Friday, December 24, 2010

Updates from the Negev

I hope I'm not violating any copyright laws by reposting this article from "The Media Line" sent to me by some of the folks I worked with in Israel.  I just thought you all might like the update.

Anti-Polygamy Activists in Israel Run Into Islamic Opposition
Written by David E. Miller
Published Thursday, December 23, 2010
Negev clerics and politicians infuriated by women's campaign
A women’s group campaigning to stop polygamous marriages among Israeli Bedouin is running into strong resistance from Islamic groups and even some politicians.
The organizers of the "No Excuse for Polygamy" campaign, launched at the end of November, have been called infidels in newspaper editorials and accused of serving the Zionist agenda by limiting the Arab birth rate. Last Friday’s sermon in a mosque in the Bedouin town of Rahat warned worshippers to protect their wives and daughters from the women's movements.
Even heads of Negev regional councils representing Bedouin towns have publicly denounced the anti-polygamy campaign.
Safa Shehadeh, director of Ma'an – the Forum for Arab Bedouin Women's Organizations of the Negev, one of the groups behind the anti-polygamy campaign, said she expected traditionalists to push back. But the reaction has been more aggressive than she had expected.
"There were no personal threats against us," Shehadeh told The Media Line, "but some of the articles published by members of the Islamic Movement and municipal leaders included tacit threats."
In Islam, a man may marry up to four wives on condition that he provides for them equally. But in most Arab societies the phenomenon is frowned upon and in Israel polygamy is illegal, punishable by up to five years in prison.  Nevertheless, the custom is deeply rooted in the culture of the Bedouin Arabs who traditionally were tent-dwelling nomads but who have gradually been settled in permanent towns like Rahat.
Husbands will have their polygamous marriages sanctified religiously but not in the government marriage registrar. Indeed, many second, third and fourth wives are officially listed as single parents, entitling them to allowances.
Since polygamous marriages aren’t recognized by the government, no official statistics exist. But the Research and Information Center of Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, estimates that somewhere between 20% and 36% of Bedouin households in the southern Negev region, where most of Bedouin live, are polygamous.
The Working Group for Equality in Personal Status Issues (WGEPSI), which organized the campaign against multiple marriages, believes the number is at the high end of that range.  It blames a lack of education and an undeclared Israeli policy of legal non-intervention as the main causes.    
Primarily a media campaign using posters with women's testimonials, the "No Excuse for Polygamy" initiative also holds meetings and seminars aimed at educating single women about the price of polygamy. The campaign defending polygamy has been more visceral.
A menacing red and black advertisement published in Al-Hadath, a newspaper published in Rahat, urged women who had failed to get married by age 30 to find a husband to share.
"What is the solution for 7,513 unmarried women in the Negev over the age of 30?" the advertisement rhetorically asked. "Polygamy -- a shariah-sanctioned solution!" it said, answering its own question by defending the practice as approved under Islamic law.
Heba Yazbak, WGEPSI's activities coordinator, said she was heartened by the counter-measures.  "This proves that our campaign has really destabilized them," she told The Media Line. "Many men in the southern branch of the Islamic Movement are married to more than one woman, so they have a personal stake in this."
Yazbak noted that the counter-campaign calls itself the Committee for Women's Equality in the Negev, a name similar to her own organization. It also copied the logo and poster design of the original anti-polygamy campaign.  "It seems that our campaign threatens everyone," she said.
Sheikh Hammad Abu-Da'abes, head of the Islamic Movement's southern branch, said the women's movements had no answer to the growing problem of spinsterhood in a fast-urbanizing Bedouin society.
Some 200,000 Bedouin live in Israel, mostly in the Negev desert. With an annual growth rate of 5.5%, Israeli Bedouins are one of the fastest growing populations in the world.
"Women are the greatest beneficiaries of polygamy," Abu-Da'abes told the Israeli-Arab weekly Kul Al-Arab. "Spinsterhood has reached 25% in Arab society, and when we fight polygamy we shut the door in the face of many women who wish to marry half a man due to their inability to marry a full man."  
For that reason, Abu-Da'abes criticized Arab men who take foreign women in addition to their Arab wives, saying he would like to issue an Islamic legal opinion, known as a fatwa, against mixed marriages.  
Yazbak dismissed Abu-Da'abes’ argument, saying polygamy causes poverty and dissolves the family structure. She asserted that Israel’s policy of non-intervention was part of a larger strategy to keep Arab society in Israel impoverished.
"Israeli law is not applied in the Negev," she said. "This is a marginalized and neglected part of the country."   
Shehadeh of Ma'an said the opposition to the women’s campaign won’t sway her from fighting polygamy.
"They tried to question our legitimacy, our credibility and our patriotism, but this is a human rights issue,” she said. “We don't even go into the religious question of whether it's permissible or not."        

Copyright © 2010 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Process of Elimination

One of the central questions I've been trying to answer during my time at The Clinton School of Public Service is this:  How do I use my specific set of gifts and talents to benefit the most people?

This has been a tricky question to answer because, like most folks, I'm not fully aware of all of my gifts and talents.  Most of us don't realize our potential.  To me that's one of the strongest arguments for programs that emphasize field service.  Nearly twenty years ago, the full year intern teaching experience provided by Trinity University helped me enter the classroom more prepared and now my three field projects at the Clinton School are helping me understand public service in more depth than I would have from pure classwork.

In some ways it's been a two-year process of elimination.  From my time in Israel, I've realized that I don't have the gift of linguistics.  Being in a country in which I couldn't read or speak either of the two primary languages showed me clearly that learning a new language doesn't come easily to me and; therefore, limits my ability to make a difference.  I'm certain I did some useful work in Israel, and I'm very glad I went, but I think my impact could have been greater if I had a better ear for languages.

From my current experience in Canada, I can safely rule out 'professional researcher' from the list of future service careers.  Apparently I'm more of an extrovert than I thought because sitting in a cubicle for hours at a time has taught me that I really need human interaction. 

About a month ago, I escaped from my cubicle for an hour and wandered around the nearby neighborhood.  I found a local branch of the Toronto public library.  On the bulletin board inside I saw an advertisement for "English Conversation Circles". This program offered weekly meetings for people interested in improving their English. "I can speak English," I thought, "and there are no cubicles involved!"  So I volunteered to help.

The Roots of Empathy folks gave me permission to take two hours every Friday to be a part of this program.  It's been one of the highlights of my week for the past three weeks.  I've met and talked with people from Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Somalia, Malaysia, and China.  I love it!  While "Professional researcher" and "Linguist" may have been eliminated in this process, I think "Conversation facilitator" has found a spot on my list of gifts and talents.  Now the question is: How do I use that skill to have the biggest positive impact?

I'm open to suggestions.  And job offers. :-)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Research Karma

Dear Former Students,
Do you remember research assignments?  Do you remember writing annotated bibliographies on community service issues?  Do you remember summarizing current events articles?  Do you remember trying to find international organizations dealing with the service issue your group had chosen?
I do.
And I remember you not liking them very much.
Good news for those of you who thought ill of me for giving you those assignments:
This cubicle is my world during the workday.  And in that world there's only one thing to do.  Research.  That, my friends, is karma. 
Fortunately, I believe strongly in the mission of the organization I'm doing the research for. Roots of Empathy has the potential to make a major positive impact on education for kids, teachers, and parents everywhere.
Hopefully when your kids are in school they'll be benefiting from this research.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Waiting for SuperSubstance

I had the good fortune to go see the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'" a few days ago at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).  After the film, there was an on-stage interview with the film's directors, one of the film's stars, Geoffrey Canada, and educational philanthropist and billionaire, Bill Gates. (pictured to the left)

  In a nutshell the documentary is about the current state of U.S. public education, the reasons for its recent decline, and some hopeful solutions for its future. As a former teacher, I was very excited to see this movie because I thought it would bring to light many important issues and be a catalyst for conversation and change.  Two of the people featured in the movie are Geoffrey Canada, whom I'd read about in the phenomenal book "Whatever It Takes," and Michele Rhee, whom I'd seen speak at the Clinton School last year.

The film does do a good job of raising some important issues, but it left me more disappointed than anything else.  I've thought about it for a couple of days now, and I think the directors just bit off more than they could chew with this one.  It probably would have been a better movie if they'd focused on either Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone, or Michele Rhee and the DC public schools, or the KIPP charter schools.  Instead the movie looks at all three, and throws in a few more charter schools, and tells the story of several children going through the lottery system to get out of the public schools and into a charter school, and gives a history of public schools, and throws in the obligatory barb at George W making a grammar mistake.  It's too much.

In order to pack in that many elements corners had to be cut.  Unfortunately, those corners included an in-depth look at any of the problems, and the voices of teachers.  I agree with some of the points in the film - the tenure system is horribly flawed and does more harm than good; there is a significant degree of fiscal waste in the public education system; and great teachers have an enormous impact on their students to name a few.  However, I was disappointed by the portrayal of teachers' unions as complete villains.  And I was most disappointed by the absence of the voices of teachers.

The film makes the following logical links:  Great teachers = Good education.  Good education = Highly educated citizenry.  Highly educated citizenry = Necessary for national security.  Therefore, Great teachers are vital to our national security.  Another fine point that I agree with, but then the movie NEVER DEFINES GREAT TEACHING.  The two most significant clips that I can recall with teachers include a teacher teaching math by rapping and the U.S. Teacher of the Year explaining the cumbersome and ineffective process used to fire bad teachers.  Granted great teaching is really hard to define, but if you're making a film that is going to influence the national conversation on teaching, don't you think you explore those muddy waters a bit?

Despite my disappointment, I would encourage you to see the film.  Then I would encourage you to read the book "Whatever It Takes" because it does a more thorough job of delving into some of the issues more deeply.  I would also encourage you to read up about the adventures of Michele Rhee.  Then maybe you'll have a more complete picture and can have the informed conversation this movie is hoping you will.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brought to you by the letter...


The first chapter in my time in Toronto stands out because of the following E's.

Empathy.  That was the easy one.  I'm sure you saw it coming, but it needed to be said anyway.  I had high hopes and expectations (bonus "e") for the Roots of Empathy (ROE) organization and they have been exceeded (and another!).  ROE's commitment to their mission is deeper than I honestly thought possible in the modern business world.  Every decision they make has to meet the standard of promoting their goal of developing empathy and changing the world one child at a time.

Next - English.  After spending the summer being illiterate because I didn't know Hebrew or Arabic, my brain is both relieved and excited to read and hear English again.  Even better is that the English in Toronto is flavored with accents from all over the world.  And occasionally I get a little break from English because so many other languages are spoken in Toronto too.  I LOVE the diversity of this city!

Finally - Eye contact.  This one surprised me.  I didn't experience much eye contact in Israel.  I'm not sure why.  Even while I was there I didn't fully appreciate the distance created by the lack of eye contact.  Many people in Toronto will make eye contact while walking down the street or riding in the subway.  I enjoy the connection it creates between other people even if it's brief. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Roots of Empathy

The next chapter in this service journey takes place in Toronto.  For my third and final project (aka Capstone project) at the Clinton School of Public Service I'll be working with the organization Roots of Empathy.  My project work begins in a couple of days.  I'm really looking forward to seeing the organization in action.  Everything I've read leads me to believe that I'll be exploring one of the root (no pun intended) issues that I've been trying to find during my time at the Clinton School.

I've been doing some looking back during my transition into this next step forward.  Some of the things I've seen in my rearview mirror...

...Teaching.  I miss it.  In particular I miss the students and faculty at the International School of the Americas (ISA).  The beginning of the school year is one of my favorite times of year.  Last year at this time I was distracted by beginning the Clinton School.  This year, I just feel a big hole that used to be filled by the energy of the classroom.

...Books.  I tried to take a lesson from my trip to Israel, in which I brought 17 books for a 10-week trip.  It was a heavy lesson to learn.  For my trip to Toronto, I only brought 9 books. As I unpacked my belongings, I gave myself a big pat on the back for learning that lesson.  Then I promptly went out and bought 6 books in a 3-day period.  Sigh.  Old habits die hard.  At least they were all used.

...Teamwork.  Assuming I get a job again, I hope it's one in which I actively and regularly collaborate with others.  I miss my teammates from ISA.  And I miss my teammates Anna and Latonya from my first project at the Clinton School.  I really enjoy working with others.

Peace, friends.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Better Flat than Never

I'm no longer in Israel, but I'll be thinking about the trip for quite a while.  I'll use that as a flimsy excuse for introducing someone I should have introduced at the beginning of this experience:  Flat Stanley.

Flat Stanley reading about Israel while in Beersheva, Israel.

Flat Stanley is the main character in a popular series of Children's Books.  He's also the star of an international literacy and community building project.  Read more about the project begun by teacher Dale Hubert in 1995 and currently promoted by Arkansas' First Lady Ginger Beebe.

I was a pretty big fan of literacy prior to my trip to Israel both personally because I love to read and professionally because of my years in the classroom.  I'm an even bigger fan of literacy now.  The English alphabet, all 26 beautiful letters, is one of the things I missed the most while I was in Israel.  I don't read or speak Hebrew or Arabic, so wandering through the cities was at times very frustrating. 

That frustration has motivated me to participate more actively in promoting literacy.

My contributions to Flat Stanley's travels... 

Here we see Flat Stanley standing on the shore of the Dead Sea and reading about the unique attributes of that body of water.

And then adding to his journal about the experience.
Flat Stanley partaking in a little metacognition.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cheesy Vacation Pics

A dip in the Dead Sea. (pun intended)

"When I see the sea once more will the sea have seen or not seen me?" ~Pablo Neruda

"...there is also nothing but destruction in case your feet slip, for on each side there is a vastly deep chasm..." ~Joseph Flavius on the Snake Path used to reach the fortress at Masada

Waking up at 4:30 a.m. to hike up the Snake Path and watch the sunrise is more fun than Mr. Flavius makes it sound.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tornadoes v. Rockets

This is part of the view from my favorite place in Israel: the hammock on the porch of the apartment I rented.  Almost every night I spent a little time in this hammock relaxing and watching the moon rise over Beer Sheva.  My next few posts will be reflections on my trip.  These are my Thoughts from the Hammock.

Installment #1: Tornadoes v. Rockets.

At some point within the first three days of arriving in Israel, the guy I'm subletting this apartment from let me know that there would be a city-wide siren some time the following day. An emergency preparedness drill, like the fire drills from high school in which an alarm would ring and we'd practice the proper procedure in case the school was on fire - walk calmly onto the football field making sure that we'd rescued our ipods and sacrificed our homework.

The city-wide siren wasn't exactly a fire drill.  It was a rocket drill.  This is the siren that would sound if rockets, presumably from Gaza, were fired on Beer Sheva.  My host shared that, as part of the drill, people were expected to at least identify the nearest bomb shelter they would move to in the event of incoming rockets.  The good news is that my room in the apartment is a bomb shelter.  It has a steel shutter that slides over the window and reinforced walls and door.  I was simultaneously comforted and disturbed by this revelation.

Once the drill came and went and my jet lag wore off, the anxiety about potential rockets also wore off.  I remembered that just a few weeks earlier I'd experienced city-wide sirens in Little Rock, Arkansas.  No threat of rockets in Little Rock.  Those sirens were tornado warnings and they weren't a drill.  Several large tornadoes touched down in and near Little Rock causing a great deal of destruction.  Remembering those sirens and the cause of those sirens gave me a different perspective on the rocket drill sirens of Beer Sheva.  I realized that if ever I was forced to choose between the two I'd choose the rocket sirens.  I'd choose the rocket sirens because I feel like I have some control over whether or not those are needed.

We (humans) made the rockets.  Our technology powers them. Our fingers push the buttons that send them hurtling at one another. Our minds decide whether or not to use them.  Which means that it is within Our power to stop them.  No amount of mediating or conflict resolution or diplomacy can stop a tornado.  But We can stop the rockets and since I'm part of the greater We, I can work to stop the rockets, so everyone can enjoy their hammock time at the end of a hot desert day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I'll let you in on a little secret - officially I'm here in Israel to work with Bedouin women's organizations, but (here's the secret) I was kinda hoping to achieve peace in the Middle East while I was here.  When I've broached that topic with folks here, a common reply is "It's complicated".  I've spent some time trying to understand the complicating factors.  This past weekend I felt a glimpse.

As part of my journey to and through Israel, I've visited and slept in a variety of places.  I've slept on planes, trains, buses, and outside under an open-air tent.  I've spent the majority of my nights in the apartment I'm subletting in Beer Sheva.  I've visited friends and colleagues in their apartments.  Temporary places.

This weekend I visited and stayed with a Palestinian family in the village their family has lived in for generations.  As soon as I walked into their house (pictured above), I felt immediately at ease.  I was more relaxed than I've been at any point in my stay.  I hadn't realized how temporary those other places felt until I walked through their door - the door of the place they have lived, are living, and plan to keep living in for a very long time.  In other words, I felt a home.  Not my home, but a home.

That feeling helped me understand the heart of the conflict in this area.  Jews and Palestinians both want that feeling.  They both want to feel at home.  And they both believe they can only get that feeling from the same piece of geography.  This is not a great insight for most folks, but for me there's a difference between knowing something and feeling something.  And, thanks to the hospitality of this family, I feel like I understand the complicated situation more clearly.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This Just In

In reference to my previous post, I got this email from my friend who was helping organize things in Dahmash.

hiiiii :)))
the court deiced not to destroy the houses :))))))))))))

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

By the time most of you read this a decision will have been made regarding the future of the house pictured at the right.

A court hearing is being held today, July 14th in the city of Ramla.  The court will officially decide whether or not to demolish this home along with 12 others in the village of Dahmash.  Dahmash is one of many "unrecognized villages" in Israel-Palestine.  It's a village of roughly 70 families and 600 residents.

I've been here for less than two months, which means I can't speak with authority on the status of "unrecognized villages" but I can share with you  the perspectives I've heard and questions I have.

My understanding is this:  As a result of the conflicts in 1948 and 1967 the Israeli government either was given, or won by force, lands in this region.  Some of this land was actively occupied by Palestinians who had been living on it for generations.  The Israeli government is responsible for, among other things, national planning and security.  The government gets to decide what which lands will be used for agricultural, residential, military, etc. purposes.  In many instances, the government has designated the land inhabited by Palestinian families to be used for purposes other than residential which renders all of the homes on that land illegal.  In the cases where Palestinian families choose not move, they become part of an "unrecognized village".  Homes in an unrecognized village receive no support from nearby municipalities: no access to the electrical grid, no water and sewage services, no bus service, no official addresses, no trash collection.  I wish I'd taken a picture of the mountains of trash located with a few hundred yards of the very nice house pictured above. 

Families living in an unrecognized village exist under the constant threat of having their home demolished.  The government can decide that specific houses need to be removed and arrive with bulldozers to accomplish that purpose.  The rationale behind choosing which homes are destroyed is unclear to me.  It's my impression that the families who lose their homes are not compensated in any way and may even be required to pay the city for the cost of the bulldozers and manpower used to destroy their homes.

So my questions are:  How do home demolitions reduce tensions or promote stability in this country and region?  What's the logic behind it?  From a humanitarian perspective, how are home demolitions just and morally justifiable?

Yesterday I witnessed a group of people asking those questions.  There was a march from the City Hall of Ramla to Dahmash.  I'm glad to report that the portion of the march I saw was entirely peaceful and gives me hope that there are a good number of people who want justice and fair treatment for everyone.  The march was significant because it marked the first time that a primarily Arab (though there were plenty of Jews in the crowd too) march was allowed to pass down the main street of the city.  I was told both by members of the march and a member of the police force that peaceful, legal marches, such as this one, were usually heavily stipulated - the pro-Palestinian marches were not allowed to pass through Jewish neighborhoods and vice versa.  This march was entirely legal.  The organizers received permission from the city officials and received the protection of city police.

I hope the march achieved its goal of stopping the demolitions and paved the way for peaceful talks between the residents of Dahmash and the government.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Visual Democracy

I don't quite know how to describe it, but "visual democracy" is the phrase that keeps coming to mind.  Multiple times I've had the sensation that Israel's democracy has a distinctly visual component.  My experiences today reinforced that idea for me.  Maybe the equivalent components in the U.S. are just more familiar to me and I take them for granted.  Everything in this part of the world is still new and fascinating to me.  As I walk down the street I notice the various states of dress and undress and what's being communicated.  There's a guy with a head covering; those are a woman's eyes peeking out from yards of clothing; there's a guy in black with ringlets and a beard; there's a Muslim woman with her head covered; there's a Jewish woman with her head covered; there's an old guy with not nearly enough covered...all of these things mean something different.  The signs are telling, but, especially in this area where geography is so contentious, the map definitely isn't the territory.  There are so many more layers of complexity and uniqueness beyond the obvious distinctions.

Today's lesson in democracy came from a little trip to Nazareth.  Did I go to Nazareth to visit locations of significance to different religions? Nope.  Did I go to Nazareth to experience the second largest Arab community in Israel? Nope.  Both good guesses though.

Today one guy (me) and a busload of Arab women went to a conference on...


I don't know about you, but that scenario cracks me up.  I love my life.

The conference was a little over three hours long.  It included the results of some research, reflections on the current legal system, ideas on where to push on the system, and some open mic time for the audience.

Bits and pieces of this were translated for me.  I'll share a few of them with you:

The researcher shared some of the reasons given by men who are active polygamists:
  1. Religion allows him to do it; therefore, there's no reason not to.
  2. Parents chose his first wife when he was very young.  He wanted a more appropriate companion, so he chose the next one.
  3. His wife had a lot of kids and her body was too worn out for sex, so he got another wife to have sex with. (I'm gonna go ahead and say this didn't get a very favorable response from the crowd)
  4. After his brother died he married his brother's wife to keep the family together.
In the spirit of an open-minded free exchange of ideas, I tried to give serious weight and thought to each reason given.  When I asked myself what values were being communicated, I found a lot more common ground than I expected.  Maybe I'll post more on that another time.

For now I'd rather share a little more about the open mic portion of our program.  Many women took the opportunity to share their thoughts.  Honestly, I expected all of it to be preaching to the choir.  This was a completely voluntary conference after all.  I thought everyone in attendance would have similar views on polygamy.


A couple of women shared some clearly controversial viewpoints.  Whenever the crowd got riled, I'd ask somebody to summarize for me.  One of the women made a case for the superiority of men (I don't know the details of her argument).  Another woman put all of the responsibility on the women.  If you give your husband all of the support he needs emotionally, mentally, and physically, then he won't take more wives. (Again, not a crowd favorite, but spend a few minutes thinking about how much power this attributes to women.)

People got passionate at different points in the conference.  Tempers flared a bit, but they didn't seem to shut down the sharing of ideas.  Folks are gonna get riled in a democracy.  To some degree, they're supposed to.  In a healthy democracy the passions generated fuel the decision-making machine that values everyone.  At least that's the theory.  I'm not a good enough student of world governments to know if it's working on a large scale anywhere.  Today's meeting is one of many examples where I've seen it work on a small scale though and that gives me hope.

Contributing to the visual democracy

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wedding Roots

About a week-and-a-half ago Amny told me that I'd been invited to the wedding of the son of one of the women (Nama from the video a few posts ago).  Awesome! I was really excited to see a Bedouin wedding.

About 4 days ago Amny told me that it wasn't actually the wedding ceremony, but part of the week of celebration leading up to the ceremony.  Still cool!  Several of the other women I've been working with said they'd be there too.

About an hour before we arrived at the celebration Amny told me that once we got there, I'd be sent to the men's areas, while she went to the women's area.  Quick mental calculation...number of Bedouin women I've met while working with Bedouin women's organization: dozens; number of Bedouin men I've met while working with Bedouin women's organizations: zero.  I got a little nervous at that point, but could only laugh and go with the flow.

We arrived pretty late in the evening after the party had been going on for a while.  There were two large, courtyards, one for the men, and another one, this one with walls, for the women.  There was no mingling of the men and women except as they arrived or left the party.  Amny found a group of teenage boys and requested that one of them escort me into the men's area and show me around.  I was quickly adopted by the little guy in the middle.  He wasn't at all shy and knew enough English to show me around a bit.  The men's area was a big open area with blankets and pillows and fires heating the tea characteristic of the Bedouins.  Some men were just lounging around on the pillows while others were singing and dancing together.  For about 15 minutes my guide enjoyed having me as the focus of his show-and-tell show. Once he'd introduced me to everyone he had the patience for, he deposited me on a blanket and wandered off. 

At which point I was adopted by another little guy who introduced me to some older guys.  These two guys and I hit it off and spent the rest of the evening talking about America and Israel.  They wanted to visit America, but were nervous about the reception they'd receive.  I was glad to reassure them that there are plenty of Americans that don't hate Arabs.  

This wedding celebration was unusual for me, for obvious reasons.  It was also unusual by the standards of a significant number of Negev Bedouins.  This wedding was the first, and likely to be the only, wedding for both the bride and groom. In comparison, it's estimated that over one third of the marriages in this region are polygamous.  The man is allowed to have up to four wives and often exercizes that option.

As I've mentioned several times in this blog, I'm interested in root issues or problems that contribute to other problems.  Last week while we met with a representative from the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Amny described polygamy as a root issue in this region.  It's hard for me to fathom the emotional and mental impact of being one of four spouses, a not so significant other.  The saying, "If momma ain't happy, nobody's happy" takes on a different meaning.  Rates of depression among the women are disproprotionately high.  This naturally has an enormous negative impact on her children.

All of the Bedouin women's groups that I'm working with are trying to tackle the issue of polygamy, though many of them can't approach it head on.  It's too sensitive in this culture.  Instead, they address economic empowerment among women, or they weave women's rights into literacy courses, or they talk about mental and emotional health in the clinics.  After four weeks here, I can't say that I understand the complexity of it, but I am more and more in awe of the pioneering women I'm working with.  They've made significant progress in just 10 years.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Speaking of Translators

A couple of you asked about the translation device I mentioned in my last post.  I can't fully explain how it works but here's what I've been able to piece together from the following scraps of information:

Clue #1:  One of the few agreed upon names for this piece of geography is "Terra Santa".  My newfound language skills allow me to say with confidence that this means "Land of Santa" (no relation).  I was understandably confused by this until...

Clue #2:  I was given brief access to the translator (pictured to the right).  When I first received this magical device I slipped on the headphones, pointed the hand-held portion at Amny and said, "Say something".  She replied, "That's not how it works." Ha! If that's not how it works, then how could I understand her perfectly?  She claims to have been speaking English and sitting right next to me.  I pushed her for another reasonable explanation.  She explained that there was a person sitting in a booth that would take whatever was spoken into the microphone, translate it, then relay it to the headphones.  Likely story.

Conclusions:  Using my powerful skills of deduction (which are only slightly less powerful than my skills at translation) I reasoned the following:  Though Amny never referred to the mysterious booth person as "Santa" (no relation), I realized that the cultures in this part of world must have a mythical figure similar to our Mr. Claus.  Just like we attribute the appearance of presents under a tree to Mr. Claus, they attribute the delivery of English words through the translator to Santa (no relation).  Is the shared name a really big coincidence? or proof that there are commonalities among all cultures?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

From Mixed to Shared

The city of Haifa is auditioning for a starring role in one of Dr. Standerfer's upcoming classes on framing and the power of language to create and reinforce mindsets.  Like many cities in Israel, Haifa's population is a mix of Arabs and Jews.  In some cities the mix is more successful than others, meaning that the two populations work and play well together.  Haifa is considered to be one of the best examples of a mixed city.

Mixing isn't enough though.  And Haifa isn't enough.  Yesterday Amny and I took the train to Haifa to attend a conference entitled: From Mixed to Shared.  The purpose of the conference was to challenge participants to brainstorm strategies for moving from a city where the inhabitants tolerate one another's diversity to appreciating that diversity to eventually capitalizing on the strength provided by diversity.  Appropriately, there were people from all over the globe at this conference.

This is me with my favorite piece of technology ever.  A translator.  I'd almost forgotten what it's like to understand the words other people are speaking.

And a couple of pictures from the Baha'i Shrine and Gardens just to add a little more diversity to the day.

A few hours in Haifa wasn't nearly enough.  I'll be going back just to explore the city before I leave Israel.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Desert Embroidery

 My original list of 8 or 9 organizations has been narrowed to 5 in the last few weeks.  This is a video clip of one of the organizations I'm working with.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Short(ie) Listed

For those who love lists, here are a few lists regarding my time here in Israel.

1. I wonder how Spain lost.
2. I wonder how the U.S. didn't.
3. I wonder who my favorite underdog team is. (It's between South Korea and Cote d'Ivoire)
4. I wonder if they'll ever stop blowing those infernal horns.

1. The desert breeze at night.
2. The hammock on my porch before 7 a.m. and after 6 p.m.
3. Shade.
4. That's it's only a one-hour time difference from South Africa. (Real-time World Cup!)

1. How to say Hello and Thank You in Hebrew and Arabic.
2. How much body language can you help you understand what is being said, even when you don't understand what they're saying.
3. We're a still a ways off from equal rights for all.
4. The desire to get there is stronger than a language barrier.

1.  Frequently I say, "I'm sorry. I don't speak Hebrew".  More than once the reply has been the question "Why not?" (Really? How am I supposed to answer that?)
2. Seeing the English spelling of a word really, really helps me pronounce it, so sometimes I ask, "How do you spell that?"  Again, more than once the reply has been to repeat the word. (Um, How do I rephrase my question? Hearing the word twice doesn't magically spell it in my brain.)

1. Traveling to some new parts of Israel (stay tuned for news from Haifa next week).
2. Learning a few more words in Arabic and Hebrew.
3. Meeting even more incredible women who have accomplished so much in such a short time.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pharyngal Voiced Fricatives and Love

Two days ago I went to a conference entitled Feminism: From Theory to Practice among the Bedouin women. It was presented in Hebrew and Arabic and attended by roughly 30 Bedouin women. In order to get something useful done with my time I alternated between watching the body language of the participants when each of the five panelists presented, and reading the book "The Arabic Alphabet: How to Read and Write it".

At one point in the book, the authors are describing one of the letters of the Arabic alphabet, which has no equivalent in English, and they write "The only real way to learn it is to listen to Arabs and practice incessantly," then they go on to say, "In scientific phonological terms, this letter is a pharyngal voiced fricative."

Huh?! A what?

I expect to be confused by listening to or reading Arabic, but that last sentence is in English and I still have no idea what it means.

Contrast that experience with this one. Yesterday I attended a much smaller conference with three of my colleagues, all Arab women. We were meeting in order to discuss options for a website I'm helping to create for the organization. At the beginning of the meeting they made apologies and explained that they'd be speaking in Arabic. Understandable. It's more efficient since their English, while infinitely better than my Arabic, is still cumbersome.

After being here for three weeks, I've realized that this is probably the way it's going to be while I'm here - I'm just not going to understand most of what is spoken.

Anyway, the meeting continues. Amny pulls up the site she and I worked on together and then she pulls up a rough draft I created using another program.  The women discuss the pros and cons of each for a while, and then there is a shift in the conversation. Even though everything is still being said in Arabic, it's clear to me that one of the three women has either recently fallen in love or is about to get married. They talk about this for a minute and then move back to pointing at the screen and discussing the websites.

During our debrief later that day Amny confirmed that the other woman was having a formal engagement party this weekend and will be getting married soon.

After the confusion of the day before, which exemplifies the daily confusion I've resigned myself to, it was uplifting to be reminded that sometimes I'll still be able understand and connect with the women I'll be working with regardless of language and cultural barriers.

Addendums, p.s.'s, and additional thoughts:
1. That one sentence aside, the book I mentioned is actually astonishingly good at explaining the Arabic alphabet.
2. Here is the link to the rough draft website I'm creating for one of the organizations. I'm testing out the pros and cons of using Blogger. Any comments, thoughts, feedback, suggestions, or criticisms are welcomed and appreciated. Daughters of the Desert.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Some Small Insight

After my previous post, it's appropriate to begin this one by saying - I've been doing a lot of reading.  In order to get to know the region in general and the organizations I'm working with in more detail I've just finished reading "From Beirut to Jerusalem" by Thomas Friedman, and I've just finished actively browsing approximately 90 websites for Jewish foundations and philanthropic organizations.

My first deliverable involved determining which of those foundations and organizations might be willing to support the organization Ma'an - The Forum of Arab Women's Organizations in the Negev. For each organization that looked like a match, I prepared an LOI, Letter of Inquiry, which asked the organization if it would like to become a partner or supporter of Ma'an and its programs.  I created one document organizing all of the contact information and left some room for tracking the status of the relationships as they develop.  In the non-profit world this is known as "resource development".  In my world this is known as "not nearly as fun as it looks and it doesn't look that fun".  This particular aspect of resource development involves more researching and organizing than I enjoy, but I'm glad it freed up Merav, my colleague in Ma'an, to work on the relationship-building aspect of resource development.  And it feels good to have completed something tangible that will hopefully lead to good things for the Bedouin women's organizations.
It also feels good to be finished with "From Beirut to Jerusalem".  It weighs in at just over 500 pages and is filled with fascinating insights and perspectives on this part of the world.  I recommend it.  I enjoyed it even more than I normally would have because I was reading it while I'm in Israel.  The references made to cities, regional newspapers, or local cuisine really came alive because I could walk out my door and experience them.  The information in the book helped me understand the tension in this region on an intellectual level.

It took less than one chapter of another book for me to understand the tension on a gut level. 

Without going into too much detail, I'll share some pertinent pieces of my background.  I was raised in Protestant churches, most frequently Southern Baptist churches.  I did my fair share of Bible reading while growing up. And then I took a looooong break from it.  For a variety of reasons, I decided it was important to bring a Bible to Israel.

Even when I was actively reading the Bible on a daily basis I didn't enjoy most of the Old Testament, but Israel seemed an appropriate place to try reading parts of it again.  At random the other day, I opened it and read the following portion from the book of Nehemiah:

"As for the villages with their fields, some of the people of Judah lived in Kirath Arba and its surrounding settlements, in Dibon and its settlements, in Jekabzeel and its villages, in Jeshua, in Moladah, in Beth Pelet, in Hazar Shual, in Beersheba and its settlements..."

Be'er Sheva, the place I'm living now, is the Beersheba mentioned in that passage.

"From Beirut to Jerusalem" coming alive to some degree because I'm reading it in Israel is one thing, having the Bible come alive to some degree, any degree, is something else completely.  I don't feel that it's appropriate to discuss my faith on this blog, but I'll at least say - I'm not Jewish.  For me, a non-Jew, to have a noticeably strong reaction to reading a, let's face it, not-all-that-exciting passage gives me some small insight into the passions surrounding this piece of geography.  In addition to not being Jewish, I'm also not Palestinian, but it's not hard to empathize and begin to understand that both groups feel similarly strong ties to this land.

Thursday, June 3, 2010



My name is David.

And I'm addicted to books.

Anyone who helped me move into, or out of, my apartment this year and anyone who visited my apartment this year probably knows this.  I have a lot of books.  If books were words, I'd have an epic poem.  If books were letters, I'd have an ocean of alphabet soup.  I know I have a lot of books, but I never considered it an addiction.

One book is not that heavy, but when you gather 3 or 4, they get pretty hefty.  On my 10-week journey to another country my luggage is two backpacks, not rolling suitcases, backpacks that I had to carry.  In my two backpacks, I brought 17 books.  For those of you not from here, that's Hebrew for SEVENTEEN.  Even after lugging those books through a couple of airports, a bus, a train, and a taxi, I still never once thought to myself, "I'm addicted books."

This past week Be'er Sheva has been home to some sort of literacy campaign.  As part of this campaign, there were many books for sale and on sale. Many. Beautiful. Books. On sale.  Buying a book on sale does not make one an addict.  No, it wasn't the two books I bought in English that tipped me off to my addiction.  It really wasn't even the children's books in Hebrew that I bought.  After all, I'm trying to learn Hebrew right.

What really brought me face to face with my addiction was the pictures. I was taking pictures to share my purchases on this blog.  I thought I might even introduce Flat Stanley and wrap it all together with a literacy bow.

I was taking these pictures...
This is one small section of the glorious book sale that was filled with tables and tables of books.

I bought the book below because it's in English and it's by a famous Israeli author.  File under the excuse: It will help me get to know the culture.

This one is also in English and by an acclaimed Israeli author.  It was recommended to me by my colleague Amny. Also filed under the excuse: Getting to know the culture.

This is one of several children's books I purchased.  All filed under the excuse: It's a good strategy for learning the language. Really.

Notice anything wrong with this picture?  I didn't. 

Took me several minutes to realize that the book was UPSIDE DOWN!  I'm now purchasing books that not only can I not read, but I can't, without serious thought and effort, place right side up.  I can't avoid the truth any longer.


My name is David.

And I'm addicted to books.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Art Appreciation

On a whim I stopped by the local theatre box office on my way to get groceries around noon today.  Honestly, I'm not much of live theatre person.  Plays rarely keep my interest for long, but I figured with the venue so close to my house I should try it out.  "Do you ever sell discounted tickets for shows just before the show starts," I asked, hoping to find a good deal on seats that would otherwise stay empty.  "No," the ticket seller replied, "but I'll give you my discount for tonight's show". Her discount was less than a third of the original price, so I decided to keep following this whim and asked about the performance.  I almost laughed out loud when she told me the play being performed, but I thought it might come across as rude and it would have been difficult explaining myself.

Surprisingly, they were performing a play based on book I've read and liked.  The book was also made into a very good movie.  Since I was familiar with the plot and she was giving me a really, really good price on the ticket, I bought a seat for the show.
This is my ticket stub for the play "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".  For many reasons, I thought it would be hilarious to watch this play in a language I don't speak in part of the world that seems to be locked in an incomprehensible struggle.

What I didn't realize is how additionally funny it would be to watch it at the 5 p.m. showing. Here's a hint for those of you under 70 who might be visiting the Be'er Sheva playhouse in the future: If they give you the option of the 5 p.m. show or the 8:30 show, choose the later one.

Here is a shot of the stage just a few minutes before a couple hundred of Be'er Sheva's older set and I settled in to watch the play.

At the beginning of the play I expected to come home and write some pithy blog about dealing with the madness in this and other parts of the world.  Too obvious.  Thankfully, that wasn't what struck me about the experience.  To my surprise, I really, really enjoyed the play.  In some ways I enjoyed it more by not knowing the language.  Since I was familiar with the story line, but unable to follow the dialog, I studied the performances of the individual characters and pondered the symbolic elements of both the story and the play.  Someday I'd like to be like Ken Kesey and write something that's meaningful to people regardless of the language they speak.  This experience helps me appreciate the work being done by my friends Becca, Judy, and Sarah on their art-based IPSPs.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Wheels on the bus...

Several of my classmates have posted about experiences on buses in their respective countries.  I had my own bus experience today that I'll add to the chorus.
I woke up this morning to an email which led me to getting directions to go south into the desert, and gave me the name of a bus stop (not a city). I didn't have time to check a map if I was going to make the first bus, so I raced out the door.
I'll skip the now familiar details related to my lack of understanding of the written and spoken language and say that I missed the first bus. :-)
The second bus came by in less than hour.  Many young soldiers (there is mandatory military service for Israeli Jewish men and women 18-21 yrs old), myself, and several other random folks piled into a fairly nice bus.  It was pretty much a tour bus with comfy seats, air conditioning, and a radio doing its part to contribute to my immersion language strategy.
Some of the soldiers were armed with rifles, which is pretty normal around these parts, but I'm still not used to seeing it.  As many of you have heard and seen, there was an incidence of violence between the Israeli military and a boat bound for Gaza.  The Israeli military killed several people on the boat and the international community, including the surrounding Arab countries, have been very critical of Israel's actions. One result was a general strike by all of the Israeli Arabs in the country.  I thought that meant all Israeli Arabs would be staying home today, but at the second bus stop that theory was proven wrong.
Nearly a dozen Arab men, women, and children boarded the already full bus and had to stand in the aisles while we journeyed on.
As soon as they boarded I felt the tension rise.  And as soon as I bothered to look around at the other passengers I realized it was only my tension level that rose.  The Arabs had clearly just returned from a grocery shopping trip and were laughing and chatting.  The soldiers were listening to their ipods or sleeping.  And everyone else was just minding their own business or chatting.
The ride was entirely uneventful.  I got to look at some desert scenery and tap several neighbors on the shoulder until I found one who helped me recognize my stop.
I shared my surprise and concerns and realizations with my client once I arrived.  She laughed the kind of laugh that let me know I'd never quite understand unless I lived here.  "The tension is always here," she said and explained that it both was and wasn't a really big deal. People couldn't let it stop them from going on with their lives, buying their groceries, completing their tour of duty, and getting up and going to work.  Increased tension and violence in one part of the country impacts everyone to some degree, but thankfully it hasn't escalated to the point that there is violence everywhere.  And generally things are less tense in southern Israel where I am.  There is still some hope that daily life will return to a more normal level of tension relative to this part of the world for all parts of the country soon.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Existential Crisis

In theory, I'll be working with 8, maybe 9, Bedouin women's groups.  At this point, I've met with 5 of the organizations.  Each meeting goes something like this...

Amny, my colleague from Shatil, and I arrive at a meeting with a representative of the organization.
The representative sees Amny and her eyes light up with recognition.
Then the representative sees me and her eyes say, "What's he doing here?" They wouldn't actually express that out loud, so I could be projecting because...
Once I see the look in their eyes, I briefly panic and think to myself "What am I doing here?"

Turns out there aren't a lot of American men hanging out in the Bedouin women's groups in the Negev. 

My lack of fluency in the language, culture, and politics of the region has definitely created bouts of insecurity and some degree of an existential crisis in the early stages of this project.

Turns out I'm not the only one wrestling with those issues.

"What exactly is a Bedouin?" is a question I've asked several folks.  I did a bit of reading about the Bedouin before arriving, but I still couldn't easily define them. 
The first couple of folks I asked were non-Bedouin and they had a difficult time answering it. 
They could tell what they're not:  Bedouins have "old" customs and traditions, but they are not defined by adherence to a single set of traditional religious principles, like the Quakers.
They could tell me what they used to be:  Nomads.  Herders who wandered the desert.
They invoked the concept "culture".  Bedouins share a common culture, but they couldn't really describe the culture, so it wasn't of much help.

Today I attended a workshop led by The Right Question Project for some of the representatives of the women's groups.  During one of the breaks I posed my question to one of the Bedouin women.  Surprisingly, her responses were similar to the others I'd gotten.
Bedouins were nomadic herders that have become sedentary for a variety of reasons.
Bedouins don't share a common religion.
Bedouins do share common traditions: some healthy, like being extraordinarily hospitable; some unhealthy, which I'll categorize in general terms as denying women some of their basic human rights.

What I gathered from our brief conversation is that the Bedouin have not been able to clearly define themselves as a group since losing their ability to be nomadic herders of the desert.

Our independent existential crises give me some solace.  They allow me to reframe my initial separate questions from "What is he doing here?" and "What am I doing here?" into one shared question: "What are we doing here?"  That's a question that implies unity and co-creation.  And it's one I look forward to answering together for the next 9 weeks.

Here is a picture taken at today's training of some of the women I'll be answering it with.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Shalom (Hello in Hebrew)

Earlier this morning, I received the message below from a student who was in the last class I taught at ISA.

Hey Mr. Monteith,
I've been seeing a lot more racism in the past couple months, and it really angers me. To the point where I feel like I HAVE to do something. So I was wondering if you know of any movements I could get involved in or to start a local San Antonio branch of. If you did, that would be awesome! :)


My first reaction was to tackle his question on my own by doing a little on-line research and trying to recall which organizations in San Antonio dealt actively with racism. The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center came to mind and I found a few articles from YES! magazine, like the one linked below.

Everyday Conversations to Heal Racism by Roberto Vargas — YES! Magazine

That didn't really feel like enough in the way of a response, so I decided to give this blog a test drive and see if I could tap into the potential of social networking as a way of helping this student.

Please post any ideas or strategies you have found regarding productively dealing with racism. Or email them to me and I'll email them to him.

Shukran (Thank you in Arabic)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Strategies in Fluency

Great news!  I've had three meetings in the last three days with various Bedouin women's organizations in Be'er Sheva.  Each meeting consisted of two representatives from the organization, my supervisor Amny, and myself.  Each meeting with the three women and I lasted about an hour.
Here is a brief summary of what I gathered from each conversation:
The first meeting was in Hebrew and the next two were in Arabic.  Thanks to the miracle known as a "cognate" I'm pretty sure a telephone was being discussed during one of the conversations.  Other than that, I really just sat there clueless but attentive. (ladies, insert your gender-based jokes here) I'm sure this is some form of karma from my days as a math teacher when I droned on and on about things like quadratic formulas and the square roots of irrational numbers.

Believe it or not, some people promote this exact type of situation for learning new languages.  It is commonly referred to as "immersion". Here is my description of learning not one but two, count them two, languages through immersion:

Imagine you are thirsty.  Really thirsty. The less you know of a language the thirstier you are.  In other words, you're dying of thirst.

Imagine a rainstorm.  Not a scary, lightning and thunder filled rainstorm.  One of those fantastic rainstorms with gigantic raindrops that cools a hot summer day.  Hallelujah!  So much water for so much thirst.

Now imagine one of those little red straws that people put in coffee.  Imagine that the only way you are allowed to get water into your mouth (remember, you're dying of thirst) is to put that straw in your mouth and point it upwards hoping for a direct hit from a raindrop.  You will be fluent when, and only when, your thirst is quenched.

That, my friends, is immersion.

Thankfully, Amny is infinitely patient.  She recaps all conversations and she is confident I will be of use to these organizations.  And I continue to be ecstatic about learning.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What's Hebrew for "partially hydrogenated oil"?

It's hard to be a health nut in a country where I don't speak or read the language.  Every nutrition label essentially looks like: &%^*&%*&^$^$#%$@.
I may be getting a little ahead of myself by worrying about the ingredients, considering I can't find the grocery store yet. (Don't worry mom.  There's a nearby convenience store with the basics as well as some fresh baked goods).
Getting acclimated to Be'er Sheva is going to be a slow, incredibly fun, process.  I love learning, and being in a place where I don't speak the language forces me to be constantly learning.
In one of the great films of all time, The Princess Bride, one of the characters repeatedly uses the term "Inconceivable!" which prompts one of the other characters to retort, "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means."
The Israeli equivalent to "Inconceivable" is the phrase "Everyone speaks English".  I heard that phrase many times prior to coming to Israel.  I do not think it means what they think it means.  I discovered a little bookstore near the Shatil offices on my way to work today.  I wandered in hoping to find some children's books in Hebrew or, if I was really lucky, children's books in Hebrew with English translations.  I figure children's books are about the right difficulty level for me right now.  When I asked the owner of the shop if she had any such books I understood more clearly that "Everyone speaks English" really means "Everyone recognizes when you're speaking English and knows a few English words, which, when combined with pointing, smiling, and nodding, can lead you near your intended goal."  The closest she had to Hebrew-English books was Hebrew books with Russian translations.  I know my limits, so I decided not to add learning Russian to my list of things ToDo.
In the end, I walked away from the encounter with one book in Hebrew with lots of pictures, very few words, and no English (or Russian) translations.  I hope to be able to share the details of the story with you some time before I leave in 10 weeks.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Today's theme: Transportation

I have arrived in Be'er Sheva, Israel!  I did so by taking a plane from the U.S. to Tel Aviv, then a train from Tel Aviv to Be'er Sheva, then a taxi from from the train station to my apartment, then a bus to and from the Shatil office I'll be working out of.
Here's a list of all the new transportation words I learned in Hebrew and Arabic...
Okay, so I'm not gifted at languages.  I did learn how to say Thanks and Thank you very much, which I think is very fine start for a jetlagged first day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Others and Mothers

Last night, thanks to the Speakers Series at the Clinton School, I got to listen to, and then have dinner with Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore.  Added bonus:  his mother was in town and joined us for dinner.  What a genuinely nice, intelligent, caring, and personable pair they are!  I'll share my thoughts on the book once I've had a chance to read it.
(p.s. Mom, I got you a copy as a belated Mother's Day gift, so don't go buy it for yourself)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Year One.


Final projects are in.
Final tests are taken.
My first year at the Clinton School of Public Service is done.

Think I can learn Hebrew and Arabic in the next two weeks?

Monday, April 26, 2010

These are a few of my favorite...

In a school year filled with many incredible days and events and people and experiences, these are two of my favorite.
The first is the day the students and teachers from my former school, the International School of the Americas (ISA), came to Little Rock and visited with my classmates from my current school, the Clinton School of Public Service.
Pictured at the right are Clinton School classmates, Dimas Espinola and Becca Swearingen talking with 9th graders from ISA.

My other favorite day was the Tuesday after my birthday, Saturday, April 17.  Classmate Kate Raum organized a surprise party for me and Judy Watts had coconut ice shipped in from Amy's Ice Cream in Austin.
Pictured below is the Coconut Ice surrounded by wonderful people.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Short Documentary

This video was produced by Shatil, the organization I'll be working with while I'm in Israel.  I stumbled across it while doing my homework.

Friday, April 9, 2010

No Car, No Problem: Life in the Slow Lane

No Car, No Problem: Life in the Slow Lane
I'd been wondering if my carless life was actually feasible for a family. Nice to know the answer for at least one family is Yes!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Much is Given

After weeks of waiting, days of questions, and long nights of pondering, I have a plan for this summer.  Unexpectedly, I also have a plan for next Fall.
A couple of months ago I contacted the organizations Shatil in Israel and  Roots of Empathy in Canada about the possibility of working with each of them this summer.
Roots of Empathy was the first to reply with an opportunity in Toronto.  We had a great conversation and I got very excited about the possibility of working with them.  While I was getting their proposal approved, a representative from Shatil sent an email that said, "I'll be your supervisor while you're here. When do you arrive?"  The email caught me off guard because I was under the impression that my lack of fluency in Hebrew and Arabic was too big an obstacle to overcome.
I spent a couple of days agonizing over the decision about where to contribute my efforts this summer.  Not wanting to give up working with either organization, I asked Roots of Empathy if they would be willing to defer my work with them until Fall.  Instead of completing my IPSP with them, I offered to complete my final Capstone project with them.
When I received word that they would indeed delay the project until Fall, I was briefly thrilled, then terrified.  I was a little nervous about the travel and about putting most of my belongings in storage and about not seeing my Clinton School classmates for such a long time, but I was terrified by size of the gift I'd been given.  I pictured the next several months of my life traveling to Be'er Sheva, Israel, then Toronto, Canada and I realized how incredibly fortunate I was.  And I felt tremendous pressure to do the most I could with the opportunities I'd been given.   I expect much of myself.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The World is His Neighborhood

Background information:
One of my classes this semester is The Dynamics of Social Change taught by Arvind Singhal.
Dr. Singhal has done a lot of traveling.  A lot.
My classmates and I are all thinking about our upcoming International Public Service Projects.

During our most recent class, a little over a week ago, we went around the room updating one another on the countries we'd be working in and the projects we'd be doing.  For nearly every person in the room, regardless of the country they'd be traveling to or the group they'd be working with, Dr. Singhal was able to say, "I know someone in that country or someone working in that field and I'd be glad to connect you with them."  After we'd gotten nearly halfway around the room, one of my classmates leaned over and said, "The world is his neighborhood."  We were both amazed at the breadth of his experiences and his ability to name everything from people to restaurants in the various countries.

I've spent most of this first year looking for specific public service goals.  One of them came to me in during that class:  My goal is to be a resource for folks who are trying to better the world.  My goals is to be able to do for others what Dr. Singhal did for my classmates and I; he said, in effect, "You want to do some good in this world?  Here's a place or person that can get you started."

I still don't know where I'll be for my IPSP, but wherever it is, I'm eager to be there, expanding the size of my neighborhood.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Homework is so...inspiring

This quest to make a difference was inspired by many things.  First, and most significant, were my students at the International School of the Americas.  While searching for ways to motivate and inspire them, I read a number of articles and books, watched a lot documentaries and news clips, visited many websites and talked to many people.
I thought I'd share a few of those from time to time.  As I tried to find a way to post images for some of the books and movies, I stumbled across this advertising feature by Amazon.  I'm a little uneasy about advertising and promoting consumerism, but I'm not so extremist in my views that I'm against buying books. 

The book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder was one of those books that left me incapable of inaction.  After turning the last page, I knew I couldn't be content unless I was actively trying to benefit others.

Recently, I finished another book that I found just as compelling:  Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough. This book focuses on the links between education and poverty in the United States.  It tells the story of Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone.  Reading this book was a homework assignment and I have never enjoyed homework so much.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I love...

...walking. For a variety of reasons, including that I couldn't get it to start, I gave up my car before coming to Arkansas. I don't miss it. I was fortunate to find a great place to live just half a mile from school. I'm really close to a post office and just blocks away from the central bus station. The main branch of the library is even closer than the school. Everything I need on a regular basis is within walking distance, except the grocery store. And during the summer months there's a farmer's market nearby, which helps in that regard.
To get the grocery store during the winter months I've both borrowed a car and ridden the bus. Those few times I've been behind the wheel have done nothing to inspire me to get a car again. I used to love the freedom of driving anywhere on a whim. Now that I don't drive regularly, I recognize the different kinds of stress that freedom brought with it. Little things from paying attention to when I needed to fill up with gas to bigger things like sharing the road with reckless drivers.
I prefer the stress of finding a good pair of walking shoes and the relaxation of a good walk everyday.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Still Digging

Yesterday I woke up thinking about oil. I'm still looking for what I consider to be the roots of the many issues we face today. I used to think there was one primary cause. More likely, I hoped there was one primary cause, because that might be reasonable to tackle. Yesterday, when I woke up thinking about oil and pondering whether using fossil fuels and petroleum products was really a root, I was also thinking about Consumerism and Self-Esteem.
I was reading the latest issue of Yes! magazine yesterday and came across an article about The Story of Stuff, which does a better job of explaining Consumerism than I could here. It's about 20 minutes long and worth seeing. It's also been around a while, so it's probably old news to you. If it's not, take a few minutes to check it out.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Things I Never Wrote

For one of the final assignments of the first semester we were asked to reflect on some of the things we'd learned. The list below is my brainstorming for that paper. Much of it never ended up in the paper, but it still seems worth sharing.

My experiences at TOPPS have certainly increased my knowledge and skills regarding the sector of social change represented by the small, grassroots, non-profit.

  • I've learned about various means of to fund a non-profit: grants, donations, support from foundations, support from faith-based organizations, and endowments.
  • I've learned that grants are time-consuming to apply for and the money gained from them is heavily stipulated regarding how it can be used.
  • I've learned there are very few grants available for the overhead costs of running a non-profit, such as electricity and water bills.
  • I've learned that, to support themselves, small non-profits can fall into patterns of chasing grants, which can detract from the mission of the non-profit.
  • I've learned about something called "Founder's Syndrome," in which the founder of a non-profit has trouble letting go of the organization.
  • I've learned about Succession Plans, also known as Leadership Transition Plans, which attempt to ease an organization out of the issues related to Founder's Syndrome.
  • I've learned a little about Strategic Planning. Specifically, I've participated in the early stages of developing a Vision and Mission, as well as completing a SWOT analysis.
  • I've learned a little about the role a board of directors can play in a small, non-profit.
  • I've learned the term "stakeholder" and begun to develop my ability to recognize both the obvious and not-so-obvious stakeholders of an organization.
  • I've learned that non-profits can be territorial and competitive for both grant money and clients despite and because of similar missions.
  • I've also learned the term "best practices" and studied a few of the best practices related to non-profits focused on after-school programs both nationally and locally.

That list of learnings is, I'm sure, incomplete, but should demonstrate that I have a better understanding of some of the mechanisms of social change at the grassroots level.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


It's been a time of slow progress for the past month-and-a-half. Progress on the organization TOPPS, my team is working with in Pine Bluff has been slow. Progress on finding an organization to work with for my International Public Service Project (IPSP) has been slow. And progress on identifying core issues, or root problems to focus on during my time here at the Clinton School has been slow.
While reading the book, Getting to Maybe, I came across the organization Roots of Empathy. It's an organization based in Canada that, on the surface tackles bullying in schools, but does it in such a way that I think it can potentially make a subtle, but significant impact on other root issues such as compassion, consideration and self-esteem in very young children.
I still have some hope for working with HIPPY and/or Sesame Street in Israel to promote peace in that region.
I'm also interested in Interfaith Encounter Organization, which promotes dialogue between opposing groups in the Middle East.
So far, I've contacted all of those organizations but haven't heard anything in return. If you're reading this and happen to know someone, or know someone who knows someone, in those organizations, I'd appreciate an introduction.