Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mark Twain and Dennis Leary, Together for One Night Only

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be aquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." - Mark Twain

A thousand years ago (okay, more like twelve) if you had asked me my thoughts on traveling, I would have said something along the lines of, "Yeah, of course I want to travel!  I want to go to Italy and England and Paris.  Maybe Russia in the summer... because I took two years of Russian in high school so, you know, I'm pretty fluent.  And I'd like to go on a cruise, maybe to the Bahamas.  And probably the Grand Canyon and New York.  That's good, I think."

Twelve years later, I've been to so many places, that I needed to have pages added to my first passport.  Then I needed to get that passport renewed before it expired because they wouldn't add any more pages.  I have been to (in as particular order as I can, just to help me remember): the Dominican Republic, Canada, Mexico, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Oman, Egypt, Qatar, England, France, China, Germany, Spain, Indonesia (Bali), Guatemala, El Salvador, and Sri Lanka.   You might be thinking, "Wow, she's a well-traveled lady."  Or you could be thinking, "Stop showing off."  And it does seem like a lot of countries... until you consider that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 189-196 countries in the world, depending on who you ask.  And I've been to nineteen.  Twenty if we count 'Merica (let's count it- I like round numbers).

**Edited to add Turkey and Singapore- the Rugby Star reminded me!  So I'm up to twenty-two... still a nice, round number.**

Being able to travel has been an amazing experience in my life.  I have stepped (ever so slightly) outside of my comfort zone and seen parts of the world that I couldn't locate on a map I had never even considered visiting.  Here's an embarrassing tidbit- when I went to Jordan on a school trip back in 2006(ish), I didn't know what Petra was.  I wasn't 100% sure what the big deal about the Dead Sea was.  I was like Sherlock, not knowing that the earth travels around the sun.  

Better than the sights I've seen, however, is the way my life has changed because of my travels.   I wasn't a stereotypical Southern before I left.  I won't go too far into my political views or religious beliefs, but suffice it to say, I've always been rather open-minded and a bit too liberal for certain family members.  I don't think any of that would have changed if I had never left.  But because I got to experience life outside of Georgia, I think I am even more tolerant, more understanding that I might have been otherwise.  

This makes me mad.   It makes me mad because I saw it posted on Facebook and some of the comments were so ignorant that I wanted to throw my computer at the wall while roaring a Hulk-like roar, albeit girlier.  Someone commented that women wearing the face veil frightened children.  Frightened them?  It's not frightening.  Not if you don't teach your children to be afraid.  It is religious freedom at its' most obvious.  My girls aren't afraid.  The Sprout stares at anyone who talks to her and then waves happily, covered or not.  The Ladybug is in a bit of a shy stage so she typically hides from strangers, but she hides equally from everyone.  I've mentioned that the women who completely cover, even their eyes, can be disconcerting, but it's not scary.  Don't teach your children to be afraid (or hate) and they won't.  Simple as that.

But, the proposition, which may or may not be law by now, actually makes me really angry for another reason.   Not because of the people who are afraid or ignorant intolerant, but because of the extremists who have used the veil as a means to wreak havoc, cause panic, chaos, death and destruction.  I am angry at those who have taken a symbol of the Muslim world and turned it into something to be afraid of.  I am angry that Muslim women are being targeted and discriminated against because of the extremists.  

Many Muslim women choose to cover.   It is part of who they are, part of what they identify with as a woman, as a Muslim.  Imagine being told you must shave your head because people with hair have been causing chaos in the world.  Or now you have to stop wearing pants because people with pants are the ones who make the bombs.  

Travel.  Leave your little corner of the earth and see that Muslim women are not scary, covered or otherwise.  See that poverty exists in ways you can't imagine and that some of those people who are the poorest are the happiest.  Experience life outside of your spot, your comfort zone.  Step back from stereotypes, learn from one another, embrace life and all those in it.  There's a lot out there to learn, folks.  And you won't learn it on a bus tour of Italy or on a cruise ship to the Bahamas.  

Feel free to debate with me, if you'd like but don't be hateful.  I understand the safety issues behind having women uncover their faces, I do.  I'm not raging against the machine of government, more against the people who have caused this to be an issue.  

Day 2: I needed warm because I have a sore throat.  Yep, that's steam rising off my apple-cinnamon oatmeal.  Mmmm!

As NKOTB Once Asked...

... Where do I go from here?

The February Expat Blog Challenge is over.  Technically, I didn't 'win,' as I missed one day of blogging due to scheduling difficulties (i.e. I had way too much to do and too many small people demanding my attention).  But I really, really enjoyed the challenge and I feel like I have set myself up with a positive writing habit that I'd like to continue.  Plus, I'm pretty sure you loved it and want to read more as well... am I right?  Am I right?

So where do I go from here?  I'm going to make a list because I like making lists and then checking things off that list.

1.  I'm doing a photo-a-day challenge for March.  I'll post my photos here, just for funsies.
2.  I'm going to follow the layout of the blog challenge and continue to explore my life as an expat.
3.  I'm going to be more adventurous so that my life as an expat is more exciting.  Grocery store- not exciting.  Watching tanks, police cars and some sort of giant bus assemble on the side of the highway, more exciting.
4.  I'm going to work on my novel in my free time.
5.  I'm going to continue to read the blogs from the people I met in the blog challenge and work to make my own blog more... better.

This was the plan we had for February.  I like the idea of a theme for each day of the week.  Starting tomorrow, I'll stick with:

Sunday- Quotes
Monday- Photo Prompts
Tuesday- On Blogging
Wednesday- For Fun
Thursday- Expat Life
Friday- Food Fridays
Saturday- Where I Live

Today, I'll show you a picture of my watch because that's the first photo for my March Photo-A-Day Challenge.

The prompt says 'clock' and I know that this is technically not a clock...
but apparently we don't own a clock.  So, there's that...

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Toast To What is Yet to Come

A toast- to all those people I've met and all those I will meet. 

A toast to all that I've seen and all that is yet to be seen. 

A toast to those I have to say goodbye to at the end of every summer and those I get to say hello to at the beginning of every summer. 

A toast to all those who are on this wacky adventure with me, whether literally or figuratively. 

A toast to you for reading all month. 

A toast to the future, whatever it may hold. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Traditions We Keep

Day 27: A tradition I maintain.

I have been overseas for twelve years and I have not yet missed a Thanksgiving celebration.  Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving- you don't mess with it. 

It doesn't matter if you live in the Dominican Republic when Thanksgiving rolls around.  If you do, you might help collaborate on a traditional Southern Thanksgiving feast, pear salad and all.  You might invite everyone you know to come and help eat the turkey, green bean casserole, broccoli salad, stuffing, cranberry sauce (from a can), gravy, and sweet potato casserole with ooey-gooey marshmallows on top.

Blue Moon in Cabaret, DR
The next year that you live in the DR, you might drive up to a resort and eat Indian food in an open hut, sitting on the floor, surrounded by the amazing sounds of nature at night.  Someone might cook that food for you on a grill in your hut.  You might get to lie down at the table when you get too full.

If you live in Kuwait during Thanksgiving, you won't get any days off because, at the time, the Kuwaiti weekend was Thursday and Friday.  It was a bummer that you couldn't have at least one extra day to celebrate, but you would still be able to celebrate on the day.  And there might be a lot of Americans around, Southern and otherwise, who would contribute to a feast that filled up an apartment so that all the eating tables had to be set up in the hallway.  Someone might lead you in prayer, a prayer that was so genuine and so heartfelt that you missed home and your grandmother.

If you live in Shanghai during Thanksgiving, you probably won't get the day off, so someone could possibly record whatever 'the' football game is and you might show up at the school, which has a projector, and eat in the foyer while you watch the game.  It might be the first time Thanksgiving has felt real  in a few years because it's cold and men are swearing at the TV screen.  The food won't be so traditional and there won't be any pumpkin pie, but it'll still feel really nice to be celebrating with your expat family.

In Guatemala, you might spend a year with just your husband and your new baby.  You might cook a small turkey and a few of the fixin's and it could be enough to just be quiet for a while.  One year you might go to Irtra and splash around in a water park with new friends, eating nothing traditional but having a blast all the same. 

Should you live in Bahrain, you might sign up on a Google Doc for what dish you'll bring and show up at a friend's house with said dish.  It will still be pretty warm outside and kids will be running in and out of the open door, yours included.  There might be tables and chairs borrowed from the school and a whole bunch of people stuffed into a normally quite big house.  There will be laughter and music and delicious food from around the globe.  And you might stuff yourself on your own green bean casserole because it's the first time you've found French's fried onions in years. 

And every Thanksgiving, you'll miss being home with your own family.  You'll wish you were sitting around the kid's table with your cousins and sister, eating turkey or ham, mashed potatoes and, if someone was loving you that year, cheesy pasta.  Aunt C's pineapple casserole would be gone- mostly eaten by you.  The TV would be on in the background and candles glowing on the mantel and it would just be home. 

But this community is a new kind of home.  And, on Thanksgiving, everyone you're with feels like family.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

You've Got a Friend in Me

Day 26: Recognize someone who has made your expat experience better.

One of the best things about being an international teacher is that, though we're all here doing the same thing, there are so many different people from so many different walks of life.  There is also an abundance people at different ages and in different stages of life to be found in an international school.  When I started in the DR, I was among the young, single group.  We partied on the roof top of Kury, went to the Colonial Zone for drinks and dancing, spent the weekends frying ourselves at all-inclusive resorts and, for some, surfing their hearts out. 

In Kuwait, I started out as part of that group but, after a year of singlehood, I found myself as part of a non-married couple.  We could still have fun, we still had bbq's down by the pool and snuck beverages into the rugby games.  We went to the rugby ball and the Irish ball and any other balls we could go to.  But people started knocking on our door instead of just walking in... because we were a couple.

By Shanghai, I was married.  You start being ignored by the singles, especially the young singles.  You're married, that means you're not fun.  Well, the Rugby Star was still fun.  I've honestly never been that fun.  He still went out but more as a single than as part of a married couple.  And that was actually okay with me.  I had my Midsomer Murders, he had The Studio with K.

In Guatemala, we became married with child(ren).  That meant we were definitely only allowed to hang out with other couples and usually only ones where the girl was kind of (or totally) in the throws of baby fever.  I had an excuse to stay home whenever I wanted, which was often.  The RS had an excuse to keep hanging out with the boys like a single man.  We were both pretty happy.  Exhausted, but happy.

And now, here in Bahrain, we're a family.  And there are other families and it's good.  We live on the same street as all of our expat colleagues and they like to ooh and ahh at the gorgeousness that is my children.  We get invited to birthday parties where the dad's stand in the backyards, drinking beer and grilling something and the mom's hang out in the kitchen near the open bottles of wine.  We take day trips to the zoo and plan excursions to see plays or child-friendly musical acts when they come.  We meet at the playground or swimming pool for weekend relaxation time.

There are people here in Bahrain that are in all the stages I've gone through to get to family.  But there's one stage I haven't been through yet and the wonderful people in this stage are the ones I'd like to tell you about today.  This stage is the married couple with grown children who are off living their lives stage.  These are some of the most wonderful women I've ever met, ones who have helped make every transition easier in this crazy life I lead.

In the DR, it was MP.  Now, she was actually in the family stage at this point (still is).  She had a young son and a newborn.  But she was wise.  And she was funny and kind.  And she would invite me over for beers and we could talk forever.  She was calming and rational and she loved what she did.  She was not only the epitome of an amazing teacher, she set the standard for friend as well.  I knew that if I ever needed anything, I could count on MP. 

In Kuwait, it was Wedgie.  She was a different sort of mother-figure.  She was the fun mom, the one who would drink and smoke with the kids.  She kept a Diet Coke by her bed and hated drinking water.  She reminded me a lot of Blanche from 'The Golden Girls' because she was from Texas and had fabulous hair and was never seen without her makeup.  She could always be counted on for a laugh and, if you needed it, a drink and a shoulder to cry on.  Wedgie was usually the first at a party and the last to leave.  She put us yunguns to shame.

MP moved to Shanghai at the same time we did.  She lived across the river so we didn't see her nearly enough, but she was the same ol' MP with bigger kids and a better job.  Every time we saw her, it was like no time had passed at all.  I am lucky to have had her as my special friend in two countries.  

In Guatemala, I owe my sanity to K.  She wasn't a full-fledged member of the grown children who are
I don't know how my friends feel about me putting their
pics on my blog, so here's one of the Ladybug when she was
a newborn... she's turning 3 in less than a week!   Talk about
off living their lives
club as she still had one high school kid in the house until our last year.  But she was an amazing surrogate mother, especially when I lost my own.  She was a magnet for those of us who needed guidance or direction.  She was a shoulder, an ear, a rock, and a laugh.  Two years later, I still picture her beautiful smiling face and hear her kind, calming voice when I need to remember to breathe and slow down.  K just got it.  And it was everything. 

Being overseas, I miss my family.  There are interactions that you don't get when you're not surrounded by moms, dads, sisters and cousins.  You can make wonderful friends but they will never take the place of those connections you share with the people who know you the best.  But M, Wedgie, and K have filled a bit of that void for me and, whether they know it or not, I am eternally grateful.  I hope they know that if they ever need the favor returned, I would be there in a heartbeat.  Because they have become part of my heartbeats. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Let's Give Me Something To Talk About

Day 25: Revisit an old post that you now have more to say about.

I'm going about a year back to my entry, 1% Perspiration from March of last year.  In a brief recap, I was coming to the realization that teaching English literature was more likely to be my calling than teaching music.  After a bit of research and soul-searching, and after a particularly difficult year trying to teach music to Muslim students whose parents informed me days before a concert that 'there was no way my kid is singing in front of people,' like it was a dirty thing, I signed up to take the English GACE.  I spent the next couple of months reading short stories and then a few weeks before the test studying my face off, missing time at the pool with my husband and kids, locked up on the third floor of our house relearning vocabulary and names of American authors.

I passed the test with flying colors.  And in October, I applied for a Humanities (English and Social Studies) position and then waited.

Eventually, I had a really great interview.

And then I found a really awesome professional development experience for drama.  It's called the Broadway Teachers Workshop and for all the amazing workshop opportunities available during these three days in New York, the thing that excited me the most was the four Broadway shows that come with your registration.  I will get to see Zach Braff in 'Bullets Over Broadway,' Idina Menzel in 'If/Then,' Rocky the Musical (not as excited about this one), and then one more that could be 'Cabaret' starring the amazing Alan Cumming.

My excitement made me realize something else... I love reading, I love writing.  But if I was going to stop teaching and if I wasn't a world-famous author of J.K. Rowling status and still had to work, there are two things I would want to do (this is in a perfect world, mind you): direct and take pictures.  I love theatre.  I love musicals.  I love directing kids who love being in plays.  I love everything about productions and only wish I knew more so I could be a better teacher, a better director.

I am struggling a bit with the conservative nature of my school and the realities of what theatre is.  It is hard to find appropriate plays with a list of 'things we should not talk about' a mile and a half long.  We are also a gender-segregated school, which makes my job even more challenging.  But the challenges provided by my surroundings is opening my eyes to new plays and amazing new playwrights that I've never heard of or considered in the past.  It's forcing me to grow as an educator and I'm appreciative.  Frustrated but appreciative.

That's not to say that I wouldn't LOVE to get into a school with a proper theatre and a population of students who just want to sing their hearts out and do a little grapevine and box-step now and again.

In reading my post from last year, I realize that I felt really lost.  I had lost faith in my own abilities and felt that the only way to move forward was to quit something that I was good at and try something new.  This year has been much, much better.  I know that I'm a good music teacher- I've just set my expectations... differently.  Not lower, not higher, just different.  And I know that I'm a good drama teacher and that my love for literature and my desire to boss people around can only serve to make me a better drama teacher.  This may be the way to go... at least until J.K. comes asking me for writing advice.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

An Oasis in the Desert

Day 24: A Hidden Gem

In all its' glory
Well this is unlikely to be any sort of big reveal.  My hidden gem is my backyard.  I love it back there.
There's nothing particularly awe-inspiring about it- we don't really garden so the stuff that is growing is all thanks to the person before us who planted it and whatever force of nature keeps it from dying.  It's chock-full of kids' toys: there's an 8-foot trampoline (I almost wrote piano... it's been a day), a plastic house, a plastic slide, a sand-and-water table, various balls, a scooter, usually one shoe, some crayons, paintbrushes and a popped balloon or two.  Oh, and a Little Tykes car and a donated bicycle that is slowly rusting in the corner.  Plus, we have two grown-up chairs for rocking.

Like I said- chock-full.  And I think that's why I love it.  It's so us.  This is a place where, while it's cool enough, my family spends a great deal of time.  The kids are back there every day and it's fun watching them toddle around, finding something new and interesting in every corner.  It has a high, cement fence so it feels very private, even though it backs up to the school.  The crazy acacias that are taking over the yard are making it harder and harder to see the school and I'm okay with that.

When it's hot, we still manage to get out there, once the sun is hiding behind the house offering the slightest shade.  We play in the hose, fill up the water table, turn on the sprinklers and just generally try to stay wet.  Last summer, a favorite activity was sliding down the slide into the pool.  The Ladybug called it, appropriately enough, "Down Slide Pool."

And I don't mind if it's messy.  I wouldn't say I'm really a neat-freak, but I definitely appreciate spaces more when they are not cluttered (read: I can sit down and relax versus feeling the need to clean).  But I don't have a problem with the one shoe.  The popped balloons bother me because someone- be it a two-legged or a four-legged someone- could gobble that up and we'd have a problem.  Aside for those, I let things lay where they lie.  

Bahrain is a far more liberal Muslim country than it's neighbors to the West and North (Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) and while there is no rule that you can't wear shorts out in public, it's seen as a bit rude to show your knees.  And also your shoulders.  I feel uncomfortable going outside of my house in shorts, which makes the late spring and early summer almost unbearable!  It is NOT a dry heat in this desert.  We are an island- it gets Georgia humid... and a good twenty to thirty degrees hotter.  Being in anything other than shorts is miserable... so the backyard is a safe haven- a place to be comfortable when it's hot... but not too hot (yet).

The only thing that would make my backyard more perfect, in my mind, is a table.  Right now, if you take a drink or a snack outside, you must be on constant guard from the running kids and the playing dogs.  You can't really put anything down and expect it to still be there when you next turn around.  But the place is already so full that I'm not sure where this imagined table would actually go.

I know there are beautiful places to be seen in Bahrain.   Apparently there is a botanical garden a little ways away and I'd love to go.  I'd love to find a special place that is calm and quiet, beautiful and peaceful.  For now, though, I'm happy enough in my backyard. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Little Girl Lost

Day 23- Respond: “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry Pratchett

By now I have established that I didn't really mean to move away; I didn't really want to go.  But man-oh-man, I'm ever so glad I did.  When I think back to who I was before I left Georgia for that first time, I'm almost embarrassed.  I know I shouldn't be, but I am... almost.

I was your stereotypical little-girl-lost after college and, except for one useless move to Atlanta, which just cost me more in gas and rent, one wretched interview at some middle school that I don't even remember the name of now, and one ill-fated room-renting that could've cost me a friendship if the friend hadn't been the stronger of the two of us, I did nothing to help find my way out.   I was in a ridiculous farce of a relationship that would meet any number of requirements for abusive and it seemed like life was destined to stay that way, since I obviously wasn't going to do anything about it.
It took me a few trips out and a few trips home, but I literally came back.   I came back to being me, an even better me than from before. I left home afraid, depressed, and lost, someone I did not know and did not care for.  Even though planning my move was terrifying, I felt brave and exotic, stepping on that plane (only my second airplane ride ever).  I was off on an adventure and life was changing.  I moved to a country where I didn't speak the language and I learned how to do things on my own- well, except order a pizza.  That always made me exceptionally nervous for some reason. I started spending weekends at the beach, soaking up that good ol' Vitamin D.  I made friends with people who were all running away from something in their own way as well.  I ate new foods, I drank too much Presidente, I learned a culture that was different from my own, people who had a much harder life than my college-educated self.  

I remember those first few trips back home.  I was like a celebrity!  People were scrambling to see me, to meet me for lunches and dinners.  When I went back to Logan's for a visit, you would've thought Reba McEntire had walked in ('cause it was a country-music-playing-throw-your-peanut-shells-on-the-floor-yell-'yee-haw'-for-people's-birthdays-kinda-roadhouse)!  The farcical boyfriend couldn't believe I'd really done it and was much more impressed and interested after I'd returned... And I was finally able to say, "Uh.  No thanks.  Buh-bye now," which was amazing. 

I felt quite powerful, really. 

And suddenly, through my new eyes, my little town wasn't enough for me anymore. 

As an international teacher, recruitment starts in October- you've hardly started a school year before you're making plans to move to a new one.  We start throwing together resumes, signing up for recruiting fairs, tweaking our websites and making sure we've had enough professional development.  At the end of my contract in the DR, I had decided to go home.  Truthfully, I was sort of picturing the fame and glory to continue for an indefinite amount of time.  I would always be Kelli who went to the Dominican Republic to teach. 

I was at my friend MP's house one evening and, after telling me that she and her husband were going to recruit that year, she asked what I was going to do.  I said I was going home.  Without judgement, without malice, she simply asked, "Why?  What's waiting for you there?"

And I didn't have an answer. 

I realized that I had grown a little bit beyond home.  I could see it for what it was- a wonderful place with a gleaming Target and a giant Michael's and clothing stores where the clothes actually fit and TACO BELL.  It was full of memories and the people I loved.  But I didn't really need to be there anymore.  It had become a place of the past.  It may be a place in my future, but it won't be the same place, it won't be the place I left.  I'll come back with a husband and two kids.  I'll come back with confidence and experience and other grown-up words (like mortgage and income tax).  I'll come back to a place where I know I am loved. 

And I think that if you asked those people, the ones who were there for the bad and are still around for the good, they'd agree with you.  They might not like it, but, if they're being as honest as I'm being, I couldn't have stayed home and been happy, not the way things were going then.  I know most of those people want me to move home and that is a possibility on the horizon.  But even though I miss them desperately every day, I had to go away.  I had to go away to find myself. 

And I think I've done a pretty bang-up job, if I do say so myself.