Take a Watauqua with me, Unfortunate is the new inspiration for change, or Any kind of Yankee in Sheikh Zayed’s Majlis

29 Jan

Playlist–Beastie Boys-Groove Holmes, Jane’s Addiction-Strays, Gin Blossoms-Mrs. Rita, Soundgarden-Eyelid’s Mouth, Third-Eye Blind-Semi-Charmed Life, The Police-Message in a Bottle, Bill Withers-Grandma’s Hands, Michael Franti & Spearhead-East to the West, The Skies We Built-Girls with Accents, Fuel-Mary Pretends, Talib Kweli-On My Way, Jack Johnson-Never Know, System of a Down-Highway Song, The The-August & September, Otis Clay-Since I’ve Been Loving You, Quicksand-Dine Alone, Deftones-Rx Queen

The playlist is actually in reverse order…and quite diverse. Try emptying your i-Whatever and re-sync-ing…you get a cool new mix. (Older readers please disregard, or call a whippersnapper)

My shadow’s
Shedding skin, and
I’ve been picking
Scabs again.
I’m down,
Digging through,
My old muscles,
Looking for a clue.
I’ve been crawling on my belly,
Clearing out what could’ve been.
I’ve been wallowing in my own confused,
And insecure delusions;
For a piece to cross me over,
Or a word to guide me in.
I wanna feel the changes coming down.
I wanna know what I’ve been hiding in!
My shadow!
Change is coming through my shadow.
My shadow’s shedding skin…Tool 46 & 2

Watauqua—a somewhat philosophical, and oft times meandering, discussion with one’s self while walking great distances. Not to be confused with Chatauqua, which, again, might be philosophical. See Robert Pirsig—word made up by me! Lee…’cause I’ll do that! That’s how I roll! Dangerously makin’ up words! Yeah!

Metamorphosis, evolution, enlightenment…call it what you like, change is everywhere, it is inevitable, and sorry to say, YOU are not in control of it. For years, I thought I was. The only real change I am in charge of, is mine. If you want to influence change, you can. If you want to help people change, you can. If you want to join in a change, you can. If you want to impose change…you are in for a rough one. There is a hard road there. Impose, fight, yell, scream, push, and muscle a change and then come to the realization that you may have changed nothing you planned on changing, but yourself. You see, it’s better to embrace and embody, and em-something else (for stylistic repetition points), change if you really want to make change. (Not the dollars and sense kind, smart—).

Anyhoo, here I am in this massive change place. The country is 42 years old. I am older than it! That’s cray cray (ask a younger person), and there is so much changing here that you can literally see it happening…everywhere!

I recently posted some pics from our campsite. At about 4:30am and going until about noon, 777s fly in full of people about every 20 minutes. The volume of people coming here is staggering. Those coming here for work already have a job, and most of them are here to help with come kind of change.

A serene scene upon waking up and peering out of my tent. A "wow" moment.

A serene scene upon waking up and peering out of my tent. A “wow” moment.

You know what? Before I forget…the next time you see something intricate or beautiful or unique or awesome (the non-Jeff Spiccoli version of the word), stop, look at it and just say “Wow”. Don’t name it, don’t be an expert, don’t smartphone google it, just look at it and say “Wow!” You’ll be glad you did. Or, you’ll hate it. Who knows…until you try.

The tide is out and these little fellas are racing for their lives.

The tide is out and these little fellas are racing for their lives.

Yes, I'm sappy. Love is a beautiful thing. This little left turn maker showed me.

Yes, I’m sappy. Love is a beautiful thing. This little left turn maker showed me.

Fascinating.

Fascinating.

Again, what’s the point? I don’t know. I do know this. I have learned so much over the last year and a half, and I can’t explain what life has taught me since I’ve been in Dhabi (dropping the “the”…yeah Facebook! You feel me!–ummm, again for the less social media experienced, it’s not THE Facebook.)

So, come on a walk with me for a look at change…as I see it. Those of you considering major life changes like moving 7700 miles away to work in education when there are jobs down the street, stay-tuned…I’ll explain why you’re about to embark on the craziest, coolest journey you’ve ever imagined (Gee, I hope it’s that good, anyway.)

Before we begin, take off those Birkenstocks! It ain’t that kind of walk! We’re in the concrete jungle today. Also, you’ll notice that I don’t take pictures of people. I wish I could, I came upon these three Pakistani guys all standing in the Pakistani squat (google it-amazing balance and flexibility), and they were stoic with rich dark skin and jet black hair and beards, and this look of content on their faces. It was touching, but no picture. Most people here are modest, and will oblige, but these are my neighbors, not people on exhibit, so I feel strange…though, maybe one day. As for taking pictures of the amazing colors of women and their clothes, and their varying levels of cover…nu-uh, not happenin’…I like my freedom, and publishing pictures of strangers who are women…yeah, illegal. There are thousand of expat women of all exotic kinds, but not worth the risk. The city is very metropolitan, colorful, and beautiful…let’s look.

Here is the building, and the surrounding structures on the island where I live. I’m told the island was natural, but I walk the “coast of it almost everyday, and most of it is framed by gigantic concrete blocks placed perfectly together, forming a ring around the island. The blocks are a perfect path for walking or running, however, they are joined by big Wendell Davis career-ending seams, so one must watch where one is going. (Like that reference Bears fans!? Da Bearssss!)

Sky Tower!  My home.

Sky Tower! My home.

View from the "coast" of Reem Island.

View from the “coast” of Reem Island. My building is the tallest on the left. The Gate Towers is next door, very cool.

View across canal to Maryah Island. Apparently, they didn't dig the channel deep enough. That wall of black is the bank and you can see the water left on the bottom.

View across canal to Maryah Island. Apparently, they didn’t dig the channel deep enough. That wall of black is the bank and you can see the water left on the bottom.

The Cleveland Clinc. A beautiful building. Google it.

The Cleveland Clinc. A beautiful building. Google it.

So, I thought these were millions of water drops, but they were too big. Bent over and snapped a pic...cat paws! Freaked!

So, I thought these were millions of water drops, but they were too big. Bent over and snapped a pic…cat paws! Freaked!

Here are some examples of the old and the new, and just how quickly the change is happening here.

Typical.Old Middle Eastern meets new Middle Eastern.

Typical.Old Middle Eastern meets new Middle Eastern.

This ornate old building is next to...

This ornate old building is near …

...this shiny green glass and chrome beast.

…this shiny green glass and chrome beast.

Bad perspective on my part. The beige building is half a block closer to me. The small base and wider upper structure is typical of old school Middle Eastern.

Bad perspective on my part. The beige building is half a block closer to me. The small base and wider upper structure is typical of old school Middle Eastern.

It's a house...really. I need a better camera (that's not a phone) to show you the engraving. Machine probably, but not cheap!

It’s a house…really. I need a better camera (that’s not a phone) to show you the engraving. Machine probably, but not cheap!

All cell phone shops. A mile of them. Funny names...007, M5, Prince, Princess, Unity, Boss, King, Super, Deluxe, Best, and of course, Phone Phone Store.

All cell phone shops. A mile of them. Funny names…007, M5, Prince, Princess, Unity, Boss, King, Super, Deluxe, Best, and of course, Phone Phone Store.

So, yes, change doth occur…here, where you are, and in you. I think we all agree it’s a good thing, until it happens to us and “against our will”. A funny phrase. Really, your will wants change, it’s your ego that fears it. Recently, I posted something cool I read from Mastin Kipp, he wrote:

If life is confusing right now, if you feel like you don’t know what’s next, if you feel totally lost – this is a moment to celebrate! It means you are out beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone and that you are GROWING! You are expanding and you are starting to live a new kind of life that requires a new mindset – one of Faith that the future will be better than the past, because you will create it.

Comfort zones. Decide for yourself, are they positive or negative. I’m not interested in an argument about it, but the discussion could be interesting. Here’s an example from my recent life. This is something that would have never happened if I hadn’t moved to a TOTALLY foreign place.

My car broke down about a week ago. (No biggie, just a hose.) HOWEVER, the ONLY freakin’ way to get your car fixed in Dhabi (see how I did that) is to go to the armpit of the zit on the pimple that lives on the wart that formed on the parasite that is leeching life out of the armpit of a camel carcass drying and putrefying in the desert sun. Otherwise known as the industrial city of Mussafah. Now, I’ve been hard on Mussafah in the posts and on The Facebook (for my elders), and the mayor caught wind of it (only Allah knows how, the smell there has a color and it settles on you—ever buy gas station chicken, then walk out and still smell it? Yeah, like that, only NOT CHICKEN!). So, the Mayor asked me to talk nicely about the cultural and exciting things going on in Mussafah, like the Art Hub, an artist residence, instructional complex, and gallery, and the…uh, the, well, the Art Hub is nice. Not even caffeine pushing who–, uh escorts, Starbuck’s has a Mussafah store. There is one thing the Mayor has correct…there are lots of colors. In fact, I have heard those who eat there see many colors coming up from their stomachs shortly after eating…hey, Indian food is great, BUT DO NOT EAT IT if the raw meat is piled on a plate in the window next to an ashtray, a Styrofoam coffee cup, and the dry crusty elbow of one of 15 guys sweating and leaning on the counter in a restaurant the size of a phone booth! Sorry, Mayor, I calls it likes I sees it!

Isaac Hayes with a leaky hose...radiator...keep it clean.

Isaac Hayes with a leaky hose…radiator…keep it clean…old, dead plate, no worries.

SO, one must go there to get a car repaired. It is an industrial city, so that’s the place. In my old life, I would have been pissed, and stompy stompy, and life is unfair, and can you believe what I have to go through…all of that. Why? For what? Does it fix my car? No, it does not.

So, I called the guy I bought my car from (a Jordanian who worked with autistic kids, but needed more money, so he fixes and restores Jaguars—sad statement folks) because he gave me a FREE 6 month warranty on EVERYTHING on the car. (Grand Prize Auto in Mussafah—see him!) He sends a flatbed tow truck. Amir, the Syrian truck owner picks me and Isaac Hayes (that’s the car’s name—it’s triple black and very smooth-duh! What else would you name it? Barry White if it was an SUV) up and I ride to Mussafah with him. We had a nice talk. We both have daughters. We both miss them, and we both wants what’s best for them. All of that in about 50 words each.

It’s interesting to make conversation when you don’t have the same language. You learn very quickly what is essential to your statement. As humans we strive to communicate. As Americans we get frustrated…for no good reason. Everyone wants to communicate, we have no monopoly on language. We are all human, let’s communicate…kumbayah, sing it!…you get me, I know you do. In fact, I fancied myself a patient guy, always, but I think it was for selfish reasons. Now, I’m patient because it’s out of my hands. I don’t control the speed in which the world moves…and I’m glad.

So, Amir delivers me to the armpit of he–, uh Mussafah, but the garage is closed. It’s only 8:30 and nothing in open until 10,… “then maybe we to close by 12 to eat, then to relax, and maybe 3 we open, Insha’Allah…” That’s just the way it goes. Fight it all you want; you can’t impose change (oh yeah, stayin’ topical!).

So, I’m stuck in Mussafah and I have to get to work. I’m about 4 blocks off the main drag, otherwise known as Hellrace 2000, and there is no cab in sight. The road is lined with about 400 day laborers standing in front of various size trucks and heavy machinery. ALL of them in off white or light blue churidar, which are kind of like pajamas; loose fitting pants, and a long shirt over the top, and most in turbans or fez. Me? I’m in my school clothes…suit and tie. It really was a kodak moment (yes, I’m old), but I thought I better not.

This is day laborer street. Snapped in the afternoon, so most of them are working for the day. Imagine dump trucks, hauling trucks, cranes, front loaders, backhoes, bulldozer...all lining the street waiting for work. Add 400-500 men eager to work. Wow moment.

This is day laborer street. Snapped in the afternoon, so most of them are working for the day. Imagine dump trucks, hauling trucks, cranes, front loaders, backhoes, bulldozer…all lining the street waiting for work. Add 400-500 men eager to work. Wow moment.

I find a taxi on the curb of Hellrace 2000 street and he swoops in to pick me up. How he knew I needed a ride out of there…? Must have been psychic. He wasn’t, just Bangladeshi and familiar with what to expect in Mussafah at 8:30…and it isn’t a well-fed white guy in a tie and hair gel. I tell him where I’m going and he gives me the look everyone who says they work in Baniyas gets. The “no, really, WHERE do you WANT to go…” I shrug it off and he hits the gas. He takes one turn and I’m lost. In about 5 minutes I release an audible, “Nooooo waaaayyyyy!?”… “Ah, sawrrry sirrrr?” “Oh, me, sorry. You just showed me an amazing shortcut in and out of Mussafah! Thank you, Privantharumvarnidamjinmum!” “Welcome, sir.”

Now, I don’t want to preach too much, but once again. There is no such thing as luck. You know how I ever first learned about the UAE? In my leaner days I played indoor men’s club volleyball at Indiana University with a guy who played for the UAE team. He was always wearing the colors, so I finally asked him and he explained. I forgot his name…Mohammed, or Zayed, or Khalifa, I’m sure. Anyway, why did I meet him? What about my upbringing rich in cultural experience and practice at rolling an R and making the letters that sound like you’re clearing your throat? Why did I have that? Also, my car? Super minor break down, I meet Amir. Two dads, away from their daughters share a moment. Then, Privantharumvarnidamjinmum (thank you copy and paste) shows me a safer, quicker way which also ties together a few main roads for the map in my head. After school, one of the guys just happens to be going to Mussafah (probably to the Art Hub—NOT! Childish, I know), he walks by my office as I’m discussing it, and says, “Mr. Lee, Mussafah? Now? Yalla!” Let’s go! What timing!!! (Not luck, gifts, order out of what we perceive as chaos…Order…Higher…Power)

Me and Fouzy! He rocks! We work together. He is the kindest gentlest guy. Took me out of his way I contend, he says he was going there anyway.

Me and Fouzy! He rocks! We work together. He is the kindest gentlest guy. Took me out of his way I contend, he says he was going there anyway.

I get there, there and this is what I see.

"Yeah, I thought it was the radiator hose, Samir?" "Sir, no problem, sir. I make sure, just to check no beeg problem. Car ready 20 minutes." Really 40, but who cares. It was a good day...Cue the Ice Cube track!

“Yeah, I thought it was the radiator hose, Samir?” “Sir, no problem, sir. I make sure, just to check no beeg problem. Car ready 20 minutes.” Really 40, but who cares. It was a good day…Cue the Ice Cube track!

Of course, it’s before three and Samir is at nap time, or something, and his more ambitious brother, Other-mir, (not his real name, but funny) assures me they will fix it fast and that he is very angry with his brother for making me come to Mussafah. (No, they don’t live there…no one does…no one with internet, I hope.) I just happen to have my book with me, and I read this…”Through [fear, greed, and desire] you misinterpret every situation, leading to misguided action designed to rid you of fear and satisfy your need for more, a bottomless hole that can never be filled.” (Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth)

More is a bottomless hole that can never be filled. As I’m sitting in my suit, on an industrially dusty broken window unit air-conditioner in the afternoon desert sun and the wind of Mussafah adheres to me, and the incessant horns blare, and the trucks kick up more stink dust, I still find peace. What is there to be upset about? What do I need more of that I must have right now? What fear might be causing an anger reflex? Really, isn’t there a “wow” moment even here, in Mussafah, while my car is in pieces, and my mechanic’s brother is whisper screaming at him on the phone? Who am I that this is not acceptable for me? In fact, it is totally acceptable, and that thought is what calms us. Who I am is not my broken car, is not my dirty suit, is not me the administrator, is not me the golfer, is not me the guitar player, is not me the songwriter, is not even me the father. First, I am me, and I choose which of those extensions define me. They all do in parts, but when my ego makes decisions for me based on those extensions, then I have let me go and I’ve let ego take over. Identity is full of meaningless labels. Shoes do not make the man. I want to live my real life, not a conceptualized reality.

What does this have to do with living and working (notice the order) abroad? For me, this move is what it took to jostle me out of a conceptualized reality and into a real life. While there is plenty of glamor and glitz and fakery here, there is even more opportunity to meet cultures head on…no books or movies…smells, tastes, sounds, sights…first hand…real life. This may not be for everyone, but it is working thus far for me.

For those looking to come here and be educators, here are some things to think about…we were told you’re interested in hearing it. So…here goes.

This is NOT an English speaking country. MANY people speak it, but there is NO plan to EVER lose Arabic. Keep that in mind. Chances are, your students, and their parents, will speak very little English. So, screaming “sit down” or “come back” or “be quiet” or “no stab with pencil” or “use a turn signal” will fall on deaf ears. They won’t understand it…and turn signals are just here because they like colored lights…no function.

My School! Love it!

My School! Love it!

Think about your teaching life. What phrases/words do you use most? LEARN THEM IN ARABIC! Also, if you’re not good with names, try harder! Names are a source of pride, as the should be, and “Hey You” will not get respect. Get a technique. Most of our boys have two names because there are 10 others in class with the same first name. You probably told them you’re good in classroom management in the interview. Are you? Really? No, for real? Ok, now try it when NO ONE speaks English…or the names are Said, Saeed, Zayed, Saher, Saqer, Talal, Rashed (not Rasheeed, Rashid), and 5 Mohammeds. Also, do you really do project-based learning? Not once…all the time. That’s the idea here. MAKE YOUR PLANS NOW. Design some projects that can be adapted to any age, and to boys and/or girls. Keep in mind…no pigs, no dogs, and people should be covered. Modesty.

Al Bawadi crew rolls hard for Bus Duty!

Al Bawadi crew rolls hard for Bus Duty!

I don’t want to scare anyone because this is an amazing career choice, but keep in mind what they told you in the interview…the country is 42 years old; we have high schools older than that. They are trying on reform strategies like a wine-soaked bridezilla (with good intention), so your line about “flexibility” and your example that nailed it in the interview…yeah, remember that. Oh, accountability is real here. If you say you can do it, we’ll be expecting to see it. They also told you it’s a very “top-down” society here, and you probably said, “I’m cool with that.” Remember that, too. There are bosses. They are in charge. They are not unreasonable, but very few people, including your colleagues will jump on board your complain-o-train. If you hold on to a bad day or a bad event from the day, learn to let it go. If it can’t be changed, then let it go.

The expat teachers here take very good care of each other here. You can always vent with them…and you will. It’s natural. Remember, at the end of everyday, you came here to teach…and the point of every teaching life is the kids. They are coming to you to help them build an amazing nation. They have the resources and the personnel and they are interested in adding you to that list. How will you treat their children?

I love my EMTs, they all work really hard E-VER-Y-DAY, but everyday, or maybe later that evening as you’re walking through an immaculate and lushly landscaped canal-side park, or on the beach, or just sitting on your balcony as the warm desert air washes over you, you’ll find that bright or funny spot during the day, and you’ll go back tomorrow and do it again…because you love kids, because you love teaching, and because you love what you do for you…and this, here, in Dhabi, is what you do for you.

Love,

Lee

Random advice pic of the day...if your dryer lint has age lines in like a tree...then change it!

Random advice pic of the day…if your dryer lint has age lines in like a tree…then change it!

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5 Responses to “Take a Watauqua with me, Unfortunate is the new inspiration for change, or Any kind of Yankee in Sheikh Zayed’s Majlis”

  1. Candy B January 29, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    Ah, Lee. You nailed it again. I love reading your blog. I think a book\ compilation is in your future. Peace,

  2. Dana Dabagia January 29, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

    Wonderful blog, once again, Lee. Am so glad you’re enjoying the Eckhart Tolle books. Lots of good “stuff” there. Love you.

  3. bettinabennett2014 January 30, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Thank you for this. Good advice for folk not going to Dhabi as well!

  4. Bobbi February 2, 2014 at 6:29 am #

    Interesting perspective. You can, of course, call it Dhabi if you like, but “abu” actually means “father” not “the” for future reference.

    • ldabagia February 2, 2014 at 11:55 am #

      Ahhh, Bobbi, Bobbi, Bobbi…thank you for reading and responding. I am aware of the meaning of Abu, thank you. In fact, that issue was covered in an earlier blog right around the time we coined “The Dhabi”…get your t-shirt soon. “Life in the Dhabi” on the front. “Na’am” on the back.

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