Living through terror in a Federal Islamic Republic

Twenty years ago, I was living in the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros Islands with my husband and two young sons when we experienced a violent attack. But it didn’t come from Islamic extremists; it came from a white Frenchman named Bob Denard, legendary soldier of fortune who inspired Frederick Forsyth’s novel Dogs of War.

My personal experience is nothing like the horrors faced by Syrian refugees. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if Kenya refused to let us into their country when we fled Moroni. We were not part of a mass exodus, but we were the last “official” Americans to leave the islands.

In the years since we left the Comoros, I can reflect on what it was like to live through a moment of terror and to have our lives completely disrupted. But we were welcomed everywhere we went. I think about the personal relationships we developed that transcend international politics. I think about my children’s earliest memories being from a place where the culture and climate was so completely different. I still have a bottle of ylang-ylang perfume. And I still have good memories of living among kind, peaceful people.

Republican rhetoric about keeping dangerous Muslims out of our country is counter to my experience. I’d like to write about that one day.

 

What are we measuring?

I’m sure there are other professions with such extreme highs and lows, but I can only write about the one I know. Today was one of the lows. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I love teaching. I love my students. But this afternoon I spent three hours in front of a computer screen for “training” on the new test that I will have to administer in January. The WiDA ACCESS test is moving online this year and I fear for my students. We’ve only been to a computer lab twice this year — and I learned that some of my Level 1 and Level 2 students didn’t know that if they hit the RETURN key, their cursor would go down to the next line in a document. How could they know this if I didn’t teach it? Just because they’ve got smart phones constantly plugged into their ears doesn’t mean they know anything about creating an essay in Microsoft Word. They’ve become experts at texting under their desks while pretending to look in backpacks, but how will I teach them to navigate a page of instructions written in a language they are just acquiring? I’m frustrated because I know this move to online testing will cause some students to give up. We don’t have access to computers on a regular basis, so my students are not developing the computer literacy skills that will measure their academic success. My school and my district will be judged by how well they do. I’m all for moving into the digital age, but what are we really testing? When lack of access to basic computer instruction creates a huge gap, what can the test possibly accomplish?

Maybe I’m approaching this all wrong. Maybe so many students will fail to meet exit criteria that my district will be forced to hire dozens of new ESOL teachers. And they’ll make sure we have enough access to computers so that scores will improve. That would be awesome. I already feel better.

The desperate endeavor

Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong. It is no wonder if we sometimes take ourselves perhaps a bit too seriously.

  • Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

This is my desperate endeavor to be heard above the cacophony of post-Thanksgiving excess. People were out on the trail this afternoon with dogs and children running in t-shirts. I met up with an old friend walking with her family as I walked in the opposite direction with mine. It was wonderful to happen on a chance encounter. I find that these events occur on a regular basis: when I am thinking intensively about someone from my past, he or she just appears out of nowhere and we make plans to see each other soon. I will write more about this in the future.

I am still finding my voice.

Get Quiet and Listen

It’s appropriate that my first post is on a Monday morning as I get ready to rush out the door. The life of a high school teacher begins well before dawn. I started this blog because I have a lot to say. I hope some of it will be interesting to some people and that those people will find me and comment.

Here’s a quote (paraphrased) that appeals to me:

“The first step is to get quiet and to listen to our souls. If we can learn to listen, we can hear an invitation to meaning and purpose.”

– from Marjory Bankson, The call to the Soul