Tag Archives: reform

No plan can be a good plan, Being un-lost, or Open Hearts open hearts.

3 Jun

 

June 1, 2014

Foo Fighters—Watershed, Deftones—Be Quiet and Drive, The White Stripes—Icky Thump, Michael Franti & Spearhead—One Step Closer to You, The Roots Diedre vs Dice, Deftones—Knife Party, The Roots—You Ain’t Fly, The Beastie Boys—Funky Donkey, The Freddy Jones Band—California, Red Hot Chili Peppers—One Hot Minute, Zero 7—In the Waiting Line, Justin Timberlake—Spaceship Coupe, Foo Fighters—Everlong, Soundgarden—The Day I Tried to Live, Incubus—Quicksand, Rush—Freewill, Dave Matthews Band—Ants Marching, The Beastie Boys—Long Burn the Fire, Smashing Pumpkins—Daydream, Marvin Gaye—I’ll be Doggone, Rage Against the Machine—Down Rodeo, Cody ChestnuTT—Magic in a Mortal Minute, Marvin Gaye—Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song), Foo Fighters—For All the Cows. Killswitch Engage—For You, Dr. Dre—Forgot About Dre, Tool—46 & 2, Mos Def (as Black Jack Johnson)—Freak Daddy, Rage Against the Machine–Freedom

The Sunset on my first night in Thailand. Also, a great image, thematically. Enjoy the read...please...I hope.

The Sunset on my first night in Thailand. Also, a great image, thematically. Enjoy the read…please…I hope.

Ya know? This blogging thing is kinda hard. So many decisions go into the writing process. I am going to write about my Spring Break for this blog. It was intensely personal, very emotional, and the first time I have ever…gone anywhere…completely…new…and completely…alone. (Physically, I have just paused to catch my breath.)

Even now as my brain sends detailed, and remarkably almost involuntary instructions on which fingers to press which keys, my ego, which I create and recreate everyday and allow to exist, is making me cautious, and making me second guess this choice. I told myself I’d let it out, that I’d release my experience to the world without judgment. I’m trying to see the world as my daughters did when they were so little.

Koh Samui Airport. Mostly outdoor hallways and beautifully integrated into the natural beauty of Thailand's Islands.

Koh Samui Airport. Mostly outdoor hallways and beautifully integrated into the natural beauty of Thailand’s Islands.

I remember their gorgeous almond-shaped eyes, so big and milk chocolate brown, soaking it all in, seeing everything for the first time, or seeing things over and over again and still finding wonder in them. I want that. I want that…back. I want the “yawp” Whitman encourages us to release, the intensity that William Blake said we must feel…to feel…and what did Wordsworth talk about…the spontaneous overflow of feelings? We MUST make time for that. It is not optional! I remember living on the floor with them so I could try to adopt their perspective just to get a glimpse of that wonder. They taught me so much…and still do. (Man, I miss them…words…failing…love)

A latte in the Dhabi airport. I didn't ask for the art...love happens...everywhere.

A latte in The Dhabi airport. I didn’t ask for the art…love happens…everywhere.

Second course in The Dhabi airport...What!? A man needs breakfast!

Second course in The Dhabi airport…What!? A man needs breakfast!

Well, I’ve been through so much change the last two years, I can honestly say, I’ve opened my eyes again, as if for the first time. I haven’t forgotten the days gone by, and I am grateful for the lessons, but I am seeing the new ones without pretense, with curiosity and wonder and possibility, and I am glad to know I have no idea what the future holds.

This guy claims to know what the future holds. Hey!? Is that Frank Pantengeli? Godfather 2?

This guy claims to know what the future holds. Hey!? Is that Frank Pantengeli? Godfather 2?

I was encouraged by many to take a trip on my own. All said it is a unique and growing experience. All were correct. I highly suggest it.

This is a hotel ad in the in flight magazine. Ummm, I think the Universe is speaking to me.

This is a hotel ad in the in flight magazine. Ummm, I think the Universe is speaking to me.

So, I’ve never been to Thailand and the price was SO right, I couldn’t turn it down. Heck, I’ve spent more money in 4 days in Chicago than I did flying, staying, and eating in 9 days in Thailand.

My hotel on Koh PhangAn.

My hotel on Koh PhangAn.

My hotel on Koh Samui. The Punpreeda Hip Resort...fun to say. Try it!

My hotel on Koh Samui. The Punpreeda Hip Resort…fun to say. Try it!

Waterfront, table in the sand, tempura, pad thai, coconut chicken, and a beer...about $7.

Waterfront, table in the sand, tempura, pad thai, coconut chicken, and a beer…about $7.

Pad Thai in a Thai fishing village.

Pad Thai in a Thai fishing village.

Fresh rolled Sushi at an outdoor market...about $5 for that plate...my 1st of 3..or 4...or...

Fresh rolled Sushi at an outdoor market…about $5 for that plate…my 1st of 3..or 4…or…

So I’m there. I’m alone. No schedule, no plans, very little information…just me, the committee in my head, the neighborhood that is my brain, a couple books, and of course, 1000 songs to fill the space. Tell me why I was so anxious? Why do I immediately get a map and start planning? Planning for what? What do I NEED to see? Why do I have to maximize…well, anything? I’m on vacation, I’m alone, and I have 9 days to do…nothing. Sounds ideal, right?

This should have been the only thought in my head. View of infinity pool (with integrated bar and bartender named "Lee", yes! Hmmm?) and beach at The Coast Beach Resort.

This should have been the only thought in my head. View of infinity pool (with integrated bar and bartender named “Lee”, yes! Hmmm?) and beach at The Coast Beach Resort.

Well, it wasn’t easy, at first. That’s not a complaint. That’s my shortcoming. I am not accustomed to not having a plan. On my flight from The Dhabi to Bangkok, I was relaxed and ready to chill until I realized that I only had 45 minutes to make my connecting flight and we left 90 minutes late. Luckily, a few others with the same flight (and a louder customer voice) demanded they make the connecting flight wait. They did. However, we had to run to the gate. In fact, the airline employees throw a sticker on your chest, then tell you to run. So, you do the polite hurry-up walk, and they chase after you, “No Misterrrr, run, run!”

Cities of clouds holding the dreams of skyward gazers everywhere.

Cities of clouds holding the dreams of skyward gazers everywhere.

Taking the advice of others, I had no transportation plans, no overnight stay plans, and no realization that Expedia doesn’t care if the flight you booked won’t get you on the ferry to your destination island until the next day. No worries, though. There were plenty others in the same boat…or not in the same boat? Either way. Apparently, there’s a whole segment of society who really does just throw stuff in a backpack and goes somewhere. I wish I was that cool. I’m not sure the shaved, short-haired, 40-something guy with the roller case (carry-on, mind you), and book bag size back pack fit in with these seemingly happy go-lucky travelers, but the conversations were lively and all were friendly.

Ummm, no one told me the Ferry was clothing optional!

Ummm, no one told me the Ferry was clothing optional!

After a misunderstanding due to pronunciation issues (on both parts), I learned I had about half the day on Koh Samui before the next ferry. I had to fight the itch in my brain that just wanted to force a solution and get to my hotel on Koh PhangAn to settle in? For what? Why did I need to hurry up to slow down? What is it that makes me anxious about something I can do nothing about? There’s one ferry, Lee. Wait for it, and enjoy the time you have…enjoy every minute.

Ferry dock...no Ferry. No Worries...eventually.

Ferry dock…no Ferry. No Worries…eventually.

Isn’t this so true? We say it all the time. “You only have today…live life every minute…every day is a gift, enjoy it…etc.” What did that Lennon guy say? “Life is what happens when your busy making other plans”?

After missing the Ferry, life dealt me this. I'll take it. However, the muzak version of "Dancing on the Ceiling" was a bit unsettling...headphones, take me away!

After missing the Ferry, life dealt me this. I’ll take it. However, the muzak version of “Dancing on the Ceiling” was a bit unsettling…headphones, take me away!

So, I was forced to slow down. I needed to. The pace of my work life hasn’t been that hectic, lately, but the pace of my emotional life has been. You know who’s responsible for that stress? I am. There are many things up in the air for me right now. Most of them I can’t solve in a day. In fact, I can only participate in their resolve, I am not the architect of those solutions.

The view from The View Hotel. Owned by my new friend, Lee. Seriously, that's his name. A former attorney from Tel Aviv, who left to follow his dream. If you have too many beers at the bar, the steps are an insane test. No rails and super steep. He told me I don't look like a Principal. I love when people say that.

The view from The View Hotel. Owned by my new friend, Lee. Seriously, that’s his name. A former attorney from Tel Aviv, who left to follow his dream. If you have too many beers at the bar, the steps are an insane test. No rails and super steep. He told me I don’t look like a Principal. I love when people say that.

Human relationships are complicated. Many of us take our experience and perspectives and believe them to be the same as others. We don’t take into consideration the definitions, the interpretations, the filters, the histories, the current events, that shape our present day attention. At the same time, we can’t wait to speak until we learn all of that. The only thing we can do, is speak from our single perspective, be straightforward about what we want or need, and wait for the reaction. You took action. That’s your step. The reaction, that’s theirs (while at the same time being their action, as well.) Then, you respect that response and how you interact begins to take shape. Honestly, I can’t decide if it’s simple or complicated. I believe the ego makes it complicated. Speak from the heart and not the “I want more” and relationships will be simplified…right?

Peaceful, huh?

Peaceful, huh?

So, it took me two days to shake the “I should be doing something” anxiety. I noticed that the people staying at the hotel were content to sit at the pool, walk to the beach, back to the pool, and repeat all day. Some never leaving the hotel. I liked that…no rush to see this or that, just relax. Again, it took me 2 days to figure that out! I rented a scooter to see the island. A great experience! Ya know, driving on the left side of the road is easy, until you’re turning right into oncoming traffic.

MissTery, but I'm not sure if that's her name...get it? She is SO sweet! She rented me a scooter, sold me gas, and did my laundry...and a HUGE hug at the end of my trip. Not sure why, but I needed it, and she saw that. Open hearts open hearts.

MissTery, but I’m not sure if that’s her name…get it? She is SO sweet! She rented the scooter, sold the gas, and did my laundry…and a HUGE hug at the end of my trip. Not sure why, but I needed it, and she saw that. Open hearts open hearts.

Yes, that's a liquor bottle...and about a dollar's worth of gas. The scooter totaled about $60 for 8 days, including fuel. Most people have a "fuel" stand outside their homes. They run up to help you and won't take tips...so you sneak it in between the bottles.

Yes, that’s a liquor bottle…and about a dollar’s worth of gas. The scooter totaled about $60 for 8 days, including fuel. Most people have a “fuel” stand outside their homes. They run up to help you and won’t take tips…so you sneak it in between the bottles.

MissTery did my laundry for about $3, and folded it tighter than I ever could, and if you know me, I pride myself on folding.

MissTery did my laundry for about $3, and folded it tighter than I ever could, and if you know me, I pride myself on folding.

Koh PhangAn is not very large so the streets have no names (Ok, go ahead, sing the song), which differs from the Dhabi, where streets have 3 names, but no numbers. One can’t really get lost for too long. You can see the coast from the mountain roads and the mountain roads from the coast.

Top o the world, Ma!

Top o the world, Ma!

A random stopping point at the top...deep breath! Yeah...goooooood!

A random stopping point at the top…deep breath! Yeah…goooooood!

There was a time when getting lost seemed like a ridiculous and inconvenient idea. I would grind my teeth, tighten my jaw, snort and huff, and curse myself for being sooooo stupid!…and never once did any of that help. When I got to the Dhabi, I had a few weeks before work started. I kept hearing, “It’s an island, you can’t get lost…” I didn’t understand. I do now. In fact, I spent many hours walking around being geographically lost, but being exactly where I needed to be…not lost at all.

Yes, I'm on the right side of the road...which is the left. Views everywhere.

Yes, I’m on the right side of the road…which is the left. Views everywhere.

As I look back two years or so, I was SO bent on knowing EXACTLY where I was that I could never get lost. The irony, of course, for this slow learner, is I was lost. I lost myself. So much so that I didn’t even know it. I let my ego distract me. There is no freedom in disallowing yourself to get lost. If you always know exactly where you are and are familiar with everything around you, how will you grow? Sure, you can manufacture growth opportunities (reading, meditating, sudoku, Lumosity), but those are challenges you brought on. When was the last time you walked into a place and you knew no one, or truly didn’t know what to do, or didn’t speak the language, or…all of the above. There’s your growth moment. I’m not saying that’s the only way, but it is effective for those of us who prefer(-red) to control our environments.

Any bored linemen out there? Good Luck. The hair on your neck stands up if you stop near these.

Any bored linemen out there? Good Luck. The hair on your neck stands up if you stop near these.

Ummm, why can't I hear the waterfall?...oh, spelling optional...again.

Ummm, why can’t I hear the waterfall?…oh, spelling optional…again.

When that revelation came to me, after the third waterfall I couldn’t find…–“Ummm, sir, no water in waterfall…no rain, no water…”–I decided, I’d get lost everyday. The first two days on the scooter, I’m saying to myself… “Oh, I’ll come back to that…or, I’ll get a picture tomorrow…or, remember where that is…” For what? If it catches your eye today. Go look at it! Stop and smell the roses, right? Don’t plan to come back and have the same experience! It won’t be the same….which brings me to the monastery and the temple…seriously, as I typed that, as my consciousness became aware of what my subconscious was about to reveal, my heart got heavy, thick, my skin warm…I changed…again.

The 3 Characteristics and 10 ethical promises of the Bodhisattva way.

The 3 Characteristics and 10 ethical promises of the Bodhisattva way.

Ok, people! Time out! This is not going well for me. You probably didn’t notice, but I did. I have to get this off my chest. I felt guilty about going on vacation alone so I manufactured a reason to go. “I’ll go find myself. Think things out. Find the happier Lee…of course, this trip must have a purpose, right?” That’s me. I play roles. Within those roles, each of those Lees looks for validation from outside sources…family, colleagues, even complete strangers. What a bizarre concept! We define ourselves secretly, behave a certain way and expect to get a reward for that behavior from the universe…at least I do…er, I did. I am not two people. I am me. Here I am two months later finally coming to terms and accepting that vacation for exactly what it was. Me being me…which is probably why the monastery hit me so hard…look at these.

Greeting Visitors

Greeting Visitors

The Prayer Room. I spent 15-20 minutes in there, completely silent and completely present with a monk and a devotee. SO powerful! I felt like I was being held. I didn't want to leave.

The Prayer Room. I spent 15-20 minutes in there, completely silent and completely present with a monk and a devotee. SO powerful! I felt like I was being held. I didn’t want to leave.

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

From a nearby Chinese temple which the monk from the monastery encouraged me to visit. She is at THE VERY TOP. Her view is...perfect.

From a nearby Chinese temple which the monk from the monastery encouraged me to visit. She is at THE VERY TOP. Her view is…perfect.

Guardians of the Shrine. Sir Shred-a-Lot and Mr. Tambourine...man.

Guardians of the Shrine. Sir Shred-a-Lot and Mr. Tambourine…man.

A prayer room with relief sculptures on the wall.

A prayer room with relief sculptures on the wall.

Something that touched me as I rode the coast.

Something that touched me as I rode the coast.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” 
― Robert M. PirsigZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Ok, ok, it was a scooter, but you get the idea. I do remember bouts of natural thought. Those times when I wasn’t yelling at myself about not thinking enough about my life situations. Moments when I let myself relax, enjoy the present, shut off all filters, and just feel. The most memorable was when I left the monastery for the first time. About 10 minutes up and down and around the winding mountain roads, I just started weeping. I guess I needed to purge. It’s an interesting thing to cry as a man. In company, it is unsettling for those watching. As if it shouldn’t happen. When alone, however, I found it …umm…hmmm…I found it to be…real. Even as I type this, I am re-visiting the moment. The warm wind, the beautiful rich green rolling mountains, the buzz of the scooter, my skin browning in the sun, the Peace I just experienced (and continued to feel) during my impromptu meditation with the monk and a follower…and there I was. Me, alone, ok. Not sad or happy, just alive, feeling fulfilled, tears rolling down my face, accepting it all, no explanation, no justification…a human Being, rather than a human Doing. It felt like a spiritual bath…actually, it was.

You know what? I think that’s enough for now. How about some pictures?

THE hottest soccer field in the world!

THE hottest soccer field in the world!

Squid drying in the sun outside of Choklakum, a fishing village...which you smell long before you get there. Each "tray" has about 100, and there are a 100 trays, at least...smell that!

Squid drying in the sun outside of Choklakum, a fishing village…which you smell long before you get there. Each “tray” has about 100, and there are a 100 trays, at least…smell that!

So!? Some of you have your dog tied up outside!

So!? Some of you have your dog tied up outside!

Steve the Cow. "What!? Move along tourist! Eat more chicken!"

Steve the Cow. “What!? Move along tourist! Eat more chicken!”

These French guys have a good thing going...

These French guys have a good thing going…

Probably not Snoop's boat.

Probably not Snoop’s boat.

Hard to see, but there's an orangutan on the cab of the truck. He catches the coconuts and throws them into the bed of the truck...and, he stares at me until I get scared and leave.

Hard to see, but there’s an orangutan on the cab of the truck. He catches the coconuts and throws them into the bed of the truck…and, he stares at me until I get scared and leave.

Barbecued monk---well, you figure it out.

Barbecued monk—well, you figure it out.

A school. Love seeing schools in other countries. Most are guarded by high walls and fences...think about that.

A school. Love seeing schools in other countries. Most are guarded by high walls and fences…think about that.

Persistence.

Persistence.

Real. Fresh Bananas. Cooked every way possible. SO good! About 2 pounds worth for $1.50.

Real. Fresh Bananas. Cooked every way possible. SO good! About 2 pounds worth for $1.50.

Don't talk.

Don’t talk.

So, what have I learned? SOOOO much! For today, I will be aware of the roles I’m assuming and why I am assuming them. Then, stop it and act from me. I want everything I do to become spiritual practice. What does that mean? I LOVE being a Principal. Now, more-so that I do it without requiring validation. Sure, recognition is nice, but it isn’t necessary, whereas I think I craved it in the past. Now, I just “Be” as a Principal and the life of it is much easier. Sure, I get frustrated. I’m learning to check that and if I see fault in what others do or don’t do, then I look at myself first. What is my part in it? How can I help? The next step…do that in every role…especially as a parent. We internalize so much of what our children are and run the risk of not allowing them to be them. They deserve space, mistakes, conflict, everything that is part of a normal well-rounded human being.

I love you my precious, beautiful daughters. I love you so much. Everyday!

Me. Moving forward. Everyday. Thank you for your love and support!

Me. Moving forward. Everyday. Thank you for your love and support!

Thank you, everyone. So freakin’ much!

Peace and Love,

Lee

(Touch your hand to your heart for me, please.)

 

 

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The blogtorial; Self-definition; and the Monk with Sweaty Palms

11 Apr

This blog has been written and deleted and edited and written and edited and deleted. (It was not written in one sitting as I like to do, so to you chronology people, Let It Go…it’s a blog…and it’s a bit long. No quiz this month.) Needless to say, I was “stuck”. But as Robert Pirsig wrote,

“If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then it might be much better off than when it was loaded with ideas”

― Robert M. PirsigZen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Songs that influenced this work–Michael Franti & Spearhead-Thank you, Deftones-Around the Fur, The Smiths-What She Said, Middle Class Rut-Aunt Betty, Jack Johnson-Staple It Together, John Mayer-Dear Marie, Wax-Rosana, Killswitch Engage-Daylight Dies, The Beastie Boys-Nonstop Disco Powerpack, Clutch-The Wolfman Kindly Requests, Mother Love Bone-Stargazer, Cody ChestnuTT-Everybody’s Brother, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Everyone Deserves Music, Nine Inch Nails-Down In It, The Steepwater Band-Back to the Bottle, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell-Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Rage Against the Machine-Killing in the Name, Smashing Pumpkins-Day Dream, Dave Matthews Band-#34, Tool-Message to Harry Manback, Ice Cube-Integration, Red Hot Chilipeppers-Pea, Deftones-Lifter, Soundgarden-Pretty Noose, The Sword-To Take the Black, The White Stripes-St. Andrew, Smashing Pumpkins-Crush, Ice Cube-When Will They Shoot, Quicksand-Transparent, Freddy Jones Band-Into the Wind, Cody ChestnuTT Enough of Nothing, Freddy Jones Band-She Said, Freddy Jones Band-Wonder, Taking Back Sunday-Set Phasers to Stun, The Smiths-Hand in Glove, Crash Kings-All Along, Marvin Gaye-Inner City Blues, The White Stripes-Conquest, Tool-Third Eye, Dave Matthews Band-Dancing Nancies, Incubus-Consequence, 30 Seconds to Mars-R-Evolve, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Listener Supported, Black Label society-Destruction Overdrive, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Love, Why did you go away

Hi!…um…How are you? This is a bit awkward, huh? We haven’t shared this space in a while. Truthfully, this space is changing. We all are. I’ve been thinking about this blog, and this place (The Dhabi), and you, and writing, and school, and friends, and family, and children, and growth, and fear, and love, and loss…hey, it’s been a long time. I think a lot.

To be totally honest, I’ve been sitting at this computer for hours, full of those thoughts, and full of hesitation…and this is as far as I’ve traveled. How much should one reveal? What is my purpose with this blog? Am I filling a role or am I being me, the true me, without ego, without pretense, without speaking words I think you’d want to hear. See, I want to relate the real me. I can’t do that if I label myself as any one of me societal roles. In terms of the blog, I just want to be Lee. I want to write from that perspective, Lee–human being.  Sounds easy…nu-uh.

Also, I’d like to entertain, show you the sights, share some of my thoughts and the miracles that occur in everyday life. They do ya know…(sidebar—have you seen “Into the Wild”? No? Wow, see it! I’ve seen it a few times and I cry at the strangest times. Tonight, I turned it on right at the section about gaining wisdom, about getting out of your comfort zone, about how anyone can learn from anyone…and I do everyday. That, my friends, is the kind of everyday miracle I am talking about.) I am getting comfortable here, so I need to stretch it a bit.

Remember “The Real World” on MTV? Is it still on? Anyway, the opening intro said it was a show about how strangers are forced together and what happens when people stop being polite and start being real…or something like that. Well, we were raised to be real polite, in fact, to be polite-r than most (yes, I make up words…what, is this your first blog?). Another sidebar—my father is asleep in my guest room right now. Love that he’s returned to the Middle East after almost 40 years. I love having him here. Your relationship as a child changes without notice until major life changes create separation or some kind of defined change. We’ve had a few. Since the loss of my younger brother in 2008, this has been a big change for both of us. I am his namesake, and his only son, and I live 7500 miles away…not easy, even for a tough guy like him. He arrived the day before his 77th birthday…wanna see?

Dad and I on his 77th in front of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. To think, He's almost twice the age of this country--still looks good, too! Just ask him ;)

Dad and me on his 77th in front of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. To think, He’s almost twice the age of this country–still looks good, too! Just ask him 😉

Dad's birthday meal with Aziz and Ahmed at a swanky Emirati restaurant in the Dubai Mall. Great food and great company!

Dad’s birthday meal with Aziz and Ahmed at a swanky Emirati restaurant in the Dubai Mall. Great food and great company! They give you cologne and essential oils to freshen up at the end of the meal. I smell Oud!

So, back to the real world. Work has become interesting. I LOVE what I do, and I am lucky to work with some really hardworking people…but Dorothy, we ain’t in Kansas, anymore (American colloquialism for my international reader). Life just works at a different speed here. The reform we told we were taking part in is a bit different than described. In fact, it’s way more challenging. In my interview, I asked if they had “turnaround” schools…I like a school with a strong heart that is looking for a change. Well, I got one. The people and the kids are great. They want the change, but “this is how we always do it” has prevailed for so long that the options don’t appear. The bottom line is, schools are people. Parents want what ‘s best, kids want to learn, teachers want to share their art, and administrators…well, that’s our mission, to make all that happen. All I have to do is keep those things in mind, everyday, through the discipline, the illnesses of staff and students, the 752 accountability measures (give or take a hundred), the standardized testing, and now, through the language barrier…with your students, with your teachers, with your admin team, with your parents, and with the community. Ever seen Arabic!? At least with French or Spanish, you can guess…nu-uh, not happening here. You know what, though? I freakin’ love it!

This is "the yard" before the storm, uh school day. I stand in front of this everyday. So much potential in this space. One has to see the possibilities, the opportunities for growth; lives change here, everyday. So cool!

This is “the yard” before the storm, uh, school day. I stand in front of this everyday. So much potential in this space. One has to see the possibilities, the opportunities for growth; lives change here, everyday. So cool!

So, yes, I’ve had to have some hard conversations with fellow admins, teachers, and superiors. All challenging, all uncomfortable, all growth experiences. They are teaching me, everyday. For that, I am grateful.

We are required to do a minimum number of hours of Professional Development every week. This year the accountability police are on it. Our school is out in the sticks, uh dunes, and there is a belief that “central office” never checks on the schools “off island” (out of the city)…that’s us. We’re so off island that the sign to our school is under a sand drift. ( I wanted to say it has Jed Clampett pickin’ a banjo and sayin’ “atta way”, but that reference might be too narrow.) Thus, many believe we won’t get visited. Well, the #2 man in charge showed up the second week of school and made the whole place nervous. Now, there is a new number 1, a female (YES, Sistahs makin’ waves!) and she has vowed to visit all the schools. So, I stress…grinding teeth, headaches, you know, stress. Here’s why: We are a special community and our culture is not the same as the culture in the city, yet the expectations are the same. So, that is the challenge. Meet the city numbers with rural kids on a scale set without consideration of our statistical past. Sound familiar? Yep, it happens here, too.

So, that’s all boring to most of you. I’m a total EduNerd, and I love that stuff. However, I am WAAAY behind, so let’s look at some pictures! K? MmmmmK!

Green Day Assembly. Look at the little dudes dressed as fruit! The don't eat it, but they love the costumes.

Green Day Assembly. Look at the little dudes dressed as fruit! They don’t eat it, but they love the costumes. I sometimes carry grapes around at lunch and offer them to the boys. They give me the “Gas Face”! 3rd Bass fans, ya feel me?

Overhead of boys assembling for “Green Day”. No, not the band, the day! It’s a celebration of eating healthy and staying active. Apparently, we were supposed to wear green that day. The two little ones in the foreground didn’t get the memo and had to sit out…yeah, there was no memo. There never is. We don’t have a school calendar. I hear other schools do. It’s on my to-do list.

For when you're driving through a vacuum in space.

For when you’re driving through a vacuum in space.

One might call this “overkill”. Not here, more lights, more better!

The boys love sharing their culture. Prior to the picture they parted and made me sit with them. Imagine 900 Dennis the Menaces...in Kandooras.

The boys love sharing their culture. Prior to the picture they parted and made me sit with them. Imagine 900 Dennis the Menaces…in Kandooras.

This is me hanging with the boys watching a rehearsal. Here’s an idea…let’s give them swords and heavy iron toy guns. The kids in the distance are following one boy who is chanting, from memory, for about 10 minutes. Impressive.

An amazing camping location about 2 hours from Abu Dhabi, in Fujeirah. That's Snoopy (Island) taking a nap.

An amazing camping location about 2 hours from Abu Dhabi, in Fujeirah. That’s Snoopy (Island) taking a nap.

The campsite before everyone showed up. Add about 12 more people and 8 countries of origin. Lots of charades and trivial pursuit and health food and juice and water.  Kinda.

The campsite before everyone showed up. Add about 12 more people and 8 countries of origin. Lots of charades and trivial pursuit and health food and juice and water. Kinda.

There are signs everywhere. It took me years to recognize and accept them. I've always preached love, but I had a hard time with deserving it. I do. So, do you. The signs are there if your heart is open.

There are signs everywhere. It took me years to recognize and accept them. I’ve always preached love, but I had a hard time with deserving it. I do. So, do you. The signs are there if your heart is open.

Signs. We are just visiting.

Signs. We are just visiting.

These are pathways the water takes to get back to the ocean.

These are pathways the water takes to get back to the ocean.

I love this picture. See the established pathways? That is how your brain works. On this particular day, the majority of the water will run down the larger, more established pathways. Your brain does that with problem solving and other decision making tasks. It gets accustomed to thinking through something the same way, over and over. However, these pathways don’t have to be permanent. In fact, I’m quite sure after high tide these pathways will change. So? Well, this is what we do in education. Students come in with established thought pathways and it is our job to help them explore other pathways of thought. If we continue to think the same way and use the same shortcuts, then we neglect creativity. Look at all the potential for other thought processes here. Our children need options for thought, not shortcuts to answers. The world requires creative minds.

If Smoke-flavored bacon is made over a campfire and infused with smoke, is it then double-smoked and twice as good? Yes, yes it is. Bacon good.

If Smoke-flavored bacon is made over a campfire and infused with smoke, is it then double-smoked and twice as good? Yes, yes it is. Bacon good.

 

The hairpin turn at the Yas Marina F1 track (they call it a "circuit" here). On Tuesdays you can run, walk, or bike it. Google it, it's cool

The hairpin turn at the Yas Marina F1 track (they call it a “circuit” here). On Tuesdays you can run, walk, or bike it. Google it, it’s cool

 

Crepuscular rays. Cool.

Crepuscular rays. Cool.

Spelling optional here.

Spelling optional here.

This is a rather morbid traffic safety demonstration presented by the students. Of course, they all cheer the crazy driver and the crash. I'm not sure this program is effective. Google traffic accidents in the UAE. Gruesome.

This is a rather morbid traffic safety demonstration presented by the students. Of course, they all cheer the crazy driver and the crash. I’m not sure this program is effective. Google traffic accidents in the UAE. Gruesome.

This is one of the most impressive graphic organizers I've ever seen. Plus, if you've ever heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson, then you know I LOVE concentric circles! What? You've never heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson!? Spice up your life, my friend!

This is one of the most impressive graphic organizers I’ve ever seen. Plus, if you’ve ever heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson, then you know I LOVE concentric circles! What? You’ve never heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson!? Spice up your life, my friend!

 

Movie Night at Sky Tower. A laptop and a projector (or, "data show") and Troy. Who's dreamier? Bana or Pitt? (No feet comments, please. I rarely trip over them...any more.)

Movie Night at Sky Tower. A laptop and a projector (or, “data show”) and Troy. Who’s dreamier? Bana or Pitt? (No feet comments, please. I rarely trip over them…anymore.)

 

Waves of clouds over the city.

Waves of clouds over the city.

Insanely gaudy lighting fixtures--YES! Cincinnati Fashion--not so much.

Insanely gaudy lighting fixtures–YES! Cincinnati Fashion–not so much.

I was invited to join a monthly pot luck dinner club. Last month was comfort food. This is my baked Eggplant Parmesan.

I was invited to join a monthly pot luck dinner club. Last month was comfort food. This is my baked Eggplant Parmesan.

So, the dinner club reminded me of the roles we play. While I am very proud to be an administrator or a father or a son or someone who cooks, none of these roles define me. I’ve been struggling with that lately. Who am I? How do I define me? This topic confuses many of us. What I’ve learned is I should not spend time creating conceptual definitions of who I am. How can one person carry all that around everywhere? These definitions get in the way of “me”, of self. They get in the way of being present. I spent many years not being present; trying to keep up with who I thought you wanted to talk to. A maddening practice. All of those titles are egoic. I’m trying to get away from those loaded definitions and just be…just be. So, it’s ok to not know. The hard part is remembering to clear away those titles and let me be present for every encounter. Confusion is a gathering of thoughts that aren’t your own. I find it interesting that many of Confucius’ aphorisms are about simplicity, and oneness…not confusing, at all. (All from Eggplant Parm–hey, I’m hungry.)

Uh, who doesn't want to hang out here?

Uh, who doesn’t want to hang out here?

I wonder what they sell? (Also, Houston Oilers fans, ever wondered what happened to Billy Johnson? Here's his store.)

I wonder what they sell? (Also, Houston Oilers fans, ever wondered what happened to Billy Johnson? Here’s his store.)

A really pregnant camel...for 12 months! "Get it out! Get it out, now!"

A really pregnant camel…for 12 months! “Get it out! Get it out, now!”

This just came to me during a seminar. Doctoral thesis idea.

This just came to me during a seminar. Doctoral thesis idea. (yes, my handwriting stinks–get over it.)

So, this graphic just kinda came to me. I believe this is what we do to gifted kids in schools. They are particularly under-served during the middle years. First, we have to agree on what “gifted” means. I am not getting into that with you…right now. The idea is in its infancy; I’m just not ready to develop the whole thing, yet.

His brother's place, One Kind of Burger, didn't so well. Nearby is Hot Burger. HIS brother's place, Cold Burger, did not fare well, either.

His brother’s place, One Kind of Burger, didn’t do well. Nearby is Hot Burger. HIS brother’s place, Cold Burger, did not fare well, either. (That’s Salon, not a Saloon–there are Saloons for Men every 50 meters here.)

See the Wonka-vator? It goes up a whole two stories! Don't be surprised.

See the Wonka-vator? It goes up a whole two stories! Don’t be surprised.

This is a Gorilla made entirely from wire hangars. I think I know why he's angry.

This is a Gorilla made entirely from wire hangers. I think I know why he’s angry. (Enter your “Mommie Dearest” line here…)

On your left is THE Mark C. Thompson, guru, business consultant to some dudes named Jobs, Gates, Branson...to name a few. The other guy? Photobomb.

On your left is THE Mark C. Thompson, guru, business consultant to some dudes named Jobs, Gates, Branson…to name a few. The other guy? Photobomb.

So, yes, I met him. It was an amazing evening. I floated all the way home. It is no secret I love what these guys do. I read Dan Pink, Dan Gilbert, the Heaths, Spencer Johnson, Jon Gordon, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, Rob Bell, all of them. I like what they do, and I’d love to do it one day. I am not ready. I have the desire, but not the experience or readiness, yet.

The Monk with Sweaty Palms

Kasan, a Zen teacher and monk, was to officiate at a funeral of a famous nobleman. As he stood there waiting for the governor of the province and other lords and ladies to arrive, he noticed that the palms of his hands were sweaty.

The next day he called his disciples together and confessed he was not yet ready to be a true teacher. He explained to them that he still lacked the sameness of bearing before all human beings, whether beggar or king. 

He was still unable to look through social roles and conceptual identities and see the sameness of being in every human. He then left and become the pupil of another master. The returned to his former disciples eight years later, enlightened.

– A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

I am a pupil.

The pupil at wonder.

The pupil at wonder.

Thank you for sticking it out to the end. As I said hours ago when you started reading this, I was stuck for a while. I thought that meant I couldn’t think. Rather, “stuckness” is a good thing. It is a singular focus and requires action.

So, I have spent a lot of time searching…for many things. What a mistake. When you search for love, do you find it? When you search for happiness, do you find it? When you search for yourself, do you find it? No, at least, not for me. All of these things come when you’re ready. When you are you, not a role, not a title, not a job, not a state of mind. I will be trying to strip away those things that are ego-created and ego-craved, and just be me. You see, we are not our ego. We are under it, or beyond it, but we have to step back and see ourselves…new to me. Thank you for giving me that.

Peace and love to you all,

Lee

Back in the (Camel) saddle again, or You can never go home again, or Lessons from Freshman English

6 Jan

Abu Dhabi Blog!

Playlist–Michael Franti & Spearhead-Time to Go Home, Taking Back Sunday-A Decade Under the Influence, Rage Against the Machine-Bulls on Parade, 30 Seconds to Mars-The Fantasy, Billy Joel-Get It Right the First Time, Coheed & Cambria-The Hound (Of Blood and Rank), Tool-Faaip De Oaid, Rush-Limelight, Deftones-Knife, The Smiths-What Difference Does It Make?, Killswitch Engage-Break the Silence, Gary Clark Jr.-Don’t Owe You A Thang, Clutch-Unto the Breach, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell-You’re all I Need Tonight, Dave Matthews solo-Rhyme & Reason, The Police-Spirits in the Material World, Rage Against the Machine, Know Your Enemy, Buddy Guy-Stone Crazy, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Love Invincible, The The-Kingdom of Rain, Bad Brains-Babylon, Cloakroom-Breaking, Red Hot Chili Peppers-Brendan’s Death Song, Michael Franti & Spearhead-I know I’m Not Alone

Pretty cool. Look at the First and last song. Luck? Nope, something bigger. Enjoy!

1–Ummm, Hi. Yeah, it’s been a while. I’m back in the Dhabi after an interesting 3 weeks in the city of my birth. (Yo! MC! Mad love for the 219!) Actually this installment is more about home (and the concept of homes—oh and luck, and love, and loss, and the 5 stories ever written, and maybe some pics of me at work, if you’re really good) than it is about life in the Dhabi…because, really, life here is like life anywhere…anywhere that people break out down ski jackets and huge Irish sweaters, and ask you if “you’re ok in the cold” when it’s 61 degrees out. (Yeah, no kidding. Had that conversation about 15 times today…I’m thinking about you, and praying for you enduring the blizzard around Lake Michigan. Truthfully, I kinda miss it….easy to say, right? There is no “wind chill” here…more like “breezy intemperateness”.) As cliché as it all sounds, life anywhere is relative. My hometown is buried under snow and reeling from freezing temperatures, but it’s not  beyond a typical winter. My current home is experiencing unseasonable lows that my hometown people call Spring. Both peoples are cold, despite a 70 degree difference.

My lovely hometown

This is the ice pack and sand glaciers that form every winter on Lake Michigan--a short walk from my house.

This is the ice pack and sand glaciers that form every winter on Lake Michigan–a short walk from my house.

Actually it drizzled here today…SHUT THE STREETS DOWN! Kidding. Rain– maTarrr Say it…go ahead maTarrrrrrrr….rolling r’s are fun!

2–So, where to begin? I took some philosophy courses as a barefoot goatee-d Chris Cornell wannabe in college, and I once wrote a paper on Heraclitus and the Doctrine of Flux; a partial title for the work he did. In a really compact underdeveloped pistachio shell the idea is that everything is always changing, perceived or not, it is changing…thus, so are we. Often mis-attributed to ‘Clitus (yeah, we’re tight), is this quote, “man can never stand in the same river twice”. (Go ahead my mad-googlers, check away, but know that this river will change once you leave….and so will you, my friends, so will you.) Really, the quote is a rearrangement of what he said, but contextually accurate in terms of his meaning. The MacGuffin here (Hitchcock fans, you feel me) is the Heraclitus quote is kind of an entre to a quote I’ve always had a hard time with: “You can’t go home again” or “you can never go home again”. (The first is a Thomas Wolfe novel—read it.) Cheap Summary—in the novel, George Webber is turned away by his hometown (not gonna give away why) and (kinda) travels world and eventually rediscovers his love for his home. Honestly, there’s not too much of a parallel here, but it’s a good book.

The interesting thing for me is I get to do here what I did at home. The situation isn’t that different. When I tell people where I work, they get the spoiled milk smell face on…then shake their heads as if to say, “awww, I’m sorry.”

The reality, just like it was at home, is we have a talented group of teachers who have been told over and over that their school and their kids just won’t ever become something big. I totally disagree. Totally. I am grateful for the opportunity. I am thankful for the lesson that taught me I could do this. I am thankful for the lesson that let me see this as a change I needed. I am thankful for the lesson that made me step out of the river and re-enter, anew.

Look at these teachers work! Love it!

Rubrics are fun in every language!

Rubrics are fun in every language!

 

 

Khaled and I--doin' the interpreter dance!

Khaled and I–doin’ the interpreter dance!

 

 

Mr. Mohammed and I laying the smack down on the terror of Al Bawadi--Grade 6.

Mr. Mohammed and I laying the smack down on the terror of Al Bawadi–Grade 6.

A & A--I smell Oud!

A & A–I smell Oud!

 

 

So, these are my colleagues. This is my new home. I feel blessed to have two homes, and all the trimmings that go with the concept of “home”. I am also blessed to have stepped in many rivers and been changed by them all…ok, all this talk of flowing and rivers…who needs a break? I’ll be right back.

3—Ok, much better! Ya see, I never really agreed with the quote. I love my hometown. It is a great place to live, and there are great people there. Sure, people get down on it and say really negative things hiding behind fake names and monikers in the newspaper’s online comment section (really, N-D? Require authentication, at least), but Michigan City is truly beautiful and there is opportunity for the creative and the positive. So, I always thought, “…why can’t I go home if I leave?…things will be the same, I’ll find the same people in the same places, and we all will be comfortable, and…well, home…” While all of this is true, it took this life changing experience of moving to the Dhabi for me to really “get” it.

Yes, I went home. Yes, it was really nice…but it’s not the home that you can’t return to, it’s the you that isn’t returning home. Make sense?

All rivers continue to flow…your hometown, your new hometown, and most of all, you. You return home with the knowledge of how things are and you find comfort in your accurate perceptions. However, while your eyes see the same things your brain has added new sets of experiences and thus, the sorting, comparing, and re-filing begins. The simplest thing, like a trip to the grocery store (the exact same grocery store you rode to bouncing around without a car seat or seat belt in the sofa size back seat while you played catch) becomes a new learning experience. Suddenly, you hear yourself… “oh yeah, I forgot about that” (15 types of peanut butter) or “THIS is the tea section? (compared to the tea aisles). Everything is now tainted, or enhanced, depending on your outlook, by the time you spent away…flowing.

4–So, on to luck…in which I no longer believe. I now prefer grateful to lucky. “I am grateful” attributes to a sender, as a gift. Maybe the gift is a result of the work you’ve done; or maybe you believe the gift is from a power higher/larger/more incomprehensible than you. Or maybe the gift is a result of both. Did you see Nick Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon? You tube, my friends, youtube.

“I am lucky” occurs in a vacuum…and NOTHING occurs in a vacuum (this, I’m not smart enough to prove as the absence of a thing cannot prove the existence of another; but stay with me, please). You see, if you continue to attribute good fortune to luck, then you begin to believe you are a lucky person and you just deserve good things happening to you. Actually, you do deserve good things, but some of us might even get to the point of thinking good things will happen always—without something causing it. Let me warn you, my dear friends….bad idea. I was there. It just ain’t true. Bad things do happen (to anyone)…and there’s always a reason. (There’s a simplistic colloquial phrase for this, but it escapes me.) The hidden side effect of believing you are a “lucky” person is that you don’t attribute the positive things to who you are, and what you’ve done. You float along without belief…no belief in the value of you, and no belief in something greater than you…a very dangerous position, indeed. Dangerous, and lonely.

In grad school, I once had a “Community and the School” class. The whole semester hinged on a group project. Well, I lived over 3 hours and a time zone away from my group. We had to trust the others to do a great job on their portion….yeah right, right? Well, we had no time to rehearse the presentation and I was the anchor. I remember the frustration of watching my group bore the rest of the class. I was upset and frantic, and had to do something! Needless to say I hammed it up and they backed me up in the summary. When it was over, I thought, “well, that was a waste of time, that would never happen in the real world…” and I was happy to get the grade and get out. Of course, I have needed that exact experience more than a few times since. I wasn’t lucky or unlucky to have endured that; it was a gift. I am grateful, not lucky, to have had that experience.

Perception…60 degrees or -10…both cold, for different people… MC or the UAE, schools are shaped by community…hometown or current home, life is for living, not visiting, embrace it… “wax on wax off…paint the fence”, lucky lessons? I think not, Daniel-san. (Miyagi do Karate!)

5–One of my good friends reminds me of this Shakespearean quote all the time, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…” And Hamlet, he would know. (If you don’t know the story, go ahead watch the Mel Gibson one, I won’t tell) All things that happen are lessons…opportunities to learn. Our obstacle, of course, is us. When our life is disrupted with…well, life. We have a choice. Do we search for blame and anger and revenge, or do we search for the meaning of it. “Why me?” really isn’t a bad question. It’s the way you answer it that determines your growth. If you always step in camel poop (gotta stay topical), it’s not because you’re doomed or constantly being punished, it might be a lesson to pay more attention to the steps you’re taking.

(picture of camel poop omitted…you get it, right?)

If things are going well and you’re asking “why me”, then look at what you can learn from it. I was in a serious “why me” situation and it brought me here. I had to fight myself to accept that I still had a lot to learn about me, and that I wasn’t lucky or unlucky, but I was fortunate. Believe me, I still struggle with it, daily. I am 7700 miles from my daughters, and my heart is in repair. Imagine the anxiety and panic and fear and doom if the sun didn’t rise tomorrow…that might start to explain the void I feel in missing my daughters. Though what I do with those thoughts are up to me. Think about it, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…” Thinking is not the evil, our choice of thoughts is the evil. Go back to the camel poop. Try this you camel poop stepper-inners (oh, you get it, stop being a snob), “…hey this poop on my sandal is a good reminder to watch where I tread; not everything is clean and comfortable and good for me.” Yes, I’ve moved the example to a metaphor, I KNOW you saw it coming.

Sorry, if I wasn’t as humorous as you’d like. One reader told me I am getting too serious, and not as fun. This is me; it’s where I am right now, today. It’s been a strange month since we last shared…extreme ups and downs, and less resolve than I had hoped. Hugs are hard to find when you’re new in town, but all of this is a lesson in itself. (Cool side note; watching the Arab men around my school greet each other on the first day back was very touching, and genuine.)

Also cool is the practice of touching your heart after shaking hands and greeting. I love that! Try it. Touch your heart after you say hello or shake someone’s hand. It will change the greeting for you. Please, try it.

Life has given me many opportunities to absorb lessons I took for granted; suddenly it’s all coming together. Lucky? No, the seeming chaos of the universe organizes our lives and if we flow with it rather than stand and fight the current, then going home again isn’t so tough. In fact, with the right Mindset (read Carol Dweck, beeteedubs) going home (hometown or current home) again is like returning anew.

By the way…aren’t you wondering about the numbers? I’ve never done that before. Yes? You are? Really? Ok, here it is. There are only 5 stories ever written. They are:

  1. Man vs Nature
  2. Man vs. Society
  3. Man vs. Self
  4. Man vs. Supernatural
  5. Man vs Man

Go back…they correspond.

I have always been inspired by the story of the Phoenix. (Geez, that too? Go ahead, google it) I could never understand why it stuck in my head. Why did I need to know it? Why did it occupy so many dreams throughout my life? Luck or coincidence? No way, something way, way effin’ bigger. This Christmas, my dad called me The Phoenix in a card. It is the single greatest thing he has ever said to me. I love you, Dad.

Ugh! I thought I could hold it together for one darn blog!

Peace and Love and Thanks and Happy New Year,

Lee

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.

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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

The Desert, an extended metaphor; perception, or Analyze, but don’t Histor-icize.

9 Nov

Playlist-The Shins-Caring is Creepy, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Do it for the Love, The Mars Volta-Roulette Dares (The Haunt of), System of a Down-Streamline, Killswitch Engage-My Curse, Tool-Lipan Conjuring, Sublime-Jailhouse, Red Hot Chili Peppers-Breaking the Girl, 30 Seconds to Mars-The Kill, Incubus-Are You In?, Miles Davis-Flamenco Sketches, Wax-We Can’t All be Heroes, Bob Marley & the Wailers-Buffalo Soldier, Michael Franti & Spearhead-What I Be.

Cool Lyric of the Day:

I remember when there wasn’t no pressure

I just do this

Before the music was part of a to-do list

I love writing, but why I’m clueless

It’s peaceful, yet deceitful,

Like a Buddhist Judas

from We Can’t All Be Heroes by Wax

Wow, a “Buddhist Judas”-that is clear and accurate…you should know that these playlists are what is occurring during the events you’re reading about. Music has that sensory trigger that marks times in our lives. Depending on what I’m going through I can be immersed in an album, a genre, or a topic. Looking at this playlist, I see a representation of many things Lee…and certainly, my dear family and friends, as you have contributed to the diversity of who I am, so have I absorbed, and reflected, the details and sum of my perceptions.

To the reader who asks, “How does that fit?”, I say it doesn’t matter. As good ol’ Uncle Walt (Whitman—not the chocolate sampler guy, either) always said, “Do I contradict myself?/Very well then, I contradict myself/I am large, I contain multitudes…I am untranslatable…” (There’s a 5 or 6 line ellipse in there; poetic license, get over it.)

Ya know, we (well, I) never consider a young Walt Whitman. He was in his mid-thirties when he wrote “Song of Myself”. I am older than him. Strange. I guess that goes back to perception. The most common pic you’ve seen of him is this old, long in the tooth, gray-bearded man, but he couldn’t be 35 or so in that pic. It’s like Einstein. Remember that college poster that sold about 15 million copies every year to hip-thinking freshmen looking to instill originality into their dorm room? He couldn’t possibly have looked like that always.

You see, perceptions are not real. They are personal and they are yours; only you have built them. You can agree upon them, but at their genesis, from where they derive, deep in your id/ego, none are the same. I think we’d all do better to one another if we kept that in mind. During the first few weeks of my stay here, the kandooras and other traditional dress seemed interesting and novel. Like a costume gives a child that special feeling and identity; I was looking at them the same way. As friendships and working relationships with locals become the norm, you start to see the people, not the perception. You know what? There is no difference. Seems obvious, right? Any self-respecting liberal, or culturally aware person will say they don’t see clothes or presentation, they only see people. Good for you. So, ask yourself; do you tailor how you greet people? Do you look at someone and reflect what you think they expect? Does your perception of someone new begin with something, anything, preconceived? Why? I think we’re reflecting our fears when we do that. I think we are afraid of presenting ourselves in a vulnerable state. We go in guarded, and spend time knocking walls down. What an interesting way to forge a relationship. Start with a fortress, and break your way in. Why not start in an open space and build together? Much of what is going on in my life right now is starting in open spaces…and the desert, and this collaboration of cultures, and this educational reform, and this exponentially expanding city being built out of vast open space, is the culminating metaphor. I am shaking as all of this falls into line. My eyes are windows, not mirrors, again (a bit blurry with emotion), and the scenery is informing me everyday.

Ok, sorry had to get that out. Whew! I feel better. You?

What do you think about when you think “desert”? (That’s one /s/, you smart—ypants!) Again, out loud and be honest, be vulnerable…desert? Three words out loud. I’ll leave you to it………………..I won’t try to match you; perception is personal (see what I did there?). I certainly would never have thought that I’d be building something in the desert, but I am…we are.

Three weeks ago (YES, I’m behind…SO!?), 14 of us went on a desert safari and overnight camp.

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Needless to say, it was amazing. I’ve been putting this off because I just don’t know what to write about. The experience was so organic and personal that words can’t convey the experience for me. Like Wax says above, writing can be like a Buddhist Judas, peaceful and deceitful, all in the same word.

Desert groupDesert group2

There are seven countries represented there, oh, and Mississippi, which I hear is a country in itself. (Certainly, Twain and Faulkner thought so). The guy kneeling by me isn’t with us, we grabbed each other after we bumped to stop from toppling from the top of the dune. He was happy to join in. The guy taking the picture was with us, too (Kneeling, to your right.). He’s from Houston, via Lebanon. (Woot! Woot! Lebanon!) He took some great pictures, I’ll be stealing them for this blog. (Bro, we’re both Lebanese, mumtaaz!?)

So the 14 (2 not shown, 18 total) of us piled into 3 Land Cruisers to begin our journey. I was running late due to a cheap watch I had to buy to cover the artwork on my wrist. Truthfully, the people at work care nothing about it, but permanent ink on your body is haram (forbidden by Islamic Law-though everything is up for interpretation), and who am I to offend anyone? (Wait ’til they see the COEXIST symbol inked across my shoulder blades!) Also, no one will ask what it means as the topic is personal, and personal questions aren’t polite. People are in the business of minding their own business here…kinda like that.

So, because I was late I was put into a truck with one other westerner, and a family of Filipino tourists. The first thing the Katie in the front seat said was, “Lee, I need the front seat because I always get car sick.” Yes, she said “always” and yes, she is consistent…poor thing. More on that later. Next to me was the most stoic octogenarian I’ve ever seen. I don’t think she uttered a word or a “woo!” the whole time. Included in this family was a very young boy, a very chatty, high-pitched, young boy. After a 30 minute ride into nowhere, we stopped to do this.

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Better traction in the sand. As you’ll see, we’ll need as much tire surface on the sand as possible. How these things don’t tip is a lesson in physics (which I am not qualified to deliver).

Our first stop was a camel farm.

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They are very calm animals, until you get by the babies. It’s obvious to say, but I am still fascinated by the protective instinct exercised in almost every species. Oh, if ever going to a camel farm, know that they don’t have a designated bathroom area. It happens. Everywhere.

On to the dune bashing! SO much fun. Keep in mind, I’m bigger than pretty much every 80 year-old Filipino woman. So, as we were sliding down the dunes sideways, at 70 degree angles, I was clutching the overhead handle so as not to make this poor woman into poi (yes, I know I’m mixing references). There is a lot of “Hey, what’s on the other side of that ridge…oh, sh–, a sheer drop…” and your stomach is far behind your brain. As we do this for awhile, our little buddy in the backseat decided to exercise (more like exorcise) both English words in his repertoire, “…Fasta! Fasta! Go! Go! Fasta! Fasta! Go! Go!…” Which is cute…for about the first five minutes. After thirty minutes, you start to question your normally amiable spirit.  We bashed on into the desert for about thirty minutes. The normally, very polite, and warm and conversational, Katie in the front seat had become suspiciously quiet. I take a break from trying to photo the sand flying overhead to look at the driver, who keeps checking on the Katie in the front seat. From the look on his face, she’s no longer enjoying it, and he’s thinking, why didn’t I Scotch-guard this carpet, yet?

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A plume of sand flying over the passenger side window as we slide sideways down a dune.

A plume of sand flying over the passenger side window as we slide sideways down a dune.

We come to the spot where the pictures above were taken. The Katie in the front seat pleads in a dry-mouthed, last breath, hard lump in the throat, gasp, “Can I get out here, please?” (Always polite that Katie in the front seat). Poor thing jets from the vehicle and does, what I later learn, she has done in every country she’s ever been; and she’s been to many, many countries. She’s a fascinating and engaging personality; which helped me come up with an idea for a reality, travelogue TV show: “Katie Puked Here!” So, we send her on adventures all over the globe, Katie in the front seat throws up, and we learn about these amazing places. Whaddaya think? TV gold, I know. Brilliant. She’s so cool, she’s down for it! Call me Travel Channel…then, pay me, um, us.

A little more bashing and we arrived at camp. Once in camp, there was a henna tent, sand-boarding (like snow-boarding, but slower), camel rides, ATV bashing, and a dress up tent…see?

A not-thrilled camel

A not-thrilled camel

Moon-rise over camp

Moon-rise over camp

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That poor camel. I was probably rider 25 or so, and again, I am not average size here. I swear he turned to look at me before we started and said, “Seriously? Dude? Would one less order of hummus kill you?” For all you guys who called me camel-jockey growing up…here’s your chance. Enjoy! The karmic/God/aura orb of light behind my head is still scientifically inexplicable…unless you understand electricity and flood lights, then it’s a total coincidence.

The night entertainment was food and a belly-dancer…and, of course, shisha.

Yes, Dad, of course she's Lebanese.

Yes, Dad, of course she’s Lebanese.

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Also on the tour with us were Rihanna’s back-up singers/dancers. Of course, one jumped up and danced with the professional…and got schooled. She did a great job, though. After the show was over, everyone loaded back into the trucks and headed back to the city. Everyone, but us, of course. We had the whole camp to ourselves. Really, this is when the experience started. This is where I lose my words to explain the impact of the evening. All of these countries and experiences, these no-longer strangers, these educators, these friends. The conversation flowed freely, and I caught myself more than once, staring into the desert night, trying to make sense of it. Why me? Why here? Where am I? Who are these people? How is this possible? What should I be learning?

“Lee! Lee!?…hey man, what are you thinking?” Someone brought me back…

“You know…I don’t know? I’m having a moment. A real moment. Me, all of you, all of this. I don’t know what it means, and for the first time in my life, I’m glad not to be responsible for the answers. I spent a lot of time stressing about being the answer guy only to find out the notion of being the answer guy is totally false. A perception I misled myself into. I spent too much time TRYING to manage other people’s feelings…foolish, man, foolish. Heavy, ya know? I’m allowing myself to just experience, to be genuinely touched, no context, no preconceived notions, no false expertise. I’m absorbing. I just want to thank you, all of you. For this. For me, being a part of this us. Very cool, ya know…Oh, did I mention, I’m a crier?…” Duh, right?

Turns out, many of us, especially those embarking on a life-changing journey, go through these introspective moments. The brain gets a new experience and doesn’t know where to file it. There is no reference point. You need to hold on to it, but where does it go? I do this in my professional life. Something new comes across my desk. Something for which I don’t have an already labeled folder. I keep it on my desk until I can sort out where it goes. Or, I realize it deserves a new label, and I create a new folder. I am creating new folders as this experience progresses. First, it was “New Experience in Abu Dhabi”, then “The Dhabi!” (don’t forget, get your t-shirt!) Now, there is so much more.

The conversation ebbed and flowed until about 4am, I think? The sleeping tents were surprisingly comfortable and the night air was quite comfortable. The sun rose a few hours later and breakfast was served. There was a lot of looking at each other without speaking. People processing. As humans, we don’t spend enough time expressing our gratitude towards one another. We take human interaction for granted. Let’s start sharing more. “Hey, last night was really cool. Thank you.”

That’s the cool thing about 14 strangers encamped in the middle of the desert. There is no history to reference. No playing of the name game; just sharing from that point forward. Learning. The experience is unique and impossible to replicate. We talk about going again, and we probably will, but we will be different. There will be more points of reference, folders of memories and experiences will be filled with files, and the conversation will exhibit that we know each other in ways separate from the experience. We will compare.

I’m trying to get out of the business of comparisons. Comparisons are a set up for disappointment; “greater than” or “less than”, even “equal to” becomes a let down. I want my experiences to be free from comparative analysis. CA takes the wonder out of the stars. It locks us into a perception, and locking into a perception creates shortcuts that limit our ability to be free. Remember when you studied, “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer”? (ummmm, Walt Whitman? Hello? Google now!) The poet is dizzied and nauseated, not by the numbers and figures presented by the Astronomer, but by the Astronomer’s inability to perceive, by his lack of awareness, of how beautiful the stars actually are. (Of course, you may argue, that is my perception of the poem, and not yours–see, I did it again.)

All this knowledge we have, can get in the way of our awareness. Continue to perceive, but be aware, that perceptions are historical, and the present is a gift. Open it everyday with the wide-eyed wonder of a child.

Yes, I am way behind. This was a tough one. I’m reckoning, you know?

Just to prove that I do work, here’s a pic of me and my main interpreter, Khaled. It’s hard to be witty during a presentation when you have to stop for translation…and when, sometimes, there isn’t one. I feel like a Mormon doing stand up at the Apollo…is thing on? Hello? I can hear you breathing…crickets.

PD Presentation 007

Can you say "Engaged Educators"? Oh yeah!

Can you say “Engaged Educators”? Oh yeah!

Thank you for your enduring support and love!

Love,

Lee

p.s. There’s no new ink on me. Gotcha!

Abu Dhabi Blog: Friends, Global Citizens, Countrymen, lend me your ears, uh, eyes.

20 Oct

Playlist—Colin Hay, “I just don’t think I’ll ever get over you”, Ben Harper “Beloved One”, Tab Benoit’s “The Killing Floor”, John Mayer “Gravity”, Beastie Boys “C.A.S”, The Roots “Stomp”, Miles Davis “Blue in Green”, Coheed & Cambria “Feathers”, Soulfly “Prophecy”, Cody ChesnuTT “Til I Met Thee”, Foo Fighters “Everlong (Acoustic)”, Foo Fighters “Word Forward”, John Mayer “Who You Love”

Well, it’s been a while since we last blogged together. Yes, I missed you, as well. Much has happened since we last spoke. Thus, I’ll be separating this blog into parts. How many? I don’t know, yet. I’ve not planned that far in advance; a sign that I’m learning the culture here. I’ll finish this when I finish this. Insha’allah.

I have blog notes for days…see, I’m thinking of you all the time? Are you thinking of me? No? That’s ok, we must live our lives first, then give and glean from the relationships and experiences of others to gain and grow a whole life. (Alliteration is cool, insert Beavis and Butthead laugh.)

This last year, has been a lesson in that for sure. I am returning to a wholeness, and almost everything is in place. Formerly, I believed that doing for others was the way to become whole. While I still love to serve, it comes from a better place now. Just giving and letting go of that gift once it’s given, feels so much better. Giving freely also helps with forgiveness.

Well, enough of that soul discovery schtuff, on to the present…

Prior to the the Eid break we had a celebration at school. Eid al Adha is the Major Festival, it is also known as the the Greater Eid, or the Festival of the Sacrifice (all translations I tried to get through my very limited Arabic). Basically, it commemorates the end of the Hajj, with the worshipers arriving at the Mosque in Mecca. They circle the Kaaba seven times (Google it).

Here are the students participating in the ritual…

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Guess what the gentlemen in the picture teach…go ahead, guess. Incorrect, they teach sewing and cooking…Just kidding, yes, they teach P.E. And yes, they are two of the largest guys here. (Make your own Sasquatch joke—no wonder I can’t find shoes, and XXL is like a Large here.). In addition to celebrating the end of the Hajj (note the gigantic tray of chocolate—there’s a coffee table under there, two guys delivered this, a gift from a parent, and yes, that won’t be forgotten—wink wink), Eid al Adha marks the sacrifice Ibrahim (Abraham, depending on what side of the camel trail you’re on) was willing to offer to Allah. Allah requested Ibrahim sacrifice his first son, Ismael, to Him. (Don’t confuse your tales—not the whale hunter…hmmm, wail..whale? Interesting.) When Ibrahim complied willingly as an expression of love to his god, Allah spared the child, and a lamb was offered up instead. Pretty cool turn of events…unless your a sheep, of course. I wonder if they text their brothers in holiday suffering, the turkeys, in Canada and the US, “Yo, ur nxt, bro! Bah bah…” (Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians…eh!) Anyway, the celebration is huge and families that can afford it order a full sheep, cut it into thirds, give a third to a neighbor, a third to the poor, and keep the other third. Apparently, it’s also the time to go crazy and shop. The prices at the mall plummet for a week. I bought a tailored Pierre Cardin suit, regularly $490, for $130 (shirt and tie included). I’d show a pic, but I’ve just explained a holiday about humility and giving, the pic seems a bit vain, plus its a navy suit, who hasn’t seen one of those?

Here’s something culturally interesting…

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A women’s section and a men’s section of the parent visitors.  Of course, that’s only interesting to us. Normal, and expected here. We lost our bus and hall monitors from last year, and they were replaced with women. Women are not allowed in the school to work (though we have three awesome female western 1st grade teachers), so we have no hall monitors…so, the halls, and the playground, and the bathrooms, and the hiding places…all dangerous, and dirty. More pics, please!

MS safe 1

(Sorry, gotta play it safe.) That boy, everyday, smile, shake of the hand, and the cutest darn, “Good Morning, Mudeer Leeeee!” Makes my day. Funny what we look forward to. The idea that a 7 year-old can contribute to the state of mind of an adult with one phrase or gesture is a testament to the power of human relationships, and what educators do everyday. There is joy available everyday, my friends. Take a minute to appreciate it…think about it now. Find your joy…I don’t mind waiting…one thing, one joy. Feel it.

Ok, you back? Great. It’s good to see you smile. Don’t fight it, I saw that…so did the world.  The next pic is Hallway Futbol.

Hallway soccer safe

Usually, they play with a water bottle or some other piece of garbage. Today, they had a ball—a half-flattened and torn ball our kids would throw away, but a ball nevertheless. I brought them 3 mini balls to play with one day; I have one left. There are two mini-balls in Baniyas with Mr. Lee all over them. Oh, well.

The next picture represents the bane of my existence.

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Remember these? If you do, you probably remember pull tabs on beer, uh, soda cans. We call them click-clack balls, a weapon, dangerous, and forbidden at school—like suspended/expelled forbidden. Here, they’re called Thtick-Thtagga, toys, fun, and “mine, Mr., mine!” Well, we take them away…everyday, and they keep coming back. I suggested small punishments for bringing them since they are also forbidden at school, here. That fell through. So, I was keeping a collection, but then I saw a supervisor’s collection, and it occurred to me, why? Little triumphs are great, but don’t make little battles into wars. It’s just not worth it.

The next pic is “the Polite Cousins”, not their names (I won’t be publishing names), but how best to describe them.

cousins safe

(I do wish I could show you the kindness in their eyes, but I’m not sure their consent is good enough, and I’m not taking any chances. ) Great kids…LOTS of cousins here, LOTS…I mean, there are a lot of cousins in this school, this small country town. Did I mention Bawadi roughly translates to countryside? Cousins, lots of them. It seems most of the kids are related.  Is this thing on? Am I getting through here?

The last in this series is The Custodians.

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No , not a kooky sitcom about a group of custodians who moonlight as under-the-radar detectives solving crimes that soil the world (but, not a bad idea—hey, where IS Tony Shalhoub? He needs work.) These guys spend their days waiting to pick up after our students, who, as I said before, throw EVERYTHING on the ground. They deserve a hug.

Some local flavor…

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Yes, this is a good driver here–note, he’s not really on the ground, but stopped.  A bad one would have 3 wheels on the curb after cutting the line at the gas station by driving over the curb and around me. Well played, Hassan, Well played.

The next is funny because it happens all over the world…

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…misspelled signs. I think you can see the spelling error. Maybe they got the sign for cheap. Basically, it’s a dollar store….a  3.67 dirham store? (A dirham is worth $.27)

The next I’ve been encountering in many places on my walkabouts.

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These not so camouflaged “Rat Rock” traps appear quite frequently. They are quite large, as well. Unfortunately, the warnings are in English. No touch, kids, no touch. Tell boys not to play with rocks, try it. (Also, people think you’re strange when you take a picture of these.) Anyway, I think we’re safe, until the rats learn to read. I spent 4 hours in Ikea when a friend saw one inside, not sure if it was Emirati os Swedish, though.

The next is a sidewalk on Al Reem Island where I’ll probably live…

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…some day. The whole island is under construction, as just 10 years ago it was water. The picture is unique because the workers leave everything out…shovels, construction hats, scarves, everything, There doesn’t seem to be much theft here. A colleague left her Kindle on the plane, and when she went back to get it, saw a warehouse full of things left on the plane and at the airport. Of course, I walked around the island for about an hour and only saw one person walking on the street…so, one person running with bricks, a shovel, and a hardhat is going to look suspicious.

The next is my contribution to “bad dad jokes”…

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…no that is not to signal slow canoess, it’s the word “Slow” in Arabic…and, no, the sign doesn’t work.

Speaking of Al Reem and where I might live some day. I walked there from the hotel one hot, humid, wet wool blanket of a night. Did I mention it can get hot here?  First, my hotel, then Gate Towers (where I thought I was living), then Sun and Sky Tower (where I might be living)…

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I love the architecture here. Remember when you built crazy structures with Legos when you were young and some older sibling or other dream-crusher told you the building wouldn’t ever work. Well, they were wrong. Those buildings are here. The last is the view of the Corniche from the bridge to Al Reem.

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There’s no sidewalk on the bridge because you’re not supposed to walk it, so I had to act fast.

This next building is proof that your Lego dreams can come true (for children of the 50’s think Erector set, for children of the 40’s think Lincoln Logs on steroids)..

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This is the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC, of course—I’d go into all the AD-acronyms, but who has time for that?). The pointy building is the US Embassy, and the other substantial buildings in the foreground are the Embassies of Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. All a stone’s throw from each other…did I say that? Lame.

A few more random pics before I go…

The first is the helpful grocery basket from the Hypermarket.

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As you know sarcasm doesn’t translate well into the written word…although Shaw and Heller could do it (geniuses). This cart is responsible for ankle bruises on everyone over 5’9”. It’s just long enough to be helpful and just short enough to really irritate you. Everyone grabs one. That is, everyone that isn’t pushing a “trolley” (shopping cart) that has 4 turning wheels but will not go straight. This means, the Hypermarket is full of sideways rolling trolleys, skidding loaded pull carts, wandering short newbies, and the every-man-for- himself demolition derby philosophy. Did I mention I feel large here? Then why so many, “Oh Sawree, sir, so sawree!” What? You didn’t see me? Of course they see the giant SUVs flying up their backs at 99 mphs bouncing like a drunk Tigger on roller skates…but, not the quiet, unassuming guy in headphones behind them. (Winnie the Pooh fans, you feel me, I know!)

The next is my favorite.

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So, you can’t put your foot on the wall, but you can smoke and throw your cigarette on the ground. Or sell your womanly wares in front of the mall…yes, they have them here, too. What you think WE invented that? Read an ancient text..

The last is sunsets. Ok, maybe these are my favorites

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I pray I never tire of them. So far, I haven’t. Also, knowing that beauty occurs everyday, somewhere, for all of us is unifying. Etihad, Arabic for unity.

Again, I am amazed by what I’m learning. I did not put this life in place. There is no way I thought I’d be here one year ago.  A place of brightness, of warmth, of service, of compassion, of joy, of learning, of growth, of change. This is not a result of my work. This is a gift, and the result of some higher power, which I fully accept. I would have never admitted or considered that a year ago. I was wrong. I believe I needed this to understand, to see, to be open, to grow. You see, I’ve learned that if I make myself the higher power, then I have nowhere to turn for help…and everyone, EVERYONE, no matter how smart you think you are, needs help at one time or another. The last weekend of Eid, I went on an overnight desert safari with colleagues and new friends. I can’t begin to explain the impact of that experience. The conversation, the education, the bonding, I will never forget. (If you are reading this, my friends, I am humbled, and I am touched by your experience, your acceptance, and your love of life. Thank you for teaching me.)

WHEW! Sorry, one does get sappy and lumpy-throated from time to time. The Safari will be a post on its own. I’m still processing. Here’s a teaser pic of some dune-bashing…SO much fun…and our camp, and ok, ok, already…a camel.

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Oh yeah…one more picture…I feel dumb taking socks to the dry cleaner, so I discovered this in my room.

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It’s a sock cleaner…cool, huh! Wanna argue about that? Then why are my socks so clean?

You know how after a tough time in life some people say, “…but, I wouldn’t change a thing…” I don’t know if I’m there, yet. I do know that my heart is in repair and I owe that to you my friends and family from home, and to you my new friends here. I truly am blessed to have met the people I’ve met over the last year, and to have seen and learned so much. I would have never have picked this path; rather, it picked me, and I am grateful to have you with me. I hope the wonder never ceases.

Sincerely, with love and admiration,

Lee

P.S. Doc Golightly, thanks for that advice 25 years ago. I am returning to not letting the books get in the way of my learning.

Arrested! Or, Lost in the Hypermarket, or These are a few of my favorite Thinks, or, A SIGN WOULD BE NICE!

30 Sep

Music, The Clash “Lost in the Supermarket”, Radiohead “Paranoid Android”, Michael Franti & Spearhead “Oh My God”, John Mayer “In Repair”, Tool “Lipan Conjuring”, Coldplay “Don’t Panic”, Colin Hay “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You”, The Roots “Proceed”, Michael Frnati & Spearhead “Pray for Grace”, The Roots “The Lighthouse”, A Perfect Circle “The Stranger”, Julie Andrews “These are a few of my favorite things” (Kidding, you know I don’t do show tunes).

Hi! I’m back! I’ve been very busy. Our School Improvement Plan has to be reformatted, edited, and a new Vision must be written…like you care…I’ve been busy. However, I’m here now, so, let’s talk.

My plan was to highlight the ordinary things we take for granted, and note how they’re different here, in The Dhabi! (Remember, when “The Dhabi” goes international and you hear that little shrimp Ryan Seacrest say it, you’ll know, you heard it here, first! The Dhabi! Yeah!–oh, by the way, Seacrest’s radio show plays on local radio here; some things are inescapable…death, taxes, and Ryan Seacrest!)

In my expose’ on the ordinary things in Abu Dhabi (meaning Many Gazelles—of which I haven’t seen one!), you will learn some strange things…so please enjoy.

The idea was to make the Abu Dhabi (the capital) an oasis, while making the roadways and neighborhoods blend with nature. So you have bridges on super highways like this.

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Beautiful work, right? No doubt done by the ten thousand busloads of non-Emiratis that block my way to school every morning. Let’s just say, certain groups of people should now be allowed to drive. If you’ve ever driven in Michigan, you get me. They’re all here. Highways are lined in 4 lanes, but drive in 6. Most cars have scrapes on the sides.

Here’s what I see every morning

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Sorry for the blur, I was shaking with excitement that traffic was clear. (Check the reflection on the hood of my bad ass whip, THE LANCER!)

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This is my school! Cool, huh? More like a compound. All the schools are surrounded by 12-18 foot walls…not a bad idea, really. Also, just inside that gate is the security guard post. Once inside, I seek out the elixir of all educators…coffee. However, it’s a bit different here! Here’s how I get it, every morning, without a word, perfectly mixed, and with a smile.

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Yes, coffee, tea, water, juice…He’s kinda shy, so I had to trick him.

Here’s some of the boys…

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the little one in the distance to the right of frame with his head cocked is like Uncle Hector from Breaking Bad; he doesn’t say much, but when his bell rings, there’s trouble. They can wear those kandooras to school or each class is color-coded, as well. By the way, “Baniyas” the town where I work, is loosely translated to “countryside”, so the fact that these boys still have shoes on is a minor miracle…thank you very much! Wanna see a country-style home here? I don’t know why I ask, of course you do.

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Ummm, yeah! Those are modest country houses. If you work for the Army or Police, you get a house and a car. If you graduate from high school, you get a stipend of about $100,000 to build a house. If your family has money—which, it does—you finance another half a mill to build a palace. However, the money, like the oil, won’t last forever…which is why we’re here.

How about more kids? Here’s tabor (tuh-boor, roll that r! Do it!), kinda like Reveille. We meet every morning and the whole school assembles for some half-hearted exercising, the singing of the national anthem, and prayer…did I mention it’s like 90 degrees at 7:30am?

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Notice, picture taken from the shade…as if it matters… “Mistah Lee, why you so wet?” Read the note to self, that sarcasm and wit are not really appreciated here… “I’m kinda hot, Shokran.” Wow, that pic is bad…maybe it’s the heat. Did I mention…

Here’s a sign of the struggle we face. Tell me what’s wrong with this assignment?

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Um, yeah..this 5th grader is hunched on the ground, booted from class, in utter brain clench…NO idea what to do. Let’s remember he’s an English learner. It’s hard to make out, but the words to find at the bottom are in lower case, the words in puzzle…all caps. Kid is totally lost. Once we worked through that, Ali Hassan Omar Ahmed Rababa Alsayed was really happy. (Not his real name, but close—almost everyone in the family is honored in a name here.)

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So, I punch out…yes, EVERYONE punches in/out…and, after a day of that, here’s me.

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Frazzled…so, back to normal things not so normal…an outlet

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individual switch for each one. Cool! 220, lick it, I dare you!

Ping Pong, we have….

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Ping Pong Premier League Championship with Ping Pong Arena and spectators…I’ve never been..it’s at the mall…

Homework…I have lots of it

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My home office, 31st floor, by the pool…Just so you don’t think it’s all fun and games, I found the only self serve laundromat in a city of 1.7 million….

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Actually, you put your clothes in and he’s so busy, he doesn’t wait for you if you should happen into the nearby Sheraton for a beer to put you stuff in the dryer. Did I mention he’s the only one? Why? The Emiratis do dry cleaning, or pick up and delivery, and everyone else does their own.

Speaking of the Sheraton, Happy hour.

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EIGHT hours…really? Is that necessary?

Here’s a bank waiting room. Not different, except that when they need to deliver mail, they call your mobile, and then come find you…seriously…creepy.

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So, the customer service guy let me keep this pic, but warned me strongly against another.

Here’s the house of a lucky young lady who’s getting married…she didn’t pick him, daddy did, so the party is huge…

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There are no birthday celebrations for Emiratis, due to religious beliefs, so the wedding is rather stellar. I have two daughters…let’s go with birthdays. (Of which, my baby turns 16 this Thursday. To say it’s not hard to see and hug her is an understatement for which there is no superlative and I have nothing clever. I just love her so much…so, so much. Happy Birthday, my beautiful, brilliant girl! I love you everyday, with every breath, forever!)

Ok…gimme a second to recover.

So, fountains! There are many of them…here’s one

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Gas station…except they’re all full service, and gas is about $2.10 a gallon, which would explain why the V8 Four wheel drives here rule the road….and the supercars.

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Ever pump gas in full pants, shirt, and hat in 106 degree weather, and hope you get tipped? Stay in school kids, study hard.

Oh, guess what!? I found shoes!

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Not funny. Guess who found guys to play basketball with and has no shoes for it? Yeah, me! Back to the Gepetto to get some shoes made, I guess.

So, the supermarket…the LULU HYPERMARKET! If ever there was a name for what this place is, HYPERMARKET is perfect. It is NEVER slow. Some people in an extreme hurry, some just wandering around in the air conditioning. Whole families of short people stopping right in front of you to gaze at candy bar displays. “They’re candy bars! Walk!”…kidding, you know me…never a word.

So, I started snapping pictures to show you how this place makes Walmart, no Sam’s Club/Costco (whatev!), look like a 7/11…and suddenly while jamming out and nodding my head to the music, I get tapped on the shoulder by a security guard.

“Uh, sorry, was I singing?”

“No.”

“Dancing?”

“No.”

“Ummmm, I don’t understand.”

“No pictures here!”, then he points to the huge sign above my head. A sign I’ve walked under a dozen times since I’ve been here. No pictures in the super-, uh, hypermarket. It turns out the ones I got were lame anyway. It’s huge, just believe it. It’s a hypermarket.

Here are the scissors in the school section

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(10-inch blades…$9.53) Pray that the kid who buys these breaks his wrist hoisting them into his backpack in the morning, or maybe the nanny will…sorry, educator humor can be dark.

One cool thing at the hypermarket is the live pasta guy—so much better than dead pasta guy! He makes it to order right in front of you. So, I did four miles on the treadmill and tortured my hamstrings with kettle bell squats, so I thought I’d ruin it all with this…

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Fed me for two days,….for $6, hey, it’s veggie? Nice!

From the “Oh, a sign would be nice” category. There’s a beautiful health club here. Weights, cardio, sauna, steam, jacuzzi, etc. However, it would be NICE to post that the sauna and steam room preferred dress is shorts…yeah, learned that the embarrassing way. No pic, ’nuff said.

Now, for the visually stimulated…hotel “Arabic appetizer plate”

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And, of course, for the slow of wit…hey, it’s an Equal Opportunity Blog!

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Doin’ Z.A. Butt! (You know you just sang that song in your head…and yes, “sang” is correct as there is no helping verb—you people, yeesh!)

So, I posted a quote on Facebook earlier in the week, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”. Change? We need it. Growth, it’s the same thing. If we act as if we know everything, we can never change and grow. If I had acted the master about this opportunity and not trusted the universe to take care of me, I would have never done it. The old Lee would have said it was a bad idea and spent a lot of time trying to convince you why I was right. I wasn’t. It took me a long time to learn that there is no valuable experience in life that doesn’t require a little fear and discomfort. I’ve had plenty of both since embarking on this journey, but it pales in comparison to the growth I am experiencing. Today, I sat in a room full of Arabic educators looking to me to help fix their issues when they don’t believe they can be fixed. I was comfortable in saying, “I don’t have that answer, yet. I only know that we’ll try and we’ll learn from that. If it works, we move on. If not, we try again.” Their response; a scattered, thoughtful chorus, “Insha’Allah!”…then, silence. Translation… “God willing.” Isn’t that the way? I am touched. Everyday.

I love and miss you,

Lee

❤ TMD, my child.