Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Setting Precedence

One of the many reasons why I like to volunteer for charitable events is because I want to set precedence for my children as my parents did for me.

This morning I was pleasantly surprised when that ‘precedence’ was manifested while my son was getting dressed to go to school. I am not entirely sure what we were talking about. It was either that he wants to help set up for his birthday celebrations on Sunday or dinosaur games on the iPad or what he plans to do with his day at school.

It was during that discussion when out of the blue, my son said, “I like to help people. I will help anyone who needs my help.”

I had to stop for a moment and take in a deep breath before hugging him and telling him how much I was proud of him. I felt like the seed of our ‘labor’ has finally been planted and soon we will begin to see the fruit.

 My son is growing up fast and will soon be venturing off into this world independently of his parents. And therefore, the time left to plant seeds of humanity in him is short and we must think of every word we say to him and action we take with or in front of him. And so, for me to see that what we are doing is actually going towards the right direction was relieving.

 I always wonder whether the decision I made or the path I took was the best option. I always question whether I said the right thing or whether I should have said it in a different way. This never happened to me before I had children. Before thinking of having kids, I always knew what I wanted and if I ever made a wrong turn somewhere, it was easy to find the correct path again. I never had to think of anyone except myself…. well that is not entirely true … I always considered what my parents would think if I chose something over another.  

Anyway… suffice to say…

Parenting is not an easy job I tell ya, but it sure is pleasurable and satisfying when you get to see glimpses of the finished product. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

What an Attitude

On Saturday, I had the privilege of joining an amazing team of students and teachers on their trip to bring emergency food packets to a community in the Bang Khae area in the South West of Thailand. After putting on our plastic boots, we dismounted our air conditioned luxurious van and stepped onto a mossy dirty road in a village which was affected by the floods.

The first thing that I noticed was the young children walking in their slippers or bare feet in the dirty water looking around for something. They were carrying a net with them in their search of the waters beneath their feet which totally puzzled me. I was trying to figure out what on earth interested them in that murky mossy water which to me was an inconvenience of course. But for these children, these waters seemed to be a source of fun. After some hand gestures and a few broken Thai words, I discovered that they were on a mini fishing excursion. Yes, believe it or not there were fish in the water... that  same water that filled their houses and conquered their streets for weeks. 

The second thing I noticed was the smiles on the people's faces. I have grown to respect and love these people of the Thai land as they have inspired me to make light of an awful situation. Everywhere I turned, I found their smiling eyes looking back at me. We walked through the village to meet more people who were unable to walk to the relief truck parked at the entrance. There were many houses that were severely affected by the floods. Some still had water in the bottom floor of their house while other residents were cleaning the black bacteria infested sludge remaining after the water had receded.No matter what the extent of their dire situation was, they always managed to flash their toothy smiles at all of us.

 There is so much to learn from these lovely people... which makes me wonder sometimes which one of us is considered poor.

I am not posting all the picture together as there was so much for me to take in and digest. It was not a difficult trip in the physical sense of it all but it definitely took a toll on my emotions. Therefore, I need time to choose my words carefully when posting the pictures along with their comments which was why I chose to start with the positive side of it all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Children See, Children Do


 I was upset with myself after school today when I asked my son to pick up two pieces of candy wrappers that we found on the stairs. I asked him to pick up one piece while I picked up the other. He kept repeating that he wasn't the one who threw it and so why pick it up? I tried to explain that it was our school and therefore we need to take care of it but to no avail. I felt embarrassed because people were walking passed us watching us debate. I could not decide whether  I was upset because he would not help out or because he did not follow my instructions. 

After I had a word with him about it, he asked me, "Are you upset with me over a piece of paper?" 

hmmmm... stop... think... what do I answer to that?.... take a deep breath....

"No, I am not upset at you over a piece of paper but because it would be nice to learn from Mama sometimes and to do as she asks just as I do what you ask of me many times. It is also kind to keep our school clean and if we saw something that littered it to pick it up, setting an example to others."

I did say something I am not too proud of though.... I said that I was disappointed in his decision not to listen or help out.

When all I should have done was pick it myself as I usually did and see if in the future he would do the same. I need not ask him to do anything which was my mother's style of teaching about litter. She used to stop people on the streets and ask them to pick up their own litter that they had just thrown out of their car or as they walked by. Her manner with them was so gentle that they agreed with her when she said,"This is our country and we must all take care of it and keep it clean." What can anyone say to that? 

I have to admit, that it used to embarrass me when I was 7 years old and if we were in the car, I used to slide under the seat to avoid the people seeing me. But now I do the same. She did not need to tell me to pick things off the street, I just observed her do it many times over. The only thing she actively taught me was never to throw anything on the ground myself but keep it in my pocket or hand, and later car, until I found a trash can.

if he saw that I picked up the candy wrappers without saying a word, the action might have registered and he might do the same in the future. 

Would love to read what you think?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Instilling Confidence

This weekend was one of the best the children and I have had in a long time. No whining, arguments or time outs. The kids were awesome and had such a good time learning and exploring their abilities. My husband and I are the kind of parents who encourage our kids to take ‘calculated’ risks.

My son is growing up fast and he has been asking to walk around the neighborhood alone a few times. On Friday, I said it was ok but that I am trusting him with his life and that this is a BIG first step for him to feel responsible and act like a Big Boy... I wanted him to learn to trust himself as well and not ever fear going away on his own but that he should always take calculated risks. That he should always look at whatever is around him... assess the situation or the risk and then decide if it is a safe and sane thing to do.

My son agreed with me and went off on his adventure only to run straight back after 5 minutes because he encountered some barking soi dogs (Soi dogs are street dogs). He assessed the situation and decided that maybe it would be better for me to join him the first time. I wanted to encourage him further and not buy into fear and therefore I suggested that he take his sister this time and I will walk behind them. I wanted him to steer his focus away from the dogs and direct it towards protecting his sister. He did it and was very protective of his sister placing her to the inside of the street closer to the small pavement.

The next day, Saturday, we went to the pool to have a swim. For the past few months my daughter has been a little afraid of the water and I have been patiently trying to get her to put her head in the water, jump in or kick her legs when I hold her far away from my body. That day, she said she did not want to do any of those activities and all I said was, "I will wait for you to tell me when you are ready! And if you were, you will be very proud of yourself when you do it!" I waited only ten minutes when she said she wanted to kick, which only meant that I had to hold her away from my body. Woohoo, first step accomplished. I then asked her if she wanted to put her head in the water and she did. After the fifth time she asked if we could stop and trusted that I would listen to her. I wanted to teach her that she could trust me in the water and by this we can move forward.

That same afternoon, my son came again to ask me if it was ok to take his little sister for a walk alone. He held her hand and they walked to a friend’s house who is like an older uncle to him. The house was two corners away from ours and when my husband and I walked there to see if they were ok, we saw them riding Jim's motorbike to come back to ours. I looked at my son, smiled and said that I am very proud of him for doing it alone and taking care of his sister. I wish I could freeze that moment in time as his smile was like sunshine and his pride shown all over his face.

That day at night, the kids were invited to a barbecue…well the whole family but I had had the kids the whole day and just wanted to relax and have some me-time. After two hours, I called my husband to remind him that it was 8pm and that I would like the kids to come back for bed time. He told me that my son immediately got up and put his shoes on. My daughter, knowing what was about to happen, held on to her big brother’s hand before they even left the house and they both walked over to me at night. The house was one corner away and even though it was dark it was safe. My husband then followed them to check if they got home all right. This built such confidence in the both of them it was amazing to watch.

The next day, we then went to the playground where my son saw another child climb the colorful plastic play thing form the outside and then jump to a tree branch, swing from it and then jump back to the ground. I instantaneously knew what he was going to do. He was going to try it and so I had my camera ready... took a video of his first attempt and then pictures of his next few times. I asked him later if he had looked around and assessed the situation, he said he saw that the other boy did it without injury and so he knew he could do it. Ha!

It takes so much for a mother to stop herself from worrying about everything. Her protective instinct sometimes gets in the way of allowing her children to experience things on their own. I found myself biting the insides of my cheek a few times especially when my son wanted to take his sister for a walk all by himself. But if I interfered and stopped him from doing it, I would not have been able to see the look of pride on his face, his growing self-confidence or his sister’s trust in him.

Have you ever encountered a time when you were torn between allowing your child to experience something and learning from it and your sense of protectiveness? 

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I have mixed feelings about tomorrow. Part of me thinks that matters will get worse before they get better. The other part of me thinks that the last sentence is just a cliché and that things will definitely get better from now on. Suffice to say, I am hopeful for a brighter, new tomorrow.

You see...

I come from a torn Middle East. There isn’t a time when I did not know of a war or skirmish erupting in a certain corner of that area. Since my parents were young, they witnessed violence fester and grow around them but even though it made them who they are today and stronger, it continues to wear them down. They have not lived through a peaceful time yet. When I was chatting with my father the other day, my heart ached for him when he said how tired he was of this and honestly I do not blame him.  I have yet to say that I have lived through peace in that area, images of bombs, dead people and children are forever stuck in my mind. But I am one of the lucky ones and therefore I am hopeful that my children will experience a more peaceful tomorrow.

Having watched the images on International news agencies and heard hurtful comments from ignorant people does not mean that I am ashamed of who I am or where I come from. I am actually very proud of where I come from. Yes, people living in other parts of this globe might judge that we are ‘backwards’ by the way we live our everyday lives. I do not blame them much because they are basing their judgement on the image painted by the media. And if they visited that part of the world, they would not meet the people I am in contact with everyday when I am there. 

And so to them I would say, "It would be lovely if you could meet the hospitable people I know over there. How I wish you could meet the guard who cares for my children as his own or the shop keeper who asks after my family and their well being. I wish you could meet the worker at the gas station who wishes me a Happy Eid when I drive by or the Bedouin in Wadi Rum who offers me his cardamom infused coffee with his toothy smile.I wish you could chat to the hard working taxi driver who became our loyal family friend. I wish you could sit down and have tea with my mother who oozes warmth and sunshine to whomever she met or my dad who, as a doctor, cares about his patients and does not treat anyone as a number on a chart. But I am hopeful that one day you will get the chance to do just that and maybe then you will change your image of where I come from."

I am hopeful that our values will one day be accepted and that they will improve our current situation. One thing that pulls us together is the love of our nuclear and extended family; our bonds are tight and our loyalties are unbreakable. Family is our backbone and this is one aspect of the Arab society that I respect, hold high and believe that it will help us move forward. One would rarely find a nursing home for the elders because they are taken care of within the family. It is a core belief that it is our duty to honor and care for our elders as they did when we were young. 

Our total respect for family members and our elders is a value that I wish to ingrain in my own children. It is one of the traits that I wish they would take with them for their tomorrow and which would help them make a difference in the Arab World. You see, if they thought that we are all connected in some way and are one big family under one name and one flag, then maybe things will change over there. If they grew up with the idea that we all should take care of one another... if they grew up believing that what they do will affect others maybe they will start working towards building a better future for everyone in their  extended 'family'.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our School Community

The school we currently work for has a warm giving community and it feels great to be a part of it. I was raised on that belief that it was a must to give a part of my time and money to the less fortunate and that is why I find  that working with such a community should be taken advantage of.... in a good way of course. 

We are living at a time when the floods have left millions of Thai people in distress and homeless.  This was why it was essential for our school community to come together on Saturday to help make a slight difference in these displaced water logged people's lives and I took this opportunity to teach my son a lesson in giving.

I am so proud of him. He had to wake up early on a weekend and instead of playing with his friends at his Mooban, he was encouraged to give two hours of his time making emergency packages for the flood victims. Granted he whined at first and asked me twice if he could go home but towards the end he got into the spirit of it all and enjoyed it.

First task he tackled was sorting some toys out, placing a few in a plastic zip lock bag for the kids and then drawing and making cards to cheer the kids up.

We then went on a tour to see what other people were doing and perhaps lend a helping hand as well. We saw many people sorting a veriety of everyday essentials... rice, milk, water, toilet paper, toothpaste and tooth brushes, sanitary pads, soap, washing powder, first aid kits, canned goods, etc.

My son and I decided to help out with the water station next as everyone else was almost done. We saw people washing the empty used water bottles and then filling them with water from taps... the water in the taps went through 4 filtration systems and was drinkable, our students and teachers drank from it. My son and I took a box full of empty bottles along with their caps and went to another building to fill them.
Sorting out the goodies for the kiddies, such as cookies and sweets. 

Bottles filled with water from the school fountains.
Toothpaste and toilet paper rolls.
Washing powder
1 Kg rice bags

Washing the bottles
Filling the bottles with water from the school fountains.
 Next, we decided to join the assembly lines where we carried plastic bags and walked by tables manned by people who placed an item from each station in.  At the end of the line there were people tying the ends of the bags. The whole system was so organized it did not take the community a lot of time to collect 650 emergency bags. The parent organization then donated Pizzas for everyone but my son and I had to go home as my daughter was still not feeling too well. 
Assembly lines
My little helper!
But this was such an opportune time and I took advantage of it to teach my son a lesson. I asked him afterward if he felt good about giving and I received a positive answer. I am hoping to be able to instill more until it comes naturally to him. Sure we did it many times before but at a small scale and he only saw the gifts or the donations placed in a box but he never saw other people doing it at the same time... and never saw the people these donations went to. Maybe next time I should take him to meet the people and give the donations or gifts himself.

It was certainly a good day for the both of us!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Getting Ready for The Waters

So in preparation for the second round of warnings, we had to reinforce our home yet again and take all our belongings upstairs to the second floor. 

Although we had a cement wall built outside every entrance to the house we also needed to take care of other openings in the windows and slits in doors that would allow water to come through. We have never done anything like this before and so the only thing I could think of was to place some plastic sheets under the doors and in any crack I could find. I also wrapped our table legs with plastic as you will see in the pics. 

Will let you know if all this works... the waters have flooded the area which is only one street over. The beginning of our Soi (small street) is already flooded but we are crossing our fingers that it will not go deep into the residential area as that is where our home is.

Our slit windows with plastic sheets covering them. Not sure how long it would hold if the water did come and it is above a meter.

Our Table legs wrapped in plastic.... Just in case!

Our empty shelves... the place just like when we first moved in... no actually it looks even barer than when we first moved in.

The cement wall in front of all our house entrances. We have four walls of this sort... so every time we walk in or out of the house we have to climb over this. An in convenience yes, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

These are the sand bags at our front gate... they will be organized better once we hear the sirens go off.

The plastic sheets to fill the door and window slits.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Giving Back A Little

 Today, I watched a community come together to make rafts for those who were affected by the floods. Everyone who could spare a few hours gathered at the National Stadium in Bangkok to collect empty plastic bottles, sort the bottles that could be used and those that couldn't, sew big potato bags together after placing the bottles inside, cut rope and burn their ends, bind bamboo with that rope and then tie the sewn bags to the bottom of the raft. Each person had a specific job to do. I joined the sewing group and am thankful for my mother who taught me how to stitch the blanket stitch.

It was an amazing feeling to be a part of a group of caring people trying to give back a little to their community who were suffering and had lost most if not all of their possessions. Giving to others certainly makes one feel so much better inside. It definitely made me feel fulfilled and I had learned so much from the experience as well.

Who would have thought that plastic bottles can be used to help keep rafts afloat? Who would have thought that one could make life jackets out of such bottles by sewing them in t-shirt pockets? Or by making an actual raft by tying those bottles together. The empty bottles of course must have their caps on and must not be crushed or they end up being useless.

I will leave you with some pictures then.

Plastic bottles are collected from every corner of the city.  

The bottles are sorted out... those that are crushed and without bottles caps are disposed of... those with water or any liquid inside are emptied and the useful ones are placed in the white bags to be sewn.

The lovely ladies, both old and young, sewing the bags together which is not an easy job... the plastic bags are thick.

The plastic line and the needle used to sew the bags shut.... and the rope which is used to bind the bamboo sticks together to make a raft.
Making the raft.... several hands are needed to make this and put all of them together...
At the end of it all, they place the plastic bags on and tie them well onto the raft.   

I asked the wonderful people if they had sent a bunch of rafts before and whether or not it worked well for the people affected by the floods and the answer was a positive one. These rafts helped so many stranded people who had no way of moving around their flooded area. This community rocks!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Four Generations Of Females

I have postponed writing this post for the longest time now and that may be because I was not sure what to write about the above picture... I feel it says it all. 

Four generations of females who have shared similar as well as different experiences.  Four females who are connected much like a Venn diagram where each circle has its own variables and at the same time shares some with other circles. They are all connected! One who has been living in this realm for a long time while another has only just begun her life and yet somehow, they each have a part of the other in them.

I have lived my entire life having my Tata (grandmother) and my Mama in my life and I cannot imagine a life without them. I have been lucky and blessed.

Later that night.....

After writing the above first few lines, I realized that I had not told my Tata how much I loved her in a long time. I have told her that I had missed her and that she should come for a visit as we would love to have her, but not I Love You!

And so...

I decided to give her a call, a special one for her and at the same time wish her a Happy Eid Al Adha. So I called my mom's cell phone twice but there was no answer... then I called my Baba's (Dad) and when I lost hope of anyone picking up, he finally did.

After we exchanged blessings and then talked to my mama for a bit, I asked to speak to my Tata. After wishing her well, I burst into tears. She thought I was stressed out about the floods and was trying to assure me that everything will be ok and the waters will recede. But when she heard I LOVE YOU TATA, she understood that it was not about the floods but about me missing the family. She told me that she loved me too and tried to make me stop but then, being an emotional Tata herself, she burst into tears and quickly gave the phone to my brother hoping that he would succeed in calming me down.

My brother could not understand at first what was going on as I would not answer and at one point he thought that I had hung up but I was in tears and could not speak a word.... Then he heard a hi mixed in with a few sobs and realized that I was crying because I was homesick.

He immediately went into protective mode and told me that I am stronger than this and that I can do it. Mama then came to the phone trying to calm my nerves but she could not resist the tears either and handed me over to my Baba who immediately started to stroke my hurt and caress my pain. At that point, I felt so bad worrying them this way that I changed my tone and told Baba that I was ok, and will be, but that I had missed being with them and the whole family on such occasions.

You see, both Eids in Islam, like any other holiday around the world, is a time to give to the poor and visit family members you do not usually see unless there is a wedding or a funeral. It is a time to catch up on the whole extended family and then go off to have lunch with the closest.

For three days, every home would be full of visitors coming to pay their respect. And because my grandmother is now living with my parents, and her being the eldest in the family, she is always the first to be visited and our home would start to receive family members from 10 am in the morning, until lunch time at 2... then they start to filter in again after 4 o'clock till about 7pm.

On the second and third day, younger members of the family would be visited as well. Visits are usually based on age rankings... something to do with respecting the elders in the family.

So you can imagine how emotional someone like me can be at these times. I am very close to my family and enjoy seeing and spending time with them. This was not always the case though. When I was younger and before I had children of my own, I liked being independent, traveling and discovering the world away from my family.

I still love going on all these adventures, but when my children were born, something inside me changed and I longed to be with my extended family. I have discovered that the family dynamics change once one has children of his/her own and I am not sure why. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Not Settling-In Is Unsettling


It has been three weeks since we were first warned about the flood and we are still waiting for the waters to arrive. Three weeks of having our stuff on the second floor or up on the shelves and table. When we thought that we will be settling into a new house four weeks ago, we never expected that we will be living as semi nomads. 

Going off to an island to get away from the floods... then back home to make sure things are ok and reinforce our house. Then back out to another island to get away and be with friends when we were promised more water... then back home again to start work in a few days only to receive an email from school informing us that the Ministry of Education has extended the so-called- holiday for another week because the waters are certainly coming and the school will not be able to ensure every students' and staff members' safe passage to and from school. 

Well, as for the waters, my husband went out to check on the klongs today and found out that they are high and over flowing. He then went up the street a bit more and found out that the streets are flooded... so the waters are coming but we are not sure when, how much or how fast.
Despite knowing that there are so many people out there who have suffered so much from this flood, and my heart goes out to every one of them, I can still say that not settling down for a few weeks now has been very unsettling.