How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Earl Grey Tea is as Good as a Georgia Driver's License, It Seems

Today I was stopped at one of those God awful driver’s license check roadblocks. But I was stopped by a very GORGEOUS Georgia State Patrolman. I swear he had the prettiest smile and teeth I have ever seen. In addition to this lovely patrolman, there were about four other patrolmen milling about (They weren’t so cute.. and why do they ALL leave every patrol car's blue lights flashing at driver's license roadblocks? One set of lights will do. I promise. We don't need six flashing sets of lights. What if I were an epileptic?). 

I stop the car, roll down my window, and Mr. Pretty Smile Patrolman flashes his pearly whites and ever so politely asks to see my license.

 BACKGROUND INFO: I carry all my stuff around in a huge bag lady Barnes & Noble tote. It contains saline for my contacts, my journal, a notebook, my ever present book,  a book light, my recent copy of Sun magazine, three pens, two highlighters, pair of emergency glasses, teabags, sanitizing wipes, camera, cell phone charger, bottle of water, lip glosses in four colors.. Well, you get the picture: I carry a LOT of shit around with me. My teeny tiny wallet was somewhere in that mess.

My mom, who bless her heart was in the passenger seat, pulls my bag out of the back seat and starts rummaging in the tote for my wallet. She keeps saying, “You don’t have it.” I keep insisting I do have it. I tell the waiting patrolman, “I do have it,” and I grab the tote from mom and start pulling everything out one item at a time, dumping everything in Mom’s lap. Cars are lining up behind me. The patrolman says, “I’ll just check your tag while you look” and he walks to the back of my vehicle. I am still pulling stuff out of my tote and I can’t find my wallet. Anywhere. 

Mr. Patrolman comes back to my window and by this time I am frustrated and embarrassed. I tell him. “I’ll just pull over to the side. I know I have it.” He  says, “Look, just show me something.. anything so my boss will think I saw it.” I hold up an Earl Grey teabag, he smiles and said, “Works for me. Have a good day, M’am,” and waves me on. 

After I roll up the window, Mom states, “He sure had a pretty smile. Very nice teeth too.” I agree and hand her the Earl Grey teabag for safekeeping.

Mom and I then stop off I-75 at  Garden Ridge in Stockbridge, Georgia. For those who are Garden Ridge virgins, Garden Ridge is decorating Mecca.  It is a huge home and garden store that makes me spend all kinds of money I don’t have. It has everything: six foot tall tin coats of armor, sunglassed pink flamingos, electric tennis racket bug zappers, ceramic smiling frogs, cat shaped bird houses, big bellied lawn Buddhas, seven aisles of throw pillow (yes.. seven aisles), and framed "art" of varying likenesses of James Dean and Audrey Hepburn. 

 I only buy one container of bamboo scented oil, a  dog shaped wall hanging, a lime green fleece to cover a bulletin board, and a bag of hummus chips and a bag of tomato/basil chips (yep.. they have food too!). And when I swipe my credit card at the checkout the cashier doesn't even ask to see my bag of Earl Grey tea..

Monday, February 25, 2013

First ADEC School Faculty Meeting: September 13, 2012

Today I was cleaning out a pile of papers that I unceremoniously dumped when I unpacked upon arriving home in December. I found a little notebook in which I took notes at every faculty meeting in Al Ain. I'm weird like that. I carry a small notebook around with me wherever I go and I write diligently about everything. Upon discovery of this particular notebook today, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I opened it and read the entry from my first ever school faculty meeting at Al Burooj Girls School. If you have ever taught with ADEC, you can probably identify with the following entry.

September 13 2012 
A faculty meeting was called for 12:30. Students have been dismissed early. The meeting room is packed with women as there are no males allowed on campus. The principal is in front of the room seated at a desk. She is speaking, in Arabic, quite forcefully, and I don’t understand one word she's saying. I peep at the other Western teachers. The ones who were here last year sit politely with their hands folded in their laps. The newbie Western teachers look a bit panicked. One Arabic teacher who speaks English tries to translate into English what the principal is saying.

        I gather that Cycle 1 and 2 students are to be dismissed at 1:30 and teachers can leave at 2:00. We are told that Cycle 3 teachers can leave at that time too, but ADEC (Abu Dhabi Education Council) informed us new teachers that Cycle 3 dismissal would be at 3:10 everyday, and that Cycle 3 teachers are to stay until 4 p.m. Guess ADEC forgot to tell my principal this.

     It is very noisy with the principal talking, Arabic teachers trying to talk over her, and a teacher trying to translate for the non-Arabic speaking teachers. The principal pounds loudly on the table to get the attention of the Arabic teachers. This works for about two minutes, then the Arabic teachers get loud again, so she starts pounding on the table and yelling again. I look over at another Western teacher. From her expression I can see that the constant yelling and pounding is giving her a headache. She keeps pinching the bridge of her nose. One of the Arabic teachers claps loudly and the room quiets down again. Seems the Cycle 1 and 2 Arabic teachers are arguing vehemently with the principal. Six women are talking angrily at once. The principal is trying to talk over them. The principal screams, someone else claps her hands, it gets a little quiet, then the noise levels start to slowly re-build, and the screaming starts again. This goes on throughout the meeting.

      I look over at another Western teacher seated near me. She is scratching her head, staring off into space, a slight grimace on her face. The translator tells us that the principal is talking about six committees that are to be formed. Each teacher is expected to join at least one. I have no idea what the committees are. I now know what it is like to feel alien. As soon as the principal stops speaking, a loud debate ensues. The voices grow louder and louder, but then all of a sudden the noise take a sharp turn and the shouting voices grow softer, evolving into soft laughter and giggles. Massive platters of food are carried into the room.

      I think things have calmed down but then suddenly  a few of the Emirati teachers start shouting at the principal. The principal again pounds on the desk and starts shouting over the shouting, so everyone seems to be shouting. Now I’m getting a headache and the room is getting warm. I want to take off my thin cardigan, but know I can’t because I am wearing a short sleeved top under my cardigan. No bare arms allowed. The translator tells us that principal wants us to present small gifts to students for good behavior. The yelling and screaming starts again. This is turning into a Twilight Zone episode.

     I hear the word “ADEC” clearly spoken a few times. The principal appears angry, as do some of the Arabic teachers. I get the feeling that the Arabic teachers are not happy with some directive passed down from ADEC. The Arabic teachers start talking even louder. The screaming crescendos. Then, all of sudden the meeting is apparently over and the Arabic teachers get up and converge en masse upon the platters of food. The food platters are topped with flowers; white lilies and brown tinged drooping red roses. The food is mounded underneath the dying flowers. The women start piling their plates high, grabbing the flowers, pushing each other. I have no idea what has just occurred.

     I sit off to the side in safety with the rest of the Western teachers. I gape openly at the melee, not quite believing my eyes. An Arabic teacher comes over to us clutching a plate indicating that we should go prepare ourselves a plate of food. I am not quite ready to have my arm gnawed off in a battle over rice and goat. I shake my head and protest that I am not hungry. The rest of the Western teachers do the same. The principal waddles over, offering small plates filled with sweet cookies, dates, and chocolates and places the plates before us. We thank her and nibble on the treats. Some of the Arabic teachers start leaving, clutching wilted flowers and Saran wrap covered plastic plates. That’s our cue that we can finally go home.

      On a sheet of paper that I have been keeping notes on, I write “WTF just happened?” in large red letters.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Old/New Beginnings: Back to Kidjail

I woke up this morning at 7:30 a.m to the sound of a steady hard rain fall. The temperature had dropped a bit and the bedroom was cool. I smelled Jim's fresh brewed coffee coming from the kitchen, and then I snuggled back under the comforter and was immediately pulled back into a profound deep peaceful sleep. A sleep that lasted until noon. I need a sleep like that about once a month. Everyone does. We'd probably all get along a lot better, crime rates would drop, and anti-depressant sales would plunge. I am a huge sleep advocate. That's what's wrong with the world. We aren't getting enough sleep.

 I start a new job March 1st. Seems I am destined to teach juvenile teen boys for some reason. My life keeps getting pulled back in that direction.  I am excited and apprehensive about this new journey. I know I can do the job. I did it for eight years. And really, boys are so much easier to deal with than girls. Boys get pissed at you, blow up, and the next day it's a brand new day. Girls hold grudges. Forever.  And they have complete emotional breakdowns that I have never understood.  

I'd rather teach in a public school, but right now teaching in a juvenile facility will free up more personal hours to spend with my mom, visit my dad, and take care of other personal issues. I will get off work every afternoon and I'll be done for the day. No field trips, no football games, no parent/teacher conferences. Of course, this also means an end to my summers off (we can't just tell them to go home in May and come back in August. "See you, boys. Have a nice summer!") and long Christmas holidays, but there's a trade-off to everything in life.

My new teaching job is in a medium security juvenile facility. This means that, unlike when I worked at the max security facility, with the biggest, baddest, craziest teen offenders in the state of Georgia, there is actually some leverage for the staff. My new facility can move a boy out to the max security if the boy becomes too much of a problem. But, I am not kidding myself: my students are still going to be juvenile offenders who have been sentenced by the state. As my first YDC principal used to say, "They aren't locked up because they missed Sunday school". The boys will manipulate, they will fight, they will steal my pen out from under my nose if I don't keep it on my person at all times.  They will posture and act all bad. They will cuss a blue streak, they will write gang signs on their class folders, they will refuse to do their work in rather creative language. But I know from experience that there will be a few of them who will win my heart. They will become "my boys".  I'm a teacher. A teacher's heart is tough, but tender. That's just how we're built.  And who knows? In spite of themselves, maybe, just maybe they'll learn something from me. I know I will learn from them.

Now I have to get a haircut (I have grown rather shaggy these last two months of unemployment), buy some good stand-on-my-feet-all-day shoes (easier said than done for someone who wears a size 5 shoe), and practice getting up at the butt crack of dawn again. I guess I can't stay awake until 4 a.m anymore either. The night owl in me will have to conform yet once again to society and its ungodly operating hours.

As for my old job in the UAE, I don't miss it, except for my students. I am glad I went because I learned so much about myself I otherwise wouldn't have learned, but I am damn-skippy happy to be back home in the land of grits, front porches, occasional rain, sane drivers, drink out of the facet water, proper libraries, and actual addresses.  It's a good experience for some, but for me it wasn't.  Before I left Georgia, I was advised  to be "flexible" but they didn't say anything about being able to bend over and kiss my own ass. And they didn't say I would have NO resources, supplies, or support at my school; that the bank and internet provider would keep screwing with me; and that every time I got into the car to go to work I'd be literally risking my life. 

I am happy for the teachers who can do it. I am in awe of them, and I salute them, but no amount of money could ever entice me to that part of the world again. I'll just be an underpaid American teacher, thank you very much.  What is sad is that I was so excited about going and feel I had a lot to offer, and with a few adjustments on ADEC's part they could probably cut in half the number of teacher "runners" they have. I mean, they are spending a lot of money to get those teachers over there, so why aren't they taking care of their investment once they arrive? I personally know of nine "runners" from my group alone, and of a few more who are planning on leaving.  Poor planning, in house nepotism, top heavy ADEC bureaucracy, and no existing communication lines between ADEC and teachers in the field are all making the UAE educational reform somewhat of an educational quagmire (at least from where I stood as a rural upper level grade English teacher). Unless extreme changes are made and soon, I predict it is doomed to failure. And the ones who will lose will be the students.

But I will be so glad to meet my new students March 1st! I need to get back into a classroom where I can pass on the amazing worlds and words of Edgar Allen Poe, Kurt Vonnegut, T.S Eliot, Langston  Hughes, and Abraham Lincoln. Death of a Salesman, Of Mice and Men, A Raisin on the Sun, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Like dear old friends, I have missed them dearly.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

From my UAE Journal: November 4 2012

I Hate Driving in the UAE
Cars tailgating thisclose, drivers cutting in front of me, cars parked on the roundabouts while their owners chat, excessive speeding, no use of turn signals... The list goes on and on. Commuting forty-five miles to work and back on the Highway to Hell every day is becoming an exercise in basic survival skills. If I don't have an accident in this country it will be a damned miracle. I only hope when it happens that I'm not injured, or worse. I am becoming terrified to drive almost anywhere and have to make myself get in the car and drive to work every morning. And I have always liked driving. Not here.

School and Constant Perplexity
My school continues to confuse me. Actual academics and learning seem to play very little role in my principal's agenda. She likes pretty flowered bulletin boards (which by the way don't have one damned thing to do with learning.. as long as they are "pretty", it's okay...) and teacher luncheons.
The librarian actually does a good job with her bulletin boards and makes them applicable to learning:

I Am Bored...
A few weeks ago, another Western teacher led a professional development (P.D) class to about twenty-five other teachers (mixed Arabic and Western).  My principal speaks no English and the other Arabic teachers don't either, so when a Western teacher presents a P.D class, ADEC generously supplies a translator. At this particular P.D, which I thought was going very well, the principal looked up from her chatting and texting long enough to interrupt the translator. The translator looked a bit taken aback so the Western presenter/teacher asked what the principal had said. The interpreter told the Western teacher, "She say she is bored".  I was sitting about five feet away and heard the conversation with my own ears. I almost fell out of my chair. If the principal and all the other Arabic teachers hadn't been loudly chatting, texting, and taking photos with their phones they might not have been "bored" and might have learned something.  But then again, it would have been polite and professional for them to actually pay attention, so it ain't gonna happen. If my principal or anyone else asks me to do a professional development class I have already rehearsed my, "Not no, but hell no" answer. 

Class? Class? Class? SHUTUP!
The other Western teachers and I sit in professional development classes with our mouths almost hanging open at the behaviors exhibited by the Arabic teachers.  They talk SO loud that the presenters cannot be heard. They take photos of one another, they laugh, they giggle. It is embarrassing. Why am I embarrassed for people who aren't embarrassed for themselves? People tell me their behavior and loudness is a culture thing, but where I come from it just means your Mama didn't raise you right. Having to have an ADEC presenter yell over and over again at the Arabic teachers to "please" be quiet is something I don't think I will ever get used to. The British ADEC lady who comes in to teach most of the professional development classes gets so mad that the veins stand out in her neck. Most (not all, but about 90%) of the Arabic teachers act like fifteen-year-old kids in those meetings. Which I guess makes sense since the fifteen-year-old students act like ten-year-children in class.
As we say in the South, "Bless their hearts".

The art teacher drew Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, and Easter eggs on the wall in the hallway, I had to tell an English speaking Muslim teacher that Easter eggs were Christian and explain their significance. She had no idea and said the art teacher didn't either. I guess she explained it to the art teacher because two weeks later the Easter eggs suddenly morphed into colorful baskets... but to me they still look like Easter eggs.


Okay good things: I get to Skype with my husband almost every night, my students are funny and loving (one even bumps noses with me every single day!), I have made some good friends, and I am blessed with having a fantastic used book store right around the corner: Oasis Book Store located in the Al Ain Co-op near Greenland Apartment Complex. That little bookstore has saved my sanity more than once. Go in and tell Sylvia I sent you!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mountain Memories/Goodbye to Uncle Jim/Advice

Mountain Trip
Mom and I drove up to the mountain cabin in Hiawassee on Monday to check on the new heating/ac unit she had installed.  We reached Helen around 5:00 p.m and there was still a dusting of snow covering the ground.  The mountain road between Helen and Hiawassee was traffic free and peaceful, unlike the "on" season when it is packed with vehicles bumper-to-bumper taking the curves and dips of the twisty road like a freight train of coupled cars.

Two whole days of  just me and my mom junkin' in thrift stores, roaming directionless, eating good food, and relaxing in the evenings tucked away inside the cabin are almost over.  We will head home tomorrow. This has been a much needed get-away for Mom, but I know that she is thinking of dad every minute. The conversation has shifted several times to the dreams her and dad had and how much dad loved this cabin. She has talked of his planned projects and pointed out places they have visited together. The first night here, she wore dad's bathrobe; a bathrobe that has been hanging in the bedroom closet untouched since he wore it in March.  That was the last time Mom took him to the cabin, and they had to leave the next day. Dad was up all night thinking someone was trying to  break in.

     Every twisty road, every little locally owned restaurant, every ramshackle thrift shop in the area holds a memory for my mom  In fact, we stopped at an almost hidden away junk shop today because Mom remembered her and dad once stopping there. I never would have even noticed it on my own. Dad, like me, loved to go junkin'. 

   Sad News
While Mom and I were heading into town this afternoon I received a phone call. My cell phone routes calls through my car's Bluetooth, so every phone call is heard by every person who is in the car .  I answered the phone and the caller informed us she had bad news. I glanced at mom and her face was virtually washed free of any color.  I could see by the sheer terror on mom's face that she thought dad had died. I don't think she'd ever forgive herself if that happened while she was this far away from him

     I told the caller to hold on while I pulled the car into a convenience store parking lot. As soon as I stopped the car, I informed the caller I was parked and she could proceed. The caller paused, dragging out the reason for the call with mutterings that didn't make much sense. She wouldn't get to the reason for the call. My mind was jumping ahead trying to figure out what had happened and when. Mom didn't say a word and her silence spoke louder than any words could have. It seemed like the air and peripheral sound hung suspended. The caller finally blurted out that she wasn't calling about dad.  Until that second I don't think I was even aware that I had been holding my breathe. (After I hung up the phone I thought: if something had happened to dad this wouldn't have been the person who would have phoned us.. it would have been my husband or the hospital, but people who are in the sudden grip of  "the moment" don't think rationally). Turned out that it wasn't my dad who had died, but my great Uncle Jim, very suddenly about an hour before the call.  His death was totally unexpected.

Uncle Jim
My Uncle Jim was a good man. A kind man. A gentle man. A retired educator, he was loved by so many people. He had a warm smile and a wonderful sense of humor. I never heard anyone say a bad, or even semi-bad word about him. His family has my condolences.  What more can I say? It's not like I can flip my heart inside out and let my uncle's family see how much a heart can hurt for them. I wish I could. I cannot fathom how lost they must feel tonight. They didn't even have time to prepare or say goodbye.

A bit of advice to anyone who finds himself/herself in the position of relaying bad news to those who have a loved one hospitalized long term with a terminal illness: If it is not their hospitalized loved one you are phoning about IMMEDIATELY assure the family members of this fact. No hem-hawing around. No hinting. No beating around the bush. Take a moment to think about what you are going to say when you phone. Do not cause family members of the long term hospitalized/terminally ill any undue stress, if it can be helped. Believe me, they have enough already without your drama.
Advice over.

   Last Thoughts Before Sleep
 Now mom is sleeping in the next room and I am sitting alone in the quietness of the night in the cabin's safe interior. I can feel dad's presence and see his small touches everywhere I look.  It's unsettling to think he will never set foot here again. I miss my dad with an intensity sometimes that almost cuts my chest in two. And I will spend the afternoon with him this weekend.  How does a heart put those two pieces of information into any comprehensible location of logic? It doesn't, believe me. The heart simply closes down and refuses to ponder the reality of the situation. Except late at night. Then it opens the door to reality a shadowed bit and peeks quickly before shutting it again.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Our Brief Georgia Winter.. Don't Blink.

It is 33 degrees right now, which is almost 0 Celsius for my metrically inclined friends. I am about to freeze my ass off and I am loving every second of it. I covered my gardenia bushes with old sheets and dressed my little dog, Truman, in his cute blue sweater.  I am comfy in my yoga pants, my thick cushy socks, and my STRAND hoodie. I also have pie. Pecan pie.

I am ready for that winter temperature drop, baby, however brief it might be. One to four days of winter, if I'm lucky. And then spring will be here again for approximately three minutes and forty-five seconds, then summer, then fucking summer. Those are the four seasons in middle Georgia: four day winter, three minute forty-five second spring, summer, fucking summer-that-lasts-forever. Yep, we get a grand total of four day winters- tops. That's about all we can hope for in my little piece of the South. That's why we have so many gnats in mid-Georgia; it doesn't stay cold long enough to kill the little bastards in winter. They just swarm into little warm cubby holes, play a couple hands of poker, have a few beers, wait out the four day winter, then they're off again creating more baby gnats and making attack plans on how best to fly up my nose.

But at the moment it is cold and I am ready, yesiree. 

And so is Truman.
Like I said, I have cushy socks. I have pie. 
Bring it on.