Monday, May 30, 2011

Israel, Day 2--Shabbat Elevators, Falafel, and Rubens

Our second day in Israel was a Saturday, Shabbat, the Holy Day, Shomer Shabbos, and I sure as shit don't fucking roll.

We started the day off by first waiting for the elevator, and then riding it down, as it proceeded to visit and stop at every floor between ours and the lobby level. Strict Jews are forbidden from pressing buttons on the Holy Day. After a breakfast without coffee, because you can't operate a machine on the Holy Day, we loaded up into our heathen's Bus, and hit the empty roads...making the long haul over the mountains and down down down down, to the Dead Sea.

Of course, one has to eat...but as you can imagine, eats are hard to find in Israel. Strict observers will go so far as to leave their lights on at home all day and all night so that they won't need to turn off the switch. They SURE aren't getting up to make us some hoummous. Luckily, and here is why there should never be a 100% partition between the Arabs and the Jews, the Arabs can cook, drive, clean, and do just about everything else that needs done on Saturday. Hell, they just finished their Holy Day on Friday, so they're just getting started for the week! It's a perfect match. And, indeed, EVERYONE was at the Lebanese Falafel Sandwich shop and market grabbing their falafel, hoummous, and french-fry pitas for the day. The guy who owned the shop was from South Carolina, and spoke with a perfect Carolina accent. So, there you are. My start to our second day in Israel. Eating Arabic food along the formerly deadly Jerusalem to Tel Aviv highway, being served by a Palestinian South Carolinian.

The only thing more absurd, and this is where I take a serious turn, is the walls that divide the West Bank and Jerusalem along the drive between Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea. On one side, Jewish prosperity, exemplified in cute neighborhoods of pools and green grass lawns. On the other side, the dirty Arab towns of Ramallah and others. In-between are the poor Bedouin nomadic peoples, who must literally, feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

We passed through quickly and quietly, as most do, taking care not to ask too many questions, and not to look too hard, for fear of having to confront the problem for what it is, a global one without any solutions on the horizon.

The land gets stark after Jerusalem, literally a desert, and so we did what countless others have done on the trek down the hill towards Bethlehem and the Dead Sea. We stopped at an Oasis. Literally. We spent the morning hiking around the palm fringed desert canyons of the water supply to Bethlehem, before continuing down-canyon to a Greek Monastery built into the canyon walls. The monastery was another example of just about every Abrahamic Religion claiming a piece of the Holy Land Pie.

After all that hiking, it was time for a soak in the world's lowest spot. The Dead Sea. At 420 meters, 1388 feet, below sea level...your ears actually pop as you drive down to it. We drove to a little resort, where we could lounge in beach chairs, cover ourselves in mud masks, and laugh as we floated with no effort--buoyed by the high salinity of the water. I'm a geek for nature shows, and this one was pretty cool. It's a wild feeling to float in water, with your feet stuck up and your hands crossed behind your head.

Having begun the day with Arabic food out of necessity, the sun had now gone down and the Shabbat was over. It was time to eat some Jewish food. And, is there anything more Jewish than a Reuben? Well, as it turns out, in Israel, yes, there is. In fact, it's pretty damn hard to find a Reuben--not to worry though, I did. At the creatively named Reuben Restaurant, several Jews served me up a steaming hot corned beef sandwich, and were delighted when I told them it was just like how you got them in New York. (It wasn't quite that good, but it wasn't half bad!).

The rest of our time in Israel was spent watching the students debate their Model United Nations resolutions, speaking with teachers from all over the world (Switzerland, Palestine, New York), and feasting on the food provided by our hosts at the Walworth Barbour American International School. They put on an excellent conference, and my students were able to broaden their horizons by engaging in respectful and intellectual debate with their mostly Israeli peers.

Considering that a Turkish charity may soon send another flotilla of aid to Gaza (8 Turks and 1 American were killed by Israelis the last time they tried to send aid supplied over International Waters), we may very well need the relationships these students built over our weekend in the Holy Land.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No Way, this is our housing?!?

Erin and I have been holding out on this, because we weren't absolutely sure if this was really our housing. But, apparently it is.

In Korea, we are getting a brand new apartment. Complete with three bedrooms, two baths (including a bathtub!?!), office, walk-in closet, balcony, and a "panic room" which is I suppose a feature unique to Korean Housing.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Israel, Day One

One of the great pleasures of teaching at international schools is field trips. Most teachers cringe when they hear those words--field trips. The words conjure up thoughts of 24 hour work-days spent keeping track of students, their various medications, itineraries, and the general liability of it all.

Ooof. Most schools have stopped doing them, it's just too much to manage.

Of course it's not that it's a walk in the park, managing a field trip overseas. However, when you are staying at the Marriott in Qatar, it somehow coalesces into something infinitely more palatable. Or so said my wife, as she spent some of her daily stipend dining at Dean & Deluca this past February as her students wandered around the mall during their five day trip to Doha.

As Social Studies department members, Erin and I have the responsibility, and the pleasure of organizing trips for our Model United Nations club. MUN, for those who don't know, is a club for future politicians, lawyers, debaters, and schmoozer lobbyists. Every school goes to a conference, wherein they take on the role of any number of countries, representing the viewpoints of said country in debates on various committees. The kids who are involved love it. They dress up, prepare resolutions, network, debate, and form alliances to further the position of whatever country they are representing.

In February, I took a delegation of 14 students from Turkey to the Israel MUN conference.

Our "delegation?"


That's right. Iran. In Israel. Represented by Muslim Turks (who were the only Muslims at the conference, besides a small contingent of Palestinians.)


We do this on purpose though, it pushes our students to ramp up their debate skills. And, to be honest, our school is so liberal, it is quite a stretch for them to represent Iran.

Though the conference itself is great fun, and an excellent model of student-oriented leadership opportunities, arguably the best part is the two to three days of "culture" tours we always include before the conference starts. Because, really, you aren't going to go all the way to Israel without checking out the sights, are you!?!

We had two and a half days before the conference started, and along with a local tour guide, and a bus, we loaded up the itinerary for my delegation of debaters. After checking in at our sea-side hotel next to the Mediterranean Sea, and just North of Tel Aviv (private rooms for the Chaperones, of course), we headed out to Jerusalem.

We started our tour at Mt. Olives, the worlds' most expensive cemetery. It pays to be here, (and to be Jewish), because when the Messiah arrives, he will scoop up all the souls from their graves, and lead them through the gates across the valley, and on through the Eastern Gates up to the Western Wall and up to Heaven for their resurrection. At least, that's how I understand it. No wonder Israel wrestled it back from Jordan during the six day war. The messiah is probably going to skip anyone staying at the Intercontinental Hotel that was built their while Jordan held control of the land.

From the Mount of Olives we moved down, into Jerusalem, splitting into the required male and female groups to visit the Western (Wailing) Wall. Not much crying going on when we visited, but, then again, I think that mostly comes from the female section--and possibly most of the crying comes from the fact that their part of the wall is probably a tenth the size of the dude's portion. It seemed crowded, while over on the MAN'S wall, we had plenty of room to stretch out and touch as much wall as we wanted. Besides the gender inequality, there is this little bit of controversy over the wall between the Jews and the Muslims. Each claim it as sacred. And each side says the other only considers it sacred to piss off the other side. Like the Mount of Olives, Israel gained access to the wall in the six day war of 1967, and judging by how much they love these bricks, it seems unlikely that they will give it back. Apparently, Obama has suggested that we might at least fly the flag of the United Nations, not of Israel, over this hotly contested piece of real estate. But, the Israeli-special operations units touring around in the square seemed to send the signal that this is quite unlikely. Apart from the controversy, it was stunning to see the devotion of the Jewish people to this wall which they consider to be the last remaining vestige of the original temple of God himself. It is a nice wall.

After all the excitement of touring the wall, we rounded up the womenfolk, and went to grab some eats. Arabic style. The Arabic Quarter of Jerusalem has the best food, hands down. My guide said to me, "Do we go to the fancy, clean place, with the okay food? Or, do we go the gritty place which will cost 8 dollars each, and has the world's best houmous and falafel.?"


My students are lovely, but they are prissy. They live a life of chauffeurs, maids, malls, and five star hotels. They DO NOT eat at greasy Arab houmous joints. But, what the hell--it's my field trip, and it's my job to open their eyes. We had the most amazing meal of fried, blended, and spiced chick peas I have ever head in my life; and I spent most of the meal asking my students..."are you not going to finish that? Here, give it to me." They did like the fresh pomegranate juice, but that's because that is a very Turkish drink. It's funny to me--America's flavor lies in its variety, and so goes our tongues. But everywhere else, be it Ecuador, Italy, or Turkey--regionalism dominates the palate. Taste is found in nuances, not the noise of a totally different flavor. And if you dare to vary too far from the accepted norm, don't look for your food to find any acceptance. This loyalty to flavor is strange to me, but at the same time, I can appreciate it. Maybe we're too concerned in America with creating the latest Mango-Salmon-Almond-Encrusted-Balsmic-Tofu-Mandarin-Gorgonzola salad, and a simple plate of well made falafel, sans sauce, crust, or remoulade would be better?

Regardless, with lunch finished, it was time for more controversial religious monuments. This time, Christian. We wove our way through the Arab Quarter, occasionally running into Stations of The Cross...the actual ones, along with alleys full of Abercrombie and Fitch shorts and sweats, Chinese-made plastic Tupperware, DVD shops, and head-scarf outlets. Finally, we arrived at The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is one complicated place. It's owned in part, by no less than four different denominations...but forget about it if you are Anglican or Protestant (though you can still go visit, you just don't get stock). Here no less than the rocks Jesus was crucified on, the spot where he was anointed and the shroud of Turin was placed over him, and then, (as if that wasn't enough) the cave where he was buried, and then rose. Maybe.

Religious scholars on all sides have debated the validity of all of this, to say nothing of the atheists. But, whatever your viewpoint, the passion and raw belief of the visitors for which this is a pilgrimage of life-changing dimensions, was in all respects perhaps more powerful to behold than the sites themselves. There was kissing of rocks, crossing of foreheads to shoulders, burning of candles, mumbling of prayers in a cacophony of languages, and tears tears tears. These pilgrims belief was raw, intense, and profound. It very much captivated me, and my students, who, are mostly Islam-a-atheists who won't admit as much.

Speaking of which, we must move on to our final stop, at least, for my kids who could call to mind an Islamic prayer or two. The Dome of the Rock, a Mosque, is one of the most holy sites in Islam, built on top of one of the Holiest Sites in Judaism, and on Friday (the Holy Day) you gotta be Muslim to get in and check out the place where Mohammad ascended to heaven. Israeli storm-troopers and an Arabic bounder prevented about half of my group of Turkish Muslim students from entering. They didn't have their ID cards on them, identifying them as Muslim, and they couldn't remember any prayers to prove it. On top of that, my girls had to cover their heads up--something antithetical to how they are raised in their homes. In all, it was a very awkward experience for our little secular group; but again, my students who went in were struck by the reverence that the Muslims had for this place.

If nothing else, visiting all of these places solidified, for all of us, the need--and the complications of, finding peace in this contested land. The purported goal of our MUN conference in Israel was to pave roads towards that peace in the future generations of this region's leaders; but our trip to Jerusalem may have done more for that than three days of debate within the politically correct walls and corridors of the American School. Perhaps some of our leaders should consider a walk through the streets of Jerusalem before pontificating in the halls of their governments?

Full slide show of my trip, here:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's time to make it public

As international teachers, Erin and I spend a good bit of time moving from school to school. Typically, these gigs run for a two year contract period before you have the option to renew, or move on.

Because of these nomadic tendencies, and because we want out current students to feel that we are 100% committed to them until our last day of school (because we are!), we try to keep our plans for next year under wraps. Which, would include not mentioning anything on this public blog.

However, the cat is out of the bag. Today, Erin found out that several students have discovered our plans, and so tomorrow we will be officially announcing that we will not be in Turkey next year.

We'll be in (drum roll.........) St. Martin!

Nope, just kidding.

It's actually a place and school that excites us even more than the French Caribbean. We are extremely pleased to have accepted positions in South Korea with the Chadwick International School.

Chadwick Int. is a brand new school located in Songdo City, about 45 minutes outside of Seoul. The school itself is a 2nd campus of a school that is located in California, in Palos Verdes. Chadwick in California is a school that I have known about for many years; many Outward Bound staff work in their well respected and accredited outdoor education program during the slow seasons at OB. They have an excellent reputation as being a leader in outdoor education, character education, and experiential education. Additionally, they have been around for a 75 years, and have an outstanding academic record.

Over the past few years, I've often said to myself, "Man, teaching overseas is great, but I really want to be at a school that embraces outdoor/experiential education. Like, a Chadwick Overseas school, would be great. But, alas, they only operate in California, and I'm just not ready to be back in the states." So, it was with the utmost care that I picked up my jaw as it had fallen to the floor last December when I read the postings for a brand new campus of Chadwick, that was opening in Korea.

Applications were quickly sent, interviews were conducted over Skype (where we did less interviewing and more finishing of each others' thoughts with the admin), jobs were offered, contracts negotiated, and today we sent off our requests for our flights from Atlanta to Seoul, August 1!!!!

Erin will be teaching 8th grade English, and I will be teaching 7th grade History. The school will be in it's second year next year, and will have just added the 8th grade, as it slowly adds one grade a year until reaching K-12 status. This fact is another very exciting one, we get to be a part of something new. We get to create a new school (but with the help of 75 years of experience from our campus in CA). Perfect. Not only that, but this is a a place where character education is of MORE importance that academic performance. The Assistant Head, in our interview, said something to the extent of...Yeah, it's great if our kids get into Ivy League schools, and they do...but it's even better when they graduate as good people.

Bingo. That's where we want to be.

So, that's it. It will be sad to say goodbye to Turkey, as it was to say goodbye to Ecuador. But, we know we have made the best decision for us as professionals. For now, if you are interested, here are a couple of links of interest that will preview our new lives in Korea.

Start booking your tickets, it's Asia time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

An introduction to Chadwick on Vimeo:

Chadwick International from Chadwick International on Vimeo.

A tour of Chadwick International on Vimeo:

School Tour from Chadwick International on Vimeo.

Our city of the future, Songdo: (it will open in 2015...obviously, a school is one of the first things you want built, hence, well...US!)

Articles from all over the press about Songdo, the world's first and largest "Green" city, and our new home:

An animated fly-over of for the school!

Finally, Erin would be very mad if I didn't mention her new favorite blog, Eat Your Kimchi. If you don't know what Kimchi is, then don't bother visiting us!

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