Sunday, May 31, 2009

Talk About Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face...

Does it strike anyone else as ironic that someone who opposes abortion, presumably because it is taking a life would kill the Doctor who performs them? I ran across this article about the Doctor being killed in his church.

Now, I don't agree with what the man was doing. Putting that aside, as a self-proclaimed pro-lifer, you lose credibility when you take a life... This has long bee one of the things I find odd about these self-dubbed Pro-Lifers. They seem to be more "pro" certain lives. Yikes, starting to sound like Animal Farm around here (all pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal).

I pray that God will give peace to this family...

Happy Inequality!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

An Interesting Perspective on Giftedness... Another Blessing of Bilingual Education

Ok, so first you need to know (or those who don't know me well) that I'm not one of THOSE moms. You know, the ones who spend all their time telling you how smart their kids are, how amazing, how they were walking at one month old and talking at three months. I'm not one of those. I'm more likely to praise my kids for being well behaved and good friends with each other ;). But that doesn't change the facts... ButterBean is a very clever girl.

She's especially gifted verbally. She's always had a huge vocabulary and tells the most interesting stories. She makes up plot lines and characters and has always had imaginary friends. She really has an imagination and enjoys sharing it through words. What I didn't know (not being so inclined myself) is that ButterBean is really good in math.

I know this now only because her teacher constantly talks about how gifted she is in this area. Because, of course, her math class is in Arabic. It is clear that the expectation is higher for these first graders. Did you know that they are adding and subtracting two digits numbers. You know like 31+25 or 86-15. I don't remember doing until much later. Really now, double digit addition and subtraction? And, ButterBean seems to do very well at it. She event seems to enjoy it.

All in all, ButterBean is challenged in school, but not insurmountably so. So, it got me thinking. if we were in the US, she would going to a regular school. They would be learning similar concepts, but in only one language. She wouldn't have Arabic AND French AND English class. I find myself wondering, would she be bored? Somehow I expect she probably would not be very challenged. Suddenly I understand how I was so far ahead of peers in reading (in 2nd grade I finished the 5th grade books and got shipped off to gifted classes). I wasn't a math prodigy, but held my own, but I was far beyond my peers in reading. So, count me thankful for bilingual schooling. Although I'm not sure ButterBean is overly appreciative now, I expect she'll thank me later down the line.

Happy Expectations!

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Expat's Dream of Dubai is Dead, Can We Get a Little Reality Here?

So, I think that somehow people hear things on the news and fail to dig any deeper. I read articles about how the "Middle East" is fairly recession proof and wonder which Middle East they mean. And, people's ability to delude themselves simply astounds me. Let me give you an example. About a year or a year and a half ago, we posted a position on In the month that the position was open, we received about 150 resumes. Last month, we posted a similar position and received the same 150 ON THE FIRST DAY! A few weeks into the posting, we're sitting at 650+ applicants. Of the postings the first time, the majority were folks from outside the UAE looking for career opportunities and fame and fortune, or something like it. Now, the lion's share are from inside the UAE. They are people who had been working in banking and real estate and are now searching for positions as their employers lay off thousands.

And yet, for so many outside the UAE, they still harbor a romantic fantasy of Dubai. We had a fellow (American might I add) who applied. His last salary was listed as $8,000/month. He was looking to make $30,000/month. Hello... there's a recession going on here. And, he's not alone. people the world over are applying for our little job asking for salaries that are not only far beyond what they currently make, but are far beyond the market rate for their skills. I really don't get what bubble they live in. If you long to live in a locale, I would think you read about it, do research, and understand that the expat hardship package of the past has fallen on hard times as well. Gone are the days when a young person with one year of solid experience could dream of making $4,000/month PLUS housing and car. Okay, I'm not sure there ever WERE those days, but some people think there still are.

So, forgive me if I sound insensitive, but grow up. Dubai is a shadow of its former self. And while I'm sure it will bounce back, I doubt it will ever reach the heady go-go heights of 2007/8. If the Emiratis have sense (and I believe they do), I expect Dubai's return will be more grounded in reality and less over the top. So, for those from outside Dubai looking for that dream expat package, stay home. Your expectations aren't realistic and you are bound to be disappointed. While the opportunity to make a good life is definitely still there, the expat dream of tripling your salary is gone, and I think gone for good. If you're in it for the money, find a job at home. And if the jobs at home aren't thick on the ground, maybe that should be a sign in and of itself, no?

Happy dreams!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Talk About Sore Losers: Teaching Our Kids How to Win AND Lose With Grace

A headline this morning caught my eye about a mob of Protestants in Ireland who beat a Catholic man to death over a soccer game. Vaguely interested, I went in to see it and found the article terribly disheartening. In place where sectarian violence has been all too common, this mob beat a man to death because their team WON. Yes, that's right. They weren't frustrated over a close game that they lost, they won and then celebrated by getting drunk and beating an innocent bystander to death.

It got me thinking about the hugely disparate experiences we have had with the Beans in sports this last year. We are currently winding down the T-Ball season (that would be baseball for the 5-7 crowd, it's played by placing the ball on a stand (or tee) and hitting it rather than the traditional pitch of baseball, see illustration below). T-Ball has been a blessing in our family life in many ways. First, it gets the Beans out and actively moving around in the sunshine. That's a bit of a rare commodity in grass poor, open space poor Amman. In addition, our coach this year (and ButterBean's alone last year) is an awesome fellow. He is patient, caring, and an excellent teacher. He focuses on helping the kids learn the basics without focusing on winning or pushing them to pound the competition. In short, he's the perfect T-Ball coach.

For those who have not experienced T-Ball, the goal is to learn how the game is played. The kids bat and run to first base. Those in the field catch and throw to first. Even if they tag the player out, the player continues to run all of the bases. This is so that they understand how the game is played. Outs don't get called until you reach the ranks of baseball where the coach pitches the ball to the player (I think).
Contrasting this experience with soccer this last year, the focus was all on winning. These 5 year olds have no real idea how to play the game. The practices consisted mostly on drills on shooting and very little on operating as a team, learning the play the game, etc. Score was kept from the first game and a team like ours loaded with 5 year olds and first timers had pretty much no chance to win a game. The kids got out and played, but the focus was on getting the ball to the best player. So, how and when will they learn how the game is played? And more than that, when do they learn that winning isn't everything?
So, lots of things set off in my mind by this article about the worst winners I've ever seen. We work a good bit on playing games nicely with each other, celebrating wins without rubbing it in the faces of the losers, and congratulating each other on a game well played. After an entire soccer season with kids who refused to shake hands with the opponents after a loss (ya haram), the Beans have actually been lining up their stuffed animals in facing lines and going down the line to say "Good Game" to each of them. I love the values T-Ball is helping them build. And I hope that we will be able to successfully instill that no matter what behavior they may see on the playground, winning isn't everything. A game well played is of far more value than a win they cheated or hurt others to obtain...
Happy Sore Winners!

Monday, May 25, 2009

On Growing Up Too Fast: Child Abduction in Jordan?

So, one of our struggles here in Jordan has been that we try and keep our kids young for as long as possible. We buck the prevailing trends in child rearing in many, many ways. A friend sent me a link today from a letter in the Jordan Times. It was very well written and over the last year, I have become a huge fan of Nermeen Murad. I haven't me her, but this lady is smart, with-it, and well-spoken. I feel certain I would like her ;). At any rate, today's article is called False Sense of Security. Here's an excerpt:

It is exactly a month since five-year-old Ward went missing. I believe that all qualified agencies have employed their resources to find him. I know that people have prayed for him and empathised with his family’s plight. But all I could think of over the past month was that this child of five was sent out on his own for a 200-metre walk to the baker and the hummus shop.

And this is one of those things that amazed me from the minute we moved to Jordan. As I take the Beans to school each morning, I pass two government schools, one for boys and one for girls. At each, but particularly the boys' school, I pass children who are far too young to be walking to school alone. The lucky ones are in the care of their older siblings (you know the 6 year old is responsible for the 4 year old), but most are walking alone or in groups of 5-6 little tiny boys. Many of these boys are 4 and 5 years old. It is hard to see them over the hood of the car. And they are roaming the streets on their own. At first I couldn't believe it. I get that people here don't fear kidnappings like Americans do, but what about the crazy drivers or potential molesters?

Having experienced that for the last few years, the story of poor Ward doesn't surprise me. How terrible his parents must be feeling. How helpless it must make you feel. And yet, how societally acceptable it is to send a five year old alone on the streets. I see 3 and 4 year olds playing unattended in the streets. As a crazy American (accused more than once of being overprotective of my kids in my vigilance against opportunities for abuse), I wouldn't even consider letting my SEVEN year old go one block alone. My five year olds? No way. Not a chance.

While I think Nermeen is perhaps a bit hard on the parents, I do think that the false sense of security she calls out exists. And it does need to be addressed. Is prosecution of parents like Ward's the answer? I really don't know. What I do know is that I will pray for Ward and his family. I hope that they will know peace and find closure. And I hope that the tale will become a cautionary one about pushing our kids to grow up too fast...

Happy Overprotectiveness!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is the Amman You Live In Real?

So, I was thinking the other day about how different the experience I have living in Amman is from many of my friends. I have a group of friends who are the most lovely ladies. They are, for the most part, American Muslim ladies who wear hijab and jilbab. You can imagine how incongruous this sight is. They are also good Muslims who are faithful and devout. Frankly they have shown me what Islam should be about, something I see far too rarely in a culturally Muslim place (just as I see far too little of what Christianity is about in culturally Christian America). But our experience of Amman is very different.

Here's what I was pondering. These ladies live in environments that are mostly populated with devout Muslims who live their faith. They see an Amman that celebrates Ramadan with fasting and is mostly devout Muslims. But, that's not the real Amman (so I was thinking).

After all, I live in Amman too. And here's the Amman I see. It is mostly non-practising Muslims who have no actual relationship with their faith. They neither pray nor celebrate Ramadan. They wear the same kinds of clothing as the Christians that I see. As an illustration of this Amman, a few years ago, I worked for a company that was maybe 50/50, maybe 60/40 Muslims/Christians. When Ramadan came, the Muslims in the company (of whom only maybe 5 regularly prayed) watched each other to see how Ramadan would be observed. One Day 1, everyone was fasting. One Day 2, the 5 who regularly prayed were fasting. Yep, within one day the majority of the company was outside smoking in the back (not visible from the road). Their observance of Ramadan would have been purely social.

So, as I was thinking about this, I realized something very interesting. The Amman that they see isn't real. It's a subculture within Amman. And, you know, the Amman I see is no more real. It is a subculture as well, a subculture that makes Amman appear mostly Christian (and at 3 or so percent of the population, clearly that's not real). And, somewhere in between lies the real Amman. But, how easy is it for us to get caught up in the city-view, the world-view that is our own? Stay tuned in the future for some thoughts on our world-view as part of the majority, which this thought process here inspired. At any rate, I do wonder how many people live within these little subcultures (or big ones) and never see beyond the edges?

Happy Fake Amman!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The American Art of Apologizing Without Actually Apologizing

Okay, so I promised some time ago to talk about what the way we speak English says about Americans. Of course, since I'm not studying English currently, I didn't have any flash recall moments. But I do have a couple of examples that I find very interesting and telling about the American psyche. They are, I suspect interrelated. So, let me hop right in:

You Should be Ashamed of Yourself...

You may be aware that in American English, if someone is shaming themselves, behaving shamefully, or has an accident that "is a shame", there's no fundamental difference. There isn't a way to say "Shame on you" that is stronger than, well, Shame on you. We don't have the concept of "levels of shame". Arabic, on the other hand has 3 levels of shame. The first haram, is rather mild, poor thing, what a shame, stop that's shameful. This is used in everyday life. The second, 3ayb, is a bit stronger. It's used when something isn't just a pity, but is unacceptable behavior. The final level is 3aar. This is a truly egregious shame. So, for Americans, there's no shame culture and little shame concept. This leads, perhaps naturally into my second uniqueness of American English.

I'm Sorry You Misunderstood Me...

Americans are masters, wait let's give that a capital letter, Masters at apologizing without ever actually apologizing. This one is viscerally in mind due to a recent business situation. A vendor made a mistake. It was egregious enough to get them booted from the contract. In discussing a potential recovery program, I indicated that the responsible fellow should apologize. Mind you, it wasn't all his fault - he was provoked. But his behavior was still 3ayb. He balked at the apology. I tried to explain that an American apology should be employed. Something to the effect of "I'm sorry that he was offended" or "I apologize that my actions were perceived as inappropriate." In other words, you say sorry without accepting responsibility or owning the action. You make it about the other person's choice of reaction. I'm fairly certain that this wasn't invented in the US, but I do think we take it to all new levels.

We are astonishingly adept at apologizing without ever actually offering an apology. And we get away with it... alot. In particular, intelligent people (who are fairly good actors) make it seem that the apology is so sincere that those less mentally gifted buy it hook, line, and sinker. And, don't even get me started on what happens with a tricky American using convoluted "apologetic sounding" words with someone who's first language is not English. This is akin to saying in a nice long-winded, convoluted way "I'm sorry you're such a {insert expletive that equals a body part on the hind end of the body}". I've actually heard people use flowery words to effectively say that. Not here, in the US, with other native English speakers. I've also seen them be thanked for the apology.

So, for my first brief look at American English, we are an unashamed people. Which, I assure you, is not always good. It can be bad - very bad. Any thoughts on additional oddities of American English that say something about our culture?

Happy I'm Sorries!