Sunday, December 7, 2014

Universal Language

I am in in love again.  I am in love with a culture and a country in the epicenter of humanity, even though we have just met.  I am in love with the linguistics and اللغة of The Middle East.  I sense something so familiar even though I couldn't be farther from home.

The tip of my tongue has tasted the sweetness of the sounds of which my ears hear when the words stutter off.  Those who know me well can confirm my love for sweets.

I don't even know how it happened so quickly.  One month is barely long enough for some mail to land in a loved one's hands, yet I've managed to fall like an autumn leaf and land on top of a city made of mounds of buildings instead.

Not many will find the beauty in concrete and even I had my doubts, yet when each single room lights up at night like a spec of glitter in the sky, and the sounds of the city include calls to prayer and traveling propane salesmen alike, the alluring distance from home is as clear as the stark blue sky.

There is always something more.  Sometimes feelings of diffidence and humility overcome feelings of love and familiarity... Who am I to dip my toes into the Sea of Galilee?  Who am I to taste the treats and the sweets belonging to a land so ancient,  foreign and grand? Who am I to choose to partake in a civilization too many are forced to forsake; and what's more, even seek to explore my very own "freedom land" soil.

Who are we to wish to test our buoyancy in the deepest depth on Earth, the Dead Sea, when too many families are forced to flee.  It is the inequity and absence of basic rights and human needs; the inequality which sickens me.

I am only slightly sure about what to do and what to say in order to make the world today operate in a better way.

All I know is that making friends on opposite ends of the entire world may spread peace, evoke happiness,  teach a moral,  share a morsel of food for thought, and at the end of the day, translate into a universal language- even if all you can speak is a smile. :)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

انا طالبة I am a student

There is a green light glowing in through the window of my apartment overlooking the city of Amman; a city which I now call home, although I've only just arrived.

This green glow emits from a mosque that calls out a prayer to Allah five times during each day and the city lights of homes and shops scatter the hills like low-horizon stars.  Even though I may be alone, in this middle of the east, I experience peace.

I arrived in Jordan three weeks ago to sample a taste of a language I already knew I loved.  Teaching English as a second language for a year and a half to native Arabic speaking students left an alluring flavor on my pallet.  How on Earth were they forming all those tones in theirs?  Furthermore, what did the translations scribbled in the margins of homework stand for?

Aqaba and the Red Sea
As an artist who was already experimenting with writing and typing the English language backwards as a result of coping with the difficulties of learning technical English grammar, exposing myself to the Arabic alphabet instantly became somewhat of a perfect combination of art and linguistics and it was only a matter of time until I became fixated on everything Arabic.

But that isn't even the whole story.  When one of my co-workers returned from teaching English in the Middle East, I was convinced that I would do the same.

Almost one year ago I enrolled myself in a hands on TOEFL/TEFL/TESOL course in order to enhance my skills as an English language instructor and the only place in the entire world I wanted to teach and live was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  After all, what western woman wouldn't want to live in a Kingdom??  It didn't take long before I had secured a job in Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia.  At that moment I became serious about wanting to begin decoding the language.

I remember sitting in my kitchen on a January snow day in Oklahoma watching online videos like this one over and over and over again.  I began asking my students at school common greetings and soon I was meeting weekly with one or two of the generous Saudi's at school who were kind enough to tolerate my awful pronunciation and correct my handwriting mistakes.  If I were going to teach in Saudi, I needed to know the very basics.

Wadi-Rum and the desert
However, sometimes things don't work out exactly the way you plan them.  After further researching my visa arrangements in Saudi and receiving mixed messages from family and friends I soon became disheartened by the idea of committing myself to a full year in near isolation and I ultimately declined the offer.

I felt so deflated for the period of time surrounding my decision.  Things usually worked out smoothly and I suddenly found myself at what felt like an intersection without any prominent road signs, but too many road blocks. I took the opportunity to spend time with friends, meet my new nephew and work towards resuming plans to experience the Middle East. 

I set out to find an Arabic language school where I could study for a short time and test out the living arrangements before committing myself to an extended period.  I felt optimistic and fortunate when I stumbled upon Ahlan-World and my questions were answered promptly and professionally.  I took the plunge and signed up for 7 weeks of classes and accommodation in Amman.  With a population of over 4 million people, many of whom are refugees from war torn surrounding countries such as Palestine, Syria and Iraq, Amman can offer a stable economy and slightly more westernized style of living in comparison to neighboring Islamic countries.

For these reasons, the city built on seven hills in 13th Century BC by the Ammonites, attracts tourists and expats (like myself) who seek to study or work in the Middle East as well as provides a "home" away from home for those who were forced out of their own countries, seeking safety and asylum (like some of my friends and teachers at the school).
Rubbed with dirt as red as Oklahoma's

When I was 24 years old, I moved to West Africa, where the culture was rich, yet the living conditions were stark opposite.  Exposure to Islam and the Arabic prayer calls every day for over two years, in addition to living in one of the poorest and least educated parts of the world gave me the compassion, empathy and patience to branch outside of the comfort zone in which many choose to stay.

Sometimes you feel most like an outsider when you are closest to your home.

My life here in Amman is simple, yet rich.  I have language classes Sunday-Thursday for three hours a day.  I spend the rest of the day studying or sight seeing and visiting with my roommates, students from the school or meeting friends of friends.  The weekends have been busy seeing ancient places like Petra, Wadi-Rum and Aqaba.  I am fortunate to live in a nice and artsy-district called Jabal Al-Weibdeh that is a five minute walk from school, cafes, shops and anything I could possibly need.

Arabic is hard.  It's beautiful and complicated and I have only skimmed the surface of something like the buoyant Dead Sea.  It will take years to master and I know my departure date of December 20th will come too soon.

Setting sun in the desert

In the mean time, I feel safe and happy and couldn't imagine being anywhere else in the whole wide world; a student once again, at Ahlan-World.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Write Timing

Timing is everything.

Today it is time to write.  I haven't written on this page for nearly a year.  It's an ebb and flow of introversion and extroversion and putting thoughts out into the world via spoken or written language, music, theater, artistic expression or stark silence.  Living life in the present is the best present one can give to oneself.

At times, life simply makes decisions for you, no matter how many decisions you attempt to make on your own.

After many months of searching, I finally feel like life and I are making mutual decisions again.

Beginning this November, I'm off to formally study Arabic in Amman, Jordan for two months.  I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship with this beautiful country I have only read about.

I am re-vamping the writing so that I may share bits and pieces of a Middle East that we don't see or hear about enough in the news today.  There is still peaceful and educational life happening outside of bombings and beheadings and blitzes blown up all over our news feeds, although it's undeniable that those are existing too.

Thank you to all those who can support my decision to journey to non-traditional locations and engage in cultural and educational excursions.  The decision to study in the Middle East has been a long time coming and it's something that can't just be shrugged off.

There is more to this story, but for now here are some stock photos until I can post some of my own:
Dead Sea



Monday, December 30, 2013

Nahautl Navidad

The savanna stood vast and stoic as the sun slowly slipped below the horizon,

Stoic, like a bronze Miguel Hidalgo standing straight and tall,

Vast, like the millions of Mexicans remembering and revering their Father for raising fight and feat of the conquistadors de Espana.

El sol: sinking slow and deep into the tierra creates anvil clouds and a sky like a pastel picture of Christmas.

This is the solstice.  This is the solstice of in a un campo de Mexico.  This is the memory of Mexico.

The sound of the solstice is crickets and cuetas and brass booming beyond the vastness-
Celebrations, fiestas, festvities and felizidad-
Posadas y parades-

La Navidad de Mexico

Now for something Nahautl:

Nahautl is la lingua that about 1.5 Nahua natives know; la idioma indigenous to Mexico and Mesoamerica.  It gained prestige when the Michoacan Empire expanded into what is current day Mexico City, became a literary language when the Latin alphabet was introduced and in the 16th and 17th centuries, works including poetry and even codices were written in what was stated as being one of the most well-documented and studied languages of the Americas according to this.  

If it weren't for Nahautl, we might have been stuck handing out brussel sprout bunnies on Easter.
Can you imagine what kind of world we'd be living in if everyone went around claiming they were addicted to brussel sprouts?

I navigate your attention towards Nahautl not because we'd cry without avocados and tomatoes and coyotes (all also derivatives), but because we'd cry if we didn't have a language with which to express ourselves as humans.  That's what we do.  We relish in self expression and the verbal language.  Babies cry and laugh and smile and drop things because they have yet to develop the skills to communicate through the expression of language that the rest of us can comprehend.  Slowly they begin filling their beautifully woven basket of brains with vocabulary they remember from their surrounding environment.  Finally, after about a year or year and a half, they retain and recall an expansive vocabulary of six whole words on average, according to this.

From the moment I stumbled upon teaching English as a second language about one year ago, clouds muddled the clear blue sky but created an image of a long, narrow tunnel with tracks built for the language locomotive.  Although it was pacing upwards of 200 mph, I hopped aboard and held on for dear life because from the moment the clouds muddled into a tunnel of tracks for the language locomotive- from the moment I felt the fresh wind on my face and comb my hair with its teeth, there appeared an illuminating lading leading the way.  It was as much of a light at the end of a tunnel as I needed to recognize an unrecognized rapture of the profession of teaching.

Fascination holds no comparison to "calling" and if everyone is patient, in time, they will find their true name.

Spoken language is truly a fascinating commodity even though it is quite obvious from the very get go if it is English or if it is Greek.  Why is it then that it is so difficult for us to say what we're really thinking?  I mean really really?  What are we thinking about at the same time we're thinking about that elephant in the room?  Then again why is it so easy for us to say and do everything else?  Why do we want to declare everything that makes up the one thing we're really thinking but leave out that one thought?  Fortunately, this social worker knows the answer.  Thank goodness I didn't have to say what I was really thinking...

The last couple of weeks have been spent learning and a lot has been learned.  The incredible thing about traveling to a different country and experiencing a different culture from your own is that proverbs exist in every single language.  Here is another one in ours: there is more than one way to skin a cat.  This means that there are multiple ways of doing a single one thing.  I traveled to Mexico with one of my Oklahoma roommates to take a break from teaching and visit other Okies who relocated to a country who has a history and colonization countries away from ours. 

Mexico is amazing.  It's a country with a history as rich and delicious as its food and I can't wait to return.
Finally, this Christmas granted the gracious gift of Grandpa recounting Ave Maria on the clarinet by Chopin and Bach.
Next up: a new year!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Holidaze 101

I forgot how hard college was.  I must have blocked it out of my mind.  Or maybe my mind stayed filled with all the stuff I learned from those days, and there wasn't room in my remote memory to even remember.

Q 1: Why hasn't the writer posted since September?

A 1: a. The writer had writers block.
     b. The writer was teaching down the block.
     c. The writer was blocked from the Internet.
     d. The Jolly Green Giant walked down the writer's block.
     e. All of the above.

 What did they used to say?  When in shear doubt, go with C?  Yet E is so tempting and I dreamt about D last night in my dream.  Where did this text anxiety come from??  Blocked that out too, I suppose.

I discovered the secret to time travel.  Become a teacher and time will disappear faster than you can call roll.  Live with a household full and instruct at the University and you may be transported back into your past.

For the past four months, I've been instructing at the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work at the University of Oklahoma.  I attended the professional program from 2003-2005 for my bachelors and 2005-2006 for my masters, when it was housed out of Rhyne Hall, a hacienda style, asbestos-filled building on the that used to be Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house back in the day.  It was actually kind of cute and fun to learn in, if you weren't distracted by the thought of your lungs crystallizing.  Then one day, the wife of President Boren, Mrs. Molly Shi, showed up as our key-note speaker at the Phi Alpha National Social Work Honor Society induction.  Once she set foot in our "charming" school, it was only a mere five years later that lectures went from being held in this: being led in this:
To say it was an "experience" to be on the other side of the desk, helping guide 45 juniors through the first of many lectures, would be, well...elementary.  Every week, I prepared a three hour lecture over one and most times two chapters progressing from the principle life stage of human development.  We covered content from the womb to the tomb, analyzing cognitive and physical development as well as social and emotional development. 

How does one keep forty-five minds engaged for three hours while covering content like ethological theory of attachment (an evolved survival technique involving the emotional tie an infant has to its caregiver), Piaget's conservation theory (not until middle childhood does one understand that two different-shaped glasses may hold the same amount of liquid), Erickson's theory of Intimacy vs. Isolation (conflict in early adulthood reflecting thoughts about committing permanently to an intimate partner), fluid intelligence (basically a combination of detecting relationships between visual stimuli and speed of analyzing information), "presbycusis" (old ears) and "presbyopia" (old eyes), and finally,  The Right to Die?

Since it was my very first time teaching at the college level, I just went with my instinct.  I did it by reading the chapters religiously, every week, and then, supplementing the Power Points with things like this:


...and also this:

...other great finds include:

...and finally, for the exams!

Basically, I found even more information.  But the information I found was meant for supplemental entertainment.

I always find it hard to sum up months' worth of time, energy and experience.  But I'll just say this:

Teaching a class for the first time will always be "the most difficult thing I'll have ever done"; nobody likes a know-it-all who isn't open to being open; Pen Pals, poetry and pot lucks are all still a thing, and students and teachers aren't that different.

In conclusion, being a teacher is like being a student- you get all the breaks, but you also get paid. ;)  I think I may have found my "day job."

P.S. I may have found my "night job" too.  If you need your house to look like a cartoon, I'm your gal.

Boyd House- Norman, Oklahoma
Next up? Mexicooooooo!!!!!!!!!!! 
(Stay tuned for a pivotal post card project!)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Wise Old Man Once Said...

Once upon a time, there was a wise old man.  One day, our paths crossed and he told me his story.  He talked about meditation, mental floss and the spiritual and physical aspects of yoga.  These are some things that takes a lifetime to comprehend.  We discussed relinquishing the past and forgetting about the future.  How can one forget about something that has yet to happen??  Instead, focusing on the present tasks at hand is the very purpose of this life.  We are the change.  We are the here.  We are the now.  "It is nice to feel something different."

The next day, the wise old man morphed into another familiar father figure.  This time, he spoke about devastation and atrocity, but most notably community.  If there was a Great Spirit, they had finally met.  Each shared a piece of mind, and in return, they had made their peace.  He had emerged from a natural disaster and was welcomed home in open arms.  "It is nice to feel something normal."

It had only been twenty-four hours since the transformation.  Yet it had been decades of process.

Experiences and perspectives lend to individualistic approaches to life.  However, sharing those experiences with fellow individuals help create a more cohesive and community driven existence.  We do not have to do this alone.  We can be in this together.

We can help each other feel normal, while achieving something different.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Morsel of Food for Thought

Have you ever stopped to think about how fortunate you are?  Just take a moment.  Chances are, if you are reading this, you are ahead of the game.  You are, after all, reading English...on the Internet.  You probably have electricity.  Perhaps you are taking a break at work.  (Congratulations!  You have a job!)  Or maybe you're reading this while drinking fair trade coffee or herbal tea, or an adult beverage, in the comfort of your own home, while children are sleeping (or crawling all over you). 

If you're lucky, you finally have a second to catch your breath and answer emails, make phone calls, research your interests and passions, or watch a video.  Whatever you find yourself engaged with right this moment, take a minute and pause.

Seriously.  Just stop.  Look outside the window.  What do you see?  Close your eyes. Now connect with your senses. Let go of the weight on your shoulders and take a deep breath.  You deserve it.  What the heck, take two.  What do you smell?  What do you hear?

Feel better?  You should!  We live in a world where demands are high and stress collects as quickly as the dust upon the tables at which we set our cutlery day after day.

It is easy at times to feel like we're moving at the pace of a sprinter from Jamaica.  However, even Jamaican sprinters sit down for meals...