Category Archives: A Penny for My Thoughts…

Math Problem Gone Awry

 Being home is surreal. I have been going to an internship with an attorney in Denver, an experience that has reassured my conviction in my long set career path. I really enjoy the work I have been doing and could see myself doing this for a long time. At the same time I have been taking 2 art classes at a community college which have made me rethink my life trajectory. Here I am almost $100,000 in debt from school. After a few years of law school, that will be doubled. Sure, I will be set to embark on a successful career in a profession that I have no doubts I will be good at, but I am starting in a hole deeper than my parents and grandparents ever imagined at my age. I’ve rarely seen my bank account over $1,000, and now I owe 100 times that. It’s like a high school math problem gone wrong. I remember my algebra teacher teaching us that once you had come to an answer you had to look at it logically within the context of the problem to make sure it was correct. How many dollars will Sara owe at the end of her time in college? “Teacher, this doesn’t seem right. I think I have added too many zeros.” Nope, you did it correctly.  Now finish the problem. Convert that into months income, add interest…… AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

 

Meanwhile, my dirt cheap art courses have shown me that I am actually pretty good at art. I have picked up drawing really quickly. I keep wishing each class I was on a stage instead of in a studio, but never long to be in a politics or law course. Would it have been such a bad plan to go to community college for an arts major, then spend my life with a low paying job and little debt… looking out of my hole right now, I’m finding that path doesn’t look as useless and ridiculous as it once did.

Teaching

“Habbibi! Habbibi! Habbibi!” She calls as she runs up and kisses me on both cheeks.  “Ms. Sara, Arabic?” She asks if she can speak in Arabic.

“Ah” I respond. And then I am swept into my daily Arabic practice, and myupdate on 10-year-old drama.

The large metal gate at the entrance of the school

The large metal gate at the entrance of the school

Every day I arrive at the gate to our school to unlock the door around 2:15, and everyday there are already 2 or 3 young girls anxiously waiting for our cheek-kiss greeting and to be let through the schools massive metal gate.

Aiashia, the school we teach at (Whose name has about every vowel sound in the Arabic language making it a foreigner’s nightmare to pronounce) has a tall wall of about 30 feet surrounding it on all sides, with equally extravagant flowering trees lining the wall, which provides an excellent haven concealed from the busy streets, a secret garden if you will, where these lovely ladies can safely be themselves without the fear of an unwanted male stare or judging elder.

Aside from the male security guard and our bosses, no men are permitted within the school grounds. The basketball court is at the center of a courtyard. The actual building is a horseshoe shape with about 2 dozen classrooms emptying out directly into the cement courtyard.

As students filter in they bounce between my classroom and Ms. Amy’s giggling about their day, listening to the music, and emptying their ever inquisitive minds of whatever questions they had stored for us through the day. The classrooms are hallow, and echo loudly. The desks sit two people, and each day, I drag them from their traditional rows to a dining room table esque form, only to drag them back to their original place at the end of the day. The drawings on the desk testify to what my students nag about every day. “School is boring.” I laugh. Some things are the same even on the other side of an ocean in the middle of an occupation.

To give you a general idea

a of how our classes are run I will give you a few examples of my favorite activities we have done.

1. The restaurant- Amy and I quickly learned that food and learning should go hand in hand. My class received a nicely written invitation to the Princess Restaurant, and the next day the two classes gathered to find a classroom that had been magically turned into a restaurant with common desks transformed into the most classy tables with the addition of vases of wild flowers, and only the freshest and most classy food in town (Strawberries, humus, and cookies!). The girls were the waitresses, the hostesses, and of course the hungry patrons!

2. Songs!- We are encouraged to use songs as a way of increasing our girls speaking speed, so this semester my girls started off with “I am Woman” then went to “Hold On” by B*Witched and are finishing off with “Firework” by Katy Perry. I tried to stick with motivating songs. I was so proud yesterday when I gave each person in the class a solo, and each girl had the confidence to sing by themselves. I think it attests to the safe zone that Amy and I have worked so hard to create at the school. The girls at Aiashia have really become a family, and to me, that’s more valuable than any strides they have made in mastering the English language.

3. Sports- After each class we run about 30 minutes of sports. This has typically taken the form of basketball since some brilliant architect placed the basketball hoops directly in front of the soccer goals. Some days we have played hide and seek, in which, the full circle around the large building turns each round into a high-speed chase of who can sprint in a circle faster than the person who is it. A few days I have taught the girls some Taekwondo and self-defense which went over really well.

4. Plays- Amy and I both enjoyed doing dialogs with our girls. Mine did two Dr. Seuss scripts, the Lorax and Yertle the Turtle, though Amy takes the cake on this endeavor. Her girls did the Three Billy Goats Gruff. This included desks being made into a bridge that the goats could walk across and the troll could hide under, teaching ten-year olds to charge with their fingers in the shape of goat horns, and of course a lot of “Trippity, trap, trippity, trap!” I proudly made my guest appearance as the Big Billy Goat, but was out acted by the well mastered Troll voice of little Tala.

The program has no specific curriculum which has allowed me to mold my class as I see fit. This has eased my concerns a bit about being a language imperialist simply spreading my language to these kids who meanwhile have bigger problems, thanks in large part to financial contributions to their occupying force from my government. As you can see, I still think about it a lot, but I am proud to say that I believe my classroom has become a place of joint learning and mutual growth between all the students and myself as well.

I have 3 more days of teaching and then I think I am done teaching ESL forever, but I hope to stay in touch with these lovely ladies who will never know the extent to which they have helped me.

The Victims

In an article I wrote recently for the annual Newsletter for the International Club at our school, I recalled the events of my first border crossing from Amman to Nablus across the Sheik Hussein Bridge this past October.

I concluded with the following:

“This story is neither the calmest nor the most provoking one I could share. Aadi, عادي , is the Arabic word used for “normal” or “standard.”

When a sound bomb, an empty explosive that creates a massive boom that is used as a fear tactic by Israeli military, went off during class one of my girls said to me “Aadi”.

When we asked a local boy if we could spray-paint the massive concrete wall that divides the Arab lands from those currently controlled by Israel, including some settlements outside of the Green line, he said Aadi.

My experience on the border that day was about the same as each other time I crossed, and when my other friends with Arab names and heritages tried to cross. This crossing was Aadi.

I am not trying to demonize any party in this conflict, but simply pose the question: what are the repercussions for any society, when constant presence of a military becomes Aadi, the norm? A 18 year old girl with an M4 Assault rifle: Aadi, Roads blocked by equally young boys with even more ammunition: Aadi. Fighter jets flying overhead in formation: Aadi.

Occupation has become so ingrained in every life here, that the children don’t wince at the presence of a gun or look at the planes in the sky.”

Since pressing send on the email with my article, I had pushed this thought to the back of my mind, yet today my house mates and I had a heart-twisting reminder of the violent culture that is so pervasive in Nablus society.

“We have a dog” he said as he awoke me from my nap.

Well, similar words had been said multiple times in this household.

“We have frogs” because a kid at school needs us to take care of them.

“We have a bunny,” correction- “We have 2 bunnies.” When the kids at the private school my roommates works at had taken a field trip to Jericho, been permitted to purchase rabbits, then returned them to school at the insistence of less than thrilled parents.

Yet, the announcement of a dog was accompanied by a serene facial expression, and a tone that implied a story worth hearing.

His ears had become healed over stubs on the top of his head, surgically removed by a knife and a human hand. His tail had reached the same fate, only more recently, so its weak body had not yet patched over this wicked damage. His eyes showed resignation and terror. He displayed no will to fight, no bark, growl, or showing of the teeth, even as six humans, (no different from those who had caused him this pain) sat watching him cower in silence.

Immediately, I felt rage at the street kids who would throw rocks at, pee on, and cut up a living thing. While too often people cite the Quran for permitting violence, everything I had read in the Quran, been taught in Sunday school and from my dad so strongly condemned this senseless violence. Yes, according to the Quran animals are on earth for humans to use, yet halal meat, meat butchered according to religious expectations, must include the animal being killed mercifully, without seeing the blade, and to be treated humanely up to being butchered. Surely, the treatment this dog had endured should be shunned by a conservative Muslim community. Then my concluding question from the article I wrote came into my mind.

I began to imagine the kind of life a child must have had to cut the ear off a dog. Of course, I will never know the exact life of that child, but it isn’t so hard to speculate. Most street shabab are around 13 years old. When they were about 4 years old these children experienced an intifada that I can only hope most people live their entire lives without witnessing. Israel occupied the city invading homes. Fatah, the prevalent political party in Nablus developed street militias consisting of young Palestinian men. These militias meekly opposed the Israeli forces. The members of those gangs, many of which finished the intifada in a cell or a grave, were these children’s fathers and brothers. After the physical presence of Israeli militants in the city subsided, leaving more than 500 dead and 3,000 wounded in a city the size of Pueblo, it still remained almost impossible to travel to the city due to road closure. Until recent years it was impossible to drive into the city, and people entering would have to cross a road barrier to board a bus or another car. This suffocated the already war-injured economy of Nablus, that had once dominated the Palestinian market with Olive Oil and Olive Oil Soap.

The dog was found in the old city, one of the poorest areas of town. Martyr posters line the walls with young faces who have died in opposition to the occupation. Faces from 63 years ago, 44 years ago, 10 years ago, last week. New posters are plastered over the old.

Many mornings Ben, or as you know him, Writhnar the Destroyer of Worlds, would announce to those gathered at the kitchen table, the news he had read from his Nablus search in Google news.

“Another Nabulsi was killed outside Nablus last night by settlers.” Like a broken record his words were too often the same. Another young man killed.

Drink tea at a friend’s house, learn of his jail time. Call on a neighbor; learn of how their house had been invaded by the IDF to use as a lookout point. Men born into, raised, and dying in war-torn streets, taught to fight, as a brother, father, friend, enemy….falls.

Should it be surprising then that these men hit their wives and their kids? No, it isn’t because the Quran says you can beat your wife (only with light force that doesn’t leave a mark according to most translations.) Young boys showing up to school with bruises on their bodies. Is it from their father? Or another street boy who was hit by his father?

Just yesterday a boy pulled a knife on one of our female teachers who worked in one of the refugee camps. Earlier in the semester, a student pulled a knife on another student for insulting his mom.

Though, as I focus too hard on the traces of violence, I fear I am demonizing this deep-rooted and astonishing culture. Nabulsi people are some of the most hospitable and morally ground people I have ever met. Aside from being deeply rooted in their faith, (which I view as a testament to their morality, yet others argue explicates the violence) the people here have a strong sense of community and family, work hard in school and show genuine interest in the wellbeing of strangers. Violence is in fact the break from the norm that stands out like an infectious disease-spreading over its victim. It is a foreign specimen intoxicating the local breed, and its victims are everywhere, including curled up in what was once a rabbit hutch on our porch.

 

http://www.euronablus.eu/eunab/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=8&Itemid=70

I am Wise, but It’s Wisdom Born of Pain

1 year and 364 days after he and I started dating, he broke up with me. 3 days before I travelled across the world to Nablus, Palestine, with the naïve dream of spending a whole 3 months with him after what was, for me at least, the most painful year and seven months living apart, he decides he doesn’t want me anymore. I was destroyed. My towers were crumbling down. Then, as the plot in my love story thickens, I find out that while I was spending my time wishing we were together, he had already gotten over me and by the time he broke up with me, I had been replaced. Yes, replaced.  In a plot so cruel that only reality could compose it, she has the same name as me, is full Arab, and one of my new coworkers. (At the time he informed me of this, I was living in the same house as her) Yes, my life had turned overnight into a living nightmare. For days it seemed the only positive thing that could come of my wretched state was that someday I could sell my story to become a Hollywood film, or at least a lifetime movie.

A day shy of 2 years. Too late to not get on the plane. Sara doesn’t quit even after being discarded like a day old newspaper.  I thought I was too special to be replaced. Well, I was wrecked. Am wrecked.

Cruelty is augmented when its source claims to love you, and stings for longer when that love is reciprocated.

As important as a love, he had become a best friend.

Sanity in the Most Insane Form

I spent an entire week sleeping and crying. Here I was in a new place, a place just a week earlier he had promised we would experience together, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I was nauseous at the smell of food and completely alone. How that week did not include me drinking myself to death or conclude with me on a plane headed to Ithaca, NY will forever be a testament to my inner strength.

Then the new teachers arrived. As they pulled up in the car I was thankful for the five distractions that lugged their bags into the house. Our clan of teachers is the least homogenous group I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. We were all different colors, sizes, and ages, have drastically different senses of humor, tastes in music, and experiences, yet, so far at least, we all seem to fit together like a puzzle.

I bonded with my new friends using the fear of future regret as motivation to begin building friendships and for the first time, I smiled. I laughed. For hours at a time I hid the tears. My new roommate had the best attitude and could rarely be seen without a smile on her face. The new boys were crazy exciting and amazingly supportive. But still I could barely eat, I had no focus, and I felt like the pieces of garbage that litter each Nablus street.

Struggling from malnourishment and a substantial decrease in desire, my mind struggled to comprehend the labyrinth I had somehow gotten myself into.  Who was I? Why had I trusted another person so much that his violating that trust (at an explosive magnitude) could so utterly destroy me? How could anyone that I loved so much, and would have done anything for, be so selfish?

My new friends were a distraction and offered shoulders to cry on, gentle words, and encouragement. With nights of sacrilegious conversations in the kitchen, newly created inside jokes, and always a hot pot of tea being made, there was the perfect amount of insanity to divert me from going insane.

A Rational Mind

I walked out of bed one morning to find a new face in our living room. Every now and then you meet someone and immediately know that this is someone you will miss once they were gone. Linda was one of those, and in fact she was gone quite soon as she was only volunteering with TFP for one week. A beautiful combination of a Turkish mother and Palestinian Father, Linda holds herself with pride. And, while many would point to her elaborately styled Hijab as evidence of weakness and submission, she is one of the strongest girls I have ever met. Though, she did suggest I don’t put my private life on the internet, an ignored suggestion perhaps soon regretted, I have to share just one more personal story to illustrate how Linda worked her magic.

I must backtrack to Christmas.

The Story of the Kindle

As X always loved to read, he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to get many books in Nablus.  I realized at this point that a Kindle would be the perfect Christmas present for him, since he would be away for a full year. The problem was, since I was in Amman, there were no Kindles to be found. I was determined, so I contacted his sister about splitting the costs. Then I asked my mother to please order a Kindle from Best Buy ($200) then mail it to me ($50). My mother happily helped because she realized it was important to me. Then I had to spend 5 hours hassling to get it out of Jordanian Customs and paid $40 in taxes. This entire process had already taken 2 months arrangements, a lot of time, and money, but it was important to me because I knew he would love it when I gave it to him on our trip to the Dead Sea scheduled for the weekend before I returned home to the US. But then, he cancelled the trip the week of, and simply suggested that I leave whatever my present was for him in Colorado. Ouch. Incredibly disappointed, I tried hard to be the understanding girlfriend and kept trying, I asked a friend of mine who was going to the West Bank for Christmas if she would carry it across the border and deliver it for me along with some other goodies I’d hoped would make him smile. Here I had spent a lot of money, enlisted my mother and a friend’s help and managed to get a Kindle to him in the fucking occupied territories. But I wanted to because I loved him.

Christmas came and went. I kept wondering what he was going to do for me. I anticipated a package in the mail. Perhaps he would give it to me once I arrived in Nablus.

Nothing.

Next day, still nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

With each passing conversation, each passing day, Christmas disappeared further into the past yet he gave no mention of any gift for me, though he did thank me for his Kindle.

It wasn’t until a month later he broke up with me, yet he had blown off Christmas.

In one of our two terrible conversations we have had since I got here, I brought up Christmas, and how he had blown it off. He said he hadn’t and that he had a gift for me. Feeling a little less hurt I put my hands out to receive an unwrapped, no note included, Keffiyeh, which is a scarf. They cost 20 shekels (approximately $6). He bought it at a factory that he had gone to with a group of people, which I am fairly certain included my replacement. They had gone several weeks after Christmas.  It wasn’t the price of the gift that hurt. It was the effort, or complete lack of. While I had tried my best to make sure my gift said in a million ways, I love you, his was a fuck you.

-Back to Linda-

I explained this story to Linda on one of my better days, seriously trying to ponder how any human could receive a gift so clearly wrapped in affection (including a hand stitched case) and reciprocate with a gift no better than a last-minute airport present purchased out of obligation.

That is when she said it. “Could the $200 Kindle/20 shekel scarf be a metaphor for your entire relationship?”

and then I realized how right she was. I had always been willing to put in the $200 effort and constantly received a 20 shekel response. (Again, metaphorical, it wasn’t the price that was the problem, of course)

“You are not a 20 Shekel girl”

Her words resonated for a moment. She was right. I am not a 20 shekel girl. The thought was empowering and allowed me to fully open my tear swollen eyes, which coupled with dark shadows from days without sleep had become a part of the new face that cast back from the mirror on the days I had bothered to get out of bed and check my appearance. Why had I let myself be used and treated like trash? Why had I ever allowed it to get to a point where I could be thrown away?

While I was so caught up on what I deserved in comparison to the effort I put in, I hadn’t realized the truth. He didn’t deserve me. He doesn’t deserve me. Even now, he doesn’t deserve the tears I am crying at 3 am because I can’t sleep from the pain, so I’m writing a blog post instead.

During Linda’s few days with us in Nablus, I quietly celebrated my first day not crying in 22 days. A small triumph.

As I prepared to send Linda off in a taxi she said to me “stay strong, super woman.”

Head up

Yes, I still cry most days. And each tear is another drop that I will never forgive him for. I still question my value after being treated like dirt. I wonder why I wasn’t worth treating with the decency I wouldn’t deny any human, let alone someone I had claimed to love.

My girls have become the light in my days. This past week we began learning to sing I Am Woman by Helen Reddy. While the bright young ladies I have the pleasure of teaching love the lyrics and music, they’re oblivious to the fact that teacher is relying on their singing to keep her sensible, especially since 2 rooms down, the new girl is working with her girls. My roommate and coworker is not so oblivious, and laughs at our class as we belt out.

I have started making my own relationships with the people to which, 3 months ago I was simply the girlfriend, and with the new people who never knew the two of us.  I have sat at the same restaurants we had both gone to together, but this time with better people and now, I no longer wish he was sitting in the chair next to me.

Soon, Nablus will not reek of him, but will smell the sweetness of home and true friends.

I hope to find my smile again. The one I see when I look through old high school photos. I’ve joked with the people here about wanting to be re-virginatized from the realities of the world.I feel like I have aged 10 years in the past 6 months, referring not only to being romantically burned, but also to the pain I have seen in many of my friends’ (locals and foreigners) eyes when they tell about their time in prison, their abusive ex-boyfriends, and a yearning for a home that does not include large guns and sound bombs. The high school Sara knew that things don’t end happily ever after, but she didn’t believe it. Somewhere between “Once upon a time” and where I am now, that reality has set in. Getting out of the country expedited the realization. The high school me is a stranger. I value the wisdom I have gained from travelling. And while I’ll flirt with the desire for innocence, I know that it is both impossible and unprefered, but it must be possible to recreate the emotions of joy and hope that I see in my younger eyes with what I know now.

Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can do anything
I am strong(strong)
I am invincible(invincible)
I am woman

Salaam, Habibi

Sara

Arrived

Yes, I’m here. Nablus, Palestine. Though, in the last few weeks the world has been pulled out from under me, I am learning to find my feet and make my way. During the last week, I have been hurt in a way that I have never been hurt before. So cruelly, I have been emotionally and mentally destroyed. I have felt, for the past week that I am a robot and have forced myself to participate in daily actions without being mentally present.

My initial promise with this blog was that I would be as honest as I know how to be. At this point, I am certain any blog post I could write would lack honesty. I am still processing what has taken place and am not sure that I am capable of being honest with myself, and accepting all that wasn’t, shouldn’t have been, but is. While I could recount the events that have taken place, these events, void of the emotions and personal events that took place at the same time, would lack completeness. And, as was apparently not clear in my last relationship, intentional omission is an absolute form of dishonesty.

 

Inshallah, teaching, learning, and living here will help me remember who I am, and then comprehend what has happened in a way that is honest to share.

 

Masalama, Hayati

 

Once upon an Inauguration…

It was cold. Cold enough to keep most politically anxious youth wrapped up in their warm beds. But, the not so far gone fear of a chauvinistic psycho taking control of our beautiful state, and the more recent celebration of his defeat, motivated Chris and I to roll out of bed and head to now-governor Hickenlooper’s inauguration.

State politics too often go unnoticed. The USian “go big or go home” mentality leads most averagely political people to focus almost entirely on National elections and issues, and ignore the happenings in their backyard. The domination of mainstream international media over the smaller local news channels has fed into this neglect. Fewer people turn on their local channel 9 or open their local newspaper, settling instead for CNN or FOXNews. The once local focus of our lives has shifted to a national and global outlook, and people have forgotten the power and influence those at the state level still have.

Our attendance (or perhaps I should speak for myself), my attendance was not so much in support of Hickenlooper. Though, I do enjoy hearing his voice on the train at DIA every time I return from my travels, and the times I have seen him at events I appreciate his approachable demeanor, I had not been an avid Hickenlooper advocate. At one fair I attended this summer I saw a man in a nice crisp suit with a perfect tie and fancy shoes. Well that turned out to be Hickenlooper’s bodyguard. Hickenlooper was there in khakis and a button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the top buttons undone. He appeared so down to earth and willing to reach out to his constituents, even in the brutally hot sun. However, Hickenlooper’s politics shine democrat blue in almost every way, and that carries with it the good and the bad.

On this bitter cold morning I celebrated the defeat of Tancredo and that less than 50% of Coloradans (only 36.7%) had subscribed to bigotry and discrimination as a political platform. Tancredo, running on the constitution party ticket,  had relied on his tough immigration reform to push him ahead of republican weakling Dan Maes making him the only competition for Democrats. Well this wasn’t the first time I had heard of Mr. Tancredo.

The Muslim community in Denver had been chanting his name at rallies for some time in anger as he spoke in support of Israel during Operation Cast Lead. While a large number of people gathered on one side of the street with the demand for Israel to “Stop Killing the Children”, Tancredo took time out of his busy schedule to join those rallying in support of Israel’s attack that resulted in the murder of hundreds of children. Muslims worldwide had been infuriated by his suggestion of bombing Muslim holy sites as a response to terrorist attacks, a suggestion that shows clear intolerance for the faith of more than 20% of the world population and of almost 20,000 of the Coloradans that he was running to represent.

Though, it wasn’t his intolerance for Islam that those 37% voted for this past November. Nope, it was his disdain for Mexicans that won him those votes. Ironically, he is full blood, second generation, Italian. All 4 of his grandparents immigrated from Italy to the United States in a time when Italians were discriminated against and labeled “unamerican” the same way Mr. Tancredo welcomes our Mexican neighbors now. Among his plans soaked in unhidden racism is his suggestion to place a moratorium on immigration to the United States that would permit only children and spouses of American Citizens to immigrate into the USA. An act that were it a few decades earlier would have barred his own family’s entry.

Another Tancredo gem was his 2007 proposal to congress to make English the official language of the United States, a trite attempt at englishafying the spanish speaking immigrants that he detests as his failed legislation demonstrates.

In his 2008 comical run for president, Tancredo ran solely on the issue of immigration calling illegal immigration a threat to national security. In one of his ads which depicted a terrorist attack (nothing more logical than to evoke this country’s exaggerated fear of terrorists in a political campaign focused entirely on Mexican immigration) had a voiceover reading

“There are consequences to open borders beyond the 20 million aliens who have come to take our jobs … the price we pay for spineless politicians who refuse to defend our borders against those who come to kill.”

http://www.fgscholars.com/section02/article/30

Exactly, the only reason that “Aliens” come across our borders is to kill. WHAT THE FUCK! excuse my language, but if any college student were to bring this point up in a classroom they would be correctly called out for being a racist. If an athlete or an actor were to say this crap they would be boycotted to the point of apology, but place it on a political campaign and now, not only is it acceptable, but it is a political platform?

Who elected this nut into office? Oh, whoops, that would be my district…Good old Colorado 6th district. 88 % white, 77% white-collar, and over 50% in support of this racist. Though, this wasn’t a one time 6th district mistake, oh no, my homeland allowed him to push forward his idiotic ideals in congress for 10 years.

I was in Jordan as the governor elections loomed nearer. Closer than ever to my Muslim/Arab heritage, I reflected on events with the Muslim community in Colorado when I was younger. I remember on multiple occasions meeting Governor Owens at these events (back when supporting the Muslim community didn’t contradict the Republican platform) and I thought about what a drastic shift 10 years could make. 2 wars and a 9-11 later my state was on the verge of electing a man who, not only wouldn’t support the Muslim community in his state, but had proposed destroying the most sacred places to this group.

I am most often tolerant when people discuss politics with me. I respect an intelligent argument, but this is where the line ends. Supporting Tancredo is supporting racism. If you vote for Tancredo you are telling me that you do not value my heritage and that, in fact, you would prefer someone in power who would happily bomb all that is sacred to my family and millions. If you vote for Tancredo you are telling the Mexican-American in your classes or your child’s class that you don’t think he should be here, and that you are happily helping to elect a man who would call this child a murder (only in english though).

Yes, you are entitled to your political beliefs, but do not believe that those you support are not a reflection on yourself.

Back to inauguration. We walked up to the capital building only minutes before the event was supposed to start (we weren’t going to be early in 4 degree weather!) to find only a small crowd gathered before the capital’s grand steps. I thought back to this summer when Chris and I had been in this same place attending Denver’s PRIDE festival. En Vogue performed a free concert to conclude the festivities less than a football field away from where I stood now drawing over 10 thousand people.

While I commend Denver citizens for rallying in support of the Gay movement, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disgusted that an outdated pop band could grasp more than 50 times the attendance than  the swearing in of the State’s top positions.

I realize that this post has become more of a very long rant against Tancredo but I want to point out two more observations about the event.

  1. As we left I smiled at Chris and commented “There goes the friendly transition of power from one white-male-christian to the next”. And at the time we laughed, but that statement illuminates too true a reality and is in no way funny. The only break in the white landscape of former, current, and future state politicians on the Capital steps that day was Lieutenant Governor Elect Joe Garcia. And while a comprehensive search online shows me little about our states second in command, the last name alone implies that Joe Garcia would be a part of a minority that Tancredo would rather not have in this land.
  2. The demographic of the people who did attend the inauguration was as white as the politicians being inaugurated, with few exceptions. The turnout was drastically less diverse than the span of Denver itself, whose public schools are in most cases the majority minority students. So where were those who should be celebrating the defeat of Tancredo alongside me? Perhaps they have lost all hope in the White, elite government that is supposed to represent them.

After the short ceremony filled with continued campaign promises and procedural speeches, we walked back to the car, but not after being privileged to a 21 cannon salute. No joke, they were shooting of a cannon in Civic Center park. Gotta love Colorado.

It’s a Colorado Christmas

UPDATE: A few weeks before my Amman program ended and I was going to head to Nablus, my parents and I decided I should come home for Christmas and return to Nablus in the beginning of February for the start of my job there. So here I am in Colorado!

                If you have ever heard a Coloradan complain about their home state, chances are they have never left Colorado for any period of time. Three years ago I was caught up in everything Colorado was not. It wasn’t west coast or east coast. No Beaches like California, or prime location like New York. My longing for the bustling east lead me to school in New York, though the town I ended up in is just another Boulder, and the weather a lot more grey.

Each day I was reminded how wonderful Colorado is. A trip to the “mountains” in New York for a snowboarding trip left me amused at how hill deprived the East is and ashamed of not appreciating the grandiose mountain range that had always been out my bedroom window. Until I left for school, I could not imagine a horizon without the Rockies, yet how can you appreciate something that is always there? The truth is, the sun sets a little prettier over the Rockies, the snow shines a little brighter on a mountain top, and life’s small details seem a little less significant next to the Mountains demanding and humbling composure, I just needed to see a mountain free horizon to understand.

                A walk down many Colorado streets includes smiles and greetings between perfect strangers, a practice I quickly abandoned in New York after several confused faces and uncertain responses. The surreal detachment between individuals allowed me to understand how someone could feel alone on a crowded street. How can people see a neighbor walking by and pretend they aren’t there?

                The sun shines brighter a mile high. And more often too! 300 days of sunshine. Clouds in Colorado are rarely an entire umbrella over the horizon and are more often, as clouds should be, small patches in the sky that offer an occasional break from the brilliant sun.

                When I arrived at orientation in what would be my new home of Ithaca, NY, I was exaggeratedly warned of the large amounts of snow I would face. Now let me get this straight, I had lived my life in a state where I had been snowed in at least once a year. No, I mean really snowed in. Not, ‘oh, my 2 door, crappy tired, 2 wheel drive car can’t drive on the 4 inches of snow on the ground’. I mean, my mom’s Snow-tired suburban can’t get out of the driveway because there are 6 foot snowdrifts behind our garage. And if we could get the Suburban out on a snowy weekend (because we wouldn’t have had a snow day for anything short of an avalanche), we would grab the tow-rope and go tow out strangers who got caught in the snow on the way to work. Whether we were snowed in, or out driving in the snow, those white days are some of the best memories I have; tunnel through the deep snow, build snowmen, and, of course, going sledding.

                I found their warning of snow inappropriately characterized the approaching demon. The true spirit killer was the grey and the cold. The snow was nothing and my beautiful Colorado car, equipped with snow tires, and a tow rope in the trunk was in donut heaven, and never once struggled on Ithaca’s large hills. But with the snow came the grey and the sun wasn’t seen again for months at a time. The snow didn’t melt for ages. The wind chill of the lake made the weather bitter, so perfectly fluffy snow went untouched with very few snowmen or snow angels breaking the flat white blanket. People cuddled up in their homes and were not seen unless they had to go out, and then they were bundled up until they looked like brightly colored marshmallows, rushing through the miserable cold hurrying to class, the store, or wherever had pulled them out of their warm havens.

                Perhaps I’m over idealizing and hyper-glorifying… In fact, I can’t wait until I return to Ithaca next fall for my senior year. But, after a few months away, I know I will find myself once again longing for a Colorado Christmas.

 

The Adventure Continues… a decision made.

I had every intention to return to Ithaca this spring. Every intention. When the lady in the administrative office said “and just so you know if you decide to extend your leave of absence another semester it will be an additional $2…” I cut her off and said, “That won’t be happening.” Her response “You never know.”

If my life were written out as a book that would be seen as a cheap foreshadow, ungracefully included to add some depth to the writing and add a little reward to anyone who read it more than once (who would read a book about my life twice! Of course who would ever write a book about my life, cuz it sure as hell won’t be me.)

Yes, 2 weeks ago, the plan was secure. I had the sweetest set up waiting for me back at Ithaca. I had been rehired as an RA (this time would have possibly been in a bigger room!) and my best friend Chris had been hired in the same area as me, possibly even the same building. I was returning, so I had already planned out programs, even got so far as to create some of the funding request forms, because I was coming back. 14 days ago, I had excitedly picked out my choice committees for the Model United Nations team for the spring, because I would be returning to the team and taking part in this year’s Harvard conference

Perhaps my certainty was seen as a challenge to a higher being, or perhaps to myself. Maybe I was so sure that I was returning that I subconsciously needed to challenge myself. Or perhaps all these examples of confidence in my plan to return, (ie. Not listening when the lady was telling me the procedure for extending my leave of absence and getting a head start on my RA work) was simply a mask of confidence in the plan and an attempt to hide that I hadn’t completely sold myself on the return to Ithaca plan yet. Who knows?

Though to be fair, I am not sure that any other plan was really logically suggested. I mean, if you are in college, you are expected to finish college. That was what was expected of me, or at least what I thought was expected of me, and what I most adamantly expected of myself. Well, not too adamantly, since, in a matter of 2 weeks that expectation has been thrown out the window. 2 weeks ago, I would be going home in December. On the 25th I would be in Pueblo celebrating Christmas with the family, which was the plan, which is always the plan.

But this is not 2 weeks ago, this is now. And now, that plan of returning home, Christmas with the family, and being an RA this spring are drowning in a flood of cold irony.

I have chosen to go to Nablus to teach English for a semester. It scares me that the whole plan can be summed up in one sentence. And that the details would take up only a few additional lines. A plan so simply stated means extending my trip five months, missing the holiday season, not seeing my recently divorced parents for 9 months total.

But those are the negatives; the positives are much more colorful, much more demanding.

The positives are getting the opportunity to live in Palestine. Getting to be in the heart of the most emotional and pain filled battlefield on earth and knowing that everyday what I am witnessing is real. It means getting a chance to continue working on my Arabic in an Arabic speaking society, the most constructive way possible. It means getting to be a teacher if only for a semester, which, as silly as it sounds was always my childhood backup plan if singer, film actor, and Broadway star all failed. It means living in the same city as X for the first time in a year and seven months, which is really just the icing on the cake. Were the cake not there, I wouldn’t change my plans for the frosting. Those of you who know me know I wouldn’t throw away all my plans and follow any man around the world. But the fact that I will get to share this experience with such an amazing person makes the whole idea much more exciting and a lot less scary.

As I have mentioned before, I believe our travels (and perhaps life for that matter) are defined by the people we encounter and the mutual growth that can occur when a positive encounter takes place. I will get the opportunity to learn from young girls every day. To gain an understanding that allows me to, at least for a moment, view the world through a completely new set of eyes. Palestine is depicted in the media as a 2D image. There is death and conflict, religion and hate, but my excursions so far have lifted that flat image off the paper and added a great deal of dimension. It is time now to fill in the details of the design. There is so much to learn about Palestine, about the entire Arab world, and this is my opportunity to be in the center of it all!

In simple terms, I’m not ready to leave yet, so I’m not going to.

Dear Friends

The inevitable has occurred. I have gone a month without writing a post. I knew this would happen. To be honest, this time gap is not due to simply laziness or neglect. I have really been struggling over what to write.

The thing is, I want to avoid making this blog about my day to day experiences, such as what I saw, or observations I have made in Amman. I want to avoid doing the typical tourist thing because I don’t think good will come from posts such as “I visited the cutest little shop that sold these awesome Arab things,” or “I saw this cute couple, and the woman was wearing that head covering thing.”

Ok, so these examples seem a little over the top, but this is the essence of what I am trying to avoid.

I believe, instead, that you and I both can learn much more through our encounters with other people. If those encounters take place in a cute little shop, then so be it. But Amman, and any place for that matter, is more than the physical structures that the city is composed of. It is the people here that, to me, make up the city, and it is the interactions with those people that have brought me to Amman to begin with. It is the people that I can learn the most from.

The problem is how to write about encounters in a manner that is respectful to the other party. While I believe we both can learn from these encounters, I’m concerned that such analysis of our shared encounter will be insulting to the other person.

Perhaps, an encounter is something that is not meant to be discussed or analyzed with others. Would such an analysis be establishing myself as superior over the “other”. It isn’t just Jordanians, but also the other students in my program. With facebook being the cement of the world binding everyone together, I can be sure that whomever I write about will most likely read what I have written. I am not sure if this is good or bad. Am I thinking too much into this?

Well, this is what I have been pondering over the last several weeks. The decision I have reached is that I must be willing to compromise. We learned a term here the first week that means doing something that you may not want to do for the sake of a relationship. In this case, I am going to refrain from sharing some of my most frustrating or saddening moments because while I believe I would benefit from the post, it is likely to hurt my relationships here.

In future situations, I plan on asking the other person if they mind me writing about it in my blog.

Flowers are For Girls

After residing for 2 years in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY, it is a sobering experience arriving home and spending time with my family. Their behaviors, unchanged since I left for New York for the first time, serve as a lovely reminder of how the collegiate experience has radicalized my views. A recent trip to Deckers, CO with my extended family was a sobering reminder of how un-Ithaca Colorado really is. Our posse consisted of my brother and his two friends, my mother, two aunts, two uncles, five cousins, and a cousin’s friend. Our family tries to go camping at least once a summer for the last several years, and tubing or rafting on the river in Deckers is often the highlight of that trip.
It seems that political discussions follow me wherever I go, and the camp site by the river was no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions held with those on the trip. At one point I had an in depth discussion with my cousin Scotty on Cuba. He had apparently watched a history channel episode on the independence of Cuba, and had remarkably retained many details about the country. This was preceded by an equally interesting discussion with my aunt regarding immigration in our family’s hometown of Pueblo and her experiences in her job working with low-income families. While these conversations get frustrating at times because I am used to the college student mentality of question everything, and, yes, being in the liberal majority, my frustration are the discussions that aren’t had. The discussions regarding areas of American culture that my family haven’t even began to question, such as gender roles in our society. In this case it was not just the subject matter that prevented the conversation, but also that this conversation would have been with a 3 year old, and I’m unsure of my place, as older cousin, to have this conversation. If his parents choose to raise him with different expectations for males and females, who am I to wreck that foundation.

It was simple and pleasant. We were walking on a trail. I had my three year old cousin in one hand and my 6 year old cousin in the other. We were skipping, jumping over holes in the trail, and admiring the flowers. At one point the 6 year old picked one of the flowers and I suggested that she wear it in her hair. After helping her fasten the flower behind her ponytail, she picked a flower for me to wear in my hair. I then turned to the youngest of our line and asked if he would like a flower for his hair.

His response “Flowers are for girls.”
That didn’t answer the question, did it? But to him, it did. He was satisfied with explaining to me that his gender did not wear flowers and saw no need in answering on the premise of his actual desires. I posed a question in response “Why can only girls wear flowers?” but he had already run ahead and jumped in a pile of dirt.
He is 3 years old. I don’t know when he was told that he, as a male, should not wear a flower. Perhaps he had already been in a similar situation before. Maybe he heard it on a cartoon or from one of his siblings. Regardless, at three years old society’s expectation of him had already limited his behaviors. We were each wearing a flower, but he could not. Well, you may say, “Sara it is just a flower.” But how many “flower” moments will he have in his life? How many times will he be limited by the expectations for him regarding masculinity? And most importantly, how often are we all limited by social expectations for our gender? Clearly these questions are a bit much for a three year old. But when should it start? Is it only after a child has been thoroughly indoctrinated into their place in society’s gender dichotomy that we can begin to slowly break down those expectations?