My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.



October 25, 2014

Dear Readers,

Just getting my bearings, I chose to edit a previous post.  You can find the original here.  It’s good to be back.  Peace, ~v.


The bougainvillea blooms all year round.  The beautiful purple-pink flowers belie the thorny vines that lie just underneath the blooms.  From a distance, with the sun at their backs, and with one eye closed, I can almost picture an Arizona sunset.  The reds and pinks and purples of the bougainvillea and the Arizona sunsets mesh together to make sitting outside in 120°F  (49°C) worth the sweat.

And the sweat in the small of my back, it clings to the polyester blend, black abaya I wear and simply sits there.  The ever present moisture lies on the surface of both my skin and the non-absorbent material of my long-sleeved, long skirt, neck-high “dress”.  It helps keep the desert sand at bay.  That fine grained, almost silt, that permeates every inch of life until it becomes me.

It becomes me in the sand that blows through the cracks.  And blows the wind so subtle that were it not for the fog-like emissions of the oil fields, I would never know it was blowing.

Night sneaks up, bringing with him the fog.  The murky fog rolls in and over the desert.  It’s time to slip inside and leave the night to the Night.  And as I lazily climb the sturdy, sandy stairs to my room with a view, thoughts drift to Carl Sandburg…

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.


Longing to Laugh Out Loud

September 23, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today I have managed to combine two assignments into one blog post.  The first assignment is the “A to Z Challenge” and we are now up to the letter “L“.  I have posted the story in today’s  “Longing to Laugh” one year ago.  However, I revised almost all of it to fit today’s assignments.  The story is as true and accurate an account of my time in the Middle East, as I can remember; the names however, have been changed.

My next assignment is for my Writing 101 class.  I am to focus this post on the contrast between two things.  Here’s the twist:  I am to write the post in the form of a dialogue.  Enjoy!  Peace, ~v.

“Miss Victoria, it is our tradition.  Women do not laugh in public.”

Of all the traditions and customs I had to learn while living in the Middle East, this was the most disturbing.  I had been teaching in a remote town in the middle of the Arabian Desert and after six months, I was finally beginning to fit in, until today.

Tears began to well in my eyes as I stammered, “I’m sorry, Miss Da’ad.  I didn’t know…” and I let my voice trail off.

“You must not cry, Miss Victoria.  I do not mean to hurt you, but we do not laugh in public.”

I knew why the women were not allowed to laugh in public, it was the same reason they wore abayas to cover their bodies and shaylas to cover their heads.  It was the same reason they couldn’t leave their homes after dark and the same reason they couldn’t see their sons graduate from high school:  Men have no self control.

That is not the official reason, of course.  However, I had had enough discussions with my tutor, Mr. Mahmoud, to have reached that conclusion long before Miss Da’ad told me that she longed to laugh.

“So why do Muslim women have to wear the veil, Mr. Mahmoud?”  I asked him one evening between lessons.

“The woman must protect her honor, Miss Victoria.”

“You mean without her veil, a Muslim woman has no honor?  I don’t get it.”

“No, no.  She must be modest in her dress, that will protect her honor.”

“Oh!  I see, dressing modestly and wearing the Shayla keeps men from lusting after the women.  So really, wearing the veil protects the man’s honor.  Well why can’t men protect their own honor?”

“No, no, no Miss Victoria, you are getting it confused!  The man, he is not allowed to look at the woman.  If he looks at the woman with the lust, the woman has no honor anymore.  So she must not draw the man’s stares and she must not look at the man in public, or even at the home, she must cover herself to protect her honor.”

“Wait!”  I said, a little more loudly that I had wanted to.  “Even in her own home she is not allowed to uncover herself?”

“Of course not.  What if her husband brings home a friend?  What if her uncle makes a visit?  She cannot make the mistake and uncover her modesty.  If she makes the man to look at her, she loses her honor.”

“It would be an honest mistake if that happened.  Her honor wouldn’t be lost.  Anyway, if that happened, it would be the man who steals her honor, not the woman who loses it.  See the difference?”

“Miss Victoria, the woman must protect herself.  Even in her own home.  The man, he does not have the will to look away.  The man, he is not responsible to keep the honor.  If the man has lust because the woman, she is not covered, the woman has failed to do her duty.  The man cannot be expected to look away!  And then what?  He see the woman, uncovered, and he has the lustful thoughts and the man, he cannot control his thoughts.  No, no Miss Victoria, the woman, she is responsible for keeping her honor pure.”

“But she has no control over what men are thinking when they look at her, whether she is covered up or not!  If a man sees a woman without her Shayla, he should quickly cover his eyes if he has no self-control.  It is the man’s responsibility to control his thoughts and protect the woman’s honor.”

“So, that is how it is in the West?  The woman, she is allowed to do whatever and the man, he must protect her honor and control his thoughts and actions?  She is allowed to make the man to lust after her?  She can stop this, she can save the man and herself if she wants to!  The woman must protect herself and she must protect the man.  The man cannot help himself, it is the woman who must protect them both. It is not the man’s fault.  The woman must not draw the attention to her.  It is because of he that the man has not pure thoughts.  It is because of her that the man, he cannot control himself.  It is because of the woman that the man does not respect and honor her.  The Muslim man, he respects the women and he honors the women, but the Muslim man, he cannot be responsible for what he thinks and what he does if the woman does not protect herself.”


So there it was, the fault in the logic of Muslim society.  Intellectually, I had known it all along.  Women wore the veil because they had to protect the men, not themselves.  And here I was, apologizing to Miss Da’ad for my shortsightedness.

“Of course I shouldn’t laugh in public, Miss Da’ad.  I did not mean to draw attention.”

“No, no Miss Victoria, keep laughing.  The Muslim women, we cannot laugh.  But you my sister, you must never stop laughing.  Never stop laughing my sister, because when you laugh, you are laughing for all of us.”

And so I laugh.  I laugh long and I laugh loud, hoping that the sounds will reach across the miles and into the patient ears of my sisters in the Middle East who are longing to laugh out loud.

The following was posted in Al Arabiya newspaper September 23, 2014:

“Don’t laugh out loud,” Turkey’s deputy PM urges women

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Kingman to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

September 16, 2014

Dear Readers,

I don’t know why I went, but I know I’ve got to get back there. There is something that calls me there. It’s not a wanderlust. No, it’s not the urge to travel. And it’s definitely not some deep seeded need to be an expatriate. No, I rather like being a patriot, thank you very much.

So why this desire to go there? Was it the desert calling to me? No, I’ve lived in the desert all of my life. Was it the need or want to experience a culture far different from my own? Again, no; in the United States we are a nation of different cultures and I’ve experienced quite a few of them.

I know, it was the need for a middle-aged woman to strike out on her own and be independent.  That is not even close, because I’ve been on my own and independent for quite a few years now.  So what was it?  What is it still?  What is this insatiable need to live and work in the Middle East?  That, dear Readers, is something I haven’t quite been able to figure out.

The bougainvillea blooms all year round.  The beautiful purple-pink flowers belie the thorny vines that lie just underneath the blooms.  From a distance, with the sun at their backs, and with one eye closed, I can almost picture an Arizona sunset.  The reds and pinks and purples of the bougainvillea and the Arizona sunsets mesh together to make sitting outside in 120°F  (49°C) worth the sweat.

And the sweat…the sweat in the small of my back clings to the polyester blend, black abaya and simply sits there.  The ever present moisture lies on the surface of both my skin and the non absorbent material of my long-sleeved, long skirt, neck high “dress” that I and the other women in this desert town must endure.  However, the material is a boon at keeping out the desert sand.  And that fine grained, almost silt, permeates every inch of life in the desert.  Every inch of life except for my abaya.

My abaya, keeping me chaste and safe from both the male-dominated society and the mountains and mountains of sand that blow through the cracks; and blow and blow and blow.  Blows the wind so subtle that were it not for the fog-like emissions of the oil fields, I would never know it was blowing.

Then, just as suddenly as it rises, the sun sets and the night arrives, bringing with it the murkiness of the fog.  The fog rolls in and over the desert.  It’s time to slip inside and leave the night to the night.  And as I lazily climb the sturdy, sandy stairs to my room with a view, thoughts drift to Carl Sandburg…

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
…and then moves on, dear Readers, and then moves on.  Peace, ~v.

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Of Eggshells and Embassies

August 28, 2014

Dear Readers,

As I continue to write my way through the A to Z Challenge, I find myself staring down the letter “E”.  Now the letter “E” seems a harmless, almost benign little letter, doesn’t he?  Ahh, but don’t let looks deceive, dear Readers.  This is an evil little letter!

How did you like that opening, dear Readers?  Kinda dramatic?  Well, that’s me, kinda dramatic.  And not that it’s a bad thing.  However, dramatic behavior is never acceptable in the Middle East when it comes from a woman.

I went to teach in the Middle East under full disclosure…or so I had been told.  I believed myself to be well-versed in the ways of the culture and before I left the U.S., I learned through orientation what society expected of me.  Thus, I covered up when in public, I was respectful and non-argumentative, I never raised my voice, I didn’t show the bottoms of my feet, I only touched food with my right hand (even though I am left handed), I always politely accepted when offered food and/or coffee, I behaved appropriately in public, I taught the girls that they should listen to their parents, and I never said anything that could even be remotely misinterpreted.  I followed all of the dictates that had been mandated at my orientation.  Yet, I walked around on eggshells, afraid I would break some unwritten rule.

In the end, it seems that I broke quite a few undisclosed rules.  For example, in my post “Things They Never Told Me“, I write about not being accepted because of some real or perceived misstep I had publicly displayed.  Then again, it really wasn’t perceived, because as I note in “The Luxury of Freedom“, something as innocent as laughter can even lead down a dicey path.  In fact, it did.

Walking on eggshells was never my forte, I’m more the bull in the china shop type.  And it’s a darn good thing I know this abut myself, otherwise I would have never had the American Embassy on my speed dial.  Believe me, dear Readers, not only did that number come in handy, I was forced to not only use the phone number, but to seek refuge at the embassy, as well.  You can read that story here; it reads like Midnight Express, only without the drugs and without the intrigue.

And so, dear Readers, my time in Al Ruwais, Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates drew to a close.  I went from walking on eggshells, to walking into the embassy; from flying in on Etihad, to flying out on Emirates.  It’s meeting the man of your dreams, then meeting his beautiful wife.  It’s ironic.  But that, dear Readers, is a story for another letter.  Peace, ~v.

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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.


Just the Facts, Ma’am

July 13, 2014

Dear Readers,

This is the third day in a row that I have attempted to write a list of characteristics of the inner peace most of us are yearning for. I have the list, along with my comments, ready to post and publish. However, this is the third day in a row that something more important has caught my attention; it is also about peace.

This year I turn 50 years old and ever since I began to read and listen to the news (around age 10 or 11) I have heard the phrase, “Peace in the Middle East.”  I am also quite familiar with words and phrases such as Gaza, West Bank, Palestinians, airstrikes, Israelis, settlements, etc., etc., etc.  These are probably words and phrases that you, dear Readers, have heard in the news every now and again, right?  Also like me, dear Readers, you probably rely on the news, whether broadcast or print, to try and understand what it all means.  But who can you trust to give a fair and accurate report?  Apparently, not Western mainstream media.

Question authority.  As a young girl in school, I questioned what authority figures spoon fed me because I enjoyed being defiant.  As an adult, I question authority because I know that mainstream media is  full of fiction and fairy tales, designed to lull the average citizen into a mind-numbing stupor.  Unfortunately, average citizens blindly follow the media, so much, so that individuals believe only that which fits into their narrow worldview.  Here is a case in point:

On Tuesday July 8, 2014, on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, Ms. Sawyer incorrectly identified a Palestinian family amid the ruins of their home in Gaza, as an Israeli family picking through the rubble of their home in Israel.  This may seem like a harmless error, but wait, there is more.  Ms. Sawyer also implied that a woman, wearing a hijab (headscarf) and pictured among the ruins of Gaza, is an Israeli as well.  Still think harmless error?  There is even more.

As Diane Sawyer began her report, there were scenes of destruction visible on-screen.  She began, “We take you overseas now to the rockets raining down on Israel today as Israel tried to shoot them out of the sky.”  On-screen was video footage not of Israelis nor even Israel, but airstrikes on Gaza by the Israeli army.  As the viewer saw this picture:

ABC-Misreporting  Ms. Sawyer misreported, “…and here, an Israeli family trying to salvage what they can.”




Then the viewer saw and heard this:

Ms. Sawyer, “One woman standing speechless among the ruins.”


The pictures fuzzy, yes.  So, if you would like to see the 26 second video, please go here:

The viewer is led to believe that Palestinians are launching airstrikes that have destroyed Israeli neighborhoods, leaving families misplaced.  The pictures are meant to invoke the emotions of the viewer to feel great sorrow for both Israel and the Israeli people.  And I’m willing to bet that even though ABC and Diane Sawyer issued apologies for making such an error, most viewers will not go out of their way to to verify the truth of the story.  More proof that people follow blindly.

Do the world a favor, dear Readers, question authority.  btw, Diane Sawyer’s apology appeared on Twitterabc2

and ABC posted their apology on their Facebook pageabc3

The worst part?  Mainstream media will continue to lead those of us that are willing to be misled, those of us that won’t speak up and speak out.  Again, I enjoy my rebellious streak, so I will continue to question authority.  And for the sake of all that is intelligent, when it comes to the truth, if you can’t trust the news source where “Everyday More Americans Choose ABC News, America’s #1 News Source,” who can you trust?  Peace, ~v.


“Shame on humanity.”

July 12, 2014

Dear Readers,

I saw the following post on a social media site today:

” I wish I can capture how kids feel […] to help show the world the truth.. ~ A lot of kids are missing their rights around the world. Pray for them. ~ kids in wars deserve to live a normal life just like other kids around the world. ~ Not fearing to get killed, lose their parents, or have their homes bombed over their heads. ~ Shame on humanity.”

The young lady who wrote these words is one of my former students.  AAJ is a freshman at a university, studying dental surgery.  She graduated from high school last year at the top of her class; she probably had the highest grade point average in her whole graduating class.  She is articulate, well-read, and enjoys photography as a hobby.  In addition, she is bilingual.  Having studied two languages for a few year now, AAJ is very proficient in both her mother tongue and her second language.

During the time I had AAJ as a student, she oftentimes would challenge me and my instructions.  She was definitely the class leader, and then some.  In fact, the students took their cues from her, not me.  For example, if the students were busy chatting and not working, I could say, “Please stop fooling around and do your assignments,” over and over and over again.  However, it wasn’t until AAJ would tell the class the exact same thing that they would stop misbehaving and do their assignments.

For the most, I appreciate this type of student.  Students enjoy giving new teachers a hard time and if I can just get one student willing to help me lead the class to concentrate on their studies, it makes for less heartache for me.  Although AAJ never slacked off in any way as far as her studies.  However, there were some days when she just didn’t feel like admonishing her peers to get in line.  Can’t say I blame her.  After all, her classmates were also her friends and who wants to scold friends?

AAJ is a typical 19 year-old young lady finishing up her freshman year at a university.  She works hard at her studies and she has mentioned that it is sometimes difficult.  However, she is determined to finish her schooling because she has high standards for herself.  She is goal-orientated, she knows her values and is not willing to compromise them.  She would make a great leader of her generation, don’t you think so, dear Readers?

I believe AAJ has great leadership qualities.  The two things that stand out for me are first, her focus on the children of war and the harm that they suffer, and secondly, her diplomacy.  In all of her posts, AAJ does not point fingers, does not attack people individually or as a group, and she strongly advocates for children.  I could not be more proud of her if she were my own daughter.

I bet most of you, dear Readers, can think of someone that reminds you of AAJ; I can think of several.  I am writing about her today, because today’s media seems to only want to report on what young people do wrong.  Most moral, upstanding young citizens do not get the credit they are due, and hardly anyone will listen to them.  Well, I hope people will listen to AAJ, she has so much good in her heart and will ultimately go on to do great things in her future.  She, in fact, is destined to change the world.

Oh yes, I almost forgot.  In the above quote, I intentionally left out the part of her quote that mentions the place in which she is referring.  Additionally, I never stated what two languages she spoke.

AAJ is a “Muslim Jordanian girl who was born & raised in the UAE.”  She is fluent in both Arabic and English.  She tells me, “I do have friends in Gaza, they tell me what they feel and experience, this is one of the reasons why I’m so touched by the issue, thank you. And may Allah help all people in need💕..”

She is a Muslim living in the Middle East.  Does that fact add or detract from your opinion of AAJ?  I hope it does not detract from it, because she is destined for greatness and she will be leading the next generation.  Peace, I really mean it, PEACE, ~v.

جزاكم الله مساعدة كل المحتاجين.