t translate well into the written word…although Shaw and Heller could do it (geniuses). This cart is responsible for ankle bruises on everyone over 5’9”. It’s just long enough to be helpful and just short enough to really irritate you. Everyone grabs one. That is, everyone that isn’t pushing a “trolley” (shopping cart) that has 4 turning wheels but will not go straight. This means, the Hypermarket is full of sideways rolling trolleys, skidding loaded pull carts, wandering short newbies, and the every-man-for- himself demolition derby philosophy. Did I mention I feel large here? Then why so many, “Oh Sawree, sir, so sawree!” What? You didn’t see me? Of course they see the giant SUVs flying up their backs at 99 mphs bouncing like a drunk Tigger on roller skates…but, not the quiet, unassuming guy in headphones behind them. (Winnie the Pooh fans, you feel me, I know!)

The next is my favorite.

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So, you can’t put your foot on the wall, but you can smoke and throw your cigarette on the ground. Or sell your womanly wares in front of the mall…yes, they have them here, too. What you think WE invented that? Read an ancient text..

The last is sunsets. Ok, maybe these are my favorites

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I pray I never tire of them. So far, I haven’t. Also, knowing that beauty occurs everyday, somewhere, for all of us is unifying. Etihad, Arabic for unity.

Again, I am amazed by what I’m learning. I did not put this life in place. There is no way I thought I’d be here one year ago.  A place of brightness, of warmth, of service, of compassion, of joy, of learning, of growth, of change. This is not a result of my work. This is a gift, and the result of some higher power, which I fully accept. I would have never admitted or considered that a year ago. I was wrong. I believe I needed this to understand, to see, to be open, to grow. You see, I’ve learned that if I make myself the higher power, then I have nowhere to turn for help…and everyone, EVERYONE, no matter how smart you think you are, needs help at one time or another. The last weekend of Eid, I went on an overnight desert safari with colleagues and new friends. I can’t begin to explain the impact of that experience. The conversation, the education, the bonding, I will never forget. (If you are reading this, my friends, I am humbled, and I am touched by your experience, your acceptance, and your love of life. Thank you for teaching me.)

WHEW! Sorry, one does get sappy and lumpy-throated from time to time. The Safari will be a post on its own. I’m still processing. Here’s a teaser pic of some dune-bashing…SO much fun…and our camp, and ok, ok, already…a camel.

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Oh yeah…one more picture…I feel dumb taking socks to the dry cleaner, so I discovered this in my room.

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It’s a sock cleaner…cool, huh! Wanna argue about that? Then why are my socks so clean?

You know how after a tough time in life some people say, “…but, I wouldn’t change a thing…” I don’t know if I’m there, yet. I do know that my heart is in repair and I owe that to you my friends and family from home, and to you my new friends here. I truly am blessed to have met the people I’ve met over the last year, and to have seen and learned so much. I would have never have picked this path; rather, it picked me, and I am grateful to have you with me. I hope the wonder never ceases.

Sincerely, with love and admiration,

Lee

P.S. Doc Golightly, thanks for that advice 25 years ago. I am returning to not letting the books get in the way of my learning.

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Flexible, frantic, food, fashion, and men singing Journey into each other’s faces.

8 Oct

Playlist–Jack Johnson “Crying Shame”, Zero 7 “In the Waiting Line”, Wax “We Can’t All Be Heroes”, Cage the Elephant “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”, Incubus “When It Comes”, Tool “46 & 2”, Jane’s Addiction “Mountain Song”, Rush “Working Man”, Rage Against the Machine “Bulls on Parade”, Agent Orange “Voices in the Night”, John Mayer “Who Says”

Hi!

Say “Hi” or “Hello” out loud…now…go ahead, no matter where you are, do it. Why the fear? Did you look around, first? Isn’t it strange how very simple things become strange when we spend too much time in our heads? I’m learning this lesson everyday. It’s interesting being in a city where I know NO ONE! I’ve never had that before. It’s a bit freeing, yet a bit foreign (duh, Lee), as well. The beauty of building relationships with no prior knowledge is you get to be you, do your thing, and the only judge is you. Now, many of you might say, “I’ve always lived that way, Lee!” Really? Then ask yourself why it’s so strange to say “hi” out loud to your computer screen. What filter have you developed that automatically edits your behavior? (If you’re still reading and didn’t say it out loud, challenge yourself now…go ahead, you can do it…Hi, Lee…well Hi to you dear family and friends. I send you my love from the future—9 hours ahead—from….THE DHABI!) Sell the brand, people! Only three of you have repeated the words, do it now! THE DHABI…then pay me for my idea. T-shirts soon! They’ll say, “THE DHABI—Hurry up, and wait, you must be patient.”

Enough of the dreck (or Dweck—Carol, read her! “Mindset”, good stuff). SOOOOO, it’s been over a week and I have been busy. My blog notes are too long and totally random, so here we go…

Last blog I hinted about the candy displays here in the Dhabi, at the Hypermarket, remember? There are three huge aisles of sweets and junk food as you walk in, then two aisles of coolers of ice cream and treats on the way out…hmmm?

In the Gulf News last week there was an article about “Lifestyle Diseases” growing to epidemic proportions in the UAE. Mostly, they’re talking about obesity and diabetes. In the schools it’s evident. The kids eat bread and chocolate with Mountain Dew or Juice boxes for breakfast and lunch—yeah, yeah it’s Nutella, but remember Nutella was sued for claiming it has health benefits…SO not true. I was going to show you the teeth, or more like the gums of our students, but those who are reading this and have seen them are thanking me right now for not showing you. I was also going to show you the STICK, yes, the stick some use to clean their teeth…another bad idea. Seriously, 1st graders with rotted baby teeth. Not kidding. GIANT, beautiful almond-shaped, brown eyes, and their poor, awful mouths. Develop a chocolate tooth scrubbing chewing gum and you’ll be rich…(pay me for my idea, too!)

Then, I saw this….

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Yeah, throw fake meat in a pita and you have McArabia…Ronald, are we that dumb? Uh…apparently.

Let’s talk about the beauty of the variety of people here…and food. Those of you who know me know I’m a bit of a foodie (which is a stupid phrase, but I’m going with it), and that I worked in restaurants most of my life. There are so many to enjoy here, lets have a look…

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Yeah! So good. About 30 dollars, and yes, I ate it all, and my skin was shiny and radiant for a day. Umi is the restaurant. Not a fancy place, but good food. Also served to me was this…

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How old are you if you remember this type of opener? I remember it well. Also interesting in this picture is the by-line behind the can. Karl-Heinz Ruminegge (the German footballer—soccer, people, soccer) is still in the game. Not playing, but as an executive. A double whammy blast from my past. (Any Chicago Sting fans will remember Karl-Heinz Granitza—google him, I don’t have this kind of time!)

Now, to confuse you….look at the pic below. What floor am I on?

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If you said third floor, you are correct and incorrect. If you can count, you see three. If you need directions to a store, you count Ground, One, Two. Lee is on the Second Floor. Good to know when you’re starving and the info guy says the GIANT food court on the Second Floor and you feel like an idiot because you can’t find it…because it’s really the THIRD!

I went on boat cruise with some edu-types last week. It was fun, but OY!, the shop talk. What’s with us!? Can’t we leave it alone for a few hours…really, we can’t. It’s hard to explain to non-edu-types how much we love our job, even when it seems nearly impossible. Educators love their jobs, we take it personally.  Pics from the cruise…

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That’s our vessel, with Al Reem Island (man-made) in the background. Eventually, I’ll be living there…Insha’Allah…get comfortable with that one…it’s a very pleasant reminder, that all things happen in God’s time. Your watch and calendar, and deadlines? Silly person, those are jsut so you don’t go crazy…and to ensure that sometimes, you do…

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This one is interesting for a couple reasons. The undermount of the bridges are decorated with lights all year. Why? Why not! “We gots the money! Light it up!” Also interesting are the cranes in the background building another island for another sky scraper. It occurred to me today as I almost squashed underfoot some poor Filipino fellow in the Hypermarket, that maybe the reason they all seem to wander is that they are genuinely new here. There’s that many people flocking here, that everyday in the Hypermarket is the first day for about 1000 people…did I mention it’s HUGE?

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Isn’t that beautiful? Sunset, and a million volts of electricity buzzing over your head…ahhh, nature. Interesting to note, we cruised for about two hours and never hit the open sea…not allowed in our little boat. Plenty of newly built marinas to cruise around, though.

Back to food and style

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Tabouleh (like you don’t know that by now), hummus, baba ghanouj (sorry, my family, I can’t spell our name for it.), Marinated in yogurt Lamb with Saffron Rice (kinda—not impressed), and the “Super Deluxe Delicious Fruit Cocktail”, which was awesome…apple, banana, strawberry, watermelon, and avocado…really good.

Now, some fashion…

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Yeah, SOLD OUT. Red Leather Living Room. Cue that special disco funk music, turn on the lava lamp, and chill, baby, just chill…Honestly, it seems to work here…and, oh, this is on sale at the Hypermarket…did I mention, it’s huge? I did. So! It is.

From the files of bat-shit crazy, I had to post this

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Yes, that’s Al Pacino as Phil Spector…even though he looks like A bleached Bill Cosby circa 1974. I keep waiting for him to throw down some pop & lock. If you don’t know that…google it. Then learn it, then thank me later for the compliments you get on the dance floor. (By the way, the movie is terrible. Really bad, really, seriously, bad—go watch it!…isn’t that like smelling sour milk and asking someone else to try it so see for themselves? Strange humans)

More fashion…

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Ummmm, yeah, remember I talked about how a sign about keeping your shorts on in the male sauna and steam room and jacuzzi would be nice…and that I learned that the embarrassing way?  Remember how I didn’t see a sign? Yeah, found it. Didn’t take a picture, but there are these. Complimentary men’s paper spa and locker room shorts. Yes, paper. Um, no, not happening.

More food!

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Fried Naan, and spicey chutney stuffs, Corn Shorba (the soup) with a cornbread dumpling, and Jhinga Biryani cooked in a pot with a sweet potato and VERY spicey crust. So freakin’ good! If I EVER get a kitchen, I’m making it! In the meantime, I ate this tonight…

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Zeee Spiceee Hypermerkeet Cheekin wiss zee Veggie-tubble birrrrrrryani rrrrrice carefully layered in Le Toooperrrr-warrre.

Last fashion pic, then some school stuff.

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I was going to brag about my man, Pratha. He’s the little brown head balancing on the counter there. I say balancing, because if you know people from India, they shake their heads side to side rather than up and down for affirmative/positive reactions. Like I said, I WAS going to brag about how awesome his business is and how great he treats me… I mean, 6 shirts, dry cleaned and pressed for $4.90 cents? Nice! However, Pratha didn’t have my shirts tonight! Damn him!….just kidding. There are dry cleaners every 50 feet, it’s like Starbucks in the states; however, they all have tiny little storefronts. Which leads my super-brilliant mind to deduce that he sends them out, too. Which also makes me wonder, if it’s that cheap for me and the middle man, how much is the poor super-sweaty bloke that actually cleans the clothes making? Not much, I’d say…BUT, enough to leave his country to do it here. Let that float around the noggin for a while. Complain not westerners…life ain’t so bad.

was going to call this next one, Sunrise with Cranes as a not-so funny, dad-joke kinda way play on words, but I couldn’t snap a good one.

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It’s tough to get a good pic in packed traffic, slouching because your head is rubbing the ceiling of your mini-mobile, and doing 85 miles per hour (yes, mom, 85mph…what? Everyone else is doing it! Un-huh! Yes, they are!).

In truth, I am inspired to take a pic every morning. The sun is so large, so orange and beautiful, as it rises above the mangroves each day. Then as you wind through the (man-made) coast, it hovers over Sheik Zayed Mosque (google it! 40,000 capacity, but something tells me from the way people drive here that they stuff about 100k in there), and you have to think…there is beauty everywhere, there is no one man, or group of people, creating this beauty, but it’s there every day, not random, not planned, but there, every day…one just has to be open to it.

One school pic before I go…

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Yeah, made by third graders…un-huh, third graders…no, not their mom and dads, or nannies…third graders. Ask ’em, they’ll tell you. They made them. By the way, there is real glass in some of them…cut to size…and, the day after I took this pic, all of those creepy bald mini babies were staring at me. No pics on that, I didn’t want to capture their souls on my iphone…it has enough issues! Back to iOS 6!

So, Eid al-Adha is coming up next week. (Wikipedia, people! I can’t do everything for you. Discovery learning). It was supposed to start on Monday for schools, but the Sheik just declared Sunday off for everyone, too. Remember, my week starts on Sunday. So, we have 9 days off, and from what I hear, the families stretch it into a full two weeks. Should be interesting as we have a huge push to do continuous assessment of our students and we’re basically out of school for the next two weeks.

Speaking of…I had an interesting Monday. After getting a bit of a run around about where I’ll be living…(Roll your r’s if you haven’t figured that out yet) “Shuuuurrrrrrre, you move in theeees week”, then finding out the condo is full. “No problem, I tell them I turrrrrrrn of water and lights.., they go fast.” Then hearing nothing (with all due respect to Mohammed in housing; he’s going the extra mile, uh kilometer, for me) for two days, I returned to school around 11 to find out I had to presenta= a 90 minute workshop on the new assessment policy at 1:30. “Wh-What!?” Yeah, I was stunned. 55 educators, I’ve been there two weeks, I have to present on a policy I have barely read, with a translator, in two hours…fun! However, it went well, although, my boss told me I needed to smile more or the teachers will think I don’t like them. Hey, if that’s the only criticism, I’m good with it. Actually, this is a very prideful society marked by practiced humility…does that make sense? What I mean is, he told me “good job” twice afterwards, then told our big boss, I did a “great job”…I wasn’t expecting that. Men don’t really do that much.

Which brings up my last point. Men are much more affectionate here. The practice of shaking hands while rubbing noses and an air kiss is commonplace. Men holding hands, commonplace. Men talking into each others eyes, commonplace, and a sign of respect. Don’t confuse it with what I saw at the hotel bar last week…two totally loaded Scandinavians shouting, “Don’shtoop beleeeeevin’, hold on to zha feeeelin…” you know the rest. If you don’t, google Journey, but tell no one.

Interesting that comes up now, though. The cool thing about this new adventure is one has to believe in one’s self. I love what I do. I am here because of that love and dedication of over 20 years of my life to it. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t scared, that I had doubts about my ability to affect real change. Yes, I’ve done it before, but I felt I knew some people and that would help. I’m learning, that is wasn’t the people I know. It’s the things I’ve learned and held on to that give me the skill and ability to do my job. I didn’t believe that fully, until after that professional development session, and I believe it more and more each day. Many of you have told me that for years, but I wasn’t open to it. I’m open to it today. I’ve had great teachers, in all facets (a non-word, I should use “arenas”) of my life, and I thank you for it…I’m putting it all together and making something original…as I’ve always done, but seeing it that way and being happy with it…believing it…that’s new…cue the music… “Just a small town girl…” (Tell no one I referenced that song twice! They’ll kick me out of the Public Enemy fan club!)

Thanks for reading…really, thank you!

Love,

Lee