Tag Archives: Apartment

Everyday a New Day, School Improvement is Real, or Life is Ordinary; add some Extra.

6 Mar

(No Playlist this month…I’ll reinstate it, if you’re interested  Please enjoy!)

If I could be the leaves, then like jade I would stay evergreen

and Spread my limbs out wide and pull love so close to me

and If I could be the roots, I would dig deep like ancestry

and If I were the fruits, you’d make the sweetest cherry pie from me

and If I could be the night, my moon replace all electric lights

and Magic music would transmit from outer space on satellites
If I myself could be the ocean, you would feel the motion all the time

and If I were the words, then everything that everybody said would rhyme

Michael Franti – What I Be

Too many shadows in my room
Too many hours in this midnight
Too many corners in my mind
So much to do to set my heart right

Oh, it’s taking so long
I could be wrong, I could be ready
Oh but if I take my heart’s advice
I should assume it’s still unsteady
I am in repair, I am in repair
John Mayer – In Repair

Through excessive reliance on thinking, reality becomes fragmented.” Eckhart Tolle

So much contradiction in my day today, I don’t know where to start. (Can’tcha tell from the lyrical selections? Hey, it’s been an interesting day. Gotta love that!)

Typical Day in Mista Lee's office.

Typical Day in Mista Lee’s office.

See! PLCs are fun!

See! PLCs are fun!

I am writing on 14 February (that’s how long I’ve been in The Dhabi, I’m inverting dates), Valentine’s Day. I woke up with a sadness. Normally, I spend the day, or night, with my girls. We cook their favorite meals, pick up a few bottles of bubbly (sparkling grape juice) and have a “date night”. I love it. I miss it. I miss them. I love them.

I love the architecture here. This is the pool at the Intercontinental in Chicago. I stayed there with my daughters over winter break for a Christmas shopping trip.

I love the architecture here. This is the pool at the Intercontinental in Chicago. I stayed there with my daughters over winter break for a Christmas shopping trip.

The John Mayer lyrics came to me before I even turned on my music this morning. There were shadows in my room, there was a darkness feeling that lasted too long. I was spending too much time in the corners of my mind (umm, I think I still am)…and I am working really, really hard to set my heart right.

The Michael Franti lyrics fueled a really good walkabout the other day and they stuck with me. He is really adept and pointing out the Whitman-esque beauties in the world that we tend to overlook. I am really grateful for Michael Franti’s music. (Check him out if you haven’t yet, you will love it…no matter who you are.)

So, back to my brief, heavy heart from this morning. I felt some homesick pangs today. I have many, many more good days, than bad, but there are some holidays that get to you when you’re 7700 miles from home. School (work, as some might call it) is awesome. It’s an amazing challenge every-darn stinkin’-day. Our school is seriously improving by leaps and bounds. The teachers are banding together and bringing us up to competitive heights. We have solid lesson plans, learning centers in classrooms, visible behavior management systems, testing strategies, PLCs…yes, the Al Bawadi Unicorns are on the brink of legendary improvement. THAT, is a serious source of joy for me.

Yes! Grade 6...in a line...without their teacher! THAT is amazing!

Yes! Grade 6…in a line…without their teacher! THAT is amazing!

PD Gallery Walk, outside. A luxury when it only rains 5 days a year.

PD Gallery Walk, outside. A luxury when it only rains 5 days a year.

Senior Leadership Team--doin' some strategery.

Senior Leadership Team–doin’ some strategery.

However, there are setbacks…for me, away from school. There are struggles. There are obstacles to growth. You know who puts them there? I do. I find that my resistance to things happening stops me from learning. I rarely ever say “sh*t happens”, but it does. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can resist, put up a fight, complain to anyone who will listen, tell people “should this/shouldn’t that”…but, it still happens, so acknowledge it, have your emotions, but see it for what it is. This is so basic to how we learn.

Not as strange as one might think.

A lesson in adaptation.

Recently, I watched a TEDtalk by Tom Wujec (Build a Tower, Build a Team—see it!) I won’t give it away, because he does a much better job of explaining this phenomenon…you will never get everything right, the first time you try it. Children know this. They build, and play, and make up games, and they don’t always work, but children don’t focus on the failure, they focus on the process…the game…the creation. This is why project based/inquisitive-based learning is so important. Tell them to memorize the right way to do something and they’ll have to succeed at it a number of times before it is perfected. Let them discover their own way to learn it, and it becomes their practice. This should be applied in all arenas of our lives.

Our Current PD Project. Do what we do...better. Use our expertise to help each other raise the bar.

Our Current PD Project. Do what we do…better. Use our expertise to help each other raise the bar.

As adults, we sometimes fail, and we let that failure discourage us. Really, that failure is a way of getting a mistake out of the way. Or, we use something that happened to us to stop us from attempting something. Imagine as a kid, if when you fell off your bike for the first time, you never got on it again. “Hey, well that didn’t work…so much for bikes!” Ever see Adam Sandler’s “Mr. Deeds”? There’s a scene near the end where he reminds a room full of millionaire stockholders that as children, we believed in our dreams and nothing (but growing up) could stop us from believing in them. As adults, though, some of us let “what happened” stop us from getting back on that bike, or from the beliefs we once held. John Mayer also writes, “Is there anyone who ever remembers/changing their mind/from the paint on a sign?” No, belief is stronger than that.

No Old-Timey Horns! These are around the hospitals in the Dhabi.

No Old-Timey Horns! These are around the hospitals in the Dhabi. I wonder if the paint on this sign makes people change their mind?

So, what happens? Life happens. Things out of your control slow you down, create problems, create resistance. Sometimes, we focus on those things, and we let them slow us down. (Ego…again.) If you resist what happens in your life then you put yourself at the mercy of it, and you let something, or someone, else determine how you feel. I’m talking about things that happened, not future choices. Of course, we can’t just let go of making good decisions. That could be disastrous.

What’s my advice…for me? Sometimes life presents you with limitations. Like physical distance from loved ones, or impossibly small budgets, or…ya know? I’ll spare you the advice. To each his own, correct?

One of our boys expressing his freedom to choose....incorrectly.

One of our boys expressing his freedom to choose….incorrectly.

Soooo, I wrote everything above this paragraph 14 days ago. Here’s what’s strange. I don’t really like it, but I’m sticking with it. The other strange thing is I saw “Boyhood” today. If I had seen it 14 days ago, the first half of this blog would have been totally different. Well, not totally different, but from a different perspective.

You see, I think the advice I held back was to live each day as it’s own, to stay present, to appreciate what you have in front of you, right now. In fact, that advice is doled out in the movie, as well. Here’s the thing, though…balance. I need to balance my thinking. Yes, today is…well, whatever today is, but chances are, today might not be memorable. It’s a string of todays that really become a life…many non-memorable, though we’ll characterize them as “good”, days. Life really is dominated by good days.

TED Talk The Case for Emotional Hygiene. Please watch this. It’s really good. 

Anyway, as I watched “Boyhood”, I went through it all. I watched as a boy, as a brother, as a boyfriend, as a student, as a son, as a husband, as a father, and as a father away from his children. Needless to say, there were some tough moments. However, I can’t put my finger on any one of them and I just saw the movie today. Why? I know I went through the emotional spectrum watching it, but I can’t recall any certain scene and the emotion it evoked. None were remarkable or extreme, but all were special. There’s that balance.

The need for...

The need for…

...balance

…balance.

I kept watching and waiting for some tragedy to befall the family. My instinct as a parent, and as an avid watcher of films, was to look for the cringe moment when something really bad happened to anyone. Ya know? That urge to protect the kids as they grow. Yes, some bad things happened, but there was so much more life around than the bad things.

So I asked myself…”Hey Lee, I have a question for you?” (Yes, I answered. Yes, I know that’s an issue.) The question is, why was I waiting for something bad to happen? Why did I expect it? Does a story about life require a tragedy in order to be life-like? Has my lifelong study of literature boxed me into formulas? Do we assign the word “tragedy” to life events that really should be called “learning opportunities” or, just “life events”. Really, that’s all they are…events that happen during life. So, change of thought for me. Life is not like in the movies…even the really good ones. So, the next time someone says, “…ugh, my life is like a movie…or soap opera…or bad sitcom…” remember, you’re making it that. It simply isn’t true, unless you let it be.

Love the architecture and the landscape architecture here.

Love the architecture and the landscape architecture here.

Symmetry.

Symmetry.

I know you've seen this before. Sun Tower on your left, Sky Tower on your right.

I know you’ve seen this before. Sun Tower on your left, Sky Tower on your right.

Ok, so, that one question became 4 questions…that I can remember. Do we require tragedy to “begin” the life we’re really looking for? I don’t think so. Certainly, we’ve all had our tragedies. I could list the loss of people and events that were traumatic, but did I require them to grow. No, I didn’t. I don’t.

You see, we have the freedom to start the life we want right now. There’s risk in that. There is fear; self-generated. What’s the alternative, though? Living the life you don’t want? Is that an option? In my past, I didn’t take the emotional risks, or make the changes I needed to make. So, the problems stacked up, and so did the obstacles to happiness. The obstacles I made. However, I wasn’t expecting them. I didn’t feel they were necessary; they were definitely part of the plan. However, problems are not the definitions of your life. You face them, you breathe, you live.

Space to breathe. The Campers of Abu Dhabi ride again.

Space to breathe. The Campers of Abu Dhabi ride again.

That’s the beauty of the film. With a scope of 12 years as the setting, the tragedies and their impact seem to diminish in emotional damage because, frankly, life is too busy and too short to cling to them. Watching these lives as they grow over 12 years creates an emotional balance. Life is bigger than the tough moments; they fade and life gets more…more…more everything.

Ya think these dudes are focused on tragedy? I doubt it. They climb over the top of a 76 story building, then slowly work down it hanging by two lines of knotted together rope. Yes, connected by knots. That's trust.

Ya think these dudes are focused on tragedy? I doubt it. They climb over the top of a 76 story building, then slowly work down it hanging by two lines of knotted together rope. Yes, connected by knots. That’s trust.

So the family in the film they just lived. They weren’t extraordinary people, they didn’t fight some Goliath, there were no severe, extreme measures to take in order to survive. They just lived. No typical story arc, none of the stuff I forced my poor English students to remember that every story had…just life. That’s why I think I liked it so much.

So, where’s the balance? Life is long, but made up of moments that are characterized by the choices we make and the labels we attach to them. If we take the tough moments and pick and pull at them like skin on a hangnail, they will get bigger and bleed. We run the risk of making those short bad moments into a life. Then one day, a switch flips and you say, “…life’s too short to hold this or that grudge…” But really, life is long, and you chose to string short bad moments into one long one. I’m choosing to balance my perspective today. I will appreciate the extreme moments as catalysts for growth and change. I will keep in mind that life is long enough to get over anything…as long as I choose to get over it.

AWOD-dhabob=fog. It can be so thick that school is delayed or cancelled. Don't dwell on the fog, appreciate the clarity that follows.

AWOD-dhabob=fog. It can be so thick that school is delayed or cancelled. Don’t dwell on the fog, appreciate the clarity that follows.

Thus the Tolle quote way up at the top. Analyzing a moment over and over again suspends you in that moment, and you lose reality. I bounced the first half of this blog off a friend who is a writer and extremely intelligent. She said, “It’s like you’re not even here!” Six words that stopped me. She was right. All this “now” talk and I was sitting here discussing the past. I felt it, I acknowledge it, and today is a new day. Thanks for the kick! 

Sunrise and Snoopy. (Fujairah, UAE) A new day...everyday. What will you do with it?

Sunrise and Snoopy. (Fujairah, UAE) A new day…everyday. What will you do with it?

Do you know the Serenity Prayer? I do, and I still forget.

We are an impressive work in progress.

Peace and love to you, my friends.

Love, Lee

Speaking of Hygiene-yes, there are sporks here. I am not going to tell you that this boy did not and will not wash his hands. Licked clean and dried on his pants. Eat well, my friends!

Speaking of Hygiene-yes, there are sporks here. I am not going to tell you that this boy did not and will not wash his hands. Licked clean and dried on his pants. Eat well, my friends.

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The End as a New Beginning, Ask an Expert it’s Cheaper, or What Goes Around Keeps Coming Around Until It Doesn’t.

9 Sep

Abu Dhabi Blog 7-13-2014 through 9-9-14

Playlist Tool–Aenima, Red Hot Chili Peppers—Transcending, Smashing Pumpkins—Quiet, Pepper—FKARND, Bob Marley & the Wailers—Buffalo Soldier, Michael Franti & Spearhead—Everybody Ona Move, Michael Franti & Spearhead—Stay Human (All the Freaky People), Cody ChestnuTT—Can We Teach Each Other, Lyrics Born—Callin’ Out, Lupe Fiasco—Kick, Push, Marvin Gaye—Ain’t That Peculiar, The Beatnuts—The Trouble Is…, Rage Against the Machine—Wake Up, The White Stripes—Rag and Bone, Bob Marley—Redemption Song, The Roots—The Next Movement, Golden Era & R.A. The Rugged Man—On the Block, Clutch—Cyborg Bette, 30 Seconds to Mars—Hunter, Novel & Talib Kweli—They Don’t Flow, John Mayer—On the Way Home, Michael Franti & Spearhead—See You in the Light, Colin Hay—I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You, The Steepwater Band—Dance Me a Number, 30 Seconds to Mars R-Evolve

Excuse me, too busy, you’re writing a tragedy
These mess-ups
You bubble-wrap
When you’ve no idea what you’re like

So, let go,Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown
So, let go,Just get in
Oh, it’s so amazing here
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

 Frou Frou – Let Go

We cannot selectively numb…”

Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort”

Brene Brown

Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?…To see one’s predicament clearly is a first step toward going beyond it…With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges—the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.”

Eckhart Tolle A New Earth

Gosh! Hello! Wow…so much going on I just…I just don’t know where to start. This journey of life, which I am learning is not separate from me, continues to teach and astound me everyday. As you can see from the quotes above…ok, go back, I know you ignored them. (Hello!? They’re contextually important). So, yes, after looking at the quotes you can see that I have been bouncing around in my head and my heart quite a bit recently. Part of what I’m learning is that I can allow myself to bounce, or I can start and stop it. My brain is me, I am my brain. There is no separate entity. The conversation in your head is you, both voices…you. More than two? Let someone know, please 🙂 .

My Reading Spot. Every home needs one. A work in Progress.

My Reading Spot. Every home needs one. A work in Progress.

Pre-Meditation..yes, the walls are still bare...as I said, a work in progress.

Pre-Meditation..yes, the walls are still bare…as I said, a work in progress.

So, this time of year is always tough for me. I go through separation anxiety when school is out. I miss the students, the teachers, the work, the PD…all of it. I’ve been particularly anxious the last few weeks. Not sleeping, grinding my teeth, headaches, bouncing knees, sadness…all of it. It is particularly hard here because most of our students left around June 19, the rest a week later. So, it’s the slowest grind of an end to the year, EVER!

My office wall. I let the kids decompress by coloring. It also helps me track who's been in. If you have more than 3 pictures, there may be a problem. Oh...some PD stuff, too.

My office wall. I let the kids decompress by coloring. It also helps me track who’s been in. If you have more than 3 pictures, there may be a problem. Oh…some PD stuff, too.

I’m still working on being authentic…all the time. It’s not easy. For years, my internal conversation was going on while I was talking and deciding. I was constantly editing my words to make solutions as easy as possible—even, and especially, if it made more work for me. (By the way, if you do that too, I gently suggest you stop. It is a recipe for resentment and anger at yourself.) What I have realized is when you do that, you don’t give the other person the credit and respect they deserve. We hold our tongues sometimes thinking we are protecting others, or just thinking for them, all the while robbing them of an authentic conversation and learning experience.

Small bites are better. More flavor, more appreciation, better chewing.

Small bites are better. More flavor, more appreciation, better chewing.

A phrase has been haunting me lately, so I’m going to release it and see where it goes. Wanna come along? Really? Thank you, I’m glad…the phrase changes around for me, inverts, makes me furrow my brow, is sometimes declarative, sometime interrogative, sometimes exclamatory…always cautionary in tone. So, I’m having a hard time deciding which form to present it, so we’ll play with it a bit. Here it is…incompletely…

The price of being your own expert.

Or, what is the price of being your own expert? Or, Can you afford to be your own expert? Or, Being your own expert can be tragically expensive. Or, well, I think you get it. The more I toss this around, the more I see its applications. Whether it be physical, intellectual, or spiritual, seeking an expert costs much less than the possible price you might pay trying to be your own expert. Think about the dieters and everyday gym-goers who work hard, on their own, and never get the results they are looking for, or possibly, get injured. Wouldn’t some expert advice be helpful? Think about the frustration of learning Calculus without someone to interpret. What about the struggles in your own head and heart? The incessant questions and internal discussions that seem to repeat without solutions, or strategies for handling them. Or, ever try to tile a bathroom for the first time? In all of these cases, there are experts. Previously, I was my own expert in all things. When I finally slunk out of that ego-created mire, I was very near breakdown…actually, I was there. Not because I couldn’t believe what had happened, but because I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know, how much I had avoided living, how much I cut myself out of, how afraid of not knowing I was, how much I needed…and how much everyone else had to offer…if I had just been open to it.

Less this...

Less this…

...more this.

…more this.

I was preaching love, togetherness, understanding, giving…all of it. BUT, I wasn’t participating, authentically. I wasn’t giving all of me; and that robbed me of some genuine, authentic, opportunities. (Cue the Frou Frou song above, and Watch the Brene Brown TED talk on Vulnerability…she has a moment in her research where she realizes, she can’t get authentic results, she can’t live the complete life she is looking for because she’s too busy trying to control it as an experiment. Life is no experiment, it is here, today, now. Don’t study it, BE it.). This reminds me of Carlos Castaneda’s books, which were a gift to me from an amazing friend when I graduated many years ago. Castaneda wants to learn the the way of the Shaman, see the visions, experience all of it. The shaman tells him to go away. You either Live it, or you’ll never understand it. In other words, to understand the Shaman, you have to live as the Shaman. (By the way, I was way too immature to get Castaneda back then. I just thought they were “cool”. Little did I know, I could have learned from them a long time ago. Thank you, Doc Coffey)

Created all on its own.

Created all on its own.

I’m not going into word origins and roots; I’m sure you see how being an expert requires experience. Anything else, and you’re an observer, a reviewer; a commentator.

However, I think we have to be cautious with the word “expert”. I believe an expert, in all of the scenarios above, is someone on a journey. I don’t think expertise is a goal or the final level or an end point. It is a level of a certain mastery, but the expert is still traveling, still growing, still learning, adding to that body of expert-ness.

Here’s the hardest part about all of this. Now, when people come to my office and ask a question or need an explanation, I have to take a breath, and sometime say three words I thought would disappear from my lexicon as an adult. “I don’t know.” In fact, I have never said it more in my life than I have in the last year. Aside from the language difficulties, I am in a new school, with new practices, and a totally different culture. I mean school culture, not arts and customs culture. Things just run differently here…and sometimes they don’t run, at all. In the West we spend a lot of time learning strategic planning and communication flow. They have that here, as well. But it’s quite different. A strategic plan was created 5 years ago…for the whole country. So, how does a school of 900 boys in an old-fashioned small town fit into that strategy? It doesn’t. That’s my job. How do we do that? I don’t know…yet. (Yes, I read Carol Dweck.)

Lifelines.

Lifelines.

Fast Forward through an amazing summer with my girls and friends and family to the beginning of Year Two in Abu Dhabi. The Dhabi! Get your T-shirts. (The Dhabi on the front, Mafee Mushkala on the back.)

004

Home.

004

Home, as well. See Chicago?

162

The North Shore of Chicago. They changed flight pattern while I was away. Now, we get to see this! Cool!

SO! Here we are. A new school year, Mistah Lee is excited and anxious to get started. I love the anticipation and the promise of every new school year. After last year, and the amazing effort of our staff, I came back with super high expectations and an almost PollyAnna-ic (I make up words~deal!) attitude.

They're heee-eeerrrre...

They’re heee-eeerrrre…

To be honest, it seems I forgot how things go here. My pace? Totally irrelevant, and attempting to impose it only leads to frustration. After everything I learned and wrote about last year, I find myself frustrated and going through some of the same emotions as last year. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and our school won’t change in a year. You’d think I would have learned that by now. Not the case.

In my next life, I want to be an architect...or a rock star...or an actor...hey? How many do we get?

In my next life, I want to be an architect…or a rock star…or an actor…hey? How many do we get?

I LOVE turnaround schools…hard cases, tough students, and supporting teachers who have become frustrated. I figured after all the success from last year, we’d just pick right up where we left off. Most of us did, however, we came back to black mold in classrooms, broken doors and windows, 90% of classrooms with no internet, missing teachers, extended vacations by some staff, and 2/3 of our population brand new to our school of 900. Cue inner critical voice: Hey Dummy, this is what you asked for…remember?

Six Hundred new Elementary boys. New buses. They come from cities with NO ADDRESSES. Addresses don't exist here...Hey, where do you live? Me? Over by 'dere...yes, that's real.

Six Hundred new Elementary boys. New buses. They come from cities with NO ADDRESSES. Addresses don’t exist here…Hey, where do you live? Me? Over by ‘dere…yes, that’s real.

Metaphor alert! A school is a sum of its parts. Each part important to the whole...and no matter how many times you dice a habanero and how much you sautee it, that little dude is still very spicey! Make sense? Excellent!

Metaphor alert! A school is a sum of its parts. Each part important to the whole…and no matter how many times you dice a habanero and how much you sautee it, that little dude is still very spicey! Make sense? Excellent!

The lesson for me continues…and I am grateful. Regardless of my new found, yet infrequent, ability to “let go” of things, I still find myself gnashing my teeth, painfully tense through my neck and shoulders, and frequently giving away my piece (peace) of mind. Guess how much good that is doing me. Go ahead, guess…Exactly! None. This is my life. My ability to stay present and grateful is challenged by the choices I make and still I victimize myself through blame and self-anger at situations I cannot control. I heard myself today say, “If they’d just let me take over…” For what? Then what? More stress, less strategy, even less sleep. Slow learner, I know. That’s ok. I will get it when I get it…ya know? Sa?

Night Putting...you know, putting at night.

Night Putting…you know, putting at night.

Let me tell why I love the beginning of a new school year. Everything is fresh. The kids are excited (despite their complaints), the teachers’ hearts are renewed and hopeful, and the opportunity for impact on a community is Brobdingnagian. So, teach smeach, I say. Spend time getting to know the students. Notice every darn one of them. Create the loving and warm classroom and school that burns into their hearts and minds so they have an unforgettable experience. Let’s see each other smile, dance, share, and engage. Sometimes, as adults in schools, we forget the students are watching. We get short with each other when things aren’t going as we expected. They see this. We create the environment. They react to it and absorb it, and become it. There are many things to be frustrated about right now, but we have to hide our discontent from them. Certainly, it’s not in them. It’s in us. When educators get upset it’s because our job is in our hearts. When it isn’t going well, we get down because we care. However, those are adult issues. We don’t have to shield children from emotions. In fact, we shouldn’t. We should be mindful of the source of our frustrations, take inventory of why we’re upset, and take responsibility for it. Yes, it is frustrating to have no ability to copy or print when you’re setting up. Can we control it? Can we change it? If so, how? If not, now what?

Our teachers are resourceful. The "bulletin boards are plywood. Try sticking a tack or staple into that! Some use cardboard and a staple gun, some use mounting board. They are forced to think outside---nope! Not gonna say it. They are resourceful and creative...and amazing.

Our teachers are resourceful. The “bulletin boards” are plywood. Try sticking a tack or staple into that! Some use cardboard and a heavy duty staple gun, some use mounting board (all of which they buy out of pocket). They are forced to think outside—nope! Not gonna say it. They are resourceful and creative…and amazing.

By the way…this is for me. I am writing to remind me, that my ego creates negativity when I allow it. In fact, the more I feed it negativity, the more it craves. Negativity is a dangerous addiction. In a previous position I would read an old Native American tale to my teenagers. Yes, a child’s story, but they liked it. It is about the good wolf and the bad wolf that can live inside of us. We can choose what we feed it. It will grow no matter what. So we have to be mindful of what we feed it, always aware that it is hungry. Simple. True.

Non-sequitur alert! Went to my friend Abdulla's wedding. All male, all food and tea and soft drinks...no dancing, no ceremony, no hassle, at all. Eat, talk, leave! Yes! Lamb, tikka, curry, mezza, harees ( a thick chicken/rice dish)...oh, and pasta.

Non-sequitur alert! Went to my friend Abdulla’s wedding. All male, all food and tea and soft drinks…no dancing, no ceremony, no hassle, at all. Eat, talk, leave! Yes! Lamb, tikka, curry, mezza, harees ( a thick chicken/rice dish)…oh, and pasta.

The setting at the wedding.

The setting at the wedding.

What’s my point? Yeah, Lee, what IS my point? Be. Here. Now. Yes, you’ve seen/heard/read this from me before. I have to constantly remind myself of it. Today. Today is pretty amazing. Despite the 6 seriously wailing 5-7 year olds (just today), despite the un-ready school, despite the lack of a common language, despite the many lacks we are dealing with, we have 900 bundles of potential, and, we have each other. Cliche? Maybe, but look at it. Think about it. Look at the power available in all the hearts and minds around us. I am 7700 miles from where I grew up and I have learned that people everywhere need each other. There are struggles everywhere and when we look at each other and share authentically, we connect, we create, we change, and we improve. Today, I will feed my good wolf. I will accept. I will remain vulnerable. I will see the expertise in everyone. I am human, and I am grateful.

The Word according to Bob…

One Love! One Heart!

Let’s get together and feel all right!

Love.

Lee

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.

Fancy vs functional-views, blues, bucs, and bidets

17 Sep

September 16 & 17, 2013 

Music– 30 Seconds to Mars “From Yesterday”, The Roots “One Time”, Smashing Pumpkins “Mayonnaise”, The Beatles “Golden Slumbers”

 Hi! So, the last two days have been eventful! On Monday, I was informed at 3, that I had to pack up and move at 4. Yes, pack an apartment (no furniture, thankfully) to move into a sky-rise super fancy hotel. Sounds great, right!? Well, it’s a “be careful what you wish for” situation. Truthfully, I’ve been holding off on this blog because I really have no reason to complain, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I am now living (temporarily) at the Grand Millennium Al Wahda. It is everything the name suggests! Magnificent. Look!

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That’s the view of the sunset from the rooftop open air pool on the 31st floor. There are bar stools in the pool (if you want a $9 dollar beer—can’t afford it right now), and a VERY attentive staff with towels who are CONSTANTLY squeegeeing the deck. (Yes, it’s a word—yeesh!) The room is beautiful and the staff is beyond polite. It’s listed as a 5-star hotel and I believe it—the bathroom has a bidet…with it’s own soap dish, and separate towel ring. You don’t get a pic of that. If you’re confused, google it.

The hotel is connected to the Al Wahda Mall, the biggest mall…ever! I wrote about it last week. However, today I found a store that answered my Abu Dhabi dreams! A shoe store that carried size 13! The salesman (from Bangladesh) smiled and said, “Why, of course sir, of course we have size 48!” I almost hugged the little guy, but when I showed my excitement and moved near to embrace him he cowered like Dracula at sunrise. (Vampires aren’t real–bloodsuckers are.)

Now, let’s not get crazy, they didn’t have my first choice, or my second, but I’m persistent, patient, and resilient. I will not be discouraged in my quest for casual brown shoes. Wanna see ’em? (Interesting, you just said “yes” in your brain—a few of you, out loud! Thanks for playing.) Here they are!

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Yes, they’re Timberlands! I’m hip…right? Super-comfy and a little more dressy than I was looking for, but this new hotel requires it (no Birks allowed in the restaurants and bars), and I can wear them to school…when I finally get there, that is.

Speaking of, I’ll be at the Al Bawadi Model school for boys. It’s a mixed use school, which does not mean co-ed in this case, it means, there are two buildings; one elementary, one middle. I have both. I met one of my teachers today. He’s from Ireland and his name is Nile. He’s way too cute to post. I can’t have you stalking the poor guy. Al Bawadi school is in Baniyas East, which is about 20-30 minutes outside the city. The location allows me the choice of living in the city or between the city and Baniyas where I can get much more for my dollar in terms of living space. Sorta like being closer to Chicago, working in Chesterton, and paying Michigan City prices…hey, that’s kinda cool!

Speaking of living spaces, wanna see my former hotel? I’ll post a few pics so you don’t get too jealous. It was truly a one bedroom/1.5 bath with a full kitchen, washer/dryer (in ONE machine—crazy!), master bedroom and built-ins.

View upon walking in door. Half bath and couches.

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 Living room and dining table…entry hallway from above pic is right of frame.

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Kitchen… 😦 Miss my kitchen…note the washer/dryer combo…cool!

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Master bedroom (huge built-ins not shown) Room is in state of panic packing…

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Master Bath

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No bidet, but really, can’t you do without one? Really? 

Farewell, LouLou Asfar Hotel Apartments. The drawback there was location. It was a serious trek in the hot, wet, wool blanket heat at night to find a restaurant, or groceries, or shopping. At the Grand Millennium, it’s all here…at my fingertips, and a few footsteps.

So, here’s my honest feeling. I’m here to live and work. My old hotel felt like living. I was shopping for food, doing laundry, ironing, and the breakfast buffet was modest, but we all knew each other there. Also, I had a bunch of food in my ‘fridge (which is a word NO ONE knows here), and only a mini-bar ‘fridge here. (Major mistake—I had a frozen steak from the old place. I read that the hotel service staffs are usually Indian (Hindu) and make very little money. You guessed it, I offered the guy who cleans my room the steak. He was so gracious he didn’t even call me on my ignorance. About 30 minutes later, I blushed and called myself an idiot…silly American)

The new place is so fancy I couldn’t figure out how to turn the room on. You just wave the card key in front of the door, then you slide it into the wall and the room powers on. Then, everything is powered by this…

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Very cool, right!? Here’s the drawback. Everything around a five-star hotel is geared for people who stay at five-star hotels. I am not people who stay at five-star hotels. Sure, I know how to blend in, but I don’t have that kind of scratch. When the driver pulled up on moving day, we were behind a Bentley, a Porsche Cayenne S, and a Maybach…I said, “THAT is a nice car!” He said, “You no want that…it’s sheet!” That’s an argument I’m not interested in…needless to say, I let it go. (On a side note, the breakfast buffet here is like an All-Star episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Fanciest Breakfasts from EVERYWHERE in the World. Yes, it’s that good!)

One big draw to this place is the blues bar in the basement (Porter’s). It’s an Irish pub run by an Irish guy who loves the blues. Every pic is of Chicago blues greats…all the blues posters and “original” performance pics you’ve seen in every blues bar are in this place. The house band is English and about a third of its sets are blues. Call me a snob, but it ain’t the same thing we see in Chicago. It’s a very sterile, touristy, blues versions of very popular songs…perfect for the mixed expat crowd. The other issue is it’s basement bar and, holy yellow hat-wearing bears in the forest is it smoky! Wow! After an hour, my eyes were dry and creaky. Apparently, the rest of the world missed the memo…smoking is bad for you.

Anyway, back to work. I should be in my school next week. The middle school assignment is exciting because the reform movement here has not reached the high schools. So, I’ll be helping faculty implement the curriculum, and introducing new pedagogy…very cool! I love spending time in the classroom, and the only way to monitor and evaluate the change is to be out there in the schools with the teachers and students. That’s exactly what every administrator wants! I feel lucky for this opportunity, and I have many of you to thank for your guidance and advice. 

I sat with the teachers tonight as they received their contracts. One young teacher got her assignment in Al Ain, a metropolitan area about 90 minutes from here. She immediately started crying. She’s never been here. She’s never been there. How does she know she won’t absolutely love it? Expectations are dangerous things. You can set them, but getting emotional about an outcome you have no control over can lead to a pattern of disappointment. If you try to control your adventure, then you’re not having an adventure. Travel the road and adapt to its obstacles, don’t try to be the master of it; you’ll never enjoy the journey. Needless to say, I reserved this opinion. I don’t think she wanted to hear it. Frankly, it isn’t a lesson easily learned and if you don’t want to hear it, you won’t. I didn’t, for a long time. 

I’ve always wanted to feel like I’m changing the world. I believe this work is just that. This year, the Abu Dhabi schools have record enrollment. That’s a good problem. The people see what is happening, and they’re bringing they’re children to it. Exciting, isn’t it!

Say it with me…Abu Dhabi Al Bawadi! Abu Dhabi Al Bawadi! C’mon, even the cool kids…Abu Dhabi Al Bawadi!

Life. Live. Love. Lee