Monday, June 30, 2008

Eyes Wide Shut

Unlike last summer, in which the majority of my classes were theory based, this summer's classes are more hands on. I am especially enjoying learning how to teach independent living skills under blindfold.

Cooking simple meals which involve operating an oven, chopping, blendng, mixing, and cleanup, although somewhat frustrating while under occlusion, has also been quite fun - especially after being able to enjoy the finished product.

Although I love learning about and developing my O&M (Orientation and Mobility) skills, I find that Vision Rehabilitation Teaching (VRT) is another area that I would like to obtain certification and an additional Masters degree in the future. Many veterans are returning from Iraq and/or Afganistan and have lost their sight are in desperate need of VRT services; as are many senior citizens who have lost their eyesight due to diabetes.

Another highlight of my summer school experience was when I was invited to participate in the "Summer In the City" program in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The purpose of this day long program was to assist blind and visually impaired students in developing practical life skills such as visiting a department store and learning how to shop for and purchase appropriate clothes to wear on a job interview, cultivating interviewing skills by participating in mock interviews with department store managers, as well as learning how to sort, organize, and categorize books in a library.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Show me the way to Kalamazoo

June 19th, 11:30 p.m...
Sixteen hours is a pretty long time to be cooped up on a plane - especially if you hate flying. With that said, it was pretty cool to fly over the Persian Gulf. Looking down from the plane I could see clusters of brightly lit islands scattered across sea; it was dusk and the view was stunning.

Reaching the North American continent early the next morning, my neighbor - who was sitting next to the window - opened the shade and we were both momentarily blinded by the reflection of the bright rays of the early morning sun reflecting off of a massive expanse of snow below. Recollecting the numerous Social Studies lessons that I'd taught my little students over the years, I immediately identified the enormous land mass below as Greenland. My seatmate originally thought that it was the Arctic, but after verifying our location on our t.v. in flight route map, I knew that I was correct. 'How cool!' I thought to myself 'We're flying over Greenland!'

Approximately eight time zones later....

After flying fourteen hours from Dubai to Atlanta, I breathed a sigh of relief and said a short prayer thanking god as the plane gently touched down on the runway at Wayne County airport in Detroit, Michigan at 11:05 Friday morning.

As we began our descent, one of the passengers, vocalizing what I'd been thinking after living in the desert and looking out of the window at the lush foilage below, yelled, "Green! Green!"

And the journey continues...

Although the major part of my trip was behind me, I still had to get from Detroit to Kalamazoo. This entailed hiring a private taxi to take me to the Amtrak train station forty-five minutes away in Dearborn. Exhausted and in desperate need of a hot shower and a warm bed, I had to wait six looong hours before the next train arrived. I passed the time flirting with one of the Amtrak clerks; and after making him promise to watch my luggage and my laptop, I ventured down the street to the library.

June 20th, 9:30 p.m.,

The train finally pulls into downtown Kalamazoo. We were supposed to arrive at 9 p.m., but earlier that evening, the train came to an abrupt stop, momentarily, after allegedly hitting a deer that had made the grave mistake of crossing over the tracks. The clerk holding the key to my dorm room had long since gone home, and I had no way to get into my room for the night. Not wanting to spend the weekend sleeping on a park bench, I had the foresight to book a cheap room at the local Motel 6...they do leave the light on for you.

June 20th, 10:30 p.m.

Jet lagged and exhausted, I took a nice, hot shower, climbed into bed and feel into a deep, dreamless, and blissful sleep.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Pursuit of Happiness

As the school year comes to a close, I find myself looking forward to returning to the U.S. for the summer. Going home will be good for my soul. After two months in the states, I hope to feel refreshed, renewed, and ready to return to the Emirates for one final year before moving back home permanently to start a new career working with visually impaired and blind children.

Although I still have one more year to go before I complete my contractual obligation, surprisingly, I find myself having mixed feelings about returning home for good . While I truly believe that my new profession will be personally rewarding - much more so than the job I'm currently doing - after living rent, utilities, and tax free for the last 19 months, I admit that have become spoiled. Returning home means that I will have to buy a car, pay rent/mortgage, utilities, and taxes. Not only will my disposable income will be significantly reduced once all my expenses are paid, my ability to save money will be significantly reduced as will my ability to travel.

In spite of some of the restrictions that come with living in an a society where Islam is the dominant religion, the middle east (aside from Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine/Israel) is a very safe place to work and earn some decent money. Case in point: Last year, while traveling through Jordan, I met a woman who had been teaching in Oman for two years. At the end of her contract, she confided to me that she was returning to the U.S. with $50,000 in savings. Her only regret was that she didn't save up more. Last year, during an interview for a teaching job (which I didn't get), the principal told me that some of the teachers at his school had managed to save up to $100,000. The principal of my school is using her earnings to pay of the mortgages on two homes - one in her native New Zealand, and the other in Thailand. Other colleagues say that they are using their salaries to pay off their mortgages or credit card debts....

Dollar signs flash across my eyes in threes when I calculate the amount of money that I could save up if I continued to work in this part of the world for a few more years. Yet, in my heart, I know that I would not be 100% happy if I stayed longer that I should.
Besides, no matter how much money I managed to save, it would never be enough. Life is about making choices and being able to adapt and change. The quality of one's life is dependent upon making wise choices that will result in optimal happiness.

Here's to the pursuit of happiness...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Forget the mall...let's go to the souk!

Note: photos for this post are incomplete and will be added on an ongoing basis...
When it comes to shopping in the middle east, I prefer to visit the local Souks, or markets that are known for selling traditional items at a fraction of the cost that you would purchase them for at a mall. Also, the cultural experience of shopping in a Souk - which is full of the sights, sounds, and smells of the host country's way of life, far surpasses walking past tons of the same old stores and shops that I can see in just about any mall in the U.S. There are tons of malls in L.A. with the same designer clothes with the same inflated price tags. Rather than buying an outfit that I can get at home, I prefer something unique and special from the region that I live.

Therefore, I am always on the lookout for some reasonably priced unique, exotic, and beautiful item that I can decorate my condo with when I return to Southern California. Browsing through the Souks in Egypt, I came across a beautifully handmade, mother of pearl, backgammon/chess game that I bargained for and purchased for about $25 dollars.

When I go back home, I want people to know that I've lived abroad. I want to be the topic of conversation amongst passersby when I walk down the street wearing my middle eastern clothes, and Egyptian cartouche - with my name written in gold hieroglypics. I want people to notice the smell of my Nefertiti perfume and say, "That perfume you're wearing smells wonderful! What's the name, and where did you buy it?

To be continued....

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wrapping up another school year in the Emirates

School Assembly

National Day Celebration

Well, it's hard to believe that another school year is almost over. Teaching a class of 27 rambunctious second grade students - the majority of whom are boys - has been very challenging to say the least. Therefore, I am looking forward to wrapping up the school year and heading back to the U.S. for the summer. Upon first glance, the children look adorable....and most are. However, quite a few of the students exhibit behavioral problems similar to the behavior of the children that I taught at an inner city school in Los Angeles. The difference is that many of the children in the inner city are often being raised by a single parent, or by an extended family member due to having at least one parent who is a drug addict, alcoholic, gang banger, serving time in jail, or physically and verbally abusive.

On the other hand, many of these children children are well-to-do, live in nice homes, and have personal nannies, as well as drivers to attend to their every need. On top of that, their parents pay lots of $ for their children's tuition. As result, you would think that inappropriate behavior wouldn't be tolerated. It just goes to show that having money does not equate with having manners, being polite, acting civilized, or showing common courtesy towards others. On any given day it is common to walk around the playground and see children yelling, screaming and fighting with each other. A large number of middle and high school students, when reprimanded for bad behavior, are actually defiant and will ignore or talk back to the teacher. Case in point: while on break, I witnessed a high school girl, who was not following school rules, talk back to a teacher as though she were the teacher's momma and the teacher was a small child. When the teacher told the student that she was out of line and had no right to talk to an adult that way, the girl basically ignored her and continued to give her lip service. The teacher literally lost it and had to be restrained from beating the crap out of the girl. Not long afterwards this same teacher handed in her resignation. No she wasn't asked to leave: feed up with dealing with smart mouth students, she choose to leave on her on accord.

My Russian Students
I used to wonder why so many of these children behaved so badly - until I saw some of the parents! Children learn and imitate what they observe their parents do. When they see their parents talk down to the hired help, they do the same. Although the majority of my students' parents treat me with respect and kindness - some parents have brought me food, given me traditional clothes and other small gifts or souvenirs to show their appreciation - I actually had an experience in which one parent, in particular, would come to my room and talk to me as though I were a child because he was in denial that his sweet, precious little angel was terrorizing his fellow classmates. When I punished the boy by sending him to timeout and then the office, the father accused me of picking on his child!! This guy was like a big bully - yelling and screaming at me - no wonder his son was following in his footsteps! Fortunately, another teacher witnessed the way the dad was behaving towards me and confirmed the incident to the principal when I filed my complaint. To my relief, this man is now forbidden to have any contact with me whatsoever. Any questions or concerns that he has must be presented to the administration, who will then pass the information on to me.

Surprisingly, I had the opportunity to meet this man's wife - for the first time - during the school assembly. What a sweet and kind woman! She hugged me and thanked me profusely, in broken English, for the wonderful job that she thought that I was doing teaching her son (the boy was nominated for the honor roll). Looking in her eyes, I could tell that she was embarrassed by her husband's awful behavior towards me and was trying to apologize for him. She even admitted to me that her son was misbehaving at home!!! In order to be fair, I wanted to state for the record that - when he chooses - her little boy can be the sweetest little angel by helping me around the classroom and serving as a peer tutor for his classmates. As I mentioned the positive aspects of her child's behavior, I half jokingly and half seriously stated, "I now know where your son gets his sweet side: it's from you." She smiled at me broadly, and laughed. Her eyes twinkling with the bright light of understanding.

My first year 2nd grade students
Looking back at my first year of teaching in the Emirates, I remember starting two months after the school year had began. This was due to the fact that the three teachers before me (no, that's that's not a typo) had left. When I walked into the classroom that first day, the students were out of control!! In fact, it was and is, common to walk down the halls at my school and hear teachers, in some of the classrooms, screaming at the top of their lungs for students to behave.

On a positive note, those students who do follow the rules and are well behaved make my job very rewarding! It is a joy to teach them and to watch their little eyes light up when we do classroom activities in which they get to paint, draw, create, act out, and manipulate things while learning. Sigh....I only wish that all of my students were such a joy and a pleasure to teach.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Carlos Santana's Dubai Concert

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s, the sound of Santana dominated the airwaves on the radio. Each song played from that era brought back memories of my childhood in Southern California. Therefore, it was with great excitement and anticipation that I accepted my co-worker's invitation to accompany her to Santana's first ever performance in the Middle East.

His "Live Your Light" tour was a huge success and the turnout was enourmous. I was in awe as I watched his hands and fingers move effortlessly... manipulating the guitar strings with the elegance and grace of a seasoned magician performing mind boggling tricks that the eyes saw but could not quite comprehend. The international and multicultural crowd went crazy - myself included - when he sang songs from his multi-grammy winning album, "Supernatural."

Standing outside during the three hour long performance - he definitely gave us our money's worth - surprisingly, my feet did not hurt. Santana's performance was so electrifying that it felt like only a mere two hours had gone by. Memories - both happy and bittersweet - flooded my mind and I was instantly transported back in time to the days of my youth as I listened to oldies such as: "Oye Como Va," "Black Magic Woman," and "I Ain't Got Nobody: That I Can Depend On."

As a testament to Santana's mass appeal, muslims and christians, as well as men and women more than half my age were singing along and grooving to his music. At 60+ years of age, Santana is still going strong living his light and shinning it bright.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thailand: The Land of Smiles, Part 2

...closing my eyes tight, and holding on for dear life, I started to pray: "Lord, if you allow me to arrive at my hotel safe and sound, I promise that I will NEVER get on another one of these damn bikes again! Please Lord!! PLEEESE!!!" It seemed at though God was preoccupied with other, more serious concerns because no matter how much I begged and pleaded, my prayers seemed to fall upon deaf ears...I was too deeply engrossed in seeing my life flash in front of my eyes to realize that my prayers had been answered: the little motorbike had delivered me safe and sound to my hotel...THANK YOU LORD! Hands trembling like a drunk deprived of his cheap bottle of ripple and going through violent withdrawals, I slowly climbed off the little bike, thanked the driver, and staggered up to my room, fell into bed, and was instantly enveloped in a deep dark haze of blackness.

Earlier that day...

Rising at 5:30 a.m. that morning, and quickly gobbling down breakfast, I met the tour guide at 6:30 a.m. in the hotel lobby. Since Bangkok traffic is among the worst in the world, we had to leave early enough to beat the rush hour traffic.


Ayuthaya, the capital of Bangkok, is known for its beautiful pagodas, buddhist temples, and statutes. Meandering around the beautiful gardens and marveling at the temples, I felt a profound level of calmness and serenity. After a long and wonderfully tiring day spent exploring the pagodas of Ayuthaya, I decided to spend the evening hunting for Thai souvenirs at the Siam Night Market in Bangkok. After Mr. Toad's Wild ride back to the hotel that evening, I woke up refreshed and ready to experience as much as I could over the next 15 days.

Over years I'd been told by friends and strangers alike that I should visit Thailand when the opportunity presented itself. Perceiving the Land of Smiles as a place that catered mainly to Western men, I'd made up my mind that Thailand definitely would NOT be a place in which a single, middle-aged black woman would fit in.....boy, was I wrong!

I had a blast!! The people were friendly, the food was delicious, and there were tons of interesting and exciting places to see, as well as fun activities to partake in. Possessing an outgoing and bubbly personality, I would chat up the hotel staff regarding places to see and things to do. Afterwards, I would set out on my own - exploring unknown side streets, alleyways, and street markets in the Sukhumvit area. It was on one of my impromptu walking excursions through the local neighborhood, that I stumbled upon a restaurant that was off the beaten path, but was well known due to its interesting and unusual name! The odd name referring to the founder's belief that condoms should be as cheap as veggies; and no prizes for guessing what you'll get after dinner instead of an after-dinner mint. After checking the menu and finding the prices too rich for my taste, I opted to take these photos instead.

Each day held the promise of a brand new adventure: visiting the world famous Thai floating market early in the morning, and watching snake charmers capture leaping snakes with their bare hands and teeth in the late afternoon.

Pattaya: Coral Beach Island

After spending five days in Bangkok, enduring traffic jams and exhaust fumes, I decided to take and all day excursion down to Pattaya to enjoy the sea and do a bit of swimming. As the boat sailed from Pattaya over to the small island of Ko Lan (Coral Beach), I was asked by my tour guide if I was interested in parasailing. Terrified of high places, I initially declined. However, curiosity and a willingness to try something new, overrode my fears and I gave it a go. Once the boat took off and I became airborne, my initial fears dissipated and I had the most A-W-E-S-O-M-E experience!!!

Chang Mai
Finding the Thais to be very warm and approachable, I was able to make friends with both the hotel staff and strangers I encountered fairly easily. With my new found tour guides, I has a great time getting to know them and and visiting various places of interest (both in Bangkok and Chang Mai) from a locals point of view - not to mention saving money on the local transportation due to receiving the local fare rather than the overpriced rates charged to foreigners. Venturing into a local Chang Mai pub to shoot a game of pool, we encountered a family that was enjoying a very healthy, and definitely creepy looking appetizer as they enjoyed a game of pool. Now, I've always admired the petite frames of the majority of Thais; however, if having a small frame means eating high protein, low fat insects, I think that I'll pass!!!

A long time lover of mainstream Thai cuisine, I signed up for an all day cooking class in Chang Mai. Prior to beginning the lesson, we were taken to a local market to purchase fresh vegetables and spices. Amazed at myriad of different ingredients that were used to prepare even the simplest of meals, giving each delicacy a delicious - and extremely spicy flavor, I was quite proud of the results.

The Golden Triangle

Nearing the end of my days in Chang Mai, and not one to pass up a unique opportunity, I made a last minute decision to visit the Golden Triangle: The Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), and Laos boarders.

On the way to the triangle, we stopped at the Long Neck Hill Tribe village. The young girls in the photo were singing happily as I strolled up and snapped their photo.

In Laos I gave in to the persistent coaxing of a very persuasive Laotian shopkeeper to sample his snake whiskey - free of charge. I reluctantly took a sip and decided that - even though it tasted like regular whiskey, the idea of dead cobras, scorpions, and other varieties of snakes fermenting inside didn't sit very well with my stomach. Therefore, if I never have the opportunity to taste the stuff again, that would be mighty fine with me.

Hua Hin

As my final days in Thailand drew nearer, I looked forward to spending some time with the boss - yes, you read correctly - who is originally from New Zealand, but owns lovely vacation home in a little village located in the southern part of Thailand called, Hua Hin.

You may recall at the beginning of my post, in which I swore I'd never get on another motorbike again.....well....I lied. Not only did I ride on one in Chang Mai (and enjoyed it!) I rode with my boss on her bike and enjoyed it even more! You see, the darn things were growing on me!! I enjoyed my time in Thailand and look forward to returning, once again, to the Land of Smiles.