Archive for June, 2010

What Do You Think?


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You have spoken.  Here’s what you said about what you’d most want to win.

36%   getaway

24%    maid every week for a year

8%      Kindle and unlimited downloads 8%

0%     cook

24%  weekly massage, pedicure, manicure, etc. for a year

8%     year of babysitting 8%

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I was recently reading a thread on Facebook.  It was prompted by an article on women managers and how their employees responded to them as leaders.  At some point the discussion veered into a different topic about the choices women make on their career paths.

I always kick myself when I get involved in these kinds of discussions because I know they will end badly.  But I can’t help myself.  So, one guy—I think he’s a lawyer at least he talked about the situation in law firms said:

“We run into this challenge in the law all of the time. Is part of the problem looking at the result (less women in positions of management) and not the cause? I have never seen a decent study about how much of the result is driven by women choosing to drop out with little or no outside or biased pressure and those that are actually forced out. It is often tough to get women to accept partnerships because they choose not to even though they are bright and talented enough to be offered.”

Well, stupid me I HAD to respond and say it is not that simple.  The multiple roles that women negotiate often force them to make the tough decision to pursue their career half heartedly, give it up or go into a profession that is much less demanding.

Well, you can imagine the backlash that got. The men taking part in the discussion did NOT agree and pretty much felt that being a stay-at-home mom was what ALL women wanted and there was an underlying theme in their responses (at least in my opinion) being a stay-at-home mom must be this really easy and enviable job.  The basic attitude was that the only reason women didn’t pursue the career was because they wanted to be a SAHM.

SAHM do have a GREAT job.  And it’s an important one.  But it’s not easy; nor is it always fun.  And it never stops.  But whether you’re a SAHM or a working out of the house mom—more women than men get the responsibility of taking care of the kids, doing the housework and the cooking and overseeing the life demands of the household.  And men just seem to think these competing demands on their time is not a factor in the decisions women make about their professional lives.

What percentage of men do you think “get it?”  And I get frustrated and even angry when I hear men say comments like “Women make the choice themselves to disengage from a high powered career—there was no discrimination involved.”  There doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement that women’s choices are rational ones based on competing demands and an assessment of just how much blood, sweat and tears do you want to give to it to make it to the top of the food chain.

What do you think?  Am I totally out to lunch folks?  Maybe I’m just getting too old and don’t understand the current dynamics.

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In the past two weeks I’ve been making visits to our field offices to visit training workshops taking place.  For the most part I’m not really a rah rah rah American but I have to admit I was proud to be able to attend these workshops and be able to tell folks it was my American tax dollars that made their participation possible.

This summer the project I work on will be training over 4500 teachers in grades 1-9 in a series of workshops—using computers and ICT equipment, teaching early grade reading (grades K2-3) in Arabic and introducing active learning and student friendly teaching methodologies for teachers in grades 1-9.  For many of these teachers it may be some of the first professional development they’ve had in their careers—at least the kind we host—participatory, hands on, and engaged in active group learning.

It’s very exciting to observe the impact of our training. Although some of the participants are a bit suspicious of why America would provide this training for them (in one school a woman wearing a hijab ran after me and asked my program assistant, Rana, “Why is America doing this for us?”) most of them are just so excited to participate in the training and learn things that will make their jobs more effective and more fun.  One man in an ICT training in Qena stood up and told me “This training is an act of friendship between the governments of Egypt and America and we thank them both.”

So, thanks America.  Thanks for caring enough that more children and especially girls are able to attend school in countries around the world.  And thanks for caring that these children should be learning in classrooms where teachers are trained to be kind, to treat the children with respect and dignity.  Thanks America for joining forces with so many other countries and organizations to make the world a better place.  Thanks folks…YOU ROCK!!!

I need to edit this post.  I went to training in Beni Suef today.  Saw about 350 teachers being trained.  They are so appreciative and excited about what they’re learning.  Loved the school we visited.  The walls in many of the classrooms were covered in Xmas paper!!  It was very old but so incredibly colorful.  I’m sure they have NO idea their walls are gift wrapped in holiday cheer!!!

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Since moving to Egypt I’ve been asked by many people what it’s like to live in a predominantly Islamic country? Although I can understand why people ask me this question on one level—to be honest the question perplexes me on multiple levels.

The other day I began to deconstruct the question in an effort to try and understand what people are REALLY asking me. Are they asking me do I worry about my safety and think I might be at some greater risk from terrorism because I’m living in the Middle East? Or maybe they wonder if as a woman there are issues around the role women have in an Islamic society and how that impacts me in terms of the way I live my life or how I feel about women having to be covered. Or maybe the question revolves around being in a country where most people don’t subscribe to Christian-Judaism beliefs.

There may be a host of other things that drive their thinking and questions to me. But this is what I’ve thought so far. As I think of more or am asked some other more direct questions I can respond to them. But here’s my answer to these.

Terrorism: To be perfectly honest I think I worry more about this when I’m in some large city in the US than here. But I have never let the threat of terrorism drive how I live my life. When I was in college I spent a year living in England during the most turbulent years of the conflict between the English military and the IRA. I saw how folks there went on about their daily lives in the midst of religious and political dynamics that often erupted in violent senseless acts of terrorism.

One time in the early 90s I was attending a work conference in Manchester when a bomb went off in a store I had been shopping in just a few hours earlier. The memory of that event still stays with me and underscores how much being at the wrong place at the wrong time is such a critical factor in all these acts of horror. These events aren’t personal in terms of “who” they target–they are generally pretty random other than hitting on certain “categories” of people. But they couldn’t be more personal in terms of the impact they have on the lives of their victims. They will be forever changed.

I don’t take needless chances. I don’t’ here; I don’t in the US; I don’t anywhere I am. I avoid any kind of demonstrations; I am careful about the areas in which I visit particularly on my own. I try to respect the culture and I certainly treat people with respect and dignity—at least I hope I do. And I think following these guidelines gives me an element of protection. But with the way things are anymore in our chaotic world—one never knows. And you just can’t let that kind of fear decide how you live your life.

I have been treated with politeness and kindness during the time I’ve been here. The thing that stands out most is that everyone who I interact with on a daily basis from the bowab who guards my building to the taxi cab drivers who struggle with my pathetic directions and instructions in Arabic to my colleagues at work is they are just like me. As I listen to their stories about trying to pay for their bills that add up to more than they earn in a month or take care of sick parents or children or enjoy a quiet weekend at home with their family–I am continually impressed with how we are so much more alike than how we are different. If only we could translate this awareness of our shared humanity into something that would make our world a safer and kinder place to live together in peace and harmony.

Feminism and the role of women: Many years ago when writing my dissertation on women and girl’s education in Rwanda—I was struck by how crazy my agenda was in a world that made no sense to me against the backdrop of my personal ideology about women’s roles and responsibilities. That momentous effort was over two decades ago and sadly my thinking and efforts to reconcile my personal perspective in a culture other than my own is no farther evolved today than it was then.

I’ll never forget the angry, frustrated, resentful challenge of a young girl who was one of the top students in the secondary school classroom where I observed day in and day out of my right to come in and blithely ask my questions about their lives. She challenged the meaning of my questions and what I was doing to really leverage any real change for her future. Her anger and frustration poignantly underscored the hopelessness of her desire to go on to university and to do something in her life other than what her mother did and her mother’s mother and all the mother’s before them did—get married, have babies and work the fields.

From her perspective my questions about her role and options smacked of a most insidious and ironic form of paternalism. And it also unearthed her simmering resentment of a world outside her own that offered glimpses of what she wanted but no path on how to get there. My role in that process continues to haunt me even today and I have the same sense of helplessness every time I visit a place where I know there are young girls who want more but have no opportunity to achieve their dreams. And it’s so tragic on so many levels.

But the problem with what I was doing then and what I’m still doing today is that the dynamics between opportunity to go beyond your limited horizons and the cultural and traditional roles that define gender boundaries and modes of conduct are blurred and often hard to disentangle. As outsiders we tend to focus our attention on things that are not that significant in the larger view of things. Wearing scarves and veils strike me as one of those things. The taboo about touching a woman who is not your wife or a family member is another.

My sister said to me the other day something to the effect of it’s the woman who has to carry the burden of being covered, acting differently—and there seems to be an inherent unfairness in that. Well, this is true and it’s been the case for generations everywhere–the double standard. Men in our country can run around without tops on and their pants hanging so low on their midriff they leave little to your imagination (at least on the backside). But as disgusting as many of them look—there are no societal rules about their public display of body parts unless it gets extreme. In contrast, in some communities a nursing mother is forbidden to bare her chest to feed her hungry baby. Is this unfair? Yes. But what is the real goal we should be going for in this situation? I’m not convinced that equal opportunity to bare body parts is the leavening needed to provide equal opportunity for education, work opportunities, career paths, and salaries. These things that many view as the visible manifestations of oppression often are not that meaningful within the local context and redirect the dialogue in a way that does more harm than good.

I plug away working at my little corner of the world doing what I can do. I just want to make classrooms a better place for both boys and girls. I want to ensure more children leave primary school able to read a book and do basic math. I want them to be happy, healthy, free from abuse and the horrible conditions that so often plague the lives of poor children. Beyond that—well, I can’t lose sight of my objectives and goals. All the other stuff isn’t in my line of vision. I don’t have the energy anymore to fight battles beyond that.

Christian-Judaism beliefs: The dictionary tells me that a belief is an opinion or conviction; a confidence in truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: it is framed around faith; trust and based on a tenet creed or faith. But it also tells me that values revolve around merit and worth and importance and that values have a significance, force, meaning and ethics.

Based on what I’ve seen in the time I’ve lived here—our beliefs may be different but our values are all the same.

For me, that says it all.

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Omens and Signs

I’m not much of a believer in these things but there have been two things that happened in my life that would lead you to believe (twight zone music here….dah dah dah dah….) they do happen.

I had a unity candle at my first wedding. We each had an individual candle we used to light a one BIG candle that symbolized our individual lives joining together in wedded bliss.

Nice idea–if it works that is.  Ours didn’t.  We ceremoniously lit the BIG candle and when we blew our individual candles out we accidently blew out the BIG one too representing our new life we just began together. The flame didn’t even burn to the end of the wick…that was impressive indeed. Fitting metaphor for two lives coming together don’t you think?  Ended before it even begins maybe?

A lady who lived across the street from my folks was sitting next to my uncle at my wedding.  This lady was a bit odd—she had long dark hair, pronounced arched eyebrows like you see on caricatures of women who portray the evil stepmother in stories like Cinderella, or snow white or the mom in the Adams Family’s Values movie.  She was actually a nice person but did things that we definitely considered a bit weird (like reading tea leaves and the palm of your hand)—and she was forever telling us she was a fortune teller.   So, when we accidently blew out the BIG candle I learned she shuddered and turned to my uncle and said, “Oh, this is a very bad sign for their marriage. This is not good at all.”

Hmmm….like I said this happened at my FIRST wedding.  Nuff said.

So, sign number two.  Again, it comes from my first wedding.  A really good friend of my ex-husband gave us a handmade gift as a wedding present.  It was a decorative plate that had the following poem painted on it.  It read:

He my husband

I his wife,

United are we

Now in life.

August 12, 1973

Cute huh?  Well, fast forward 8 years.  Danny, my oldest son, is playing with a ball in the house  (how many times did I tell him NOT TO PLAY WITH BALLS IN THE HOUSE) and he makes a dead on hit on the plate. It falls to the floor and shatters into about 20 pieces.  I glued it back together again.

The glued together plate certainly became a fitting metaphor for a working marriage. Our marriage ended about 15 years later.  There were good years and there were bad ones. The good definitely outweighed the bad.  But the plate said it all…..we were working at it but all the stress, accidents, moves, ups and downs in our lives together had weakened the fiber of our marriage and it just couldn’t hold together anymore just like the glue on that plate just gave out many years later too.

Two omens predicting the same fate.  Makes you wonder.

What do you think?  Are there omens and signs?

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I’m not the greatest sleeper in the world.  I was told by a doctor once I am a true insomniac.  I’m not sure it’s something someone really wants to be called because this condition translates into a lot of fatigue and frustration.  Indeed, one of my earliest memories I have as a child is of waking up at the top of the stairs to the area where my two sisters and I shared a huge room to ourselves. It was in the middle of the night when I woke up crying with no idea of how I got there. This may not seem necessarily frightening to anyone reading this but just writing about it even today brings back the memory of the overwhelming sense of feeling lost I felt at that moment.

As amazing as it might seem my endless and almost futile quest to get a good night’s sleep is often linked to my dreams.  I don’t often recall my dreams.  And even when I do recall having dreamed I wake up with this vague memory I had one but rarely remember the details.  If I do recall my dreams what I remember is generally snippets of vignettes that have no rhyme or reason.

The only dreams I easily recall are the reoccurring ones. Experts call these the “repetition principle” and in my case are variations on common themes.  Foremost among these themes is the one in which I’m back in college and am enrolled in a class that I haven’t attended. It’s almost the end of the semester—JUST before graduation—and I have this overwhelming sense of doom that I’m going to fail the class and be unable to graduate.  Now, to completely understand my frustration you need to know that I don’t attend because I don’t want to.  No, I don’t attend because I’ve lost my class schedule and have NO IDEA when or where the class is held.  I generally wake up before my doom is sealed.  But that sense of heightened and impeding disaster doesn’t go away just because I’m awake and the dream has ended.

I read once that our brain is like a giant filing cabinet. Everything we see, hear, taste, smell and touch is remembered by our brain, and put into what we might call a “brain file.” When we read a book, watch a television show or video, listen to music, eat—everything we do is recorded in our “files.” Our brain pays attention even when we don’t! We call those files our memories. Usually, we don’t even know all the things are storied in our head.

But when we go to sleep, our brain begins to take these bits and pieces of memories and put them together into dreams.  This process only occurs when we are in the mental state called REM or rapid eye movement sleep. And even though we may recall our dreams as being these LONG scenarios–they generally last a short time consisting of 5 to 20 minutes in a series of different dreams that together take about two hours a night.  In the course of an average person’s life they’ll spend about 6 years in the state of REM.

The mind is amazing and works in mysterious ways. It never ceases to amaze me how it filters out those things going on in your life through these seemingly crazy dreams. I’m sure if I were to reflect on what’s going on in my life I’d be able to figure out the events that prompt this particular reoccurring dream.  I’ve never talked to anyone about my reoccurring dreams but I’m sure a therapist would just LOVE telling me about all the quirks in my psyche that creates the need for my nocturnal and subliminal voyages into the unknown recesses of my mind.

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