Out of Focus


Out of focus

July 31, 2014

Dear Readers,

I am writing to you during my lunch hour at school. I am writing because I believe it will help me to focus for the remainder of my classes. Right now, I am so out of focus that it is interfering with my ability to teach.

I am one of the few teachers who will admit to loving lesson plans. I love the creative process that comes with lesson planning. I enjoy coming up with new and exciting ways to teach the same old concept. I may have to teach the same rules of grammar over and over and over again. But, you can bet that I have never taught it the same way any two years in a row. (I know a teacher who is still using the same lesson plans he created when he became a teacher…12 years ago. Seriously? Seriously!)

Today I thought I had a fairly decent lesson on writing a persuasive essay; it wasn’t my best, but it was far from my worst. I enjoy writing and I especially enjoy teaching writing. However, this morning, I fell flat. The students in my first hour class couldn’t concentrate as we had a fire drill right in the middle of class. Holding their focus after that commotion was not going to happen. Okay, I’ll get the next class.

I was even more out of focus for my next class. Have you ever been to a comedy show where no one laughs? The comedian is giving it all he’s got and all you hear is crickets? No one, not one audience member is giving up a laugh and it is painful to watch. And if it’s that painful to watch, imagine how excruciatingly painful it must be for the comedian. During my second hour class, I was the comedian; crickets.

So here I sit, dear Readers, writing during my lunch hour. I am reflecting on how I can improve my delivery for my two afternoon classes. Teachers do this. We reflect, we modify, we adjust. What works for one class may not work for the next. In addition to not wanting to be boring, I am constantly changing the way I deliver a lesson. Right now, I figured if I could purge this horrible, falling flat on my face feeling through my writing, I can re-focus.

I’m going to take twenty minutes and meditate before my next class, I’ll let you know how it goes. Peace, ~v.

Dear Readers,

I’m baaack! This afternoon went much better. It was the polar opposite of this morning. After my meditation and reflection, I decided to change the topic of the writing assignment and that seems to have done the trick. Not only did the students participate in the class discussion, when it was time for them to write in their journals, they didn’t want to stop. Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

As the only adult in a roomful of 34 people, I have to take responsibility for the crash and burn. I first look at what it was about my delivery, my planning, my something that sent the lesson south. It is not always me, but even when it is not, it is always my responsibility.

I can admit that, yeah, most of the the time it is my delivery, my planning, or lack thereof that leads to my bombing a lesson. Today was no different, it was my fault. In fact, the only time that it has ever been more the students’ fault than mine was when I worked at a boy’s prison, and I defy any teacher to hold a lesson together while a student is calling you an effing ‘B’ and throwing a computer at your head. But that dear Readers, is a story for another day. Peace, ~v.

Thoughts and Musings


P1000438

July 29, 2014

Dear Readers,

Here’s the truth of it.  I had an occasion to look back through my writing journals today and I liked what I saw.  In fact, I liked it so much that it is now the subject of today’s blog post.  So dear Readers, without further ado, I give you some of my past thoughts and  musings.

…on who I am

“I am a realist hiding in a cynic’s body, trying to be an eternal optimist. Sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t.”

“No one gets to be my age without some scars. Some scars blend and fade over time; I have those. Some scars only become deeper with age; I have those as well. And some scars never heal, they remain jagged to the touch and even “bleed” when touched; I definitely have those.”

“I am unable to pinpoint just where I began slipping away from reality. Heck, I can’t even tell you the month or the year the darkness began to take over. And that has been my savior and my demon.”

“I have done the hard work to get myself back to the land of the living. No more having to relive the past and no more worrying about the what-ifs of the future. I am finally living in the present and it feels good, it feels right.”

“It is simply amazing that one year ago I was in the depths of solitude and now I am reaching new heights.”

…on motherhood

“I’m not your friend, I’m not your buddy, I’m not your pal, I’m your mother, and you will respect me.”

“I came to realize that a mother only has a few precious years in which to mold and shape her children. I was determined to do the best I could by you. I can look back now with pride that I had such good kids to work with! You all made it so easy for me to be the best I could be. You helped me understand when I was way too much, way too close, way too everything. And for that, I thank you.”

…on being a teacher

“I do not teach, I TEACH!”

“I don’t want to change the world.  I want to teach the students who want to change the world.”

“Teachers are overworked, underpaid and undervalued.  And I wouldn’t have any other job.  I have always, ever wanted to be a teacher.”

…on food

“Me and food, we’re tight, we’re good friends.  One look at my voluptuous figure bears this out.”

“Food is the common ground we human beings, share. It is what keeps us well, alive.  We bake bread, eat bread, receive the bread and even break bread. It is one of our common denominators.”

…on my writing

“I have been told that my writing is quirky and inspiring, refreshing and heart-warming.  I’d like to think that it is just you and me, dear Readers, sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee on a crisp early morning as the sun rises over the horizon.  Or perhaps it’s just you and me sitting in the backyard on a lazy summer evening, drinking a beer and watching the sun melt into the distance.  Either way dear Readers, it’s just you and me, talking, laughing, crying, connecting like two, long lost friends should.”

…on my faith

“I forgive and I love.  I forgive because I have much in which I must be forgiven.  And love?  Well, when God calls me home, I want to go knowing that the people I love know that I loved them.”

“What a kind and merciful God we have. I am blessed and divinely favored. I praise God each and every day that I am where I am today.  God is good and I intend on living my life in praise of Him. To whom much is given, much is expected.”

…on teenage girls

“Teenage girls chatter, they gossip, they seek to belong and they seek to be individuals. They love pop music, pop stars and popcorn. And they all have dreams; dreams they will strive to achieve, dreams they will hold close, dreams to leave this world a better place. And sadly, dreams they will never realize.”

“Sadly, most of them have accepted their lot in life.  Well, I have not accepted this fact! I refuse to accept it for me and I refuse to accept it for these girls. I will continue to bang my head against the proverbial wall. I will continue to demand the respect I, as an authority figure, deserve. It is an uphill battle to be sure. However, perhaps someday they will look back on their brief encounter with me and remember that as an authority figure, I was valid. And perhaps they will begin to realize that they, and all women, are valid as authority figures.”

“I stand here before you today to tell you that you are no different from the girls I taught back home. Yes, as a group we are different. However, individually, we are the same; we live the same, we learn the same, we love the same. We hurt the same, we cry the same and we die the same. We are the same.”

…on war and peace

“When you are stronger than somebody, you have power over them.  And when you have power over them, you can “rape” them.  And when you can “rape” them, you can brutalize them.  And when you can brutalize them, they will fear you.  And when they fear you, you can control them. And when you can control them, you do.”

“When we, as human beings begin to realize that we are all the same, we will have no more hatred, we will have justice.  We will have no more war, we will have peace.  I want to live in that world and I know you do to.  So go out there and make a difference, change the world or change your mind; one is just as dificult to do as the other.  And then begin to make this world a better place.  I want to be proud of you and I want to tell the world that I taught the girls who taught the world how to be a better place.”

Enough said, dear Readers.  Peace, ~v.

Common Folks or Folks in Common


July 28, 2014

Dear Readers,

I have posted a version of the following post twice in the past 18 months.  Once here, and once on a previous blog site.  Now, before you begin saying something such as, “Lazy much?”, hear me out.

The following anecdote happened to me while I was teaching in the Middle East.  However, it could have easily happened while I was working at any of the schools I have worked for in the past 15 years.  My point, dear Readers is that people are people the world over.  We all share more common ground than not.  Read the following and see if you can’t find similarities between the people I have met on my journey, and your family, friends, colleagues and/or co-workers.

I have spent a lifetime trying to fit in.  Fit into what, I haven’t the slightest idea, but fit in nonetheless.  I have always felt like I was on the outside looking in, the only one who didn’t get the joke, the odd man out.  Perhaps it is by design that I am a loner, because after years of trying to be just one of the crowd, I relent and choose my own company over a crowd.

Given this self-realization, you are probably wondering why in the world I would make a conscious decision to go teach in the Middle East.  I’ve been wondering the same thing.  I mean, that is certainly as far from fitting in than this Mexican-American chick will ever know.  But go I did.

“And I never seemed to fit in!” she says incredulously.

laa afham

Imagine that you walk into work and are met with the above image.  Now imagine that your supervisor approaches you and says, “I need all of this by the end of the day,” and walks away.  Now imagine one last time that completing this task is critically linked and absolutely essential to your job performance. What do you do?  This, dear Readers, was my life.

Although some of my colleagues had a rudimentary grasp on the English language, most of the women I worked with would not go out of their way to interpret for me what it was that I had do.  Thus, I was left to my own devices.

Here was a big clue that I was not fitting in, I was left to my own devices.  Hindsight being what it is and all, I see that my fitting in was never an option.  However, I had a job to do and I was tasked with completing whatever it was that was written on that board.

My principal really did this to me, I really was blind-sided one afternoon, and I really was left to my own devices.

“Here is where my Arabic lessons should come in handy,” I thought. “hal tasta Tii’iin musaa’adatii? laa aqra’ bil’arabiyya. tutarjim.” (“Can you help me? I can’t read Arabic. You translate.”) I said these phrases to several of my colleagues and was met with blank stares, and yes, even giggles.  I know I was pronouncing the phrases correctly, because when I uttered them to my vice-principal, she understood me.  Sadly however, she could not convey to me in alinjliiziyya (English) what I needed to know.

I was determined to find out what I needed to know.  I snapped a picture of the writing on the whiteboard and made up my mind to show the picture to my students and ask if anyone of them could interpret it for me.  I was extremely hesitant to do that, but what else could I do?  I am a very firm believer in keeping adult issues away from my students.  What happens in the teachers’ workroom stays in the teachers’ workroom, at least for me.

I struggled with approaching any of my students for the better part of the day.  I knew I had to have the instructions on the board translated from Arabic to English, I just didn’t want to involve any of my students.  I prayed for guidance.

Finally, with only two hours left of my workday, I let out a resigned sigh and went in search of my most mature, most proficient student.  I had a job to do and I needed a student to help me do it.  Reluctantly, I conceded defeat.  As I approached my student, I was intercepted by Miss D.

Miss D was the one teacher who went out of her way to make me feel like I belonged teaching at Amrah Bint School.  She was the one teacher who had taken me under her wing when I had first arrived at the school.  She was the one teacher I had been searching for since I received my marching orders from my principal, and she was the one teacher who had been MIA all day long.

Miss D approached me in the hallway and said, “Victoria, I have been looking for you.”

I ignored what she had just said and launched into my desperate plea.  “Oh, Miss D, I really need your help!”

Miss D politely put aside what she had wanted to discuss with me and said, “Of course, what do you need.”

I showed her the picture of the whiteboard and asked her to please interpret it for me as I had to complete the tasks by the end of the day. She took my camera from me and scrunched up her nose. “Come,” she said to me.

Miss D took me to her physics lab and proceeded to pull out samples of what it was that I had to gather: copies of student completed worksheets, graded tests, modified lesson plans with differentiated techniques for lower and gifted students, and analysis of student work.  Now this I understood.  I breathed a sigh of relief, Miss D had once again saved me.

As it turns out dear Readers, Miss D had not been at school that day.  She had been preparing to take her students to Dubai for a science competition and had just come toward the end of the day to clear up a few loose ends.  In my self-induced panic, I had completely forgotten that she had approached me.  I had been so self-absorbed, that I hadn’t even asked Miss D why it was that she had been looking for me.  I went in search of my angel.

When I found Miss D, I shamefully apologized for my rude behavior and asked her what she needed from me.

“Aasif, (I’m sorry) Miss D. What did you need from me?”

“Nothing Victoria. I saw the board when I came in and wanted to make sure you understood.”

Well dear Readers, I may not have ever ‘fit in’ in the Middle East like I had wanted to however, Miss D saw to it that I was never alone.  I experienced a profound change after having lived in the Middle East, and it was because of Miss D and people like her that I have a richer, deeper admiration and respect for the culture, the country, the values and the beliefs of a people I thought were so different from myself.  I believe I had quite an effect on Miss D, as well.

Two months before I arrived at my new teaching position, Miss D had lost her husband.  One day, after hearing me laughing loudly, Miss D approached me and said, “Victoria, my sister, your laugh is loud.”  And before I could apologize to her, she said, “I have never laughed much.  And since my husband died, I never laugh.  But since you came, even I have laughed.  Thank you.”

Afwan, Miss D, afwan.  Peace, ~v.

الآن، كل هذا الشخصية


يوليو 2014

القراء الأعزاء،

انا لا ان يكون سياسيا، ولكن القتل يجب أن يتوقف. أنا لا يجري السياسي، أنا إنسان. أنا لا أفهم الكراهية. أنا لا أفهم حشية الإنسان تجاه أخيه الإنسان. العنف لا يولد إلا العنف.

رأينا كل صور القتلى والمحتضرين في فلسطين … لا، انتظر، لم نر كل ذلك. وسائل الإعلام الرئيسية لا تظهر الموت والدمار الأبرياء من الرجال والنساء والأطفال، ونعم، حتى الرضع. أنها تظهر القصص التي يتم تنظيف للعرض في وقت الذروة. ولكننا لا يمكن أن تعتمد عليها لتعطينا الحقيقة، مجرد إلقاء نظرة هنا. انهم تضليل. ويتم دفن اعتذاراتهم عن آثامهم وأخطائهم في الوحل والوحل، بجوار نفوسهم.

وسائل الإعلام الرئيسية لا تظهر لك ما هو أخيك الإنسان قادر. إلا أن مواقع وسائل الاعلام الاجتماعية، ويفعلون.

تذهب هنا إذا كنت تريد أن تقرأ وجهة نظر مباشرة ما يحدث لبني البشر. أو اذهب هنا ، أو هنا . الناس يقولون قصصهم، ولكن العالم لا يصغي.

ربما كنت تريد أن ترى ما يجري في غزة. كذلك، عليك أن تذهب هنا ، وإذا كنت قد حصلت على المعدة لذلك. على المضي قدما، أجرؤ لك. هناك المئات من الصور التي تطارد روحي. حتى الآن، وأنا أنظر؛ كل يوم أنا أنظر. لدي للنظر. أنا لا أريد أن تغض الطرف، وأنا لا أريد أن أدعي أن هذا لا يحدث إبادة جماعية.

يحدث. قد يكون من 7،000 ميلا، لكنها قريبة إلى قلبي. الآن، انها الشخصية.

كيف يمكن للعالم أن يقف مكتوف الأيدي بينما تتكشف هذه الإبادة الجماعية؟ لماذا علينا أن نختار الجانبين؟ أقسم لك، طفل هو طفل بغض النظر عن العرق، بغض النظر عن اللون، بغض النظر عن الدين. الناس هم الناس في جميع أنحاء العالم. نحيب الأم في العذاب على طفلها ميتا، وهذا هو لي. الأب تمزق في عينيه، وهذا هو لي. الطفل مع انتفاخ العينين، الذي لا يمكن أن يبكي، وهذا هو أيضا لي. والناس في منتصف الطريق في جميع أنحاء العالم، والتي هي كسر لأننا ديك الأصدقاء الذين هم هناك حق، والحق بجانب القصف والأنقاض، بجانب الموتى والموت القلوب، وهذا هو لي خاصة.

سمعت من وجهة نظري طالب سابق هذا الصباح. كتبت عنها هنا . هي بجانب نفسها مع الحزن. ما يحدث في فلسطين هو شخصي بالنسبة لها، انها شخصية بالنسبة لي. هذا لا ينبغي أن يحدث. بالنسبة لأولئك الذين لديهم مصلحة شخصية، ونحن نتكلم حتى؛ علينا أن، مصير أصدقائنا ‘تعتمد على ذلك. بالنسبة لأولئك المراقبين العاديين، يجب عليك التحدث؛ لديك ل، ومصير البشرية يعتمد على ذلك. من فضلك.

رحمه الله على نفوسنا.

السلام، فيكتوريا

Now, It’s Personal


July 27, 2014

Dear Readers,

I am not being political, but the killing has to stop.  I’m not being political, I’m being human.  I do not understand hatred.  I do not understand man’s inhumanity to man.  Violence only begets violence.

We have all seen the pictures of the dead and dying in Palestine…No, wait, we haven’t all seen it.  Mainstream media will not show the death and destruction of innocent men, women, children, and yes, even babies.  They show stories that are cleaned up for prime time viewing.  But we cannot depend on them to give us the truth, just look here.  They mislead.  And their apologies for their misdeeds and their mistakes are buried in the muck and the mire, right next to their souls.

Mainstream media won’t show you what your fellow man is capable of.  But the social media sites will, and they do.

Go here if you want to read a first hand view of what is happening to fellow human beings.  Or go here, or here.  People are telling their stories, but the world is not listening.

Perhaps you want to see what is happening in Gaza.  Well, you should go here, if you’ve got the stomach for it.  Go on, I dare you.  There are hundreds of images that haunt my soul.  Yet, I look; everyday I look.  I have to look.  I do not want to turn a blind eye, I do not want to pretend that this genocide is not happening.

It is happening.  It may be 7,000 miles away, but it is close to my heart.  Now, it’s personal.

How can the world sit idle while this genocide unfolds?  Why do we have to choose sides?  I swear to you, a baby is a baby no matter the race, no matter the color, no matter the religion.  People are people the world over.  The mother wailing in agony over her dead child, that is me.  The father tearing at his eyes, that is me.  The child with the swollen eyes, who cannot cry, that is also me.  And the people halfway around the world, whose hearts are breaking because we have friends who are right there, right next to the bombing and the rubble, right next to the dead and the dying, that is especially me.

I heard from my former student, AAJ this morning.  I wrote about her here.  She is beside herself with grief.  What is happening in Palestine is personal for her, it’s personal for me.  This should not be happening.  For those who have a personal stake, we speak up; we have to, the fate of our friends’ depend on it.  For those casual observers, you must speak up; you have to, the fate of humanity depends on it.  Please.

AAJ:  Remember what I told about Isreal bombing?!  And that I have a friend there??!  Her brother died few hours ago…,and STILL they are not safe.. I cant even I dont know what to do or what to tell her.

Me:  Oh [AAJ], my heart is breaking… There are no words.  May I use this picture?  Shukran.

AAJ:  Use it.. he said “oh allah give me Shahada in Ramadan while I’m fasting”

May God have mercy on our souls.

Peace, really, really, PEACE, ~v.

Lucky


The fog has lifted.  Sunrise from my front porch.

The fog has lifted. Sunrise from my front porch.

July 26, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today I was reminded, once again, that when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.  For years, I had been looking at my misfortune as a negative.  It took the innocent perspective of a child to make me see it differently.

I have had 5 children, and without exception, each of them came perilously close to death when they were very young.  My first pregnancy, I carried twins, a boy and a girl.  I delivered at 26 weeks, a full 3 months before full term.  My daughter Miss J, weighed 1 pound 14 ounces and my son Pookie,  weighed in at 1 pound 10 ounces.  Both were severely underdeveloped, obviously, and both were on respirators for approximately 2 months.

At 20 years old, I was too naive to realize that the doctors may not be able to save them.  However, they survived.  In fact, they thrived.  I was able to bring them home when they were 3 months old and weighing a whopping 4 pounds apiece.  One, two brushes with death.

My second pregnancy was just as difficult, I was 22.  For some reason, my body was rejecting my pregnancy.  I had frequent kidney infections prior to and throughout my pregnancy.  My doctors surmised that the infections were triggering pre-term labor.  I was only 3 months along when labor began.

Throughout the next 6 months, it was touch and go.  I was put on bed rest, fetal monitors and all sorts of medication to stop the labor.  When I finally delivered, thankfully at 9 months, my son was in distress and had a traumatic delivery.  He had difficulty breathing once he was born but soon pulled through.

At 22 years old, I knew babies could die, but not mine.  My son Puff, was home from the hospital in just a couple of days, happy and healthy.  Third brush with death.

When I was 23, my oldest, my daughter Miss J, my fighter, my survivor, passed away from something unrelated to her premature birth.  There it was.  A child dies before her parents, it really happens.  Three children, three brushes with death, one death.  I did not like those numbers.

I subsequently went on to have two more pregnancies, both daughters.  I was 27 when I delivered my next daughter, Muffin.  Smooth sailing all the way.  Whew!  Then I became pregnant one last time.  This pregnancy was by far the worst.  Not only did I experience pre-term labor, I was on complete bed rest, I had to monitor my contractions twice a day.  I was averaging 12 to 15 contractions in a 45 minute period on a daily basis.

At 27 years old, I was far from naive and I knew babies died, often.  I was a nervous wreck, to say the least.  Fortunately, my daughter Mimi, was born right on time, strong, happy and healthy.  Fourth brush with death.

Finally, Muffin, my daughter who had never given me a minute’s worth of trouble in my womb, decided to become adventurous.  When she was about 3 years old, her and Mimi pulled quite a stunt.

Late one night, I heard a noise in the kitchen.  I got up to investigate.  This is what I found:  a dining room chair pulled up to the counter, a cup with a red ring of Kool-Aid and something gritty at the bottom, and several empty packets of Alka Seltzer.  Earlier in the day, I had taken Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu, and put the opened box up in the medicine cabinet in the kitchen, far away from little fingers, or so I thought.

By the time I rushed Muffin and Mimi to the hospital, the aspirin level in Mimi’s bloodstream was negligible.  However, the aspirin level in Muffin’s bloodstream was at lethal levels.  She was strapped onto a board, a tube shoved down her throat, and liquid charcoal poured into her stomach to neutralize the effects of the aspirin.  The three of us spent the better part of that night and the next day trying to recover.  Muffin survived.  Fifth brush with death.

All of my children are now grown.  However, as they were growing up, I had become somewhat bitter.  I would tell them stories of their brushes with death and bemoan my loss.  I was a bit of a downer, to say the least.  My daughters, God bless them, were always so patient with me.  They would listen intently and nod with little somber faces at all the appropriate places in the stories.  Until one day, Muffin said something so profound, it literally changed my life forever.

I was telling my children, yet again, my tale of woe when Muffin, age 8 or 9, stopped me and said, “Mom, you know, you are so lucky!”

“What?  Lucky?  How do you figure, Muffin?” I countered.

“All five of your children were close to death, and you only lost one.”

Wow.  Just let that sink in.  Out of the mouth of babes…

That was 12, 13 years ago and it remains one of the most pivotal moments in my life.  I began to see things a little differently.  No longer did I see one death and four almost deaths.  Rather, I began to see how very lucky I was.  I began to see things differently, and these things, they began to change.

I would like to believe that I became a little less bitter that day, a little less sad.  I was 36 years old and far removed from my 20 year-old, naive self.  I had been living my life in a fog.  Now, I began to see the rays of sunlight peeking through.  I was lucky.  I am lucky.  And all it took was for me to look at life through the eyes of a child.  When you change the way you look at things…Peace, ~v.