Tag Archives: culture

Yoga, Wheel Alignment, Stuckness, & Parenting part 1

19 Sep

Ricky’s Theme-The Beastie Boys, As Daylight Dies-Killswitch Engage, Oblivion-Maastodon, Another Brick in the Wall Pt. !-Pink Floyd, Where it’s At-Beck, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth:3-Coheed & Cambria, 100% Dundee-The Roots, Paint It Black-The Rolling Stones, Don’t Follow Me-Cody Chestnutt, How Heavy This Axe-The Sword, No Surprises-Radiohead, Tight Brain-Dig, Set Phasers to Stun-Taking Back Sunday, Heard it on The X-ZZ Top, Battlestar Scralatchtica-Incubus, Shameless Little Monkeys-Crash Kings, Worry-Public Image Ltd., Cult of Personality-Living Colour, R-Evolve-30 Seconds to Mars, Hummer-Smashing Pumpkins, Red Barchetta-Rush, Tearjerker-Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pride and Joy-Marvin Gaye, Solomon’s Gold-Mr. Blotto, Lullaby-The Cure, Shadow-SOJA, Yes I Will-Michael Franti & Spearhead, Hello Like Before-Bill Withers, Temptation-New Order, Round and Round Remix 9-Jonell, Method Man, Kool G Rap, & Pharoah Monche, Too Fast for You-The Church, New Slang-The Shins, Come on Back-The Freddy Jones Band, Don’t Owe You a Thang-Gary Clarke Jr., Listening Wind-Talking Heads, A Beautiful Lie-30 Seconds to Mars, Wonder (Live)-Freddy Jones Band, House Rent Boogie-John Lee Hooker, Hard as Stone-The Steepwater Band, Bombtrack-Rage Against the Machine, Hot Sex-A Tribe Called Quest, The Show Must Go On-Pink Floyd, One Rainy Wish-Jimi Hendrix, Blank-Galactic Cowboys, Big Me-Foo Fighters

Hi...I know...it's been a while. Welcome Back!

Hi…I know…it’s been a while. Welcome Back!

Ok, Hi! Yes, it certainly has been a while.

Two Things:

  1. One of my best buddies in the world told me my blogs are too long to keep his attention. Jimmy, this two-parter is for you.
  2. I once had a writing professor who told me that writers often throw away their best material and keep their “shite”. A comment I immediately dismissed because he wasn’t British, and his using “shite” sounded stupid. So, to Professor Anglophile, “Bollocks to you, ya minger, and Bob’s your uncle!”

I’m going to split this blog in two…frankly, if I don’t you may perish in the middle of this endurance test across the Desert of Stuckness and Solution. Bring water, or wine, or a double IPA (which I would KILL for—someone get me a craft beer! How do hipsters survive here? No flannel, no craft beer, no Pabst Blue Ribbon, and no clove cigarettes!)

My ever failing attempt to get a good picture of the sunrise while traveling at 120kms per hour.

My ever failing attempt to get a good picture of the sunrise while traveling at 120kms per hour.

SO! First! Before I drop my excuse for not writing these last few months let me tell you why the universe provides for you IF you allow it. This is crazy cool! Two quick real life stories.

Story #1 Saved by the Yoga Bell

It is no secret that my personal life has been…ummm…challenging the last few years. Big changes, lots to learn, so much growth it often hurts like that heartburn-eye squinty-headache-tightness in your chest-lump in your throat-strained neck and shoulders thing…you know, life pains. Things have been going better, but sometimes when you connect with part of that past, the wounds reopen. Especially, when you learn things you didn’t know and it’s causing new turmoil. I hope that is vague enough, and clear enough at the same time. Either way, it’s enough for what follows.

Two days ago I received more new bad news about something I thought had been settled. It drove me crazy all through the work day and into the evening. Needless to say, I had a hard time focusing at work. I even shut my office door (which I very rarely ever do) for 20 frequently interrupted minutes to “think” it out. Yeah, did not work.

Just outside my office window...always.

Just outside my office window…always.

A large part of my return to physical and mental health, has been Yoga and meditation. Sunday night is my hour long Yoga core strength class. I mostly love it, except when the Ashtanga punisher teaches. (Balance this, lady…I kid, I kid… :l) I can do yoga at home all week, but the class dynamic and having a teacher, or two, live in front of you really helps.

I didn’t want to go because, darn it, I was going to pace and argue with myself about something I could do nothing about. Maybe, I’d punch a pillow or get angry and stub my toe while pacing futilely. I had big plans to ignore every piece of advice the Serenity Prayer has to offer. Thankfully, I decided to go.

They know how to do their parks in the Dhabi!

They know how to do their parks in the Dhabi!

As I sat on my mat in the crowded, candle lit room listening to “soothing” sitar music, I waited for class to start. It was the largest group I’ve seen. Good, I can hide. Of course I was obsessing about my bad day in that dangerous neighborhood known as my head. Suddenly, the teacher approached me. “Lee would you demo tonight? My wrist is injured, there are some new people here, and I’ll need someone to show them the sun salutation vinyasa flow.”

Ya know? I just blurted “yes”. No thought control, just immediate yes. If I could have shot myself a look it would have been to say, “Heeeeyyy….Hellllooooowwww! This is your Desire-to-stay-in-the-past speaking! We’re obsessing here, there’s no time for that!”

I moved to the front of the class, dead in front of the mirror I neurotically avoid, and sat padmasana (almost), facing a sea of waiting faces. Crazy. Totally out of my comfort zone, and I had propelled myself into it without thought. What was driving this? Had I thought about it more, I could have come up with perfectly logical reasons to say “no”. “Ya know, Sasha, this is soooooo crazy, I hurt my wrist, uhhhh, ummmm, jogging…yeah, jogging.” I didn’t, though. Thankfully. Somewhere, somehow, a rescued-by-faith decision occurred. That’s all I can figure.

It was the best class I’ve ever had, not because I’m good at yoga (my crow is really just a set up for the inevitable face plant—every time. My tree is a nervous bush in gale force winds.), but I learned the real reason for focusing during yoga. Through the breathing, the flow, the concentration, and being tuned in with the class and our awesome teacher, I was restored. I felt lighter than when I began.

This is me doing a really poor triangle pose way back in May. We yoga'd under the full moon (that's not the actual moon behind us). #reluctant yogamodel

This is Kristina & me doing a really poor triangle pose way back in May. We yoga’d under the full moon (that’s not the actual moon behind us). After 8 months of yoga I feel stronger and my balance is so much better. #reluctantyogamodel

Why? How does that happen? I walk in there, same as every week, totally preoccupied, half-looking forward to yoga-ing in my dark corner (physically and mentally), and suddenly I’m in a situation where I must devote my concentration fully to my health (physically and mentally).

My blurtestation (Hey new readers, I make up words. You understand.) of “yes” was me giving myself over to something else, something bigger, a better purpose than what I was fulfilling at the time. Wanna be practical? Ok, I was serving the class. I offered my knowledge to the class. Wanna be spiritual? Through serving others, I served myself. The expression of love through yoga for myself, informed the class, and healed me. Lumpy throat. Sorry. I am grateful for everything I learn. Everyday.

“Yoga is…useful to learn how to be in a tough place, and be really relaxed.” Quote from the Documentary film “Yoga is…” I’d add…and to be strong, as well.

Eye-opening…really. We can restore ourselves, if we are open to the contributions from the universe.

The moon one morning. Pretty.

The moon one morning. Pretty.

Story #2 Mussafah! I apologize!

I’ve been dreading getting new tires and rotors and brake pads for Brown Sugar (my intrepid Toyota Land Cruiser). Why?

Brown Sugar with her new shoes.

Brown Sugar with her new shoes.

A: It’s not always easy in the Dhabi, and my local mechanic doesn’t speak English. Well, he kinda does. I say shock absorber, he says “jumper”. So, at times we don’t communicate well. Trying to charade in English why I think I need new rotors and pads for the third time gets…embarrassing. A six foot one, well fed man, drenched in sweat in a suit and tie, standing on one foot to show I’m braking, and shimmying like a drunk hula hoop mime. Not pretty…and I’m pretty sure his employees speak English, but would rather watch me do the sweaty dance.

B. Money. Of course it’s expensive. At a local Service Station (yes, Midwest America they still exist—they pump your gas, wash your windows, and smile…crazy way to employ more people, huh?), I was quoted around $1700 (that’s about 6000 dirhams, which is a shocker) for tires and parts…not labor. So, there’s some mental preparation for that. He looked at one wheel and spit out that number so I thought, “Forgive me, Arnav, if I seek a second opinion…uh, buh bye!”

C: The best place for this kind of work is not under the bright lights, glitter, and rich Oud scented air of Abu Dhabi Island. (Yes, it’s an island—water and stuff—geez, I can’t teach geography, too! Google, after this, please.) No, the best place to get the best prices, and the best workmanship is the much maligned, traffic and trash infested, scent of a hot wet swampy sock filled with bleu cheese that lies in the sun scaring away even the hungriest of varmint and parasite, Industrial City. Yes, my new favorite place: Mussafah! OK, so in past blogs I’ve used a little poetic license to get some cheap laughs at the expense of Mussafah. Forgive me, Mussaphans, I knew not of what I spoke.

That Camaro was not happy when the guy in the rental rubbed his from right wheel well and quarter panel. Too may cars for one spot. Ho-hum another night in Mussafah.

That Camaro was not happy when the guy in the rental rubbed his from right wheel well and quarter panel. Too may cars for one spot. Ho-hum another night in Mussafah.

So, I bounced that first estimate off one of my Emirati friends. He sighed this exasperated sigh. I thought he was going to (get up on a stool) and pat me on the head (Ali is a wee shorter than me.), as if to say, “Silly expat, everyone knows you don’t get your car fixed on the island”.

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Ali trying to soften me up with fresh dates…no fresh, like off the tree that day fresh.

Mind you, this is at school. So Ali, who has two classes left to teach that day says, “Go Mussafah now! I get good price for Mr. Lee.” After spending 15 minutes trying to explain to a local, who speaks very little English, why the only administrator in the building can’t make an impromptu trip to get his car worked on during the middle of a work day, he disappointingly relented. Oh yeah, he couldn’t leave, either. That’s how I see it. The Arabic teachers, not so much. A car appointment (which you don’t really make—I don’t think they know I know that) is treated with the reverence of seeing a specialist at the Mayo Clinic.

We agreed to go at night. After all, Mussafah is much prettier, and even busier, at night. It is where ALL, as in EVERY ONE OF THEM, the locals go for vehicular entertainment. The sirens of the car accidents light the sky, the leaking fluids from multiple rear end crashes glisten on the humid roadway, the exhaust smog casts magical stripes across the moon, and the night breeze blows the heavily scented air by you in waves of reality. Ahhhh, Mussafah…ack ack…lovely.

Ali and his apprentice negotiating like bosses in Mussafah. (Ali asked to stand on the running board for the pic.)

Ali and his apprentice negotiating like bosses in Mussafah. (Ali asked to stand on the running board for the pic.)

I’ll skip the driving around and listening to him get fake angry at the prices we were quoted as he’d turn and wink at me. Finally, we settle at a place. They put on brand new tires (for road and sand!), re-align the wheels and camber, and tighten the tie rods. The truck runs so smoothly, it feels new. No need for rotors or pads. Ummm, yeah, I knew that…

Sonar alignment...very cool.

Sonar alignment…very cool.

Ali steps away during the alignment process to speak to one of his wives (again people, it’s cultural, Google! Hello?). During that time I agree to an extra charge because the wheels are so out of whack. Basically, an extra $50, which seems reasonable considering I’m saving so much money. As I go to pay, Ali grabs my hand and forces it back into my pocket and with obvious disgust starts in on the innocent guy behind the counter with a tirade of Arabic that would shame any angry Hispanic woman. Something about the kandoora; once donned, it’s as if they feel a real superpower of persuasion, regardless of how far off the spectrum of logic the argument might be. It is a true belief in who they are. It is the national dress and, despite its intended humility, it is powerful. It also makes it kinda tough identify a particular guy in a crowd.

The sales manager, a large Syrian sweating out of his Rip Curl cholo shirt and dickies shorts (longs, really) with a gelled, spiky flat top, who quoted the price returns to the shop. He sees Ali yelling at anyone who will listen (employee or not). Ali is gesturing at me, and waiving his hands up and down at me like a game show presenter model nervous on her first day. Afraid of embarrassing him, I tell Ali I knew about the price. I agreed to it. He looks at me like a father trying to sneak a 16 year old into an amusement park for an “under 12” price. Little Ali and Large Yousef argue somewhat politely for about 15 minutes.

Here’s how it ends. Yousef, who speaks English very well explains to me that yes, he and I agreed on the higher price, but Ali explained to him that I am a good man who deserves to be treated like a brother. That I always treat Ali and his friends like a brother. Because Ali and Yousef are brothers, according to their religious beliefs, and Ali is my brother because he loves me (his words—flattering), then Yousef is my brother, too. Since he would always give his brother the discount; it’s the right thing to do. I tried to explain to Ali that I agreed on the price, and then Yousef stopped me. He said, “My friend, this man wants you to be treated the best. I can see how much he means it. Because of this, I give the discount with no problem or regret. You are my brother, too.”

Touched, even now as I recall it. For all the pomp and yelling, and banter, the sincerity between the men of so many different countries here is impressive. There is a hierarchy with the Emiratis at the top, but there is also an understanding among these men. They don’t need to be reminded, it is automatic.

I saved $1200. I learned so much more.

The universe takes care of you, if you’re willing to let it. Period.

Love these. There are lines of help, everywhere. You must be open to them.

Love these. There are lines of help, everywhere. You must be open to them.

Ok…so, where exactly have I been?

Here’s what happens…life! That’s no excuse or copout. Life just happens. For me, I observe and participate and spend time in my head (all gurus would say way too much), and I get ideas for writing, but then I don’t sit down and do it. Then, this pile of ideas becomes a mountain, a scene in the distance. The colors and chutes and faces of the mountain look like trees, or clearings, or jagged rock, but there is no detail in your view…just a mountain.

The mountains in Fujairah. A truly beautiful place about 2 1/2 hours away. Beautiful from afar, treacherous up close...read on.

The mountains in Fujairah. A truly beautiful place about 2 1/2 hours away. Beautiful from afar, treacherous up close…read on.

The problem is…it’s your mountain (mine in this case), and it always seems easier to approach someone else’s mountain than it does your own. Why? Duh! You know what’s in your mountain. You can’t be objective and rational with your mountain. Objective and rational with someone else’s mountain is much easier than dealing with your subjective mountain. When you self-talk about the ideas in your mountain, your sentences are full of the word “but”. “Hmmm, I really need to talk about this, buuuuut…what will people think, but is it interesting, but do I really want to explore that, or but does anyone really care about the difference between a Wendy’s Frosty and a chocolate shake?” (By the way, a Frosty is NOT a shake and NEVER try me on this. EVER!)

See what I mean? Those ideas full of detail, start to blur for a lack of objectivity. The more you amass them, the less definition they have, and that mountain seems much more beautiful, or manageable, from afar. Most do, right? How many pictures of a mountain close up do you own? You don’t! That’s a picture of a rock or a tree branch. Big pictures can be beautiful (or they can be ignored); details can get messy.

The Guardian of our campground in Fujairah. Do you see the face?

The Guardian of our campground in Fujairah. Do you see the face?

The reason you started that little pile in the first place is because you were stuck on what to do with your idea. That idea has details. Details seem synonymous with problems, work, and tedium. So, chuck that “oh yeah” idea under the bed, put that “I can’t believe this just occurred to me thought” in one of your three journals (yeah yeah, I have three…No! I don’t know why. Seemed like a good idea at the time.), or put that waking revelation in the voice files on your phone…yeah, that’s smart! It will always be with you, you can revisit it, and you look cool recording it. Smart guy…smart phone. Not really.

Anyway, as you stockpile your ideas you get further from the original inspiration. Walt freakin’ Whitman wrote about leaves, yes LEAVES of grass. Imagine the focus that idea took at the beginning. Sure, he expanded to include…well, everything, but the grasping of the idea is amazing.

So, you have these scattered ideas and notes (digital and otherwise) cluttering your life and your brain. There is no organizing principle. Well, that’s not true. YOU are the organizing principal (See what I did there? I’m a Principal…dork.)

Then, one day, it comes to you. You already know about stuckness. You read about it years ago. You understand how necessary it is. You know that stuckness is the goal of Zen masters. It’s the stopping on a thought and staying there. You also know how hard it is.

So, I went to the source of the revelation. Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I’ve taken that book everywhere I’ve ever gone for the last 25 years. Why didn’t I think of this months ago? I picked it up, flipped right to the chapter (24) that involves stuckness and found all my familiar underlining. Then, there it is, and you make the face that Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) makes the first time he sees the shark. (Ya know WE call the shark “Jaws”, they call it “the shark”.)

The Novel! The Chataqua. The Continuous Teacher.

The Novel! The Chataqua. The Continuous Teacher.

“…stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution…Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided, it is the physic predecessor of all understanding.” p.257

Voila. I have been so stuck, that I stepped away from it. When I examined the stuckness, the solution appeared. So, here I am writing my blog. I tell ya…this brain thing. Someone should study it…Stuckness isn’t bad. It’s your mind telling you to keep thinking about this issue. You have the answer, you just might be looking at it from a traditional angle that can’t fix your stuckness. Keep trying.

That’s why I haven’t written. I was stuck. Something had me stuck. That something, is the next and TOTALLY different part of today’s blog. The very obstacle that blinded me from progress, I had already worked out. I’ve already written it, but you’ve never seen it. So, I’m taking a huge leap of faith here, and I’m going to bare a pretty large portion of my soul, and present you with:

A Loving Parent’s Open Letter…That’s part 2…coming soon. Enjoy your day….here’s something to think about

Change...put your hand up. Get involved with what you want to change.

Change…put your hand up. Get involved with what you want to change.

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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

Work, eat, play, meet the Lama!

20 Sep

September 18 & 19, 2013

 

Music–Mastodon “Oblivion”, 30 Seconds to Mars “Hunter”, The Mars Volta “Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt”, Rush “Working Man”, Tacking Back Sunday “Little Devotional”, Michael Franti & Spearhead “Let It Go”

Hi! Welcome back. I’ve had two busy days and I feel like we’ve been apart forever. I’m in a bit of a rush, so I might be light on the style and heavy on pictures. Last time I talked about the hotel I’m living in. Here is a common site around the hotel…

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Again, I spoke with my supervisor and she told me to get comfortable. Here’s a cool thing about the reform going on here. My supervisor, and about 6 others were the OG’s brought in here 6 years ago to help the Emirati people establish a world class educational system. So, her Visa ID number is under 100, meaning she was one of the first people to be hired and accepted into the culture to help them along. My visa number is around 406,000. Yes, that’s the kind of growth the UAE has experienced in the last SIX years. About 25,000 of those ID numbers are educators…and we are treated very graciously and afforded discounts on almost everything. When I went to HQ to meet with my boss, she told me she’d get me coffee and disappeared for a few seconds. I felt guilty, thinking, “…did I really just ask MY boss to get me coffee?…oh, well, I guess I deserve that…” Then, a guy in a server-type uniform shows up to take my order. Yes, they have a beverage service at HQ sponsored by the government. This is what arrived…

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We met for about three hours and I got the crash course…my head was spinning and I was starving, so I took a cab to yet another mega mall for a light snack and some reading…

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Yeah, that’s some FUUUUNNNN reading. Not surprising, the policies here are very similar to ours except for a few things. The culture here is of a private and very respectful nature. You are encouraged to keep ALL of your personal business to yourself. Don’t ask about family, about vacations, about sick Aunt Mildred, or anything of a personal nature. Yes, gossip exists, and from what I can tell it became a problem as the Westerners started arriving. So, we are repeatedly told, mind your business, and only yours. There is a Facebook page for teachers over here and one guy went on a rage about his position. About a day later, the post and all of the comments disappeared, and a polite reminder was circulated. People here are very polite. Manners are extremely important, and raging in an open forum is disrespectful and not too brave. That’s my perception of the perception. Make sense?

Anyway, after a long day of reading policy, talking curriculum, and learning customs and decorum it was time to eat. Enter Alhan Restaurant! Lebanese food, customs, and nightlife. Amazing…here was our dinner that night…

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Needless to say, the food was excellent. (No worries, dad, your and Sito’s kibbeh nayeh is better—one hint though..sauteed pine nuts on top! Yum!). For the uninitiated, yes, that’s raw meat! SO good. The fatiyah was in thin bred rather than rolled dough. The plate to the right is lamb and chicken.  Two of us ate all that, plus hummus and a raw veggie tray and homemade black citrus tea and coffee for about $60. Remember, there’s no alcohol served here so more room for food! (That’s right, no alcohol. If you go to the tourist and hotel restaurants you can get alcohol, but you’ll pay for it! Scotch on the rocks, about $11, and it’s a weak pour, and it’s very smoky and the food is…blah)

The next day I spent finishing my medicals. That was rough on the ego. I’m in good health, and everything went fine until the exam. The doctor (Egyptian or Jordanian, I believe) was very polite and very thorough. She asked many questions from behind her partially veiled face, including this dagger.

“Sir, can you explain to me why you are almost obese?”

“…ummmm, what?”

“Obese, Mr. Lee, you are almost obese. You are. You exercise 3-4 times a week, yet your numbers say you are obese.”

“Did you say obese?” (In my head, “Ouch, lady, can you say it just one more time?”)

“Yes, you are a large man.”

Now, here’s where patience and understanding can save your ass. This woman was about two feet shorter than me and about the same weight, if not heavier. Breathe, Lee, breathe. This place has no love for smart-asses or quick wit.

“Everything looks really good, but you are almost obese. Can you tell me why? Would you say it is because you are more muscular than most?” Now, she just had my shirt off and probed me. Discomfort was setting in… “…yes, I am muscular…” I muttered. “I have big legs…”

“Ok, Mr. Lee. Very good. You do not look like a Principal. That is a good thing. Just keep showing that smile, and the kids will love you.” That was strange.

I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how I’m going to commute to work. Rental cars are expensive, and I still haven’t figured it out. For dinner, another principal and I ate in his room. You know those roasted chickens you get at the grocery store? They have those here, as well…in about 7 flavors…for about $4. So, we split that with some fresh cucumber, and an olive salad (You know how olives at home say “from the Middle East”?  The olives here don’t have to say “from here”, because they are–cool!). Total dinner cost for two grown men (one, who is apparently obese), about $8—all fresh. I can dig that.

Dessert! Now that’s a different story…wanna see? Yes, you do!

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All of that with coffee, tea, lively conversation and about 4 hours of live entertainment, and varying degrees of talent at the dabke (google it) for about $60. Very cool…

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There’s the entertainment and a slight glimpse of the melting pot that is this society. Although, I’m not sure melting pot is the right term. All cultures mix here, but are encouraged to hold on to their identities. Acclimation is not required. Respect for differences is. I like that. I’d give more pics of people, but again, they are private and I can’t be the pic snapping, light flashing guy.

Two more treats before I go…

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If you know me you know I don’t eat candy, but I couldn’t pass it up. In fact, I wanted to show you the actual candy bar, but it would have never lasted in the 20 second walk outside (choco-soup—did I mention it’s hot?), and it was REALLY good! It’s a white Twix, use your imagination.

Also, I have the distinct honor of meeting this guy..

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Yes, the Lama, big hitter, the Lama. I went to tip him and he said, “No tip, but on your death bed…” You better know the rest! If you don’t, Shame on you! See Caddyshack NOW! (The behemoth on the left is me…after very little sleep and too much double apple shisha.  I tried to drop it out, but hey, it’s honest. By the way, that’s about the size ratio to every service person I meet here.)

Off to secure a vehicle and look for permanent housing. Enjoy your day, my friends. Thank you for your support on the blog, it makes me feel a bit closer to home. Honestly, I do miss home, but the present is here, and to not focus on what’s in front of us is a betrayal of our life’s journey.

Have a wonderful day!

Love,

Lee