Wednesday, December 7, 2016


I heard an old song today, Indian Reservation by Paul Revere and the Raiders (link below), and it started me down a familiar rabbit hole. I can remember hearing this song in a cafe every morning while waiting for the school bus when I was eleven or twelve. This was one of our favorites, and I often sacrificed my milk money to listen to it and a few other songs. We were told, my friend Joe and I, that if the songs were played enough, the jukebox man wouldn't change the records when he came by from time to time. We didn't take any chances. Listening to the song, I felt a strength I had never known - a strength that surged through me that made me feel good and valuable. It was selfless and it was pure. I was beginning my evolution from a lost young boy to a powerful, caring man. I just didn't know how long the journey would be.

I can remember that year in school vividly: I was energized by social issues and my own efficacy to help others. Despite the fact we had very little, I hoarded all my change and did odd jobs to fill the Trick or Treat for Unicef cans in our classrooms. I wrote poems about the war, participated in debates about pollution and the environment, and I started to listen to the lyrics of the music exploding around me. I was finding myself even as I was lost in the madness and chaos of my family's tumultuous existence. We bounced around the Midwest, and my social consciousness was displaced with a constant need to adapt and to try to fit into each new community we traveled to. Somewhere along that route, I picked up the notion to join the Peace Corps, and it became the only true beacon I would have for decades.

Throughout the the last three decades, I have learned to focus that power I felt in that little cafe when I do my work. In front of a GED class, in a refugee camp somewhere in Africa or the Middle East, on a Jamaican mountain top, sitting with a group of teachers laughing and chatting anywhere, I feel that old energy, that old grace coursing through me. It is warm and it is comforting. But it needs fuel, and that is the price for this legacy, or maybe this curse. I have absolutely no dreams of retirement or taking it easy somewhere. This often creates an uncomfortable juxtaposition with many of my peers, particularly those who have not traveled and who have long since decided to end their careers at what ever institution I have come to. Their need for stability is foreign and often distasteful to me. I lust after challenge and the human interchange that helps others. When I feel a deprivation of the resources necessary to do so, I leave the environment, not knowing if I am courageously chucking away any sense of security, or cowardly fleeing human commitment and the consequences of compromise.

Lately, a little fatigue has drifted unfamiliarly into the equation. I take it as the heralding of a long overdue climax to my career and wanderings. Only a bit of lingering financial quagmire keeps me from committing to a final, more invested career change. Wherever I land, it will be a basic and humble existence, most likely a refugee camp somewhere. I can seem myself, for the first time, staying somewhere for the rest of my life. Not here though, the air is getting too thin.

For now, I will discipline myself to write a bit more, build more stuff, redouble my work ethic, and listen to a few old, friendly songs.......

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Back In Garrett

As in the past few years, I went back home to Garrett to attend the Hall of Honor ceremony and to do a few study skill sessions for the high school students. And each year, I am more and more impressed with my hometown! This year, as before, the kids were engaged and respectful during a rigorous two and a half hour presentation, despite the fact that we added even younger students to the mix. We had fun and I teased them a great deal. A few teachers sat in and were very helpful. Mr. Smith, the principal, was involved as always and treated me to lunch. I did two presentations and was pretty whipped afterwards. The students asked good questions, and I have heard back from several of them already. Friday night, I went to the game and watched the new crop of honorees get inducted to the Hall of Honor. You can see them here:

 As always, I am humbled by the company I keep in that select group of individuals. The accomplishments of the other inductees is mind-blowing! Sometimes I believe I have been included simply because most folks don't understand what I really do (Sindi believed I was a secret agent most of her life). Anyway, as I have said countless of times, whatever good is inside me, I found it in that little Indiana town forty something years ago. Here are a few things I would remind the good folks of Garret about their community:

  1. Their high school has a very good principal at its helm - Mr. Smith is a passionate and caring man. We spend time together each year and he shares his philosophy of education with me. I have worked with educators all over the world; few of them as humble and dedicated as he.
  2. The school has great teachers - I have met many of them in the past five years, including Mrs. Furnish and Mr. Claxton who attended this years workshops. They are kind and patient, and I see the evidence in their interaction with the kids.
  3. Garrett raises good kids - I know schools face all kinds of challenges today related to state standards, funding, and mandated assessments. I am not sure where the school lands on such external measuring sticks, but I do know that I worked with 100 high schools students (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors) who were far better behaved, attentive, and engaged than most college freshmen I work with. This kind of thing doesn't make its way back to any state capital, but might be the most important work we do. They tolerated the boring bits of my presentation, answered my questions, and eagerly participated at any chance I gave them. I told them, as I would their parents and families, that I do not go to other high schools to do these presentations anymore because I am tired of donating my time to often bored, unruly, and disrespectful students. I will always come back to Garrett when Mr. Smith calls.
  4. I am proud of my old friends who are an integral part of the school and community. While at the school, I met old friends who worked there (John and Gene) and saw many familiar faces in the Friday night crowd - both in the stands and along the sideline fence. They go to the games and support their kids, families, and friends. I smile each time I think of Larry as a member of the school board now, having known him then :)  His enduring passion for the school is a standard I could never meet. My friends, the Bartels family, remain at the center of it all, and catch me up on all the news of the place each time I visit. I have never been anywhere too long, so I marvel at their sense of loyalty and devotion to the community, and their complete integration into its sinews. The town owes much to them, and they to it.
  5. I was adopted twice in my life - once by my stepfather and once by the town. The latter saved me from the former, truly "in loco parentis"
  6. Finally, even though I only spent a few years of my life there (the students and I did the math to find out it was a little less than 4% of my time on earth), Garrett is my hometown and still the foundation of decency and human service that still grows in my heart. I truly hope that all those who stayed so close and never stepped away can see it as I do.
In another year, Inshalah, I will go back and work with a new group of students, catch up with old friends, and watch a handful of Garrett's best come home for an embrace that is too important to describe in a blog like this. I am blessed.

BTW - I was over the moon to receive a Garrett Jersey this year. It wasn't my original jersey number, but my graduating year. It is hanging in my office :)

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Deck Project Continues

I have been working on a friends deck off and on for a few weeks now. My last post documented the restoration of the deck and the construction of antique door/outdoor coffee table. This week, we built four planter boxes, two with plant pot inserts and two with slate tops. In between the two slate planters, we built a bench. Next up, we will make the last benches that tie all four boxes together. Today was Labor Day and we celebrated by having a party for some folks at work. It was a very nice afternoon with good friends and food. There were several kids having fun and I Just sort of sat in the shade and ate after 26 hours of work over the weekend. I am happy with it all so far, and hope to finish the last benches in a few weeks :)

We will take a short break and pick it back up in two weeks, Inshalah. For now, a nice long nap.......

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What To Do With Two Nice Antique Doors?

Several months ago, Betty (or departmental secretary), asked me if I wanted two of her old oak doors. She knew I did some carpentry and was fond of repurposing old wood. I didn't have a use at the time, or the space to store them. Shortly thereafter, Hortencia and Carmela were talking in the office and I found out that Hortencia wanted to do some work on her deck and maybe add some furniture. They had found a picture on Pinterest of an outdoor coffee table with built in coolers and wondered if I could use the doors to build one....and we were off. I am not sure what Hortencia's husband Tony thought when we approached him with the idea though.
It was a lengthy project and I enjoyed the ever evolving design process. The finished product is far beyond my initial plans. Tony had some good design ideas, and we just kept revising as we went.

Here are the original two doors. Betty and her family had stripped the first one, and we used it for the top of the table. The iron grate you see would eventually serve as a hot plate. Four of the middle panels would be cut out to house the hidden ice coolers. The second door would be cannibalized to make the base.

This is the second door as we cut it into strategic pieces for the base units. I love working with old wood and furniture - the craftsmanship is tremendous. These two doors were solid and built to last.

Of course being two hapless guys, we needed constant supervision! Can you tell it's about 100 degrees with 85% humidity? That is not a fashion statement on Tony's head.

I should back up a bit and mention that before we started on the table, we decided to give the deck itself a face lift. It need a good deal of stain fast and some replacement planks. I think we caught it just in time. The most fun part though, as a hired gun, was watching the spousal negotiations over stain color. Tony actually won this one, to my everlasting awe and admiration....

I will let you be the judge - What do you think?

The day finally arrived. Tony and Jasmine led Hortencia out onto the deck to check out her new coffee table. The best part of the whole day was the cupcakes Jasmine made me :)

I think she likes it! The two coolers hold quite a bit of ice and beverages. The little grate on the left will be the hot plate. If you look carefully, you will see we put the family's first initials on the panels around the base. I wanted the base to have that antique toy block look, but decided to lighten it up by adding the circular cuts. Tony took it a step further with the router and added a nice chamfer around the inside edges. The grates covering the ice coolers are just common heat duct covers; I liked the pattern. So, after a hundred trips to Home Depot, the table is done. Next up, we will build planters and benches that will wrap around most of the deck....stay tuned.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


I think a lot about what being a man means, especially being a good man. I have never been comfortable with other people defining this for me, whether they be women or other men. I do know that I am often amused by men whom many women find to be "good examples of modern men", and more than a little disgusted by men whom other men find "manly."  I am also not a feminist, and subsequently have no appropriate label in this society. I am not a chauvinist (although that term has been perverted), nor am I particularly macho. I have developed a few rules and theories; and if I had a son, I would teach them to him. In no particular order or refined structure, here they are:
Strength -  I have remarked before that being strong is not easy, natural, or especially rewarding. I think it is something that has to be practiced - it is as much physical as it is mental; therefore it must be developed and fortified. If not, it is confused with pride and stubbornness. Without quoting everyone's favorite philosopher on the subject, strength, as seen in others, is often comforting, threatening, unintentionally exploited, and largely taken for granted. If you want to be strong so that people will be grateful, keep in mind an old adage - "No man is a hero to his debtors." Some people will use your strength when they need it, then deride it when it indicts their own weaknesses. You may become a favorite target and means of last resort. But make no mistake - when there is no one else to help them, you will be called.
So when you refuse the aspirin and tylenol, only reluctantly go to the doctor or hospital, and suffer silently through physical and emotional maladies, you are not being pig-headed and macho - you are building up for bigger and harder things that will befall you and your loved ones. And you will be ready. What is often viewed as silly male competition is evolutionarily valuable: Strength is a psychological construct (we know it exists but cannot measure it directly) and there is no internal scale available to us. So by focusing on what we believe to be stronger males and females and then competing with them is a valuable metric. Practice with purpose and potential.
Whatever strength is, it is certainly not simple endurance. That attribute must be given to God or to our genes; whichever you subscribe to. There is a huge difference between surviving something you cannot avoid and stepping up to take on something voluntarily that others shrink from. Everyday, on every task, be the first to volunteer and the last to give up. Strength is in those moments, not some cumulative and romantic posture only seen in movies. Strength is also not aggressiveness or violent. Bullies, like my least favorite presidential candidate, are the antithesis of strength - they pick on the weak instead of supporting and defending them.
Finally, strength carries with it the conviction to simply do the right thing at the right moment. There have only been a handful of times in my life when I did not know what the right thing to do was; there were many times however, that I struggled to get out of the obvious solution by trying to complicate the issue. Two enemies of my strength have been sympathy and compromise. A little about both....
Compromise - I really despise compromise as a virtue! As far as my manhood and compromise go, I have some very complicated connections: here goes (I would ask for a bit of patience here): I have heard many times that collaboration and compromise are hallmarks of feminine strength (not exclusively though). I separate the two concepts however. I think collaboration is a wonderful skill and very necessary. And I do believe that women often do this better than men. But this is where I step off to a dark notion - I think collaboration to compromise is unhealthy and might be what John Ogbu labeled as a Secondary Cultural Difference. To scaffold to this point, we would have to agree that women are a minority (given the percentage of power owned, not sheer population). When two groups coexist and one subjugates the other, the minority group develops new traits that are defensive and not true to their authentic culture. I think women have been subjugated and to deal with the inequity of power, have learned to work together more effectively to deal with the individual discrimination. Girls are rewarded for their compliance and collaboration. But this notion of shared existence goes to far when the aim of collaboration becomes compromise (and I am not saying compromise is a feminine phenomenon only). There are too many institutions and organizations that view themselves as "families" and then put a premium on compromise as if it was almost a sacred virtue. Compromise is not always appropriate, and it should never be a foregone conclusion or immediate goal. Contrived compromise is a recipe for mediocrity. There are times when your strength lies in your resistance to compromise. But then again, we dance just over the line of stubbornness and pride.
Sympathy - I smile whenever I think of this word. I smile because I remember clearly the first time trying to exploit it backfired on me. I have said many times that "you cannot ask for my sympathy and respect" - choose one or the other in your appeal. I then will make up my mind what to grant you (perhaps both). I have seen and experienced some bad things, some even terrible I suppose. When I mention them, it is often to give someone else a new perspective on my thoughts or actions, not to gain favor or to avoid a consequence. In Jamaica, I witnessed the death of a small baby very personally. Later, when with a group of friends and strangers, I broke down and cried having not processed the experience to that point. Their emotional response was warm and comforting, yet I knew at that moment I could exploit and manipulate their kindness somehow. A few years later, I had a similar experience with a friend who called me on it and rebuked me quietly. I was embarrassed but grateful - I didn't need his sympathy at that moment, I just wanted it for reasons I did not understand. I am not saying it is wrong to express such things. I am only wary of the purpose of such ventures. Accepting sympathy is dangerous currency exchange; particularly when it occurs well after the traumatic event or circumstance. It is not something to be bartered or stored. It is a gesture others bestow on us temporarily when we are down and recovering. And for crying.....
Crying - I have cried a few times in my life and regretted each instance. These were at low points, and the people that I made this physical appeal to were indifferent or obliged to endure it. I have even tried to cry when I was alone without much success. I guess I relate crying to the muteness of an infant - a generalized appeal for comfort or a particular desire with language to specify or distinguish. But I have language and I have a logic to deal with my problems. I simply find no comfort in the intended release granted by shedding tears. Much like my endearing belief in faith though, I have no doubt that what I hold may be different from others, and that crying may be therapeutic for them. I would like the same reciprocity without the over generalization that this phenomenon is healthy and normal for us all.
Honor - Never has there been such a mismanaged masculine misnomer as honor. This term might just be the apex of misspent privilege and perverted power. Honor does not manifest itself in swagger, violence, or self-righteousness. It is simply the adherence to a basic, simple code: Do what you should do when and how you should do it, and make sure simple self-interest isn't your primary motivation. There is no honor in military bravado, tattoos, flags, guns, sport franchises, cloistered societies, politics, or smugness. It is not a bright and shiny thing. The people I have sought to emulate did not have bright and shiny lives - they had a normal, often dull existence that was punctuated by the moments of God-given grace when they could stand apart from the meandering crowd and fight an injustice without compromise and certainly asking for no pity or sympathy. They did not thump their chests or compose songs. They lived honestly and simply and defended others to their own detriment. I have had slippery glimpses of honor, and each has motivated me to redouble my efforts to adhere to my code so that when the challenges come, I will be ready. That feeling I experience like an evaporating morning memory is incredible. I can only imagine the energy and purpose I could harness if I worked harder and was more worthy of its mantle. If I do get closer to an honorable life, those feelings and emotions will become even more private, even more hidden from the world. I will not be a loudmouth, gun owning, redneck, patriot drinking beer and droning on and one about God and country. I will not be some effete liberal, self-righteously congratulating myself on an early and exceptional transcendence to a superior place. I will learn true humility and ever-extending moments of grace.
My Path To Date - I have a certain semblance of strength through my endurance of early challenges, survival of my own follies, and a persistent and stubborn desire to become stronger. Like many males, I fought the wrong battles too easily when I was young, for the wrong reasons, and I have shied from the right battles latter in life in fear of  losing what I have recently learned to be cheap and artificially constructed conveniences that I thought composed my life. Instead, they compromise the life I want to live and I need not fear their loss any longer. I have not developed and/or stored this notion of strength for my own benefit (arguments about ego and insecurity aside), but for the benefit of others. Despite my childhood, I don't fantasize about alternative beginnings or fortunes. I also believe that I was quite a long time on the other side of the honor and strength side, well into the stubbornness and pride region. I am not happy about that and I am sure it was to the detriment of many around me. However, for me, it has been a lot easier to come back down to a sensible place than to work up to the right place after all these years. I am happy where I am, at least with ample challenges. I want to change the world and I need to be strong to do so.
My Continued Journey - I love being the man friends and moderate foes alike will look to when they need help. No matter how, no matter when. I love the fact that they believe I will be there and I will not fail. I will be on time (would rather you chop my little finger off than be thoughtlessly late - although that might just be my German blood talking). I like less the consequences of those assurances, for I get sore and tired and there are times I could just sit back and let someone else handle things. This is the very unromantic part of my strength - it still sucks sometimes and is never very exciting. I am not some altruistic, intrinsic (always hated the word intrinsic because I never understood it) nice guy. I am learning every day that my strength and eventual sense of honor is built on a multitude of inconvenient tasks. I am clearly no martyr either - I have never been asked to do something I could not accomplish, or that really took too much away from me personally. It's the simple, sucky stuff. Simple! And before any logical protests: I am not a hero or father figure either. I don't want to be someone's only resource, only hope in small or large situations. I don't want to be perceived as stronger than anyone else either. As a matter of fact, the one late transition in my life has been the abandonment of external sign posts and role models - I am in my own race now. I have listened to God and have understood the things I need to do and the goals I need to develop. I will need a lot more strength though. a lot more.
Epilogue - I have learned that I am not exactly like anyone else, and far removed from many. I don't believe (as I am often told) that I am less than a complete man because I don't let others in or that I do not make myself vulnerable. At this point, other than a gently used work van, there is very little I think I need. I will continue to find more selfless engagements and chase down that ethereal corridor of honor and strength.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Skype Call

Today we had a Skype call with the camp. It was the first time I had talked to all of them at once in a year. Our president, Dr. Jenkins, attended the call and the folks in the camp were thrilled. They told us how they were continuing and expanding on the programs we started last year, and about the challenges they are facing. At one point, the Girls Empowerment Group sang us a song (in the picture above). Several of our staff came by to attend as well. Teddy and his team did a great job and we all were uplifted by the experience. After the call, I chatted with my president a bit about the possibility of bringing Teddy over for some training for a few weeks. I have to double down and get busy and get back on track to return and possibly to bring Teddy over. The potential is exciting, the work overwhelming, the rewards incalculable. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Cool Stuff From The Camp!

I was really amazed (but not shocked) to see that the folks in the camp were still working hard and carrying on all our programs and activities. Recently, they participated in the World Refugee Programme and again held an American Fourth of July Celebration. They are wonderful people and it is starting to bother me that I haven't made it back (far more than I would care to reveal)

The Team
Saint Fort has gone on to Kinshasa, but the fantastic four remain - From left to right: Yvon, Scholastique, Juliet, and Teddy. Please keep Yvon, his wife, and newborn daughter in your prayers as mom and little girl are struggling.  The two ladies here still manage the primary school program and the girls empowerment group. Teddy, of course, remains Teddy.

Skits by the Primary School Children under the three banners close to my heart :)

The Girls Empowerment Group representing in the World Refugee Day Parade

The English Club proudly displaying our flag and their new curriculum

Limbo remains a staple

Juice Time!

One of my guilty pleasures that remains strong there - Buck Buck

Hopefully, we will have a Skype call this Friday with the camp. I was very disappointed when the funding didn't come through to return this month, but doubly resolved to work something else out. This project is the epitome of my career ambition - go somewhere, give some folks some tools and kindness, step back and watch them run. I want to run with them a bit more......

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Theater Fun

This week the ESL Conversation Group visited the Fine and Performing Arts building via a private tour from Tommy Hensel the director. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot. We had several new students today from Syria and Egypt. We met in our regular building the walked over to Tommy's place. I made a wrong turn along the way and nearly doubled the trip, but it was a nice day for a walk.

Our first stop was the Art Gallery where we looked at art from members of the local community. The students enjoyed the works and asked lots of questions.

Next, we went into the large theater and learned about all the back stage rigging and lighting. The students took a ton of pictures and were amazed by the network of lighting and curtain mechanisms.

Tommy took us into the small theater, and much to my delight, through the set design workshop. It contains a woodworking workshop so I was finally in my element. The students were very curious about the construction of these sets and Tommy did a good job explaining. Note the wire ceiling, it would become the highlight of the tour :)

I don't think they believed Tommy when he said he would take them up and let them walk on the ceiling, but he did! They were a bit reluctant at first, but had a lot of fun - it was almost like a trampoline surface. They also got a very close look at the lighting systems.

Tommy took us outside to the new Shakespeare garden and then we made our way back to the classroom to talk about the experience and to do some writing. One of the new Syrian girls was enthralled with the working sundial in the garden. It was a fun and rewarding day. I am constantly reminded how much good there is in the world working with this group and the various folks that join in to help us. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Floating Shelves

A few months ago, a friend asked me to help him create shelving to store his 1000 or so DVDs and video games. At first we contemplated book cases and other traditional and bulky alternatives. Then, I stumbled on the idea of floating shelves that look like they are just simply attached to the wall with out any visible supports. I got very intrigued with this and did a lot of research. My journey ranged from IKEA to some creative do-it-yourself options. My main design challenge was that we needed shelves that were almost eight feet long - most of traditional floating shelves are much shorter given the obvious support limitations their designs provide. We also didn't want extremely thick shelves, given they were holding thin cases. In the end, the lightweight of the DVD and video game cases helped us scale down the thickness of the shelves while still providing adequate support. They turned out great; Tony did a good job on the finishing process!  Below is a quick summary of the process:


We set up our operation in his driveway on arguably the hottest day of the year. I was fasting so the five or six hours we spent really did me in. We ripped down 2x4s to one and one half inches for the frames. We then added little "arms" to the ends and in the middle of the long frame pieces. The two frames on the left side of the picture above are in the positions they would eventually be secured to the wall in. We used long 4inch coarse screws into the wall studs. We eventually found our rhythm and cut all the necessary frames and trim pieces.

Here you can see the frame attached to the wall and Tony now adding trim around the outside of the frame. The trim is MDF (medium density fiberboard) that is easy to work with and paints nicely. After he wraps the trim around the frame, he attaches thin plywood to the tops and bottoms. After a bit of wood filler and paint, the final result:

And with some of his 1000 DVDs and games:

This project was fun and innovative. It is far less bulky than a cabinet and best of all, it cost less than $75 to complete!

Monday, June 27, 2016

GED Graduation Redux

Sunday, June 26, 2016

New Fun With The Conversation Group

Tommy At Work

For the past two weeks, Tommy Hensel has been helping out with the Conversation Group. Tommy is our Director of the Fine and Performing Arts Center at MVCC. He is pursuing an EFL certificate and getting some practice in with us on Saturdays. He has a lot of energy and the students are responding enthusiastically. Tommy is a Renaissance Man - He is sings, directs plays, and is food critic in his spare time. The students had a ton of questions for him and he led them through several exercises, including the one above where he got them writing restaurant critiques. In a few weeks, he will take us over to the theater and give us a guided tour. I am as excited as the students!  It is always good when we get volunteers to help with the group. Elaine was with us this week as well. Each person who interacts with the students opens new doors, new possibilities in their lives. It is fun to see them engage others - I think they are far too used to me :)  If you get a chance, check out Tommy's blog below:

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Fun With The Bounty Hunter

It is summer here and that means half-day Fridays at work. It is a nice perk, and today, for maybe the first time in my adulthood, I indulged in a Friday afternoon nap. It felt luxurious and a bit guilty, but I was dozing away when I heard someone knocking on the doors outside my apartment. As I was stirring, the knock came to my door, a bit louder than I deemed appropriate. So I got up from the couch in my skivvies and t-shirt and answered the door. I was still formulating a plan for the intruder while I was opening the door, but at the last half second I decided to go "over-under" on the unfortunate soul on the other side. I would be pleasant and affable before addressing my irritation over having my first real Friday afternoon nap ruined. When I did open the door, I was faced with an older guy with an ID hanging around his neck and what looked like a cute little holster on his belt for his pepper spray. Once again, his demeanor was a bit too cheeky for me, so I decided to have some fun.
He started off by brusquely informing me that he was something or the other cooperating with some sort of federal agency, all designed to confuse and/or impress me. He told me he was looking for someone and rattled off a name I suspected was African-American. He then asked me if I knew him. I looked at him as sheepishly as I could and told him no. I then asked if the man was African-American and he replied yes. He then asked if any of the other tenants around my apartment were Black and I responded "no, but I think there is a Black family on the other side of the unit." This irritated him and he told me that this person had to be on my side of the building. I then asked him why. He stumbled on a bit about a partial address. He was getting impatient and I was warming up. I asked if he had a photo of the guy and he replied that he did not. I then asked him how he was gonna recognize him if he came upon him. He mumbled something. Not easing up, I then asked for a description and he mumbled more. I pressed harder saying "do people normally come up to you and surrender and provide ID in your line of work?" This really irritated him. He looked at me harshly and said "look, are you sure there aren't any African-American families on this side of the building. Just as I was replying with an emphatic "no", the door next to mine (literally two feet away) opened up and a young Black woman said "can I help you." He turned towards her, then spun back around on me. I smiled and asked him if a camera crew was coming up. He looked at me quizzically and hatefully and I continued, "you know, is Dog out there somewhere? Are we gonna be on TV?" For as second I thought he was going to lunge at me, but he said something under his breath and turned to the woman. I turned back into my apartment laughing, having exacted a bit of revenge for my interrupted nap.

Friday, June 24, 2016


I am watching Theeb on Netflix. It strikes me immediately that I know the landscape and I even recognize clusters of rocks. Those memories come at a price though. I like the themes of honor, integrity, and family. The desert can be a lovely, beautiful place and it can kill you. Much like memories I suppose.......

Monday, June 20, 2016

Watching A Few Old Friends

Today at work, Anisa, an old student came back to the program to test. She brought her two kids, Ibrahim and Noor. I used to tutor Anisa a few years ago as she couldn't attend our regular classes. She worked hard and we always had fun. Noor and Ibrahim are with me now in my office and we are trying to stay busy. It has been a few years and they have grown so much! They are spelling words and doing math problems. They are two well behaved kids - Anisa has done a good job. They are very polite and intelligent. I am running out of things to give them to do though.............

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day

Today was another very good day. I started it by finishing the painting job I was doing in the early afternoon. I got a gift certificate for prime rib and a very large contribution for my favorite charity. A bit later, I went over to Kipp and Rose's house and watched the last half of the final round of the US Open. Riyad and Mohammed came over and we had barbeque then watched the NBA Finals. Got a lot done, saw some great sports with friends, heard from a lot of other friends and family, and had some great food. Can't think of a better day this decade on American soil :)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Typical Saturday

Today has been a very typical Saturday for me. I woke up early to drink some water (3:00ish) then dozed off and on while listening to crime shows on Youtube. I got up around 7 and read for a few hours. I went to conversation group at 10 and we had a great time. Tommy Hensel, our director of our Fine and Performing Arts Center, came and participated. He is working on his certificate in EFL (English as a Foreign Language). The students really appreciated his presence and asked him all kinds of questions. We did several activities over the four hours, including a mini-lecture on golf, given that this is the greatest weekend of the year! No, not for Father's Day, but for the US Open. I didn't bore them too long, but they are excited about the idea of me bringing my clubs in (plastic balls of course) in a few weeks from now to let them whack about a bit. I always smile when I see how competitive many of the women are, particularly the Arab women. They really like to compete and have fun.
After we finished class, I went over to a friends house to help move some bedroom furniture. She was donating to another friend and I helped load it all up and we took it over to its new home. The stuff was heavy and it was hot and humid. I was glad there wasn't too much of it or that we didn't have to tote it too far. When we got it all situated, I went back to the house to do a little prep work on a ceiling I have been patching in order to paint it tomorrow. The patching didn't take long and I was home by 4:30, in time to catch nearly three hours of US Open coverage under my air conditioner. It feels good to be lazy after doing a little bit of work :)
I will break fast in about an hour or so, then maybe catch up on some Netflix shows I like. I enjoy not having any plans for a few hours. Tomorrow I will go work for three or four hours on the ceiling and some touch up, come home and watch some golf, then go over to Kipp's house for Iftar with some other friends. I enjoy my weekends as I get a little bit done and then I just goof off. I don't think I would like to laze around for two days with nothing to do. Life is good. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

My Ego

I played golf today with my good friend Glenn. Glenn works with us part-time and is a retired assistant superintendent from the public schools. We had a played a new course to me and had a great time. I shot and 88, not bad for my third time out. One thing I appreciate is that Glenn and I don't talk shop when we golf. We hit the ball all over the place and laugh a lot. We were paired with another twosome we did not know. One of them, Paul, turned out to be a former ESL student from Croatia. They were nice guys and the day went well. I was fasting but there was a beautiful breeze all day. I hit some great shots and I hits some bad ones, but I never once tried to kill the ball - a radical departure from my previous self. I hit the ball much straighter these days, and I play from the fairway far more often. I think my new golf game is in line with my overall sense of self these days; steady and more humble. I still think I can do some things better than most, but those things are the result of decades of practice and skill building. Hitting a golf ball 300 yards isn't one of them - sticking a pitching iron from 125 yards is now. Work tests my ego more and more often these days. I don't think I have been told no as many times in 25 years as I have been in the last five. My days have evolved into a series of more complicated orchestrations of activities designed to circumnavigate the politics and gravity-bending black holes around me. I suppose this is maturity, but I don't much like it. And I don't want to grow to like it either. Nor do I want to acquiesce and sit back and relax. There are so many things we need to do to make students more successful and to improve the work experience in our department. There are days when I think compromise must be viewed as some sort of cardinal virtue; an initial step to be taken when presented with obstacles. Having said all that, I also believe that the frustrations I face are not built intentionally by bad faith. I believe it is the by-product of a large institution. I also believe that the systems I work in are not broken. So I will keep adjusting my efforts and challenging my perceptions - honestly balancing my will and passion with the needs of a larger entity. Perhaps I can bring back to work a little that I am learning on the course :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Not Yet!

I got word today that we were not awarded the grant to go back to the DRC. They thought the proposal was good, but that it needed and NGO on the ground to participate. I have already begun to put feelers out there to resubmit our proposal. I was dejected for about 35 seconds when I got the news, but my resolve and determination flooded in and I got to work - seems like the good folks at the Mole camp are rubbing off on me :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Better Nights

GED Graduation

Last night was our annual GED graduation. It is my favorite night of the year and we watched 21 hardworking students walk across the stage. I was the master of ceremonies and had the pleasure of reading their names as they came forward. I am proud to say that I was close on all of them, even the Polish names. Our entire staff did a great job behind the scenes getting everything ready. From left to right: Nina, our assistant dean who helped on stage; Betty our departmental assistant; Hortencia, our administrative assistant; Sue, our departmental assistant in charge of graducation; Kipp, our tutoring coordinator; and Mohammed, our student assistant who is also an expert selfie taker. There were others as well. A great crew on a great night.
Our student speaker was Bertha, who had been out of school for 48 years! Her story was incredible and motivating. I got to spend time with the other graduates who were equally inspiring. It was fun to watch more than 100 family and friends give them the love and support as they achieved this important milestone. Graduation celebrations, particularly those deferred, are very sweet indeed. Afterwards we all went out for barbeque, and Nina, Mohammed, and I had to wait an extra bit for Iftar. It was a fantastic evening, one Mohammed called "his best night since coming to Chicago."  
Tremayne was there as well, as a marshal. Meg, Carmela, Jeff, and Carolyn rounded out the team. The whole thing went very smoothly and for a few hours, I was whisked away from my many annoyances and irritations. This inoculation of hope and perseverance will last me a good while :)

Said barbeque - Mohammed talked me into the combo deal. I finished about 1/3 of it. I am pleased to report though, that he polished all of his off.

Monday, June 13, 2016


I am still waiting to hear back from the State Department about our proposed trip to the DRC in July. There have been a few hiccups, but I think things could still work out if we get the green light. I am not excited, nor am I pessimistic - I am simply waiting for the news and then a mad rush of activity. Of course I would love to go back; I was honored and privileged to participate in a great few months of programming that was innovative and almost revolutionary. Never before had someone like me been sent into a refugee camp by the State Department to stay on the ground and build programs. I am very proud of this.
I am often naive though, and I thought the new model was logical and that there would be throngs of qualified folks willing to compete for the opportunity. I was wrong. Even now, when I talk about going back, I am bombarded with the old "I could never do that." To which I reply, "yes you could, you just don't think you want to." Regardless, I would spend the rest of my life working in camps if it were to become feasible. I do have a few talents and some energy that I have leveraged over and over again across the world. What I have noticed is that the product produced is more related to the quality of people I am working with than my native abilities. This is the way it should be - I have worked for more than 30 years developing my craft and it has paid off. It is all for naught, however, if it is practiced in a vacuum (I have been in a few of those too). There is a warm comfort in knowing that if our proposal is accepted, we will achieve great things together. The way it should be.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Weekly Grace

Members of the ESL Conversation Group

We took a few weeks off after the spring term and I was very pleased to see thirty students when we resumed classes last week. We have lots of new students these days, as well as some "regulars." In the fall and spring, we do both Saturdays and Sundays, but in the summer, I take Sundays off. Today we had a summer theme going on (as I was late and didn't really have anything prepared) that went well. As always, we wandered off to places like marital status, temperature ranges, nudist colonies, rototillers, and other oddly disconnected items. They did a good job, and as usual, most stayed the entire four hours. It was a typically diverse day, with students from countries like Guatemala, Mexico, Columbia, Thailand, Iraq, Syria, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, Morocco, India, and Japan. Over the past four years, I suppose we have had students from more than 75 countries!

We deliberately don't set the group up as a class per se, but I usually have a plan and some materials beforehand. There are just a few basic objectives: 1) Have fun, 2) Create a warm and supportive environment, 3) Engage them, and 4) Connect them to each other, the school, and the community. Our students have gone on to help us pilot welding and medical programs for ESL students, have become student employees of the college, and have even appeared on flyers and brochures. Here are few profiles and stories of some of the more than 500 students who have participated:

Zidi - Zidi isn't with us here at this moment, as he is on one of his trips to Poland. When he is here, he is a mainstay of the group. Zidi helps break most stereotypes of Polish men as he is warm, friendly, and always ready with a joke or a smile. He is very earnest, and was one of the first volunteers for the I-Best Welding program we developed.

Rosa - Rosa is a funny storm in a teacup. She has a lot of energy and a heart of gold. I think I have shushed her about 1,000 time, but I do appreciate the enthusiasm she brings to the group. Rosa comes on weekends as she is taking care of her children during the week.

Amanda - Amanda is our diminutive Peruvian friend. She has been in and out of the group since its inception. She has a good sense of humor and is always ready to bring food for a party.

Ossama - Ossama too has been with us for a long time. I met him when I was tutoring his daughter who was injured in the Syrian war. He is a very warm man with a great sense of humor. He is very serious about his English though, and always brings me advanced words to figure out.

The Thai Girls - The two Thai girls are new and I still can't pronounce their names - I think they get longer each week. They are seventeen and nineteen, are fully engaged in a sibling rivalry, and take silly pills each morning I think. They have a great deal of energy and are a nice compliment to generally older, more serious crowd.

Ada - Ada is from Poland and our resident Eeyore at times. She has a good sense of humor but likes to grumble and fuss occasionally. Ada seldom misses a session, sits up front, and resolutely refuses to tell us when exactly she came to America.

Hide' (Hiday) - Hide' is a Japanese student enrolled in the college who used to volunteer with me at the homeless shelter. He made a cameo appearance today after having been gone for some time. Hide' is moving on to a four year school soon to study biofuels I think. He loves basketball and I always willing to help.

Maisa and Haneen - They are our resident mother/daughter duo. Haneen is on her way to being a doctor, and Maisa is a proud parent of several bright children. I think Haneen is the youngest though, and her mom keeps after her from time to time.

Richard and Luz - Richard is a good friend that came to the group with his wife Luz. She is from Mexico and wanted to continue to develop her English, although it already very good. They are two of the most generous people I know (and that is in the tall cotton in the ESL group). When I went off to the Congo last year, Richard stood in for me for two months - quite a commitment.

These are just a few of the wonderful people I interact with on my weekends. In the coming weeks, I will profile more of them :)

This past spring, I was given the Embracing Diversity Award here at MVCC, largely in part due to the work I do on my weekends with this great group. I say work but it really isn't - Each week I get to horse around with people from all over the world who are trying to better their lives and the lives of their loved ones. They help each other and they help me. I couldn't imagine doing anything else with my time........

Friday, June 10, 2016

Treating Myself

My Favorite Irons Restored!

I bought these irons about fifteen years ago and they were used then. I immediately noticed how solid they were and how they rewarded a good swing. They weren't very forgiving, but perhaps my experience with and fondness for women,  made it all the better. These are Mizuno MP14 irons and were quite popular with better players at the turn of the millennium - I wasn't a better player, but I wanted to be. After several years, the chrome eventually chipped on several of the clubs and I put them away. I bought a few new sets in the intervening years, but nothing felt as good to me. Last year I got a blow torch and took the heads off the clubs and sent them to a company to have them rechromed and regrooved. It cost me about $250 but they came back beautiful, shiny and new. This week I finished the process by having them reshafted and regripped (another $300). I went out to the course today and only hit these irons, forgoing my woods, wanting just to embrace my old friends. I could tell the difference immediately and played well despite my relative lack of rounds this year. Maybe I am getting old and romantic. Maybe these clubs are no different than any others. I don't know, but I am sure I don't want to play any other irons the rest of my life :)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Nice Way To Wake Up :)

This morning I had a SKYPE call with the camp. It was a great way to start my day. Teddy and his team were there, as well as many of the student  leaders and students. I got to say hello to many of them and was even serenaded by the Girls Empowerment Group! I can't overstate the fact that I miss them and the place. I am waiting patiently to hear if my proposal to return in July will be accepted or not. Last year renewed my soul, and I want to get back, back to the place where I am clean and whole. Back to where I can give and give and work with wonderful people who want to help themselves and each other. I miss that communion.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Mary Ann

Mary Ann passed away a little over a month ago. She worked here at our college for many years and I knew her for four years. Mary Ann was a very quiet and private woman who loved plants. I didn't get to know her well, but I appreciated her diligence and steadyloyalty. When we had a few problem folks in the department, Mary Ann did not join in - as a matter of fact, she let them know that she didn't appreciate their advances. She had a very dry sense of humor and was a wiz at older trivia. It became my secret mission in meetings to make her chuckle; a feat I accomplished too infrequently. I miss Mary Ann but I know she is in a better place.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Ramadan Kareem!

It is Ramadan again, and I am excited. It is time for some renewal and reflection. It is time to think of others and to challenge myself for the future. I think I will do a post a day again (as in a few years past) about people and things that matter to me. I will start tomorrow with some friends I have lost in the last year or so. I am not sure where the month will take me in these posts, inshallah, but I am looking forward to the discipline to do so. I am also cooking this month, something I rarely do otherwise. So for now, off to buy some buttermilk and dates.  Till tomorrow...........

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


I have been considering writing a book for sometime now. A friend said something about it on a FB post the other day, and even though I am never sure when he is serious or not, it reminded me of this ongoing procrastination. The book is here, somewhere buried waiting for a bit of patience and elbow grease. I can write it, as I know I have become a good teacher, and more importantly, I have tracked down many of those intuitive tools I have developed and can now put words to them so that I can share them. Soon come as my Jamaican friends are fond of saying.
It is odd that everything I have learned about teaching has been taught me by my students. I went to a teaching college and walked away with a fair bit of knowledge and no skills at all. I have had several good role models that have taught me much, but they did not teach me how to teach. I found out early that I could borrow a few things, but I had to be true to myself, and that meant finding my own way over a very long road. I suppose it wasn't fair to those early students I stumbled over as I grew stronger and more confident. But I would like to think I gave back a little to them. As Oliver Sacks noted, I was not me, I was borrowing the will of my students. It was and always has been my students.
I have taught all ages all over the world. I have taught some of the first distance courses for a midwest university with cutting edge technology, and I have taught in the dirt in a refugee camp. For awhile, I believed that they responded to me and I motivated them. I was so wrong. It was their grace, patience, and curiosity that feed me. I suppose I am just some sort of crazy mirror that lets them see things in a new and different way, or at least keeps them intrigued until their vision adjusts.
I am still honing my craft, still learning how to use their energy and will to enhance the things we share. This past weekend, I wasn't feeling well and caught myself being a  bit impatient with a few students. I decided to take a break and engaged one of the women in some small talk. I asked about her family and she responded politely. I probed a bit more and discovered that she had three children, two with autism. She can only break away for a few hours on weekend days to learn some English. That five minutes of discourse renewed me and I gained a new perspective of the day's events. That has become teaching for me - reaching out and reframing the exchange in the classroom.
I am trying to get back to Africa and/or Jordan later this summer. I still have work to do, but in reality, I need some more recharging. I spend so much of my days anymore mired in pragmatics and small politics, trying to help orchestrate larger initiatives, hoping to impact greater retention and student success, that I miss the small communions that make me smile and that fill in the recesses that still weaken my soul. I will start on that book soon. I will.

Friday, May 13, 2016


I don't think a lot about strength, but I do talk about it incessantly. I suppose I am strong and that I have been becoming stronger throughout my life. I say this because as I talk about strength over these decades, the substance and essence of the construct changes. Lately, I think I have passed the final threshold of becoming a strong man, that specter of loneliness and martyrdom that has been nipping at my heels, halving the bargain. There are no more empty nights of aimless desperation; no more lamentations of one-way streets; no more semi-shielded insecurity. I have survived those things that prove me strong and that remind me that being strong really just sucks. It is not romantic or glorious. It is, however, a cool comfort in hard times and a reassuring reflection in the gazes of those I care about. So there it is - I am strong and I will stay strong. Strong may change, but I am along for the ride. A cork on the river, as I once told someone who has contributed to this strength..............

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Nice Birthday Present

As a birthday present, one of our ESL Conversation group members translated my post, "My Conversion" into Arabic. Thank you Maysoun :)

أنا كثيرا ما سئلت كيف، لماذا، ومتى، وأين أعتنقت  الإسلام.دائما أتردد قبل ان أجيب .ليس لانني لا أعلم أو ليس لدي الكثير من الكلمات أو لا أريد أن شارك قصتي لكن إيماني هو شي شخصي عميق بالنسبه لي.
وهذه الأمور كان دائما من الصعب بالنسبة لي مناقشتها مع الآخرين.
الآن هو شهر رمضان  .وأنا أتطلع لإعادة النظر في هذا القرار المصيري "الذي يغير الحياه" في هذا الشهر الفضيل. وكان قرار عشرين عاما في طور التكوين.
وقد بدأ هذا  عندما قبلت بلدي الثاني مهمة فيلق السلام في اليمن.
بصراحة، عندما حصلت على دعوة، وكان علي أن أذهب  إلى خريطة للعثور على الدولة (وقد أخذت  فكرة تقريبية).
لم أكن وحشي حول الاحالة، ولكن كنت قد علمت أن توقعاتي كانت في كثير من الأحيان خاطئة، وأنا على يقين من أن مثل هذه البيئة الجديدة والغريبة ستكون مثيرة.
عندما ذهبت إلى هناك أعطيت القليل من الفكر ل الدين والمزيد من الوقت ل اللغه والثقافة .ولفترة طويلة اعتقدت أن الأمور التي رأيتها هناك كانت ثقافية لكنني كنت مخطئا
. من بداية تجربتي في اليمن، كان لي مشاعر متناقضة حول المعاملات التي أجريتها مع الناس هناك. رأيت الكثير من الأشياء التي لم أكن أحبها أو فهمها، ولكن أنا أيضا أحسست بالاحساس العميق بمكانة و كرامة كثير من الناس الذين التقيت بهم. استنادا إلى  طبيعتي ، ركزت على السلبيات، ولكن لم انسى الإيجابيات . كانت تلك الصور الإيجابية التي زرعت البذرة التي اوصلتني في  نهاية المطاف إلى الإسلام. 
كان مدربي اللغه اليمنين الذين عملت معهم صبورين و لطيفين معي بشكل مدهش. لن أكن طالبا جيدا دائما ,ولكنهم تقبلو ذلك . عندما لم تنجح مهمتي الأولى "الابتدائيه" العديد منهم عرض علي أن امكث في بلدتهم.كنت متواضعا "خجولا من تعاملهم الجيد" كانت الأولى من عدة مرات قادمه في السنتين المقبلتين.
العيش في مخيم للاجئين كان رائع ورهيب في نفس الوقت.  أحببت البساطة في كل يوم. حيث  كان لي موقد للطهي و الخضار المسلوقة للعشاء. أكلت الطماطم والبصل مع وقليل من الخل والزيت، و حضرت الشاي مع الزنجبيل الطازج، الهيل، والقرنفل. مكثت  في عربة وغسلت نفسي بالماء من دلوين. تعلمت أن اغتسل في وقت متأخر جدا وذلك لأن المرأة الإرترية تصر على سحب الماء من البئر لي. وقد نسجت النساء لي سجادة من العشب و غطاء سرير مليء بالألوان.
كل ليلة كنت أحاول أن أقرأ في حين كان  الأطفال يلعبون  بكل فرح و سرور بالقرب من خيمتي. كانت  الأقرب لي من أي وقت مضى للراحة والسلام. هذا الشعور بالرضا في كثير من الأحيان كان يكسر بواسطة  المرض والعنف والموت.
وبدأت أدرك أن إعجابي بالناس في المخيم كان رد فعل لاحساسهم العميق بالإيمان. 
أنهم شاهدوا فظائع لا يمكن أن اتصورها، وحتى الآن كانت لا تزال الطيبة والرأفة، وكانوا صادقين جداً معي. شاهدت  كيف عاشوا حياتهم، يوما بعد يوم. كيف  تغلبوا على المأساة، كيف أنهم ضحكو على كل شيء  .كانو لا يملكون الكثير ولكنهم سعيدين وكنت أملك أكثر منهم بكثير ولكنني كنت فقير وفارغ (اذا لم يكن لديك الإيمان فأنت فارغ).أني احسد هذه الطمانينه و الهدوء الداخلي الذي يرشد حياتهم.
منذ أن غادرت اليمن، وأنا  اتعامل و اتواصل  مع العديد من المسلمين أينما ذهبت. في مدرسة الدراسات العليا، كنت ادرس طالب سعودي الذي أصبح في نهاية  المطاف مدرب و صديق عظيم . ذكرني بكثير من الآباء المسلمين الذين التقيت بهم والذين كانو محبين ولطفاء مع عائلاتهم. وربما كان ذلك  القصور الخاص بي كأب هو  الذي أصاب تلك الحبال القوية حين تشهد تفاعل  هؤلاء الرجال مع أطفالهم. كان عنده الإحساس العميق  بالايمان "كان شخصيه دينيه جدا " ولكنه لم يكن يتحدث عن ذلك ولا يتباهى بذلك كمعظم رجال الدين.وتبعته إلى لندن، وعملت معه لمدة سنة في مدرسة إسلامية.  كان هادئا,مهنيا و مراعيا جداً. وأنا لم أكن  بتلك المهنية والهدوء.
عندما عدت الى الولايات ،  نهاية المطاف كانت ولاية أوريغون، حيث وجدت نفسي وحيدا الى حد كبير. قضيت ساعات طويلة أفكر في حياتي واحساسي العميق بالتفكك. انا لم اكن انتظر و ابحث عن اجابه .ببساطه عدت الى ذلك المكان حيث شاهدت و شعرت بقدر وافر من الامور التي افتقدتها "الاسلام"
كان لي العديد من الأصدقاء المسلمين في ولاية أوريغون، الذين استمتعت بقضاء الوقت معهم. وكان لي صديقه آخرى في الخارج حيث كان لها تأثير كبير علي. كانت أصغر مني  سنا من بكثير، ولكن كانت متوازنه  وتطبق إيمانها بعاطفة هادئة. أعجبت بها كثيرا، وقدرت صداقتها إلى حد كبير.  وكانت أول شخص اتصلت به عندما دخلت الاسلام. كان هذا القرار سهلا جدا. كان قبل رمضان بقليل قبل ثلاث سنوات، حين كنت في زيارة لمتحف التسامح في لوس أنجليس لجميع الأماكن. أنني أتذكر انني شاهدت امرأة  قدمت كأحد الناجين من محرقة لمناقشة معاداة السامية وغيرها من المسائل. كان العرض مثير للاهتمام، ولكنني كنت مستاء للغاية مع الجزء الأخير منه.حيث قدمت قطعة حول تجارة الرقيق المزعومة في السودان.كنت قد درست هذه المسألة، واعرف أن العديد من الحكومات، والأمم المتحدة، واليونيسيف، والعشرات من الوكالات الدولية الأخرى قد أدانت تقارير المسيحيين في السودان والذي يدعى "الشراء والإفراج عن" العبيد المسلمين.ادركت هذا خلال حديثها حيث تحدثت عن اليهود، والسود والأمريكيين الأصليين، والعديد من  الضحايا الاخرين في الماضي والحاضر. لم يرد ذكر لقطاع غزة أو فلسطين، ولا للاأسوار ضخمة والحواجز الخرسانية التي رأيتها في القدس، العزل واللاإنسانية تجاه المسلمين. بدلاً من ذلك، انتهى عرضها مع بعض المسلمين "تجار الرقيق". لم يكن غضبي على كيفيه  تصوير المسلمين أو إغفال التعصب الإسرائيلي الذي دفعني إلى دخول الاسلام هذا الأسبوع. كان السلام الذي شعرت به في كل مرة عدت الى هذه المخيمات، مع مدربي وأسرته،و صديقي. عرفت أيضا أن الوقت قد حان بالنسبة لي أن "اخضع " إلى إلهي . حيث أنني لم اخضع لاي شي منذ زمن طويل ولم اخضع ل زوج امي في شبابي ولا لأي رجل منذ ذلك الوقت.
حان الوقت بالنسبة لي لفتح قلبي وان اسمح لنفسي بان تغفر،تحب، وتعيش.انا لا اصلي وادعو الله على اكمل وجه ولكنني احاول. أنا أعمل بجد لاعيش إيماني. أنها ليست مجرد مسألة عدم الشرب، التدخين او ان تكون غير اخلاقي. أنها مسألة العيش مثل رجل  لديه قناعة محبة الله في قلبه.امل ان يرى الناس هذا ليس لغروري وانما لإخلاصي.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fingers Crossed For July

I submitted a proposal to return to the Congo this summer to work in the camp - wish me luck! Here is the proposal:

High School Initiative
Mole Camp
July 2016

Submitted by
Michael Morsches
English Language Specialist
April 27, 2016

Last summer, May through July, I worked in the Mole camp through a combined project with the US State Department and the UNHCR. My project was to help establish English programs in the camp. In the process of doing so, we recognized a dramatic need for a secondary curriculum. At this point, the camp has not had a functioning secondary curriculum for many years. While working there last year, I identified a significant group of refugee teachers who, with a degree of support, could create and sustain an effective secondary school. With their assistance, we created a primary school English program, a teaching academy, and a girls’ empowerment initiative. I believe the project is viable, as we implemented a Conflict Resolution curriculum last summer for adults and the turnout was very promising. The last component of a comprehensive educational system will be the establishment of a secondary school curriculum – they have the personnel who can teach and lead the program with minimum external support. Finally, the ongoing programs developed in the camp last summer offer great encouragement for the continued viability of educational programming in the camp.

Proposed Program:
An English Language Specialist (Michael Morsches) and a Math/Science Specialist (Patrick Lohan) would travel to the Mole camp, preferably in July, 2016, for a three week program. The initiative would have two components: 1) The refugee teachers would have basic pedagogical training that would focus on lesson planning, instruction, and assessment, and 2) The refugee teachers would receive content-specific training in World History, Algebra, Introductory Calculus, Biology, and Chemistry. The two training components will be in the form of active workshops with the refugee teachers practicing their skills with actual students. Finally, the refugee teachers will have ongoing access to the two specialists (and other US teachers) after the summer program, as this is one piece of the project commitment from several of our host schools, including Moraine Valley Community College.

Host Schools:
The following schools are committed to supporting this project with in-kind contributions:

Moraine Valley Community College – Chicago, Illinois
Sul Ross University – Alpine, Texas
The University of Akron – Akron, Ohio
Garrett High School – Garrett, Indiana

In-Kind Contributions:
The following are in-kind contributions we will bring to the project:
1)      Five textbook sets (Five textbooks each set) for World History, Algebra, Introductory Calculus, Biology, and Chemistry to be shipped in May.
2)      Classroom supplies such as paper, notebooks, pens, pencils, and classroom posters to be shipped in May.
3)      A few microscopes and assorted slides to be shipped in May.
4)      Release time (three weeks) for the Dean of Learning Enrichment and College Readiness (Michael Morsches) and Lead Tutor (Patrick Lohan)
5)      Ongoing teacher support in lesson planning, instruction, assessment, and subject-matter content.
6)      Ongoing English resources for all programs in the camp.

Proposed Timeframe:
The timeframe for the project would be from Mid-May through the end of July, 2016:

Mid-May – Ship resources to the DRC (possibly through diplomatic pouch) so that they are on site by July 1, 2016

July 2 through July 24 – Program at Mole (including two days at each end of the project in Kinshasa).

August 2016 and onward – Teacher support from Host Schools

Requested Resources:
We would request the following resources from the grant:

1)      Assistance in shipping the project books and resources from Washington to the DRC, preferably through diplomatic pouch.
2)      Hotel accommodations for two in Kinshasa for four days.
3)      Per diem for two for 25 days.
4)      Stipend for two at $250 per day for 25 days.
5)      Transport for two, to and from Zongo.
6)      Hotel accommodations for two for 21 days in Zongo.
7)      Daily transport for two to and from Mole from Zongo.
8)      Travel incidentals (e.g., vaccinations, travel insurance, medication)

Estimated Budget:
The following are estimated costs (excluding our in-kind contributions)

1)      Airfare to the DRC - $4,000
2)      Hotel accommodation Kinshasa (one shared room, four days) - $1,000
3)      Per diem - $2,500
4)      Stipend - $12,500
5)      Travel to Zongo – unknown
6)      Zongo hotel accommodations – unknown, perhaps provided by the UNHCR
7)      Transport to and from Mole – unknown, perhaps provided by the UNHCR
8)      Shipping from Washington D.C. – unknown
9)      Travel incidentals - $750
Total Estimated Costs - $20,750
Total Estimated In-Kind Contributions - $3000

The project I participated in last summer was very successful, and is currently flourishing. I observed then, the desperate need for an active secondary school program for the older students in the camp (see attached white paper submitted by Bryce Smedley and Michael Morsches). The internal structures of the camp and the existing personnel are the strongest components of this proposal. I have full support of the camp committee and the refugee teachers for this project, as well as dedicated support from several American schools. My school, Moraine Valley Community College, has pledged its continued ongoing support to the programs in the camp. I believe that this project will be the beginning of a long and healthy collaboration between the camp and our US host schools.

1)      White Paper – Expanding ECA – State Department English Language Programs to Refugee Camps
2)      Final Report – Summer 2016 programs
3)      Vita – Michael Morsches, English Language Specialist

4)      Resume – Patrick Lohan, Math/Science Specialist