self awareness


I’ve finally moved to Beirut. It took me nine months but it finally happened in August. What took so long, I mean I’ve been living in Beirut since December, right?  I have been thinking about that for the last two months and knowing how my mind works and knowing that I always try to understand the logic or emotion behind something I have come to many realizations. I will share a few here and others in conversations with friends later. But I will say it is finally the end of the beginning and it is time to move forward.

Like I said “what took so long?” is a question that I ask myself and I think I have some answers: Travel, Home, Amman, Relationships, Community, activities are among some the things that come to my mind. Let me start with the first. Travel, since I moved I have been constantly on the go with a maximum of 3 to 5 weeks at any one time in any one place. Though Beirut was my base, it was not home since I really didn’t have the time to settle in, paint walls, fully unpack, and get into my routines. I was shopping for my trips rather than for my home and doing laundry with the intent of packing a suitcase rather than putting away in closet. It is very difficult to be on the go if you are unsettled and it is very unsettling to be that unstable therefore it is nearly impossible to start moving in someplace when there is constant motion.

Another reason is Home. Home is such a strange concept I have learned. I am not sure where or how to start articulating what I want to say or how it impacted me. But it took me 9 months to close up my home and sell my belongings I slowly untangled myself from what I called home in Amman. It entailed giving away things, selling things, donating things and just compressing my life to one room.  It was so hard and so easy at the same time. It was a hard decision to come to and it was hard deciding what is to stay and what is to go but when decided it was done. It became easy to look at those books I had been accumulating for over 15 years and say well they are just books, my photography on my walls was just pictures in frames and other such detachments. Things that took on such huge significance at various times in my life are but mere memories in my mind and it took a bloody long time to get there.

When I think back over those nine months I think of all the trips I made to Amman and the trips Amman made over to me.  The idea that Amman is so close and easy to jump to and from meant that I was never fully in Beirut. I would default to Amman in many ways including my shopping, I even postponed buying pots and pans until I went to Amman and to this day I buy my bread in Amman.  I’m still on Ammani mailing lists that are constant reminders of things I am missing out on and with an inbox full of Amman and no time to get on the Beiruti lists it was difficult to get plugged in and despite a lot of efforts I still am not, but breakthroughs are being made and I am getting there-slowly but surely.

My relationships and my communities both in Beirut and in Amman are very different as is their various roles and mine within these relationships and communities. This was a major adjustment as in Amman I was not only fiercely independent I was usually in the middle of all the happenings and connected to so many things in so many ways. My relationships in Amman were also very diverse and spanned many many years. I’d gone through so many things with so many people and I did not have to explain myself, who I was or where I was coming from. I was surrounded by people I loved and people who love me. In Beirut I had to start from scratch, my oldest relationship goes back two years and is turbulent to say the least. I felt very vulnerable, dependent and always on the fringe, never really able to fine the entry point. I had such a hard time as a lot of what I would say or do would be interpreted as me being difficult, rude or unfriendly or vice versa. I mean to this day I can count on one hand the number of homes I have been invited into in Beirut, something so strange and weird coming from my particular Jordanian context where I was always turn down invitations and apologizing from social engagements and many homes were always open. The socialscape in Beirut is very different and building those relationships   My friends were always saying things take time and I know they do, but for someone who is used to being in the middle of a lot of social and cultural activities and life full of people the emptiness and isolation of moving to a new place is very intimidating and depressing. But I must give a shout out to the few lovely people who were really welcoming and inviting throughout and in no particular order I want to say thank you to: GA, SC, RB, MM, HA and whomever else went out of their way to be inclusive and welcoming.

On my last trip to Amman in July/ August there were many things that made it a final decision. I truly felt it was the end of era. I dismantled so much of my physical and material world. I sold my books, gave away my DVDs, and pretty much said good bye in a way that I knew I won’t be coming back for a long time. I have left what is there there and am now firmly in Beirut. Amman is home but in that way that it isn’t  your everyday home.  This is a turning point in my relationship to a city I grew up in, I loved and lost in, I fought and won in, a city I gained my independence in, a city that I grew a family in, a city I am happy and proud to have been a part of the fabric that made it special to me and all those around me.  That trip was the last line in the chapter I call Amman as I knew it.  I was in Amman this weekend, my first trip back to say good bye to a friend leaving on a long trip (I will write later about the first trip after the move). We are both on adventures in worlds far from those we know, and I said to her as I say to myself  “Just remember, when you put your foot down its always taking a step forward.”

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Yesterday I was in the elevator about to leave the office, I pressed GF to go down but instead it went up. It opened on the 5th floor and there a man was waiting. He was a construction worker and it was clear he thought that because of our varying class difference he should wait till I was done and call back the elevator. I thought that was silly, we both want to go down to the ground floor, and what a waste of time and energy. We are both human, what is this silliness of class and gender! But it seems the invitation to the ride the elevator meant that it was an invitation to harass. He looked me up and down, his pelvis made the slightest move closer and with a sly look on his face he winked. I shouted at him in the angriest and most assertive of my voices “NO”. His body crumbled and his demeanor became that of shame, he looked away and mumbled “Istagfur allah”, god forgive. We left the elevator.

This is the latest incident of a lifetime of incidents. I have normalized, and for too long, the harassment I endure at the hands of men. Growing up I have been stared at, touched, called out at and, and, and… but I learned to ignore, and become oblivious to it. I lived in a bubble where, in my mind, I was not objectified. Two years ago that changed. A friend of mine came to my house and started a conversation; she asked me “what do you do when you get harassed?” And I immediately said “I don’t get harassed.” What a farce, I get harassed on a regular basis, everyday is an assault of some sort, I just became very good at using defensive tactics that made me invisible, protected me, or just allowed me to disassociate from the stares, the following, the “accidental” brushing, the catcalling…etc.

Throughout the last two years I have worked with my dear friend on an initiative to combat this assault and take a more assertive stand on harassment. We are still working on it. While on this journey I have taken myself out of my bubble and taken notice of every transgression on my body, my being, my soul and I have reacted. I no longer disassociate but instead I engage by being more vocal, more aware and more assertive. Not just with the offenders but with other women too, learning from them and exchanging with them strategies, ideas and tools for dealing with the abuse. For example, last year I was walking down a street in downtown Amman. This man looks at my breasts lustfully and says in the sleaziest of tones “Shu hal ibizaz” (look at those tits). Had I been in my bubble I would have just kept walking without even hearing or acknowledging what he said. That is not what happened. I stopped in my tracks and turned around. I filled my lungs with air and started to tell him off in my loudest of voices, the point was to turn the shame towards him and attract attention to him (shaming the offender and exposing him was one the strategies we talked about and it worked). Being the coward that he was he quickly lowered his head and with a fearful and stricken look on his face he scuttled along quickly like the rat that he is, people were looking at him rather than at me and wondering what did he do, rather than what did I do. I walked away head held high knowing that I stood up for myself and countless other women. I knew that next time, as I am sure there will be a next time, this lowlife will think twice and maybe thrice before calling out at a woman.

These daily acts of violence and aggression, whether physical or not, mean that I have to change how I deal with the world and I hate it. I hate that men like the two I mention leave within me a bad feeling of distrust, anger, and aggression towards mankind. I hate that every time I try to be nice to a man he takes it as invitation to assault my being or body in some way or form. I hate that I have to always be on alert, on guard, suspicious of acts of kindness and withholding acts of kindness. But I have decided to turn that hate, anger and mistrust in to an act of empowerment.

I have experienced firsthand what the power of sharing, talking and exposing these acts of harassment can do, and so I am going to write, talk and expose these acts every time they happen. I will not be silenced, I am not a victim. It is my right to walk down the street with the respect and rights due to me and my body. And when those rights are taken away I will not wait for someone to “rescue” me or fight on my behalf. I can do it myself.

I’m coming home! Next weekend I will be heading to Amman. I miss it much. I’ve been thinking a lot about my life here in Beirut and the differences between it and Amman and its like comparing apples to oranges. I came with high hopes and expectations and I quickly stumbled and tripped over myself in my fumblings around this new home of mine. I have learned a lot about myself and even though I knew I am a creature of habit I had not realized how much of my life was habitualized and ritualized; from my weekend “spontaneity” to my structured work days and weekly commitments. I miss it all.

Next weekend, I leave to go to Amman to relish in all that it is; to look out at the beautiful sunset, play scrabble with my scrabble partner, walk through its old windy street, play with the kids of Al Qalaa and meet the ones of Weibdeh, coffee with old friends, stich and bitch, and Tuesdays at Ivy’s and Wednesdays with Toastmasters. I go back to recharge my batteries that have been running on empty for a while now. I go back to get my Ammani fix.

But before I go I want to reflect a bit on my experience in Beirut. In the last few months, I not so quickly or easily learned that I needed to unlearn a lot of things and pick up new ways of relating and new ways of being. It is growing pains all over again, with social awkwardness, misfitting and feeling like the last one picked for the team, only I don’t know where the team is to start with. I feel unproductive, unaccomplished and with too much time on my hands and no interest in filling it, because I was not relating to where I am. Stating the obvious, Amman has been and still is a big part of my life. In the last few months I have over romanticized it, reminisced about it and continued to make it the yard stick that I measure Beirut against. And because I have done that I have set myself up to fail, fail miserably and be miserable while failing. If my life has taught me anything, it is that from my lowest points, my miserable and not so miserable failures, that I learn the most.

So enough about Amman; Amman will take care of itself. Beirut. Beirut is a big reason I am excited about going to Amman. I am excited to leave so that I can come back. I know it is strange, something has shifted and I no longer want to hide away indoors and block the world out. I am excited about this city, its people, and what it has to offer. I know this now because on my way back from the US, I had the same feelings I do when I return to Amman after any trip: the feelings of wanting to return and having arrived home. The next step is to define what that means.

I have hit rock bottom on numerous occasions. There was the professional funk, the financial insolvency, emotional turmoil, dead end relationships that resulted in a broken heart, and of course the dreaded depression. But the thing I have learned consistently and with ever bedrock I hit was that the only way is up.

No matter how hard you hit, for how long, whether this is hope or not, whenever I was at my worst something deep inside always said it just can’t get worse. And believing that and knowing it meant that things could only pick up and move forward and upwards.

I remember in 2003 when professionally, in one year I was fired, then resigned, then laid off, then out of work for the longest time. It seemed like my professional life came to a complete standstill, and slowly I was running out of what little savings I had. I went from interview to interview and the jobs I wanted either didn’t transpire or the jobs that wanted me were shoot me boring. So towards the end of the year I was penniless and without prospects of any financial security. But what happened was the spurred me on to become a freelancer. I was and still am a “Jane of all trades”, resourceful, with a good head on my shoulders. This meant that I could do anything I wanted to and it didn’t have to be in the framework of a 9-5 position. And so after hitting rock bottom, I thrived. I learned that I could aspire to be anything I wanted to be and have fun doing it! I became a story teller, a trainer, a proposal writer, a project coordinator; I learned all about cross cultural education and managed programs in informal learning. I’ve dabbled in community organizing, activism, volunteerism and I’ve thrived. The past six years have been so robust and alive and I’ve enjoyed the bigger chunk of them. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t challenging or trying, there were moments of extreme boredom and frustration. But that only meant I had to evaluate what it was I was doing and have the guts to change it. Getting the guts, taking the leap – well that’s another story for another time.

In 2005, I found myself facing a different set of challenges. Ones that were related to family and home. It’s a scary thing realizing that though we may be related by blood, our nearest are not our dearest. Learning to deal with that concept and evaluating a home built around misogyny, selfishness pitted directly against sacrifice, emotional guilt tricks, stunted growth and potential withheld by tradition, religion, and culture that transgressed into ones physical and emotional self. Suddenly waking up to all this and seeing it clearly left me more resentful than happy. I hit family rock bottom. So what did I do? I made changes that had very negative effects in the short term including a depression. That rock bottom was not bedrock! But four years after taking the steps to assert my needs, stop the guilt trips, put an end to the transgression, saying no to misogyny and taking responsibility for myself as an individual, my relationship with my family has improved dramatically. There is respect for my privacy, my needs, and myself. Its not always rosy and bright mind you, but we have all come to know our boundaries and limitations in the most positive of ways today. My relationship with my mother has never been better!

Oh but two years after that crazy family journey came the big whopper. In May 2007 I fell in love and subsequently got my heart trampled all over it. It was a secret love affair; some may even say it was one-sided. I won’t go into the heartbreak for it left me jaded, distrustful, and more a commitment phobe than before. But it did result in some beautiful things. I learned that I had the capacity to feel at a very deep level. I learned that I could let people in and share parts of my life without it leaving me feeling vulnerable and weak (including starting this blog). Towards the end it taught me how to regain myself after being lost in someone completely. And I am not as jaded or distrustful as I was back then. The commitment issues I am working on ;).

If I were to chart my life it would have a lot of dips and a lot of highs. But one thing that screams out at me when I look at this chart is that I climbed to the highest peaks after each dip; the deeper the pit, the higher the climb was. And so I have learned to succeed from my failures, and truly appreciate what it means to be accomplished. Today I am surrounded by my accomplishments and I am very proud of every abyss I fell through as much as I am every triumph of spirit and soul.

The other day my mother had a gathering. She invited her friends and sisters for some fun and entertainment. So the house was flooded by about 10 to 15 women. There was dancing, food, jokes and of course gossip and idle chit chat. Inevitably, at least one woman would come up to me and make that fateful comment. Talking to me about that dirty three letter word without saying it.

 

Throughout the years I have come across ever possible approach from these women. This includes the veiled compliments, the suggestions, the questions to the outright self important proclamations. They would be direct or indirect, they would be public or discreet, supportive or hostile… you name the approach and they’ve used it. The most common approach right now is marriage and how I should be focus on that and sure enough the comments about my figure would follow shortly.

 

That’s right you read correctly, they talk to me about being a bit FAT girl! Fat is a dirty word in our society, and by society I mean global society. It doesn’t matter where you hail from you need to be a size 4 or less. And what is worse here you have to have a skewed relationship with food. You make massive quantities of the most decadent dishes and deprive yourself of them. You have to be petite, tiny, slim-waisted and dainty so that you are an eligible young lady and prostitute yourself before these older women to find an eligible man and have a suitable life.

 

What is funny is none of these women have these figures they encourage me to have. These women do not have the life I want to lead, know nothing about me except from that sliver of interaction and yet they presumptuously think that I am unhappy in my skin! I wish it ends there too, at least there is a context in which these comments are made. I really don’t like it when strangers come up to me and tell me I have such a pretty face if only I would lose the weight, or a shop vendor or tailor makes that comment. And don’t you just love the people that try to push those magic weight loss products?! These people may think that they are doing me a service by telling me about my body and what is best for it. It’s as if they have a right to judge me solely by a number on a scale without knowing anything else about me.

 

I have been fat since I was a baby. To me being thin is being a size 14, I am tall, big, round, curvy and yes that dirty word we all try to avoid… FAT. And you know what I am not apologetic about it anymore, I don’t feel sorry for myself, I don’t think I need to change and when one of these women comes up to me today or a stranger comes on the street says something my responses are along these lines: who gave you the right to talk about my body, excuse and what do you know about me to make that comment or very proudly I love my curves and they love me and they go everywhere I go!

 

When I was growing up I never thought of myself as fat despite being so, I was athletic and active and never really felt heavy. Yet the world around me made me feel such, but as I grew older I came to understand my body and respect it and demand what I could of it by taking care of it. Being healthy to me is more important that the number on the label. I was also adamant, from childhood, about people respecting me for my intellect, my personality and not my looks.

 

But it still took me a long time to come to terms with that dirty word and use it: fat. Fat is not acceptable to our world today, but fat I am and like I said to that woman and I will repeat it as often as necessary, I love my body, I love curves and I love my fat! If you have problem with fat then please take it elsewhere because this big fat girl loves herself enough to say enough.

Growing up I didn’t realize that what my mother made us do nearly every summer was going to be monumental to me later in life. We hated being dragged over the bridge, being humiliated, taken away from our creature comforts at home to go to see our grandparents in Palestine. I don’t think I realized then that my relationship with MY Palestine was starting and being formed.

 

But my relationship with Palestine was always defined by my mother’s, aunts’ and uncles’ stories of Palestine and their relationships with the places and the people. It was their relationships, views, ideas, prejudices, like and hates that I took on to be mine.

 

But 1998, when I was 21, I finally crossed into that beautiful land alone. I visited my grandmother, I visited my uncles and aunts, I visited the land, the cities, and the trees. I even went to Jerusalem for the first time. I started to see Palestine through my eyes and not anyone else’s. I started to form my own relationship with Palestine. But I may have been seeing it through my eyes I was still influenced by the anxieties and fears and thoughts of others.

 

In 2000 I went again, a friend of mine wanted to go and another friend was visiting her family there and so I decided to accompany one and meet the other there. It was a different experience for this time my grandmother had passed and it wasn’t to her home that I went and that too started to shape my relationship with Palestine and my family that lives there differently. I traipsed around the Palestine then with both my friends and was learning to navigate around the cities and was proud to show it off despite not knowing the lay of the land. I left just four days before Sharon entered into the Haram in Jerusalem and the second Intifada started.

 

With the violence escalating and oppression at its height, my solitary trips ended. Until last spring, a friend of mine was organizing an exchange workshop that was to take place in Ramallah for 10 days, I jumped on the idea despite being apprehensive for I had not crossed over in eight years and I had no idea what to expect. In eight years Palestine was an image on the TV screen, ink on paper, an idea, a slogan, a statistic. We very easily forget that it is a hop skip and jump away. We easily forget our family and people and their everyday struggle. We simply live in oblivion.  I especially was in oblivion for up until then Palestine was where we went to renew our papers and visit our grandparents. Israel was embodied by the TV my mother shouted or cried at when something was terribly wrong. We were never very political.

 

But last spring that all changed, I spent 10 days in Palestine. I went again in June and once again in December. I am reclaiming my relationship with Palestine and everything Palestinian. I bring back pictures and stories for those that can not go home or visit Palestine. But more importantly I am building my relationship slowly and clearly with My Palestine. The Palestine of olive groves and family gatherings; of uncles who love to laugh and cousins who struggle to live their youth; of cities and villages torn and divide by walls of cement and electricity. My Palestine where the fruit is that much sweeter, and the air that much purer. My Palestine, on my terms, with my impressions, my connections, my expressions.

 

On December 24 I wrote a blog post that I never published. It was entitled Here is to 2009. I thought I would wait a bit before publishing it and then the Gaza Massacre happened and other things became more important than my personal rants and raves about 2008 and 2009. Yet I have been thinking about the post and I have decided to post it below. I post it and yet want to comment on how three days after the positive note the year was ending on was turning sour, the big bang I wanted to start 2009 with was not that of guns and bombs.

 

Yet I look at it on a personal level again and though I first felt impotent, angry and I didn’t know what to do with my energies, I put my first resolution to the test. I did get more involved with different initiatives and will continue to get more involved on different levels.

 

In positing this I am still thinking there is much to be done and some of what I want to achieve is trivial but these trivialities are a privilege and I am thankful for the privileges in my life.  2009 did not start on a positive note with occupation, genocide and abuse being the dish of the day. But I am an optimist and I think that things will change and turn around. I think that because in my own way I know I can help initiate change even on a small scale with a word, a picture, an action. Small change can become big change and there are ways to turn misfortune into small wins. We just need to find that silver lining.

 

So if you wanted to know what I was thinking that happy day here it is, but do watch this space to know how things have changed and progressed in the mundane life that is Shalabieh’s World!

 

 

Here is to 2009

 

Last year I ended the year with a Thank you note (And I want to thank…)

 

It was a review of a year gone and passed it was year that ended positively for me 2007 was great. It was the year I turned 30 and it was definitely a milestone year. Looking back at 2008 I can only say it just keeps getting better. My thirties are definitely better than my twenties. And as the fortuneteller in Bangkok said: “30 good, 31 better, 32 BETTER. Good money, good job, good lover!” So 32 here I come. But not before I say good bye to 2008.

 

The year 2008 was a wonderful year. This year saw some much growth and change and all for the better. This year was a turning point in many ways with many wonderful things happening:

  • It was the year I reconnected with Palestine after an absence of 8 years
  • It was the year I met my nephew for the first time and really knew what it meant to be an aunt
  • It was the year I got connected at home with a new laptop and allowed internet to reinvade my private space (not so sure that’s a good thing)
  • It was the year I took a passion to the next level and bought my first SLR camera and I love taking pictures with it
  • It was the year I made a lot of new friends near and far and got close to a lot of them
  • It was the year I realized how much I liked development work and working with people underprivileged and underserved to better all our lives
  • It was the year I explored more of the Middle East than any other with travels to neighboring and not so neighboring countries and I realized how much I love the Middle East
  • It was the year I reclaimed me once again from the clutches of an unfulfilling love.
  • It was the year in which I stood my ground
  • It was the year I asserted myself

 

It is a year that is ending on such a positive note that I can only look forward to 2009 with anticipation and excitement. I am looking forward to a number of things on so many different fronts that I will have different kind of new year resolutions’ list. 2009 will be the year that

  • I will get more involved
  • I get out of debt no matter how miniscule
  • I will work on a photography project that will result in an exhibition
  • I will write more here and start a writing project too
  • I will take up learning to ride a bike again
  • I will reclaim the kitchen again and start cooking for myself
  • I will go somewhere new I have never been before and I am not just talking about travel

 

2009 is my year because I want it to be, not because a fortune teller told me it would be. So I will defiantly be drinking to 2009 and bring it in with a nice big bang!

 

Happy New Year everybody and see you in 2009.

  

 

One of my favorite reads in the past few years is Amin Maalouf’s book On Identity entitled: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. The book discusses how our identity is made up of multiple facets and “it is built up and changes throughout a person’s lifetime.” The book was a response to 9/11 and was trying to answer how murderous identities are born. But I won’t go into that now, you can read the book if want to learn more. But the question begs itself, Who am I?

The idea that we relate to many identities and react to the various criticisms or praises to a part of our identity and it comes to the forefront was fascinating and understandable. It made sense that when a part of you is under attack, misrepresented, misinterpreted then you want to change that and you react or act. But I’ve never really took an in depth look into who I am from that sense. I always introduced myself within a context. Until now. So with out context and for the sake answer the question this is my Identity.

Two identities come to the forefront of my mind: I am an Arab, I am a woman. Both have been the strongest identifiers for me. The first comes from two places, assumptions people make about me, and pride. I am constantly told I look nothing like an Arab and so I am addressed as and treated as a foreigner in my own home. Here I constantly correct that assumption by asking “What does an Arab look like?” When someone speaks to me in English despite being spoken to in Arabic my response today is “Ana Ma fhimet, Ma ba7ki Englizy”. This translates into I am sorry I don’t understand, I don’t speak English. Yes I know this piece is in English and I’m always using English ,I will explain that in another post.

I am proud of being an Arab, I am proud of being Jordanian . This pride comes from constantly representing my culture, my heritage and explaining it to westerners. My first experience at being a cultural ambassador/ translator was a visit to America six years ago. The trip lasted about two months and it was such an eye opening experience. I never knew how Arab I was until I had to speak up about my country, my region, my language, my traditions, my society …etc. It is hard trying to break stereotypes and presenting a positive spin on years of negativity and misrepresentations. But it is so rewarding when you succeed in changing fear into understanding.

The other part of me is my womanhood. I love being a woman. I have struggled very hard in a man’s world to be. I grew up amongst three brothers, in a misogynistic home with gender stereotypes constantly being reinforced in the simplest of daily chores and activities. I worked in male dominated fields early on in my career, in which I had to be tough and masculine in my attitudes. I walked in streets where I am made conscious of my status as a female, made sexual with a look, a comment, and sometimes even a touch. My early conditioning was to accept apologetically this placement in life. To accept that men will always be superior. Ha ha ha… yeah right. They are more than welcome to think that, but I will not apologize for being a woman, and I am not inferior. And if anyone has a problem with that I am more than happy to set them straight! I love being a woman and I enjoy my mind, my body, myself.

There are other parts of my identity that I used to relate to strongly but not anymore. I think that I have grown enough that I no longer need to validate those parts of me by making them important and constantly wearing them on my sleeve. Not that I need to validate being an Arab woman. But I am secure enough to know that I don’t need to showcase all my facets. It also makes for interesting discoveries of oneself by others.

The Middle East is known for its aversion to feet. We find them filthy, disgusting, and dirty and we hate them. Because of this I know that a lot of us are fascinated with them. We look at them all the time, especially in the summer when sandals, flip-flops and bare feet are all over the place. I personally always sneak a look and stare at feet. On the flip side of that I try to keep my feet clean and my toes well manicured. My feet aren’t the prettiest but I have come to respect them, love them and be comfortable with them.

So why am I talking about feet? If you read any guide book or etiquette book about the region one of the things you can count on being there is feet and how you should never put them in someone’s face when you cross your feet, or put them up. Also in there is how you should keep them clean at all times and wear slippers in the house and such. But with prolonged exposure to other cultures my attitude towards feet, especially my own, has changed. I no longer get annoyed if bare or covered feet are in my face, if someone is walking around barefoot (I enjoy that from time to time). I don’t mind putting my feet up either. I still keep my soles away from peoples’ face, but I no longer shy away from sitting comfortably with my feet poking out, instead of tucked away neatly and away from the public sphere. So today when a gentleman tried to joke about smelly feet, trying to get me to conform to social norms of feet tucked away I just smiled sweetly and thought “I love my feet and it’s your problem not mine that you can’t deal with there being some red toes showing!”

Feet are feet, it doesn’t matter who they belong to. We would be off balance with just a toe missing so can you imagine if you took a whole foot away. Respect them, enjoy them, look at them, play with them, massage them and celebrate them. You’ll have a hard time walking without them!

Today I delivere my first speech in two years at Toastmasters. I opted to do another icebreaker, a speech that introduces me to the club. Here it is…  

When I want to introduce myself I find it very hard to do so through the typical age, occupation, family and history approach. These are all things you can learn about me from a business card and an ID card. So I thought about what it is to know someone, to truly be introduced to them. That led me to close my eyes and look inwards. This is what I saw.
When I close my eyes I look at the world around me.
I see a world that has no conflict, hunger or poverty. I see no global warming and no pollution. I see a world so beautiful with many spectacular places to travel to and make friends in I see history, culture, art and music enriching our lives and accessible to all.

When I close my eyes I look at the work I want to do. 
I want to lead change, I want to be change. I want to work with people. I want to make a difference. I want to work with my hands and be engaged in my mind. I want to put smiles on people’s faces. I want to create. I want to serve. I want to teach. I want to be.

When I close my eyes I look at the people in my life.
I see so many faces, many have come and gone. Many are yet to come. Some are friends, some are foes. I see the children around me and as a friend once said they are the messages we send out in to the future. I see my elders before me with their wisdom and years to learn from as the oracles of the past. I see our differences and celebrate that for in our differences we are one.

When I close my eyes I desire a love to fulfill me.
I desire love in all its forms. A love that is pure like that between mother and child. A love that is undemanding like that between friends. A love that is energizing like that for life. A love that is consuming like that between lovers.

When I close my eyes I see my retirement.
A small hut set between trees with the surf a short walk away. The coconut trees casting a shade so lazy that you don’t want to get out of bed. A hut with windows looking out to sea. White linen curtains billowing in the breeze. A room full of books, a warm kitchen for all the good food, and an open living room that is always welcoming. Outside, a boat, moored on the shore for fishing. And when I don’t fish, I teach the children about language, about math, about life and laughter. And as the sun sets, I lay in my hammock strung up between two trees. And at night a fire on the shore to keep me warm my arms wrapped around my knees as I listen to the surf and look up to see a star filled sky.

When I open my eyes I see the world that I live in and strive to make it better place. I see the work that I do in development and education and it makes me believe that we do make a difference one person at a time. I see my life full of amazing people everywhere I look. And I see the love that surrounds me. As for my retirement I look forward to finding my little paradise and inviting you there.

But I want to ask you, what do you see when you close your eyes?

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