Where the blogger did you go? Why did you stop writing? What happened to you? I’ll tell you what I think happens to some writers. I think they don’t feel safe writing exactly what is… More
“Has anyone been to America lately? Any Americans in here?” Maz Jobrani asks the audience of nearly 3,000 during the Doha Comedy Festival. A few people cheer. I may have cheered the loudest.
“What’s your name?” He asks and it takes a few seconds to realize he is asking ME!
“Nancy!” I shout and he and everyone in the hall hears me!
“Do you live here? How long have you been here?”
“Now I do – 4 weeks!”
“So, what are you doing here?”
“I’m a teacher!” The crowd starts to cheer.
“Teacher?” a few people scream and it appears as if I have fans! Maz is A-Maz-ed, “I’ve never seen so many people applaud for a teacher. Nancy! You’re famous! You’ve only been here a week and you have fans?” more applauding and I’m in stitches.
“Nancy, what are people going to think when you go back to the US?”
- Yes, it is hot
- No, it is not dangerous
- Yes, I can go anywhere freely
- No, I do not need to cover my head
- Yes, it is recommended that you dress modestly
- No, it is not hard to find things to do
- Yes, I think I’m going to like it here!
We arrived as the sun was setting, sending a final blast of hot air, comparable only to the air hitting your face as you open a broiling hot oven, over Hamad International Airport.
Our arrival was anything but glamorous. We stumbled off the plane, down a flight of stairs, onto a crowded bus, past Disney-like lines at customs and confusion at baggage claim with 12 pieces of luggage. Finally, we were welcomed with open arms by a lead teacher and the director of my new school. I was sweaty, maybe a bit overwhelmed and full of excitement. By the time we left the airport it was dark out and just as hot as when we left the plane.
I haven’t had a lot of free time over the last 2 months. I have a lot of work to do being in a new school, in a new country with a new MYP curriculum. I have met a lot of great new neighbors and co-workers and I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know them better. For an introvert such as myself, it has been tough being so social, but I am so grateful to the people who pull me out of my shell and invite me into their lives!
- Getting my license so I can drive is quite a chore. All sorts of extra steps have now put a delay of over 2 months! I then hired a driver and he quit after 2 weeks because the drive is so early and so long! I’m now taking Über and begging for rides from co-workers!
- To get a nanny or not? It’s the thing to do here but I’m not so comfortable hiring someone for cheap to do all my housework and watch my kids. So far we’ve gone with a part-time helper pay her very well.
- Our amazing club house where we go swimming in the evenings is surrounded by palm trees, a playground and a restaurant!
- Brunch like I’ve never experienced before! Spice Market with KBell, Jen S., and our “Trophy Husbands” turned out to be the best 4 hours I’ve ever spent in a restaurant!
- Eid Celebrations at Katara Cultural Village: Shows, gifts for the kids and fireworks!
- My apartment is spacious and comfortable, which is necessary after a long day. And help with cleaning the place is a text message away!
- My next door neighbor is like an angel – she has helped with so many adjustments and she has little kids too! So she gets it!
- LadyZ is in PreK and she loves it! The school is truly a gem!
I’m going to let pictures speak for themselves for a while – who knows when I’ll have enough time to write! Besides, I’m a newbie, so I don’t know what I’m saying yet anyhow. Just know that I’m so glad I have this opportunity!
Source: The Spice of Doha
I’m not quite sure that the cemetery they decided to rest your ashes in is actually in the center of Queens. But standing in front of the majestic mauseoleum, I can see the Manhattan skyline. I see rows of graves on a pleasant incline, a few grand trees offering shade. On one side of the cemetery is a Queens stuck in the past and on the other side is Queens embracing the future. The two of you, in the center of it all. I know you didn’t come all this way to stop here. I know you would tell me to live. Breathe deep and then run. Go and don’t be afraid.
It’s coming up on a year since we left New York. The decision to leave our life in a hectic city and try out a new, slightly less, hectic city has had it’s highs and lows. I’m amazed at how a huge disappointment led to a year of learning, exploration, and what feels something like “Chasing the Sun” here in North Virginia/D.C. I’ll admit, it is not the calm, wooded scene I thought we were looking for. In fact, a few weeks after we moved here, we were visiting family in North Carolina, enjoying the silence, and hubby says, “I think we made a mistake.”
But it hasn’t been. Not for either of us. I gained a whole new perspective in education by working with a forward-thinking school. It was the jolt to my teaching system that I needed. Privileged or poor, middle schoolers are in an “all about me” stage. I got them to see the value in their unique talents and how it makes a positive difference in the world.
My husband left his accounting job in New York and delved into filmmaking. Once a hobby, it is now a blossoming career. He filmed an event recently and I asked him, “Did you enjoy it?” and he quickly responded, “I would have done it for free!” He filmed Rita Moreno at the Kennedy Center and completed a film program at George Washington University! Makes that ping-pong table at his old office look really pathetic. A recent comedian commented that Immigrants have 4 career choices – Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer or Accountant. I get why he thought being an accountant was a good idea…ok, no I don’t. Accounting sounds boring as hell.
And the kids? My 4 year old is studying art techniques and swimming full time. The 2 year old has perfected his station as Daddy’s best buddy, Mommy’s sweet angel and his Big Sister’s worst nightmare. He studies trains and dinosaurs at length and can list creatures of the Jurassic better than he can recite his ABC’s. They’re fine even if, for a while, they kept asking when are we going home? And why does it take so long to get to Gabby and Sophia’s house now?
As I write this, I’m not sure if we are staying or going. We hope to be going, but still no confirmation. Staying will be expensive – it’s no cheaper to live here than it was in New York. In fact, it is more expensive as our kids need private education until they’re both 5! The cost of pre-school here is somewhere up there with the cost of college tuition. But staying would mean more learning for me and more career development for him. Our kids…I’m not worried about keeping them home a bit longer. I can’t see my 2 year old sitting in a classroom anyhow.
Grandma, Grandpa, I can’t say I will visit you here often because, I know you’re not here. You’re somewhere beyond the sun, soaking in the rays, hand in hand. You’re looking at me half smiling and half laughing because you already know what will happen. Your children all left at some point. Two joined the Navy. Two went home to Ecuador. The two girls off and married. Each and everyone came back, eventually. Even the one uncle, the one who headed off to Texas and seemed to never come back – he’s back now. Now! Even though you’re gone. And I don’t think he’s leaving again. It’s not even about New York. Screw New York. it’s about you. We all just want to be near you. Someday, I will be back too.
So what has life been like in a new city? What’s it like to pick up and leave New York after 30+ years of living there? The series of posts to follow will give you an idea of the ups and downs of moving your family to a new city, DC, and life outside of New York.
I’ll be channeling Sara Bareilles as we go as she seems to be singing my soul right now.
Chasing the Sun – Sara Bareilles
It’s a really old city
Stuck between the dead and the living
So I thought to myself,
Sitting on a graveyard shelf
As the echo of heartbeats,
From the ground below my feet
Filled a cemetery
In the center of Queens…
You said, remember that life is
Not meant to be wasted
We can always be chasing the sun!
So fill up your lungs and just run
But always be chasing the sun!
All we can do is try
And live like we’re still alive
All we can do is try
And live like we’re still alive
Confirmed to depart for my 1st teaching job abroad on August 3rd!
I am booked for a flight to Abu Dhabi tomorrow…and I won’t be on it. Or, at least, I think I won’t.
We received the email we should have received last year:
Congratulations, you are in Group 1, scheduled to leave on or about July 19th…
I am booked for a flight to Chicago O’Hare and then overnight to Abu Dhabi. I am scheduled to stay at the Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche – a stellar looking accommodation for a lowly teacher from New York. Despite all this, I am taking a gamble and holding out for Qatar.
I can hear you shouting, “Go to Abu Dhabi, you Ninny!” and I’m up at nearly 2 am thinking the same thing…except:
- I’d be traveling alone. I would need to go alone, apply for sponsorship for my family and then bring them over anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months down the line.
- I would also be heading there blind – no clue as to where we will live, which school I would be placed in to work or who I’d be working with.
- I would know absolutely no one (aside from the facebook groups who are all super excited about going and I’m NOT). I don’t like going into this already jaded!
So here I am, taking a gamble. I don’t have a flight or visa information for my job offer in Qatar, but I’m holding out for it. It has got to be on it’s way. I’m checking my email more often than ever before…every 3-5 minutes if you can believe it.
I’m hoping I’ll wake up and my inbox will have the visa and flight info for my whole family to travel to Qatar at the beginning of August…less than 2 weeks away!
She lived for 104 years.
She saw the world transform – from the mountains of Ecuador to the peaks of New York City buildings. From radio to the television screen sizes. She lived so many different lives – a daughter, sister, a Mother of 6, and the wife of a man who dreamed of coming to America. She was a seamstress in New York City as so many immigrant women were. She was strong enough to keep going, despite the small apartment, the rough subways, and the language barrier.
She is America, my Grandmother and the matriarch of our family. She had a way of making 3 small pots of food feed everyone who came to visit – her 6 children, 11 grandchildren and, eventually, 15 great grandchildren and even 2 great-great- grandchildren! Her biggest fan, Luis, my grandfather, always got the 1st plate. She and my Grandfather founded a family whose story breaks cultural barriers and defines what it means to be an American. We define what it means to be a New Yorker.
But I only know the part where I came in. The part where I know for certain that I am my Grandmother’s favorite. How do I know this? Because I am the one my cousins would get to ask permission to go places. Like, if we wanted to go to the park, they’d pay me with quarters to go ask Grandma.
“She likes you, you ask.”
“She’s Grandma. She likes all of us….”
“No, no, she likes you most because you read a lot. You’re ‘responsible.'”
The funny thing is that I never really learned how to speak Spanish fluently. And my Grandmother never learned to speak English at all. Our conversations were a special type of Spanglish on both ends.
“Quiero vas a la park”
“Al parque? Si, si, via con cuidado. Before I could run off to the bunch hiding on the porch, she’d laugh and say, “Ay, La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”
Off we would go, my cousins Stephanie and Omar and my sister Lisa. Off to the park 2 blocks away, up the steep hill and stairs of death, in Woodside, Queens, New York. We’d get Omar to push all us girls on the tire swing, we’d run like mad children, chasing each other with sticks. We would stay there forever, but I swear we could hear her calling us to come home from 2 city blocks away.
At Grandma’s house, we would eat what she made or starve because there was no ordering out or frozen options. Rice, beans, chicken. Rice, soup, bread. Rice, beans, steak. Rice, beans, fish. No matter what, it would always taste delicious. I didn’t like red meat or fish at the time, but when Grandma made it, I ate it. It had a unequivocal flavor, not even my own mother could replicate. At the end of every meal, we would walk our plates to the sink, give her a kiss and say, “Gracias Abuelita.” I usually called her Grandma, but after a meal, this was the tradition. Always kiss the chef!
We would beg to sleep over Grandma’s house. Admittedly, not because we wanted to spend more time with her, but because we wanted to hang out with our cousins. Grandma would put us all to bed around 8 pm. Earlier if she could, but 8 pm, when the sun was still shining through the large windows of her big yellow house on a corner in Queens. We would just about fall asleep when we would hear the tune of Mister Softee, the ice cream truck, coming down the block.
“Ask her if we can get ice cream.”
“Quiero Ice Cream.”
“Ay, La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”
I’m pretty sure the change in the tone of her voice signified that we should all get back to sleep…but I didn’t understand her at all when she yelled. My Spanish was selective. Luckily, Grandpa would intercept and hand us all a dollar so we could all get ice cream. Mister Softee would stop right in front of their house and we’d make our purchases and hang out on the brick porch steps with the white aluminum awning. We’d tell jokes,
There are a few phrases I could exchange with Grandma, but mostly it was about “Escuela.”
“Te gusta Escuela?”
“Esta bien.” and she might carry on a few minutes with words that I’m sure meant, “Getting an education is important. Make sure you study.”
She’d chuckle again and again saying, “La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”
As she and Grandpa would leave our house, she’d secretly slip me $5, $10, $20 to spend. Actually, I’m sure she meant for me to save it, but I never did.
They both came to visit us where ever we were. In North Carolina, In Hawaii. In Hempstead. In my many apartments/houses. But when Grandpa passed away in 2010, she stopped leaving the house. She was 96 at the time and she’d say over and over, “Everyone is gone. I want to be with them.” or something to that effect.
But she just kept going. She kept cooking, cleaning, and sitting by her window, watching who came in and out of the house.
Until the second week of June, when she started to complain of pain in her stomach. They took her to the hospital and the doctors said there was a tumor. But she’s too old to have surgery. They sent her home with a Hospice nurse and said it could be days, even weeks.
I left Virginia for New York on Thursday, the day they sent her home. I walked into the room and my mom told her it was me. Her only true ailment up until this point was her eyesight.
“La Nina Nancy…” she sang, slowly, and then continued on in Spanish
“She says she’s dying.” my Mom translated.
I held her hand. She was so thin. So tiny.
Everyone left at that moment. Uncle Luis went to get her water. Uncle Santiago went to answer the phone. The kids went off to play.
And she spoke to me. But I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I held her hand and listened. But I had no response. I figured I would find a few words to say to her tomorrow. I said, “I love you.”
And she passed the next day.
We kissed her good-bye before they took her away. “Gracias Abuelita.”
Omar, Stephanie, Lisa and I hugged each other a little bit harder and broke down in each other’s arms. We each took turns trying to console Uncle Luis, who took care of her every day since Grandpa died.
Eventually I made it outside to the backyard and I watched the children play. They didn’t really have any idea what had happened. Most of them won’t remember her at all. But there they were, running up and down the side of the house like we once did. Riding on a little Fisher Price horse on wheels that used to belong to Omar. Kicking the ball out into the street and waiting for a kind stranger to return it as they walked by. Asking for ice cream when the truck came by.
I looked up at the Yellow House my Grandfather bought so many years ago and how so many of us were lucky enough to feel like this is home, thanks to her.
I made a video using all the pictures we could find of her, but we didn’t have many of her younger years. We played it at the funeral home and now the song, “Amor Eterno,” is forever etched in my brain. I would have liked to find photos of her as a young girl, long before any of us came along. But there just aren’t any. Just a headshot of her with my Grandpa, smiling and leaning on each other. I don’t know what year it is from, but they’re both young. There’s the one of them both by the fence that used to surround the house. Another of her by the train when my Mom was very young. Maybe we’ll find more in Ecuador.
If there is a reason for everything, then there is a reason why I didn’t go to Abu Dhabi last year. Actually, I think there’s quite a few reasons why. but that’s a post for another day.
Each morning, I start my day with NPR news on the car radio. Today, as if on a loop, the headlines all began with “Qatar.” Today, as I am driving down to Richmond, VA to visit the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia to finalize more papers for working abroad, I learn that there is “tension brewing from the countries surrounding Qatar” – the country I am headed for. Today, June 5, 2017, the same day all my authenticated paperwork arrives from the Qatar Consulate of New York…I am wondering if I will be needing all these papers at all….
My weekend started out great, thanks to Kennesha at American Teacher in Qatar. She gave me a lot of encouraging advice and tips on life as a teacher in Qatar. What stands out most? Don’t listen to what they say in the news. I have a great appreciation for the free press, however, true Journalism exposes truths; money and greed twist it.
Monday morning, I hit the road nice and early for a nearly 2 hour drive to Richmond. I enjoy 5 minutes of Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. His soft voice and soothing poems usually prepare me for a day of English Teaching. After he bids farewell with, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch,” I listen on to the news headlines. I feel like I can trust NPR as being a reliable, fair media source. My ears perk at the mention of “Qatar” and then my thoughts begin to race as I hear the words over and over: “Several countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar… ” What does this mean?
It’s too early to tell, but am I looking at yet another dream deferred?
I’m in NYC finishing up some more papers for authentication. This process is painful.
Hubby took the bus here 3 weeks ago to get some papers authenticated. Unfortunately, we missed the part where you you need a new letter from your university that certifies that you’ve
- Competed your degree in person and not online
- Dates you attended
- The university’s credentials
And a lot more that I can’t think of right now. Fortunately, Queens College came through in time for spring break so here I am! I’m grateful for being able to spend more time with my family and have the week off.
But this is no Bahamas vacation.
This is running up and down the steps of Queens County Clerk’s office on Sutphin Blvd,
Racing past the crowds with laundry carts to the J train,
And standing on the filthy train platforms on my way to 123 William Street.
I’m leaning into shops wafting with flavorful food
And dodging piles of stinking trash on the sidewalks.
I miss New York, but these streets really are mean.
It will all pay off. It has to!
All that running in around in NYC and paperwork is still not complete!!! I’ve still got to go back to New York because most of my papers are mostly New York State Documents, they must be authenticated by the Qatar Consulate in NEW YORK. I’m still waiting for the FBI Clearance on official paper rather than the digital copy that will show the same information!!!
Time is running out and I’ve got people in all directions asking,
“So when are you going to know?”
“Will you stay or will you go?”
“We are still awaiting documents…”
Kagan Strategies: Get the kids moving and fully engaged.
A group of newer teachers went all the way to Texas to attend a conference on how to use timers, numbered seats, color coordinated seating charts, and spinners to randomly choose kids to participate. I love the refresher…but my, oh my, how I’ve wasted all this time teaching when I could instead package everything teachers have already been doing for centuries in a pretty little book.
I am grateful for this opportunity to teach outside of New York. It feels good to be treated like a human by administrators. The staff looks out for each other. It’s nice to have parents show their appreciation with books, candy and Starbucks. It’s been really nice having small comforts like a kitchen in the lounge, birthday lunches and Teacher Work from Home Days. The professional development opportunities have been meaningful and considerate of our time.
And kids are really kids. I’ve got tons of sweet ones, bright stars, goofy jokesters and a few who make the day feel long, What I am truly grateful for is this chance to see the stark difference between the haves and have-nots. The inequalities are simple, yet, vast.
1) The Copy Machine: After running off copies of a packet, I sat in the lounge stapling them together. One of the English teachers on my team walked in and asked, “What are you doing?”
“But the copy machine does that!”
She walked in another time while I was correlating copies and burst out laughing.
The next day before starting our Content Team meeting, she said, “We are starting today with a copy machine tutorial for Nancy.”
I explained how I made it through 14 years without a copy machine. In New York, the teachers pooled together money to buy a copy machine and maintain it. I didn’t think I could afford the “Copy Machine Membership” so I used a high-power printer and bought recycled ink to make copies when necessary. I got the printer and paper through a grant. The Ink cost about $50 per year.
2) Field Trips: We took the entire 7th grade on a trip to the Newseum in DC this past week. Over $5000 was spent on 8 luxury buses for a quick 30 minute ride. Students toured the museum with parent chaperones while I monitored the whole thing. We passed out vouchers for students to eat $13 of whatever they wanted from the cafe and then watched as they broke out $20’s for ice cream, coffee, and trinkets at the gift shop. Several teachers that came along spent the day relaxing in the cafeteria, reading magazines because we had more than enough chaperones. I spent the day running up and down 6 floors of exhibits checking on all 15 groups of 11. Ok, running down 6 flights and taking the elevator up…
In New York, transportation on trips is via yellow buses that sometimes cancelled at the last minute. There were never enough chaperones, so the morning of each trip was usually me begging an administrator to allow an aide to come along so we wouldn’t have to cancel.
Then there were the black plastic bags my students would show up with. They were usually full of junk food (chips, soda, and maybe a bagel). We would bring the free lunch they were entitled to on every trip, but no one ever wanted to eat it. So I’d have the buses drop us off at Burger King, 3 blocks away from school. They’d scrounge up all they could for dollar menu fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets.
Most of our trips were either free or under $12 or we wouldn’t get enough students who could afford to go. I miss their grateful little faces after every trip. Not a lot of teachers would do the work required to take them out.
3) Parent involvement: in Ozone Park, I remember sitting at my desk for hours on parent/teacher conference night, waiting for someone to stop in. But so many parents don’t speak English and many more don’t work 9-5 hours in the city that never sleeps.
Here, they don’t even schedule a parent/teacher conference night because parents are in the school all the time. I walk into picture day and there are parents all over the place. I walk into the book fair and there are parents all over the place. Our trips have both moms and dads volunteering. On Valentine’s Day, I had several “candy-grams” from kind families. For Christmas, I made a huge wishlist that parents and students kindly fulfilled. The community has an extremely positive relationship with the school.
Based on the number of parent emails and conferences requested because Timmy’s progress report was not favorable so let’s ask the teacher what she’s doing wrong…I’d say parent schedules are much more flexible around here.
I don’t miss the torture of standardized tests and data collection that pervades the school environment in New York. It exists in Virginia, but it’s way more relaxed and up to the teacher to design and use it.
If I could stay, I’d be very happy. I could teach another 15 years in this environment. But this principal is set to retire in a few more years. I’ve never met anyone like her. She sets the tone for success, kindness, and work-place happiness. And she’s from New York! Can we make more principals like this please?
I had every intention of marching today. But the kids need to have passports done within 2 weeks.
Long story short:
- You can only walk in for passports at 2 locations in North Virginia: Duke Street Library and Merrifield Post Office.
- You must have original birth certificates for children.
- You must be prepared to wait at least 2 hours. Duke Street Library is a much nicer location to wait.
- You should probably not have a major event to attend like The Women’s March on Washington.
By the time we made it out of there, the March was well underway but we were tired, hungry and a lot closer to being broke until payday. I am grateful for the fire this movement lit in my heart and millions of others. Life for women everywhere is tough because the weight of the world lies literally on our shoulders! As mothers, teachers, nurses and beyond! The Mayor of DC said it best, “The women will tell you that we are more harshly criticized. We are more frequently criticized. And we are more wrongly criticized at every single level – be it the school board, be it the statehouse, or candidate for the president of the United States.”
Women’s March, January 21st.
- I am marching because teaching, a female dominated profession, is constantly under attack, under valued and underpaid.
- I am marching because mothers are torn away from their 6-week-old babies and forced to return to work or suffer loss of income due to insufficient maternity leave.
- I am marching because without a cure for breast cancer, too many children have lost their mothers.
- I am marching because too many mothers have seen their sons killed for nothing more than the color of their skin.
- I am marching because there are families trying to survive in refugee camps while they wait for borders to open.
- I am marching for students who want to go to college but can’t afford it because the Dream Act has never passed.
- I am marching for my students who have been mocked for their Muslim faith, dress and modesty – all things that should be cherished here in America.
- I am marching because I want my daughter to know the power of women who support each other and to believe she can accomplish ANYTTHING because she can.
- I want my son to know every woman deserves respect, to always be a gentleman, and to always help those in need.
- I am marching on January 21st in Washington DC.
March with me.
Would it be too cliche to say that 2016 was a roller coaster of a year? It’s a good thing I like a thrilling roller coaster!
The High Point: Realizing I Could Leave
I graduated my 9th middle school class in New York City – and walked right out of the school building with them. I loved my years as a teacher in New York City Public Schools, but this needed to be my last year with them. For now. Perhaps the political climate will change. Perhaps there will be more focus on the teaching of children and not the accountability of a product. All the joy I felt teaching my classes got swept away with the pressures from Administration, Common Core, Standardized Tests and Buzz Words. I was so fortunate to be hired by a community that placed little value on tests and more value on engagement of students. Stepping away has allowed me to grow and focus on areas of teaching that were not possible in New York – collaboration with other teachers, project based learning and educational technology that got stuck behind the “Crime Scene” tape in NYC. It’s amazing what can be done when you have the freedom to just teach!
The Low Point: I’m Still Leaving
I’m quite a bit further from family and friends than I was before and it’s challenging. So many have come to visit, which always makes for a great time. But it’s tough not spending every Friday night at my Mom’s house with my sisters and all the kids. It’s odd not having someone to dial up and go out for sushi on a whim. Baby Z sometimes says, “I miss my old house.” and even Baby D will cry, “I want to go home.” Where will home be when we’re done traveling abroad? Are we being fair to them by going so far away from family?
2017: Live Life
This is not much of a resolution but here goes: Keep working on being the best version of myself I can be. The best mom I can be, the best wife I can be, the best daughter, sister, cousin, friend etc. Stay healthy. Be kind. Be welcoming. See the world.
I don’t know if I should be as proud as I am of myself for all that I’ve accomplished, but I am. I have a family, a career, and dreams. I’ve got a few people reading my blog too!