Saturday, January 15, 2011

Part VIII: Better the Devil you know....

Dear Family and Friends:

 The Classroom
The cryptic title of this edition refers to the numbers of students who are contacting me about what I am teaching next semester.  I am not deluded about what this means because I seriously doubt they understand the meaning of the %s of their online grades.  If they did, they wouldn't be asking about my courses next semester.  But it mean that they want, at all costs, to avoid getting into my sections by mistake!  That is a much more plausible reason for their query.  On the other hand, if the opposite is the case then it is true that they prefer "the devil they know to the hell they don't." Very puzzling.

Today, and all this week, students have been presenting their work on NGOs they formed to deal with national issues.  Of course, every time someone mentions asking a Minister of This or That to participate, or involving the government to help them with an issue, there is laughter because, of course, there is no government at the moment.  (More on that later.)

Most of the time, students talk about how ineffective the government is and how little they can do.  When they talked about road safety this week they said that no one believed there was a new radar system covering the roads and highways of the country, even though the public information  said there was.  Citizens took it into their own hands to find out just what was was going on.  Sure enough, there are only two radar traps in the whole country.  Consequently, my students were quite surprised to discover that I hadn't been in an accident yet.  So am I!  Accidents are standard but no one seems to relate it to driving habits or speed.  Taking some colleagues to a restaurant via the one good highway here I was told to quit using my lane changer and turn indicators so much--it was confusing the other drivers!

Christmas Break
I was given an extra week to stay in the States and took full advantage of it, enjoying playing 5 services, being with and cooking for my family (my sister gets credit for finishing the the recipes I started before rushing off to rehearsals!), drinking more  Barista's, Starbucks, and Scooter's coffee than anyone has a right to, and in general spending a lovely time with so many while regretting those I missed seeing.  Truly, everyone was so gracious, squeezing me into and between family schedules, already packed with holiday activities.  I renewed some long-standing Christmas traditions with my friends and  family that I've missed for the past 6 years.  In other words, I'm so glad I went back this year.  What a true delight it was--every minute of it, until I began to think about my trip back to Lebanon.

At first, it was pretty rough.  My allergies to whatever (the mold?) I found here in September, returned in full force.  The medication, combined with some jet lag,  keep me falling over in a heap on the bed beside my desk (that is NOT a good place for a bed!).  Furthermore, my online grading was not working in the States so I have been tied to my computer since arriving in hopes that I could get the most critical grades posted before Friday, drop day.  I find it strange, to say the least, that with only 2 weeks left in the semester, students still have the privilege of dropping without penalty.  I could have told them weeks ago they weren't going to make it, and saved us both a great deal of trouble.   But now, I'm getting frantic emails about why they cannot drop the course or why they haven't been able to get online to see their grades or about the scourge that must have hit all the relatives of all the students here--a strange sort of terrible disease putting them and all their families in the hospitals.  I'm sure the papers are filled with reports of this plague if only I had  studied my Arabic more diligently and could read them.  

Based on what I have heard from other faculty, I might be hauled into an admin's office to answer for my extreme negligence in babysitting these children through their assignments, forgetting to call them each night to remind them of assignments and exams,  and failing to bring  them printouts of the online grades that have been posted each week since the beginning of the semester. It will be easy to demonstrate   what has (not) happened and why the students are in trouble but really, what a headache and, from what I've heard, administration tends to take sides with the "customer."  Oh goody!  On the other hand, it will be quite difficult to prove that at least once every other class the online web pages were mentioned, the IT help desk was explained, and the importance of both of those things stressed.

A Trip to Baalbek
Several weeks ago I went with friends on a couple of overnights out of town in the Bekaa Valley, yes, that one.  Of course the expected evidence of Hezbollah was there but I only noticed the souvenir T-shirts in Hezbollah Yellow that just about everyone in the Tourist Traps was trying to sell.  What we went to see were the amazing Roman ruins.  Baalbek is one of the best preserved Roman complexes I've ever seen.  I have some pictures posted here: 
Baalbek Trip

The Recent News
Imagine teaching or living in a place where the young people joke that "there will be war tomorrow, Miss."  No, there won't.  The fact that people are very nervous is actually a very good sign.  Their fear of a repeat of the wars and rebellions in the past decade gives them a measure of care about what they say and do that might spark an uprising or demonstrations.  If anything does happen as a result of the collapse of the government this week, it will happen in the south, in and around Beirut.  I have always been amazed at how localized these things can be.  5 years ago, living in Amman, bombs were set off downtown.  I heard about it first from concerned former students in the States.  I had no idea until it came on the English news--the BBC, quite a bit later.  Now, up here on the Balamand mountain, it's hard to believe that "there are tensions in Beirut."  I can assure you I am very safe, have part ownership in a car, have friends here on a Fulbright, and will know before anyone else if it's time to leave.  In the meantime, I have told my students that if there is war their classes will continue as before, online.  That's pure fiction of course.  The first thing I'll do is quit marking papers and pack.  The reality is that their infrastructure will not support the internet during a war.

All the best until next time!
Love and hugs,


  1. Just wrote my own blog and realize how boring after reading yours. But I can only live my life and share it. Glad to hear all is going so well for you and that you are enjoying every minute of it. :) Blessings and keep writing.

  2. Max, I probably would enjoy a measure of peace and quiet, calm and predictability. I know I'd also enjoy your students!