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EDI Diaries #1

There was a strange feeling in the air this morning that reminded me of my days as a student. To my right was a man with a nervous twitch who kept tapping his knuckles incessantly on the metallic frame of his waiting room chair. On my left, a young lady of African ethnicity was flipping through the pages of all the literature we had been handed and in front of me was a young boy no older than 18, exuding a quiet confidence the adults around him lacked. His bright red T-shirt read ‘Bazinga’.

Twenty minutes of waiting and staring passed before we were finally herded into another waiting room and told to await further instructions. Fifteen minutes passed and I was bored. So, I opened my blue Adidas bag repeatedly. File, check. Stationery, check. ID, check. Mentos, check. Five minutes later I opened my bag again. Everything was still there. I was still waiting and it felt like the clock was stuck in a devilish limbo. I’m not good with whiling away my time without something constructive to do.

Suddenly a booming voice with a distinct Arabic accent filled the room. ‘All English people…’ (I guessed that included me) ‘…lecture room 4. No talking…no phones…no photographs.’ he instructed us robotically. He was clearly not enthusiastic about his job and gave us each a menacing stare-down as we made our way towards the room. We rushed towards the door…herd mentality…everyone rushed to get a good seat. I headed to the last row…my comfort zone. The room was big, poorly lit and a musty scent hung in the air. I took my place, silenced my phone and sank into my seat. It was going to be a long day.

After eight years in Dubai, here I was…finally  learning how to drive. Unlearning all the wrong ideas and learning by the rule book. Forgetting that where I come from, the bigger your car, ensures you the right of way. Where honking incessantly is the magic solution to thinning traffic jams. Where keeping a safe distance between cars is giving invitation to the newest sports bike or arrogant autowallah to cut through without a care in the world.  A place where you can turn right from the extreme left. I could go on and on.

Cut to eight hours of lectures later, the instructor announced a surprise revision quiz. I could feel myself moaning the words ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’…people turn…and stare….did I say those words out loud? Damn! Way to begin the course Sydney! The instructor allows his stare to linger a second longer than necessary and then continues…points to the screen… ‘now that is a closed u-turn and the other one was an open u-turn. So which lane will you take when you turn at an open u-turn?’ In India, you would laugh at anyone asking this, but here you listen and answer with military etiquette.

I hear the word ‘You’ being spat out at someone…there’s a finger pointing in my direction. Wait, am I supposed to answer? Think Sydney, think. No phone-a-friend. No cheating. He’s testing *you*… ‘Right-hand lane’ I hear myself say hesitantly. Without a word the bespectacled legionnaire moves onto his next target, a Philipino lady who he has caught dozing off. She answers too. This is not going how he had planned it.

Sahi jawab the imaginary narrator in my head declares…there’s clapping in the stands. Triumphant.

I feel like I am one step closer to the elusive driving license in Dubai. I am charged about the road tests. The 5th time is the charm, they say. For now I’m celebrating with a Shwarma and a milkshake as I wait for the cabbie to come get me. I know the next few weeks are going to be a bumpy ride. Sorry for that pun…I couldn’t help myself!

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Waves

This is not one of those ‘I just turned 30 so I’ve suddenly become reflective’ posts, but it’s really about a thought that has been tossing in my mind for a while. I know one of the most important things in life is to have a plan, to have vision, to chart a path for yourself and walk it strategically and confidently but, do you ever feel rudderless?

I’m not saying that I’m drifting at the moment, quite the contrary. I love work, I get to make a difference every day (at least I try to…but with kids, you never really know for sure) and that matters most to me. I’ve been lucky, people have been good to me, opportunities continue to come my way, without my having to go after them, and I embrace them. The results are mostly good. Good for me. Good for other people. And everything seems as if it is as it should be.

But before I get complacent in that feeling, I’m suddenly rudderless again. Second guessing myself again, wondering ‘now what?’ The self-doubt comes in waves and when they do, they are all consuming. It lasts for a few days then the ebb and flow recedes, there’s light again…then…sunshine…and then maybe a week or two later…perhaps a month…the drizzle begins, turns into a steady shower…and then more waves.

I feel like by now, I should have this ‘life’ thing sorted out. There shouldn’t be so much second guessing. But I find that I am constantly comparing, constantly thinking, exploring options, looking for opportunities to try new things and what makes it so much more complicated is that there a million things to consider, if you’re really looking. I wonder if it’s the curse of our generation to have so many options. We are paralyzed by choice and the wide array of possibilities make everything so confusing.

So I take time to ask myself regularly, am I happy? And the answer has always been yes. I chose to teach and I would choose it all over again. The answer leaves me wondering…what then, where is this perceived lack of ‘_______’ (I couldn’t find a word for it) coming from?

I guess that’s when it sort of struck me, I think that we usually equate being happy with being fulfilled. But they’re not the same at all. Happiness comes while one is pursuing personal dreams. A deep sense of fulfillment will emerge when you finally connect the person you are with the things that you choose to do. Does that make sense?

To borrow from Dickens, these bouts of questioning and scrutiny feel like ‘the best of times and the worst of times’. I feel caught between waves of realism and idealism, risk and security, adventure and roots. Despite these surges, I’m told by my confidants that the moment of clarity will come. It always does. I just have to take a great leap of faith and trust that it will. And that I will be in good company, because endless number of people have taken that leap, too. And I guess that’s what will eventually happen. Because things do fall into place somehow, my life is testament to that. But for now I really need to learn how to swim, or at least  how tokeep my head above water, because when the waves keep coming, sink or swim is not an option for me. I want to ride the waves. Fearlessly.

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Mundane Ramblings

I’ve been in a half-waking/half-dreaming state since around 4 am today. I finally got out of bed around 5:30. The alarm hadn’t even gone off yet. I stood in my balcony for a while, studied for a little bit and then I figured I’d blog and get it out of the way before the sun comes up and I’m distracted by the ins and outs of everyday life. (Unfortunately, I’ll probably post this hours later, when I’m convinced it’s good enough to go online)

After the rush of the work week that surges past us in a blur, Friday mornings in the UAE are calm and tranquil experiences. Till about 11 am, the emirates seem to be in a deep slumber, nobody stirs, there are no traffic snarls, balconies are deserted except for the odd early riser standing outdoors, coffee-cup in hand, luxuriating in the stillness of the morning. Everybody makes the most of the languid atmosphere.  Only the Muezzin’s full throated voice breaks the somewhat eerie silence as he calls his faithful brothers to prayer. ṣalāt al-jum`ah.

Friday mornings in the UAE really are a different kind of special for me, full of possibilities at the cusp of the weekend, a time when it’s easy to appreciate the quiet of the world around me. It gives me time to think. To write. To wonder. To be. A luxury we don’t really have all through the week. Unfortunately, my weekend schedule is most often globally unsychrozied as family and friends all over the world are still working or busy bringing their work weeks to an end.

I’m beginning to feel that morning rituals are important, especially on the weekends. Through the week, as so many of us can attest, we are busy and dragged in so many directions, we can’t figure out which way is up by the end of it. We crave that respite from the world, and a calm weekend morning ritual can really set the tone for the rest of the weekend and the start of your next week. I don’t have a set weekend ritual yet but I am beginning to feel the need to design one.

It’s never really too late to carve out your own ritual and see what pieces fall into place, is it? By the end of the week I’m so thoroughly exhausted, from 5:00 am wake up alarms, to putting in a full week at work that relishing the silence of the weekend seems exactly like what the imaginary doctor ordered.

Anyway, I’ve got a full weekend planned. There was a plan to travel to Fujairah with some friends but I’ve put that on hold temporarily but there’s still a lot more to be done and I better get started.

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Cardboard Box

I’ll let you in on a little secret about myself, I hold on to all sorts of silly things. For example I take screenshots of chat conversations I want to remember, I keep the stubs from movie tickets, I keep pamphlets and boarding passes from trips around the world…I save everything!

Let’s backtrack a little…I have this cardboard box that holds a lot of my favourite memories. I’m not sure whom I got it from or when I got it, but I received it many years ago and despite forgetting what came in it, I liked this box so much that I kept it in the hope of finding a use for it. Eventually I did.

I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to mementos and mental memories. Ever since high school, I always kept things that I thought were important to the history of my relationships or special places or events. I have letters my parents wrote to me. Years of correspondence with my pen-friends (yes I had pen-friends), exam papers my friends asked me to get rid of, and a wide variety of billet-doux that mean something to me. This large box seemed like the perfect resting place for my memories.

The funny thing about memories though is that they only last as long as you remember them. Despite starting many moons ago in high school, I still have those numerous keepsakes tucked away. While I know of their existence, I realize that I rarely unearth that box from its resting place to reminisce on the past.

So, what’s the point? Why keep a box full of little metal memories that collects dust in my apartment? Why do I keep adding to it as I have more life-experiences and as more people flit in and out of my life? Why not just sift through it and toss out the unnecessary? Simply put, I can’t—not yet at least. Those keepsake and mementos are vital scraps of my life and so much of who I am and what made me this way is confined therein.

In the words of the old country song:

“Memories don’t leave like people do
They always stay with you
whether they’ve been good or bad
they are something that you had”

There is something to be said for memorabilia, we value them because they represent a connection with something important in our past. Many of us keep all kinds of memorabilia around and while I don’t believe those things intrinsically represent a threat to your present, they are part and parcel of who you are at the moment.

Call me sentimental but I am one of those people whose mind is a depository of long lost memories. I remember more “useless” information than most people I know. I am a trivia king and so my memory is not selective and neither are my mementos. For all intents and purposes I try never to forget people, places, experiences, things and my mementos of past relationships, photos, cards, gifts and other things are my relationships’ totem pole.

I wonder if you’d be willing to share about the things you keep, why you keep them and what they mean to you.

Thanks for taking the time to read…

“Memories, even bittersweet ones, are better than nothing.”  ― Jennifer L. Armentrout, Onyx

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Book Problems

This weekend I had to move apartments…again. For those of you who are keeping count, that’s five apartments in seven years. But let’s keep the ranting for another post, shall we? Anyway, as much as I detest packing and moving, I have got to say, unpacking my personal library brings me so much joy! In the last seven years here, I’ve amassed a large collection of books, and that’s putting it mildly!

Today, I found myself killing some time in one of Sharjah’s few bookstores (The Book Mall at Qanat Al Qasba). I didn’t go in there with any specific book in mind but I did walk out with four new books to add to my collection. For those who know me well, one thing is certain, this is a pattern, something that repeats itself over and over again.

Despite the fact that I probably have way too many books and despite the fact that I am running out of room to store them, I’m absolutely not sold on the notion of purging my library by ‘giving some away’ like someone ridiculously suggested a few days ago. I don’t even fancy lending a book and I cannot even imagine what parting with them permanently would feel like.

The reason I cannot part with my books is this: a significant number of books I own are ones I haven’t read yet. Some people believe I should read all the ones I have before I purchase any new books, but I cannot help myself. There’s something so special about putting new books in a row with other books, read and unread; and then lingering over the sight of all of them lined up on a shelf waiting to be selected. I don’t know how else to explain it, but when it comes to books, there will always be more books that you haven’t read than books that you have, and a reading desire is in many ways more important than reading accomplishments, no?

My library of unread books is far more inspiring than a library of books already read. There’s nothing more exciting than finishing a book and walking over to my book shelves to figure out what I’m going to read next. So, the solution here is simple – slow down on the buying, not cut it out completely, which means things like limiting myself to one book per bookstore visit. As long as I don’t trip over those piles of books on my floor or break my back trying to transport them to my next apartment (God forbid!), it seems to me that having too many books is a pretty awesome problem to have.

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Learning Guised in Gaming – Using Minecraft in My Classroom

With the recent surge of interest in the phenomenon known as ‘gamification’, our school decided to experiment with a summer assignment using Minecraft. The announcement did raise a few eyebrows, ‘What do video games have to do with literacy skills?’ the skeptics asked. ‘They’re already too hooked to tech’, some said and since then I have also been asked occasionally to explain what gaming in an English lesson would look like. Get ready to read just that!

Can I just say that I personally love video games? I grew up playing the milder and less hostile games like Tetris, Duck Hunt, Mortal Kombat and Super Mario and cold conquer a reasonably good top score when I happened to be in the zone. Nowadays I still catch myself trying desperately to beat my brother’s top score in Temple Run. I fail miserably but the love for video games still lingers.

People today are too quick to dismiss the multiple benefits that gaming can have. Let me explain, a lot of learning can happen while students are playing games: strategic thinking, experimentation with ideas and methods, reasoning, and so many more. But that’s really not going to help students write better, is it? Actually, it might! Games like Minecraft are important to developing literacy and writing skills. Here’s how.

Minecraft essentially allows students to create almost anything their minds can conceive. The creative mode allows them the artistic license to build massive structures and designs – virtual leggo if you like! At first they might choose to build fortresses to protect themselves from monsters but as they progress their creativity kicks in and you’ll see they can create wonderful, imaginative things. In Minecraft, the students have to first envision and then create the world. Nothing happens without their planning, their imagination and their decisions — surroundings, characters, buildings and what-have-you. Using games avoids the sometimes unnecessary focus on grammar and punctuation that many kids struggle with. As a teacher, I don’t just want my students to simply read, write and punctuate, I want them to be able to imagine fantastical worlds or experience new adventures and sometimes, building a fortress, jumping into valleys and teaming up with partners in a video game can help achieve all of that too.

Once I’ve watched their Minecraft videos, I often find myself asking questions such as;

  • Describe this particular setting
  • What made you design this scene in this way?
  • How did you envision a particular situation playing out?
Eric Rajamani Grade 8 - Reflection

Eric Rajamani Grade 8 – Reflection

The answers I receive make it increasingly clear that the students’ creativity is stretched when they create or re-create worlds in Minecraft. My philosophy is simple really, if they can envisage and picture it in their minds and can create it with their hands, chances are that they’re going to be able to write it better too the next time they sit down to complete a piece of prose.

So there you have it – that’s how and why I designed our first experiment with Minecraft to scaffold reading, writing, image building and problem solving. We’ve got a long way to go with mastering gamification but I think this was a pretty awesome start!

Here are two Minecraft Videos from this summer and the students reflection thereafter.

Vaibhav Joshi Grade 9 - Reflection

Vaibhav Joshi Grade 9 – Reflection

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Assignments, Deadlines and Dirty Laundry

Studying for my Master’s degree while having a full time job is turning out to be so much more challenging that I thought. So is keeping adequate groceries in the house. Two nights ago I had popcorn for dinner, last night sushi, which I also had for breakfast this morning. I ate the last of the cheese slices just now, and the only biscuits left in the packet are the broken ones. The coffee supply is running low too. That’s when it gets really scary.

I thought I might go out for supplies this morning but I ended up calling some friends over and we walked a few blocks to Caribou for an iced Americano. I figured that counted for exercise for the day – something else that’s gone by the wayside this last week since I was away in India. I’m also behind on the laundry and am yet to unpack the two Nike duffel bags that I brought back from my trip last week. My passport and some funky trinkets from @happilyunmarried are somewhere in there too.

Why am I confessing all this in a blog post? I can’t say. Maybe I’m hoping for absolution for this unusual streak of slobbishness by the gods of the blogosphere. Or at least few murmurs of understanding from my fellow bloggers. Maybe even an offer from someone to bring over a pizza or Chinese takeaway. This has been such a hectic week and it has gone by in a blur of assignments…coffee…spreadsheets…coffee…emails…teenage drama….more coffee and more deadlines.

The good news is that the deadline for the assignments is just a few weeks away and I’m nearing the final lap. The excel spreadsheets for school keep getting more and more complicated and I have enlisted the help of someone wiser with the formulae’s to get them done. Once I’m finished with the assignments and the documentation, things will go back to normal—microwave-ready meals and fresh blog posts and lots of coffee shots

Just checking in to say that it feels good to be back in the swing of things though and I hope that all is well with you.

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