This post by Frank Nappi from The Badass Teachers Association is fantastic! I relate to it in a few ways. A long time ago, I was an educator /counselor in the Israeli army education branch (Gadna) of the IDF in 1985-1987 for my two-year service. I worked in a poor and disadvantaged rural community in the Northern Negev. Many of the children I worked with had illiterate parents with minimal grade school or no education of their own. They were some of the most warm, welcoming, caring, and generous people I’ve ever met. And they were also suspicious of me, the army, and outsiders in general. They held patriarchal, conservative, religious, and superstitious views of society. Women’s roles were defined as wives, mothers, caregivers, food makers, house cleaners–traditional, old world views that were entrenched in their lives and viewpoints which they had brought with them from the social norms of the day in various Middle Eastern countries.
They had been placed in these remote settlements, in my opinion, wrongfully set aside and marginalized by the establishment of the country. They felt ignored and for good reason. They made the best of their situation as they had no choice. One family grew flowers. One had fields of radishes. Their homes were small but very clean. They made delicious food and hung laundry on clothes lines outside.
The women seemed to work harder than the men, and they showed it in their bodies which appeared older than their ages, always serving others. They were tired, but never stopped. They always wanted the best for their children.
When I entered their homes, I was treated with respect and the well-known, Middle Eastern hospitality; immediate offers to sit down, and an abundance of food and drink placed before me in an instant. It was considered an insult to refuse and I learned quickly to always accept tea, water, a delicious pastry–something. The children I worked with ranged from elementary school to high school and beyond. I taught in classrooms, in fields, in bomb shelters, around kitchen tables, on the side of dirt roads, etc. It took a while to gain their trust. To do that, I made house calls. One house at a time, meeting the parents and grandparents, explaining why I was there. Showing them that even though I was a woman and in the army (which they generally disapproved of), that I was a decent person, that I meant no harm, that I was there to help their children. I listened to their stories.
I realized early on that the children primarily needed attention and love along with help channeling aggression and frustration. They needed me to show up and wait for our group meetings even though no one came at first. I told them when I’d be there and I waited. Eventually, they started coming. Just a few, then more, then all the kids that could. We played theater games and role played situations to help them deal with all kinds of issues and problems. I did art projects with them and we played for hours. I had a general curriculum we were expected to follow, but within that, I had a lot of flexibility to do whatever worked with my group. I made sure to follow what was prescribed to us, but I made it as fun as I could, and I often added my own topics or ways of delivery.
One of the older students was the leader and all the others followed her. She was smart, funny, cheeky, and gave me the hardest time. I started bringing a camera to my meetings and visits. I started photographing the children and showing them the pictures. Many suffered from low self-esteem, so I decided that showing them how I perceived them, how I saw their surroundings (they thought it was ugly, but I saw beauty in it), would maybe help them start seeing themselves as worthy and beautiful human beings.
It worked. It also gave me chance to hand my camera to the students themselves, and I showed them how to use the camera. A camera was not something most of them had, so it was a novelty. My father gave me one of his Nikon cameras to use. That was kind of big deal. I was always afraid it would get ruined by the sand and dust that was everywhere, but it survived just fine.
The students had a blast posing for the camera and thought it was silly that I kept telling them, Just do your thing and I’ll grab the pictures. You don’t have to pose. But pose they did. Showing off bike tricks, running, “Look what we can do!” I praised them for their strengths and abilities and offered support and help where they lacked confidence or knowledge. I often helped them with homework, never doing it for them, but tutoring and helping them arrive at their own answers. The most difficult student came around to me. She loved the camera and taking pictures. Once she accepted me and started changing her attitude, the rest followed suit.
Long after I finished my army service, I learned that she had become a photographer. It was a truly gratifying moment. I wondered if my work with her had anything to do with her choice to pursue photography. I’ll never know for sure, but it could be, and that’s enough to think about how much one person can influence another when you’re able to teach in the best possible way. No tests or punishments. Just love, attention, communication, and learning to develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. The information and academics followed from that and were weaved in between the games, playing, conversations about things that mattered to the students. All the topics got covered, but first the work was about building relationships. They had to trust me first. I had to meet them where they were.
As was written in The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery:
Hi. It’s been too long. Rather than tell you a lot about January and February (nutshell: there’s been sickness, all non life threatening, yet relentless), I’ll jump in with right now.
Looking outside my window at the tree which has started to bud and rain that hasn’t stopped since this morning. The droplets of water on the tree branches are shiny crystals.
I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls
—“Kathy’s Song, Simon & Garfunkel.
It’s a quiet, grey day. It reminds of a day when I helped my father with a photography project in Northern Israel (late 1980s). There were olive tree groves we walked through after it rained, cows munching on grass, wildflowers growing like crazy in the green fields (red, purple, yellow), and people. We took pictures of the trees, cows, wildflowers, and people. My view is different today, but a rainy day like this brings back memories. Is the field still there? The people?
I’m sending you hearts, because I’ve got files of posts I wrote and abandoned. I figure since it’s been so long I’ll start by sending love to you for reading this and for being out there, for doing whatever it is you’re doing.
Maybe you’re digging out from under your own piles or sickness or winter or memories? Maybe you’re looking out a window and you’re remembering something from long ago, and you don’t have pictures, just fragments of color, the scent of rain and dirt, flashes that come to your brain when you’re alone. When you’re alone and you face your window or your mirror or the page.
The piles are in every room; toys, clothes, shoes. I could easily spend my day just opening old mail which needs to be shredded, recycled, or tossed. Time passes too quickly so that isn’t happening today.
Not saying much, just recovering after a few deaths of people I knew and loved (in particular, my friend’s mother in Israel, my far away, always and forever friends, like family. Is 36 years a long time? It’s gone so fast). And also birthdays, mine, and many others in my family. What do they call this? Transitions. I call it, people die and it hurts. We’re one year older. Things are always changing and staying the same.
Max said this about death recently:
“When someone you love dies, a piece of your soul dies.”
Inspiration is slow finding it’s way to me. It’s being unpacked, uncovered, dusted off. Yes, there’s the occasional shred-fest, clean up, and wonderful throwing out of nonsense, old, old, stuff that doesn’t do anything but clutter (in the rooms and in my mind). But not today. Not in any big rush, barely slivers of tiny moments of noticing, being, like fog clearing. From, “I can’t see the forest for the trees ” to “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel” to: the light is dim but it’s there and watch for other things that sparkle and shine, because they do exist, and yes they’re there even on the grey days but it’s also true that sometimes you can’t see bright light. I imagine if every day was bright, we’d get blinded by it, or we’d complain it’s way too hot. Or too bright. I do love a rainy day with muted colors and flashes of sparkle on the trees.
To wake up from a winter hibernation of sorts (but with not nearly enough napping), a hungry bear, ready to work.
The Man Who Has Many Answers from A Thousand Mornings Poems by Mary Oliver
“The man who has many answers
is often found
in the theaters of information
where he offers, graciously,
his deep findings.
While the man who has only questions,
to comfort himself, makes music.”
Deciding to write and then actually writing. Planning to paint and then actually painting, and all without knowing how any of it will turn out. This carving out, claiming time for the work. I will write and/or paint today between 10am-2pm and I’ll be happy if it ends up being two hours or one hour, or ten minutes as long as the words get out of my head and some paint comes out of the tube and ends up on a surface because I have sat at the computer and typed and saved, written in the notebook, or lifted my brushes and dipped them in paint and made a mark on the canvas or paper— not just wished I was doing that, but in fact did that. Creating the time in little bits requires stopping the outside noise, radio, TV, going offline, ringers must be turned down or off, doors closed, window blinds open.
Gathering the supplies, ink, brushes, tubes, rags, paper, notes written on scraps and stickies and ideas posted on my wall. Pick one idea. Do it. Today, not tomorrow. Start small. One tiny thing.
I’ve started writing a children’s book. Daffodils are coming up. Max made this and called it “Spring.”
Everything is terrifying. Everything is wonderful. Everything is in between.
I hope you’re well.
Back again soon.
all words and images by Elana A. Halberstadt except where noted otherwise.
Oy, it’s been too long! Things have been kinda nuts. Max was sick. I was sick. Work. Life. Ah, there’s never enough time in the day, never a dull moment. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover and my brain is swirling, trying to get through my daily to-do list.
I’m thinking about the campaigning, debates, and the upcoming election; how facts don’t matter but eye contact and sound bytes do; that I’m bombarded with daily emails from the PTA. I can’t keep up! I need to breathe into a paper bag. This is going out long so I hope you’ll bear with me, because I’ve got a backlog of stuff I’ve written, and I gotta hit “publish.”
In the next few weeks leading up to the election, I’ll be posting as much as I can. I’m an athieist, yet I find myself saying daily prayers as I go about my business. I figure, what can it hurt? Maybe it’ll help. I say silent ones inside my head if I’m in public. Out loud if I’m at home alone. I reference God, Allah, Jesus, and Buddha. I read books. I look up sources of reason, logic, science, art. I ask questions, attempting to discern fact from fiction. I think of higher powers. I think of the Universe. Stars. I look at trees with their multi-colored leaves falling and their strong bark trunks, in an effort to find hope there, too. I make sure the bird feeder is filled. The birds just sing, oblivious. I’m out of my mind with worry. The stakes are incredibly high.
I’m a proud bleeding heart liberal democrat. During these days, as with all stressful times, our cat, Ringo is my blood pressure reducer and general comforter. There is a creature who is alive, who gives and receives love. We take care of each other. We’re all creatures who are born here on this planet Earth first and foremost, to receive and give love.
There are, and always have been, evil forces at work. It has been so since the beginning of time. History is filled with examples of horrors inflicted by one nation or group upon others, by dictators, by men without souls. Mr. Romney (and his running mate Paul Ryan) are about as evil and scary as they come. I’m petrified for myself, my family, our country, and the world if, heaven forbid, they win. I’m waking up in cold sweats from nightmares. During the day, I get rolling chills or nausea. I’m raiding the Halloween candy daily and drinking way too much coffee.
Little side note: While helping Max fall asleep on Sunday, he was going on and on with a case for why I needed to stay with him all night and how much he loves me. He ended it with: “Ok, comment on that.” Maybe he’s watching too much MSNBC with me.
This is what I wrote following the final presidential debate on foreign policy on Monday, October 22, 2012. Thank you for reading. Stay sane by any means necessary and VOTE like your life depends on it. It does.
After the last presidential debate and last few days:
Let me see if I got this straight: According to smirk, smile, quiver, shift, stare, fake smile, shift, sweat, squirm-Romney, President Obama is responsible for the turmoil and tumult in the Middle East. Never mind thousands of years of complex history. Iran is the scariest one. Israel is a best friend forever. But there’s daylight between us.
Terror needs to be stopped and should never happen again anywhere but if it does, it’s Obama’s fault. Egypt, Syria, Libya, Lebanon–we need to make sure their Arab Spring finally blooms. Why is it taking so long over there to become “civilized?”
We don’t want to drive down a road or path to Greece (which is good because you need to fly or travel by boat to get there from here). China is a currency manipulator. Hello, Sensata, Freehold, IL, Bain-outsourcing much? Devastating more lives and yet another American town as we watch helplessly. But he’ll be tough on China.
On DAY ONE, just as soon as Romney finishes his morning coffee, er, herbal tea party blend, he’s gonna overturn The Affordable Health Care Act aka Obamacare, Roe v. Wade, “get rid of that” Planned Parenthood, and send Big Bird packing up his nest. Then he’ll call China and tell them, no more stealing patents and technology! It’s not nice to steal. Russia and Iran need a proper talking to so they know who’s boss around these here world parts. But, nevermind everything he’s ever said or voted for to date, now he’s for everything President Obama said. Really! It’s all about the moment of now. Wait a minute…now! See how that works? Ya gotta move fast to keep up with his forward /backwards / I didn’t say that /Yes, I did/ No, I didn’t – shell game.
Someone memorized names of cities, terror groups, and even pronounced Ahmadinejad’s name, but Romney sweated profusely throughout, a sure sign of a calm, collected, thoughtful public servant or commander-in-chief to be who speaks the truth. All that lying, flip-flopping, and fake condescending smiling is exhausting. This foreign policy business is hard. You try it.
Gender Equality — ooh, isn’t it exciting when Romney learns a new phrase? It’s a good idea overseas, especially for the Middle East, but here in America, we’ll implement The Whole Binders Full of Women Act which makes much more sense in that most American women would prefer to return to the 1950s, or perhaps even go back farther in time (pick your own favorite oppressive /repressive century). Life was infinitely better for everyone back then, especially for women, who loved baking apple pies all day long, dying in childbirth, tending to their God-given rape and incest children, barely surviving or not surviving their back alley abortions, or dying from cervical or breast cancer due to lack of healthcare and technology like mammograms or pap smears.
Also, women earning less or no money is great for the economy, self-esteem, and equality! That’s why so many American women are trying desperately to move to places like the Congo or Taliban ruled areas where they can be free of such things like rape, murder or Sharia law and finally can become self actualized independent human beings while washing their ragged clothing down by the banks of the blood filled, Malaria contaminated, yet also drought ridden, used to be a river shores.
At the soonest possible opportunity, we’ll get the entire Community of Nations to sit in a drum circle and sing Kumbaya for Peace. Because Peace is a good thing and Mitt really likes peace! He would really like to be President—like, a lot! Iraq was a good war. No it wasn’t. Yes, it was. We need to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely but we’ll be outta there on December 31, 2014, mark his words.
Also, climate change and energy was once again mysteriously not mentioned along with Europe, which apparently also doesn’t exist. Remember, we don’t want to become Greece, but maybe it’s OK to vacation there. Other options include buying an island (using money stolen from the Middle Class, poor and working poor, seniors, people with disabilities, and brave veterans who will not ever be mentioned out loud, but please know they’re in our hearts and prayers). Or you can keep your untaxed money (because you built it) someplace warm and sunny, like the Cayman Islands, which has beautiful marine life, too. That can be destroyed some day. Maybe start blasting or fracking there on DAY TWO. But first, the Tar Sands XL Pipeline will be fully implemented because we need to decimate that side of the continent ASAP.
Luckily, the arctic is well on it’s way to a spectacular demise so we’ve got that going for us. Polar Bears, while white and super cute on holiday greeting cards, just aren’t necessary for the growth of the economy. Also, if it takes killing a bunch of birds or irreversibly damaging our planet to get more Chinese workers earning a dollar a day, then that’s what needs to be done. It’s all about priorities. Please, people: birds, air, water, food, mountains, trees. Really? That is all extraneous fluff and there’s no line in the budget for that. Everyone knows that President Obama and all the Democrats single-handedly destroyed the economy which was in perfectly fine shape from 2000-2008. And that is why both Presidents Bush 1 and 2 are out stumping for Romney every day. They know what really happened.
Again, the economy is the number one focus and the economy stands alone and isn’t connected to any other realm, such as social or environmental justice, the needs of the people, or the health of the planet and all it’s inhabitants. Humanity and nature are entirely overrated and have no connection or interdependence! Science and math are also silly. Fact checking is a waste of time and energy. Truth is subjective and perception is reality. Souls are fully refundable and exchangeable if you’ve got a receipt. People know that the Earth is flat and God created Heaven and Earth and everything in it in a mere seven days! God built it! It says so in the Bible and that’s the truth.
Jobs, jobs, jobs! Better to ship the jobs to China like Sensata which is happening right now and is a perfect example of how Romney will lead this glorious country into the next era, which isn’t to be named yet, because it’s so bright, brimming with hope, possibility, and prosperity for him and his BFFs, that there’s no word in the vocabulary for his vision of America. It’s literally that great! Seriously, you know he was born in America, right? And he loves cars! Do you love cars? He also loves car elevators; they’re super awesome.
Bayonets, horses, and AK-47 Assault rifles are going on sale any minute now. Better stock up for the holidays! What better way to say, “I love you!” You don’t need a permit or mental health background check, just walk on up, choose your weapon, and stand your ground! You can target your fellow citizens anywhere; Schools, office buildings, movie theaters, day spas—you choose your favorite weapon and place. Now, that’s undeniable, red-blooded, American freedom, people! That’s what I call CHOICE!
Presidential lessons, voting machines, and access to the red button are now available for purchase by SuperPacs for only 1 Billion dollars! Such a bargain, considering how many people we could feed and house for that amount. Heck, you could even give Big Bird a break and let him stay around. But, never mind all that nonsense about people! Just remember, it’s all about the economy. The Romney-Ryan economy. And their plan (which we’re not privy to knowing, or hearing about in any reasonable detail), doesn’t include 99% of America. 47% of America. Just the 1% gosh darn lucky, extra hard-working, ever-sacrificing “job creators” who built this: 1%.
All words and images are copyright Elana Halberstadt 2012, except for the political memes, charts, and graphs gathered from the internet— All copyrights belong to the associated owners. The Polar Bear greeting card is copyright Kennan Ward Photography.