Wednesday, December 28, 2011


The litany worked, slowly anyway. Initially, it took four or five "jerks" to drive the laughter away, eventually only one or two. Each salvo kept it away a bit longer until it was just a soft plea from a distant hurt. She slept. She knew better, when she woke, to hope it had been a significant respite; a quick but lazy turn to the clock upheld the verdict - just barely two hours, typical. She would wrestle now, fighting to regain sleep, drifting in and out with the song, and tossing about the bed as if there was some new place, some hidden portal to a good night's sleep long lost to her. There was a byproduct of that short nap though, the remnant of a dream that would stay for the next few hours. She was sitting at a train station, emerging into her own sight as the train pulled away. She was much smaller, but not younger. Just sitting there, diminutive in stature and in her silence.
The image startled her, as did every image every night the last eight hundred nights. It was never the same dream, never the same straggler that followed her through the next series of trials. They were never gruesome or grotesque, just unexpected. She never had them long enough to analyze, their only function was to to emulsify the four or five hours ahead of her, to string together the tussle necessary to deem it an episode. Time for the latest installment, with no prayer for an epilogue anytime soon.
Sitting on the ramp of the train station with her legs dangling over carelessly, staring at nothing in particular.  This was where she woke, watching a train move slowly on past. The girl was lonely and haunting, and she couldn't stand looking into the vacant eyes so she thrust herself over and willed herself back to sleep.
It wouldn't be a half an hour or so until she stirred, right back at the train station, her body light and hollow, except for a terrible draft racing through her, a draft of dread. It was an unnamed thing, something that gutted her and left her almost in a panic - a thing that would only be driven away by returning to sleep, or getting up and joining the day.  Given that she rarely got enough sleep anyway, waking up and getting out of bed in the middle of the night really wasn't an option.  She would continue the pitiful cycle, sleeping, stirring, fretting, and praying for the night to slide past as painlessly as possible. She knew too, that her life was slipping by, and if she survived this period, she would have given him a terribly extravagant gift, she would had given him almost all of her pain.
She knew the rules, she would cycle like this for several more hours before waking and facing that last trimester of the ordeal where the devil was in charge of all the details. For now, she could count on the refractory grace of her turmoil, much like the Karsakoff victim who had no short-term memory - pain and anguish would subside for a bit, before being reconstituted by a new encounter, a new awakening.  Most nights she preferred a movie as her companion through the arduous loop, measuring the efficacy of her relief by where she was in the movie each time she woke. The song offered no such luxury with its terse and callous orbit.
She woke four or five times that night, each to a departing train and a despondent witness, perhaps symbolizing her indifferent martyrdom to an insignificant love. She didn't want the little girl to go away necessarily, she only tried to will the train back to obfuscate the petite but living indictment of her pathetic existence, for a few hours anyway. As tormentors went, this evening's phantom was manageable, but residually unsettling - it would be a bad and lonely day when she eventually rose from her bed.  Stage two almost complete, she looked with measured insolence at the alarm clock knowing the last bit of the night had arrived, the bit she feared the most.  Although awake, it would be like the dream you would become aware of midway, having the assurance you would survive it, but the knowledge that you had yet to endure it.  Endurance, the newest notion that she had now lost all romantic connotation for.....

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


The computer still had a say-so about things, at night anyway. He was no longer on the other end, but it would provide her a buttressed lullaby, a movie or a song set to repeat though the ordeal, and as she would wake and stir, she would find a familiar miscellany of notes, a comfortable, habituated bit of dialogue and ride it gently back to sleep. Wonderwall or Shutter Island, neither connected directly to him, both oddly and inexplicably were comforting to her - the only question was which. Tonight it would be Wonderwall, the Ryan Adams version, slow and steady, all she had to do was type "repeat" in the YouTube URL and it would play all night. A nice trick she had recently picked up, and she wondered how many other souls were out there in their darkness, burying their pain in some eerie echo, some lovelorn loop.She started the song, turned away from the screen, still unable to cope with the residue of his image burned permanently into the lower corner where MSN Messenger would be if she had ever activated it again after the last time they spent the night streamed together through space and inequitable affection. The tune had no specific meaning for her, a few of the lines were nice, a few not very useful to her now. Perhaps it was just a sweet song she could fantasize singing to him, something to win him back, and if not, to crush him with her pain, buried incessantly in the morose melody. These were stupid little fabrications that gave her temporary mettle, temporary peace.
She pulled the comforter up over her shoulder and slid her head softly between the two pillows that she had always planned to share. Behind her, I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now buffeted her in irony, but not remorse. It was a nice song, she would transcend the lyrical dissonance and just float with it until she found the mental key that would incarcerate her memory, would prohibit their invasion of her sanity. It would be a single word or a short phrase. Something to hammer back the apparition that would come to her, impudent in its inculcation, relentless in its shape shifting synthesis. It was never the same image, never a consistent cognition. She would have to  wait with the song until it came, then find a way to battle it.
Backbeat the word is on the street that the fire in your heart is out opened this evening's door. They were somewhere, together laughing lightly at the notion of her still pining over him two and a half years later. The lilt she heard stabbed at her, far too strong this long out. But it did, and as usual, she indulged the injury until she could find its utility, or until it tore open her already hemorrhaging heart. Masochism, she thought, was not an avocation of the perverse or depraved, it was simply a symptom of survival, a prognosis of fairly fought pain. She found her psalm quickly this night, perhaps in inverse proportion to the trauma of this most recent phantom - one word, simple, "jerk."
It wasn't him or her, this was an inward indictment of her own stupidity, her own weakness, her private, pallid pity. Jerk, jerk, jerk....would be the refrain for relief - jerk, jerk, jerk...would pound them back to their privacy and pulse her pliantly to sleep
She was sinking now, feeling the effects of the drugstore sedatives sliding up her body. The sensation was initially unpalatable, as she first felt it in her legs, making them cold and lighter than the rest of her. It would accelerate though, and in a minute or two she would embrace its warmth in her torso then her head. At this point, she would almost feel good again, almost giddy. She reasserted herself fervently into the menage a trois with her goose down paramours, and smiled as she drifted smoothly off in a pleasant portmanteau of there are many things that I would like to say to you but I don't know how and jerk, jerk, jerk.....
To be continued....

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Rules of Refraction

A short tale about a long night

Eleven pm, time to decide if there would  be sleep or not, and if so, how. Sleep aids, alcohol (requiring a hefty renunciation though), hot bath with sea salt and scented candles, an old college textbook, or maybe just a big bottle of her roommate's sedatives settling the issue once and forever. Sleep after all, was a misnomer - there was an alternative to sober consciousness ahead of her, however sleep or slumber was not the order of the evening. Most likely, they were waking up together now, and she needed to escape the moment they would turn to each other, smiling like kids finding a quarter for a tooth under their pillow, stretching just to reunite into the knot they spent hours untying through the night. She really needed to be spared this seven time zone tango tonight.
Distance was another ridiculously named mechanism of relief. Time and distraction two other twins tempting hope but betraying torment. She was rapidly encroaching that threshold where survival no longer bargained the pain, and relief actually resembled release, not recovery. Like one of those stories from the humanities course she had no talent for, she knew what was ahead of her for the next eight hours, a trilogy of trouble that would escalate to the dread of another dawn, the recursion of the reality of his loss, the jealous realization of his gain.
First, there would be the battle to find a place in the bed, the vector between the comforter (hah!), the top sheet, the two pillows, and her vexations. She would doze off, there was no doubt about that - but not before she found the ideal juxtaposition, perhaps two pillows tonight, the blanket folded three times tucked between her knees, her body turned and tilted away from the computer screen that had once been her lifeline to him. Once tucked up, she would find the evening's mantra, a few words at most uttered incessantly until she fell asleep, perpetually driving away his/their spectre like a enamored mosquito too quick to kill, too stupid to leave. The chant would send her to sleep eventually, but the reprieve would be brief, at most, only a few hours. From there, she would enter the second stage of her nocturnal nuance, four hours or so of tossing and tumbling about the bed, vainly invoking the evening's incantation, fighting for every twenty or thirty minutes of amnesiac torpor. Finally, she would face the last two hours of the morning, no longer trying to sleep, just trying to survive to devastating half-wake depression that had no remedy, no respite. Everything hurt so much more acutely right before dawn - God must have created man then she thought, as it had to be the time He would take him back as well. It was a deep, dark place that begat beginnings and endings, never meant for the living.  Sleeping sucked.
The weekends were far different though, and if she could, she would sleep straight through them - something about not having to get up and bravely face the world upon demand disrupted her three-fold troika, and she was ever so grateful for the abeyance. The three trials would be there, but not in any sort of concert or coordination, and confused, could be bamboozled blithely with any of a dozen or so distractions she could conjure easily. Trinkets that took her through the weekend - baubles and doodads designed to persevere the pain until she got back to work on Monday. Her life had been distilled to this -  rules of refraction, a debutante of deflection.
To be continued....

Thursday, December 22, 2011


He stiffened as she pressed behind him. He didn't know where to look - thankfully, her friends had slid on by and were gone, but he felt the terrible awareness that his mates were locked on to him, not in jest but in merciful relief as they had nowhere to escape to either, except into his miserable moment. He had seen a show on the nature channel once, where a pack of wolves were chasing down a deer of some sort, until their intended prey had stopped dead in her tracks, and the predators did too. They circled her, confused and irritated.  They jumped around, eventually snapping at each other, not knowing how to deal with this reversal of conduct, this violation of cosmic carnal courting. 
They would have turned on each other too, these cafe warriors,  if this volte-face two-step had lasted a few seconds longer. Behind him, she slowed momentarily and he closed his eyes. The world hadn't tumbled to a stop like this since his car accident - there he had inadvisably put his hand out of the window to stop the approaching vehicle with traumatic results; here he was even less tempted to risk life and limb. He could sense her approach, she wasn't heavy but he could feel the floor bouncing up subtly via the four legs of his chair, up and into him through the padding on his chair.  A connection he thought. He found himself leaning slightly forward at the critical moment, realizing he wasn't breathing. She was on him now, and he exhaled embarrassingly as she skewed her hips a bit to pass his chair.  Unfathomably, he sensed her reaching up behind him, and if he hadn't been circumvented by the thick table top, his hunkered down homies, and a sincere desire not to spill any more beverages, he would have bolted having reached his limit for this vixen's venture. Just a few seconds longer, one way or another.
He felt the weight of her hand on his chair, felt the vibration as it brushed over the curved copper colored metal back sending a queer pulse up his spine to his oxygen depleted brain. He really had no mechanism to process the impulses that had long since capsized his composure, leaving him cognitively incontinent. Having no basement left for his paralysis, she dug him a new one as she let one of her delicately long fingers languish dangerously across the oddly patterned cloth of his chair and the textured nuance of her nail tore directly through the tissue of his heart. He might have fainted, he wasn't sure, but when he caught himself breathing again, she was gone. He saw her as she walked through the door, hoping she would turn, but she did not. Raising his head to face his friends, he had no idea what to expect. He was recovering from his synaptic seizure, wondering how long it would be until his full faculties returned, not knowing the protocols of ignominious stroke.
Yes, his buddies were laughing now, but perhaps out of a mitigated reprieve imbued with just the slightest touch of veneration, as none of them could contemplate having stared down that terrible test and living to tell the tale. His was a bitter-sweet victory though - finally king of the latte Lotharios for a night, completely exonerated for the "spill" as it was fated to be referred to in the coming years, but empty in that she had disappeared gutting the whole experience of any karmic context, any romantically procured kismet. The evening would be deemed a wash, perhaps the most incredible parody of all the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl movies he had ever seen, lacking of course the third act where he prevails, but the night had been novel, and his friends would never look at him the same way ever again. He had matured through the debacle, and was prepared to harden his heart to this loss, at least until the next pretty face in a frilly hijab hijacked him again in a cafe or bistro. He would be brave.

*Epilogue - She had the taxi stop a few hundred meters short of her house, not because of any untoward proposals from the driver, but just because she felt like skipping the rest of the way home, even at this post-pumpkin hour. Cinderella had left a slipper, but she had something better. For if the young man did indeed know every proprietor in every coffee house throughout the four corners of the kingdom, he certainly did not know all of their nieces!  She would call her uncle in the morning, and indifferently inquire about the unfortunate young man she had seen him talking to, the one who had caused such a commotion in the middle of his cafe. She would see him again, and she would contemplate letting him win the next skirmish. Prince Charming had at last arrived in her life, inauspiciously shorter than she might have fantasized, but far more intriguing. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011


He pulled his eyes back from hers and dealt with the fallout of the coffee spill. His friend was furious that he wasn't contritely attending to him, so he refocused and grabbed some napkins and thrust them at him. Ignoring the medium-spiced expletives, he tried to restore order and decorum to the table. Mercifully, most of the cafe had returned to their previous pedantic pleasures, as he tried to salvage the evening. As his friends reassembled around the table, he thought they might want to go, and he really wasn't sure if he wanted to stay or not - he didn't dare look over at her, as he supposed she and her friends might still be laughing. Finally mopping up the last of the spill, they all sat back down, resolving to make the most of the rest of the evening. He would pay for the incident for a very long time he supposed, and the additional insult of humiliating himself in front of her made the evening one for his relatively long list of forgetful Friday forays.
As he slumped back in his chair, defeated even before the razzing began, he was relieved he was perfectly placed between his largest friend and her. He wouldn't have to look at her for awhile, maybe never. He contemplated leaving, but if his mate could sit there with a crotch full of coffee, he had better stay. It was a full forty minutes before the conversation drifted slowly back to football, and he was relieved that he would escape the rest of the evening with a degree of anonymity. He relaxed, relinquishing himself to his failure comfortably reengaging his comrades in an old and safe debate. There was nothing in his philosophy however to prepare him for what was coming, he never had a chance.
She was smiling broadly as she sat down, so much so that it irritated and interrupted her friends' sense of erudite illusions. She had a plan now, and she didn't care one bit for the rest of the evening or even if her friends ended up detecting her infatuation.  Her heart was light, maybe for the first time since she was small and had learned she was getting a baby brother.  Funny, he was probably some body's perpetual baby brother - that made her smile and love him more. He was cute, that was the word she had been searching for; sort of soft in a cuddly way, even that bit of something on his chin was cute. She was chuckling when she noticed her friends staring at her incredulously - she didn't care, they could spend the rest of their lifetimes stuck in their purgatory purchased with macabre mascara, blush and bitchiness.
She could see the back of his chair, still too close to the wall for her scheme. She thought she had an hour or so to employ her enterprise. Like all feminine artifice, it would be subtle, seem to be spontaneous, and it would linger like the aura of anise and ambergris. She would wait now, wait for that chair to move out and for him to recover what was left of his masculinity.
He was feeling better, perhaps resigning himself to the futility of his earlier designs, grateful for the safety net of his friends and their plausibly deniable, but very real love and concern. Laughing and chiding with a bit more verve now, he didn't notice her rise and take the backwards tack towards the entrance behind him. An hour or so before, he had squared himself up, not to look at her, but to at least catch her when they left and moved through the middle of the room to the door.  He probably wouldn't dare eye contact again, but wanted one more glimpse of her, he was owed that after the jocose java juncture that had flipped his evening of timidly tempted triumph to terribly transmuted tragedy.  Yep he was morose, would probably stay that way for a week or so until some new catastrophe supplanted this evenings frivolities. Yep, he didn't even see her coming behind her, had no idea of the of the sensations he was about to feel, or the power of a woman's guile laced deep and solidly in the simplest of gestures - yep he had no idea.
He felt her before he saw her.  He had no schema for this, she was behind him somehow and he had no where to go. She was leaving behind him, through a space a half a meter wide not meant for human egress.  As the gestalt of the moment crystallized, he realized how much trouble he was now in. The world had rolled up unceremoniously on him, and for once, being at its center had absolutely no appeal to for him.  He now was critically aware of the cavernous cafe and its expanse of revelry about to be cashed at his expense.  Horribly, ironically he realized that the events earlier in the evening had not been the epilogue but the advent of his ruin. 
Frozen, aware that his friends had picked up on the incursion, he watched stunned as her two escorts passed in front of him, cutting their eyes pityingly as she was at his back, impossibly close. He knew his friends were as lost as he, but probably grateful they were not ensnared in this silent snare. They were the men they were really at that moment, lost and frightened in the wake of woman's efficacy - little boys huddling as their mothers glared, shaking that indicting index at them. His only hope was that his injured friend was the only one going home with wet trousers at the end of the evening......

Sunday, December 11, 2011


She braced herself then squared up against the mirror over the over sized sink in the restroom.  Having no idea why she was so nervous, she placed both hands on either side of the porcelain and leaned into her own reflection, and challenged it to steady her, to bring her back to the life she left just a few hours before. She did settle a bit when she noticed her old nemesis - three stubborn hairs - creeping out of the right side of her hijab.  The mirror had utility now, and she welcomed the familiar battle. She crept forward and slowly pushed the perpetual intruders back in with her index finger.  There was no doubt that these were the same three hairs that always escaped, perhaps representing that one percent of her that objected to modesty, that wanted to hint to the world the beauty that lay beneath. She thought about cutting them then and there, but reconsidered, appreciating the dissent, manageable as it was.
He sat at the table contemplating a pose.  Having only a few minutes before she emerged from her break, he wanted to be ready, strategically poised to notice her accidentally halfway back to her table, giving her enough of a chance to meet his eyes without having to keep them for too long. All he needed was a second or two, he would know. Paying a bit more attention to the current contention about him, he knew he could remain aloof, the others were in a stoic mood, prolonging their diatribes, squaring off in alternating pairs giving him a minute or two.  He smiled as he put his right arm up on the table crossed in front of him, his chin tucked in to the left a bit, back straight, producing a cantilevered effect that made him look wiser, perhaps even taller. Eyes lowered slightly, he could detect her approach then casually, incidentally raise them and catch her out in the open, nowhere to hide.  He felt good about this.
Vanquishing her follicled foes, she stepped back from the basin and surveyed her look.  Yes, she liked being tall and thin even though she knew many men preferred shorter, larger women. She liked the way her clothes fit her, liked being able to pull her hands down the sides of her waist smoothly as she tucked in layer over layer. Her father had told her once if she didn't eat more she would have to start running around the shower just to get wet. She wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but she liked it, probably because she loved it when her father teased her.  It was his way of showing affection, and if being skinny drew that from him, she would never gain another ounce. He wasn't very tall either, like her reluctant Romeo in the other room. Was she taller than the young Ammani out there?  There had been no good point of perspective when he had left his table earlier for her to get a really good reading. Suddenly, she smiled at the thought of dancing with him once they were married, maybe to Celine Dion in their living room, her head tilted down next to his, wondering if that would bother him. Yeah, he was shorter, but she didn't mind because in her mind, he could dance, and her chin would fit his shoulder perfectly.
The thought of dancing pleased her and felt like a perfect segue to flee the creepy, infringing confines of the bathroom - perhaps it was the row of stalls jealously and formidably guarding their secrets, the multitude of mirrors in a place where maybe mirrors were never meant to be, or just the antiseptic marble misplaced in this ciphered den meters away from the lit world.  She was happy to leave, ready for the walk back, ready to face him for she knew he was waiting.  In an instant she was out, and she focused on the carpet taking her back to her table, not knowing exactly when she would look at him. Breathing and measuring her steps, it was improbable that she wouldn't notice the small bunched bit of rug joining the hall to the open cafe, but she didn't.
He saw her halfway down the small hall, disappointed that she wasn't already looking in his direction. There had to be a point he thought, when a pose turned sour, and his was turning fast. As he was about to shift in his chair, abandoning his blueprint, she tripped. 
It was like someone had hit her from behind with a chair, like in one of those awful wrestling shows - she lunged forth at once fearful and embarrassed, knowing he was looking right at her.  In the horrible half-second, she grabbed for the back of a stranger's chair and for once, thanked God for long legs as she kicked out her right leg and managed to slide it into baseboard of the opposite wall.  A shorter woman would have perished here amongst the fashionistas and hipsters, hers had only been a near cataclysm. Still, amidst this melee of misfortune, she had caught a glimpse of him impossibly.
At the instant he caught the terrible hitch in her gait, he lunged forward instinctively, knocking his caramel latte macchiato squarely into the lap of his one friend he would fear as a rival for her affection. Karma he thought, knowing how much money the fancy track suit had set the guy back. Everyone was jumping up or back unceremoniously, and a bit cowardly depending on their proximity to the syrupy spray, and all he could do was look over for her.  She had stopped, frozen in the face of the spectacle that was erupting around him. At once he heard noise, knowing a good bit of it was aimed at him, angrily.  Still, he looked at her. Their eyes locked, and he felt more foolish and inadequate than he ever had, and she was in love.
She saw him rise to her defense, ridiculously, but ever so romantically, incidental chivalry that displaced her momentary tumble with a humiliating ataxia attracting every condescending ego in the room. Yep, she loved him right then and there.
To be continued....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why This Academy? Why Me? Why You?

This academy has been twenty-five years in the making. I’d like to tell you a bit about my past so that you understand my logic and passion for this mission. I will try to keep it brief, but as I will be asking you to explain yourselves and open up to me, I need to do the same (if some parts are slow or boring, skip them :).
By the time I finished high school, I had attended 17 schools. My parents had a lot of problems, so they moved when they got in trouble. I left home when I was 17 and never went back. I was a terrible student, I never tried or studied. I just wanted to be left alone. I was good at sports though, and that is the only reason I stayed in school. After high school, I went to college to play American football, and I was so unprepared for the academics. I struggled my first two years, then a strange thing happened: I got less interested in sports and more interested in teaching. By the time I graduated with my BA in History Education, I no longer wanted to play or coach sports – I wanted to be a teacher!
Right after college, I joined the US Peace Corps, an agency that sends American volunteers to many countries to teach and do other projects for two years (Jordan has a Peace Corps program now!) and I went to Jamaica. I was supposed to teach Educational Psychology at a Teachers College, but it was closed when I got there. After a few weeks, the administration couldn’t find me a job so they let me go to Montego Bay to look for one. When I got there, I saw this really neat sign that said “The Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy” and I went into the office to check it out. Once inside, I met the most engaging man I had ever met, and he eventually became my first mentor. He explained the adult literacy program to me then asked me if I wanted to come back that night to see a class. I was excited and I agreed.
When I returned that night, he took me up a mountain in an old Land Rover. When we got to the peak, I saw a small shack with light coming out from between the old boards. I got out of the vehicle and walked up to the door of the building. My guide was behind me and he told me to go on in. I stepped into the small room lit with lanterns, and realized it was very, very crowded – it seemed there were Jamaicans everywhere; at desks, in the roof rafters, on the floor, everywhere. I could barely squeeze in and I went to the opposite side of the room facing the door waiting for my new friend to follow me. I was standing there at the front of the class feeling very naked. I looked out in the darkness for him and instead heard a voice say “teach them something, I will be back in two hours.” A piece of chalk came flying in and I caught it and turned to look at the class. They were all smiling patiently as I tried not to panic. I turned to the blackboard (just the front wall painted black) and began to write the only words I could think of: “run, leave, flee, depart, take off, escape.” I did settle down and had the time of my life. The two hours flew by, and I had found my calling.
I taught adult literacy there for two years, and I realized how ill-prepared I had been to teach. Even though I had a degree in teaching, I hadn’t learned the things I really needed to learn. I began to read more theory, and to try to apply it to my practice. Two years later, I went off again, this time to Yemen to work in a refugee camp teaching EFL. I would find out I was not prepared for that experience either. The difference was this time I would see people suffer and die, and I could do very little about it. I knew then that I had to have a better sense of who I was, what I was doing, and who I was serving. I knew that teaching was my life, so I had better figure it out before I failed anyone else.
We had terrible problems with hygiene and heat in the camp, and we lost many babies to disease and dehydration. I tried to teach them some basic skills like rehydration therapy, but I wasn’t very successful. We did make some improvements, but it could have been so much better if I would have known how to reach and teach the mothers in the camp. I knew what to say , but not how to say it in ways that would make them trust me. I learned then that knowledge wasn’t enough, there was more to educating people.
Since those early experiences, I have worked and taught all over the world, in places like Tanzania, Jordan, England, Oregon, West Virginia, and Ohio. And as I continued to teach, I worked hard at learning all the aspects of my craft, not just the basic information of the subjects I taught. I was also lucky to start working on different retention projects at my college in Ohio. I started to think about a lot of new things – knowing my students lives’ better, their goals, their interests, etc. And finally, I started to question my own philosophy about all these things, and I started again from scratch. All the while, I remembered how unprepared I had been before, and I wanted to create a program for other teachers so that they wouldn’t have to spend as much time learning how to be great teachers as I did (I am still not great by the way, but I am getting there).
The last piece of the puzzle for me was attending a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning seminar with Dr. Tom Angelo, a world-famous educator. We were so blessed when he came to our school and started this academy (such things are not very old in America). The experience allowed me to bring everything together so that I could articulate what I did to others. This idea of sharing my teaching was the most profound element of all – I was finally ready to “operationalize my intuition.” By this I mean I can show students “how to learn” not just what to learn. I can show them how to study instead of telling them to study harder. I can teach them how to remember things before I tell to remember things. And so on……
It has been my dream to be able to do this type of academy for a long time. I have done many of the pieces of it all over the world, but I am just now doing the full version. I chose Jordan for one of the first academy sites because of the tremendous respect I have for the teachers there. You all work very hard, are very intelligent, and you want to be better teachers in order to help your students. A perfect place! And selfishly, it is so wonderful to work in a Muslim country with Muslim teachers – most of my work here in the US is in isolation, I do not get to experience that bond of faith at work. Yes Jordan is perfect for me, where else would I go?


She was watching him more closely now. When he got up to go to the restroom, she did a quick but thorough appraisal - he was a little shorter than she thought she might like, nicely dressed but she didn't care for the sweater, and he walked sweetly as if he was afraid to disturb anyone.  She chuckled as she realized that if he was on the menu, she might have taken him as an appetizer rather than a main course. She resolved to reevaluate her appetite while he was gone though, there might be more there than a mound of tabouli and a few stuffed grape leaves. Maybe even a mixed grill!
Ok, she was hungry, she realized it.  She talked her bodyguards into splitting some bread and hummus with her while she mapped out the rest of the evening, making sure to provide for a little more coffee and some cagey and clandestine romance. She would test him she thought, catching and holding his glance from time to time, even taunting him a bit with a half-crooked smile.  She wasn't sure how strong or confident he was, but she would find out. Having never done this before, she felt a bit of nervous guilt that tasted better than the hummus. She would surgically remove him from his masculine menagerie, daring him with a tiny nod and a slight flare of her nostrils. He would have no defense for this orchestrated assault, and she wondered how he would react - would he withdraw into the safety of his clumsily clustered comrades, or would he emerge and overtake her impudence with his cool and calculated confidence. Frankly she supposed the former, but prayed for the latter, despite the fact she had no idea what she would do if he approached her.  She hadn't noticed that he had returned a few moments earlier, so lost in her plans. But he was back, and she was ready for the first exam.  One step at a time, time for her trip to the Ladies room now, time to declare her intentions.
He got peculiarly excited when he saw her shoulder dip indicating that she would push her chair back a bit with her thin hips and then rise. For a second, he was afraid she might be leaving, but he noticed she wasn't reaching for anything as she rose. Yes tall and thin, no she didn't look at him. He did a quick scan of his friends, hoping they were involved with something significant, for he knew it was about thirty feet from her table to the restroom, and if lucky, he could watch her all the way, eleven seconds of indulgence, two blinks and a forty degree sweep of his head. It would be the boldest thing he had done in a lifetime of bold but unrealized schemes - he drew his breath and vowed not to count, afraid the nuance of numbers would roll of his lips, tipping his intrigue to his friends. Yes she was rising, and he was almost dying.
She kept her head dipped as she stood slowly from her cradled cocoon. She would not look at him at all, she would not let him know this slow, sultry sachet was for him.  To tell the truth, she wasn't sure she could be sultry, having never practiced it.  And as far as a sachet went, there were no assurances there either.  It had better be figured out quickly she thought, or she might stumble and fall halfway to to the hammam. As she stepped away from her chair, she looked away from his table, smiled, and began to take small measured steps. For the first time since she was in her teens, she became very aware of her derriere, not a good thing especially when her only image of a sultry walk came from a Mata Hari movie she had seen as a little girl. This short walk might be far more treacherous than she bargained for.
Well, his surveillance scheme backfired almost immediately - the minute she began to walk away from her table, he realized for the first time how cheaply he had held the word elegant. He knew its meaning now, it was draped all over her. In an instant, he had lost his nerve and half of his mind. She walked across the room like she was meeting her lover for the tenth time in a day - slowly, surely, all his always. He knew there was no rival at the other end of the stroll, but he was jealous, jealous of a love that would never be his.  His mouth was open he figured, so he squished his lips together and rejoined the banality of the table banter and wondered if he would regain his composure before she returned.  His or not, he wanted desperately to look into her face as she came back, choosing to stare down the improbable, choosing to know if there was a semblance of hope in her eyes. He needed to know.
She wasn't sure how she made it to the wash room without falling or laughing.  All at once, walking became like smiling when you are told to smile, virtually impossible. She had felt his eyes on her too, but only his. They pressed against her, through her clothes into her skin like a lukewarm rag. What had he thought? Did he like watching her? Was he laughing or was he appreciating her?  She might never know. Pushing the door open assertively, she moved determinedly past the long row of mirrors, caring not for their inevitable inferences, hoping only to collect herself before she returned, if she returned - the idea that she would now walk back in full view of him, having to look his way was crushing.  She had no schema for this enterprise.....
To be continued

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Things were coming together for him, at least the way he had wanted them to.  Funny, he thought, as he went down his list of goals, the satisfaction of achieving each waned more rapidly lately. He had been working at a large bank, lost in a corner compiling numbers and perpetually fighting off the tedium.  It amused him to think that although he was surrounded by enormous amounts of money in some form or other, he made so little - surely this place could spare more. It was pure boredom that drove him out of fixed fiduciary functions into the wide open world. When he left the bank for the newspaper, he thought he had broken away into paradise.  Paradise turned out to be ok, but the luster wore off the dream quickly. The dream was still fine, and he loved his work, but something was missing, something a bit incomplete about the whole thing. He knew this pursuit of fulfillment of his wouldn't be a serial affair however, the newspaper would be enough professionally, his deeper need for satisfaction would have to be fed elsewhere.
He had worked hard making his way to the paper, writing short pieces as a part-time contributor for a few years. He had charmed and old English teacher to help him proof them, and he had even begun to develop his photography skills in the process. By the time he was ready to step up and apply for a full-time position, he was handling his own articles and his own pictures. With Coehlo-like confidence, he vowed to work on his own book as he learned his trade at the paper. Most likely, he did not understand or appreciate fully that he had found his niche' so early on in his life, it just all seemed so natural. He loved Jordan, the little bits and bobs of it, the people, the history, the fact that the people knew the history. He thanked God he was a Muslim in a Muslim country where the lessons of the Koran and of its people were not lost in a Western fugue -  he would make a living telling and showing the small, simple stories that held together the nation, held together the elegant ancestry of a thousand generations of Jordanians.
It was increasingly difficult to keep his production up - stories, photos, friends all took a toll on his calendar.  He wasn't getting rich either, but he could see a future. It all shouldn't be so tiring he thought, he should be more enthused than he was.  The paper was treating him well, and he many friends and mentors there. He had no problems finding stories, and he was developing an eye for things, his pictures were improving (though he stubbornly ignored the advice of an old friend, extolling him to explore the "thirds rule"). He feared he had entered his profession quickly, and had landed in a comfortable looking place that would swallow him for an eternity, well at least for a long, long time. Maybe it wasn't so much the place, as it was that he was in it alone.  Family and friends were no longer filling out the edges for him, it was time to find a partner, a woman who would take up the frustrations and vagaries of his day.  Someone he could share his wishes and aspirations with, someone who would make him not care if he achieved any of them.
Getting ready to go out that night, he decided not to don a sport look, choosing instead to attempt to create a more sophisticated version of himself - a collar perhaps, slacks that weren't born looking old and used, and a sweater that might have been too much for his masculinity a few years earlier.  And it wouldn't be just Armani and artifice (not that he had any Armani) - he would comport himself like a man confident of his future, ready to accept and sanction any felicitations from suitable companions.  When he walked into that cafe later, men would look then defer, and women would blush then confer - he would own the place, not just because he knew the owner, the waiters, their cousins and uncles, but because he was the man.  He laughed softly to himself when it occurred to him that wool sweaters and mid-priced aftershave provided no such guarantees.
As his confidence slid back down a bit from his vision of the victorious conquest of the cafe aborted, he contemplated taking his camera that night. Not to capitalize on any serendipitous moments, but to use it as a tool to talk to a woman.  He had no idea how a successful exchange would transpire, but a camera couldn't hurt.  It was heavy enough he thought to still his shaking hands, and perhaps the notion of being interviewed by a reporter might be enough to get him through the door so to speak, at least long enough for her to start to appreciate his other not so immediately appreciable qualities.  He wasn't sure either what those were, just more of the equation that had to be worked out.  Still, the camera couldn't hurt.
He turned his attention to his hair.  To this point, he had held himself hostage to a gel-concocted cowlick of sorts, sweeping up off his forehead stopping just short of a horn. It just wouldn't do tonight though, he needed something more mature, something that exuded a manly mettle but not a haughty hubris.  Perhaps he would wash it again, then just toss it a bit and leave it like that, like he really didn't care.  That was it - tonight he would work as hard as he could to appear as if he cared about nothing, and nothing would start at the top of his head.  He was very pleased with this strategy of non-strategy - maybe he didn't need the camera after all.
To be continued....


Despite his lower blood sugar levels, he was warming up to the football banter that was slowly unfolding at his table.  This was a tradition after all, and it wasn't his friends fault that he was losing  interest in the cordiality of the convention. It was old territory, but the revue was mandatory, as were the somewhat worn objections: Bayern Munich (his team) had won more German league titles than any other team, and had won the UEFA Championship four times, at least one more title than the best of the teams of his compatriots.  He would point out (for the hundredth time) that they had won their league title consistently throughout the past century, winning five in the last decade alone.  He considered these data as supreme and incontestable, and had long since stopped listening to any protestations. The only question tonight was whether or not they would boil the debate down to its sinews and drag in thirty years worth of players.  He didn't have the energy to support Franz Beckenbauer vs Bobby Charlton as he should, determined to ply his second trade of the evening - somehow talking to the woman a dozen feet away that had captured his imagination and who had exposed the hole in his soul.
He liked her posture, odd he thought to like a posture, but he did. She was taller than he imagined he would prefer, and probably thinner. As he tumbled down a list of her attributes, he noticed there was no compromise, no talking himself into any uncomfortable features or quirky facets - she would be perfect as his eyes poured over her, smoothing, assuaging, purifying. He had watched an old man spreading plaster on a wall once, his hands softly pulling a trowel down not filling in the imperfections, but asserting his love into the texture of the space. He knew it would be like this each time he looked at her, in any light, in any place he would reconstruct her this way with his eyes, his longing, his love. There would be no fade either, nothing of hers would ever lose this newness, each time he looked at her would be like this, there would be no fade.
It occurred to him that she might break his heart, somewhere in the midst of his second frufy coffee and an argument about the best goal-keeper in the modern era. He wasn't afraid of this possibility, as he had been sufficiently (in his mind anyway) inoculated with enough love and loss cliches by his favorite author, Paulo Coehlo. Deep down though, he supposed surviving her loss before he even met her would be more than he might cope with, literary under girding aside. He had already weathered a few heartaches, but the things he felt now for this woman whispered their admonitions, pleading portents of pain should he fail her, them.
Pain was a relatively new concept for him. The few failures in relationships had been difficult and he was lonely now, wondering at once whether he should even consider pursing this current interest. He suspected that the consequences of his previous dalliances would be minor compared to losing her.  This was all new territory for him - a new threat to his recent resolution to be more assertive; now instead of worrying about initial rejection, he worried that she would be receptive, and that he would then lose her.  It was all a bit overwhelming for a two minute silent soliloquy.
He wondered what Paulo would do at this moment. Was Paulo ever a "ladies man?"  Would he stroll over and talk to the woman not feeling his friends' eyes on his back, or the forbidding force field projected by her zealous guardians?  What would he say if he actually made it to the table unscathed?  Would Paulo acknowledge the other two, even include them in a conversation?  Or would he focus entirely on the object of his desire? Would she be responsive?  Would she see his immediate charm, be overwhelmed by the language of his love?  He frowned a bit, realizing for the first time that he had something less than a positive thought about his would-be mentor - he was now jealous of Paulo Coehlo. 
He felt like he was in his own philosophy class.  Sliding between realities and fantasies, losing the distinction between either.  He had never been folded into and against himself like this.  He was sure his friends were noticing his distractions, they probably figured he was tired.  He was working a new job after all, one that was very demanding and required odd hours at work.  Maybe that was it, he was fatigued and that explained all of this metaphysical musing.  There - he had just gone thirty five seconds without thinking about her.  He wondered if he could do it again, but doubted it.  Looking at her again, he caught her looking back for the first time, and he didn't know what to do other than to hold her eyes with his. When she broke contact, he almost looked away but did not.  Her eyes returned to his with a renewed resolve, and he knew for the first time that his imagination could now take substance.  He was a bit light headed, not exactly sure  if he was in love, or if he had ingested too much caffeine - it didn't much matter at this point, the night would be like no other.
To be continued....

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Interstate Interlude

*Taking a break from the short story......
I was in the middle of nowhere, on my way to the edge of the world when I noticed the sign for a rest area a few miles ahead. Normally I don't like to stop too often on long distant trips, and my gas tank had a hundred or so miles left in it and my bladder had at least sixty. But something compelled me to stop, perhaps I was just bored of the dismal gray interstate I had been travelling for more than six hours.  The trees were barren, everything was damp and all the other sojourners were plodding along about the same speed as I - I suppose I just needed a distraction.  I eased off the ramp, and as I dutifully followed the car not the truck signs, I was sort of surprised to see the brand new building, shaped almost like a star, a big shiny glass and brick star. 
I drove past some promising spaces, and was a bit irritated when I discovered I had drifted down to a dozen or so handicapped spaces, making me park quite a distance from the door of the rest area, given the steady drizzle that was descending from a depressed and frumpy cloud.  I hurried as fast as the leather soles on my dress shoes would allow, and reached the entrance relatively undrenched, moist, but not saturated.  I stomped my feet on the first rug I found and surveyed the spacious and clean foyer for vending machines and a masculine yellow sign indicating my path to relief.
I noticed two people working on a few open machines, and a dog resting across the space against the wall near a dolly full of soda pop. The man was fiftiesh, well groomed and wearing a nice insulated vest. He had a very sophisticated vending apparatus open and was steadily feeding large plastic bottles of pop into the tractor-like belts that would feed them to the dispensing area robotically.  I was fascinated by the mechanism, and he either didn't notice me gawking, was used to it, or just didn't care. I turned my attention to his counterpart on the opposite side of the restrooms. She was his age, long reddish hair, also dressed in nice outdoor apparel. She was filling the older, standard machines and I wasn't as curious about her labor.  I did notice she was standing very close to the flimsy plastic cover covering the front of the bulky Pepsi obelisk, but I didn't think much of it.  She was staring right at one of the Mountain Dew tabs and deftly twisting the keyed lock that opened the hinged door. Not intrigued, I pressed on into the Men's room.
I didn't dawdle, as was my custom, and after rinsing the last of the bean burrito I had wolfed down a county back with a quick toss of water from my hand up into the roof of my mouth, I made my way back out of the impossibly white tiled and marbled lavatory.  When I emerged, I was looking at the other side of the open central area where I noticed several large maps with all sorts of cute emblems and objects placed about indicating what I supposed were meant to be points of interest.  I wondered if anyone who stopped at one of these places to take care of business really were going to redirect their journey based on a few colorful tokens pined to a large map underneath a clean but plexiglass shield.  Accordingly, I averted my eyes.
As I looked down, stubbornly refusing the best efforts of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, I saw the dog again, and in an instant, saw the whole scene differently. I was amazed how the situation had flipped, and I was reminded of a fictive variation, something I had learned twenty years before in a philosophy class.  I had been taught you can never really know or apprehend something unless you could see it from every angle, all 360 degrees simultaneously; when you don't, your mind fills in details. This dog changed everything.
It had a scarf around its neck and a harness for a blind owner. It was a Labrador mix of some kind and it was just sitting by the pile of pop patiently.  The dog looked at me briefly, then returned to its solitary vigil. I paused before I turned back to review the scene behind me.  Knowing that she was blind would change the way I looked at her, would change the tenor of my perspective. She was still at the machine, slowly and carefully packing cans into the long vertical slots.  The man, her husband I supposed, was finishing at his station.  He drifted over to her, and I watched as they communicated silently as she finished her task. He would touch her gently, then direct her hand to a different stack of soft drinks. He stood there for awhile just watching her and occasionally softly redirecting her. After a few minutes, she closed the door deftly, then they both turned and walked over to the dog. As they approached, the dog perked up and leaned towards her hand as she slowly lifted it, palm upwards.  The man had her arm as they reached the dog, then the three moved gracefully towards an open door, a storage room I presumed, and disappeared.  I am not sure how long I watched them, maybe for a few minutes, but the whole play transpired as if I wasn't there. I appreciated my anonymity and the ability to stand and watch the simple but beautiful exchanges between the three.
I wondered if they were retired, or if that was their life, travelling around maintaining vending sites.  I decided it didn't matter, I decided they were very happy and that I envied the three of them.  I went to the fancy dispenser and watched amusingly as my Vernors Diet Ginger Ale made its way up, over, then down to the slot.  I reached down to pick it up, then turned to leave feeling very good, better than the weather and the drive ahead of me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


He used to know how to dress for these things, knew where he was going and why. He would go out tonight with an increasingly nagging ambiguity, feeling trapped between many things.  He would meet his friends as he should, but he wasn't sure he was up for another night of football and over priced coffee. This unease was as unwelcome as it was unexpected - his life (most of it anyway) was coming together just as he had hoped, but something wasn't right, he wasn't happy. Still, he knew he would feel better in an hour or so, even if it was just a reprieve from the loneliness that was starting to seep into his dream.
He grabbed a cab, and not feeling very chatty, decided to forgo his customary conversation and unofficial status as the sole representative of the city of Maan's Chamber of Commerce. Normally, he would have found some connection to the driver even on the shortest of fares.  He loved talking to people, loved talking about their homes and heritage, and mostly, enjoyed testing his hypothesis that he was connected to anyone in the world by only three degrees of separation, half that of the normal human being. Tonight though, he was too preoccupied with the analysis of another evening of cafe carousing, for the first time wondering why he was going out.
It was a short trip, and he jumped out of the cab, eager to get inside and find his friends.  He was feeling better now, able to drive away the early onset of angst he had been experiencing earlier. Once inside he saw his three mates milling around the restroom, waiting for him to go in and find a table.  He walked up smiling, and waited for the friendly barbs that would assault him.  They wrestled invisibly for a few moments, then turned seriously together towards the task of finding a table - a critical task  if they were to have any chance at an evening of whimsical adventure and squandered romance. 
He knew the owner of the cafe, he knew every owner of every establishment he ever went into.  He looked around for his friend, not seeing him, began to survey the tables.  It wasn't half a glance before he saw them, and he almost immediately dismissed them as not being table-view-worthy. The two he saw were exactly what he hated about these places, Ammani women who would have nothing to do with him, and seemed to be perpetually bored with themselves, bored with everything.  He wondered why they even bothered, but he supposed being nasty and disgusted here beat being nasty and disgusting at home where they had long lost any capital they could trade for attention. He caught himself frowning as the third caught his eye, then the frown opened up to an unspoken "wow."  If he had known better, he would have let her seen the expression, understanding the confidence of temporal vulnerability.
With determined speed, he calculated the appropriate vector and found the optimal table a suitable distance away.  Close enough to watch her when he could, far enough to mute the nonsense the would be engaged in for the rest of the evening.  The table would have been perfectly vacant, if not for the obligatory space savers awaiting their owners' return.  There were two drinks and four chairs, a perfect invitation for usurpation - space optimization (four vs two), and the sanctified mission of love he was now undertaking trumped all other proprietary forms of dominion.  To be safe though, he would place the larger of his friends nearest the men's room, figuring the previous occupants would return from that direction.
With a quick glance and nod at the waiter (whom he knew, and was almost a third cousin to), he signaled the removal of the drinks, erasing all claims to his vantage point.  Impressed, his friends joined him, and in the midst of the revelry of his conquest, almost lost THE chair to one friend he didn't want her to see.  An abrupt grab followed by an easy grin got him his seat, and the four of them sat down for the evening.  It was a few minutes before he looked over at her, as a matter of fact, he was trying not to look anywhere until he was sure that any adversaries seeking redress had returned and surrendered.  They must have seen the folly in regaining their territory, as no overt challenge came. He took it as a very good sign.
They conversed boisterously about football, each oddly having adopted a different European team, a different European country. There weren't a lot of matches these days, so the arguments tipped precariously on hypotheticals piled carelessly on hypotheticals - if they did play, so and so would do this, his counterpart would fade like a little girl and die in embarrassment, and so on.  The game used to be more fun, but he knew it well to fuel it a bit longer as he steadily grew more bold in his surveillance.  He wanted to watch her, but he didn't want her to know, his friends, her friends, anyone else in the cafe.  Tough work for a novice Lothario, but he was determined.  She was very pretty, and for once, he could sense a petite and kind personality penetrating her makeup and her I'm here but not really interested face.  No, she wasn't pretty, she was beautiful.
He found himself broadcasting a smile that was not appropriate for the prattle of the table, and he immediately tried to erase it and replace it with something more suitable.  He couldn't, realizing smiles were not his to manufacture about the time he felt the terrible flush reaching his soft cheeks - death if the others saw it.  He cleared his throat, took a drink, and resolved to get his head back in the game at hand, vowing to let her alone for awhile.  He calmed, and his colleagues hadn't noticed, another sign he mused.  When he had built up enough composure to return to his primary interest, he was a little more than dismayed when he looked up and noticed she had moved back a bit, almost totally obscured by one of the two harpies flanking her.  Undaunted, he continued with his dual intrigue, vowing to walk away from the evening with more than a caffeine buzz and nicotine tang - the absence that had tinged the confluence of his recent achievements now had a face and a figure, and he couldn't imagine the rest of his life without her.
To be continued.....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


She was pleasantly surprised when she allowed herself to realize what a good time she was having, aimlessly chatting about all things she cared little for, probably just glad to be out and temporarily relieved from her mirror,  its inhabitants, and their inverted reproaches. She was somewhere in the midst of her third coke, already bored with the silly little straw, when she took the time to appraise her neighbors, despite the fact she had detected their attention a half an hour earlier. There were four of them she saw, catching two at a time with a pair of stolen glances. Typical Ammani guys she figured, laughing at the observation, knowing exactly what she was, what she thought but had not transcended. Fair was fair though, and she would manufacture enough intrigue to acknowledge them eventually, perhaps when she switched drinks and lost the straw and its lingering indictment of the lip gloss no one was supposed to notice.
Yes there were four of them, and they seemed to be having a good time, judging by their volume and a steady diet of hand-slapping and alternating looks of mock indignation. They were silly, but they were having fun - she always admired that about men and boys, the closeness they shared. Given half a chance, they would be off playing at some sort of game, jostling and prodding each other, secure in the knowledge that once the activity was over, once they disbanded, there would be no betrayals, no shifting of alliances, no temporary yet vicious subdivisions of the clan.  Her thoughts returning to her friends, their loyalty, there were times she really wished she was a man.
She picked up her tea (it was time to change tactics) and slid back a few inches in her chair, far enough for the taller of her two friends to provide just enough cover for her to survey the nearby table and its occupants.  There wasn't an immediate point to this impending exercise, more than the dispassionate intercourse of the residue of boredom and a little bit of pain. This wasn't a Western cafe, there would be no prolonged flirting, no eventual awkward interchange, no feigned reluctance over the acceptance of a phone number hastily scribbled on a bordered napkin, bisecting the damp ring of his last drink. She wasn't sure what she was thinking other than she had seen too many movies.
They were still laughing, the four of them, and probably aware they had caught her attention. Her colleagues were somewhat annoyed that she had violated this law of disinterest, but she didn't care - it wasn't hard to maintain the steady pall of their dialogue and people watch too, might even be fun. She wondered what her father would think, knowing she was even looking.  It had taken her a quarter of a century, two college degrees, and a fairly decent job to dissuade him from arranging a matrimony, but she doubted he would slide any further to the left of these ancient and staid conventions.  Nope, her husband had better be a Jordanian of the right family and profession, and the union certainly could not be conceived in the chatter and buzz of cafe stuck somewhere half way between Amman and Amy Winehouse.
Back to business, she chided herself, time to take a good look, engage in some playfulness.  She dismissed two of the four immediately as not her type: one looking as if he spent more time at his mirror than she at hers, though she doubted his ever gave him any lip; the other she recognized as being perpetually seventeen, frozen in the midst of his last great match, offering no future promise other than a couch full of his football mates anytime the satellite beamed down an event from any of the four corners of the earth.  Nope, they were definitely out - the other two would require more scrutiny, perhaps even another potpourri tea.
She settled on a double subterfuge, letting neither her partners nor the two young men at the other table know that she was up to.  This required that she pay enough attention to the inane babble of her friends in order that she could keep defraying the gossip, keeping the ball bouncing between the two while appearing engaged so that her cautious but intrigued appraisal proceed undetected by her subjects.  It was almost getting too clinical she thought, almost to the point of spoiling the whole activity, almost. She pressed on, and brought her full attention to the remaining duo, noticing immediately how different they were.  The first was her type, spot on!  He was a little taller, but not as thick as the footballer, neat and well dressed, not obsessively so, not like his GQ cousin.  He was confident too, she really liked that - he was the leader of the group she could see, whether or not the others would admit it. He had an easy air, and had cast a quick but approving smile at her once when she let her gaze dawdle irresponsibly. She was smiling, she realized, and he probably knew why. His would be a fun fantasy, long walks, moonlit nights, reckless journeys to wonderful places - fun, but not something she would entertain tonight, she didn't have the fortitude for the fiction of a prolonged romance and the abbreviated divorce. 
That left one, the smallest of the four, the one with a little patch of something on his chin. He didn't appear to be very athletic, nor did he look like he spent any particular time in a men's store. He didn't dominate the group, yet he navigated it with silly smile and probably a subtly sharper intellect, she thought, marked by a smaller set of hands and a tiny twinkle dangerously poised to produce a wink, lodged in the corner of his soft and puckish eyes. She liked him she thought, in a warm and uncomfortable way. It wouldn't be an abrupt and crushing crush, more like a slow dance; each turn peeling back a layer of prohibition, softening the edges of the embrace, 'till her head surrendered to his shoulder and he carried her through the rest of the song, slow and silently. She had seen too many movies, and now, in the course of a few seconds (maybe minutes, maybe an hour, she really didn't know) she was feeling decidedly vulnerable, with nowhere really to go. What if anyone else knew what she was thinking, what if he did?  What was he thinking?
Almost as if on cue, she looked up and over at him and found him looking at her, far more assertively than she could have imagined. She felt the immediate gravity that dictated she lower her eyes and turn down the smile, and the nuances of a balmy blush rising that even her carefully constructed makeup could not suppress.  But she did not avert her eyes, nor did she tighten her cheeks in the absurd gesture that seemed to ward off emotional effusiveness - she simply looked at him. And he looked back. Her friends were gone, his evaporated. The music had stopped, and the room had cleared of smoke and the tedious decorative debris of dozens of other humans made inconsequential by the soft promise of his self conscious style. She held his gaze as long as she could, even as the world objected and rumbled back into her ears, attacking her periphery.  She did yield, breaking it brusquely, but brought it right back, determined to explore the safety in his eyes, the sheltering sanctity of his smile. Her world had cracked open, and he was staring straight inside....
To be continued.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


The minor mental meltdown at the cafe wasn't the beginning of this speculative day - she had been around and around a bit with the mirror on her vanity a few hours before. She was preparing to go out as she had so many times before, but there was an unfamiliar bend to her mood today. The ritual had begun fairly enough with the marshaling of makeup dispensers neatly in two rows perpendicular to the mirror, dispassionately assembled in order of application. They would be layered, scribed, smoothed, powdered, and patted into a garrulous gestalt that would be her gift to the world.  She would meticulously make her way through them, in no particular hurry to reach the penultimate execution, plucking invisible hairs with a cheap pair of tweezers whose ridged grips had been worn almost smooth by years of methodical, at times, maniacal employment.
Tweezers was such an odd word she thought that day, an odd word for an odd job. And as she leaned into the mirror, one hand already applying pressure to the cheap tool, the other pulling down on that part of her chin that made her cheek taut and ready for harvest, she saw him again sitting on the bed behind her, watching. It would have startled her if she had really seen him, or if he had a face - but he was a familiar apparition, more like a thought really, a reminder of that future lost somewhere in her past.
What would he think, watching her each morning as she moved through these maddening machinations, contorting her face, unable to speed things up, seemingly lost and tangled into that mirror.  Would he be patient, or would he be jealous?  Would he feel betrayed knowing the face he fell in love with was false, was the property of every man whose eyes cared to fall on her throughout the day? And what would be his? Would he love what he saw in the morning as he turned to her and gently pulled back the careless and stubborn whisp of hair that always escaped her diligent scrunchy, laying defiantly across her cheek, watching her closely as she smiled and woke defenselessly? Would he love the eccentricities that were already defining her face after twenty-five years, after she had removed much of the moisturizers and clinique foundation (sand) that muted their notes, their melody? Would he prefer this song, would he love the morning music that what was his and no one else's?  Would the reflection she would see in his eyes be that which had always eluded her in her own mirror?  Would she see the soft and vulnerable parts of her soul that longed for expression, longed for his love?  Would he love her?
She ripped out the last phantom hair from her manufactured face forcefully, and dutifully relegated him back to her future. Moving on to her hair, her mood brightened as she picked up the brush and brought it down silkily through the lush and generous locks God had blessed her with. She thought of God when she brushed her hair, but not when she covered it, as maybe she should have. Her hair was her favorite feature, and she didn't mind hoarding it for now, protecting it as the precious gift it was from the mundane and base elements of her day.  She loved the juxtaposition of modesty and makeup that emerged as she assembled her hijab for the four thousand, eightieth time (mental math - twelve years or so), always choosing a modest tone, simple color. As she deftly applied the nearly microscopic pins, she smiled pedantically as she thought about the bright and bold scarves the younger girls piled high upon their heads, fringe and tassels carefully and playfully constructed to belie the tart and caustic eye liner that funneled their withering, perfunctory gaze.
Finally, it was time for the last of her self-indulgent sacraments, the subtle and delicate assignment of perfume, the reverent, redolent contribution to the composition. She let him back for this bit, even up to the edge of the bed behind her, silent witness to the only act that made her feel girlish and pretty -  as she held the small, smug bottle up near her neck and sprayed its mist into the air inches away, then gracefully sliding over into it, embracing it cautiously while letting it envelope her lightly and lovingly. She smiled and closed her eyes, knowing he would like this, knowing it was a simple and gentle act, much like the way he would kiss her for the first time maybe in the moonlight, maybe in a soft and silent rain.
She was in a much better mood as she left him there sitting on the edge of the bed.  She moved with more purpose now, out into the night, ready for anything, nonsense or noir....
To be continued.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Laws of Listlessness - First Installment

She almost had declined her friends' invitation earlier in the evening, indulging that special kind of boredom that seeks no relief, only passive compliance - ennui she thinks, is pink. After a suitable period of earnest refusal, she did manage to muster the energy to get dressed and meet them at the cafe, irritatingly though, too early in the Autumn Amman evening. The taxi ride was annoying, the Palestinian driver had asked too many questions, barely managing to keep his tone appropriate, and she wondered about his expectations - how many women had been in the back seat of the Toyota, adopting a terminally distant and cold demeanor for his benefit, grunting minimal directions, wanting just to survive the short trip without some sort of awkward proposal?
Stepping out of the cab, careful not to tip or make eye contact, she spotted her two friends standing plaintively near the door, perfecting she thought, the sublime Jordanian stare: harsh beauty etched in mascara, precision rouge, and the hint of a chimerical malice. No wonder she mused, she was probably lonely.  She stepped up to them briskly, and they mulled around a bit aimlessly, none of them braving the path to the entrance.  Finally, tired of this provincial protocol, she lunged forth to the door, and like that, they were inside the cafe - knowing her colleagues would be irritated, having been denied their stoic and disinterested ingress.  Fine with her though, as they would be able to find a decent table in an easy corner, close to the balcony with its merciful relief from the dank and ugly inevitability of hookah and droll exotic coffee.  Why again had she decided to come?
She found herself chatting lightly with her two friends, while wondering if they were friends at all. Perhaps they were her partners in diversion, her literary license to venture out and view the edge of the world far removed from her traditional home, her school work, and the general unease she felt whenever she pondered her future.  She wasn't unhappy, more like listless in the sense that she felt a pull towards an undefined and formless fate that had yet to make itself known to her. Patience had been bred into her, and she would wait out the ambiguity of her destiny as she had so many other things, but with a bit more impudence, a bit less prudence. Tonight for instance, she would smile if she saw a pair of soft eyes, defying the silent stricture of her stern and solemn sisterhood.
Her thoughts drifted up to the ceiling as she sipped her coke, wondering if any real Bedouin had actually decorated their tents like this.  She didn't mind the motif, but wondered why it couldn't be a bit lighter, a little less brooding and woven.  She became conscious of the dark tones and harsh pleats; why were carpets of some sorts on the floors, walls, even sporadically draped from the ceiling?  He parent's home had none of this, nor would she have it in her home, wherever that would be. No ancient and dusty rugs, no copper tea pots that looked like evil bloated birds. She hadn't noticed these things before, and truthfully, it was her favorite cafe if she had ever been pressed to admit it. Despite these feelings of temporary estrangement, there was still something familiar and compelling about the room. Perhaps the muted and dark hues were meant to absorb - to suck in the toils of the day, the insignificance of a hundred meaningless tasks, the pettiness of a dozen flippant desires squandered in a course of cigarettes and chai. Or maybe, the room knew her loneliness, maybe there was an empathetic entropy of sorts at work here, willing to wait to transfer some of the damp dolor that was creeping into her heart back into drab dark walls.  Perhaps there had been life in this room a long, long time ago before it became a vacuum of human inertia and malaise
She shook her head in short violent toss, startling her two friends. They giggled nervously as she forced a smile and an inward declaration out of this forlorn fugue.  Not tonight - tonight she would  laugh and watch the dramaturgical production that would unfold at her feet in this place. And if she would lapse again into introspection, she would fight through it, not wanting to waste the promise of the evening on old and tired litanies. Her mood brightened and the room lightened. She turned to her friends and payed attention to the conversation, decidedly buoyant and playful.  Caught off guard, they followed, and soon the trio were absorbed in a vibrant and visible but private deliberation, and time passed.
She hardly noticed the four young men that entered a few hours later, tactically usurping a table close enough and far enough from them that had been dutifully reserved by a half-drank espresso and a skinny sweating tumbler of orange juice. Their owners were unlucky, or perhaps too timid to confront the playful shabab, recognizing the efficacy of a warm October night and a tinge of testosterone, upon returning from the men's room. The displaced patrons slid over to a remote table, and the victors had a clear and viable path to the object of their evenings interest -  three women they would steal furtive glances at, and whom they would conjure up and whisper all sorts of intrigue and unrealized stratagems at.  The night was young, and the spectre of love was somewhere, obliquely ricocheting around the padded bounds of this Bedouin oasis.
To be continued.....

Friday, November 18, 2011

Back to Jordan

I am heading back to Jordan after nine months or maybe even a lifetime.  It won't be the same place.  I won't recognize the soul of Amman this trip, and the heart, if I find it again, won't be in Jabal Amman either. For the first time, the trip will be about my work only, a different kind of love.  I am so blessed for this though, so honored the people there value what I do, what we can do together. There will be friends there too, and I look forward to their company. There are three children who will make me smile and laugh, and a young reporter who I can chide almost mercilessly about anything.  But there will be a void, and I am anxious to face it, not avoiding it or filling it - just facing it.  From there maybe, taking back the rest of the world I gave away, place by place, bit by bit.  Amman first, a place I poured my whole soul into, rescuing the residue, reconstituting a city, maybe even my heart. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Sixth Prayer

I have been praying faithfully lately, and I have even been adding a sixth prayer each day.  When I am irritated, stressed, bored, or just distracted, I take a few moments and I pray. I begin by thanking God for the experiences I have had, the amazing opportunities I have enjoyed around the world working in humble conditions, working with nothing but my hands and my heart. If my life ended today, I would be proud of the work I have done, but I can do so much, much more.  That is what I pray for, not only the chance to continue this work, but to do so with great focus and singular vision.  To date, it has been sporadic and often serendipitous.  I want to hone my energies, minimize my distractions, marshal all my strength to this effect.  I pray for the strength to conquer my selfishness, my anger when challenged, the rewards my ego longs for, and most of all, the vanity I cloaked as selfless love.  I pray that God helps me put these things aside, that he helps me find the right opportunities to re-engage my heart and hands, that he gives me time to make a lasting impact somewhere, somewhere other men have no interest to go.  Maybe it will be that small open air classroom where a few blind students patiently taught me how to punch Braille cards in Zanzibar, or the Muslim orphanage west of Dar es Salaam where a group of young children serenaded me with sweet, shy songs; maybe it will be another dry, dirty refugee camp, where the kids will pester me late into the night to play music, teach them English, or just play with my western hair, whatever is left of it; perhaps it will be another Islamic school that needs help, or just one lone frightened girl lost in another language far from home.  This is my prayer, one that I would have never recognized a quarter century ago, maybe even a few years ago.  Finally, I pray that the people who know me, who care for me, who love me, understand.  Simple man, simple prayer.


I gave my strength away, I haven't been strong for a very long time.  Time to be strong again.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I did a friend a favor today and lectured for him in his philosophy class.  I talked about the Utilitarians, Bentham and Mills, and briefly discussed Marx.  It was a fun morning, we did a lot of discussing and role plays, and I thought they had a good handle of the issues conceptually, even if they did not absorb all of the facts and details. At the end of the class, a young woman approached me and asked if I could tell her more about being a Muslim.  I invited her to sit down at a table and we talked for a half hour or so. 
She was an Apostolic Evangelical Christian (a very conservative branch of Christianity), and had been very active in our discussions during class. She asked me very politely if I could tell her a little about my religion as she had no other Muslims to talk to.  I have recognized lately that I am uniquely poised as an  access point for many people here - being White, a teacher, and a Muslim. They find me approachable, and are not embarrassed to expose their ignorance, their true desire to learn buffeted a bit by a familiar face and friendly profession. We sat and began to talk.  She asked a simple question, "what does it mean to be a Muslim?"  I began with my standard caveat about my recent conversion, my infancy in the details if not the spirit of my faith. I explained my understanding of submission and obedience to God, the expectations of my faith, my love of the constant reminders in my day of my devotion to and faith in God.  I also shared other, less conventional perceptions of my religion dealing with some prescribed behaviors and the afterlife. She too admitted that some of her conceptualization of her religion wasn't always standard.  We spoke about the need to remain within certain boundaries while maintaining a degree of individuality, yet still being able to lay a legitimate claim to designations of our faith. She had felt repressed in many ways in her youth, and although she had not broken away, she had been on the fringes of some of the tenets of her brand of Christianity.  I shared that I supposed that many other Muslims would disagree with some of my interpretations of the Koran and God's will, but that my mind was open, and I truly did want to understand and lead a better spiritual life.  We both marveled at the tolerant and intolerant members or our communities, and how often small details were exploited for inappropriate reasons. We both recognized that our respective faiths had often been stereotyped by these excesses, and that it was a shame many people did not want to look past them, to seek the truth or at least a more consistent understanding of something so important at the core of our lives. It was as if I was talking to my mirror image, twenty years younger, more intelligent, much more mature.
Throughout the discussion, she acknowledged what I said and even found many parallels to her faith and her personal walk within it. She was very frank and open, and it was such a wonderful few moments, as our souls transcended labels, geography, and dogma while we shared our experiences, our common intersection with each other, the world, our families, our relationship with God, no longer comparing or contrasting - sharing. It was a beautiful way to end a mediocre lecture!  I am blessed.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Surah 3:92

"Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah ] from that which you love. And whatever you spend - indeed, Allah is Knowing of it."

I love these two statements, as they sum up perfectly what I have so awkwardly been trying to articulate for sometime.  In the past, I have selfishly tried to love and thought I was doing something good.  When I have failed, I have been stunned by the fact that the good I put forth did not ultimately return to me as reward or benefit.  But what I put forth was self-serving, it wasn't like the good I did in other aspects of my life. I gave with heavy and sometimes unspoken expectations of return.  When  those rewards did not come, I felt betrayed, and threw away some of my dignity as only a self[-pitying man can do.  In the process, I hurt those whose love I wanted at all costs.  I see it very clearly now.
I am focusing on redirecting that area of my heart that I reserved for affection and commitment from others to the ever-increasing swell of altruism I am feeling now.  Every hour of each day, I can see or imagine something good I can accomplish for others, something that I expect no return for.  In turn, the pettiness in my heart is decreasing, and all those lessons I have focused on from Ramadan to now are returning, fortifying my ability to be better.  The silent, gentler rewards resonate more vividly now, and I can imagine the wonderful things I will do with the rest of my life.  I feel so blessed.
I have always admired Albert Schweitzer, and I reread The Decay and Restoration of Civilization every year.  Now, I read it with my Koran, a human example of God's grace and patience.  I am reaching out to more people, smiling more, and rethinking what I used to consider necessary yet cruel remarks.  I will think of this Sura often, as well as a small but wonderful quote from Dr. Schweitzer, "A man does not have to be an angel to be a saint." I am blessed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

TZ Friends

I lived in Tanzania for just year, but I made so many great friends there. I was working with the US Peace Corps supporting volunteers teaching Math and Science in schools all over the country (the size of Texas and Oklahoma).  I spent a great deal of my time travelling from Dar es Salaam to Arusha (near Mt. Kilimanjaro) across the Serengeti, in and around Lake Victoria, on Zanzibar (Unguja and Pemba), south through game parks the size of Switzerland, and in and out of dozens of small villages.  While at home though (about a week a month), I lived a few miles from the center of Dar es Salaam on a long peninsula in Oyster Bay.  It was a few miles to the office, and I often drove my motorcycle.  I would always stop though at this little shop on the dirt road halfway to my office.  The older woman owned the modest market, and she employed the young woman beside her. After a very short time, once they learned I was on my own, they became my mother, wife, sister, nutritionist, and I was never quite sure who was who from day to day.
I would stop, we would chat, I would promise to eat whatever fruits and vegetables they recommended that day, to marry one of them soon, and to stop travelling all over the place and settle down. We always laughed, and I never would have dreamed to pass by without stopping.  They were both always there, probably seventy or more hours a week.  Frankly, I bought much more than I could consume, but I had two security guards that became the beneficiaries of my daily fruit, vegetable, and courting indulgence.  I don't know what happened to these two - I returned ten years later and sadly the whole area had been paved and the open shops were long gone, replaced with a gas station and a subway restaurant. I haven't taken care of my diet adequately since.....

The gentleman on the right is Kitare, a language specialist I worked with at the PC headquarters in Dar es Salaam. He was very interesting man who had studied religion and politics, and who loved to debate. His keen intellect was tangled up a bit in African spirituality and Soviet socialism. We had many lively discussions, and I admired him as one of the few true pure thinkers I had ever met. From the beginning, Kitare repeatedly invited me to his home for dinner and to meet his family. I was so busy, that I didn't get around to my visit until the week before I left the country, but I was not going to forgo the courtesy. As you can see, I made it to a lot of last minute banquets, about thirty pounds heavier then when I arrived in country :)
It was a wonderful evening, though I was surprised by the relative modesty of his home - I guess my biases about his intelligence were betrayed by this, perhaps some sort of unconscious expectation of karma on my part.  It was very humbling thinking about a man who would have a very easy life in my country with absolutely no guarantees there.  We had a wonderful meal, and stayed late playing games with his family (from left to right: Dolo,the house girl; James; Evansi; Severa, his wife; Kevin; and Aidani).  Kevin, the youngest was very shy and quite wary of me. We laughed a lot, and I don't think they had ever had an over-the-top American in their house before.  I left Tanzania a few days later.  Some months passed and I got a letter from Kitare with this picture in it.  It came with a very polite note thanking me for visiting his family, but with a wry postscript:  "And Kevin is ready for you to return as he now believes he can withstand your humour!"

This is Mzee (Respected One) John, one of the PC drivers who travelled across the country with me.  John was with me during a school riot (see the post below), and other grand adventures. John was a very wise and gentle man, and we had a great deal of fun on our long trips (our last trip was more than three weeks traipsing around northern Tanzania in a Landrover).  We literally spent the entire days together as we were often driving for six to eight hours, eating together, and he would be with me when I went into the schools. It was such a simple matter to treat John well, as he was a very kind and humble soul.  I was truly shocked when I learned later that the Americans that followed me the next ten years in the post seemed very capable of screwing up the equation to the point where the drivers and staff felt very alienated.  On this day, we were waiting for a ferry to take us out to an island on Lake Victoria when we challenged these children to a fishing contest (I think they let us win). As I said, very simple to be with John.  I am very proud that I had earned his respect and that of the other drivers and staff during my stay there - doing so did not diminish the quality of my work or corrupt my relationships with other constituents.  Simple.

The owner of this beautiful smile is Jumapili, named for the day he was born, Sunday. Jumapili was a tremendous resource for the organization as he was very intelligent, extremely compassionate, and quite funny. He was fabulous with the volunteers, young and old, and his enthusiasm was infectious. I interacted with him occasionally my first nine months, but really got to know him my final three.  He is a great example of a host country professional who has to work extremely hard, often patching together multiple jobs and opportunities to make ends meet. Despite all of his industry, he was always upbeat and positive, and never failed to meet his obligations for us, even going the extra mile often. Before I left the country, I decided that I wanted to take some accelerated Swahili lessons to maximize my efforts there, and the director let me hire Jumapili to give me one-on-one lessons.  It was a blast!  We worked together late in the day after work when I wasn't travelling.  He teased, cajoled, pushed, supported, admonished, and praised me through those lessons, and I learned a great deal about tutoring with him (something I thought I was fairly proficient at prior to our lessons).  I think of him often when I am down or a bit dejected that things aren't coming together for me as I would like.  When I do, often on Sunday, I smile and feel very foolish for discounting my many blessings. 

This is John again, sandwiched between two of my favorite women in Tanzania (apart of course, from my two fiancees at the fruit and vegetable stand), Esther and Grace. They worked primarily in the north in Arusha with the new volunteers we trained there.  Esther supervised the language training and Grace directed the health services. John and I stopped by for tea one day, and we had a wonderful day chatting with them both, then I went outside to play with Grace's autistic son Eric.  Grace was such a lovely soul, but lovely in only the way life can wear down the sweetest of souls with burdens and a heart too big for her chest. She had hoped I could work with Eric and draw him out a bit.  Eric didn't often interact with strangers, but I had experience with other children buried within themselves by this awful disease, and I was up for the challenge. I looked around the area behind the house, and I spotted what I needed to find a way into Eric's reality. He followed me at a distance, cautiously observing me until I came up upon a sprinkler at the edge of the property feeding a furrow of an adjacent farm.  He slid silently up beside me, mesmerized by the pattern of the water spray as the sprinkler head rotated slowly around, shooting water in a slow tumbling arc.  Eric smiled broadly as I leaned down and twisted a small valve on the unit changing the dispersion pattern.  He clapped wildly and ran around keeping himself inches away from the encroaching spray. He made a curious guttural noise that seemed to be in time with the spurts, and I was intrigued by the coordination of the whole thing.  I joined in, trying to keep up but got soaked to Eric's delight.  We stayed out there for a few hours, intersecting around the geometry of that sprinkler, but when Grace called us in, Eric frowned and again became a silent sentinel following me back to the house. Eric disappeared, and as I walked back up to the house, I looked up at Grace's lovely face, tears streaming down it.
Esther, on the other hand,  was a force of nature!  She was the head language teacher, had written the training book, ran an extended family on her own, and loved to corner me and pick my brain about all things educational.  I never saw her in anything lower than fourth gear! She wore people out, but I never tired of her enthusiasm and passion, as it was the rare kind born of love for the world rather than her own adulation. I kept track of Esther, narrowly missing her a few years later in London, and then again a year or two later back in Dar.  I will catch up with her, I will let her know how much I respect her and miss her. Esther's last name is Simba, Swahili for lion - a perfect name for this beautifully strong woman.

Thomas Msuka was my counterpart (we shared the same duties) and my best friend in Tanzania.  No two souls could be much different, other than their love for the future of the children of that East African country. He was every thing I was not: humble, patient, diplomatic, soft spoken.  He had been the headmaster of one of the best schools in the country and then later a Ministry of Education official.  Near retirement, he had taken a more lucrative job with PC - another reminder to me how even the most talented professionals in a place like that had to struggle to raise a family and make ends meet.
Thomas and I quickly learned how to work together, each aware of the other's strengths, each respecting the motivation of the other, each seeing room to learn, and Thomas probably doing a lot more accommodating.  We laughed, argued minimally, and found that we both loved the volunteers, the schools, the teachers, the students, in different ways, but that we support each other against any adversity.  When we went to Arusha to train the new volunteers, we spent a great deal of time together.  At the end of each day, Thomas and I would break away from the rest of the mixed Tanzanian-American staff, find Simon Mahai an old crony of his from the ministry, and grab a taxi to go to Rumboshine, our favorite "dive" of a dinner on the edge of the town (we really didn't break away, no one would go with us).  We sat there for hours, flirted with the waitresses, talked politics where Thomas would let me battle Simon somewhat rigorously before he would gently indicate I had gone too far.  I would give the world to be back there, at the foot of Kilimanjaro and Meru, eating beef kidney, laughing at life and its ironies with those two men.
Thomas' gentle nature was well tested through the years as he lost children and parents and saw so many other heartbreaking things with his wife of so many years, Prisca.  When their daughter Rose got a Fulbright Scholarship to teach Swahili in New York, I went and fetched her back to Akron to spend long weekends with my family.  My daughters loved her, and ask about her often. Thomas and I are still in touch, and I had the tremendous pleasure of meeting up with him a few years ago in Dar es Salaam at a very nice tourist hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean.  I squealed (for possibly the first time in my life) when I saw him enter the lobby with his Prisca, Rose and her three children and husband.  We invaded the dinning room and ordered just about everything on the menu (on the tab of my billionaire boss of course) and caught up.  For two hours, I was Baba Kesho again (another story) and I was lost in the company of beautiful souls and rambunctious kids. Rose introduced me to her husband and asked questions about my family, insisting I greet them for her.  The kids slowly warmed up to me and we made a big mess - my boss left a big tip.  When we parted, Thomas and I hugged and I knew I would miss him like no other friend I had ever had.
There are dozens of other friends I left there in Tanzania, these are just a few that really touched my heart.  In this holy time where I am constantly reminded of sacrifice, I think of these people who had so little, gave so much, and loved me like a brother.