Monday, September 22, 2014

Are You Thirsty?

I missed writing… the past few months I have thought of only death, destruction and injustice. All I could think of was what was going on outside of my head, outside of my walls, in a country or two or three, that have been engulfed in darkness imposed on them by a crushing dark entity. I thought of people whom all they saw was rubble, heard only shrieks and explosions and felt only fear; for their children, families and future. I thought of nothing else and felt nothing but helplessness, love and longing, which were all intertwined to weave a carpet of hope and prayer for these delicate lives.
And all this time, I had so much to say but nothing to write. I only read the words of others who spoke about the atrocities committed at the hands of those who believed that they had the right to act in the name of their god, their dogmas and their books. I only read the words of the witnesses to these crimes perpetrated by the haughty, who felt they were above their neighbors. I watched videos, and saw pictures. I read and posted, then posted and read, all the time thinking that there was nothing much to say. It has all been said before; reiterated in many different ways.
But I missed writing those feelings that were all tangled and jumbled up inside. I only allowed those written words, pictures and videos to affect me deeply… to sadden me about the current situation of ‘peoplekind’.  I did not write a word to release the pent up frustration or anger inside.
I just kept thinking and thinking not allowing my brain to stop for a second. I immersed myself into work, crawling under to-do lists and completing what should take a few days in a few hours. I did not want the windmill to stop turning because I knew that if the wind stopped blowing, the questions would start to run through my windows like a raging river. Silly questions, unreasonable questions, questions such as, “Will justice ever prevail? Will self- righteousness ever be conquered? Will fanaticism seize to exist? Will we ever evolve into ‘better’ human beings?”
It just so happens that we are teaching Grade 6 students about Early Humans, about Australopithecus and Homo erectus… about how we evolved and how our ancestors started off as gatherers and then created tools from rock, wood and bone. We have developed so far and yet I feel that we have not moved away from the greed for control, possessions and land. When will we people let go of our hatred and the rest of the 7 sins of Dante? When will we stop and not only think about ourselves but also the people standing next to us in line, or the family in the car behind us, or the waiter serving us food? When will we look at the people passing us by as each having a life worth living? That they have families and only want to survive and be happy? When will we start thinking that if we had running water, electricity, education and good health care, then people across the border from us or those in the next town have the same rights as us because we are human at the end of the day?
I wonder sometimes when will we shed the imaginary borders and divisions and focus on what brings us together? I wonder all the time.  I am thirsty for justice and freedom. I am thirsty for equal opportunity, rights and prosperity for all. I am thirsty for humanity. That windmill will never cease to turn as I will always be thirsty for a better tomorrow.

What are you thirsty for? 

Oh and in case you were wondering why I decided to write a few words today? Well, I had terrible muscle tension in my neck and left shoulder, which made me look like a snob looking down at people when chatting. It was a sign that I am stressed out and in need of a release…. And writing is my release.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Process of Doubting

For the past month, I have not been feeling confident in my abilities to teach or make decisions. Even tough I knew that I have experience and I think I am very thorough in my work, the little voices in my head kept warning me of the possibility of failure and taking the wrong turn at any point during the academic year.

Nonetheless, the event that gave me a new sense of belief in myself took place a few weeks back after the Principal of the school asked me to take over a part of my Head of Department's responsibilities; that of reviewing all admission applications and recommend whether or not they are able to succeed and if we, as a school, are able to support them if they have needs.

I received the first set of applications a week after my HOD took a leave of absence. I reviewed the applications; scanning every page and highlighting the important parts. I wrote up reports and made recommendations based on the information given by the parents, teachers and the students' entrance exam and writing sample, all the time doubting whether I was doing as good a job as my HOD.

On one application, I made a recommendation which was accepted by the Admin. However, when the student arrived, the first thought that popped into my mind was that I had messed up. I felt a surge of emotions ranging from anger at myself and guilt for having taken the wrong decision. How could I have missed such an important part of the application? This student had weak conversational English and she needed so much support in her subject areas. What did I overlook and did not foresee? I could not sleep the night I met her believing that I was the one who failed her and did not do my job properly. I was not thorough enough, good enough, experienced enough. 

The following day, after writing to the administration to alert them of my suspicions and consulting with the EAL teacher, all the while debating whether I should tell them that it was my mistake, I dove into her file to do some investigating. I compared the writing sample that she had done in my class with the writing sample in her application file. 

And Voila! I could clearly see that there was a major difference between the two samples. It was obvious that the student was helped by someone which gave the school, and myself, a distorted image of her English proficiency and as a result, her needs. 

Relief does not even begin to describe what I was feeling following that discovery. After placing the student in the correct class, it was time to reflect on the devastating habit of questioning myself and my abilities. 

Questioning oneself to improve on a skill or trait is an important part of maturing and becoming good at what one does. It is constructive. What is destructive to confidence is to continually question one's ability without giving oneself the benefit of a doubt as well as never seeing that what one does is good enough. 

No matter how many times, my parents, husband or friends had praised me for the work that I do or the fabric paintings that I come up with, I continue to plant those seeds of doubt in my abilities. This incident though and how I discovered that it "wasn't me" will help in adding one positive step to my doubting process; investigate and research before committing or surrendering to that doubtful feeling.  

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” 

Monday, April 14, 2014


This weekend, I had the chance to visit my future dream. A dream that has been going around and around in my mind like the wind mills of Holland. A dream that has been pulling on my heart strings and one that I wish to fulfill in the near future.

The whole trip to Arusha this weekend started on a bad foot. It was pouring rain here in Dar es Salaam but that did not stop planes from landing and taking off. My flight was delayed twice. Then whispers that there was no plane began to get louder. The possibility of not being able to meet my ex colleagues and students from my previous school in Bangkok put me into over drive and I had to find another way to get there. 

Within an hour, I withdrew money from an ATM, bought another ticket for another flight, went behind the counters to retrieve my bag and then checked back in again. My faith in humanity and peoples' kindness was restored that hour. One of the passengers on my canceled flight found out that I had less that 24 hours to spend in Arusha. She had already bought the new ticket and wanted to change the name on it to mine. I was so touched by her gesture but thankfully there was another place available and we both got to go. The plane was full as there were others who wanted to change flights and so we were extremely lucky. 

The reunion was awesome... I met the students' bus mid way between the airport and their trip to the snake farm. I nearly fell back out of the bus door because I was engulfed in warm bear hugs as soon as I stepped in. Great laughs and lots of catching up was done. I was so thrilled that I was able to find another flight to make it to see their sunshine faces. 

The next morning, and before I headed back to the airport, I was taken on a tour of Peace Matunda. My ex- students and teachers were there to work with students and orphans on the Peace Matunda Project location. It is a project which one Tanzanian man established to provide shelter and an education for orphans in the area. It grew from a small daycare center to an orphanage, school and now a tours and campsite company (a certain percentage of it goes to the orphanage and school). It caters for the needs of 23 orphans and provides a healthy and nurturing environment for them. The school enrolls around 250 students from the area and of course the orphanage itself. 

I was inspired... the whole project brought my dream to the forefront; helping the refugees in Jordan by establishing small schools around the camps. If one man with a clear vision of what he wanted to do could build such a project in the foothills of Meru, on the outskirts of Arusha, in a semi- remote area, then I could definitely do it for Palestinian, Iraqi and Syrian refugees in the deserts and hills of Jordan. 

Not only has this trip reestablished connections amongst friends and students, but revived and fueled a dream that I have. Let the research begin and the ideas of how to do it flow. 

That trip was meant to be. I was meant to go to Arusha. I was meant to hug my friends and I was meant to witness such a great project and meet giving inspirational beings.

ps. Please visit Peace Matunda's website and check whether you would like to help out. To sponsor one students is only 25 dollars a month. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Kindess towards the Challenged


While I was watching my son compete in a swimming race, I spotted a young boy of 7 in a wheel chair. Since I work with students who have challenges, I recognized that the boy had cerebral palsy. I was so drawn to him and walked over to have a little chat. As soon as I knelt down to say hello, he gave me the brightest and widest smile I had ever seen. Such a wonderful gentle soul! His smile touched me and I just had to go back a few times to fill my day with that bright smile. 

My kids saw me talk to him when Mina rushed to my side and asked if she could say hello too. She was a little shy but kept mentioning his smile long after we left him to hop in a taxi and go home. 

The mother had just arrived from Poland two months ago. She had three beautiful daughters and were thinking of having another to keep the youngest company. But that smile of her son's was magnetic and I kept wanting to get him to smile.

I missed working with students who had severe challenges. Despite it sometimes being frustrating, these kids had such a wonderful demeanor about them and it did not take much to get them to smile. There is always a special way to interact with them and help them through the obstacles of the day. It takes patience, understanding, love and above all kindness. 

And therefore, you could imagine my disgust and disappointment when I watched the below video this morning... How does it make you feel watching this knowing that the poor little boy has Autism?  Shouldn't a teacher be the one to help him and stop the children from laughing and taunting?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Taking a Step Away and Then Moving Forward

My first Batik piece... it is about family... and the green part is my individuality.

Sometimes taking a step away from it all gives one a clearer picture of where they are headed or where they want to go; Like murky water when the muddy particles settle making it more transparent and limpid. 

A few weeks ago, I took a few steps back to look at my life, the murky water, before and after having children. I reminisced past years; thinking of situations that I could have dealt with differently. I took a step back and accessed incidents that NOW I would have had another reaction to. I looked at times where I would over react or the words would pour out of my mouth without thinking of them or their consequences.... I wonder sometimes if it is my age, 41, that is bringing all this thinking. 

I started this journey that I have wanted to embark on for sometime but never had the courage to do so. I knew it would involve time and effort... that it would take confidence to criticize, understand and face my faults but I never took many steps forward before. I would take a few and then stop half way; forgetting what I had promised myself to do or not do.

However, this time is different. I have made a conscious decision to become a better person in every way. I have decided that despite being a not so bad person to begin with that there was always room for improvement. If I wanted to do something, I must do it well and there is no use advising my kids to do so, if I did not follow through and model that… and therefore, I have my children to thank for giving me a big push forward on this.... as I want to be a good model for them. 

Although it is hard to admit to myself and on this blog, here are the areas I need to improve on;

1.    Develop my confidence and accept compliments by ceasing to put myself down.
2.    To face my fear of falling, failing, making mistakes and appearing a fool.
3.    Be kinder to people/creatures and show it in everyway.
4.    Hold my tongue until I have something good to say in any situation that demanded my voice.
5.    If I chose to ignore something negative, then I should totally ignore it; not voice it or vent about it.
6.    When tackling any project, to do it to the best of my ability and not give up half way when the pressure builds up.
7.    If I felt stressed out and frustrated, to paint or do something that I enjoyed.
8.    To face my insecurities and believe that I am worth people getting to know me.
9.    To trust the people closest to me, believing their words and that they care for me.
10.  To believe that I am worthy of doing what I enjoy doing without feeling guilty about it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Believing Makes a Difference

I have gone into my profession because I always found studying and remembering facts very difficult. I had many inspirational teachers who were very supportive and others who were not so. But one Arabic teacher stuck to my mind.  He has sadly since passed away; Noor Eddine Sawalha but his memory will continue to live on. He taught my brother and was always proud and impressed by him and then I came along three years later. 

The difference between my brother and I, as we say in arabic, was as large a difference as the one between the earth and sky. My brother was the quiet, studious, respectful one and even though I was respectful, I was definitely not quiet nor studious. I do not think my mom liked going to parent teacher conferences, even though she never mentioned it. Whenever she returned from the finger wagging hour and I heard what other teachers had to say, I could only imagine what she must have felt sitting there opposite my teachers. 

When I joined Ustaz (teacher) Noor Eddine's class, I was the chatter box and the one who treated school as a past time with no clear goal in life. This erudite man never told my mom what I could not do or what I was doing wrong. He used to giggle with her at the difference between my brother and I but he always told her that I was capable of doing well. He did not give up on me or thought that I could never be able to pass Arabic A Higher Level. When I received a 6 out of 7 points, he was proud and said that I had deserved a 7. 

The reason this teacher made a huge difference in the way I viewed myself and my abilities was because the year before, I had failed my IGCSE's (The British International General Certificate of Secondary Education)... 6 out of 8 subjects... (I consider D a fail). I only passed English and Religion in Grade 10... And when it came to the International Baccalaureate (a 2 year program that ended with an exam at Grade 12 along with Theory of Knowledge papers and a 4400 word research study paper), the school's Secondary Principal and his Vice met with my parents, along with another student's parents, to inform them that we would be unable to pass the IB Diploma.

They suggested that we study for the government exam, Tawjihi (an inferior program that encourages rote memory and crushes critical thinking). Both sets of parents refused the suggestion stating that they have paid for us to be enrolled in one of the best private schools in Jordan and that they are positive that we will try our best to pass the exams..... so we were given a chance and placed on a three month probation.... result? I MADE it... I PASSED the diploma and the rest is history. 

In addition to my parents' and brother's positive influence, Ustaz Noor Eddine had made a huge impact on my self-worth while I was going through the 2 year program. I came into his class thinking that there is a big possibility that I will fail the two year program as was expected. I would end up jobless on the streets with no university degree.... well not really on the streets but you get my drift. He helped me feel comfortable in class urging me to share my thoughts on works by Al Jahith (An Iraqi prose writer) and Manfaluti (An Egyptian literature writer and Poet) no matter how out of space they were. No opinion was wrong in his class. I left his class and the school believing that there is a chance for me out there...That I am not the dumb kid who just giggled and fooled around in class. I am not the FAILURE some teachers thought I was... I actually have a chance to do something... to be someone... to SUCCEED... I went to university and proceeded to get on the Honor Roll twice and surprise my parents when I received a B in Mathematics. 

Ustaz Noor engrained in me the belief that I can make something of myself.... and even though my self-confidence falters from time to time, I continue to rewind back in time to remember the feeling of confidence I had while I was in his class. 

That feeling is what I would like to instill in all the students that I encounter during my teaching career. I know how much a teacher can influence a student while they are at school. I want them to feel heard, respected and comfortable in the classes that I teach. I love it when students have a smile on their faces, they are engaged in the lesson or they laugh at my silly jokes. I love it when quiet students who are usually shy and rarely share their thoughts, feel comfortable to raise their hands eager to say something. And I love it when I am at my lowest confidence level as a teacher, to receive a note or have a student say that they have enjoyed my class and think I am an awesome teacher who believes in them. 

I am now THANKFUL that I failed my IGCSEs... I tell my students who are struggling that I am a teacher who failed... but then stood back up... and tried again... My students are always puzzled... How can a teacher who failed a major exam go on to succeed and receive a Masters of Science? How can someone who failed become a teacher? I am thankful that they now get to know that everything is possible... that yes... a teacher can fail.

I am thankful for this failure as it shows my students that I am human... teachers are human and make mistakes... and that we can learn from our mistakes and shortcomings... that we can all succeed no matter how many times we fail or disappoint. I tell them my story so that they could in turn start their journey through their academic career believing that failure is good... it's okay... and that they are capable of overcoming any obstacle obstructing their path.