Tag Archives: Bentley

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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Giving Thanks, The Blinged-out City, and Making faces in Parking Garages

30 Nov

Playlist: Michael Franti & Spearhead 11:59, John Legend Little Ghetto Boy, Coheed & Cambria Crossing the Frame, Crash Kings Six Foot Tall, Foo Fighters Breakout, The Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime, Bill Withers Lean on Me, Michael Franti & Spearhead Hey Now Now, Coheed & Cambria Radio Bye Bye, Pepper FKARND. Beastie Boys Futterman’s Rule, The Roots Do You Want More?, Deftones The Passenger, Radiohead Exit Music (For a Film), Tool Schism, Buddy Guy Give Me My Coat and Shoes, Jet Take It or Leave it.

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain, we all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on

Bill Withers – Lean On Me

And don’t let mistakes be so monumental
And don’t let your love be so confidential
And don’t let your mind be so darn judgmental
And please let your heart be more influential
Michael Franti – Hey Now Now

Go back and read those. C’mon, I know you scanned it. Read them…..did you say “Yeah” in agreement to yourself? I was on a walkabout today and these verses hit me VERY hard. Normally, I skip Lean on Me for a more soulful Withers song, but today, the day after Thanksgiving, the day after a really tough conversation from home, the first time in 45 years I have not been with blood family, today I needed someone to lean on. Those who know me well, know I am the post, you lean on me. I am happy to be that, but I forgot that I may need it, too. Life has a way of reminding you of these things. We all need someone to lean on eventually, and I have been very lucky over the past year to have many of you who have held me up. I got a little ahead of myself over the last few weeks. I had a bit too much of a strut, and I was feeling strong. Then, the Thanksgiving holiday hit me right in the gizzard (sorry, too easy, I know). The bottom line is, I miss my family…really, my families. That’s the beauty of growing old; life builds families around you (if you allow it), and those families provide strength when you feel weak.

The recruiters warned us we’d feel homesick, eventually. Well, it’s here. I have denied it, but once again, some things are out of our control, and as Michael Franti says, “And please let your heart be more influential”. You have to allow the feelings to come. I spent years burying them to prove that I’m tough. Sure, my students saw me get emotional when they fought each other, or some other injustice occurred, but I didn’t take time to examine how I felt. I was a raft springing tiny holes, and patching them up desperately so I wouldn’t have to admit that some maintenance was necessary. I’m not sure where else to go with this metaphor other than to say, I am allowing others to help with the holes, and for the first time in a long time, I see that we really do all need to lean on each other once in a while. It’s refreshing and relieving to accept.

Shall I lighten this up a bit? Here’s a sign that 7000+ miles from home, isn’t that far…

Well Driven!? Really?

Well Driven!? Really?

I was behind this truck for 3 consecutive red lights (at the same g-drned, frickin’-frackin-other bad wordin-intersection) in a town called Musaffah. No relation to the Lion King, but definitely the King of something…something horrible. What they’ve done is created industrial cities. So, if you need a mechanic, or a contractor, or heavy machinery, or anything that requires grease, smoke, loud noises, or anything that requires Lava Beaded Industrial soap, you go to an industrial city to get it. The problem is, EVERYONE needs that stuff in a city that is expanding like a waistband after Thanksgiving Dinner (sorry, had to). Abu Dhabi is adding thousands of people a day. You can’t get a visa without a job. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs in labor here (’cause ain’t no locals pickin’ up a shovel-trust me) and while the pay and living quarters are abominable by western standards, it’s a better living than some are getting in India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. (By the way, the tragedy in the Philippines hit hard here. It was nice to see the relief efforts start almost immediately. This country is rich, but not selfish. I like that.) So, the industrial cities are filled with laborers literally flooding the streets, in cars, trucks, bicycles, on foot…everywhere. It’s also Used Car City, so I HAD to go there. Wanna see my new car? (cue the music, 50 Cent-P.I.M.P.)

Abu Dhabi-20131128-00434

The price was VERY nice, and the guy I bought it from will do all my service and specializes in jaguars. Much love to my main Jordanian, Samir!

Anyway, my place is really coming together nicely, but I’m not prepared to show it just yet. The walls are bare, but I’ll be home soon with an empty suitcase for art. So, no pictures, yet. What? You want a sneak peak? Ok…here.

Don't look at the reflection in the window...ugh, that didn't work.

Don’t look at the reflection in the window…ugh, that didn’t work.

Those who know me, know I’m a floor dweller. I love to be on the floor. So, I’m lovin’ the Majlis set against the window. Great for reading, or, well everything. I have a 10 foot couch, and I’m on the floor most of the time. Go figure.

Work is going well. I’ll be honest, it has taken some adjustment. The language barrier can slow things down. Also, everything here is patriarchal and top-down. Everything. I prefer to empower teachers and stakeholders to get involved and change according to what they need. We’ve had a few conversations like that with the staff. When I asked the Arabic staff about what they “believe” about our students and their potential you’d think I was speaking a foreign language—ahem, well, I kinda was, but I have an interpreter. Here he is…

Umm, I'm sorry Mr. Lee, did you just ask a group of Arabic men about their feelings?

Umm, I’m sorry Mr. Lee, did you just ask a group of Arabic men about their feelings?

LOVE this guy. Sometimes when I talk all feelings-ish to the teachers he looks at me like “…are you sure you want to say that?” Yes, I am. Regardless of the atmosphere, or culture, in order to learn kids have to feel safe. They must feel as if they can open their mouths and say something without being ridiculed or belittled. This will be my struggle here. Our school is 54 male teachers and 3 women. The women are westerners who wear full abaya and shayla (headscarf) and teach first grade. They have their own teachers lounge and they are awesome. We have excellent men teachers, as well, but men are men. We don’t talk feelings, we don’t discuss if we care for the kids, we don’t admit that we are teachers because of the pull in our heart. (Sorry for outing all you guys; it’s ok, they pretty much knew.) So, when I ask them about their feelings and beliefs about the boys, there’s a pause for translation, then the low grumble ensues. That’s how I know that Khaled said what I said. Eventually, our conversation has softened and I think the teachers are ready for change. Here’s me working with a group of them.

PD time is happy time with Mr. Lee!

PD time is happy time with Mr. Lee!

The guy in a tie is from Egypt (we have many Egyptians and Jordanians on staff). The fact that he is there and engaged is a minor triumph.  He’s a bit….um…gruff, yeah, gruff.  I tease him about it and he has no idea what I’m saying.  How many kittens have you hugged today Mr. Sayed? Two, fantastic…why does he anger smile at me?  (I have been holding on to this picture for fear of posting it. That shot of me looks EXACTLY like my brother, and I know a few of your hearts jumped. This will be hard for some. I’m glad you’re thinking about him. I often do).

Ya know how Professional Development is met with a grunt and a sigh in the states? Yeah, well it’s the same here…here’s how they offset that…

If you feed them, they will fake interest...

If you feed them, they will fake interest…

Nice spread, huh?

So, what else would you like to know? Here’s part of my everyday life…

I have to brace my arm against the passenger seat I'm going so fast...gee I hope the rental company doesn't have the internet.

I have to brace my arm against the passenger seat I’m going so fast…gee I hope the rental company doesn’t have the internet.

 

The object in this mirror are larg-uh, they already passed you! Step on it!

The objects in this mirror are larg-uh, they already passed you! Step on it!

It's really not dark, but these mega-buses drown out the sun.

It’s really not dark, but these mega-buses drown out the sun.

The first is the spiral from hell I must take to get in and out of my building. Actually, I’ve made it a game. Can I hold the wheel with my knee while texting and driving fast enough to make the 14 inch wheels on my Aveo squeal? Also, what bizarre face can I make at the oncoming traffic so they can get just a glimpse of something really freaky and change their day a bit? Going down is fun…how many spirals before I brake (is that a Frost poem?) is the game. The next pic is the sign on the sideview mirror in Arabic. It says, “Why are you looking at this, no one else here does, go faster ya tourist!” The third is a bit more grim. I live in an amazing building over looking the coastline and part of the gulf. Further out on the island in a not-so-well kept secret is a work camp, uh, labor housing, um, dorms for working people setting. There must be about 5000 people out there because everyday I am surrounded by these mega-buses packed with workers. Another fun game I play happens on the way to work. At a makeshift bus stop along the highway I take to work there is a place where the workers gather to catch a bus. The traffic whirs by at about 90mph. I honk at them everyday. It took about 4 days before they started waving back at me. Kinda fun. Hey, it’s a 35-45 minute drive to work, and I’m in an AVEO! Ya gotta do somethin’!

You may have heard that Dubai just earned the spot as the host to the 2020 World’s Fair. The first ever for the Middle East. What? You haven’t!? It wasn’t front page news for you? Not every digital traffic sign was converted to a congratulations message? People didn’t take to the streets dancing and shouting about it? You didn’t have a day of school canceled at 10pm the night before an already long weekend? Where have you been!? It’s huge news…in 2020.

Yeah, so we had Thursday off, and we also have Sunday and Monday off for National Day. Now, I love America, and I’m sure you do, too…but, and this may hurt for some, the way they do National Day here makes our 4th of July look like a lame practice run. Here the buildings are adorned in humongous flags, the kids have been wearing the colors of the country for weeks, the cars are decorated in flags, silk screens of the Sheiks, and “I LOVE UAE” hearts, and the lights, OH, the lights. Everything, everywhere is bling-ed out in sparkly lights. You have Google, google it! Here’s a smidgeon of the flavor…

YES, those are toy guns they are throwing into the air! So? Guns are patriotic, right?

YES, those are toy guns they are throwing into the air! Metal toy guns. So? Guns are patriotic, right?

By the way, these aren't even the good ones.

By the way, these aren’t even the good ones.

IMG-20131130-00443

This has been up for a week. It’s a lighting and interior decorating store…a business that thrives on selling its wares through the windows. Interesting.

That light is the WHOLE FRONT OF A HOTEL lit up. "Ummm, front desk, my room is, uh, as bright as the sun! Can you turn them off...no? Uh, ok. Good night."

That light is the WHOLE FRONT OF A HOTEL lit up…from about a mile away. “Ummm, front desk, my room is, uh, as bright as the sun! Can you turn them off…no? Uh, ok. Good night.”

The little projects are just offerings the parents spend money on. I think they think we think the kids made them. Yeah,…a-no. Look at the Majlis set to scale…from a second grader. If he did that, the kid’s a genius, get him to architectural school NOW! He can’t tie his shoes, or aim anywhere near the toilet, or wash his hands for that matter, but he can use an exacto knife and sew. Who am I to judge?

Again, this does not do it justice. So, school will resume on Tuesday (Insha’Allah), and we will have a really short week. The scuttlebutt is that the kids won’t show up until Wednesday as they have gone on mini-vacations, and we’ll only have Wednesday and Thursday next week. That’s cool, as long as we get our PD in! Right, teachers? No limit for better, right? Anyway, I digress, sometimes my love for schools becomes distracting from my point…which I’m not sure I had, anyway.

Here are some random pics for those who wish I’d write less. (and probably aren’t reading anyway…which is cool, no judgment.)

Pretty. Big. Building.

Pretty. Big. Building.

The guy at the bottom of the frame did a well-being check on me. "Uh, yeah, what? No. I'm cool, it's good, wow, huh?"

The guy at the bottom of the frame did a well-being check on me. “Uh, yeah, what? No. I’m cool, it’s good, wow, huh?”

Hmmm, I haven't spent enough on this, I'll paint it...yeah, great idea!

Hmmm, I haven’t spent enough on this, I’ll paint it…yeah, great idea!

Butternut Squash and Saffron Risotto with a bit of goat cheese for added creaminess. They told me it was good, but they're really polite people.

Butternut Squash and Saffron Risotto with a bit of goat cheese for added creaminess. They told me it was good, but they’re really polite people.

The Burj Khalifa. I can’t even explain the size. I took that pic from about 400 yards away. It is amazing. Below it is a huge pond/lake (yes, man-made) that has a Bellagio-esque water show every half hour. The lights on the building sparkle in syc with the music. Very well thought out. The next is the INDOOR, yes, indoor waterfall at the Dubai Mall with the diving men sculptures. There’s something surreal about it. I literally was mesmerized and stood agape at it for about 5 minutes. (Of course, I am still mystified by mulching lawnmowers and their power of re-fertilization, too.) The next is a Rolls-Royce with a custom paint job…I don’t know, if you’re dating Natalie Portman, do you ask her to wear a prettier mask? The last is my contribution to an amazing Thanksgiving Dinner that helped me immensely.

It’s not easy being so far away from you…and it wasn’t easy when I left. We all have our stories here and we all support each other, as well. It’s interesting how the human spirit craves human spirit. To be obvious, we cannot survive in a vacuum. We need each other, and we need to know there is something in the universe watching over us and helping us handle…well, everything. On Thanksgiving, my plan was to cook for myself, sit at home with some fermented grapes, and be sad and glad. Instead, I was lifted up and had an amazing evening. I didn’t orchestrate that, heck I was trying to avoid it…but somehow, somewhere, someone or something, knew exactly what I needed. Life has cautioned, (hell, more like bludgeoned)  me about being the Master. It was a very hard lesson. Knowing everything is a very dangerous and completely foolish position. I am thankful for learning that. I am thankful to have my vulnerability restored. I am thankful for all of you, for my family, and my families. We can live amazing lives if we remain open…open hearts and open minds…open heart and open mind…repeat it to yourself…your words have power.

Love one another, please. Life is too short not to. 

Love,
Lee

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