this is our dot

August 29, 2021

Sunday’s story . . .

this is our dot

I get pretty jazzed about opportunities to get children excited about other kids around the world. Maybe because of my own upbringing, to a certain extent; but regardless, I think it’s important for children of any nationality to understand that others around the world have different cultures, languages, and backgrounds, but the same basic experience of a human life.
As such, this has been an exciting week in the library, since I’ve been using it to prepare for, and participate in International Dot Day. We came up with a simple song and have been singing it, with a bit of an acting routine to go along with it. The most exciting part is getting to tell the kids that the video we made of them is going to join acts from all over the world with the day is celebrated, on the 15th.
Incidentally, when marking the date this morning, I had a bit of a shock when I wrote 9/11. It is a striking thing to be here, now, on this day. Striking anywhere but I feel it particularly intensely since living here . . .

still here

August 26, 2021

Thursday’s thoughts . . .

still here

Oh, to have a spirit like that of Mother Theresa! I have been reading her biography, Come be my light lately, mulling over the intensity of her life . . . of her love. I long to have such a faith, and such a life. I long to be able to admit openly one’s own darkness of the soul, and to carry right on with selfless service in the midst of it. To wonder, as she writes, “what J will take from me for them since He has already taken all for the sisters. I am ready to accept whatever He gives and to take whatever He takes with a big smile.”
I have nothing of the sort. I have finger-tapping, jittery impatience when it comes to what seems right to me: the work I need to get done, the place I need to be . . . the person I need to be, ironically enough. I long to be saintly in my service, and yet I am infuriatingly impatient in that desire!
So tonight I wanted to be where it seemed right to be. How could it be wrong to want to be singing me heart out in praise? But, once again, the place in which I live makes that a not-to-be longing. I am home. Glad to be finished with a tiring work day, but wishing to be somewhere I am not.
If I had the soul of a Mother Theresa, I would be grateful for the fullness of the day.
I would be content in the little 3-year-olds I had to contort into “criss cross applesauce” positions because they did not speak a lick of English and just smiled broadly and nodded when I attempted any sort of instruction.
I would be thankful for the 7-year olds who got to see themselves today–the completed video of their International Dot Day performance–and who were so clearly ecstatic at the sight of their own singing selves.
I would be glad that I got to dance with a roomful of beautiful women, joining together in a place of refuge from the hardships of life as we know it . . .
So maybe, just maybe, I am glad: the truth is that I relished the escape of that hour, appreciating it intensely for the “dance therapy” that it was for the restless state of my soul. And I couldn’t help but notice that same kite I saw a week ago when, in the same position as today, I was wanting to be somewhere I was not.
That kite is still there, still hanging on. And, Lord willing, so am I.


August 24, 2021

Tuesday’s tale

. . .


I think I may need to be careful what I say. Last night one of the new teachers here was commenting on how she hadn’t seen any dust storms. I piped up and said that I remembered them, frequently, last year but that no, we hadn’t seemed to have any so far this year.
This afternoon I was talking to my housemates and abruptly got up and started closing doors and windows. One asked how I knew that there was a dust storm and then stopped in mid-sentence, seeing the swirls as they came in and covered out belongings and ourselves in a fine film of grit.
I decided I wanted to try to capture it, and this is about the best I could do: here you can see the wind-blown trees, the haze covering the horizon, and the lack-of-mountains where normally one would see the line of them.
And yes, in deciding to capture the storm on film, I got myself nicely “filmed” as well :-)


August 23, 2021

Monday’s memory

. . .


I said that word to one group of 1st graders this morning, in one of the eight class periods of this one of seven days of the week. And now, the day [and week] done, I find myself musing on how that word encapsulates how I feel about this week in its entirety. How do you make sense of a life when so many pivotal moments happen, one right smack dab after the next?
How do you stop in the middle and hold tight to the meaning of one of those moments when you know that two moments later you will be stressed out with logistics and lost to any sentimentality you may have felt those two moments prior?
At one point, I looked up from the textbook I was reading from to answer a question from one teen? Used to battling the adolescent boys, I was shocked to find my heart so full with delight at his response that I grew literally teary-eyed. If it had been remotely culturally appropriate, I would have hugged him. Instead, I shook my head to dry the tears, nodded demurely, and moved on to the next point.
In another period, I photographed a 6 year old boy as he recited his version of the “I have a dream . . .” speech–so heartbreakingly appropriate for this country at this time that those of us expats in the room sucked in our breath and wondered if we were trespassing some sort of imaginary boundaries.
In another, after-school event, I danced with a room full of young ladies. Heads were uncovered, arms were blatantly bared, sweat rolled down smiling faces . . . and no one cared. The care that so rudely awakens women here was gone, because it was just us in that room. Just us girls. And it was good.

consider the lilies

August 22, 2021

Another memory . . .

consider the lilies

Consider the lilies . . . or, as the case may be, the tulips and the crocuses. That is what I was considering. Focusing on rather intently, as K and I balanced the bouquets on our laps, as gingerly as possible considering the fact that we were bumping along the decidedly unfriendly dirt roads. On our way back from the morning small group meeting, we had been entrusted with the delivery of flowers for the afternoon’s engagement party.
We chatted in snippets, between conversations with the driver about others needing to be fetched, and texts to coworkers about party logistics. It seemed ironic to me that I was sitting with one newly-engaged couple, on our way to celebrate with another. And it seemed fitting that our momentary existence, in the midst of grand-scale issues, was caught up with momentary concerns and ultimately insignificant frustrations. At one point I asked K about one aspect of her plans for next year. When she hesitated, I quickly added that she of course did not have to answer me. She laughed and said she didn’t mind answering at all–she had simply been focusing for a few moments there on keeping the flowers steady as we bounced over some larger potholes. So we continued to talk, and to muse on life as we are leading it as well as on the discussion we had just had, about the lilies of the field and the birds in the air . . . and the worries that we so easily allow to crowd out the truth of His provision, and of His providence. “Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
Yesterday we held a Student Art Show, celebrating the talented youth that we have here, and the work this school’s art program has encouraged them to create. Yet another in the series of “this is why I am here” moments for me, to be sure. Yet another privilege, to be able to participate in such a rare and lovely event for this land and culture. They displayed works of darkness and of war-embittered souls. But they also displayed works of hope that challenged our misconceived notions .” . . . yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are”

cycling through

August 20, 2021

Another day, another memory . . .

cycling through

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly life cycles through periods of upheaval and periods of normality, seamlessly sliding from one to the next. So it was that today there was little trace of the great fear that was all around us even as recently as yesterday.
Today there was a level of comforting reassurance in the most mundane tasks of my day. Even the frustrations held a certain level of sweetness: I snuck a muttered note of sarcasm into a response to one of my troublemaker students, enjoying my private joke over his incessant excuses. I puzzled over a Trigonometry problem for a while, then shrugged and looked it up in the answer key so the students could figure it out by working backwards. I complained about the hassle of trying to get groceries when under restriction, then remembered that I have never liked shopping anyhow! I slipped and fell on the ice then smiled at how much more graceful this fall was than my last :-)
Yes, we are still on a high level of alert. But the great thing about working with children is that you simply cannot dwell for long on the uncertainties. You just have to keep on with life as usual, even if you have no idea whatsoever how long “usual” will last.
After classes ended, I joined a couple upper school students in the painting of a backdrop for the upcoming play. And I marveled at how this same space in which we have huddled together to wait out the alarm threat is now taken up with creative endeavors.
Would that we could do the same with all that mis-placed and mis-used energy, directing it towards projects of peace.

pipe dreams

August 19, 2021

Tonight, another post in the series of memories coming to mind these days, from my time in Afgh@nistan . . .

pipe dreams

It’s been one of those days [or weeks, more accurately] when each baby step I manage to take forward seems counteracted by a gust of the elements that lands me 10 steps back. Between the mountain of schoolwork that grows on my to-do list, the harshness of the winds that blow and the snow that falls, and the logistical hardships of failing practicalities [the luxury of running water dying a frozen-piped death, for instance], I just can’t seem to give myself enough attitude-checks to stay positive.
So when I spied this abandoned work station one roof over from my own, it was comforting in a paradoxical sort of way. A project had begun here, with red pail and water bottle, and then been left to summon me and my camera for a closer glimpse at the gleaming color amidst our wintery hues. I imagined that the harsh winds and coming snow had thrown a worker off the intended task. Maybe not. But the idea gives me comfort when my own daily tasks grow daunting. Today, the brilliance of this bucket symbolizes the hope that all is not lost. That I shall get done the things that need to get done. That I shall not be too quick-tempered when students try my patience. That I shall be able to impart something worthwhile with the moments that fill the schooldays . . . that Spring shall come before Winter conquers us.

in the extremes

August 19, 2021

As are so many others in the world right now, I am grieving for the land and for the people of Afgh@nistan. No matter what comes of the current situation, the fact of it is that most who live in or are of that land are hurting now, in some form or fashion. And, as I wrote a few days ago, I don’t know what to do. 

This morning it occurred to me that I would like to begin reposting some of the things I wrote when I lived there . . . some of my photos and experiences. But I hesitate, worrying that it will seem presumptuous, considering I only lived there for a year and a half, and was in a very specific bubble. There is so much I have no frame of reference for. 

When I voiced both the desire I had and my hesitation to my husband, once home from work this evening, he reminded me of the fact that we, all of us, are in our own limited spheres of existence. We all know only our small sphere of; we all have finite perspectives. But this does not discount that knowledge and experience that we do have. We have lived what we have lived, we know what we know, and our calling in this life is to share our lives with those around us, in as much as our sphere can benefit another’s. 

That said, here is one of the moments from my time in K@bul . . . in honor of that land and its people.

in the extremes

I live in a land of extremes. Now I knew this as a fact well before arriving. But I could never have prepared myself for the reality of the fact as it relates to life . . . to my life, at least. This morning a question posed by a friend struck a strange chord in me—a chord that I am realizing is indirectly, but strongly, related to this “extreme” reality.

“What do you find beautiful there?” she asked. And it took me a while to answer, as I realized that I have been caught up with the great differences—with the ways in which my transition has felt slow and painstaking. This is due in part to my previous experiences with such opposite cultural and societal tendencies than the ones I find here. It is also partly due to the simple stresses of trying to figure out a new job, and trying to do it well. The internal stress caused by this preoccupation has stunted my usual joy in observing my surroundings. I love to be a proverbial fly on the wall, taking note of the details, and storing them up internally so I can later spit them out again, figuratively speaking, in the form of some creative outlet, be it written, photographic, musical, painted . . . danced, perhaps.

So what do I find beautiful here? I have given a bit of photo hints to this already here, as you may have noticed.

I find the roses beautiful. I find the view from my rooftop beautiful. The kites are oddly beautiful, lovely in the way one finds them everywhere, caught and suspended in the most unexpected places.

But the most beautiful thing to me at the moment, in this land in which at times [like now] we are unable to step foot outside the gates of our school compound, are the people. The children are beautiful. My students are beautiful. My coworkers are, truly, beautiful. Like one of my housemates who arrived late, delayed by a sudden surgery. And now, the day after several days of travel, she is hard at work in her classroom, happily readying for tomorrow’s arrival of her second graders. She has been losing track of time, and I keep having to return to tug her away for meetings and meals.

Beautiful, working hands.

making peace

August 17, 2021

Oh Lord, have mercy . . . the world is hurting. We are hurting. Those of us secure in our Western bubbles cannot help but wonder what we can do when those in other parts of the world are hurting so desperately, suffering so greatly. Tonight my husband held me as I sputtered, flustered, “I don’t know what to do.” “That’s faulty thinking,” he gently chided. “You don’t have to be constantly ‘doing something.'” He was right. I tend to operate on a level of high-stress, striving to be doing more, doing better, doing . . . doing . . .

But today the news is, if nothing else, a reminder of the limits of our human capacity. In memory of, in honor of, the brave and lovely people of A, I repost now something I wrote years ago, when I had the privilege to live in K@bul and work with some Afgh@n shining stars.

making peace
Passing time. All we really need is sleep. But the chairs are too hard, and the floor too dirty in this airport terminal. So instead we camp out together at metal tables, in plastic chairs. Passing time. We have spent 5 days together at a hectic pace, traveling together from one Arab country to another, preparing debates, researching topics, socializing with some 400 delegates from all over the world, and making mad dashes for almost-missed events [due to the learning curve of figuring out how time-consuming teenage prep time can be!]. And we are tired now, as we head back to our place of school and work. Ok, so I am tired now. Don’t know if I can speak so much for my troop of teens. No doubt they feel it less than I do. For my part, I must admit to a feeling of dread for jumping into the beginning of the week immediately upon arrival. It will be a challenge to face the week after skipping one night of sleep altogether, and skimping on a series of them. But this is one of those situations in life when you just have to trust that there will be grace for that weakness . . .

*pausing now to respond to a “Hey, Miss J—come look at this!”

So is this what it feels like to mother teens? I do hope that having 6 at once, cold turkey, makes it slightly more challenging than your average parenting process: Lord knows it’s kicking my butt! But oh, how good it has been! More prominent even than the feeling of dread for the long week ahead, in fact, is the sadness that this time has ended. It flew by so very quickly—as times like this do. And after the softness of this time, so far as the relations between us go, the sadness of the time ending is largely due to the return to “normal” teacher/student relations that must come now.

The last evening of the conference included a “Culture Night,” in which each school’s delegates presented some sort of snippet of their country’s culture, mainly in the form of dance and song. Needing no prompting, our group chose to spend long hours preparing a traditional dance in which all of them would participate. Before the presentation, they decided to have one student introduce the dance. This was unusual, so far as the other presentations go. And what she said when she got up before the audience was even more unusual. She had come to me beforehand, nervous about the fact that she kept crying when she thought about what she was going to say. And I was awed. Awed by the heart of this mature young woman, and awed by her insight. I don’t think I would even have had such far-sighted wisdom when I was in high school. I don’t think many people ever get to such a point, for that matter! She explained the history of this dance and then she did indeed tear up as she continued, “Most people don’t realize how beautiful our country is. They only think of it as a war-torn land. But it is the most beautiful country in the world . . .”

Then they began to dance. And in that dance was packaged all the beauty that brought such emotion to her young heart. It was beautiful. They were—are—beautiful.

just a spoonful of sugar?

August 16, 2021

“Not to change the subject, but …” Us progeny of mother-dearest know to promptly raise an eyebrow at this familiar refrain. And at the dinner table tonight, this refrain interrupted a raucous conversation about firecracker antics to hold up a numbered list. “Want to see my bedtime routine?” she continued, having introduced the interruption with a prideful relaying of the great success they had with a new approach to reasonable bedtime for grandkid sleepovers. We duly oohed and ahhed over her list. I made a mental note to remember to come to mom the next time I was in need of kid friendly inspiration. And I repented of my prior skepticism when her tale of success had begun. Yes indeed, I reminded myself, my mother is in fact a household genius… 

My train of thought was interrupted by her voice. She had moved onto breakfast, pointing to the platter of leftover pancakes. “I asked Mo what she wanted for breakfast. So I made pancakes. And when I asked what she wanted on her pancakes, she said ‘Butter, syrup, and whipped cream.’” I started to laugh at the idea, then looked back at mom to realize that she was not finishing the tale with an appropriate, reasonable substitution for the request. No-she had, in fact, served up platters of pancakes with butter, syrup, and whipped cream. Oddly enough, the 2 preschoolers sat relatively contently with us in the church pew … perhaps a small sugar high isn’t the end of the world. We all know grandma knows best 😁