Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In today's news...

I must be honest, I don't usually follow the news much. I have my reasons. First of all, I've seen the way the Middle East (among other topics) is typically portrayed in western media, and I've seen for myself that many such portrayals tend to be exaggerated and/or biased.

Secondly, I find that the news tends to be terribly impersonal and without feeling. I care too much about people for that. When a disaster happens, such as a city being bombed or destroyed by some natural phenomenon, the first thing I want to know is what are the survivors really going through? How many children now don't have homes? or parents? What about the widower who will now drink his coffee alone every morning? How are the now-single mothers going to take care of their children? I once heard someone say that one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. I don't think that way, and I hope I never do. I care about the individual tragedies, whether one or one million. So whenever I do watch any news, I add my own feelings by asking myself questions. 

In today's news, I happened to hear about an Iranian actress, Marzieh Vafamehr, who was recently sentenced to a year in prison and 90 lashes for appearing in a film (My Tehran For Sale) about government censorship in Iran. The following is my chain of questions:
Where is Marzieh right now?
What is she thinking? Is she afraid?
Did she have any idea what the consequences of this film might be?
Was it worth it?
What if that was me?
Would I survive 90 lashes?
What would 90 lashes do to my body?
Does she have a  family?
I wish I could hug her and tell her 'well done!'
I wish to God I could help her.

But the news report I read didn't ask or answer any of these questions. Why not? How might people think differently if they were given the full story each time they watched the news? What might happen if we all started to ask our own questions about what the media feeds us?
Thank you Marzieh. I hope your suffering is not in vain.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What mean domestic?

In one of my classes today I gave a conversation activity. The students were supposed to ask eachother questions using a certain grammar topic. During conversation, one question that came up was, 'What pets did you used to have when you were a child?' And the conversation continued as follows:

Mahmoud: 'Teacher, what mean "pets"?'
Me: 'It's an animal you keep--'
Mahmoud: 'Ah, camel!'
Me: 'Heh, well--'
Omar: 'Teacher, what is a pet?'
Mahmoud: 'Like animal in your house, cat, dog, camel...'
Me: 'Do you keep a camel in your house?'
Saleh: 'Teacher, can I say falcon is a pet?'
Me: 'Yes, Saleh, you can say a falcon is a pet.'
Saleh: 'Ok. I have a falcon.'
Me: silently laughing to myself...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Today Ray and I decided to go biking and rollerblading--he bikes, I rollerblade. As we were leaving the house, he realized that his tires were a bit low on air, so we decided to go to the nearest ADNOC station to fill up. It's very close to our house. Since it was rush hour the gas station was completely packed. Ray and I maneuvered through the crowded parking lot to the air pump. While Ray was filling up, I glanced across the street.

Now this is the street we live on. It is also the street where Ray and his family lived for about 14 years. The building where Ray and his family lived is in the process of being demolished. We pass this building regularly and every time the demolition makes further progress, but for some reason I really noticed it today. While Ray was pumping air, I was looking at his old home being destroyed.

Buildings here are demolished all the time. I just taught the word 'demolish' to a group of students the other day because in this city it's such a common word. demolish transitive verb: 1a:tear down, raze b: to break to pieces : smash 2a: to do away with : destroy b: to strip of any pretense of merit or credence.
Once Ray finished getting air we stood together staring up at his former home, counting the floors, trying to figure out which pulverised rooms used to hold our memories. I spent a lot of time with him in that house. Now it looks like a life-sized dollhouse, half open for the world to see inside.
"I think that was your front door."
"No, that's the door to the kitchen."
"Your sister's bedroom is gone."
"I can still see a bit of my parents' room."

How strange it is to stand across the street and peer into a place that used to contain your life. People used to sleep there, eat there, make love there, laugh, cry, dream, grow, live. Soon it will no longer exist. The house that I see in the playback of my mind will be an empty lot.
I wonder where all the neighbors went.
I wonder what they'll build on the empty space.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Summer Vacation

I am back. Yes, I took a vacation. A long, much needed vacation from work, from the UAE, from this blog, from email, from facebook, and all the pressures of adult life. Here are some things that I did on my vacation:

  • Slept in...everyday.
  • Saw almost every member of my family that I know of and some that I didn't know.
  • Played hide-and-seek in my grandma's house with my nephews instead of hanging out with the grown-ups.
  • Took a nap.
  • Watched cartoons.
  • Went to the zoo.
  • Built towers out of blocks with my nephews.
  • Tried to catch lizards (failed), fed ducks and ponies, and cuddled with a puppy.
  • Spent an entire day getting dirty, four-wheeling through 'swamps' (yes, I'm from the South).
  • Spent HOURS shopping with my sister.
  • Kept my mobile phone turned off for more than a month.
  • Rarely remembered what day it was and didn't plan my day according to a clock.
It was a good vacation. I think I mentioned in a previous post that I hadn't been back to the States in over a year, the longest I've ever been away. Before I left, I decided I was going to just chill, to not allow myself to be stressed about anything, to let myself remember what it was like to be a kid again. I think that descision, combined with my being gone for so long, helped me to see so many things differently. Instead of feeling awkward and out of place among other Americans, instead of judging American ignorance and materialism, I found myself enjoying its freedom. I saw that it actually is a fun and beautiful country, something I hadn't noticed in a very long time. As I let myself become a child again, a teenager again, I let myself become me again, and I realized that I'm fun and beautiful too.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Wow, I didn't realize it had been so long since I last posted--almost a full month! Our internet got shut off for a while (funny how that happens when you forget to pay the bill for six months:-P) and then I just got really busy with work. Today, though I've had a million things to do, I've managed to let myself think that the work will get taken care of in its own time.

Ray and I are leaving for the U.S. this week and we'll be gone for all of Ramadan. It's Ray's first time going to the States. I haven't been back for a year now.

I've been so excited, possibly the most excited I've ever been about anything. I'm finally going to get to show Ray all the places where I grew up and experience with him so many things that are normal for me that he's never done. Like hiking through a forest, fourwheeling, WhiteWater, and Wal-mart.

But I have to be honest. I'm a little afraid too. Maybe even more than a little. As I said, I haven't been back in a year.

Though it's never strange for me to be with my family, it's always strange to be back in the U.S. In Marietta. In my house. It's not my house anymore. I hear many people here in AD talk about 'going home' for the summer. I wonder if they feel the same way as I do. A little bit homeless.

Between 2006 and 2007 I spent maybe a couple of months in the States. Most of my time was spent between Haiti and Abu Dhabi. The times that I was in the U.S. were very strange. Shopping malls made me nervous and I found that I no longer knew how to talk to people who spoke English. I felt like a foreigner. Like my home was no longer my home. I think I realized then that my sense of home that I had always felt through my childhood and young adult years was gone.

Since I moved to AD in 2008, every time I've gone back to the States for a visit I've found this feeling of homelessness is stronger. I see that Life has gone on without me, and that sense of rest and relief that one associates with 'going home' seems to taunt me from some place that no longer exists. My haven, my own little corner of the world...I don't have one. Yes, this thought does make me cry sometimes. Because sometimes I'm tired, or afraid, and I just wish I could run home, but I don't know where that is.

I have some thoughts that comfort me though: I know I'm not alone. I know there are other people who feel the same. And through history, there have been some amazing people who also had no homes. Secondly, I know I'm living the life I chose, the life God planned for me. If I had stayed in my old life in the U.S., I would have always wondered what could have been.

Deep down inside me, I know the rest and relief of 'home' I'm looking for don't exist in a geographical location. I may not know exactly how to find them, but I'll keep searching. Who knows, maybe my home will find me. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Faith Shared

Yesterday, June 26th, churches and other religious centers all over America participated in an event called "Faith Shared". Maybe you've heard about this. During this event, people gathered together from multiple different religions, particularly Christians and Muslims, and held interfaith services. The point of these events was to show religious tolerance and to let the world know that the large majority of Americans are not all bent on burning the Quran. You can find further information about this event here.

Personally, from the information I read on the event's website, I thought it seemed to have the potential to be positive. However, the way I first heard about it was anything but. Being in the Middle East, I rely on the <sarcasm coming up> dependable source of facebook status updates to bring me the most important news from the USA. I stumbled upon a status update that criticised the Faith Shared event, claiming that one of its leaders was being influenced by the spirit of the anti-christ and that the event's purpose was to promote a new religion: Chrislam. I googled this term, which I had never previously heard, (and which was nowhere to be found on the Faith Shared website) and I found other websites that had similar viewpoints.

I will let you draw your own conclusions about the Faith Shared event. My main concern is the sense of fear that so many people seem to be caught up in. I can understand that Faith Shared could cause some people to question the boundaries of their faith and to be concerned about whether or not it may compromise their beliefs. However, I believe there is no compromise of faith worse than fear. It causes us to exaggerate, to be suspicious and inhumane. At the same time, I don't believe that tolerance is enough to combat this fear. The only way to live in uncompromised faith and reject fear is to love proactively.

Feed a homeless person. Say hello to your Muslim neighbors and share a cup of tea. Pray sincerely. You get the idea. It's all proactive love and there is no compromise in that. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Women. Drivers. Ninjas.

I have some students whose faces I have never seen. They are women, and they cover their faces, all but their eyes, with a veil. I've realized recently that my relationship with these women is a little different from my relationship with other students. I recognize them by their eyes, tone of voice, and most of all personality. One student, whom I'll call Fatima, is one of the most beautiful women I've never seen. She's bold, outspoken, and hardworking. Anytime I give some assignment in class, she takes charge. She laughs easily and smiles with her eyes. I've found that most of my veiled students have similar personalities; their hearts are bright and visible, even if their faces aren't.

When I recently read about Saudi women defying the driving ban, I thought of Fatima. Though women are free to drive in the UAE, she's exactly the kind of woman who would buck the system. I'm sure these ladies who are driving around Saudi Arabia are probably also just as sassy, and just as beautiful. This will probably sound terrible, but I've sometimes heard young people refer to veiled women as 'Ninjas'. You can figure out why. I think though that this term might be appropriate for these heroic women drivers. They really are fighting for something.

Whether it's my rebellious nature or my love of justice and equality that makes me excited by these women's defiance, I don't know. But I'm proud of them and I'm praying for them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


In response to my last post, Conversations, Part I , I received this comment from a good friend in the States: "The families of the victims of 9-11 are asking the same question, and the dead victims would ask if they could: 'I didn't do anything wrong. Why am I being punished for something I didn't do?' Maybe your friends can relate?"

I'm not really sure how to respond to this. I know by what I've heard from some students that when 9-11 is mentioned here, the response usually involves numbers of civilian deaths being compared. A good deal of Bush bashing is also often included. I would rather not discuss these topics as I don't find it helpful. I'm much more concerned with forgiveness and healing.

Concerning this question, "Why am I being punished for something I didn't do?" I don't know the answer. But I can see from the perspective of the victims on either side. I remember how it felt to be terrified, watching the twin towers fall and being worried that my family in the military might not come home. I also remember the group of little Iraqi kids, who lived in the same building as me, and who couldn't hear because their ear drums were so damaged by explosions.  

I once heard (though I can't remember where) a tradition of forgiveness practiced in some part of Africa. If someone is murdered, once the murderer is caught he is bound up and thrown into the middle of a lake. The victims family is then given a choice: take revenge by allowing the murderer to drown, or save his life and be free of grief. 

Whose life can I save? If freedom comes by giving life, how can I give more? How can I live forgiveness? Maybe these are the better questions to ask.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Conversations, Part I

Right now, I'm sitting on my sofa, listening to Ray compose some music. Some birds are singing outside my window. I'm relaxing after cleaning my house, browsing facebook, and having a conversation on chat. A normal Saturday afternoon...kind of.

The person I'm chatting with is a Middle Eastern man. I've asked him the same question that I've been starting to ask a few of my friends here: "What do you think America needs to know about the Middle East and Muslims?"

The answer is always pretty much the same, and this particular man (I'll call him Amir) put it quite succinctly:
"Islam does not promote, sponsor, condone or encourage terrorism or murder."

I asked another person (I'll call him Ahmed) this same question, and though he gave a similar answer, it took a while for him to give it. He said answering that question was useless, that there was no point in trying to make the West believe anything good of the East. I hassled him just a little, in a nice way. In addition to what Amir said, Ahmed answered, "We are not terrorists...we f---ing hate the muslim terrorists." Following this was a long release of frustration about how his part of the world, his religion, his culture, and himself were discriminated against. World events are taken personally, though he himself never personally offended anyone from the other side of the world.

From the answers to my question, I've been picking up on the same root. When I look a little deeper, I see that my friends, students, neighbors seem to echo the same response: "I didn't do anything wrong. Why am I being punished for something I didn't do?" 

I don't know what it was exactly that made me begin asking my question, and I don't exactly know what to do with the answers except to just listen. I hope that by asking and listening some understanding or compassion might steal its way into places it didn't exist before.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011


A few years ago, before we were married, Ray tried three times to get a visit visa to the States. Each time he was rejected (rudely) with no real explanation as to why. We decided a few months ago that we would try to apply again. There are still a lot of my relatives whom he's never met, and I didn't like the idea of going on a month-long vacation without him. Also, I've always felt like he won't be able to know and understand everything about me unless he sees my country.

His previous attempts at applying were terrible experiences--having to collect bank statements and other ridiculous documents, rude interviewers, long waiting times in the sun, and, after all that, rejection. This time was completely different. We waited for a couple minutes, everyone was friendly, and he wasn't even asked for half of the documents he brought with him.


He got it! I've said before that the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi is probably the most unfriendly place on earth. Today, I did a little happy dance in the most unfriendly place on earth. And it didn't seem so unfriendly anymore. I've been waiting for about four years now to take Ray to my other home, the place I grew up and lived most of my life. Now he'll be able to know all of me.

Today is a great day.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Heat and Sweat

I guess it's been a few days since my last update. I've been a little busy. Not so much with things to do, but just in my mind. A lot of thoughts.

I blame the heat. I've been seeing a lot of comments from people in the States lately about how hot it is there. Really? On a good day here it's 41C/105F. And it will get even warmer. All my flowers are dying from the heat. At this point in the year, people begin to leave the country and go someplace cooler. My students come to class late, or just don't bother to show up. I've read before that there's a correlation between hot climates and aggression. I can see how that could be true, as being so hot can put anyone in a foul mood, but I fail to see how anyone could have the energy to really be physically violent. All I want to do is sit in my intense lethargy. And think.

Maybe I'd like to get away for a while. Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's homesickness, but I've been finding it difficult to be around people lately. Do you know what it's like to try and work something out in your mind and just want to be left alone? It's like sitting in a sauna...or sitting outdoors in Abu Dhabi. You don't have the energy to deal with others while you sweat out whatever it is that's making your life toxic.

I've chosen to sweat it out though. A couple weeks ago, I said a prayer. I asked God for more life. I always want the most, the limit, the extreme. I can't stand the thought of there being something I'm not getting out of life. I want all I can get and I don't care if I have to bear the heat to get it, to rid myself of anything that makes me toxic or holds me back.

Sweating brings humility. When it's this hot, there's no use in trying to hide that fact that you sweat, that you're human. You can shower, put on perfume and make-up, try to make everyone think you've got yourself together. But just take a step outside, into the heat, and everyone can see your humanity. The businessman, the labor worker, the housemaid all sweat just the same under this sun.

So that's it for me. My make-up is off. I'm sweating and I'm ok with it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bride and Brejudice

A few days ago, Ray told me that some friends of his family wanted to drop by and bless our house. For those of you who may not know, Ray and I got married about 5 months ago. Apparently, it's a custom for family and friends to come and bless the house of newlyweds. No one ever told me this. Also, I'm not very keen on entertaining. I'm not too confident in my cooking skills and my idea of hospitality is very different to the hospitality that I've been shown in this area of the world. For example, if friends come over to my house, they are more than welcome to act the same as they would in their own home, open my fridge, eat my food, take a nap on my bed, whatever. In contrast, whenever I've gone to any local friends' houses, I was shown to a special room for receiving guests and waited on by a maid. Obviously, my idea of the way guests should be treated is not normal here. 

So when Ray said his long-time family friends had invited themselves over to our house, I wasn't exactly thrilled. I freaked out a little, immediately thinking, "I don't know how to cook! I don't know how to entertain, much less entertain Arab family friends who are probably expecting something amazing! We don't have enough plates so we'll have to use paper! Our house is just a small studio! Why are people inviting themselves over to our house?? That's so rude!" (Where I come from, it's not nice to invite yourself over to someone's house...another example of my ideals that  aren't normal here). Ray, very sweetly, reminded me of what part of the world I'm living in, and gently let me know that I was being culturally insensitive.

I came home from work today and insisted on having a bad attitude while I cleaned up the house and prepared for our guests. Since I really don't know how to cook, we just got some take-out Lebanese food. At some point, Ray asked me, "What can I do to make you feel okay about this?" Again, I decided to be a jerk and say, "Nothing. I'm just going to feel this way. But don't worry, I'll be nice." He wasn't happy with my response, but I assured him he had no choice.

Finally, our guests arrived. I forgot my bad attitude and my ideals when I realized they were incredibly nice. They were totally cool about the fact that we just had take-out and complimented our tiny house without being the least bit sarcastic. I had expected that the evening would be a drag, but instead it flew by. Before the couple left, they prayed for our house and our marriage. I felt quite humbled and ashamed about my bad attitude.

"See, it wasn't so bad, was it?" Ray asked me when they left. No, it was actually really nice.

We closed the front door and found an envelope on the table. Inside was a card, congratulating us on our marriage, and a large amount of money--enough for a plane ticket to the U.S. We've been low on cash lately and worried about whether or not we'll both be able to make the trip this summer. Not only did God provide money that we needed, but he also demolished my bad attitude, taught me that not all my ideals are acctually ideal, and let me meet some really sweet people. I am thankful.

Monday, May 30, 2011


I love contrast and extremes. I seem to be drawn to it for some reason and it fascinates me. I see a lot of contrasts in this city and even though I've lived here for a while, I don't think I'll ever get bored if it.

Yesterday on the way to work, the taxi driver took a road that I don't normally take. On this particular street there is a row of maybe three or four stunning mansions. I can't really describe how amazing these houses are or compare them to anything in the U.S. because we simply don't have anything that I can think to compare them to. Between a couple of these mansions there is an empty lot of sand. I think there was an older mansion there that was probably demolished. On this plot of sand, there is a black, three-sided tent. I assume this is the same kind of tent that many Gulf Arabs lived in years ago, but which has now become essentially obsolete. This particular tent has been there for some time and I can only assume that it belongs to the same person who lives in the mansion next door.

One night, Ray picked me up from work and we drove down this same street. I noticed the tent was lit up and there was a group of about 20 men seated inside. I was amazed. With mansions on either side, someone decided to have a friendly gathering in a tent. With all the money and apparent progress that has taken place in this country, it seems that someone still desires to remember the way life used to be. I would really like to meet that person, whoever he is.

Friday, May 27, 2011

End of Term

Wednesday was the end of our last 6-week term before summer classes. The last day is always pretty hectic because I have to get students' reports done and printed correctly and plan some kind of review lesson that is more fun than usual. Today's blog will just be snapshots of the day's thoughts and occurences...

I really hate making reports. There's no place for me to give a number for effort. This is incredibly unfair for students who try hard but still can't get it right. We're supposed to be as objective as possible when grading, but that's rediculous.

In my first class (Beginners), I was greeted by a student whom I'll call Yonas. He said, "Teacher, your face red!"
I responded, "Well it's very hot outside today."
"But teacher, you look like tomatom."
"What? I think you mean tomato."
"Too-ma-too. Yes! You look like too-ma-too. Spicey too-ma-too!"
The joke's on him...I didn't correct his pronunciation or grammar, heh heh.

Finally, on the LAST day of the term, I got the beginners to to mix and speak without my help. Usually the men and women sit on opposite sides of the room. Being in a mixed-gender class is not normal for them since everything here is segregated. Today I paired the men and women for a speaking activity and they were completely fine with it. I am proud!

In my second and third classes (both Elementary) everyone was very nervous about receiving their reports. Even though I had told most of them that they weren't in danger of failing, they still worried that they might. I usually don't give out reports until the end of class, but I couldn't take much more "Please, Teacher, I must see my marks!" So in the middle of class I gave the reports. Thankfully, no one really complained that they didn't get the grades that they wanted, even the one guy who did fail. Still, some did ask, "Teacher, why you not give me more high marks for speaking? I good speaking, Teacher!"

After I gave out the reports, I had a vocabulary review game planned. Charades. The students always enjoy this game, and I have to say it's fun for me to see them, all adults, laughing like kids and having a good time in my class. But one woman in particular (I'll call her Amani) REALLY loves this game. She usually comes to class, dressed in the traditional black abaya and sheila, with a serious, somewhat tired expression on her face because she suffers from some health problems. But when we play vocabulary games, she transforms. I have seen Amani become "a rock-star", "a butcher", "have a barbecue", "have a haircut", and "fall in love", all in my class. Her team always wins the vocabulary games.

One of the other teachers decided to bet on which teacher would receive the most end-of-term gifts. I lost. I think this is the first term that I haven't received any gifts. BUT all of my students insisted that I must be their teacher for the next term. At the end of class, I practically had to ask them to leave because they just sat in their chairs. And all the ladies kissed my face before they left. I'm not writing this to try and show what a great teacher I am, but because I'm happy that my students felt so loved. That's how I guage my effectiveness as a teacher. If I genuinely care about my students, the teaching and learning will naturally follow. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Just Another Manic...Sunday

In this area of the world, our weekends happen on Friday and Saturday so today, being Sunday, is the first working day of the week. (Yes, it took a very long time to get used to this. For more than a year at least I always thought it was Monday when it was actually Sunday. But that's a different topic).

Today I'll teach three classes, the first is Beginners and the other two are Elementary. Needless to say, they are low levels. Communacation with my students, especially the beginners, often includes hand motions and drawing pictures, making us all look and feel a little childish. This was really uncomfortable for me at first, but then I started taking a Beginners Arabic class and I started to see from my students' perspective.

Learning any language is difficult, but the differences between Arabic and English are huge. The grammar is incredibly dissimilar and even the alphabets of the two languages include sounds that the other doesn't have. Remembering even a few questions and answers in Arabic takes hours of practice and review and is mentally tiring.

Since I've been taking this class, I have really seen that it takes a lot of determination and humility for my students to learn English. My students come to class for two hours a day, three times a week. I'm only taking one hour a week of Arabic.This is their area of the world and Emiratis are proud people, yet they take more time and energy to learn my language than I do theirs. When some Emirati man sheepishly gets out one simple sentence and manages to screw it up, I understand what he's going through. I appreciate his efforts to keep trying and hope that maybe I'll have the same level of perseverance.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

For lack of a better title...Blog One

It's been a very long time since I've written a regular blog. This one will be quick since I'm a little busy today. Just a brief explanation of why I've decided to begin blogging again.

First of all, I'm an American and I live in the Middle East. My friends around the world, and especialy those in the States have been asking me for the past two years to please post some kind of regular updates about my life here, but I haven't. But better late than never, right?

Secondly, I understand that many people in the west have certain assumtions about the Middle East, about Arabs, that I would like to counteract. My husband, Ray, is half Egyptian, half Lebanese, born and raised here in Abu Dhabi. I'm an adult ESL teacher; probably 98% of my students are from the Middle East and North Africa and probably 97% are Muslim. They come from Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, and let's not for get the UAE. To some people in the west, this could seem intimidating. For me it's now completely normal. During my time here in AD (Abu Dhabi), my perceptions of "Arabs" have evolved. Their religions and where they come from is secondary to the fact that they are my students, fellow humans, and friends. I'd like to hope that by sharing my experiences and their stories, maybe some perceptions and paradigms could be shifted.