Tag Archives: teachers abroad

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

9 Sep

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

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

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

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

 Frou Frou – Let Go

We cannot selectively numb…”

Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort”

Brene Brown

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

Eckhart Tolle A New Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The price of being your own expert.

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

Less this...

Less this…

...more this.

…more this.

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

Created all on its own.

Created all on its own.

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

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

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

Lifelines.

Lifelines.

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

004

Home.

004

Home, as well. See Chicago?

162

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

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

They're heee-eeerrrre...

They’re heee-eeerrrre…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Night Putting…you know, putting at night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The setting at the wedding.

The setting at the wedding.

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

The Word according to Bob…

One Love! One Heart!

Let’s get together and feel all right!

Love.

Lee

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Take a Watauqua with me, Unfortunate is the new inspiration for change, or Any kind of Yankee in Sheikh Zayed’s Majlis

29 Jan

Playlist–Beastie Boys-Groove Holmes, Jane’s Addiction-Strays, Gin Blossoms-Mrs. Rita, Soundgarden-Eyelid’s Mouth, Third-Eye Blind-Semi-Charmed Life, The Police-Message in a Bottle, Bill Withers-Grandma’s Hands, Michael Franti & Spearhead-East to the West, The Skies We Built-Girls with Accents, Fuel-Mary Pretends, Talib Kweli-On My Way, Jack Johnson-Never Know, System of a Down-Highway Song, The The-August & September, Otis Clay-Since I’ve Been Loving You, Quicksand-Dine Alone, Deftones-Rx Queen

The playlist is actually in reverse order…and quite diverse. Try emptying your i-Whatever and re-sync-ing…you get a cool new mix. (Older readers please disregard, or call a whippersnapper)

My shadow’s
Shedding skin, and
I’ve been picking
Scabs again.
I’m down,
Digging through,
My old muscles,
Looking for a clue.
I’ve been crawling on my belly,
Clearing out what could’ve been.
I’ve been wallowing in my own confused,
And insecure delusions;
For a piece to cross me over,
Or a word to guide me in.
I wanna feel the changes coming down.
I wanna know what I’ve been hiding in!
My shadow!
Change is coming through my shadow.
My shadow’s shedding skin…Tool 46 & 2

Watauqua—a somewhat philosophical, and oft times meandering, discussion with one’s self while walking great distances. Not to be confused with Chatauqua, which, again, might be philosophical. See Robert Pirsig—word made up by me! Lee…’cause I’ll do that! That’s how I roll! Dangerously makin’ up words! Yeah!

Metamorphosis, evolution, enlightenment…call it what you like, change is everywhere, it is inevitable, and sorry to say, YOU are not in control of it. For years, I thought I was. The only real change I am in charge of, is mine. If you want to influence change, you can. If you want to help people change, you can. If you want to join in a change, you can. If you want to impose change…you are in for a rough one. There is a hard road there. Impose, fight, yell, scream, push, and muscle a change and then come to the realization that you may have changed nothing you planned on changing, but yourself. You see, it’s better to embrace and embody, and em-something else (for stylistic repetition points), change if you really want to make change. (Not the dollars and sense kind, smart—).

Anyhoo, here I am in this massive change place. The country is 42 years old. I am older than it! That’s cray cray (ask a younger person), and there is so much changing here that you can literally see it happening…everywhere!

I recently posted some pics from our campsite. At about 4:30am and going until about noon, 777s fly in full of people about every 20 minutes. The volume of people coming here is staggering. Those coming here for work already have a job, and most of them are here to help with come kind of change.

A serene scene upon waking up and peering out of my tent. A "wow" moment.

A serene scene upon waking up and peering out of my tent. A “wow” moment.

You know what? Before I forget…the next time you see something intricate or beautiful or unique or awesome (the non-Jeff Spiccoli version of the word), stop, look at it and just say “Wow”. Don’t name it, don’t be an expert, don’t smartphone google it, just look at it and say “Wow!” You’ll be glad you did. Or, you’ll hate it. Who knows…until you try.

The tide is out and these little fellas are racing for their lives.

The tide is out and these little fellas are racing for their lives.

Yes, I'm sappy. Love is a beautiful thing. This little left turn maker showed me.

Yes, I’m sappy. Love is a beautiful thing. This little left turn maker showed me.

Fascinating.

Fascinating.

Again, what’s the point? I don’t know. I do know this. I have learned so much over the last year and a half, and I can’t explain what life has taught me since I’ve been in Dhabi (dropping the “the”…yeah Facebook! You feel me!–ummm, again for the less social media experienced, it’s not THE Facebook.)

So, come on a walk with me for a look at change…as I see it. Those of you considering major life changes like moving 7700 miles away to work in education when there are jobs down the street, stay-tuned…I’ll explain why you’re about to embark on the craziest, coolest journey you’ve ever imagined (Gee, I hope it’s that good, anyway.)

Before we begin, take off those Birkenstocks! It ain’t that kind of walk! We’re in the concrete jungle today. Also, you’ll notice that I don’t take pictures of people. I wish I could, I came upon these three Pakistani guys all standing in the Pakistani squat (google it-amazing balance and flexibility), and they were stoic with rich dark skin and jet black hair and beards, and this look of content on their faces. It was touching, but no picture. Most people here are modest, and will oblige, but these are my neighbors, not people on exhibit, so I feel strange…though, maybe one day. As for taking pictures of the amazing colors of women and their clothes, and their varying levels of cover…nu-uh, not happenin’…I like my freedom, and publishing pictures of strangers who are women…yeah, illegal. There are thousand of expat women of all exotic kinds, but not worth the risk. The city is very metropolitan, colorful, and beautiful…let’s look.

Here is the building, and the surrounding structures on the island where I live. I’m told the island was natural, but I walk the “coast of it almost everyday, and most of it is framed by gigantic concrete blocks placed perfectly together, forming a ring around the island. The blocks are a perfect path for walking or running, however, they are joined by big Wendell Davis career-ending seams, so one must watch where one is going. (Like that reference Bears fans!? Da Bearssss!)

Sky Tower!  My home.

Sky Tower! My home.

View from the "coast" of Reem Island.

View from the “coast” of Reem Island. My building is the tallest on the left. The Gate Towers is next door, very cool.

View across canal to Maryah Island. Apparently, they didn't dig the channel deep enough. That wall of black is the bank and you can see the water left on the bottom.

View across canal to Maryah Island. Apparently, they didn’t dig the channel deep enough. That wall of black is the bank and you can see the water left on the bottom.

The Cleveland Clinc. A beautiful building. Google it.

The Cleveland Clinc. A beautiful building. Google it.

So, I thought these were millions of water drops, but they were too big. Bent over and snapped a pic...cat paws! Freaked!

So, I thought these were millions of water drops, but they were too big. Bent over and snapped a pic…cat paws! Freaked!

Here are some examples of the old and the new, and just how quickly the change is happening here.

Typical.Old Middle Eastern meets new Middle Eastern.

Typical.Old Middle Eastern meets new Middle Eastern.

This ornate old building is next to...

This ornate old building is near …

...this shiny green glass and chrome beast.

…this shiny green glass and chrome beast.

Bad perspective on my part. The beige building is half a block closer to me. The small base and wider upper structure is typical of old school Middle Eastern.

Bad perspective on my part. The beige building is half a block closer to me. The small base and wider upper structure is typical of old school Middle Eastern.

It's a house...really. I need a better camera (that's not a phone) to show you the engraving. Machine probably, but not cheap!

It’s a house…really. I need a better camera (that’s not a phone) to show you the engraving. Machine probably, but not cheap!

All cell phone shops. A mile of them. Funny names...007, M5, Prince, Princess, Unity, Boss, King, Super, Deluxe, Best, and of course, Phone Phone Store.

All cell phone shops. A mile of them. Funny names…007, M5, Prince, Princess, Unity, Boss, King, Super, Deluxe, Best, and of course, Phone Phone Store.

So, yes, change doth occur…here, where you are, and in you. I think we all agree it’s a good thing, until it happens to us and “against our will”. A funny phrase. Really, your will wants change, it’s your ego that fears it. Recently, I posted something cool I read from Mastin Kipp, he wrote:

If life is confusing right now, if you feel like you don’t know what’s next, if you feel totally lost – this is a moment to celebrate! It means you are out beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone and that you are GROWING! You are expanding and you are starting to live a new kind of life that requires a new mindset – one of Faith that the future will be better than the past, because you will create it.

Comfort zones. Decide for yourself, are they positive or negative. I’m not interested in an argument about it, but the discussion could be interesting. Here’s an example from my recent life. This is something that would have never happened if I hadn’t moved to a TOTALLY foreign place.

My car broke down about a week ago. (No biggie, just a hose.) HOWEVER, the ONLY freakin’ way to get your car fixed in Dhabi (see how I did that) is to go to the armpit of the zit on the pimple that lives on the wart that formed on the parasite that is leeching life out of the armpit of a camel carcass drying and putrefying in the desert sun. Otherwise known as the industrial city of Mussafah. Now, I’ve been hard on Mussafah in the posts and on The Facebook (for my elders), and the mayor caught wind of it (only Allah knows how, the smell there has a color and it settles on you—ever buy gas station chicken, then walk out and still smell it? Yeah, like that, only NOT CHICKEN!). So, the Mayor asked me to talk nicely about the cultural and exciting things going on in Mussafah, like the Art Hub, an artist residence, instructional complex, and gallery, and the…uh, the, well, the Art Hub is nice. Not even caffeine pushing who–, uh escorts, Starbuck’s has a Mussafah store. There is one thing the Mayor has correct…there are lots of colors. In fact, I have heard those who eat there see many colors coming up from their stomachs shortly after eating…hey, Indian food is great, BUT DO NOT EAT IT if the raw meat is piled on a plate in the window next to an ashtray, a Styrofoam coffee cup, and the dry crusty elbow of one of 15 guys sweating and leaning on the counter in a restaurant the size of a phone booth! Sorry, Mayor, I calls it likes I sees it!

Isaac Hayes with a leaky hose...radiator...keep it clean.

Isaac Hayes with a leaky hose…radiator…keep it clean…old, dead plate, no worries.

SO, one must go there to get a car repaired. It is an industrial city, so that’s the place. In my old life, I would have been pissed, and stompy stompy, and life is unfair, and can you believe what I have to go through…all of that. Why? For what? Does it fix my car? No, it does not.

So, I called the guy I bought my car from (a Jordanian who worked with autistic kids, but needed more money, so he fixes and restores Jaguars—sad statement folks) because he gave me a FREE 6 month warranty on EVERYTHING on the car. (Grand Prize Auto in Mussafah—see him!) He sends a flatbed tow truck. Amir, the Syrian truck owner picks me and Isaac Hayes (that’s the car’s name—it’s triple black and very smooth-duh! What else would you name it? Barry White if it was an SUV) up and I ride to Mussafah with him. We had a nice talk. We both have daughters. We both miss them, and we both wants what’s best for them. All of that in about 50 words each.

It’s interesting to make conversation when you don’t have the same language. You learn very quickly what is essential to your statement. As humans we strive to communicate. As Americans we get frustrated…for no good reason. Everyone wants to communicate, we have no monopoly on language. We are all human, let’s communicate…kumbayah, sing it!…you get me, I know you do. In fact, I fancied myself a patient guy, always, but I think it was for selfish reasons. Now, I’m patient because it’s out of my hands. I don’t control the speed in which the world moves…and I’m glad.

So, Amir delivers me to the armpit of he–, uh Mussafah, but the garage is closed. It’s only 8:30 and nothing in open until 10,… “then maybe we to close by 12 to eat, then to relax, and maybe 3 we open, Insha’Allah…” That’s just the way it goes. Fight it all you want; you can’t impose change (oh yeah, stayin’ topical!).

So, I’m stuck in Mussafah and I have to get to work. I’m about 4 blocks off the main drag, otherwise known as Hellrace 2000, and there is no cab in sight. The road is lined with about 400 day laborers standing in front of various size trucks and heavy machinery. ALL of them in off white or light blue churidar, which are kind of like pajamas; loose fitting pants, and a long shirt over the top, and most in turbans or fez. Me? I’m in my school clothes…suit and tie. It really was a kodak moment (yes, I’m old), but I thought I better not.

This is day laborer street. Snapped in the afternoon, so most of them are working for the day. Imagine dump trucks, hauling trucks, cranes, front loaders, backhoes, bulldozer...all lining the street waiting for work. Add 400-500 men eager to work. Wow moment.

This is day laborer street. Snapped in the afternoon, so most of them are working for the day. Imagine dump trucks, hauling trucks, cranes, front loaders, backhoes, bulldozer…all lining the street waiting for work. Add 400-500 men eager to work. Wow moment.

I find a taxi on the curb of Hellrace 2000 street and he swoops in to pick me up. How he knew I needed a ride out of there…? Must have been psychic. He wasn’t, just Bangladeshi and familiar with what to expect in Mussafah at 8:30…and it isn’t a well-fed white guy in a tie and hair gel. I tell him where I’m going and he gives me the look everyone who says they work in Baniyas gets. The “no, really, WHERE do you WANT to go…” I shrug it off and he hits the gas. He takes one turn and I’m lost. In about 5 minutes I release an audible, “Nooooo waaaayyyyy!?”… “Ah, sawrrry sirrrr?” “Oh, me, sorry. You just showed me an amazing shortcut in and out of Mussafah! Thank you, Privantharumvarnidamjinmum!” “Welcome, sir.”

Now, I don’t want to preach too much, but once again. There is no such thing as luck. You know how I ever first learned about the UAE? In my leaner days I played indoor men’s club volleyball at Indiana University with a guy who played for the UAE team. He was always wearing the colors, so I finally asked him and he explained. I forgot his name…Mohammed, or Zayed, or Khalifa, I’m sure. Anyway, why did I meet him? What about my upbringing rich in cultural experience and practice at rolling an R and making the letters that sound like you’re clearing your throat? Why did I have that? Also, my car? Super minor break down, I meet Amir. Two dads, away from their daughters share a moment. Then, Privantharumvarnidamjinmum (thank you copy and paste) shows me a safer, quicker way which also ties together a few main roads for the map in my head. After school, one of the guys just happens to be going to Mussafah (probably to the Art Hub—NOT! Childish, I know), he walks by my office as I’m discussing it, and says, “Mr. Lee, Mussafah? Now? Yalla!” Let’s go! What timing!!! (Not luck, gifts, order out of what we perceive as chaos…Order…Higher…Power)

Me and Fouzy! He rocks! We work together. He is the kindest gentlest guy. Took me out of his way I contend, he says he was going there anyway.

Me and Fouzy! He rocks! We work together. He is the kindest gentlest guy. Took me out of his way I contend, he says he was going there anyway.

I get there, there and this is what I see.

"Yeah, I thought it was the radiator hose, Samir?" "Sir, no problem, sir. I make sure, just to check no beeg problem. Car ready 20 minutes." Really 40, but who cares. It was a good day...Cue the Ice Cube track!

“Yeah, I thought it was the radiator hose, Samir?” “Sir, no problem, sir. I make sure, just to check no beeg problem. Car ready 20 minutes.” Really 40, but who cares. It was a good day…Cue the Ice Cube track!

Of course, it’s before three and Samir is at nap time, or something, and his more ambitious brother, Other-mir, (not his real name, but funny) assures me they will fix it fast and that he is very angry with his brother for making me come to Mussafah. (No, they don’t live there…no one does…no one with internet, I hope.) I just happen to have my book with me, and I read this…”Through [fear, greed, and desire] you misinterpret every situation, leading to misguided action designed to rid you of fear and satisfy your need for more, a bottomless hole that can never be filled.” (Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth)

More is a bottomless hole that can never be filled. As I’m sitting in my suit, on an industrially dusty broken window unit air-conditioner in the afternoon desert sun and the wind of Mussafah adheres to me, and the incessant horns blare, and the trucks kick up more stink dust, I still find peace. What is there to be upset about? What do I need more of that I must have right now? What fear might be causing an anger reflex? Really, isn’t there a “wow” moment even here, in Mussafah, while my car is in pieces, and my mechanic’s brother is whisper screaming at him on the phone? Who am I that this is not acceptable for me? In fact, it is totally acceptable, and that thought is what calms us. Who I am is not my broken car, is not my dirty suit, is not me the administrator, is not me the golfer, is not me the guitar player, is not me the songwriter, is not even me the father. First, I am me, and I choose which of those extensions define me. They all do in parts, but when my ego makes decisions for me based on those extensions, then I have let me go and I’ve let ego take over. Identity is full of meaningless labels. Shoes do not make the man. I want to live my real life, not a conceptualized reality.

What does this have to do with living and working (notice the order) abroad? For me, this move is what it took to jostle me out of a conceptualized reality and into a real life. While there is plenty of glamor and glitz and fakery here, there is even more opportunity to meet cultures head on…no books or movies…smells, tastes, sounds, sights…first hand…real life. This may not be for everyone, but it is working thus far for me.

For those looking to come here and be educators, here are some things to think about…we were told you’re interested in hearing it. So…here goes.

This is NOT an English speaking country. MANY people speak it, but there is NO plan to EVER lose Arabic. Keep that in mind. Chances are, your students, and their parents, will speak very little English. So, screaming “sit down” or “come back” or “be quiet” or “no stab with pencil” or “use a turn signal” will fall on deaf ears. They won’t understand it…and turn signals are just here because they like colored lights…no function.

My School! Love it!

My School! Love it!

Think about your teaching life. What phrases/words do you use most? LEARN THEM IN ARABIC! Also, if you’re not good with names, try harder! Names are a source of pride, as the should be, and “Hey You” will not get respect. Get a technique. Most of our boys have two names because there are 10 others in class with the same first name. You probably told them you’re good in classroom management in the interview. Are you? Really? No, for real? Ok, now try it when NO ONE speaks English…or the names are Said, Saeed, Zayed, Saher, Saqer, Talal, Rashed (not Rasheeed, Rashid), and 5 Mohammeds. Also, do you really do project-based learning? Not once…all the time. That’s the idea here. MAKE YOUR PLANS NOW. Design some projects that can be adapted to any age, and to boys and/or girls. Keep in mind…no pigs, no dogs, and people should be covered. Modesty.

Al Bawadi crew rolls hard for Bus Duty!

Al Bawadi crew rolls hard for Bus Duty!

I don’t want to scare anyone because this is an amazing career choice, but keep in mind what they told you in the interview…the country is 42 years old; we have high schools older than that. They are trying on reform strategies like a wine-soaked bridezilla (with good intention), so your line about “flexibility” and your example that nailed it in the interview…yeah, remember that. Oh, accountability is real here. If you say you can do it, we’ll be expecting to see it. They also told you it’s a very “top-down” society here, and you probably said, “I’m cool with that.” Remember that, too. There are bosses. They are in charge. They are not unreasonable, but very few people, including your colleagues will jump on board your complain-o-train. If you hold on to a bad day or a bad event from the day, learn to let it go. If it can’t be changed, then let it go.

The expat teachers here take very good care of each other here. You can always vent with them…and you will. It’s natural. Remember, at the end of everyday, you came here to teach…and the point of every teaching life is the kids. They are coming to you to help them build an amazing nation. They have the resources and the personnel and they are interested in adding you to that list. How will you treat their children?

I love my EMTs, they all work really hard E-VER-Y-DAY, but everyday, or maybe later that evening as you’re walking through an immaculate and lushly landscaped canal-side park, or on the beach, or just sitting on your balcony as the warm desert air washes over you, you’ll find that bright or funny spot during the day, and you’ll go back tomorrow and do it again…because you love kids, because you love teaching, and because you love what you do for you…and this, here, in Dhabi, is what you do for you.

Love,

Lee

Random advice pic of the day...if your dryer lint has age lines in like a tree...then change it!

Random advice pic of the day…if your dryer lint has age lines in like a tree…then change it!