Friday, February 21, 2014

Remembering Joaquin...

Today I was going to take on one of the expat blog posts I skipped this week and write about the trait I possess that most equipped me for life abroad. I'd probably write about my general independence or adventurous spirit. Instead, I find myself reflecting on my life as a teacher.

I write this with a heavy heart today, as a "shout-out" (of sorts) to the memory of Joaquin Mendoza Jr. I taught Joaquin when he was a 4th grader in Liberty. Earlier this week, he was killed in a car crash. He was only 20 years old. Many times you hear these stories of kids who had 'everything going for them', only to have their life cut short. Teachers like myself mourn for the future that they will never get to have - no happy marriage, great career, money, happiness, etc.

But that's not necessarily why I mourn for Joaquin, although those things might have still been on the horizon for him.  In truth, he was a troubled kid. He had flunked some classes in jr. high and high school and ended up at the alternative high school. He had gotten into drugs and had even spent some time in jail. I'm not sure if his future was one that many people were optimistic about. Being an optimist, and learning that he was working at a couple of restaurants in the Liberty area since getting out of jail, I'd like to think he was turning the corner and on the verge of figuring things out. Sadly, we no longer get to find out what was to become of Joaquin.

I want to write about the Joaquin I knew over a span of 7 years or so (? hard to keep track of the time/years that go by). I have spent the better part of today thinking about him. While I hadn't seen him in probably 4 or 5 years, I have thought of him more than once during that time. Granted, I think of lots of former students on occasion - when they pop up on my facebook feed, or when I hear word of them through their parents or other friends. But Joaquin was different. I wasn't friends with him on facebook, and the only thing I'd heard about him in the past 4-5 years was that he had been arrested and was in jail. But that doesn't tell all there is to know about Joaquin, certainly not the Joaquin that I knew.

I smile as I sit here and picture his crooked smile and that cute voice he had as a 4th grader. I don't think I'd call it a lisp, but his voice sounded a bit of that of a little boy, and it melted my heart. He was well liked by his classmates, as his natural personality and sense of humor were ones to gravitate to. He wasn't the brightest kid in class, but he was smart enough and he worked at learning and being a good student. It was during his 4th grade year (or just before) that his brother and sister (twins) were born. Sometimes Joaquin didn't do his homework or have his agenda signed- which were whole class expectations. I remember there was one time when it had been a few days in a row of this occurring so I chatted with him to see what was going on. He looked at me with those big brown eyes of his and talked to me about how he was trying to help out at home with the twins, because his mom was really tired and would sleep when he got home. He loved his baby brother and sister and was such a proud big brother.

Joaquin was an at-risk kid from the get-go. I was well aware of this. His dad was in prison during his 4th grade year, and I already knew it was going to be tough for Joaquin to break the cycle and stay on a  positive path. I knew he would be OK while still in elementary school at Doniphan, but I was already worrying about him for what lied beyond.  After 4th grade, I still got to see him every day. He walked down my hallway to get to his 5th grade room. And every day, I would smile when I saw him coming because I knew what else was coming - a hug for his 4th grade teacher. Even as the year wore on and many of the 5th graders became "too cool" to stop and talk to their 4th grade teacher (it happens, I get it - no hurt feelings former students, if you are reading this), not only would Joaquin still stop to say hello, he would always sidle up for a 'side hug'. It was our thing. And even today, I cherish those hugs.

Students often gave teachers one of their school pictures when they were passing them out at school to their friends. I remember I kept some of them beyond the year they were in my class. Joaquin had given me a picture of his from 4th grade and when he was in 5th grade. They stayed taped to the file cabinet behind my desk until I cleaned out my room to move to Morocco. I liked taking a moment to look at those pictures of students and remember what they had brought to my life as a teacher. I also remember looking at Joaquin's pictures with 'a hope and a prayer', as I had started to hear that he was falling into the wrong crowd and wrong decisions in middle school. My fears for him during his last years at Doniphan were becoming reality and it made me sad. Looking back, I wish I'd reached out more and tried to help. No one can know if it would have made a difference long-term, but I wish I'd have tried.

I can't remember exactly when it was that Joaquin and my paths crossed by chance after his elementary years were over. Or maybe it wasn't chance. I have a feeling he came by Doniphan hoping to find me. I think it was when he was still in Jr. High. I was standing outside at the end of the school day helping out with car-rider duty (making sure our students got safely into vehicles for parents to take them home). I looked off to the right and saw a young man walking towards me. I think his hair might have been spiked and colored? If not colored, it was an interesting hairstyle. He was pierced and tattooed, pants hanging down, looking rough/tough - the kind of kid I would usually avoid. And then this young man got closer and I saw that face - the one I had been looking at for so many years on my file cabinet. It was Joaquin. What did I do? I gave him a hug. I saw that smile that I loved from so many years before. And I smiled as well. He stood there with me while I finished up my duty. His mom actually drove by picking up his little brother and sister and asked if he wanted a ride home - he said he would walk home after a bit.  I can picture the whole scenario as if it were yesterday. I probably gave him a hard time about his piercings and tattoos, and I asked him how he was doing. He was so honest and up-front with me. He told me he hadn't been doing so well. That he had failed too many classes and was now having to repeat them to try to get the credits earned to pass (?) grade. I asked him what was going on, and I think I asked him if he had gotten into drinking and/or drugs. He admitted to both, saying he did them to make his problems go away. I distinctly remember looking at him and asking him "Did it work? Did you problems go away?" And he just hung his head and said "No." We talked more about how the problems will still be there, and maybe even multiply. The only way to work through a problem is to face it head on - to go through it. He agreed, and said that he was going to turn things around. We talked a bit more about his family, his little brother and sister, etc. He was the same sweet, kind, respectful boy I taught in 4th grade - but with a different look and now some baggage to add to the mix. We talked a bit more about his school work and I told him that if he ever needed help or just a place to sit and work, he was always welcome to come to my classroom after school. He said that he might do that. I reminded him that he was smart and that he could still accomplish good things if he stayed on the right path. We hugged again, and he eventually went on his way. That was the last time I ever saw him.   Not long after that talk we had outside of Doniphan, his mom had made a point to tell me how much that meant to Joaquin and to her; that I had always been his favorite teacher and that he knew I cared about him.

It was while I was teaching in Morocco that a friend told me he had been arrested and was going to jail. I tried to get in contact with his mother thinking I could maybe be a pen pal (if that would even be possible) while he was incarcerated. But I don't know if she ever got the email, as I never heard anything back. It didn't stop me from thinking of him though, hoping he was OK. Even as recently as a week ago, he popped into my head - making me wonder if he was still in jail or how he was doing. I don't know what made me think of him the times that I did over these past years. It would always be random. But I made a point to stop and go with the thought for a moment whenever they came - always sending a mental message of "I hope you are OK. I care about you."

I knew school and life in general were going to be an uphill battle for Joaquin, but I always held out hope that he would win that war. That his love for his family and their love for him would help him figure things out. It wasn't meant to be in his case.

As teachers, we inevitably have students who stick in our hearts and/or minds more than others. Sometimes it's the really good, smart kids. Sometimes it's those really naughty kids who give you stories (and gray hairs) to tell for years to come. And sometimes it's those kids like Joaquin who you know aren't going to have an easy path in life. I know there are probably a lot of other teachers who had Joaquin in class that might not have good things to say about him. I understand that. But when we get them as children, I believe we see their hearts more clearly. We get to see who they really are. At age 9 or 10, they haven't yet been tainted by the ways of the world, or tempted into the trouble that potentially awaits. We are lucky to get them in their 'purest form' in a sense.

I believed in Joaquin because he had potential and I think he deserved a chance. Whether he knew it or not, I was always in his corner, rooting for him to win. I wish I had those pictures of him that I looked at for so many years so that I could include them here. I know they are tucked away in a folder of other letters, pictures, thank-you cards, etc. from that year's class in a box at my parents' house. I know I'll have a look through them this summer when I'm home.

In thinking about my life as a teacher, I think the trait I possessed that most equipped me to be a teacher is that I care. So many of these kids work their way into my heart, probably more than they even know. They are my 'kids'. Loving them is what we are supposed to do, right?

Rest in Peace, Joaquin. You are gone, but will not be forgotten.   - Ms. Junge

Monday, February 17, 2014

That's a Lot of Sand

Day 17-   Photo: Something I never would have seen if I'd stayed home

Where do I even start? The ruins of Pompeii? Rome, with the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, etc.? Or perhaps the gorgeous Algarve coastal region of Portugal or the beauty of Madrid or Seville in Spain? Any of them would do the trick really. Because none of them are things I would have seen had my life continued on stateside. I guess maybe I would have made a point to get to Rome at some point in my life, but I'm not sure Spain or Portugal had crossed my mind much. But the place I most definitely had not considered, nor would have seen, was the Sahara Desert in the southeast part of Morocco.

It most definitely surpassed any previous ideas I had acquired while reading about it in social studies books as I went through school (ha ha) And? I got to experience it with my parents, and long-time family friends Jack and MaryAnn. I know they would all agree with me in saying that it was a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip. And they might even say it was worth having to listen to the awful Moroccan music that our driver kept playing while driving rapidly along the winding roads of the Atlas Mountains. The jury is still out on whether it was the music or the elevation/winding roads that caused a few of our crew to get car sick.

A photo prompt needs photos, so without further adieu, I present: The Sahara

One of my favorite pics

Iowans on camels in the Sahara. Very cool.

Sunset dividing line

No photo shop needed - perfect dune

Looking at mountains of sand. A once-in-a-lifetime experience

...because none of this would have been possible without these guys. (wink)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Dueling Lives (not banjos)

"It is a bittersweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same." - Sarah Turnbull

I was never one of those people who dreamed of exotic lands and far off places. Growing up, our family vacations mainly consisted of traveling to Minnesota to my aunt and uncle's lake house for a few days (which, btw, was the vacation my brothers and I requested every year). As I got older, I thought it would be cool to travel to the likes of Mexico - you know, to one of those nice resorts I'd seen pictures of or heard about from people older and/or with more money than me.Or maybe Hawaii (still on my list); or just to someplace like San Francisco or California wine country. Even as recently as 10 years ago, I'm not sure I'd given much thought to traveling outside the U.S.  Heck, I felt pretty worldly when I went to Jamaica for my friend Amy's wedding. (I guess that counts as international travel - kind of?)  Yet, here I am - living in my third country in four years (counting the U.S.).

Which brings me back to the above quote that is the prompt for Day 16. Bittersweet? I'm not sure. I think I lean more towards the 'sweet' than the bitter. Which I feel pretty good about. This quote/prompt makes me think about the 'dual lives' thing. Living and working internationally like we do sort of feels like we are living two different lives. One of those lives is here - where we work - with our other expat teaching friends and/or others we might have met out and about experiencing life. The other is the life we had before - the one we go back to in the summer and maybe at Christmas time - that involves friends and family.

Living dual lives has definitely had its challenges. I've always been one to keep in close contact with a LOT of friends I've made over the years. I keep them in my heart the same way I keep a steady supply of Burt's Bees lip balm with me at all times. It's a necessity. Yet it has also proved difficult at times. There are lots of factors - time difference, distance, and the fact that we are no longer together doing the same things, to name a few. People naturally drift apart, but that doesn't make it an easy thing to accept. I wish all of those friendships were the same as when I left, but that would also be sad because it would mean that none of us were changing, growing, or evolving. And that is where I find comfort and am able to smile and be happy - not sad - about the changes in some of those friendships. They are still there; still in tact. They just have a different twist to them now, as they involve different phases of our lives. In many ways, it makes me appreciate the friendships even more. I can only hope those same friends are able to look at it from that perspective as well. I miss them all dearly, and at times miss that life I had with them. But in the end, we are all doing bigger and better things in one way or another. And that's pretty awesome when you think about it.

Iowa is another part of this 'dual lives' scenario. In many ways, I love Iowa more now than I ever have. I feel like I am now old enough (and wise enough?) to appreciate its gifts. Every summer, it feels like our friendship is renewed through the quiet country evenings, leisurely mornings and afternoons, and time spent with family and/or friends from around the community. There's nothing quite like going back to the farm. It opens its arms and wraps you up before you've even had a chance to unpack your bags. And I like that. I like that my parents still live in the big farm house I grew up in, and that my younger brother lives right up the road on the same property where my grandparents used to live. I like being able to walk up the gravel road and be engulfed in a hug from my niece Zoey (and maybe nephew Cole if I'm lucky). There really is nothing like home.

So you see, knowing more than one culture isn't so bad. I feel pretty lucky most days - lucky that I enjoy being an expat, living and working internationally. Yet also fortunate to look forward to the 'other life' when the time comes as well. This post makes me keep thinking back to a conversation I was having with my friend Jens a couple of years ago in Casablanca. He has been traveling around for work and pleasure for far longer than me and I had confided in him about finding some difficulties 'reintegrating' when I went back home (I think it was after year 2 in Casa.) Yet once I was home for a while, it was hard to leave friends, nieces, nephews, etc. behind to come back to life abroad. He put it in perfect perspective for me- "Jodee, you are lucky. You enjoy both of these lives you live, even though it might be tough at times. Keep in mind that there are many people who live this way and don't enjoy either one of the lives they participate in."  Yep, I'll keep what I have, thank-you-very-much!

While the above quote is true in that "...once you leave nothing is ever the same.", the change that occurs isn't necessarily negative. It's finding the good stuff in those changes that makes knowing two (or three) cultures so rewarding. So I'm gonna keep on keepin' on...

Who wouldn't want to go back and hang out with a crew of friends like this!?!?

This about sums us up!

Iowa in the Summertime...

The farm, after a summer thunderstorm
The Port-O-Jonny ,on the golf course, next to the cornfield. Aaah - Iowa!
Two of the best things to always come home to!

Monday, February 10, 2014

It's Not Always Black or White

Today's Prompt:  “‘Expat Syndrome’ is a condition whereby many expatriates see mostly either the best of their own nationality & the worst of the locals, or see the opposite.” -T Crossley

This prompt is one that really gets you thinking once you've lived internationally. There is a difference between being a tourist in a country, and living among the local culture of that country. Living there makes you become part of it; you have to, unless you want to be miserable and bitter and 'that guy'. And being part of it, part of the culture - well that's what it's really all about. I think that's why most people choose (and it is a choice for most people) to live the international lifestyle. I KNOW I have learned more in the past 3 1/2 years than I probably learned in the 10 years prior to that.

One of the things I have learned (& truly experienced) is that there is more than one perspective, or point of view, with most everything. This prompt is even an example of this, in my opinion. At first I looked at this prompt and thought of it as an 'agree or disagree' type of deal. But then I read it as it is, a definition of a syndrome - one that I am proud to say I do not have. I do not see the 'best in America and the worst in (insert country here)', and I don't see the 'worst in America and the best in these other countries.'  For me, it's not an 'either/or' type of deal. Fortunately, I have many friends I have met from different countries who are 'non-examples' of this definition as well.

Many people have heard me say that doing this international thing has made me appreciate America more, but at the same time it has opened my eyes to the many, glaring 'wrongs' of our country. That whole Freedom thing? Yeah, that's pretty damn awesome. It is something that should truly be appreciated every day. But the horribleness that goes on in our government (the same government that is supposed to run on the founding principles that gave us that freedom) is so appalling that it takes away from the very things that make our country great. However, seeing places that don't have those rights - those freedoms - is sad. Living in countries where speaking out against your government can get you jailed (best case scenario) is a real eye-opener. While I do appreciate the freedom of speech, I think that Americans take it WAY too far. I also think that too many Americans have taken this liberty and applied it to everything, everywhere. Even when traveling, that stereo-typically 'bad' tourist will often demonstrate this by talking about anything, to anyone - and doing it loudly, and sometimes rudely. Americans are often too easy to pick out of a crowd - the shoes, the sports teams shirts/jerseys/hats, the obesity (yes...I can honestly say that I see this way more from Americans than any other country. Out of 45 kids in a class in Morocco, there was maybe one obese child.)
I say this about Americans, but will also say that you can often pick out someone from the U.K., or  other countries as well based on a few 'stereotypes' as well. However, Americans too often give off that aura of "I'm an American, therefore you should look upon me as being superior and for traveling abroad." Whereas the people from Europe or other countries just see the traveling as a way of life. They take it more in stride, if you will.

I think the biggest thing I have learned from leaving America is this - 'Different' does not mean 'Wrong'. This covers a lot of territory from religions, culture, traditions, food, transportation, lifestyle, etc. I still think America is a pretty great country. I miss it and I love it and I'm proud to be an American. No doubt about it. But I am also proud that I'm not the American who can't see fault or room for improvement in so much of what we do, what we say, how we say it, how we act, and how we treat others. There is much to be said for trying to acquire understanding from those who are different from you; those who life differently than you.

There are a lot of cultures, and people in those cultures who don't like Americans. Some of them might have legitimate reasons for that disdain, and some of them probably do not. There are also a lot of cultures, and people in those cultures, who think America is the greatest thing ever. It's like Hollywood or Disney World in that you will hear people say they want to visit America someday as if it holds celebrity status of some sort. These are the things that make it interesting to see people's reactions when you say you are from America.

In the end, this world we live in is a really big place. The U.S. is a big country in this big world. It offers a little bit of everything, for everyone - this is certain. But so do other places, other countries, other cultures. If you give them a chance, they might surprise you with their gifts and what they can teach you. And maybe America will someday surprise me again in that way as well. In the meantime, I will keep on experiencing whatever is thrown my way, and try to not pass judgement too harshly or quickly.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I Will Never Get Used To...

That is the prompt for the post for today - Day 8. (I skipped 6 and 7, as they weren't posts that felt like they applied to me.)

I think this changes as you move to different places. I think there are things you "never get used to" each place you live; each place you work. And then there are those things that you never get used to that have to do with being far away from home. Understand that these aren't things that send me into a tailspin. They are just things that are different and I'm not sure I'll ever get used to them. I will adapt and adjust and generally accept them...but may never truly get used to them.

And so, here are some of those things.

I will never get used to:
  • not being able to see my nieces and nephews more. I hate not being able to see them play football, basketball, softball; sing in concerts; perform in school programs. It never gets any easier to NOT be there for those things.
  • the time difference and the difficulties of communicating with family and friends because of that time difference.
  • those same friends and family constantly asking "what time is it there?" (this actually makes me giggle every time someone asks for some reason)
  • working with kids who have more contact with (and are essentially raised by)  nannies and drivers than they do with their own parents, particularly their fathers.
  • working with students who are so wealthy and due to inherit so much. These same kids who see poverty every day but have no concept of what it really is.
  • the lack of consideration for time, for being on time, starting on time, etc. This is WAY more evident in the countries I have worked in outside of the U.S. "Punctuality" is not in their vocabulary.
  • the total disregard for traffic laws; stop signs, stop lights.
  • driving, in general. It's different in Bahrain than it was in Morocco, but it isn't any better. Here, it's just faster. In Morocco it was slow, stupid, and annoying in most places.
  • working Sunday through Thursday. More specifically, trying to stay up late on a Saturday to watch Iowa football games, and thinking about having to be up early for work on Sunday.
  • not being able to order clothes, shoes, etc. and have them delivered to my home
  • women and girls who accept their life role as one of being a wife and mother, and nothing else; women accepting that they are to cater to men and not question being inferior to men.
  • women who are 'fully covered', meaning all black, head to toe, not even revealing their eyes. It's spooky to me. I'll never get used to it.
  • the lack of trees and green space in these last two countries I've lived in.
  • the lack of spatial awareness and manners when invading one's personal space. This was particularly challenging in Morocco. People would push past you in any line, without an excuse me, without making eye contact. It was as if they had more of a right to be there than you did. Or, they were just completely unaware and/or without enough exposure to the world to understand that their behavior is rude and they are in need of manners classes.
  • not being able to play or coach softball
  • being far away from loved ones, and hugs from loved ones.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Perfect Setting for an Airport Mockumentary...

Today's blog post is titled "I was at the airport, and...".  Fitting for a 'blog calendar' geared towards expats, as frequent travel leads to airport mishaps. Many of you have heard about my missed flight fiascos over the past few years. Frustrating, and often comical for sure. But  this post is about...

...(CMN) Mohamed V International Airport of  Casablanca, Morocco. Anyone who has had to fly in and out of there more than once has a story of some sort. It's a 'hidden camera' hotspot of laughter waiting to happen. However, those little airport mishaps would require a daily journal. There are so many of them, that they all blend together and eventually become your 'normal'.

When I saw this post title on the blog calendar, I smiled. Aaah, the memories. Eventually, my mind went to my second to last trip to CMN last June. My wonderful friend Karen came all the way from Iowa to stay with me for my last 2 weeks in Morocco. Needless to say, her visit started off with an "only in Morocco" moment.

My trusty Honda, Sterling, and myself arrived at CMN a little late. But this was actually intentional, as nothing ever happens on time in Morocco. I figured I had given her plenty of time for: 1)the inevitable flight delay, 2)having the first passport guy check your passport and look you over several times...only to walk about 20 paces more to have the 2nd passport guy look you over and make sure the stamp that the first passport guy put in there is still there, 3)the Moroccans to all push you to the side on their way up to the baggage claim belt with their entire families and the man who will cart their luggage for them, and 4)for the slowest baggage belt (or baggage guys getting the stuff off of the plane) ever. Well, apparently she got through there quicker than anticipated. While she was breaking records from plane to gate, I had arrived and parked Sterling along the curb like I had done (or been a part of) at least a half-dozen times prior. I went inside and looked for Karen. Couldn't find her. Long story short, she was waiting outside on a bench next to a nice man who had 3G on his phone and let her call my Skype number to tell me she was out on the bench.  So, I find her and we are all huggy and happy and ready to be on our way back in to the city for the evening. We walk down a bit to where Sterling was supposed to be residing, but there was no Sterling. I thought I was losing my mind in end of the year madness and had forgotten where I'd parked. But I knew it had been right there. I turned and looked at Karen and said "my car is gone."  She, of course, laughed. (It's's what she does). I have no idea what to think or do. Did someone hot-wire it and steal it? Do people still hot-wire cars?
Karen then asks "What kind of car do you drive?"
I said, "A Honda CRV."
She says, "Is it silver with a bunch of stickers on it?"
"I think I saw it getting towed while I was sitting out here waiting for you." (more laughter from Karen)

This wasn't so funny to me, as I shudder at the thought of the potential crap that could ensue in our very near future. Some of the remaining details are a bit fuzzy, but I'll do my best.

I believe what happened next is I found a man in a police officer-looking uniform and told him that my car was gone and I am afraid it might have been towed. This man spoke very little English, and French and Arabic don't exactly roll off my tongue. He understood enough to realize 'car' and 'tow' I think and showed me to the little 'vehicle jail' that they have roped off in a section of the airport parking lot nearby - where I see my precious Sterling. He takes me to the car (not Karen though...she was sternly told to stay where she was. Which was funny because the 'vehicle jail' was cars parked and being secured there by putting saw-horses behind them. Not real official/threatening.) and I confirm that it is, indeed, mine. I try to ask him some questions, but again...the language barrier. So he leads me over to another man in a police officer-looking uniform who is sitting at a table underneath an umbrella, as jolly as can be. He knows enough English for us to converse. Again, some of the details are sketchy here, but the gist of this conversation is spot on.

Me: "My car is back there and I don't know why. Can I have it back please?"
Him: "Good afternoon Madam. Yes, you had an infraction and we take your car."
Me: "What was the infraction? I parked where all of these other cars (pointing, as there are plenty of parked cars along the same curb) are parking?"
Him: "Yes, infraction."
Me: "What is the infraction?"
Him: "Normally, you pay a fine for the infraction...
(at this point, I realize it is pointless to try to find out what my infraction is. He just keeps smiling.)
...but today you no pay the fine. Do you know why you no pay today?"
Me: "No, why?"
Him: (smiling like it's Christmas morning) "Because you are BEAUTIFUL!"
Me: (now able to smile and laugh a bit, knowing this is going to turn out ok) "Oh. Well thank you!"
Him: "You must pay 100 dirhams (about $12) to get car out."
Me: "But I thought you said I didn't have to pay the fine?"
Him: "You don't have to pay the fine for infraction, but you must pay to get car out."
Me: (still confused, but ready to just get the hell out of there) "Ok. Where do I pay? Can I go now?"
Him: "You pay on the way out. Go now and have a nice day."

So, we went to the car. The 'vehicle jail' guy moved the saw horse so I could back out, we paid the fine, and were on our way.

As with most stories like this, you truly had to be there to see it all play out. I know I will forever be able to see Karen laughing at me every time I would look at her throughout this process. And I'm sure it's a moment in time that she will never forget either.


(I don't have any pictures of the airport fiasco or Sterling in 'airport vehicle jail'. But, I do have a couple of pics of us from her visit. Love you Klinger!)

Essaouira - Seaside sunset dinner.

Camel ride along the beach. No big deal.
Last evening out in Essaouira (Karen MIGHT have figured out how to pronounce it by this point. Maybe.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Look Back

Day 4: Look at the 5th post you ever wrote on this blog. In hindsight, what do you think about your frame of mind and your writing?

My 5th post occurred on August 21, 2010. I had been living in Morocco for about a week. Reading all of those early posts actually makes me giggle a bit. I was so in awe of everything, it seems. Which is good I guess. With it being my first international travel of any sort, it shows that I was paying attention and trying to learn and take it all in. 

My frame of mind was clearly one of inquiry, interest, and a lot of naivety. But also that of an informant of sorts. I was writing my blog for an audience of people who would likely never travel to a place even remotely like Morocco. This included friends, family, friends of my family, etc. So it was sort of like my little version of helping or allowing others to 'live vicariously...'.  I think that comes out in my early blogs. It definitely shifted a bit later on and I think that when the newness wore off for me, my blogging tapered off as well. I found myself just DOing it, living it. It became my home, and my 'normal' from day to day, so the purpose for writing changed.

The 5th post was actually about couscous. It is a very traditional dish in Morocco - kind of like the 'Sunday Roast' was in the midwest (or at least Iowa. Or maybe that was just my family?). I wrote  all about how they traditionally eat it with their hands, rolling the meat and vegetables into the couscous, etc. I took pictures at different stages.
I remember that evening and how 'interesting' everything seemed to me. It was all so different, and I wanted to learn as much as I could.

 It's funny how being in this international gig for even just a couple of years changes you. While I'm still interested in things like this, I think the shock and awe has definitely worn off some. Now things like that are more just something to take in stride - still a learning experience, but not as awe-inspiring maybe? I think the funniest part of the blog is that I said it was 'delicious' at the end. I ate couscous several times after that and decided I'm really not a big fan. I guess it's not just perceptions that change. ;-)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Day 3: An Object that makes me feel at Home

Photo Post- An object that makes me feel at home...

Cheating a bit, and threw 2 things into the photo. Piggy & Iowa Sweatpants. I honestly could have taken a picture of 'Facebook'', 'Viber', and 'Skype'. Those are the three things that connect me with home most often. But, in terms of actual objects, these are it.

With the directions indicating a 'photo post', I will limit my words:  COMFORT, IOWA, HOME, LOVE.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Day 2 - I'm Still Here!

"Not all those who wander, are lost." - JRR Tolkein

Was I lost? I don't think "lost" is the feeling I had when I decided to go to that freezing cold job fair in Waterloo, Iowa. But, in hindsight, maybe I was a bit lost - in my soul. Maybe I needed to wander to find some pieces of me that I didn't even realize existed. When people ask me what made me start teaching abroad, my answer is "I was bored with my life." Although let me be clear - "bored" does NOT mean that I didn't have TONS of really awesome friends to do fun things with - because I did. You, my people - my friends, you are NOT boring. But I think I realized I just needed more. Everyone else's lives seemed to be moving forward in other ways - new boyfriends, husbands, kids. My path was leading me forward in a different way. Some soul searching and overhearing a random conversation at our adult Kickball league (one of those 'not boring' activities with friends) led me to that job fair, and ultimately, to Morocco. 

Was I lost? I still don't think so. But I do think I was found. I think I rediscovered some things in myself, and discovered some that I never knew were there.

I found more bravery and courage than I knew I had in getting on that plane the very first time. This, after bawling my eyes out in my car after saying goodbye to my softball girls (that I coached) and fellow coaches/friends -  knowing that their lives were moving on without me just like mine was going to move on without them; realizing things were never going to be the same.

I found emotions I didn't think I had (see the aforementioned paragraph about me bawling my eyes out). More tears were shed during goodbyes with family and friends than I had probably shed in 5 years prior.

I found new friends. Lifelong friends. Friends who I know were meant to come into my life because I can no longer imagine my life without them in it. Friends who accepted my naivety in the big new world I was discovering and made the small-town gal from Iowa realize she had worldly thoughts and funny quips and stories to contribute as well.

I found different cultures, new ideas, different religions and/or beliefs, different attitudes, new ways of doing things (good and bad), different ways to travel and explore- and many ways to get lost in those travels. :)

Most importantly, I think I found Me again. Or I found a new version of me that I know needs to continue to evolve and experience. Life is all about the experiences, no matter where they are. I cherish them all, whether they be stateside with the friends and family who gave me the support and encouragement to take this all on, or the ones that are yet to come with people I have yet to meet.

Have I been wandering? Definitely. Was I lost? Not entirely. But if I was, then I'm sure happy to have encountered all of the other 'Lost' friends who are out here doing some version of the same thing I am.

A few of my fellow 'wanderers'...

Abby...currently wandering in Serbia. :)

Allen and Jens - I can't keep up with them!
Mel, continuing to navigate the waters in Casablanca
Papa Jim and Sweet Lu - now back home in Seattle
With Jocylene - maybe the biggest Wanderer I know! :)
Hopefully visiting Jenny at her German digs soon!
One of my all-time favorite spots, Oualidia Morocco. With some pretty fabulous peeps.

So many photos and memories - not enough time to post them all. I'm blessed.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Well - Hellllooooo there readers!

Try not to be too shocked that I'm writing here again. (And consequently, don't be shocked if it goes back on hiatus after a while.) A friend of mine posted one of those blogging calendars on facebook. So, since I haven't written in forever (over a year actually), and haven't posted anything from Bahrain, I'm going to give it a try.

This is the aforementioned blogging calendar.
         Day 1: The view from where I write.

If taken literally, this is the view from where I write. On my bed (unkempt, as always), in my bedroom (we have nice digs here, to say the least), with my companion, "Piggy", keeping me company (Pillow Pets are da Bomb!)

But, for those of you who followed my adventures through Morocco, well - I'm not there anymore! This comes to you from the tiny island of Bahrain, located just across a little Causeway from Saudi Arabia, surrounded by the Arabian Sea. Narrow that down further, and I can tell you that Bahrain basically consists of one big city - Al Manamah. I don't live in the city, per say. I'm a Bahraini suburb dweller of sorts, living in a gated compound called Riffa Views. In the lovely Riffa Views, is the school where I spend my days...
Front entrance of the school
With some of my students; celebrating National Day at school.

 ...and where students like to be goofy, just like they do in the U.S....

In my classroom. I really have 12
students, but 3 were gone and one
joined the school after Christmas break.

 ...and where sometimes things like this take place to demonstrate local culture.

There's also this lil golf course about a 2 minute drive from my house called the Royal Golf Club. It's a challenge, to say the least! The back 9 holes are lit, so available for night play when it's hot.


If I take the microscope off even more, the view from where I write is a big sandbox of sorts. It's very 'tan'. Not a lot of green. People here are friendly, and it helps that most everyone speaks English. Life here is much easier in comparison to Casablanca. But there was a lot of fun to be had in that craziness of Casablanca as well.

So, that's my view for now. Can't share everything, as I haven't looked ahead on that calendar of topics for the month. I better not share everything on Day 1. Although with my blogging track record, who knows if there will be a Day 2.  ;)