Friday, April 30, 2010

Stop that!

Dear Chinese people who leave comments on my blog,

If you can read the blog, then you should leave comments in English. Because, you see, I can't read Chinese. So I don't know what you're saying. Are you being complimentary? Are you insulting me? Inviting me to view naked pictures or buy performance-enhancing medicines? See, I just can't tell so I have to delete them. And I'm just way too busy to spend time doing that and writing these posts.

So, I'll say it just once...


Thank you.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Cultural Benefits of Living Overseas

When you live overseas, everyone tells you how lucky you are. What wonderful experiences you are having. How great it is for your kids to be exposed to the rest of the world. I remember when I knew that leaving the States was the right thing. We had accepted the job to go to Tanzania, but couldn't tell anyone because it might have jeopardized Mark's job which was possibly on the budget cuts list. We were at baseball practice and another family was standing in front of us with their 4th grade son. "Yeah, I was offered the chance to go to London for 2 years to open the new division," he was saying. "But I said no. I mean, it would have been good and all, but Scotty here, he'd miss two baseball seasons." Two baseball seasons?! Are you kidding me?! Here I was, getting ready to drag my family to one of the poorest countries in the world because of a job with an organization run by a group of people that had never done anything like this before. This guy decided not to live in London freaking England for a couple years, very probably with all expenses covered during that time, because his 10 year old played baseball?! Yeah, it was time to get a different perspective on life and the world.

Those people are right, of course. No, not the baseball dad--the people that say we're lucky. We chose to take a leap that many people can't, or won't, do. I guess there's something different about this very traditional suburban family. Yes, lots of the big living expenses are paid for. Yes, we do see great things. Yes, we have had enough experiences to check a good many things off our "bucket lists."

There is another side, though, and it''s those things that I often feel I can't talk or complain about because I'll look ungrateful. Or, whatever I say would be considered un-PC. Or, whatever I say is glossed over with another round of "oh, but look at what you get to experience!" My friend Andalucy packed her family off to Spain this year. They and their children are fluent Spanish-speakers and I have loved reading about her family's experiences. Her children have struggled at their local school there and while she was trying to decide what to do she asked for advice. A number of people commented that the cultural benefits would outweigh the struggles. Personally, I can't imagine working for 8 hours at a job that I hated, that made me feel miserable, just because I got to work with that country's nationals. Living can give you all the culture you need. On those days when you are at odds with seemingly every. single. aspect of your life, you can't imagine how much you long for the familiar. So, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, or un-PC, there are some things that are not that great.

My kids are growing up away from their extended family. We already lived far away from them when we moved and we're spread out enough that it's hard to get together. They are losing connections with cousin and aunts and uncles. They experience tremendous loss when they move and when their friends leave. Every move reminds them that their future is uncertain, too. They don't know where they'll be in 3 years. That may be liberating for us as adults, not so much for them. Every trip home reminds them of things they miss about the States.

I miss my friends deeply. I have never made friends easily--it took me almost 15 years of living in Minnesota to find my two dearest friends. Living in a transient community is so difficult for me. I'm lonely a lot, even though we have people we socialize with. Those feelings are much stronger overseas than they were in the States.

Most of my days are filled with work, but every day brings challenges. There really are very few areas in my life where things just flow. You adjust and often everything goes great, but then something small sets you off and you realize that you're carrying a load of stress or edginess or whatever about livinglife away from the familiar. You realize how much of your home country and culture you bring with you and how that puts you out of place where you are.

A friend from Tanzania and her family moved to Dhaka in Bangledesh this year. They have had a tough adjustment from rural Canada and Tanzania to the urban poverty and crush of Dhaka. This week she posted about sitting in traffic sobbing--it took over an hour to go 1 kilometer (that's half a mile, folks) and how the entire time beggars knocked on her window and called to her. That's a cultural experience that I don't think a lot of people think about when they think about living overseas.

My DVD player broke. It's the 3rd one that's broken since we lived here. If you can get it fixed, we would have no idea where to go and there would be no assurance that it would get fixed anyway. We'd have to find someone to give up their own time to come with us to translate. I hate just junking stuff but I was fed up so I left the house at 9:30 this morning to drive 9 km to the electronics store. It took 1 hour to drive there. One hour to drive less than 5 miles, although in the "glass half full" world I was doing better than my friend in Dhaka. I walked into the store, pointed to the DVD player I wanted and pulled out the cash. One thing about China, they do not care that you don't speak Chinese and have the remarkable ability to ignore the 5 or 10 times I remind them (in Chinese) of that fact. Anyway, the drill is--you pick out what you want, then run the pretty typical gamut of being talked into something different. No, I don't want that DVD. Yes, the one I want does play DVDs from all over the world, I already have another one just like it. Yes, I do want a fapiao (receipt). Yes, I know I have to pay full price if I want a fapiao. No, I really do not want that other one. Confession: the only reason I want the one I want is because I have another one just like it so I've mastered the Chinese remote and so I know what every button labelled in Chinese does as well as all the Chinese stuff on the screen that I have to wade through when something isn't working. No, I haven't actually learned how to read any of it--I just have the different paths memorized to reset stuff.

Finally, it's done. You're going to buy the DVD. Now is the time for paperwork. There is the time it takes to enter my name and phone number into the computer--time because it's hard for them to work with our alphabet (as it would be for me to enter anything in Chinese). Then you wait for something to print out. Then you go to the other side of the store to stand in line to pay. Then you go back to the salesguy and show him the receipt. Then he prints the fapiao (the "official" receipt). Then he goes to some mystery room to retrieve it and get it back. So....from the time I pointed to the DVD player and took out my wallet to the time I walked out the door...55 minutes. I must have been in a spectacularly craptastical bad mood, because it took EVERY.SINGLE.FIBER of my to not go postal over the young guys (the one that was helping me and the 15 that watched) at the store. The truth, though--this was not a particularly horrific experience. This is what life is like here. Overseas. Having cultural experiences.
I am not ungrateful. Really, I'm not. I am living a life I never at any point in my life imagined. We are blessed beyond reason. It just that sometimes...just like life anywhere, it's hard. Hard in ways that I feel guilty about mentioning. But now I have.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Do You Know Your American History?

My 4th grade classes have been working on a migration unit. For their final assessment they had to select a guiding question and then develop a plan of research. Two boys (neither of whom are American) chose the guiding question "Why do people move?" and chose the subject of pioneers moving west in the US.

A few disclaimers:

*A lot of the grammar/verb tense irregularities are very typical for this age as so many kids are bilingual or trilingual in our school.

*This was their first draft--however, they were quite disappointed at our (teacher) response...

People move because of bad weather and robbers. Less trees global warming. And they had troubles light lightings and buffalos charging into their wagons wheels falling off of their wagons their horses ran away sometimes the horses also can get hurt and injured. What they had to bring food,medicine, weapons, powder and sugar and coffee (such as rifles) and sometimes there are Indians stopping you so you will have to pay the money!

If there was bad weather and it would rain and the people will have to use an umbrella and block the rain drops. The pilgrims will have to shoot the buffalos a lot of times to kill it and the Indians had arrows and one shot will kill it buffalos are hard to kill. The Indians made spears and bows and arrows and tubes where you could put a spike inside and it will poison the enemies. The pilgrims had rifles and knifes. Every night there will be a guard to guard the camp and if he fell asleep he would get spanked and hurt. If there were no camp fire wood you could use buffalo poohs. Sometimes they would have bugs go inside their food. Sometimes there won’t be space for you to sit the people would sell their house because they had to move away quickly and buy supplies for the journey. The journeys are very difficult. The people who move on the prairies go to places called forts where they can buy supplies if they run out of them. If you get stuck on the prairie or get lost in one, you should wait until another cart or traveler comes and travels with you. If your animal pulls your cart collapse or dies, you should bandage the wound with part of your shirt to stop the wound from getting infected. Some animals needs lots of care and drinks. If you run out give most of your water you have left to your animals.

Impressive--they managed to work in global warming and references to African bushmen. Not to mention corporal abuse and umbrellas! When we were done giggling, we handed it back and strongly suggested they read the books instead of just looking at pictures and filling in the gaps. The second attempt was much better, although it did tend to focus mainly on the tremendous dangers of river crossings for some reason.

By the way, I am all for reforming the educational system, but I better not have my merit pay judged by this...

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Greatest Show on Earth.

Somehow in the birthday/spring break madness, I forgot Ava's big show. There are a lot of things about our school here that I'm not crazy about, but there are some things that are really fantastic, where it all comes together in the best way. Our 2nd graders study balance and motion in science and work during their gym and music classes on circus acts involving balance and motion. The activities seem simple, but are fundamentally important in physical development. They perform for the whole elementary school and then again in the evening for families. As adults we forget how nervewracking something that like is--they were all so nervous and everyone was brilliant. Really--every. single. person. was a star. Whether they spun plates or balanced feathers or jumped rope or walked on stilts...every child was so proud of their accomplishments and so proud to perform. And in a school where everything seems to revolve around academics, this is an important opportunity for kids to turn it on.

The beginning of the show was a Rube Goldberg-esque human alarm clark to wake up the teachers and start the show. Ava jumped onto a mini-tramp and onto a pyramid as her part. She was one of the featured cartwheelers and spun a plate on a stick. Her big moment, though, was walking on a roller. Each class is assigned a skill to practice and this wasn't easy, especially since it wasn't something that she could practice at home. She loved being able to do it with her friend Cora!