FROM SAND TO SNOW:
TALES OF A TRAVELING TEACHER
While living and teaching in the MIDDLE EAST and the ARCTIC, I wrote many newsletters. Some of them are very personal glimpses into the life of the local people: the Muslims and the Inuit. This blog features just some of these newsletters.
Now that I'm retired, I hope to get these stories published!
Insha'allah...as the Muslims say
God willing...as the Inuit say
|Posted on 12 January, 2016 at 19:30||comments (0)|
If you would like to see some pictures of Clyde River, click on the following website:
Warning: one picture may offend...
CLYDE RIVER NEWSLETTER # 1
"FROM SAND TO SNOW"
August 20, 2006
Hello dear family and friends in the southern regions. Warm weather there? Sunshine? Lazy, hazy days of summer? And up here, patches of snow still on the ground, no trees, and crisp chilly air... Canada, what an amazing country --- doesn't it have everything? I swear it is one of, if not the best, place to live on this earth.
"This land is your land, this land is my land, from Bonavista, to the Vancouver Islands, from the Arctic circle to the Great Lake waters, this land was made for you and me."
Except for the aboriginal people like the Inuit...Is the Arctic anything like I imagined? The land, yes; the living conditions of the people, no.
The LAND: gorgeous, clear cut lines of blue sky, grey rock, green brush and ocean water that changes every hour. No trees, we're north of 60! The long bay outside my home in Clyde River looks so much like Newfoundland, I feel taken back in time. Dory-type fishing boats bob on the water or sit beached on the shore. Here they fish and hunt for Arctic char, seal, polar bear...haven't seen a bear yet, but a group of us are going out for a long hike this afternoon and one of the MUSTS of the hike is a GUN! I’m finally fulfilling one of the goals on my bucket list: live in the Arctic, where I can see polar bears and icebergs, sleep in an igloo and go dog-sledding. What better way to do it than get hired as a teacher!
Our house is cozy, warmly heated by oil, with all the amenities you could need (no phone or internet, yet). Actually, it's the house owned by the Hunting and Fishing Association of Clyde River and they're letting me and my housemate (a fellow teacher), Leslie, stay here until our home for the year is ready for us to move into...which could mean 2 days to 2 weeks...flexibility is the rule here...not today, maybe tomorrow...
And the people? They remind me of the people of Sri Lanka, dirt poor, many living in one house (up to 15 in one house)....... they have shifts for sleeping..."don't be surprised if your students sleep some days during your whole class," the principal told me today..."let them sleep; compassion is the rule of the school," he said.
Yes, dirt poor. My stop-over for the night enroute to Clyde River was Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, and I was there only one hour, out for a walk, and already a woman came begging for a toonie. But kind!!! The people in Clyde River are wonderful! I love their smiling beaming faces! Kids running everywhere, lots of dogs, ATV's going every which way, no roads, whale bones and piles of soapstone on porches for carving; groups of women out strolling, letting the men have their sleeping shift in peace.
I wonder about the poverty; especially when I see the number of brand new and souped-up trucks and ski-doos everywhere. Well, what do I know??? I'm here to learn...and learn and learn...maybe by learning about them, I will be able to make a difference in teaching the Inuit youth....how strange and ironic life is...
Love you all!
ps: my book on Kuwait is finally finished...now to find an agent or publisher... Love Dawn
|Posted on 12 January, 2016 at 19:25||comments (0)|
CLYDE RIVER NEWSLETTER # 11
NOVEMBER 14 2007
Warning: this newsletter contains words and phrases that may offend some...please read at your own discretion. This is an eye-opener to real life in the north.
On your shoulders there sits a good wolf and a bad wolf...
"Which one is the strongest?" a young boy once asked his grandfather.
"The one you feed," the wise old man answered...."the one you feed."
I also heard that "temptation is the opportunity to do good"...
When is it in our young lives that we begin to feed the bad wolf, when we choose to do bad over good, when we give in to temptation?I ask myself that question many times while living here in Clyde River.
Young warriors...choosing bad or choosing good...feeding the bad wolf or feeding the good.
It's a spiritual warfare out there.
Take for example the young RCMP constable who was recently shot in the little hamlet of Kimmirut on Baffin Island, not far from Clyde River. Responding to a call about a drunk driver, he went out alone to do his duty and "paid the ultimate price in service of self-sacrifice, selflessness and an act of duty to Nunavut, our communities and our country", said the mayor of Iqaluit.
Constable Douglas Scott chose the good side.
The drunk driver chose the bad.
It's as simple as that.
When I walked into my classroom the day after the incident and opened up a chance for my students to discuss the shooting, asking them for their opinion, one of the boys blurted out, "good"...
then opps...he quickly corrected himself and said, "he was in the wrong job"...
Was this the bad wolf being fed, then the good wolf? Or just a very messed up young warrior?
The fact is, the police are not well liked here by several of our young warriors. I'm not saying all our young people here dislike the police...there's only a handful.
But it only takes one to use a gun.
When I arrived back in Clyde in August, the latest news was that a group of these young warriors had gone down to the RCMP detachment the week before and had thrown rocks at the windows. After breaking glass, they then proceeded to surround the police residence and stood outside waiting for some action. Christopher, one of the two constables on duty here in Clyde, described the scene as bizarre and scary. He could only guess why they were there...they were angry and out for revenge, he told us at our Thanksgiving supper.
The day before he had received an anonymous phone call from someone informing him that a small shipment of marijuana was being brought into the community via a passenger on the plane. Going to the airport, Constable Christopher accosted the woman and confiscated the stash.The young warriors who were supposed to be the recipients of the drugs, ranging in age from 12 to 22, were mad.
So, choosing to feed the bad wolf, they went together down to the RCMP headquarters and residence looking for revenge.
The two officers drew their guns, although, thankfully, they never had to use them. They tried to call in back up...but we're too isolated up here to have extra help right away.
By the next day, things had calmed down...although, the premier of Nunavut was notified and showed up in Clyde within days...
I actually got to shake the premier's hand...he came to our school and talked to the kids about having positive goals and going after your dreams. It was a speech all about feeding the good wolf.
An interesting slice of humanity about our premier...he was recently censured in Nunavut's government assembly for his own warrior mentality, a side of himself he publicaly admitted he is not proud of.. As was stated in the Globe and Mail:
"Nunavut's legislative assembly officially reprimanded Premier Paul Okalik yesterday for publicly insulting an Iqaluit woman in June. A special sitting of the legislature was convened to deal with the censure motion, which passed unanimously. A censure is a formal rebuke of an elected member, but it does not require the member to resign.
"I apologize without reservation and I am humbled by this house," Mr. Okalik told the house... The controversy erupted last June... when the Premier was heard referring to Lynda Gunn... as a "fucking bitch."
This incident caused quite a stir in Nunavut and was on the news for weeks. In one of the news casts, he spoke quite candidly and shamedly about his childhood and how he grew up having very little respect for women. Hence, the bad wolf comment.
As he stood in front of my students, I couldn't help but think of the writing on the outside wall of our school that appeared the week of the attack on the RCMP headquarters.
(Warning: This graffit is not for sensitive eyes and ears.)
The kids wrote: "fuck the police" in big bold letters.
I also wondered about our premier's public confession using those very same words to a woman...I SO wanted to ask him about it as he talked to my students...but I held my tongue! As Jesus teaches us in the Bible, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
Aren't we all sinners? Haven't we all been there? Haven't we all been tempted? Don't all of us, daily, deal with the good and the bad wolf?
The premier's confession made me see him as a human being, with strengths and weaknesses. In his parliament address, he admitted that the problem of abuse extends well beyond his office, and even mentioned his own mother as he spoke about domestic abuse and violence against women.
In the Globe and Mail article, he then explained that the remark was the result of a tiring and frustrating week in which he "lost his patience and better judgement".
A female member of parliament spoke up and said: "It starts with verbal abuse," and then asked, "How do we break this cycle? And how do we convince people we mean what we say in this house when it comes to verbal abuse, violence, and violence against women?"
Her question wasn't answered.
The Globe and Mail article concluded with the fact that "Aglukkaq was one of only three members who spoke against the premier’s actions and of the need to send a strong message to Nunavut residents that no abuse of women should be tolerated. Aglukkaq has also been personally touched by domestic violence. “I’ve lost my own staff to violence,” she said, referring to the death of Sylvia Lyall-Ritchie in June 2004. Lyall-Ritchie was working as a secretary at the legislature when she was found dead in her home. Her former common-law spouse is now on trial for second-degree murder."
It begins with verbal abuse...and escalates into physical violence.
Remember Take Back the Night, which began over a hundred years ago in Britain? A walk to end violence? Igah, an Inuit teacher, and I did our Take Back the Night "Circle of Hope" walk a few weeks ago, like we did last year. About 60 people showed up, of all ages, and after saying a prayer in honour of the people who have died from violent acts, we walked with candles down to the docks, around the RCMP headquarters and back up to the church again.
It's a spiritual warfare out there...
Last week, a drunk young warrior woke up his neighbors in the wee hours of the morning here in Clyde River when he picked up a shovel and smashed it against the bedroom window of one of the houses. A baby happened to be sleeping in a crib right under the window and it is a miracle that the shards of glass did not kill her.
Our principal, Jukeepa Hainnu, told me that Clyde River is the only community in the north that has no curfew. It would be a good thing if it did.
Night after night I hear these young warriors out on their ski-doos racing back and forth playing chicken...sometimes until 3 in the morning. I finally called the police about it. Constable Christopher was out on leave so I spoke with Constable Blake who told me there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. There is not only no curfew, there is no working bylaw officer, no bylaw on noise, no bylaw on ski-doo licences. These kids have the run of the place! And I'm supposed to teach them English!!!!!!!!!
They come to school tired, hungry, angry and lost. (In Al-anon it's called HALT) Talk about feeding the bad wolf...
Well, you know, I too have a choice. I can ignore it, which I do often. I can complain about it, which I do often. Or I can try to find solutions.
So I started a Bible study...yes, a Bible study...because, believe it or not, a group of girls asked me if I would. The first week I had only 2 present...and this week I had 7...
What I heard I cannot share. But I can say that these young warriors are dealing with more than their share of demons. They confess they like doing bad things; but don't want to. They continually feed the bad wolf, while wanting to feed the good.
It reminded me of one of the prayers in the Common Book of Prayers that says:
"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. And there is no health in us. Oh Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders."
Of course, not all the kids feed the bad wolves. There are some good news stories. I have many who want to do the right thing and DO do it. Like the Quliiq brothers. Trevor, age 12, and his brother, Kevin, age 15, are two brave polar bear hunters who last month each shot their own polar bears. They are two very brave and very proud hunters. This is their culture, this is what their Dad taught them. Each day their mother goes outside and counts the claws on each of her sons' polar bear skins drying on frames in the sun and wind. She wants to make sure they haven't been stolen. They are symbols of her sons' hunting skills.
And then there are the young warriors who graduated this year from grade 12. These are the ones who set a new path for the ones following them. They fed their good wolves profusely the night of graduation; fed them pride and honour, hope and dreams.
Their celebration theme was "new beginnings". New chapters in their lives; the authors of their own books; heroes and heroines. And celebrating with them was their new principal, Jukeepa Hainnu, born and raised in Clyde River, educated with an MA in Ed. at the University of PEI, and ready to return to her community to help the young warriors fulfill their own dreams and goals. She is an example to young Inuit of what happens when a person feeds the good wolf.
And another "good wolf" event in Clyde River...the Prom after the Grad. The kids asked me if I would chaperone their dance, and I said yes. It was a fabulous night of watching "wanna-be kings and queens" dancing and parading around the c-hall as hormones flew through the air and cameras clicked and the music blarred. It was a night of fun and feeding the good wolves...thank goodness!
One day has elapsed since I wrote the above entry...
I was writing of good wolves at the end of my newsletter, wasn't I?
I am again sitting at my computer writing...
And I feel like an eon of emotions has swept through me since yesterday.
Outside my window I see the students of Clyde River walking in a parade heading down to the RCMP headquarters. The administration has asked them to form a human chain around the residence and headquarters, to symbolically say they are sorry for what happened to Constable Douglas Scott.
And why am I not out there joining the students and staff in this act of support? Oh my, the ironies of life...
I am at home now on a work day afternoon because of verbal abuse. Some of my grade 8 boys verbally and emotionally abused me so violently this morning, that, after class, I went to the principal and told her their behaviour was unacceptable and that I was so stressed, I was taking the afternoon off...so here I am, therapeutically getting rid of some stress as I continue to write this newsletter.
Time out...as I watch the whole school parade past my home.
Jukeepa was wonderful when I went to her with my complaint this morning.. She understood and actually gave me a big hug.
She actually confessed something to me: when she was a teacher, she wouldn't teach the older kids, grade 8 and up, because she felt "intimidated" by them.
Ahhhh, now I see why she became a principal!!!
Truthfully, they were awful...I honestly felt like I was being kicked in the gut. And this...after the graduation, after the prom, after the chaperoning... I can't take it personally...
It made me wonder where these young warriors hear these words, where they learn such negative behaviour, who teaches them to insult and attack and be cruel. I had already sent two students to the office, and was ready to send another one when anarchy reared its ugly head and the whole class jumped in and began verbally attacking me, ignoring my instructions and just plain went wild.
That's when I lost it...and feeding the bad wolf, I screamed "shut up"...I have never done that in a classroom in my life...
You know, I put on my whiteboard every day: GDSL...to remind me to always, always, put God first, then me, then the students, then the lesson. I used to always put the almighty lesson first, and would get myself into trouble with wrong priorities. It's been pretty good so far, as I try to remember I need to put the gas mask on myself first, and then on others...
But today...today was different somehow...spiritual warfare...there was anger, hate, cruelty and just plain meanness in the air.
There seems to be a pattern: when the kids have had more than 2 days at home, they come to school with bad wolf attitudes that are scary. Well, this weekend was a 4 day stay-at-home...
I should have been more prepared...hindsight is 20/20.
I phoned the grade 8 teacher when I got home and he told me he and his brother (another teacher) are talking of quitting. They too had sent three students to the office this morning. Maybe that's one of the reasons why they are now parading down to the RCMP headquarters. Enough with abuse and violence....of any kind.
Well, I am glad to see so many good wolves being fed right now, as they parade past my house on the way to the RCMP headquarters, this time to offer support not stones.
It gives me hope for these young warriors.
Love and peace to all....Dawn
If you would like to see some photos click on... www.flickr.com/photos/dawned
Then you can either click on "slideshow" and a girl behind bars will show up...click on her nose that shows a ? ...this gives you text with the photo...or
you can click on "details" and you can brouse the photos with text...
|Posted on 12 January, 2016 at 19:15||comments (0)|
CHECK OUT ALL MY QIKIQTARJUAQ NEWSLETTERS on the following website:
Meanwhile, you can read two of them here in my BLOG
QIKIQTARJUAQ NEWSLETTER # 1
"YOU HATE OR YOU LOVE IT"
October 22, 2011
Hello everyone! I am back up in the Arctic teaching again. It was a quick decision that happened over a 2 week period --- and with support and blessings from family and friends, here I am... Are you ready for some more glimpses into life in the Arctic?! ... I have to tell you, life up here is not for the faint of heart. You either love it or you hate it. As the 18 seater plane flew over Baffin Island, I wondered how and why in the world did people settle here? What made them come to a place of ice and snow and rock?
It reminded me of the time an Inuit woman took my students and I winter camping. When we got to her tiny one-room cabin, she looked out the window and said, “Everything I could need is out there.” After a three hour bumpy ride in a komatik sled over uneven snow, my only concern when we got there was: where am I going to go to the bathroom. She eventually showed me a hole in the snow about a hundred feet from the cabin and said, “this is where we go”. I guess her observation was right.
Headed towards my next home in the North, I wondered what Qikiqtarjuaq would look like. I knew it was smaller than Clyde River, which boasted a population of 850 people. Perched on Broughton Island off the east coast of Baffin Island, Qikiqtarjuaq has only 520 people. Broughton Island is only 16 km long and 14 km wide, so there’s not much room to roam. If you want to go anywhere, you have to travel by plane; or wait until the Arctic Ocean freezes and then you can get across to Baffin Island by ski-doo.
Qik (short for Qikiqtarjuaq) sits next to one of the most awesome national parks in the world: Auyuittuq Park, which means “Land That Never Melts”. It boasts sweeping glaciers and polar ice and the highest peaks of the Canadian Shield, one of which is called the Penny Ice Cap.
Once on Baffin Island, the Inuit from Qik travel through the Akshayuk Pass in the park to get to the next hamlet of Pangnirtung. My students tell me the trip takes them about 3 hours in good weather ---and invited me to join them over the Christmas break. Remembering the scenes from the airplane, I wonder if I have the courage to try it?! Again...I ask myself: what’s out there? No bus stops that’s for sure!
I was met at the airport by the principal of Inuksuit School; Juanita happens to hail from Peterborough Ontario. Two teachers were there as well; Cheryl from Bracebridge in Muskoka, and Josip from Croatia. Three of my students were there to welcome me too, so it was quite a warm welcome, despite the -10 degree temperature. We all hopped onto 4 wheelers, ski-doos and trucks and within 5 minutes I was at my new home, a 2 bedroom dwelling sitting at the base of a huge mountain.
Christine, my roommate who comes from Newfoundland, met me at the door with hugs and a delicious dinner of chicken waiting on the table. Christine teaches grade 5 and is a somewhat seasoned Arctic dweller, having taught in the North for several years. But, she admits, she is getting burned out; this is her last year of teaching, period. Her vision of life in the Arctic has already turned sour---unruly students, lack of respect for the Qadlunat (white people), the feelings of “them vs us” that permeate many communities --- all of this has cemented her decision that this is it, her last year up here. To be honest, it gets challenging sometimes to come home to her complaints --- and I’ve been here only a week! But I try to stay positive and share the good side of life up here with her. Besides ---she brought a scrabble game!
Gracie, too, has her challenges. She loves going for walks, but as soon as we head out the door, a horde of dogs of different sizes and breeds, swarm around her. Even though the by-law states all dogs must be on a leash or tied up, you would never know it by the pack that appears as soon as we step outside. I do know I have to keep her with me at all times. No one’s going to hurt, hunt or trap my little furry one!
With that condition in place, Gracie told me she’s going to like her new home, no problem.
The first day I walked to work, I saw a polar bear skin stretched out on a frame. It had been caught the week before. Every day a helicopter canvases the hamlet on the look-out for bears. (Interested in a future job here, Joe?!) Just this week, three bears made their way onto the island and everyone was warned to be cautious. (Don’t worry, I am!!!)
Further down the road, I saw one of the reasons why the people had settled here. The harbour is huge and deep, and surrounded on three sides by high land and mountains. Only one area remains unprotected ---the open waterway to the Arctic Ocean. Through this gap, an iceberg had made its way up the harbour and sat like a grand ship waiting to be boarded.
Once at the school, I stood outside the building and looked out over the grand scene. Yes, I thought, like Gracie, I’m going to like it here!
|Posted on 12 January, 2016 at 18:55||comments (0)|
Qikiqtarjuaq Newsletter # 5
“A GOLIATH called GOSSIP”
June 7 2012
We are all familiar with gossip. We’ve all taken part in it, if we are truly honest with ourselves. It comes in many forms: a casual mention of a co-worker to another co-worker --- right on up to a nasty remark about a boss, whispered behind closed doors. In fact, so prevalent and familiar is gossip to us, that one of the most famous of artists did a timeless painting of people in the act of gossip. Norman Rockwell is known for his humorous and truthful portrayals of the life of ordinary people like you and me.
Where did the word “gossip” come from? Oddly enough, one story states it originates from a time when bosses would send their workers to the pub to “go sip” beer and hear the latest news.
Wikipedia states: “The word is from Old English godsibb, from god and sibb, the term for the godparents of one's child or the parents of one's godchild, generally very close friends. In the 16th century, the word assumed the meaning of a person, mostly a woman, one who delights in idle talk, a newsmonger, a tattler. In the early 19th century, the term was extended from the talker to the conversation of such persons. The verb to gossip, meaning "to be a gossip", first appears in Shakespeare.The term originates from the bedroom at the time of childbirth. Giving birth used to be a social (ladies only) event, in which a pregnant woman's female relatives and neighbours would gather. As with any social gathering there was chattering and this is where the term gossip came to mean talk of others.”
Wikipedia even has section on “Workplace Gossip”. The whole concept of gossip is fascinating because we are human and we all do it, to some degree or another.
The temptation is tremendous.
For the past seven months while living here in this tiny hamlet of 520 people, I have found my greatest enemy to be gossip. It is my Goliath. I fight it every day --- at home, at work, at the two stores where we shop, on the roads. It is even on facebook, probably the worst place of all.
From the water cooler to cyberspace, gossip is alive and well and living everywhere. It’s why Facebook, Twitter and all the others succeed. One of the primary reasons they achieve mass popularity is gossip.
As one writer, Peter Morville, put it: “...email, instant messaging, cell phones, text messaging, listservs, weblogs — at the heart of many of today’s killer applications lies the power and prevalence of gossip. It may not be ideal with respect to ethics or efficiency, but it’s the way people are wired, and the blueprint is ancient and immutable.” http://writelife.net/2010/11/26/social-media-is-gossip/
Isn’t it gossip that makes front page news and yahoo news? Gossip seems like the main form of entertainment these days. Just check yahoo’s home page and you see: “OMG” which features “Latest Celebrity News” and another huge section called “Trending Now” which, of the 10 listed features, most days over half are gossip stories about people. Then there’s Amazon’s brouhaha which came into being by using Twitter and developed with little or no information, just people saying, “Did you hear what they did?”
Sound familiar?! Check out another of Norman Rockwell’s paintings, one that, today, has a whole new meaning to the word “networking”. Why have people always been attracted to lurid news? I remember when I was living in the Middle East and was asked by CBC online to cover the Iraq war. The first thing they told me was: “if it bleeds, it leads”.
Muslims, too, have a bone to pick with gossiping. They call it “backbiting” and consider it equivalent to eating the flesh of one’s dead brother. According to their beliefs, backbiting harms its victims without offering them any chance of defense.
The Bible has a lot to say about gossip as well. It is associated with having “an evil tongue”. Consider this descriptive verse from Proverbs 18:8: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels: they go down to a man's innermost parts." Is that why we use the phrase, do you want to hear some “juicy gossip”?!
My friend and roommate said something interesting about gossip. She said when we gossip we are really digging two graves: our own and the person we are slandering.
Ok...so why do we do it then?!
One could do a whole research paper or book on the topic...because interest in it is vast and deep, ancient and modern, public and yet very personal. But I will limit my newsletter to just a few pages!
I’d like to keep my focus personal and tell you a little story of what gossip can do to a person, a good person who did not deserve the damage done to him. I admit I was drawn into the gossip myself, until I woke up one day and realized...this could have been me. It could have been anyone of us. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” as Jesus said. John 8:7 Yes, we are all guilty of the damage done to this man’s life.
This unfortunate man was driven out of town last month because of gossip; literally driven out of town. His life was in danger, his life was threatened, and he had to leave. Everyone, of course, had an opinion of him, before ---but especially after ---the event.
“Good thing he’s gone,” said some.
“Serves him right,” said others.
“Poor man,” a few said.
Opinion aside, the fact is, the man had to leave his home, his life, his job here in Qik because of rumours.
And the rumours abounded. They started with people talking behind his back, saying he was sleeping with the girlfriend of one of our teachers. And this teacher was his good friend. Then it escalated into him sleeping with the teacher himself, so it was “a threesome”. Then, it got really crazy with whispers of him “sleeping with minors”. The talks, the whispers, the gossip, the rumors reached the point of frenzy, with people closing doors to swap stories. Talk would suddenly stop when a certain person entered the room. People were heard saying “I shouldn’t tell you this but...” and then were late for class because they couldn’t stop the dam.
It finally culminated in a meeting with several key people of the community, including the CEO of a major company who had to fly in to be part of the decision to keep the man in town or move him safely to another town. When it became clear the man was in danger, and that his life had been threatened, a unanimous decision was made to have him removed from the community ---the next day. And off he went on the airplane --- his home, job and reputation left behind.
Those of us who knew the man and vouched for his integrity, were shocked. Yet, we knew too we had been a part of the drama. How much could we have avoided by just not talking, we wondered? How much had we contributed to his loss by even saying one word behind his back? We felt awful. Who had started the rumor anyway, we asked over and over. But then realized that would only lead to another witch hunt. The damage was done. Let it be.
In the aftermath, we learned so much about human nature. At times we had felt smug, feeling better than “the gossipers”. Throughout the whole ordeal, sides had been taken. Alliances grew, bonds were made. We drew a line between “us” and “them”. Yet, the funny thing was, we were a part of it too. We too were gossiping...about the gossipers. We were right and they were wrong. Lines were drawn in the sand. A war had begun.
But at what cost? Backbiting indeed. As we continued to take sides, this man’s back had been bitten over and over again. As the Muslims describe it, he had become “a victim” without “any chance of defense”, his own defense.
Like the people in the story with Jesus, we all had stones in our hands ready to throw at the victim --- any victim as long as it wasn’t ourselves...until we realized it could have been any one of us.
After our friend was forced to leave Qik, we all dropped our stones and walked away from the maelstrom of gossip we had created...or so we thought. Weren’t we surprised when rumours started about the teacher!!! He was to be the next victim in the witch hunt.
It was time to find out who the ring master was of this gossip circus.
We didn’t have to wait long. Two days after our friend was gone, the teacher was called into the principal’s office.
“You’ve been asked to attend a meeting after school today at the hamlet,” she said. The hamlet here is equivalent to a city council in a larger town.
“What’s it about?” the teacher asked.
“I can’t tell you,” she said tersely. “All I know is, the hamlet finance officer was in my office today and shared with me a list of grievances she has against you; she said you have been very unprofessional. She’s asked that you attend this meeting.”
Long ago we knew which side our principal was on. When the teacher told her he was not going to any meeting until he called our union, she gave him an ultimatum. Hearing this did not make it easy for any of us at work. No one wanted to risk their job and step up to the plate in his defence. I wanted to go to the meeting with my friend as a witness, but he wouldn’t have it. He had it in his mind what he was going to say and felt confident in his innocence.
As he left for the meeting, I remember thinking how like the Salem witch hunts this whole fiasco had become. Don’t get me wrong; I love my job and my students. But I felt sick to my stomach, thinking about how wrong all this was. Our friend was guilty before being proven innocent...and so was the teacher. How could the fiasco have gotten this far? I went to my room and prayed.
An hour later my friend returned to the school. He told me it was nothing but an attack on his integrity and reputation. “Dawn,” he said, “it was two women, and one of them did all the talking, the finance officer. She told me I needed to spend more time reflecting on my lifestyle and my choices. She said I needed to make better choices. She said...” His voice broke and he couldn’t finish his story. His face was patchy red with rashes and he was visibly shaking. “I don’t even know this woman and she’s telling me how to live my life! It was incredible!”
“What did you say to her?” I asked.
“I just let her talk, and talk, and talk. She was full of anger and hatred towards me. Why? What on earth have I done to this woman? I let her finish her attack...and when she was done I said one thing to her: ‘I don’t like you and I don’t have to like you. But I respect your profession and I will continue to act civilly towards you and continue to act professionally in my job as a teacher.’ And then I got up and walked out. I honestly don’t think she was expecting that.”
I’m happy to say that was the end of it; the end of the gossip. My teacher friend nipped it in the bud before it ended his career. With diplomacy and honesty, he confronted this woman and her angry spirit.
A few days later we finally found out the source of the spark that lit this fire: her male partner was a teacher who had been turned away from a job at the school (actually my job!). Why? ...because his birth date was the same as someone with a criminal record. He was not a criminal, but because he had the same birth date as a criminal, the RCMP had to do finger printing and another lengthy investigation. Not only was he not allowed into the school until he had this clearance, he was removed out of Nunavut until the investigation was completed. Meanwhile, they needed someone for the job and guess who got hired? Me!
If you care to read the story of this fiasco with my job, here is the website: http://nnsl.com/archive/pdf-archives/nu121911.pdf It was actually printed in a Nunavut newspaper in December and the headline reads: “Same Birthday as Sex Offender Costs Man Job”. It can be found on page 5 of The Nunavut News/North newspaper. After what this woman did to one man and tried to do to another, it grieves me to say she and her partner, the next month when he was allowed back in Nunavut, adopted an Inuit new born baby girl without hassle, investigation or questioning. I know because the social worker who had to sign the papers is my friend. She said she was forced to sign the papers because of the influence this woman has in the North; obviously not enough to get her male partner a teaching job --- hence the gossip and the revenge. May God save and protect that little baby girl.
Why this woman never went after me, I will never know. But I do believe the good Lord is teaching me a lesson about gossip. Like Norman Rockwell’s painting, I feel like one of the women in the long destructive chain of gossip. Like the women in his other painting, I tried telling myself “I’m not gossiping, I’m networking”...but the truth of the matter is, I contributed to the circus... I also believe “The Truth shall set you free.” John 8:32
By admitting this, I believe I’ve gotten one good shot at my Goliath.
God bless you all!
|Posted on 12 January, 2016 at 17:55||comments (0)|
CAMBRIDGE BAY NEWSLETTER # 1
"THE SEARCH FOR..."
Whether it is the search for the Northwest Passage, or the search for truth; whether it is the search for a life partner, or the search for a purpose in life, there arrives that moment of awareness when we come face to face with the man or woman in the mirror and we ask these questions:
Who am I?
What am I doing with my life?
Where am I headed? When will I get there?
Why am I here?
I turned 60 this year; sixty, a huge milestone in any person’s life, a time for major reflection.
Reflection # 1: Who am I?
Both my parents passed away from cancer. A sad and daunting fact I face every day of my life. I think of their happy faces, the lives they led, their legacy, and wonder what their search was. I asked my Mom, before she died, what was the most important value a person could possess. Without hesitation, from her deathbed, she said, “The way we treat others.” When I look back at my Mother’s life, I truly see the way she treated others was her mission. Her search was to find ways to help others on their journey in life. From her open door policy to her unmatched willingness to listen to others; from her AA commitment to her personalized cards, my Mother’s search was altruistic and humanistic in her nature --- and in her deeds.
Her face to me is the face of an angel and will be etched in my memory for eternity.
Last week, the CBC did a tribute to Raylene Rankin, a famous singer from the east coast. She also recently died of cancer. One of her songs was played during the program, and as I listened, I thought of my Father and my Mother:
“We rise again in the faces of our children,” she sang..... “We look to our sons and daughters to explain our lives...”
Cancer can take our loved ones away like a thief in the night...but it cannot take away their legacies. Who am I? I am my Mother and Father’s daughter; I am the Mother of my children and the grandmother of their children. I am a child of God. We each have a legacy, a spiralling circle of the many faces of our ancestors past and present and on into eternity through God’s immeasurable love for us and our unconditional love for each other.
Reflection #2: What am I doing with my life? At what point in our lives do we stop seeing the world through innocent eyes and seek the complications of fame and fortune, of wealth and status? When exactly do we start losing the values taught in kindergarten?
Values like: “Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.”
These words are some of the literary gems found in Robert Fulghum’s poem called, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten . http://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/842/36.html
How simple! How true! I reflect on the lives of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe...and the lives of Gandhi and Terry Fox. What did they do with their lives? How did they touch the lives of others? What was the final act on the stage of their lives? I recently watched the biography of Howard Hughes, “The Aviator”, and pondered this question. As a teenager, Howard Robard Hughes declared that his goals in life were to become the world's best golfer, the world's best pilot and the world's best movie producer. He, in fact, accomplished much of what he set out to do, becoming “a brave experimental pilot (he broke many modern aviation records of the time), an ingenious inventor, a shrewd and cunning businessman, a Hollywood film producer and director, the owner of several airlines, and the creator of several distinct airplanes.” http://www.craigerscinemacorner.com/Reviews/aviator.htm
However, he also descended into a sad reclusive existence. Locked in darkened rooms and terrified of germs, he became a nomad, moving from hotel to hotel, addicted to codeine and other painkillers, was extremely frail, wore tissue boxes as shoes, and stored his urine in jars. “As time passed and he became even more of a crazy neurotic, he died alone in 1976 and left an estate worth over a billion dollars. All in all, Hughes was a sad man with moments of genius and glory.” http://www.craigerscinemacorner.com/Reviews/aviator.html
What happened to this man whose dreams were huge and fulfilled, but whose soul was tormented and finally destroyed?
This is a question that Susan Whitbourne, Ph.D., asks in her book The Search for Fulfillment. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201002/famous-people-bad-decisions-when-celebrities-falter She asks: “Why do people who have everything going for them commit such huge blunders, ruining not only their public images but also their family lives, career, and ultimately, the way in which history remembers them?” Ah, yes, the search for fulfillment. How can we stay on the right path that leads to fulfillment at any age? How can we avoid that “downward slope” that she says leads to tragedy; how can we avoid what Shakespeare describes as “a sound and fury that signifies nothing”? Robert Fulghum, the author of the kindergarten poem, believes he has an answer. He writes that everything we need to know is in “the sand pile at Sunday School”: “The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation... Ecology and politics and equality and sane living... Take any of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm.” http://www.kalimunro.com/learned_in_kindergarten.html
Is the search for “what am I doing with my life?” really that simple; is the search for fulfillment really that straightforward? Fame and fortune, genius and glory, sound and fury; or the Golden Rule and love and sane living. Whew....what a choice... Of course it’s not that simple. We all live in shades of grey. Take Michael Jackson for example. Another man who “had it all”, he too ended up with a tragic final act to his life. His choices led him, not to a concluding moment in time surrounded by loved ones, but a body riddled with drugs and insanity... despite the words to his song “The Man in the Mirror” that say:
I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change
Did he “change his ways”? I’m reminded of another who has “everything going for him”. Think of Bill Gates. He may be a rare exception to that rule of a “downward slope”. Just recently The Octopus, a ship he owns with his partner, Paul Allen, arrived up here in Cambridge Bay. They were taking people on a trip from the east coast of Canada to the west coast, following in the footsteps of Franklin in his search for the Northwest Passage. Although his own personal search has earned him millions of dollars, he is not one to keep it to himself. As Erichammer wrote of Bill: “He is also an incredibly smart guy who built a business from nothing into one of the largest companies in the world and who today spends his billions of dollars to try to do some good in the world.” http:/www.quantumseolabs.com/blog/rambling/7-lessons-bill-gates-teach/
When asked what one of his goals in life was, he said, “Know where you can do the most good.” What did he do? “He decided to follow his passion and go where he could do the most good… He had a vision …that money is no good unless you spread it around quite a little bit…Today, Gates is no longer known for being a shrewd business man. Instead, Gates is today known for being one of the world’s greatest philanthropists with a special interest in education. He has decided that he can do the most good in this new role of his and indeed, he has helped to transform education in many ways.”
The article on Bill Gates ends with these words: “Bill Gates is one remarkable man. He is one of the wealthiest men alive and today he spends his time giving money away. However, he also has an awful lot to teach every one of us about how to be successful in life. He’s a great role model to follow even if you’re not a particularly big fan of Windows and Microsoft Office and as such, it’s worthwhile to pay attention when this man speaks and offers up his pearls of wisdom.” http://www.quantumseolabs.com/blog/rambling/7-lessons-bill-gates-teach/
I’m listening Bill Gates!
So, the question remains...“What am I doing with my life?” I, again, am reminded of my dear Mother. She wasn’t perfect, but she was precious, and so was her mission. Others, like Bill Gates, inspire me, but my Mother inspires me the most. My mission? To follow in her footsteps, treat others the way I want to be treated, the Golden Rule, and “pay it forward”. Not always easy, but actually possible.
|Posted on 12 January, 2016 at 17:20||comments (0)|
"TAIMA" NEWSLETTER # 14
THE LAST ONE!
The Inuit language spoken here in the mid Arctic is “Inuinnaqtun”. It is an ancient language that is slowly but surely disappearing from the land. Most of the elders here in Cambridge Bay speak it, some middle-aged adults speak it, but the kids...well, that’s where it stops. They know some of the basic words like “quana” (thank you), and “qanuritpit” (how are you) and of course, the names of animals. But they don’t speak sentences and carry on conversations in Inuinnaqtun.
An important Inuit word that I have learned while teaching my students is the word “taima”. It means “the end”, “enough”, “that’s all”. And that, my dear readers, is the topic of my last newsletter of the great white North. The end of my time here, the conclusion of an illustrious career in the Arctic, is soon to happen... and it is with a mixture of both excitement and sadness that I face my taima. Funny how it sounds like my kids saying to me: it’s “time Ma”. And I totally agree: it’s taima for me to say goodbye to the North, farewell to my life here, adios to my students, and sayonara to my teaching career.
I heard the other day, that when God closes a window, He opens a door. “Knock and the door will be opened...” Matthew 7:7
My Dad had a wonderfully positive slant on the word retirement. He used to call this phase in our lives the “manuring” stage. He loved to garden, so many of his comments were images of the land, the earth he loved to work in his hands, the things he grew in his backyard. Isn’t it true that we are shaped and fashioned by what we love? Dad was an amateur gardener. The word “amateur” comes from the Latin “amo” – to love. He gardened because he loved to see things grow.
I would like to spend this “taima” chapter of my life in the North sharing with you the many things I have come to love here.
The Land: Nunavut means “our land” to the Inuit. Having spent 6 years in the North, I too, have come to love the land. I didn’t always feel that way. I remember the first time I saw this great territory from an airplane...vast, white, mountainous, and scary. How could people live here? I wondered. Am I crazy? I gasped. There’s nothing down there but ice and rock and glaciers. What if the plane had to land...how would we survive?
When we finally landed safely on Baffin Island in the tiny hamlet of Clyde River, my fears were not put to rest. Instead, when I walked from the plane to the small building they called the airport terminal, I stared out at a desert, and thought I was on the moon. Later I was told that was the moment many people turned around and got back on the plane and never came back.
Eight months later, I agreed to go out to a cabin for two days and a night. Going “out on the land” is similar to “going to the cottage” for us down south. There were 12 of us, and I’ll never forget arriving at this little cabin in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of March. It was a one-room make shift shack, with no insulation. Again I thought, How do these people do it? There was no wood stove, no means of heat...just wooden walls.
Standing beside the Inuit woman who was our guide, I looked out the one window and said to her: “I don’t see a thing out there except snow.” She smiled and put her hand on my shoulder: “Everything we need is out there.” When I later had to “use the toilet”, I found out a low wall of snow with a hole behind it did quite nicely, thank you.
Two years later I experienced heaven on earth in a tiny harbour called Inugsuin Fiord. Surrounding the harbour were ancient glaciers glistening under a hot summer sun. An Inuit family had graciously invited me out to their cabin for a feast.
We went by boat and on the way, they stopped several times to shoot some ducks. And that was our feast when we arrived: fresh duck boiled in glacier water over a sedge fire...and tea, gallons of tea made from water pouring down from the mountains of ice.
It was on the land that I saw my first polar bear, lumbering across the ice. They aren’t white, by the way; they’re more vanilla coloured. Under their fur lies skin that is black and thick. He was running away from our ski-doo, but he stopped several times and turned his massive head towards us as if to say, “Heh, you humans, leave me alone”.
Now that’s a live polar bear. This week walking down the road, I passed by a dead one, its hide hanging on a pole...only in Nunavut will you see something like that on the way to work.
It was on Baffin land that I came face to face with that massive primeval piece of ice called a glacier. In awe I stood before it, feeling the power of our Creator...and fearing the lives of my students as they walked towards. They insisted it was “ok”, these young experts of the land...
The Northwest Passage is indelibly printed in my heart, the day I stood on the south coast of Victoria Island and dipped my hands in its frigid water.
This is where so many sailors yearned to travel, in years gone by, I thought, trying to find a way from east to west through the Arctic channels. Some men made it part way and lived to return home and tell the tale; others died in their efforts, like Franklin. And as we all know now, one of Franklin’s ships, The Erebus, was recently found just north of Cambridge Bay, sunk below the ice off the hamlet of Gjoa Haven.
And oh, the many trips with students by ski-doos and qamutiks...what fun traveling up and down the hills and valleys out to the frozen lakes to jig for char.
What a great adventure to go out to the floe edge, the actual edge of the Arctic sea shelf, where seals bob in the icy mist as they ponder who the two-legged creatures are staring back at them. I will miss this mysterious, majestic land of the midnight sun. And oh, did I mention the fresh air unlike any other in the world? And the Northern Lights ...?
The Children: and then there’s the children; the frustrating, endearing children. Honest, open, care-free, precocious, naive, innocent, nasty, loving...my list could go on and on and never capture the true nature of Inuit kids. I figure over my 6 year stay in the North, I’ve taught over 200 children; some for only a day when they dropped into the school to see the new “kabloonak” lady teacher; and some for 2 years in a row. I’ve heard everything from their mouths. You name it, I’ve heard it. Some of it I believe, some I dare not believe. Some I’ve had to report; some I’ve just had to ignore. Like the Pope once said: See everything, overlook a lot, correct a little. His words became my motto.
These kids, you can’t help loving them, even when they drive you to tears. They parent their parents; they boast of adoption; they hug you when you’re down; they yell out your name half way across town when they see you; they share their horrible secrets; they scrunch their nose to say no and raise their eyebrows to say yes; they cry and curse without shame and hug without reserve. They truly are God’s children. Honest to the core. As Jesus said, “Let the little children to come to Me.” Matthew 19:14
I will miss their early morning sleepy smiles; their days when they feel “backwards” with the midnight sun; their curiosity about life “Outside”; their amazing athletic bodies that can go hours in sport competitions; their stories of hunting caribou and polar bears; their genuine love of life in the North. This year I learned one of my students wants to be a lawyer; another a baker; one a mechanic; another a nurse; one a writer and games designer; another a musician (like Metallica!); and two want to be pilots. One is a girl who can’t wait to “fly above the ground and feel the air under the wings and rain on metal”....
The last week of May was our school’s graduation, and I’m pleased to report, eleven students made their presence on the stage, proud as could be.
Isn’t this one of the reasons why we teach?... to lead them, with confidence, integrity and perseverance, to their final destination in public school...their own personal taima...Then, it’s off to college or university or a job or training. Whatever they choose to do, I hope they do it with passion, and are shaped and fashioned by what they love.
The Culture: I can honestly say I will miss the culture. Numerous Inuit have knocked on my door in the 3 Arctic hamlets I’ve lived in (Clyde River & Qikiqtarjuaq on Baffin Island, and Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island) selling some very strange items:
- Caribou legs to bake in the oven
- Cups of muktuk (whale skin & blubber) cut into cubes & eaten raw
- 2 foot frozen char ...later cut up & served on cardboard & eaten at feasts
- Seal eyes (considered a delicacy)
- Burgers made from musk ox
- Fresh bannock buns with raisins
- Seal skin/fox fur gloves & kamiks (soft seal skin boots)
- Carvings galore made out of musk ox & caribou bones & antlers & soapstone
- Snow goggles made out of any kind of animal bone (to prevent snow blindness)
- Magnificent white fox furs
- Inuit tea cosies (they love their tea!)
- Atigi of immaculate design (Inuit parka)
- Zipper pulls
-ookpiks (owls) made out of seal skin
Although throat singing is not unique just to Nunavut, it is nonetheless a cultural experience that is amazing to hear for anyone not familiar to it. And it is still practised among Inuit women today, sung only in duets in a kind of entertaining contest to see who can outlast the other. You have to hear it to believe it...I’ve attached a youtube video for you to listen to if you’re so inclined. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNb2ZDjeiU4
Then there’s the drum dancing, an ancient art traditionally done by men, but many Inuit women now practise it. The drumming was used in spiritual ceremonies to ask the spirits for good luck in hunting...I’ve also heard the drumming was used as lullabies. Last week, my students and I had the good fortune of learning how to make our own Inuit drum, taught by two elders in town. I have never seen a group of teenagers so engaged as I have this week making their drums: they measured, sanded, chiselled, cut, stretched and strung for hours, trying to put this ancient art into practise with their hands-on enthusiasm.
Then there’s the practise of adoption. I will never forget my first experience with a young Inuit girl telling me with pride that she was adopted. In my culture, it is not so much something to be proud of as something to live with. However, up here in these tiny hamlets, being adopted means staying in the extended family; it means being taken into the home and hearts of a grandparent, an aunt and uncle, a cousin, an older brother or sister; it means staying in the community and being able to visit your birth parents. In the past, this kind of adoption (called by the Inuit Customary Adoption) served the child and family and community well; today it is not as easily accepted, because of government and legal implications. However, I’ve heard it takes a good 6 years to do the paperwork; so, meanwhile, the Inuit carry on with the tradition as they wait for “approval” from the systems that dictate. All I can say is, I love nothing better than to hear a child tell me, “Miss, I’m adopted!”, and feel the love radiate from her bright smiling face. Who am I to judge?!!
And oh, have I mentioned:
- the husky dog teams and komatiks (Inuit sled)?
- the umiaks (woman’s canoe)
- and kakivaks (hunting spear)
- the qulliqs (soap stone lamp/stove)
- the face tattooing with soot & needle
- the Inuit games & artwork
- and last but not least, wonderful welcoming Glad Tidings Church...that place of song and prayer and fellowship and love.
I could go on and on...but I won’t. My final word will be plain:
Life up here in the Great White North can be pretty simple. You go to work, you come home. Sure there are plenty of things you can do besides work and go home: you can visit friends, shop at the 2 stores, go to the post office, go to the library, go for a walk with your dog...Gracie... read, play video games, sew, curl & skate & play hockey in the winter, fish, hunt, cook, bake...but these are choices, not fast-paced necessities...
Well, that’s it folks, TAIMA... “the end”, “enough”, “that’s all” I want to say...other than a great big THANK YOU, gracias, merci, shukran, quana, for the many years you’ve listened to me rant and rave, share and wonder at life in the Great White North through my 50 odd newsletters.
Without you...and without the Inuit...there would have been no beginning newsletter and ...no taima. There truly is “a time for every purpose under heaven”. Eccl 3:1
I love you all...God bless...and see you soon. Dawn
|Posted on 11 January, 2016 at 20:45||comments (0)|
A WESTERN WOMAN’S JOURNEY INTO THE MIDDLE EAST
Dawn Elizabeth Neill
Emails, diary entries, letters and newsletters of life in the Middle East
Serendipity…a discovery of things by accident…
At a job fair in Toronto, I kept hearing the word “Kuwait”…and wondered where on earth it was. I knew it was somewhere in the Middle East. I knew of Desert Storm…but I did not know it would become my home six months later…unveiling people, places and events that I never would have dreamed of, let alone experience.
I had always kept a diary; but now, living in the Middle East, away from family and friends, I wrote more in my diary and began writing lengthy emails and newsletters and sent them home. Everyone kept saying, “write a book”, “keep your stories”…so, this is it: my story of a journey into the Middle East.
Although all the stories are based on true events, names have been changed to protect the individuals involved. This choice is, in itself, a “cover up”. We all “cover up” for different reasons: protection, deception… So much in Kuwait is kept under cover, unshared, unspoken; from the individual Kuwaiti’s way of life, to their families, their institutions, right on up the pyramid to their Amir.
One of the most often-used words in Kuwait is “haram” meaning forbidden, not allowed. Alcohol is “haram”, yet high ranking officials have it “secretly” brought into the country by the shipload. But this “cover up” is what makes Kuwait fascinating, alluring, a dichotomy.
As I began putting the book together, I noticed how different the west is from the east…but I also noticed how similar they are. Each individual, each nation has its own hidden agendas and issues, whether we like to admit it or not…including myself.
It is my hope that this book will help a little to bridge the huge gap between west and east. We may not understand our differences; we may fight and disagree…but in the end, we all sweat, cry and bleed…and cover up.
Consider my story a sneak peak into a world vastly different from the western side of the globe…and yet, in many ways the same.
Consider it the unveiling of a plea to embrace diversity…an open letter to both sides of the world.
Consider it a mosaic of many tidbits put together to hang on the global wall of memories and memoirs.
Consider it a discovery of things by accident…
|Posted on 11 January, 2016 at 20:40||comments (0)|
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we give account.” Hebrews 4:13
August 20, 2000 DIARY
Tonight I said goodbye to my family for a whole year…maybe more. I’m off to Kuwait. They really don’t want me to go. They’ve been watching CNN and have visions of terrorism in the Middle East; Palestine and Israel at war; men getting their hands chopped off for stealing; women being stoned to death for infidelity; Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait.
It’s funny how, even though I know they’re worried, I’m not…I feel good about it actually, almost like I’m meant to go. I’ve tried to reassure them. I’ve contacted teachers already there, single women who have been teaching in Kuwait for over a year; and they tell me that CNN is way off center…
All I know is that I’m tired of teaching in Ontario and all the turmoil that goes with it; the strikes, the antagonism, the discontent… it’s time for a change, time for a new experience, a new adventure…maybe, just maybe I can make a difference somewhere in this world.
Am I running away? Maybe that too… all I know is this feels right…crazy maybe, but right…
Had to look on the map, though, to see where I’m going! Somewhere in the Middle East.
I feel empty leaving everyone, but I know in my heart this is where I’m to go… As my Dad always says: “Out of chicken shit grow roses…”
August 22 DIARY
I’m so damn lonely…can’t believe I’m doing this again…overseas … am I a fool? I know I’ll get over it eventually; but right now it’s so hard, without family, friends…I don’t have a computer or a phone or a car ---yet. This will pass, I know, I know, just like Mexico. But living in the present, here, now, is so damn lonely.
My little apartment is cute and cozy, decorated in Indian style and a big glass window overlooks the Persian Gulf, blue, blue, blue water! It’s been too hot to walk down to it --- about 120 degrees F. At least I’m cool in my apartment with the air conditioning… I don’t even know my address---all I know is the name of my neighborhood, Mahboula, which means “crazy women”.
Well, this is what I asked for: a totally different culture.
I sat next to a young Muslim woman on the airplane. In disbelief I listened to her talk about her life, one of total control by her father. She’d just finished three years of studying engineering in a university in Canada and was now going home to an arranged marriage, to a man she’d never met. A man her father had chosen. And she’s ok with that!
She said, “I don’t need to worry about anything. Now my husband will look after me.”
I can’t believe she’s giving up her career! One of the reasons I’m here in Kuwait is because of my career…and, of course, to travel, to be wild and free, to be single again! All of my adult life I’ve spent devoted to my kids as a single parent; “now it’s your time, Ma” they said.
So, here I am… free, but stuck in an apartment.
|Posted on 11 January, 2016 at 20:25||comments (0)|
Chapter 2 August 2000
NEWSLETTER: “No Word for Trespass”
Dear family and friends,
I finally like it here. It’s really multicultural …met some crazy people! Vanessa from Scotland, Stu from Australia, Rachel from England, Mariela from Bulgaria, Matt from the US. Over 60% of the people who live in Kuwait are foreigners. Vanessa works at the same school and we live in the same complex for teachers. I went next door to her apartment this afternoon and said, “there’s a pool next door at Fintas Towers; want to go over with me and ask if we can use it?”
By the way, I have started working, but today is Thursday and it’s the first day of the weekend in the Middle East. Friday is their holy day. Walking across the desert in 120-degree weather is something I don’t want to do too often. I guess that’s why everything closes and everyone sleeps in the afternoon from 1-4, because of the heat. We were glad to finally be inside New View Towers… and out runs this guy to meet us. I thought he was a guard…but he asked me where my accent was from and …it’s been crazy ever since!
Matt’s here in Kuwait to work for the Kuwait air force. Ten years ago he fought in Desert Storm as a Chief Warrant Officer in the United States Marine Corps. It’s been great spending time with him; he has a car and he’s been driving us all over Kuwait. It’s crazy on the highways, though. They drive like maniacs here.
We had our first lesson, as teachers, on the concept of “space” in Kuwait. “In Kuwait, you don’t own the ground you walk on,” stated a handout the school gave us on our first day teaching. “Someone may shove you aside to be where you are. They don’t wait in line, in banks, hallways, or the highway. There’s no word for trespass.” Kuwaitis like to be first, they told us. “Ana” means “me”, and that’s how they drive: “me first”. If we get into an accident, it’s our fault…we were in their space.
The school then warned us that Kuwait is in the Guinness Book of Records for the highest number of accidents per person in the world…and I soon found out the many reasons why: They make four lanes on a three lane highway; whip across the three/four lanes from the far left at over 120 mph within 100 yards of the turn off; don’t indicate; pass within centimeters of the car in front of them, sometimes so close, they swipe each other; flash their lights as they zoom up behind you, warning you to get out of their way; tailgate so you can’t even see their headlights behind you…I could go on and on about the driving here.
To tell you the truth, I don’t really know if I’m ready yet to rent a car…I think I’ll just have to trust Matt’s driving. He took me to the Gulf to swim today…By the way, we’re not supposed to call it the Persian Gulf. Kuwaitis call it the Arabian Gulf. In school, we were given a workshop on all the things that are censored or “haram”…I’ll tell you more about that later…but one of the things we were told is that we MUST call the gulf Arabian, not Persian. Another thing we were told was, when in public, we must dress to “conceal” …not “reveal” as in the West. You can imagine how much I’ve had to change my way of dressing! Good thing I read their handout on Kuwait culture and brought a lot of long dresses and skirts before I left Ontario.
When we got to the beach in front of Fridays restaurant, we noticed no one was around. Good time to swim; late afternoon, everyone sleeping. We thought it would be ok to quickly run into the water with our bathing suits on. I stuffed my clothes into a bag and left it on the beach.
Racing out of the hot sun and into the water, we started swimming out…it was as warm as soup. The sun seared our heads. We decided to swim out to the end of the pier, hoping the water would be cooler. At least it was more refreshing than the boiler-room air.
Half an hour into our swim, we noticed several sea-doos putting out into the water from a boat-rental business down the shoreline. For awhile we swam together keeping our eyes on them as they kept getting closer and closer. Closing in, they began racing circles around and around us, almost like they were showing off. Matt yelled at them to back off…not listening, they kept coming closer and closer. It was difficult swimming with the waves they created. Finally annoyed, we decided to head for shore.
On the beach, I could see my bag was getting wet from the waves rolling in.
“Matt,” I yelled, “my stuff is getting soaked!” The two sea-doos finally took off back down the shoreline.
When we reached the beach, we found my bag was not only wet, but empty… all my money and clothes were gone! Further down the shore, the two sea-doos had landed at the rental office. Matt was sure it was a scam…diverting our attention out on the water while someone stole the stuff from my bag. Angry, he stomped off down the beach to confront them. Meanwhile, there I was, in my bathing suit, with no towel, no clothes. Covering myself with only my arms, I ran after him. Two men came out of the office when they heard Matt shouting.
One of them said, “Saw bag floating in water.”
“Bullshit,” Matt said. “You have her money and her clothes. Hand them over right now or I’m calling the police.”
“No, sorry. No have money.”
“That’s it then…I’m calling the cops.”
As Matt turned to leave, one of them produced my wallet from behind his back. I grabbed it from his hands; it was soaked and empty. Gone was my 20 Dinar. That’s about $100 to me.
“No, that’s it…I’m calling the cops.” Matt’s Marine stance and voice must have scared them because one of them opened up his hand and showed us the money, folded in half as I’d left it in my wallet. When I offered half of it back to him, Matt gave me a look as if to say, are you mad? Happy to have my money back, I gave the man 5 KD and a kiss on the cheek. That, too, is “haram” I would later find out…
“Where are her clothes?” Matt demanded, his fists clenched. “I want her clothes right now.”
“No have clothes. Out in water. Gone.”
“Yeah, right,” Matt said. I grabbed his arm and said I was glad to have my money back. It was time to go. The afternoon was growing late. People were starting to show up.
Back at the beach in front of the restaurant, a Kuwaiti family had arrived. The father and his kids, we noticed, were wearing swim suits…his wife, too was swimming with them…but she was totally covered up from head to toe in a black abaya, the traditional Kuwaiti cloak, her clothing swirling like inky seaweed around her in the water.
At that moment, I would have given anything to be dressed like her.
|Posted on 10 January, 2016 at 19:50||comments (0)|
February 2001 NEWSLETTER: "She's Illegal"
Jealousy destroys relationships. That is Shakespeare’s message in Othello. Othello believed his "friend", Iago. He believed everything Iago said to him about his beautiful wife, Desdemona. Othello grew so jealous, believing his wife, Desdemona, was having an affair with another man, that he ended up killing her.
What is jealousy? What causes it? Insecurity? Lack of God in one’s soul? Low self-esteem? Fear?
I wonder if jealousy propels us into many primal behaviors. For example, the custom of covering up women… Our school, like many in Kuwait, has a strict dress code for the girls; one that includes a school uniform and the many rules that come with it. On top of that, if a girl has chosen to wear the hijab ( headscarf), there are more rules attached. The bottom line is: female bodies must be totally covered up. No skin must ever show, except the face and hands.
But the girls try. Almost every day at work, I hear the phrase "she's illegal”, meaning she's broken the school law…she’s not totally covered up… Maybe her ankles are showing or too much of her neck; or her clothes are too tight, showing her "hour glass figure"; maybe she’s wearing "dangling" earrings; or she’s wearing a colored hijab; maybe her shirt is not tucked in, showing her waist; or her sleeves are too short, showing her arms…
Fatima Heeren in her book Women in Muslim states: "A Muslim woman may wear whatever she pleases in the presence of her husband and family or among women friends. But when she goes out or when men other than her husband or close family are present, she is expected to wear a dress which will cover all parts of her body, and which should not reveal the figure." (Pg 25)
Every Saturday at school, those girls who have committed a cultural offense, who have dared to show their skin or figure, are paraded in front of all the girls and made an example of "what not to wear". The high school principal announces every Saturday from a loud speaker on the auditorium stage: “Thou shalt conform.” Those who are wearing an outfit that is considered really offensive, are forced to call home and they miss school for the day. Principles…or principal… before personality is the order of the day.
Speaking of principles, our principal, Ms. Walice is a study in dichotomy. Born and raised an American, she is now anti-American anything and everything. Born and raised a Catholic, and trained as a nun, she is now a strict Muslim. How or why did she convert? She told the story to a bunch of teachers in the staffroom one day: a group of other training nuns were asked to give a tour of their church to a group of visiting Muslims in her home town in Alabama. To her surprise, one of them, fully clothed in Muslim dress, confessed to her that she was American but had converted to Islam when she married her Syrian husband, who she had sent away for in a Syrian catalogue advertising men as potential husbands.
Miss Walice is now happily married to a Syrian. Mr. Walice is a wonderfully kind soft-spoken man who, although he dearly loves her, lets her “wear the pants” in the family. Everyone, even her husband, admits Ms. Walice does have her soft side though…every two months she allows the girls to have what she calls "free dress" days…but even these days have strict rules attached to them (ie: no low cut tops).
Even so, the girls still find ways to go crazy in their freedom to express themselves. Everyone is "illegal" on free dress day. Although the bottom line is that all skin is covered, in and out of school, in public there are different degrees and variations to the theme of covering up.
In Kuwait there are 3 classes or tribes of women: at the top of the pyramid is the modern Kuwaiti woman who is a legal citizen; then the Bedouin woman; and at the bottom is the Bedoun woman, who is not a landed legal resident. This class system is evident in their attire. The modern Kuwaiti woman wears western-style clothes, with long sleeves and legs totally covered, very modern and chic, and wrap colorful hijabs around their heads. Others choose to wear the traditional hijab and abaya (like the Bedouin women) over gorgeous colourful clothes. And the women from the Bedoun tribes dress the most conservatively, totally covered up from head to toe with the hijab, abaya, gloves and a veil, with only the eyes showing.
The choice of attire depends on the class of family one comes from and the tribe. But again, the bottom line is from top to bottom, all skin must be covered. As Fatima Heeren states: "It is therefore required for a Muslim woman when she goes out, to wear a dress that covers her from head to foot and does not reveal the figure. According to some scholars only the hands and face should be left uncovered, while according to some others the face should also be covered." Of course, the Quran demands that they cover up. "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw upon them their over-garments. That is more appropriate so that they may be recognized and not molested." (33:59)
The Quran requires that: "when they appear in public, to cover themselves in a modest type of dress so as not to attract men."
Cover themselves. Not to attract men. Dress to conceal. Dress modestly. These are the rules of this culture…but what is considered modest? In this society, modesty has varying degrees. It's all up to the ones in power: the culture police, the school administration, the religious leaders, the government, the head of the family, the tribe…and peer pressure.
I asked, Batool, a 10th grade student I was tutoring, why she recently decided to begin wearing the hijab.
"My family wanted me to...but it's also because I want to belong. All my friends wear the hijab."
I asked her when she was allowed to remove it, and who now was allowed to see her hair. Her hair was luxuriously long and beautiful. And now she would never again show her hair in public. As we sat together in class writing a reading response, she kept fiddling with her hijab, unwrapping it, wrapping it. I could see bits of her hair escaping from the skull cap that she wore to keep her hair in place. Later I would learn that many women had problems with hair loss because of these caps.
"So, Batool, who will ever get to see your gorgeous hair now?"
She chose to answer in the negative. "The only people I can't show my hair to now are people I could marry." We went over the list: cousins, distant relatives, friends of the family, all men of marrying age; and any male who was a stranger: basically, anyone who was a potential future husband. Once she was married, she could remove her hijab in front of him and other close family male members. But never again will she publicly show her hair in front of other men.
Going back to the Quran, I wondered again about the phrase "so as not to attract men". Othello… Jealousy. Temptation. Why cover up women? So as not to "attract men".
Many of the girls use the image of a pearl to describe themselves: “Miss, our families think of us as pearls. We must be kept pure and rare as a pearl for our future husbands.” …an apt metaphor for a country that still dives for these gems. Pearls that must be protected, rarely to be seen, owned and viewed by a few. Lest she tempt the masses…and risk being molested. Segregation of the sexes; another answer to the problem of attraction. Don’t just cover the females, but separate them from the males: in schools, universities, weddings, public functions.
As one journalist wrote in the Kuwaiti Arab Times:
“Society on the March: At Kuwait university, women and men are segregated to prevent them from ‘sin’.”
Back to our school…Ms. Walice places the dress code at the top of her daily priority list. Even though the girls are segregated from the boys and have their own floor, with strict, and I mean strict rules not to go to the boy’s floor, and even though they are totally covered up… the reality is that there are males everywhere in the school: men teachers and male “harises” (school janitors) and male parents. So, the girls have to be taught at an early age to dress modestly and cover up, to stay on their own floor, segregated from the boys…for their own protection.
This part of their culture "is deeply ingrained," said a Western teacher who had married a Kuwaiti Muslim man; she has two daughters who chose to wear the hijab. "Even if their religion says it's ok to choose the hijab or not, most choose to wear it, because their culture dictates they must segregate and they must conceal.”
She's illegal…attraction, jealousy, temptation. Shakespeare really knew his stuff. Desdemona has the word “demon” in her name for obvious reasons. Temptress? Seducer? Imagine if Desdemona had never socialized with Iago… Imagine if Othello’s beautiful wife had dressed modestly and covered up… To conceal or to reveal?…that is the question.
NEWS ARTICLE in the Kuwaiti Arab Times that inspired me to write the above newsletter:
"Dress Code for OFW converts
By Tomara M. Ayo, Ph.d. Shari’a Lawyer
Since I got married to an Arab husband, he has been asking me to observe the Muslim dress code for women, i.e. a black robe or abaya paired with hijab or headscarf. As a convert and keen on knowing more about Islam, I wanted to know the basis of my husband’s request under Shari’a or Islamic law because I know many Muslim Arabs and non-Arabs, who are not observing the dress cod. Please enlighten me.
Yours in Islam, Nadja
Thank you for your e-mail letter. I wish to inform you that your husband is only doing his duty as a Muslim to convey to you the message of Islam. I also agree with you that many Muslim women are not observing the Muslim dress code. However, I wish to inform you further that Islam places a dress code upon its followers. For women, it is not necessarily a black robe or abaya, but as long as it is modest in form and appearance.
In Sura Nur, Verse 31 of the Holy Ouran it states that: TELL THE BELIEVING WOMEN TO LOWER THEIR GAZE AND GUARD THEIR PRIVATE PARTS AND NOT TO DISPLAY THEIR ADORNMENTS (I.E. HAIR, BODY SHAPE) EXCEPT THAT WHICH NORMALLY APPEARS THEREOF (I.E. FACE, HANDS) AND TO DRAW THEIR HEADCOVERS OVER THEIR CHESTS, AND NOT TO DISPLAY THEIR ADORNMENT EXCEPT TO THEIR HUSBANDS, FATHERS, HUSBAND’S FATHERS, SONS…(AND MALE RELATIVES, IN WHOSE MARRIAGE IS FORBIDDEN).
One of the garments women also wear is the hijab (of which the headscarf is one component) to ensure that their bodies are decently and modestly covered. The word hijab is derived from the Arabic word hijaba which means “to hide from sight or view” or “to conceal”. Hijab means to cover the head as well as the body. The use of hijab is an old practice. Historians and artists picture Mariam, mother of Prophet Isah (Jesus Christ) wearing hijab.
Men have a dress code too, but it is more relaxed. The loins must be covered from knee to waist. The rule of modesty applies to both men and women. For example, a brazen stare by a man at a woman (or even at a man) is a breach of refined manner. This rule is not only a “good form”, but an act of guarding and protecting the women’s honour and men’s spiritual good. And on account of culture and social life, a greater amount of privacy is required for women than men, especially in the matter of dress and the uncovering of the bosom. The rationale given for this rule is that men and women are not to be viewed as sexual objects. Hence, in some strict Muslim countries, infringement of this rule may result in beatings or admonitions.
In addition, Shari’a jurists emphasize that Islamic dress code is not meant for fashion, but to protect the believers, men and women alike, from public seduction and lust.
I hope that I have enlightened you and the other women who are not observing the Muslim dress code. Still, I am subject to commit error. Only Allah knows best.
Sources: The Holy Quran Ruqayyah Waris Maqsood, Dictionary of Islam
This writer can be reached at [email protected]"