Saturday, November 20, 2010

Part VII, Eid Al Adha Break, A Half-Term Assessment

Dear Family and Friends:

The Best News
This week  the man in Personnel in charge of our visas arrived in my office--perhaps Monday or Tuesday--with my resident card and passport.  That allows me to leave the country and I will.  I will come to Nebraska for Christmas, Dec. 23rd-Jan. 3rd. It's not long but as pleased as I am, I guess it must be long enough!

I know it's been awhile since I updated this blog and it's taken me awhile to try to figure out what I would like to say here about my experiences.  I have heard it said that failure to meet expectations can result in depression.  I cannot speak for all my colleagues here but amongst the expats and Westernized Lebanese there do seem to be many who have feelings of hopelessness and depression that appear to me to be chronic.  Of course, I'm always intrigued by the "why" of something but there could be so many answers to the question of why my colleagues, and I at times, are depressed.

Professional Life
The students are probably the most discouraging aspect of professional life here.  What I'm  about to say will sound like overgeneralizing and hyper-critical.  Sadly, it's just the truth for 80% of  the students in this school.  They are not serious about their studies, they are rude, immature, and difficult.  The 20% who do care get short-changed because class management issues take up so much time and energy.  I've resorted to sending people out of class.  I have heard of teachers who've left their classes but I refuse to leave my own class!  I got the Skype address of  the father of one particularly lost young man who cannot seem to get his act together for more than 2 minutes at a time.  They are not all spoiled, rich kids but a great many are and perhaps an equal number at least have been raised by nannies.  The profs sit around and discuss this problem, what they do in class, and try to come up with reasons for it.  No one has a definitive answer but I can tell you this:  This would doubtless be the first time in my career that I would be described as an Old Battle-axe if they knew the words. 

A Visit From Marlene

I was so delighted when Marlene, the Academic VP and Acting President  at LCC came over her fall break for a visit.  From my standpoint, it was just about perfect.  I taught every morning and we went sight-seeing every afternoon but one.  Because I'm sharing a car with the Leighs, I have mentioned them before (Americans, U Wisconsin, 1-year appointment), I was able to pick Marlene up in Beirut from the airport and drive up to Mt. Lebanon to see the Cedars of Lebanon, among other things.  Lebanon is a small country so, we were able to see much of it.   We did not venture into the  famed Bekaa Valley nor south of Beirut, two places not considered entirely safe. Her last weekend we went to Beirut and walked all over the downtown area seeing the Grand Mosque, which is incredibly beautiful, a Maronite Cathedral, the Martyr's Square, and the famous American University of Beirut.  , It was just so good to have a friend here and have the chance to process, with someone who knows higher ed and who knows me some of my observations.  She was asked to speak to faculty, meet the Chair, meet the Dean and talk to the MA TESOL faculty which she did on Tuesday.  I have heard great comments since of her talk.  Perhaps there are a few who were not so depressed for a day or two. I have a few pictures here:  Lebanon, October 2010

The Oven Blows Up, Part II
 For those  folks who missed Part I, see Jordan Journals; yes, Part I was also in the Middle East.  From the first time I tried to use the oven, I had told the Housing people that it did not work well.  The obvious issues are that you have to have the flame on top, as in broiling, or on the bottom but never both for all-over even heat.  Furthermore, the dial has increments of High or Low,that is all and Off, I thought.  I bought a counter-top oven/toaster and so haven't used the gas oven since the first time, when I burned the bottom of a pizza crust.  Today, I thought I'd get up my courage and turn on the oven, using the top flame for a few minutes and then the bottom flame to finish the baking.  I turned off the gas to the broiler and tried to light the bottom flame.  I couldn't.  Finally, I gave up, turned the gas off and closed the door, deciding to use the broiler flame and finish as well as I could.  I lit a match and leaned over to open the oven door and turn the gas back on.  I never got that far because as soon as I opened the oven door a sudden"whoosh" of flame blew out of the oven, burning my left arm and singing my hair and eyebrows.  It wasn't worse because I pulled back quickly, remembering what had happened 5 or so years ago in Jordan.  I turned the gas off on the cylinder and showered to get rid of all the burned hair., gathering up my courage to look in the mirror.  It's not as bad as it sounds.  I can show up to class, I can go out in public. 

Well, it's Eid again, another holiday.  At the beginning of the week, Monday-Wednesday, I drove to The Bekaa Valley to see Baalbek, Ancient Ruins, Anjaar, and the Ksara Winery.  The ruins were amazing.  I have pictures and will share them here soon.  I am off until Tuesday of next week and am spending the time marking and looking at possible positions for next year.

Love and hugs,


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Part VI.5, Seeking advice

Dear Family and Friends:

This is not a complete post but rather a health concern.  Shortly after arrival, I developed itchy welts.  They were especially bad in the morning so I first eliminated spiders and bedbugs.  I cleaned as only I know how, lots of bleach, cleaning soap, and multiple times.  Things have only gotten worse.  I have been to the on-campus doctor 3 times, am taking anti-allergy meds, all to no avail.  I keep my apartment windows shut all the time because of the wind and dust.

I have since discovered that others have had trouble in this apartment too, with different consequences, but their complaints about the situation have gone unheeded.  Later today I will have more lab tests and none too soon, it seems.  I awoke this morning at 3:30 in such discomfort I got up thinking, "What if it's laundry soap or new softener?"  I have used Persil and this softener before but...well, who knows?  And that's a serious question.  If anyone has an idea, I'd love to hear it.  In addition to the discomfort, I see my eyes swelling shut this morning, a sure sign that whatever it is, is not going away on it's own. 

I have just completed the newest post on teaching, Part VI, below.

Hugs to all!


Part VI, The Academic Year Begins, (sort of)

Hello Everyone!

These are interesting times--new systems, new rules, new MOs and, at this point, not all of them make sense.  I expect to come to an understanding of why things are done in certain ways in the fullness of time.  Patience, in great, huge bucket loads is what I need now!  One thing is certain--of all the frustrations, the things broken, dysfunctional, and needing attention, none is more important than making absolutely sure that my teaching year is successful.  At the moment, I do not feel as though I have complete control over whether or not that will happen.  I have three writing classes, all 3 of which have ballooned to 3 more than the 15-optimal class-size goal.  The methodology here is not one I have used or experienced before so I am waiting to see what happens and how much leeway I might have to individualize my sections.  As you've guessed, these are multi-section courses in the general ed requirements for students.  The difference here is that there is a course coordinator who provides the syllabus for everyone else.  I am having a hard time with that on several levels but I will wait and see.

This week, today actually, classes started but, since attendance doesn't count this week, students can hardly be blamed for staying away.  Nonetheless, I began with a brief introduction and a short writing exercise for the several who did come.  As I was telling one of my colleagues, if I plan something for 4, it is important enough to include the whole class.  There is something askew here but it seems that registration is usually messy and complicated and that firm class lists do not come out for another 2 weeks.  UGH.  I hate listening to the sound of my voice as it takes on a tired tone after multiple repetitions of details I find boring in the first telling.  

The first classroom was absolutely filthy and for those of you who know me, should know that is not picky-Geri talking.  I'm not the only one wondering what the cleaning crew did (not do!) during the break.  Further, I'm going to write a polite little note on the bottom of the board: Please clean the board before leaving the classroom.  Never mind that I did not want to use the board, the many equations and scribblings were distracting and only added to the sense of untidiness and disarray.  Anyway, how could I have written anything?  There were no whiteboard markers in or on my desk and certainly none in the classroom.  The second classroom was at the other end of the campus, partway up the steepest part of the mountain in what used to the a Girl's Dorm.  (Yes, uni-dorms are still important here.) When I arrived, the converted dorm room was stuffed with 11 student desk/chairs and only by blocking a 3-foot square in the middle of the room could another be added.  4 showed up but there will be 18.  Clearly this will have to be changed even though this room was relatively clean, breezy, and pleasant, with 4 + me, that is.  In addition, I had told the chair that after those classes, W/F, I would continue up the mountain to my apartment rather than walk all the way back down to my office.  She saw the sense in that.  (Later:  Those classes have been moved to an unfinished Medical Sciences building, right next door to my office.  That is good.  However, there is cement dust everywhere and I'm beginning to wonder if that is the source of the severe allergy attack I am enduring because the cement factories on the coast keep cement dust in the air most of the time.)

The schedule itself is not bad a long as I reconcile myself to the Communications course that runs everyday at 9:30 am:  Mondays I finish at 10:30 and every other day at 12:30 except for meetings and a few office hours.  My office mate and I are working out who will see students and when.  We sit a mere 2 feet from each other.  Thank goodness for her sense of humor.  She has been here for several years and therefore has mostly consumed the available shelf, cabinet space, leaving me 2 shelves at my elbow.  She told me that if I don't put my own things on those 2 shelves, she'll take those over as well!) It is cramped, the blinds are broken and dirty, and the windows...oh my, the windows--have seen neither soap nor squeegee in all 20 years since they were hung.  As a matter of fact, the building needs basic upkeep and maintenance.  I get the sense that the building projects--huge new medical school, new library, new hospital, are sapping all the available resources.  The good thing is that when the medical building is complete (Jan. 2011, they say), we will have more office and classroom space.  So, perhaps some of this is temporary.  I have heard that the school keeps growing, quickly, and that while they attempt to keep up with hiring faculty, support services, admin, staff of all kinds, have not kept pace with the need.  Enrollment is over 4000 now. They need to update their website.

On the other hand, the saving grace of the Middle Eastern experience are it's people.  The students are polite, gracious, and friendly as well as charming.  They smile easily and are cooperative, just as students did in Nebraska, Jordan, Bahrain, and Lithuania.  I knew I would feel much better as soon as I could meet some students.  I do.  (That probably answers the question I asked in a previous blog--about losing one's identity as a teacher without students around.   I'm supposed to be a teacher but it's impossible to believe that without students.)  The problem with "polite" is that each student feels it is necessary to knock (on the open door) and say, "Good Morning" as they enter, even when I'm in mid-sentence and they are late.  After grinding my teeth on that I finally announced, "Please, do your best to sneak into class, especially when you're late.  Do as little as possible to be noticed."  Of course, mid-sentence a student announced her arrival, provoking class laughter.

I am going to continue with today's date and a Part VI.5, above.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Part V, Idiosyncracies: Things you wouldn't expect

Hi everyone!

Though it is not easy to keep up with the demand for "more," in this case, unlike the master in Oliver Twist's orphanage, "More, please!"  will be rewarded.  

When you travel, if you do not think about recording some of the things that, at first impression, are different when they are first impressions, it is easy to forget them and to begin to accept them.  Of course, eventually, I must accept them all.  I cannot change much about the way life works in Lebanon.  People are amazingly versatile and adaptable, as we saw, over and over during the natural disasters we've watched in Haiti, Chile, Pakistan to name only 3.  Of course, I am not classifying any of this as a "disaster" really, though it has seemed so at times.

I read before I came that the electrical grid here was very unstable.  That's not true!  It's very stable.  It goes off on intermittently but very regularly.  Some say you can set your watch by it. In other words, there is not enough electricity to go around so the company has planned blackouts for 3 hours at various times during the day throughout the country, region by region.  I remembered about this my first night when the lights and everything went off at midnight and then came back on a minute later because of the university generators.  So, what folks are not paying in electricity, they are paying in diesel to run their generators.  Most hotels, malls, public buildings and many apartment complexes and private homes have generators that kick on when the power dies.  My first day, I found myself in a bookstore, looking at the English book collection when the lights went off.  No one panics; instead, everyone continues to shop as best they can in the dark.  I couldn't read titles until the lights came back on.  It was merely a temporary nuisance in a mall with a generator.   This electrical issue is a result of the last war when all the power plants were bombed, 2006.  The country is struggling to get everything working again, years later.  This habitual loss of power makes me think about things I wouldn't otherwise:
  • Caught in the spice aisle of the supermarket, I thought, "This is a great place to be right now, where the print is tiniest and all in Arabic or French."  There was no way to continue until the lights came on several minutes later.
  • There is no point in digital clocks.  The one on the microwave rarely gets beyond 9:30 before beginning over again at 1:30.  I've been using my cell phone for an alarm clock.
  • What is the cost of diesel compared with electrical units?
Lebanese Arabic
CNN, just last night, had this topic featured on their "Connect The World" program, Becky Anderson.  They are discussing languages that are being lost with this one, Lebanese Arabic,  featured as one of them.  The reason this is unique in the Arab world is because of the cosmopolitan nature of the country, Beirut especially.  Many people, probably a majority are bilingual or trilingual and many parents speak to their children in French.  The standard greetings and polite exchanges are often in English, "Hello, Hi" rather than "Marhaba" or "Sabachel Kheir." "Merci" rather than "Shukrahn."  I had read this before coming--that the French and English borrowings were now a standard part of everyone's language but I couldn't have imagined the extent to which this was trueIt is strange to hear Arabic and French mixed together.  I suppose I'll get used to it and then accept it, and then wonder why my friends in Jordan don't sound the same!  The polyglot spaghetti that inhabits my brain is only going to get worse, I fear.  Nevertheless, I will study Arabic again because Tripoli, the next closest city is more Arab than anything else and though many signs are written in English and French,  in this part of Lebanon a great many are not.

Hot Water
I was without hot water in the apartment for about 4-5 days.  No one told me that there was a special technique for getting hot water until the Facilities Manager came by to go through the apartment and address my questions. He opened the fuse box and there, clearly labeled, was the word "Boiler."  20 minutes or more before you need it, you flip the switch, use it, and then remember to turn it off because it uses (gas? electricity? some unnamed energy?) a great deal of energy to keep it hot.  Then, I remembered the Jordan hot water drill.  The difference this time is that "on" and "off" are clearly labeled.  In Jordan there was a 2-switch process and I never, ever figured out.  I always thought it was kind of like magic to have hot water at all!

The Oven
The stove is a gas stove, needing matches for each time you light the oven.  The burners have an ignition spark that lights the gas.  I have lit the oven.  That is not the problem.  The issue is this:  There are no temperature numbers nor is there a setting that uses even heat, top and bottom at the same time.  The oven is either high, low, on, off, top to broil, or bottom.  That is all.  I have eaten dried chicken (that wasn't supposed to be dry), and baked a pizza crust for a family who is still stuck in a hotel for the next 2 more weeks, that was not done on top but starting to burn on the bottom.  I found a counter-top oven in my travels with my friend for $50 but I am going to keep trying to figure this oven out.  I do think souffle is definitely not on any menu anytime soon.  So far it hasn't singed my hair off or blown up like the oven in Jordan did.  

My office
Ugh!  It is half of a tiny, claustrophobic, rather untidy and seemingly dingy  room.  I do not plan to spend much time in it--just what's required.  Perhaps I will find a quiet, peaceful place to work and meet students, a recommendation from a friend who'd resolved her own office issues that way. Living on campus will be a huge benefit in this case.  The steep side of the mountain that I will climb at least once a day will be good, aerobic exercise and make my sisters happy!  Today I was almost wheezing as I went up.  It was humid, warm, and the climb tough. However, it is not long, so that's good.
Notes about several things
  • My shipping has arrived and I did not think it was very expensive--certainly not as expensive, including the transportation here, as the nightmares I was having about it that were waking me up or keeping me awake.
  • I still do not have a syllabus for either class I will teach.  A team meeting for one of the classes will be next Wednesday and the other, in a week, the Friday before classes start.  Lord, give me patience!
  • The wonderful women I met a week ago now have continued to help.  One of them, after driving me around for several hours to see televisions and irons, gave me a tv they were no longer using which is just fine and is now connected to even more channels in English than I had before.  She also gave me a medium-sized travel iron that, with steam, does a fine job.  This is good because the washing machine (no, this one does not dance like the one in Jordan did) has a special spin cycle that is particularly good at wrinkling clothes.  I am not sure what causes this but there is not one thing, other than towels (yes, I have those too), and underwear that doesn't need ironing.
  • Facebook and Twitter--Facebook is blocked during school hours,  8-5; Twitter is blocked completely.  Skype is also blocked for everyone unless you write a letter requesting the service and stating the reasons for needing it.  Then, it is usually limited to after-school hours but I requested it 24/7 and they've honored that.  I have also noticed that some live-stream radio is impossible at any time.  However, I can get PRN, NET, and KQED among others so I am not missing anything.  Fortunately, the blog still works.
Hugs all around!


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Part IV: Multiple Problems: A few Solutions

Thursday morning, as promised the Chair picked me up and we drove around the mountainous campus.  What you notice first of all, is that the ground is rock and dirt--lots of rock.  What I noticed, when the sun was up, was that my apartment did have a view of the Mediterranean...when you were standing up and could see over the cars in the parking lot.  Furthermore, being on the ground floor meant that the constant breeze bringing in the dirt and dust and traffic in and out would become part of my living space if I was not careful.  I decided that the kitchen curtains could be open only when I was completely ready for the day and that the patio curtains probably never would, nor would I open any of the windows.  As you saw from my pictures, the "garden" area is not planted and the dirt rides on the breeze all the time.  It would not be a problem in one of the upper apartments, I think.  The other issue is that multiple families of children use the parking lot to play in so, with school still out, it can be noisy.  Most of these children are precocious and gregarious.  When they see you, they will say, "Hi!  Where are you going?" and "Are you coming to visit us?"  The Dean of Business lives right above me and has 5 or 6 children.  He's already asked if I babysit!

After driving around, the chair parked and we went into the building for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and up to her office.  If you remember and were reading back then, like Jordan, there is someone usually available to make tea and coffee so the chair ordered Turkish coffee and we sat in her office to chat and to wait for the Dean to have a minute to meet. When the Dean called the chair into his office, she offered to let me use her computer to check on and send an email to my friends and family.  I did that as quickly as I could, begging them to pass the word on to whomever I'd left off the list.  I noticed a number of posters advertising performances of oratorios, cantatas, and other music  with the Chair as the main soprano.  Then my eyes were drawn to a whole bookshelf loaded floor to ceiling with CDs,  music texts and scores.  Clearly, that was going to be a first question when she returned.

I think we've hit it off right away.  For one thing, she has an MM in vocal music and then switched to Education, while I switched to Literature.  She's hoping we can get some musical events going.  There isn't a music department but there is great interest, as there was at LCC, proving that the Arts are a necessary part of one's life if not one's formal education.  But I'm not a choral conductor so I'm not sure what will happen.  Nevertheless, finding a fellow musician is a huge plus.  The dean is an Arab and said all the right things about being pleased to have me aboard, hoping that I will be happy, hoping that I will stay, looking forward to my contributions, etc. Then he said, "I wish you hadn't shipped anything but, well, it's too late now!"  That definitely put a damper on things.  Oh my!  Later, I clarified with the Chair that I do not own a home in Lithuania from which I'd just traveled.  They were under the impression that I'd left from the US and had made choices about what to bring.  The chair said that I was not the only one to ship things, that it would all be worked out eventually, but that there was a mile of red tape between me and my belongings.  The man who took my passport to get things finished ended up with a family crisis so now I have neither things nor passport.  The Dean went on to say that personal safety is not an issue here.  People are generally very honest, generous, hospitable, and helpful.  So true!  As far as national safety?  The chair said that they are fairly oblivious up here about things that happen in the south and off the mountain.  I responded that I thought the endurance of a 12th-Century monastery was a very good sign.

After that we went to IT to try to get the internet connected at home.  They said they couldn't do it that day but would come first thing in the morning to do it on Friday, the next day  Despite my frustration, there was nothing more to do or say about that so we left the campus so I could pick up some necessities--towels, food, a pan, a couple of utensils, a lamp, an extension cord and most critical of all--some hair gel.  I'd dumped absolutely all my hair products to save on weight without realizing it so here I was, meeting folks for the very first time with the wildest, craziest hair possible.  Really!  I don't think I've ever allowed anyone, even on a skype call, to see me this way but I could hardly sit at home waiting for hair gel to drop into my lap before going out.  May I never do that again!

We went to Bou Khalil, a mini mall on the outskirts of Tripoli.  Had we not driven to the center of town first I would not have known what kind of miracle it was that we had arrived safely without a scratch on the car or ourselves.  Though the dean's advice for me included encouragement  to purchase a car, I am less than enthusiastic about it.  I'm not sure I could survive the stress. I think it was much better in the dark, the night before when I couldn't see as much.  In the bookstore, I found a number of bestsellers in English but since I don't usually read the NY Times Top Ten I took the recommendation of the chair and we left another new prof up there, still perusing the shelves to go downstairs to the supermarket.  I had been looking forward to labneh (yogurt the consistency of heavy sour cream, but healthier) ever since I left Jordan so, after the other things I mentioned, I picked up labneh, hummus, and flat bread as well as some vegetables, couscous, and pasta, and chicken.  In the midst of all this, the professor from the bookstore came down and finding me, handed my debit card to me.  It seems it fell out of my wallet in the bookstore and the mall manager, hearing his English called, "Geri Henderson?"  Jeff replied, "No, but I know her." Honesty?  Indeed, twice proven when a cab driver would not take the amount I believed he'd said, instead, returning change to me for the bill I'd given him.

To answer questions you've asked:
The HR director who'd promised me internet on arrival, a balcony, 2 bedrooms, etc. is no longer here.  Furthermore, none of what he promised or said was passed on to anyone so that when the requests for on-campus housing poured in, families who absolutely needed the beds were assigned those apartments.  I have been promised that as soon as something else is available, I will be given priority.  Plans are to have new faculty housing built in the coming year.  They see this as an important recruitment/retention tool and know it's important.   In the meantime, I will stay here.  I have plans to add a futon in the study and give guests the master suite when they come--as I am planning that they will!  Pay attention to this, one and all!

To cover, briefly, the issues in Part III:
I met some amazing people who live in the town next door to the university as a result of wandering through the monastery and meeting a daughter-in-law who was visiting.  She was gracious enough to offer to show me a bit of the area around the university.  Meeting her family, I was invited to spend two days in the company of women who were intelligent, strong, educated, and  members of  the Lebanese Orthodox  society: One, a professor of Arabic at the Lebanese American University and the other, a member of Lebanon's Supreme court.  Another, a sister-in-law who lives in the village has also  taught.  All spoke English well but the judge told me, "You understand French and enough Arabic and I am tired so I will use them all!"  She has offered to take me to an electronics store on Monday in Tripoli.  I need to price TVs, an iron (which I need more than a TV), and another extension cord.  I am hoping that the inexpensive lamps I ordered will have arrived  by then as well.

Perhaps these women will become friends or perhaps they have been angels, dropped into my week to help save my mind and keep  a space on the planet open for me.

Hugs to all of you!  I have appreciated your comments.



Friday, September 10, 2010

Part III, No Man's Land (No Person's Land)

I am caught in a "wrinkle in time" that has placed me between one thing and another, depriving me of structure, teaching, students, and people.  It is a very strange place in which to find oneself.  I'm an introvert and that's really no secret but hours and hours, days really, of solitude have forced me into a place of self-reliance, emotionally, that I never expected to be. It is no one's fault that I had to leave Lithuania, for several reasons, on September 1st, almost a month before classes start in Lebanon.  What is more, professors here are gone on holiday, the few weeks they have after the summer session and before the fall session begins.

The difference between what I left in Lithuania and what I have found here, during this time, is so dramatic as to be nearly at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, emotionally.  I was, as I said, in the center of the city, surrounded by everything I needed and, for the final 2 weeks there, I spent at least one and sometimes more meals or coffees each day visiting with and saying goodbye to students and friends.  I moved about the city as I wished, either walking, taking the bus, or calling a taxi if necessary.  At times I had all I could do to prepare to leave and to keep my appointments.  

For days I have seen no one unless someone from maintenance needs to come into my apartment to fix something.  I have seen the chair 3 times and 3 faculty members on 3 separate occasions in eight days.  That is the sum total of my human contact here.  That is NOT the sum total of all my human contact however; I have had several chats on skype with friends and family.  Without those, I would begin to wonder if I had been transplanted into an alternate reality somewhere.  Without human beings around, it is easy to believe that I do not have a place in the world at all.  There's  a frightening sense of unreality about this experience that makes me wonder, "When there's no one mirroring our existence back to us, validating our presence, do we exist?"

Of course, this is not the first time I've felt this way.  There were many times in Jordan and in Lithuania, especially in the first years, where I felt dreadfully alone.  However, I was always busy and never, ever had anything longer than a weekend to be alone.  By comparison, this period feels monastic, completely isolated.  What's worse is that the more I stay indoors, the more I want to stay indoors.  A friend and I were talking about the recurring dream we've had of a cottage in the mountains, a getaway place of peace and quiet, a time to read, to think, pray, and write.  Mountains?  Check.  Quiet? Check. Time? Check.  Peace?  Not-check.  The difference here is that this is forced, not chosen.

The other issue is that I finished teaching at the end of April but because Balamand starts so late, I  do not begin teaching again until the end of September.  I have taught ever since I was 17 when I had a class of 1st graders in Kingston, Jamaica, and a few piano students.  I have never, ever had that kind of teaching break since I began. Who am I, when I'm not teaching? And who am I when no one knows me?    Now I am a non-teaching teacher who feels as though she's lost her identity.

This could be a time of real growth--a time to gather the inner resources to deal with the loud chatter in my mind that seeks to create chaos and misery, a time to recognize my ability to do this hard thing.

Limbo is not a dance but Level I in Dante's vision of Hell.


Friday in Lebanon, Eid al Fitr

Planks embedded with sharp stones for grinding wheat. These were dragged around the millstone by 2 cows, yoked and muzzled--below.

Flowers from Saba's garden.
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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Part II: Beirut and Balamand

As promised, there was more to the story and now, attending to the questions of "what happened next?" I will fill in some of the missing pieces, in between working on a a long-overdue academic paper.  (All my papers and projects are overdue.  Perhaps I can start leaving off the pejorative and you can just assume that whatever it is, it is "long-overdue.")

I settled into the back seat of the car, surrounded by the dark interior, my Iftar supper, violin, satchel, purse, and documents, still hanging around my neck.  As soon as the driver got in I asked, in my best Arabic, "Entebtaref Ingleezy?"  (Do you understand English?)  He answered, in Arabic, "No, I only understand Arabic.  But you speak Arabic well."  Me, still an Arabic sentence or two left, "No, I do not understand Arabic and only speak a little, very little."  That was it.  My curiosity in my surroundings and what we passed would have to wait and that was just as well.  Driving is no small matter in the Middle East.  It should take all your attention at all times because the rules of the road are inscrutable, if there are any.  Unfortunately, my driver started to text a number to return a call. I held my breath, wondering if I should yell, "La'! La'! La'!" (No! No! No!) but with the situation as difficult as it is on the road more sensory input would not help, so I held my breath.  We passed one military check-point and then dove off the main road to avoid more traffic jams and the traffic that clogs the roads even more during the mad dash to break the fast with an Iftar. dinner  I was immediately reminded that in Jordan especially, I became adept at ignoring the road and the driving, marking papers, looking out the sides of the windows, not the front, etc. As in Jordan, the tendency is to drive down the center, lining the hood ornament up with the white line.  It precludes anyone's ability to pass you.  If that's your goal, it works fine until some more aggressive person honks and forces you over.  So, I settled back and enjoyed my supper.

It seemed to take forever to get out of Beirut.  We drove through the city on back roads that distinctly said, "No entry."  All the advertising billboards are in English and French while all the official signs are in Arabic with English underneath, proving what I'd heard about Beirut, "Paris of the Middle East" and most cosmopolitan city in the area.  Folks there, I've heard, are proud of their multilingualism.  I would be too.  Gradually, the lights thinned and so did the traffic, slightly as we headed up the coast but resort hotels line the coast and there was no time that we seemed to be in a strictly rural area, judging by the continuous lights and the glitter they made on the Mediterranean.  

After awhile, almost 2 hours, we turned away from the coast and followed the sign that said, University of Balamand and up a steep road.  After several switchbacks and a steep climb, we came to the main gate, up to the guards,  stopping to identify who I was, and through the campus.  Faculty housing, as I'd seen from many pictures and Google Earth, is almost at the top of the campus so I was familiar with the route and the final turn into faculty housing and the parking lot.  In minutes, security drove up with the keys.  The driver helped me in with my things and left.  Security showed me how to use the remote to turn on the air conditioning and then left.  

Is it possible to write about nothing?  Sure it is!  Students do it all the time!  So:  There were no towels, no pots, no pans, no glasses, no mugs, nada, ninguna cosa, zip.  It is much easier to say what there was:  Sheets, pillows and cases on the bed, a filthy floor rag (never washed) in a heap on the back of the bath tub, dish soap and two new sponges, 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 saucers, 4 forks, 3 knives, 4 large spoons, toilet paper ( a little), flat bread, cheese, water.  That was the inventory.  TVs are personal items so there is no television.  I'd be happy with Lithuanian channels and Lithuanian basketball!  (They're winning it all by the way!)  It didn't take me long to assess the place--not clean, full of Sauder furniture except the fairly nice, nearly new sofa and side chairs,, dining room chairs and table, multiple square feet of white tile, no rugs, a decrepit washing machine, a gas stove/oven, a new microwave, a refrigerator (disgusting), AND worst of all NO INTERNET!  My cell had quit sending SMS (text) messages so I was utterly and completely cut off.

Since there were 2 twin beds I took one of the sheets off to use as a towel until I could  get towels and thought, "You have a bed.  Get in it and try to forget all this."  As soon as I  cleaned the bathroom as best I could, I showered (a sheet is really awful for drying off!) and got into bed. I began to realize that I was not in the apartment I'd been promised.  What had happened to the "balcony"?  I had a patio.  What had happened to the second bedroom?  I had a furnished study.  Perhaps I was in the wrong apartment!  I did fall asleep, mercifully, though it was not a good night.  

I made a breakfast of coffee, pita bread, and Kiri cheese.  I felt fortunate to have coffee since I'd saved my little electric pot, Britta pitcher and new filter, some coffee filters and coffee, the last of the Starbucks I'd been given, all for my luggage to bring with me.  The little cup I'd been given in the Egypt Air supper container was the lifesaver--something to use for coffee.  Fortified, I dialed "0" and asked for the chair's office.  Amazingly, she answered!  Human contact!  A real person.  We made a time to meet, she offered to pick me up and give me a tour of the campus by car, have Turkish coffee in her office, try to meet the Dean, and go shopping.  I agreed and got ready. 

(I am not attempting to create cliffhangers here but must stop for now.  Part III coming up!)

Hugs to all!


Saturday, September 04, 2010

#1: A Day of Travel, An Evening at the BEY Airport during Iftar

I left Klaipeda on Wednesday, September 1st, and I don't think I will ever forget that morning.  When I awoke I realized that the day I never expected to arrive had, indeed arrived. I have come, gone, traveled, packed so often that I can easily do that without thinking, which is what I did.   Thinking too much about what I was leaving and what was really happening would have made it impossible to keep going.  Knowing that  new faculty, temporarily in the apartment below me, were planning to move in later that day, I tried to leave things in good order.  Nevertheless, there was still a long explanatory note at the entrance as I closed the door for the last time.  I had been truly happy there--definitely happier there than anywhere else I'd lived in Klaipeda.   The charming Old Town always seemed safe, the walk to the bus, the grocery store, the old market, church easy and my well-appointed apartment, one price for cable TV and 4+ news channels, a classical music channel, wireless and all utilities; life there was good.

My friend drove me to the airport at the ungodly hour of 5:10 am, arriving in Palanga at 5:43.  I knew I was in trouble and worried about it all night until check in.  I'd weighed my 1 large suitcase and knew there was no way I could escape paying overweight.  I only prayed for mercy.  The pleasant surprise was that, rather than 20 euros/kg. I was charged much less in litas.  Perhaps they were tired or took pity on me because I looked tired?  Not sure but I escaped a serious problem and took my too-heavy carry on and violin and handbag and satchel on board.  That too was a miracle these days.  By airports, my travels on Wednesday took me from Palanga, Lithuania, to Copenhagen to Athens to Cairo and finally to Beirut.  I did all that to arrive 5 hours earlier than the direct flight from Riga, Latvia.  I also was allowed more kgs. in luggage on SAS than Air Baltic.  Other than getting snagged in Athens at the Egypt Air desk and having to check my carry on (for free) the schedule worked perfectly.  I was not sorry to let them take my carry on after I retrieved my laptop.  It was too heavy.  They were right about that!

We were given a cold tray of snacks, juice, etc. on the final flight so that as soon as the sun went down observing Muslims could break the fast.  Sitting in my row with 2 Muslim men, I refrained from eating, putting the whole thing in the plastic sack provided for later.  As you'll see in the next post, that proved to be a smart thing for other reasons.  When we arrived, the sun was just going down which meant that every observing Muslim was on a mad dash for Iftar, the feast breaking the fast.  On the face of it, Ramadan sounds like a harsh sort of observance and, in the heat of the day, it is--not even any water for most people during the day.  On the other hand, the evening celebrations more than make up for any deprivations.  They also complicate, delay, and destroy any efficiency one might expect in services--here read, "Immigration."

I got into the line marked "All Passports" and, after waiting, being forced back by an Arab businessman, always more important than a white woman, I made it to the official's window.  Not unkindly, he saw my letter of invitation from the University and sent me over to the far end of the room to stand in another line.  Getting up to that window, the official said I should walk to the back of the room, a bank window, to pay for a stamp I needed.  In the meantime, a young man, looking at my letter, took it to another office. After being displaced in the bank line several times by several businessmen who either ignore or don't see women, I got to the front.  I explained I didn't have my letter but that I was sent to this line.  He asked where it was and I told him it had been taken and pointed to the young official running back and forth between one office and another.  Casually, without any special urgency, he left his window, went out his door and across to the office diagonally across from us, another long walk.  He walked back in a few minutes, got behind his window and  said, "$34.00 please" and I slid him my Visa Bank card.  He said, "We don't take cards."  I said, "Oh, OK.  Show me an ATM, Cash Machine so I can get some cash for you."  Had I known, I would have gotten money in dollars from a bank in Lithuania but no one in HR had said a thing about this.  The bank man said, "There is no ATM inside the terminal.  Go over to that office and tell them.  Maybe they'll let you out to get money!"  Visions of Tom Hanks ran through my mind only these visions weren't funny.  This is not the first time I've felt stateless but one of the first times it might have affected me seriously.  

I came to the office, explained my story.  Under no conditions could I leave the airport, of course!  I should take a seat and relax.  All this time I'm thinking, "Who is the university person who should pick me up?  Will they wait?  Can they help?"  Ahead of me were two Nigerian men.  The main  official guy said, "I'm going to call the university and get the number of the driver who has come to pick you up.  Then I'm going to call him and ask him to go to an upstairs office and pay the fee.  He'll call the bank and tell them it is paid and they'll issue you a stamp."  So, I was invited to sit down and wait.  I did.  When the 2 Nigerian men finished one of them turned to me and said, "You are a professor?  So am I.  I will pay for you."  He handed me $100.00  He said, "I'm a professor here for meetings from Abuja. I'm happy to help."  I accepted the bill and was explaining that I would get to the ATM outside the aiport to repay him before he left.  At that moment, the phone rang and the official said, "I have the number of the university representative.  I will call him now."  I handed the professor his money back hoping I had not lost my last chance to get out of the airport that night.  The official called the driver, as it turned out,  and he agreed to go pay the fee.  I was told to go back to the Bylos Bank.  I did.

When the Bank Man saw me again he said, please have a seat and I will call you when I hear from them upstairs that it has been paid.  I sat down to wait...again.  Some 5 minutes later I heard, "Professor!  Professor!" so I came back to the window, was handed a little postage-looking stamp and a receipt and told to go back to the second line I'd been in.  I did.  When I was the very next person and motioned forward, the young official--the running-around one--said, "No!  You need to be in that line."  The line was behind me at a side desk and not one I'd been in before so, why not?  I explained that I'd been told to come forward.  He insisted I should go back where he pointed, so I went.  In front of me were about 10 Asian women, probably domestics, being led through the process by an older, in-charge Asian woman.  After 20 minutes while the official went through each passport, each document of each woman, he called the young running-man back and told him in Arabic that I should not be there.  By now, there was no one left in the "Passport, with Visas" line to help me.  The young man said, "I will help you."  Why did I trust HIM?  "Please follow me" and he proceeded to walk out of the restricted area.  I hung back thinking, after all this time I'm just going to walk out of here?  He said, "No, come!"  So I did, violin case, satchel, purse, and travel documents around my neck. 

We came to another row of windows with only 2 people left in them, one munching something as quickly as she could.  The young running-guy said, "Sit here and wait.  Everyone is at the feast and I will try to find my friend to get the visa for you."  Really?  So, I did.  (Did anyone count?  That was 7 lines and one, the last one, un-line--waiting by myself.  Elapsed time:  1.30 hours so far.)  After a long time he said, "I have it.  You can go."  I said, "No, I can't.  I don't have my luggage and by now, have no idea where it is."  He said, "Follow me."  I did.  I was stunned to see my two pieces circling in the carousel still.  Amazing.  So, all the loudspeakers warning us to mind our luggage, etc., etc. ?  Sure. 

As soon as he saw that I had my luggage, he bolted, yelling after himself, "See?  All is well, Have a nice time!"  I managed to take it all out through the "Nothing-To-Declare" gate and saw the driver with his "Dr. Geri Henderson" sign.  We made it to the car and I climbed into the back seat to eat and see what I could in the dark, nearly 2-hour drive to faculty housing on campus.  (To be continued.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Part II: The End of the Story of Saturday, The Old Market, and The Butcher

Last night I asked my friend to help me write a nice Thank You note in Lithuanian to the butcher who helped me last Saturday recover my wallet in the middle of the Old Market.  She cheerfully did.  This morning I carefully copied it on an English "Thank You" note and took it with a box of chocolates to the Old Market.  I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find the butcher again but as soon as I approached the area,  he and his wife (?) looked up and smiled.  Saying a quick "Labai ačiū!" I handed him the note and box.  His broad smile in return signified his recognition.  We exchanged no words but my friend told me he'd be very appreciative that I remembered to return to thank him.  I don't know what he feels.  I do know what I feel: extreme gratitude, as great as last Saturday's.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Popierus Bubelukas

Packing, Shipping, and other Fun Things

The title of the blog refers to the Lithuanian words for "bubble wrap" and though it's hard to find it's impossible to find if you don't know how to ask for it.  All is well; I found some with the help of my friend who is a determined shopper and has a car.  Now, a couple of my favorite things can be bubble wrapped instead of taken apart for shipping.  Literally translated, the words mean "paper of little bubbles."  I discovered that the shipping company recommended to me is less expensive per kilo than the post office so I am packing, labeling, sorting, and giving away, down to the last teaspoon.   What a colossal pain moving is and how frequently I seem to have to do it! Perhaps I'll get good at it some day but that is not now, not this day.  This day, now, I am not good at it.  I do not like it; I always discover too many things that have not been used for some time, and too many things I want to keep to save myself the trouble and expense of purchasing them again.  Now, however, I must make sure that each kilo (about 2 lbs.) is worth at least 2.10 euros ($2.74), or it's not worth taking.  Of course, some books cannot be easily replaced, if at all, so they go wherever I go.  And, if you've ever helped me move, pack, or store my library, you realize that e-books cannot happen soon enough in my life, or yours! I wonder what would happen if an e-reader fell in the tub?  I'll bet it doesn't dry out like a book.

Every few days I walk to the Paštas (Pashtas, Post Office) and buy more boxes.  I think I have a good grip on the packing process but every so often I open a drawer or cupboard and realize that I could very well miss a nook or cranny that holds something I'd really like to take with me.  Probably, for the first time in many moves, I am attempting to pack all I own, on my own.  That's doubtless one reason for my worry--others can see and notice things I cannot.  I fear that when the shipping company arrives on Thursday I'll have missed so much and have no way to get it to Beirut but deadlines are deadlines.  They come and force me to be ready, so I will.

A Story of Saturday, The Old Market, and A Butcher

Yesterday, acting as a buddy for my new neighbor, I took her to the Old Market, several blocks away.  It is an especially wonderful place in the summer but is open year-round, especially the indoor section that is filled with fresh dairy, baked goods, fish, meat, and poultry, as well as two long rows of flower sellers.  That was our last stop before going to Pasažas, nearby to have coffee on our way home.  Susie, my new neighbor, paid for coffee and we went to find the ATM on Turgaus and Tiltu streets.  There, I reached for my wallet and it was gone.  

I was incredulous, not because I'm the most attentive person in the world but because losing it was just too huge a disaster to contemplate.  After searching my market bag and purse, always worn over my head, diagonally, I had to accept the obvious.  We walked back to the coffee shop; no one had seen it.  Then we walked back to the baker and she said, in Lithuanian, that I'd had it when I left her stand.  The dawning misery ahead began to overwhelm me as I realized that I would not get my shipping completed this week without the money to pay for it nor would a new debit card reach me before I left the country.  We walked back to the coffee shop where an LCC grad, a young business owner was in a meeting.  Realistically, he said, there was not even any point in reporting it.  It was most certainly lost forever.  My best plan was to forget about it and begin the long process of calling all the credit card companies and cancelling my cards.  We walked home.  

Back in my apartment I remembered one more place and felt compelled to return to the Old Market.  I had put my market bag down to rearrange some items on the counter of an empty kiosk.  I returned there and began looking around, knowing that it had been over an hour and that it was probably stupid to believe it might still be there.  A young man, a butcher at a kiosk next door came over. (He, in Lithuanian): What are you looking for?  (Me, German, broken): My purse.  It is yellow.  (Lithuanian, less broken): I was here, it is like this (holding hands in the air for shape).  (Butcher, Lithuanian): It was a yellow wallet?  (Me, Lithuanian): Yes! He left me and went over to a stool covered by a towel.  Lifting the towel, he pointed to my wallet!  I'm sure he could see in my face my complete relief and, should he have doubted it, my eyes filled with tears.  (Me, Lithuanian):  Oh, Thank you!  Thank you very much.

It was hard to believe this near-miracle.  No one would have given me any chance at all of recovering it in the open market.  It was only later that I realized that every penny and every credit card was still there.  Of course I prayed.  Of course I'm thankful.  Now I must write a  grateful thank you note in proper, not broken, Lithuanian and take it, along with a box of chocolates to the butcher next weekend when he's back at his stand.
Love and hugs,


Saturday, July 24, 2010

A quick run to Melneragė beach to catch the last of the sun one evening.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Klaipėda and Jamaica, A Brief Comparison

It's the tourist season here and the indefatigable travelers are everywhere!  Huge cruise ships dock in the harbor, dumping their charges onto the quay and long-suffering tour-guides trot them all over the area, especially in Old Town, where I live.  As a matter of fact, one of the most visited monuments is right outside my door.  The chair of our Lithuanian Studies Department is one such guide.  Multi-lingual, she is called on for tours in Spanish, English, and, of course Lithuanian.  Her stories about what happens on such tours can be very funny such as the story she told recently about the two older  mujeres from Spain who sat behind her on the bus, arguing with everything she said, as if they would know!  

In Jamaica, it was tourist season most of the time and we tried hard not to appear to be tourists--in dress or speech.  Speech?  That was easy!  As some of you know, patois and the music, both calypso and reggae, are never far from my ears and mouth.  Looks?  Not so easy when your skin betrays your Jamaican heart.  On school days, in uniform, it was easy to make myself believe I could blend in with everyone else. I have a friend who has researched and written about TCKs--Third Culture Kids--children of expats who straddle cultures growing up, and I guess they have trouble really fitting in...anywhere.  On the other hand, some of us feel as though we fit in everywhere.  Now, in Klaipėda, my tell-tale backpack gives me away.  Only tourists and expats use them.  Every good European carries a shoulder bag or briefcase.  Of course, I am obvious too because I do not have the svelte shape of most of the Lithuanian women who, most agree, are very beautiful.  

The weather too has been very Jamaican and so have the living conditions--sweltering heat and humidity without air conditioning.  But my Lithuanian friends think my attachment to my ubiquitous fans is not healthy.  Besides, they say, why waste money on fans when the Lithuanian summer is only 2 weeks long?  Actually, I find the need for fans to be much longer than 2 weeks.  I like the sound of them and I do not believe the in Eastern European lore of The Draft, the Thing that will Carry Me Off.  Come to think of it, The Draft was much feared in Jamaica too. My office is nearly unbearable when it gets hot because there is no way to create a breeze.  Besides, I find myself climbing up onto my desk and into the window sill to be able to reach the top of the window to pull the handle to open the window, as if it will do any good at all.  Good luck to the new chair on that exercise! 

As for any other comparisons?  The open market comes to mind with it's summer abundance of colors, flowers, vegetables, fruits, and hanging carcasses of various animals.  The scents from the aisles of flowers cannot overcome the odorous rows of meat, poultry, and fish in the same building. The outdoor area is now packed with berries of all kinds and that is something one would not find in the tropical market.  On the other hand, one does not find fresh lengths of sugar cane, mangoes, ortanique oranges, and fresh bananas here.  

I continue to pack, sort, communicate with the new chair, work on the LCC Liberal Arts Studies Journal with my co-editor, Eglė Zalatoriutė, write the paper that is supposed to be published in the journal, meet with fall teachers, and try to enjoy some of the great things about summer here.  For one thing, the days are very long, getting light at around 4 now and staying light until sunset a bit after 10.  Of course, we've already passed the longest of the days, the Summer Solstice being celebrated here as a Christian/Pagan holiday called St. John's, an all-night festival.  Jamaica's sunsets only varied a bit in time, situated as it is within the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, the sun, suddenly disappearing behind the horizon as if yanked below the sea by the Almighty on purpose to create the dark that would catch all naughty, procrastinating children by surprise.

I said this was it is, sort of.  

Love and hugs to all,

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Time of Transition

The Spring Semester
What's the point of making the obvious even more pointed?  Yes, January was my last post and I will not apologize this time because I have survived, even successfully, one of the most difficult 5 months of my academic career.  Here is an enumeration of the events of the term:
  1. Betty came to teach a 2-week course that had to be truncated into 10 days rather than 14.  It was difficult for all concerned.
  2. Jan came to teach a 3-week course followed by Spring break.
  3. My sisters came at Spring break to visit.  All  I drove our mini-van through all of the Baltic States, managing to arrive back in Klaipeda intact.  More on that later.
  4. The new president was inaugurated with much music, ceremony, and many events along with the annual Board Meetings. 
  5. I presented a paper at our annual Academic Conference.
  6. I spoke at the Baccalaureate service.
  7. The whole semester was overshadowed by the emotion of the constant decision-making process that went on until after Spring break.
There was extra effort and time spent on each item in the list, above the overload I carried in teaching, departmental work, and institutional committee work.  So, I feel good about what was accomplished even though things like the blog, communicating regularly with family and friends, and any personal goals I had, fell by the wayside.  All of this, of course, pointed up the need to leave my position here in Lithuania but even that took a great deal of emotional energy and was not an easy decision to make.

Spring Break with my sisters and Jan was a wonderful sightseeing adventure during which I was very nearly ticketed for driving smack-dab into the Riga Old Town city center but, since it was International Women's Day, the policewoman let me off and, not only that, led us to our hotel safely.  Thank you Google Maps!  Useless!  Tallinn is a wonderful city of meandering streets with no place to park.  After unloading our car, the taxi we paid to lead us to our hotel (yes, another Google Maps failure) led me to a parking lot where I could park the car for 2.5 days while we wandered through the city.  We arrived back in Klaipeda in time for Jan to catch her flight back to the states and for me to show my sisters around the campus and city before they had to leave and before the semester resumed at a faster pace than before.  That is the first time I'd actually taken a break in mid-semester.  I spent the rest of the semester being grateful for the break and trying to keep up with my classes and the extras that fell after the break.
Deciding to Leave
It was clear to almost everyone else, both friends and family, that I needed a change but when you are here, it is very difficult to see.  I have tried to imagine why that might be.  Almost everyone who comes here falls in love with the campus, the students, and their colleagues.   Why is that?  I suppose it might be because people find that when they come they are very appreciated and fill an important need for us. Another point might be that,  like a dysfunctional family,  everyone becomes so dependent on each other for survival that losing one member creates the hole-in-the-dike syndrome. I know that several things I was covering simply cannot be added to anyone else's load. On the other hand, a new chair of the English department will most likely take on things I didn't.

None of these reasons get to the heart, and I mean heart, of the real difficulty, what has made the decision to leave so difficult.  In the four years I've been here I have made some very good friends--among faculty, staff, and students--and I will miss them terribly.  Yes, our university is understaffed and our faculty, administration, and staff overworked but I will miss the place.  It's become a very comfortable place to be--supportive, collegial, and even fun at times.  The students here are very appreciative of the help and let us know that in very dear, touching ways.  I am sorry to leave.  I have a great deal of respect and affection for many here.

Lebanon, The University of Balamand
On the other hand, I will not miss the dreadful weather.  I am looking forward to the Mediterranean climate, the blue, not gray, seasides.  I have been told that faculty housing faces the Mediterranean and, from what I can see, that is true.  The climate website I checked lists temperatures between 55-86 F.  I can live with that--easily!  Here is the photogallery of the University of Balamand: .  I will be working in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences building (FASS).  I believe faculty housing is in the buildings covered by the four red roofs in the foreground of the overview picture on the home page of the gallery.  When would you like to visit?  My classes are limited to 15 students and I will be teaching 3 classes this coming semester.  I have big plans for the personal time I will have--playing the piano and violin, writing, traveling to Jordan to see friends, to Damascus for the same reason, and other places close by too.

Several have asked about Rabea.  I have not been successful in finding her.  I have heard that she has moved to Germany with her "new" husband (4 years now) and son, leaving no forwarding address.  I hope to see her again someday but none of my efforts to find her have been successful so far.

Almost 5 Weeks in Nebraska
Does it go without saying that I had a wonderful time in Nebraska with family and friends?  It does!  I always do and this time my sister held a lovely open house with Marilynn M. for my birthday.  It was a wonderful opportunity to see people I would never have been able to see in the short time I was home.  There are a few pictures here, on the blog, though I'm not a very good photographer.

As usual, my time was filled with visits to visit my mum, my family, and coffees, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with good friends.  I was especially intentional about getting to Nebraska in time to be present for Rachel Benson (Goodale now).  As it was a Medieval/Renaissance wedding guests were encouraged to come appropriately attired.  I heard from some who believed I had taken orders.  The answer is "NO!"  Any vow of silence, poverty, or penitence would be a sacrifice too great to you should all know! Well, I think I've got the poverty thing down though it wasn't in my original plan. The album I created for that wedding is on the blog as well.

Packing, Sorting, Leaving

My current life has been limited, mostly, to packing, sorting, and figuring out what to do about shipping, especially books.  I have moved my office also and have pitched and will continue to pitch old files that are irrelevant, things that no one has asked to see in my four years, things that are now electronically generated and so forth.  I think it will work well for the incoming chair as s/he will not have to deal with stacks of files to find the things s/he wants.  What that means though is that both at work and at home my mind is consumed with the nit-picky details of what stays, what goes and where it goes.  Isn't the decision-making process the hardest part of moving?  Of course now I'm thinking too about shipping costs, customs and import taxes.  I do not think Lebanon makes exceptions for educational material.

In the middle of this, I have been spending time with the June faculty who came to teach for me in the English department.  They are a wonderful group of three who, it seemed to me of course, were the life of the faculty residence--organizing two trips and two meals together.  Lydia K., a friend from UNL days, came and was the instigator for much of the activity.  Presently we are in Vilinius together as she photographs her way through a city she already loves.  The weather has, amazingly, been absolutely perfect for her peregrinations.

On the leave-taking front, I have said good-bye to several students, several times!  One more coffee, one more lunch, one more tea time.  This only makes things more difficult but I won't say no.  I do think that living overseas is made possible by the connections we make with each other and, even more important, by the connections we maintain with each other.  I think it's part of feeling comfortable in the world.  Where is home?  That's a problematic question, always.  I think it's wherever I'm laying my head that night.  I feel as close, closer probably,  to everyone I've left in the States as I do to those I'm seeing daily where I live.  The longer history I have with everyone in the States explains the degrees of closeness  I feel, I suppose.  Electronically, no one is very far away, something I must keep in mind for the year ahead.

Love and Hugs,


Medieval-Renaissance Wedding 5/22/10 9:29 AM

Birthday Open House

Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Clouds, Snow, and School

LL 26
Now that school has been in full swing for 3 weeks I can say that I know I will survive the rest of  the term.  

There is a kind of fear, buried deep, that is like a dark thing that crawls to the surface at the beginning of every semester.  It asks, "Can you do this?"  "Do you really think you have anything to say, or teach that will make a difference?"  "What if you fail?" "What if you find you cannot keep up?  How many classes will you teach knowing you are unprepared?"  And, the most basic question of all, "Do you know what you're doing?"  To that last question I would say, "No, I don't always," or even most of the time know what I'm doing but I keep trying, thinking about what I have done, assessing, attempting to figure out just what it might take to be better, to communicate clearly, to be authentic in and out of the classroom.

I have spent some time this year thinking about the strangeness of an isolated community like ours--the isolation is not total but nearly so for some of us.  We are a mixture of expats and nationals.  Nationals have local, more normal lives mixed with interactions with many people off-campus--their friends and families from the other parts of their lives, lives they've built before joining LCC.  Expats generally do not.  There are language and social barriers that have proven, for some, to be insurmountable.  The language is, even by Lithuanian admission, difficult, and society is generally closed to outsiders.  Worse, the all-consuming schedule of the school precludes much outside time for making friends, even were one to know the language well.  

There is another isolating factor, having nothing to do with an individual culture or country but more to do with the built-in support system that nuclear families bring with them when they come.  I have observed that their lives have more balance, more naturally-occurring interactions, more expressions of love and affection than the life of the single.  Nuclear families have brought their best friends with them, singles have not.  When, in the evening, too tired and late to make a dinner date, a single comes home, there is no one with whom one can just decompress, vent, or even get a second opinion on a troubling problem.  Instead, I spend my time telling myself that I am fine, that my best friends and family are just a skype call away, that a new day will bring some peace and perspective that is always absent from the night and early morning hours.  I have discussed this with other singles and my experience matches that of others.  In other words, I am not more off-balance than other singles in this similar situation.  We must try to connect with each other and, when time and energy permit, connect with people outside the easy, but surface, relationships we have with each other on campus.  What a long time that takes!  There are so few expats who will be here over the long term.

This spring, like last year, is another overloaded one.  I have  multiple classes and multiple committees on which I serve, more committees than last year, and the blessing of having visiting faculty-friends is mixed.  Betty is here now teaching her blitz-version of "Language Research Methods" and Jan (Dargatz) will come in mid-February to teach "Expository Writing" to the same group of students.  Her version will be 3 weeks long and a bit more sane than Betty's 10-day blitzkrieg.  Of course Betty appears to be fine.  The students, on the other hand, are not faring as well as she is.  Her motto, "Sleep is overrated" makes no impression on them while they balance this with at least 3 other classes.

Thank God for my friends, who will probably diminish in number with my repeated requests for help.  The mixed blessing is, of course that we enjoy each other's company but have very little time to spend in it.  Naturally, there is a certain amount of time and energy that must be given toward ensuring that these generous professionals have what they need, are comfortable, have plenty of food and other necessities with so little time to actually get off-campus to do much for themselves.  Betty leaves Wednesday, Feb. 3 and only last night, thanks to Marlene, got the chance to get off campus for a bit of shopping and dinner.  I will do better with Jan who, besides being able to stretch the class to twice the length of Betty's will stay for Spring Break so she can actually see some of the Baltics along with my sisters who will be here, and me, of course.

The clouds, dark and heavy with snow have hung over the city and coast for days.  Before that, when it was sunny, it was much, much (deceptively) colder.  The snow has continued day after day after day and really, I've had quite enough.  It has become the new normal to know that there is no car between you and school, just wobbly walking and city buses.  Of course, my walking is much wobblier than before because I lost one of my Yak Trax in the snow walking home after a concert.  What was just a challenge--getting from one place to another without freezing--has now been complicated by a total lack of confidence without my snow/ice-gripping Yak Trax, the rubber+steel coils I snapped on the bottoms of my shoes and boots.  I have heard from locals that this is the worst winter in the past 30.  It certainly is the worst in the past 4.  I cannot remember when the snow came to stay, it has been here so long now and the continued projection of below-freezing temperatures stretches way into the future, as far as I can tell.

The good thing:  I found a Land's End commuter coat--one of their warmest, on sale with free shipping.  I had it sent to my sister Marylyn and she sent it on as a part of my Christmas gift.  It arrived just when this latest series of daily snows and cold began anew.  It is an amazing coat but even so, I'm sure my colleagues are a little tired of hearing about it.  They can tell that having this warm coat has made me very happy but it has probably diminished their entertainment somewhat.  The truth and sad fact is that there are some nameless and naughty colleagues who would gather to observe my Jamaican body (yes, it will always be more comfortable there) being wrapped and cocooned for the outdoors.  Of course, multiple scarves, a pair of ear muffs, leggings and cuddle-duds, camisoles, sweaters, and jackets and gloves, served to create a huge dark blob with eyes which, might be humorous to some, but comfort in the cold is a priority and I have been, mostly.  As I told Marlene though, there is one other issue: Safety.  Even if you were the worst hooligan in Klaipėda, I doubt you'd have the courage to consider tackling someone who looked as ominous as I do in full regalia.

Now, back to marking, reading texts, and one short evening+mass with Betty.

Love and hugs,