Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Windows of Security

After four years living in capital cities outside the United States, living in suburbia is a culture shock. Many Americans I speak with express relief that I'm now back where it's "safe". But I don't feel safer at all. In fact, I feel decidedly less safe in suburban America than I did living in Jerusalem and Dhaka. I find the rows of big dark house spaces along dark, quiet streets rather spooky. (I'm sure the over-enthusiastic Halloween decorations don't help much either. Our evening neighborhood walks include passing by several partial skeletons crawling out of the ground and back-light bodies leaning against windows, watching us walk by.) The quiet, the distance, the darkness, the I-can't-hear-anyone silent aloneness is eerie. Who would hear me scream? And would any of those distant people, my so-called neighbors, care? I miss the lights, the pedestrian life-style, the people out and about, and passing my neighbors in the cramped stairwell. I miss the vibrant lifestyle that comes with proximity.

Houses. We're supposed to be safe inside our large, strong constructions. Strong walls fitted with heavy, solid doors that are closed with metal locks and protected with security systems. But what about the windows? The large glass patio doors? Maybe it is the tree outside my bedroom windows whose frail branches scrap against the windows, giving the impression of a wailing banshee begging to enter that got me spooked about the windows. But they glass seems vulnerable.

Simply put, my experiences and understanding just don't seem to line up with the accepted understanding around me. I feel that the American search for security and safety is buttressed by items: big lonely houses, fancy security systems, strong locks. I think you could extrapolate that to a national level in looking at our search for security in the world. And I feel like here, the goal is an elusive zero sum game: 100% safe.

And I think it's all a fiction. I'm not against locking doors or taking precautions, but I feel like buying into American Safe is buying into an illusion. And being here does not make me safer. With America's crime rates, especially of violent crimes, I feel decidedly less safe in America. And all the times smiling, well-meaning faces express their joy that I'm back home where it's "safe" I feel such a strong disconnect. I don't buy into the illusion of safe. There are dangers everywhere. There are methods of protection and prevention everywhere. And I wasn't living in a war zone and I didn't immigrate to Iraq. And when all is said and done, America isn't the safest place on earth. (Although, the living is quite good in many places.) So, I smile back at those well-meaning people and say thank you.

And I go on my way, feeling even more the disconnected stranger.

Friday, July 15, 2011

I'm an artist!

As a teacher, I tend to get really ambitious in the summer months. Not keeping track of the grades, behaviors, learning trends and emotions of 150 or so adolescents really frees up a lot of brain space.

So, in addition to my blog that focuses on education, I decided to make an art blog to, well, encourage me to do art. It's a personal goal that I've had for the past few years and keep on missing. Art keeps getting shoved aside for work, bills, cooking, cleaning... the list is really endless.

So today, I say "happy birthday" to my new art blog, Not Picasso. So far I have one post, the blog's raison d'ĂȘtre, accompanied by a photograph I took and a contĂ© crayon drawing inspired by the photo.

Speaking of which, today is also my "aliyaversary". I've now been an Israeli citizen for two years.

Please encourage me to keep making art!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Blog!

This past year was a bit overwhelming- as you might have noticed by the absence of posts on this blog. But as the last school year is done I'm busy making goals for my next year- which includes more writing!

1) I want to continue documenting my musings and observations here
2) I've started a new blog that focus on my experience as an educator
3) I've dug up my journals from Mali and am going to see if they can inspire me to do what so many people have been telling me to do- write a book!

Of course, these come with other ambitious goals- such as making art on a regular basis (another potential blog), starting at a new school (2 classes- so part time), taking a Talmud/ Mishna class and starting my own mini business of tutoring and small groups.

It should be a pretty calm year. :)

Please check out my new blog and share it with other interested parties. (Yes, this is a plug). My goal is to write weekly about current and previous experiences as an educator. And as we all know, teachers are never short of opinions.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

turning in a world of risk

Where can I even begin after so much silence?

How about the moment I entered the teacher’s room after being observed by the BIG SHOT- the woman who oversees all English teachers in Jerusalem for the Ministry of Education. This woman is key in getting jobs, and actually, after over a year and a half of hoop jumping, finally becoming certified to teach in Israel. My department head ran over to me, ecstatic. The BIG SHOT had told her what she had told me right after the observation, that I was one of the best teachers she’s ever seen. (Please keep in mind she’s seen every English teacher in Jerusalem.) I look over, distracted, at another teacher on the phone, her eyes moist, her hand covering her mouth. Disjointed phrases in Hebrew flash around the busy room. On a bus. Right outside of the Bineney Ha’uma. Which bus was it? There’s been a terrorist attack. 18 wounded. Was it a bus our students take? The three computers in the room are occupied, people desperately searching for confirmation and more information. Phones are pressed to ears, so much that the network is overloaded; calls fail.

My department head is still bubbly about my recent success and asks me if I’ve filled out my wish list for next year yet. This is the first mention I’ve heard of being offered a job for next year. I never even signed a contract for this year and am still fighting to get paid what I should, to increase my pitifully sad 10 shekel an hour average rate. I’m still walking around the large room slightly dazed, wondering if I’m standing at the entrance of a third intifada. My memories jump back two weeks to the shocking ending to the wonderful Shabbat I spent with the family who has adopted me here. Rebooting computers with cheerful faces only to discover that just north of here a family was slaughtered in their sleep. I log into gmail and quickly find myself chatting with 6 friends all at once, everyone checking in, still alive. For first timers, it’s almost instinct; for those who have lived through so many attacks, it’s routine.

I hold the “wish list” form in my hand after my department head printed me out a copy. I don’t want this, but I’m not sure how or when to tell her that I’m not coming back. I’ve been told time and time again that this school, where I drag myself everyday, is a good school; that this place, that I regard as an unruly mess, is a great place to work; that these students, who argue and fight with me on a regular basis, robbing themselves of learning, are some of the best students. And all this for less than 2 dollars an hour. All this for less than minimum wage. I tuck the form into my bag and wonder if I should take the bus home.

Risk. For a world ever seeking stability and security, risk permeates the air. To stand surrounded by countries of oppressed people challenging dictators so often given a green light by oil thirsty Western countries. Risk, to leave a “secure” although pitiful government job with a pension to start out on my own. Risk, to live in what very much feels like the middle of a region in riots, in a country hit by rockets on a regular basis.

But is it risky simply because it’s unknown to me? what about my normal risks, that seem bland in comparision. The financial markets we’ve be taught to believe in seem so fragile. People risk their lives daily in American too- due to street violence, car accidents- and as much as American would like to believe itself immune, terrorist attacks happen there as well. But only terrorist attacks make international news. Are we blinded to the risks we’ve become accustomed to?