Tag Archives: gifts

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.)



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.)




Home, as well. See Chicago?


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!




The Ground floor is the 1st floor, and the 2nd floor is the 3rd floor.*

24 Sep

Music: Ben Harper “In the Lord’s Arms”, The Roots feat Dice Raw “Lighthouse”, Franti & Spearhead “Feelin’ Free”, Beastie Boys “Namaste”, ZZ Top “Jesus Just Left Chicago”, A Perfect Circle “The Noose”, Taking Back Sunday “New American Classic”, Miles Davis “Flamenco Sketches”, Smashing Pumpkins “Mayonnaise”, The Shins “New Slang”, Cody ChestnuTT “Til I Met Thee” 

You know the old saying about you how you never know how many friends you have until your funeral? You ever heard that one? Me neither, I think I just made it up (Poetic License. Google it!). No funerals this week, but I did have a birthday—the means to an end, I suppose. As I posted on Facebook, I was preparing for a pretty lonely and ordinary day; which I though would suit me fine. Then an interesting series of events occurred. Facebook started blowing up…wait…here’s my post…

Lee Dabagia Jr.

4 hours ago near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Ok, to be quite honest, I was quite down yesterday. I’m in a new place (um, 7312.8 miles from home), I know no one, and it was my birthday. I spent the day at work (which is SO cray to the cray!), then came home (hotel) and ate a huge bowl (um, paper bowl) of veggie ramen type stuff…not, a common birthday meal (especially when in a fancy hotel). Settling in with Season 4 of Breaking Bad…the birthday wishes from FB started rolling in…crap, I’m seriously about to cry right now. THEN, the hotel sends me a gourmet-freakin’ chocolate cake. I post that and even more wishes roll in. I am pretty choosy, as you might understand, about whom I “friend” with on here. The last year hasn’t been my easiest and for those who believed in me, I am deeply touched. As one friend said to me last October, “..Lee, God brings you to it, so He (She, It, They, if you wish) can get you through it…” This last year has taught me so many things, I am grateful to you, my friends, and the Universe, for my good fortune. All of your wishes helped fill a serious void yesterday. I will ride this wave for a while if you don’t mind. Thank you, my friends, my family, my strength. “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make”. It does pay off. Send out your love, give it to the world, you will get it back when you need it most…like I did, yesterday.  — feeling loved.


Ugh, I’m welling up again…yeesh! THEN, yes, there’s more Ginsu lovers, THAT post blew up and still is as I write. So much love being sent my way from all over the globe; and some from new acquaintances here in The Dhabi! (No one calls it that, but I’m thinking about branding…The Dhabi! I like it!)

Anyway, I can’t take any more crying over my tea, so I just ordered a bottle of Scotch…kidding.

Honestly, I am so blessed by all of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Truthfully, my heart has been pretty low and hole-y for a while, and you did much work to raise me up and get me close to whole—y.

We are loved. Everyday, in ways we may not consider, and may take for granted. Share your love. Please.

Back to Food! So, you saw my cake! Here was my birthday dinner!


Scary right? Even scarier…did you know there’s a folding fork at the bottom of those noodle bowls? I didn’t! I gagged when my mini-hotel spoon found something rigid under the scalding water. Then I saw jagged points sticking out from within the noodles. What could it be? Trash from the Tsunami? Is Ramen made near nuclear plants in Japan? Is it a bird skull? Cat bones? Hey, I’m alone, I have some time to wander…and wonder. To my utter amazement and NO recollection from college, it’s a folding fork, partially sagging from melting in the water, but functional…genius! Those Singapore-ians…(Malaysians, probably, right? It’s a Republic…not important).

So, here’s me after my first day of work with the kids


A little frazzled, and sweaty…did I mention it’s hot…and, yeah, the hair…sweat out the gel, dry, pull it out, sweat, and dry again…Yeah, that’s how you achieve “the look”. Hot for ONE-FOUR! You’ll want it! (Oh, and the nose…here, not so big! Love my Arab peoples!)

Wait, before I go on, check this out.


It’s a translator…They hand them out at meetings for Admin, though you better know English here, or it’s tough to get around.

Wanna see my office? Sure you do!


Here are some pics of Al Bawadi Model School…all boys (920 or so), grades 1-6. To say recess is loud and totally unsafe is to say the first moonwalk was cool, but no big deal. (Not the Michael Jackson kind, the Louie Armstrong kind—I know it’s Neil, just checking your level of reading commitment).

More pics


That’s the playground. Notice no swing set, slide, jungle gym, anything? Yeah, me too. This school is what they consider an inner city school here. When I tell people where I work, they touch their hearts and bow to me. They say they’ll pray for me…I’ve heard that before, and I never buy it. Kids are kids. They want to succeed, they want to be happy, they want to be loved, and they want to be a part of something they can be proud of…not too much to ask, I say.

Here’s some hallway shots.




They look pretty clean because there is a crack staff of about 20 custodians that clean up after these boys like mothers. At morning break, the courtyard and halls look like that film of Woodstock after the rain. These boys throw EVERYTHING on the ground. Don’t doubt me to yourself! I hear you. Yes, everything…wrappers, food, juice, milk, water bottles…everything.


Yeah, I don’t get this either. South Park is not allowed here, so I’m not sure why Mr. and Mrs. Hankey get a mural…wait, I think they’re bees, yeah bees…eating soup…Still…what?

So some of you are asking, “Why are you there?…Um, you’re not on vacation?…Who’s Abdul Bobby?…What’s Sati babi?…Is that a real place?” Actually, just the first one. This is why we’re here…


Actually, that’s not oil seeping out of the wall, but it was like that once. That’s why we’re here. The oil will dry up and the leaders of the country want an educated population to capitalize on the wealth and make this place prosper for generations to come. Guess how you do that? Go ahead…I’ll wait. How does a nation guarantee a livelihood and prosperous future? You know what it does? We did it in the 1850s…invest in your youth, invest in schools.

The UAE knew that western educators spend a lot of time and money researching and implementing best practices, so they hire them to come here to teach. During my final interview I asked the panel what the state of schools is like now. They said, “…imagine the United States methodology in the 50s; that’s where we’re at…” Sounds ok, if you have kids from the ’50s sitting in front of you, respecting you, school, authority, and the like. However, that’s not here. Emiratis make up only 15% of the work force here—the rest don’t have to work, and certainly wouldn’t stoop to teach (PLEASE get the sarcasm there).

Praising hard work and middle class values means nothing to these kids. They are just like our kids. Electronic overdose, quick money is cool money, short attention span, little respect for authority (South Park fans can say it here), and they’re bored. However, they are so damn cute in their kandoras; they all look like Toto from Cinema Paradiso…WHAT!? You’ve never seen it? See it, NOW! A beautiful film.

Anyway, that’s why we’re here. This country has boomed so quickly, and they’re very proud of it. Not too proud to ask for help, though. Pretty smart, I think. They want their kids to be engineers, entrepreneurs, educators, and an fourth e word that’s cool.

So, I’ve had a FULL few days of Principalling…tomorrow we cram on the School Improvement Plan per the evaluation from an accreditation team that visited last year. No sweat, I’ve been through it a few times before. Only this one reads from right to left, and I haven’t the slightest idea what it says. No problem…what’s best for kids…always the question.

Speaking of slight differences…here’s a couple.



That’s Mall Fast food…tabouleh, mixed kebabs with eggplant, onion, and tomato, and a Kiwi/Apple jiuce smoothy kinda thing. About 11 dollars.

and another one to kill that appetite



Yes, that’s acceptable attire at a Principals meeting here. My clunky monsters, and his sandal -less feet.

That’s all for now.

Again, I am deeply touched by all of the comments and wishes I’ve received over the last few days. I’ve always believed that if you give of yourself freely and lovingly it will come back to you. During some dark days, I started to doubt that. This week you all returned that love to me tenfold. I am not alone, but it took this time alone to understand that…how about we close with a poem? Shall we? Take a deep breath (DO IT! NOW!)…in through the nose, and blow out…a poem, called “Loneliness”, by…me..

Loneliness is a teacher,

And a Judge.

A hard-boiled detective,

Who’s holding a grudge.

He sees you in the mirror

And offers no clues;

He gives you hidden truths,

And ALL the bad news.

If you look away

To try and avoid the pain;

He stubbornly insists

That to resist is in vain.

And when you look into his eyes

To search the inward sea

Waves of thought will pound you;

Face them now, to be free.

You see, Loneliness likes your fear,

And the reluctance in your face.

So stare back defiant,

And please grant yourself grace.

Loneliness is a teacher

Of the toughest kind;

He stands you in front of your self,

And says, “Take charge of your mind!”

Thanks for reading me…love,


*Title–good advice for not getting lost in a city-size mall