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Success, Failure...some of my greatest failures have been a springboard to my greatest successes...the terms are truly fluid.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Daily Shift



A few years ago, when I was happily married to the love of my life, I would have started my day just as I did today…odd when I think about it.


At 7 am I was tidying a messy house…dog hair filtered through the air from my duo of dogs….I worked on dirty dishes for much of the morning….I polished the front of a stove that never looks clean since it has rust spots on the side of it from the salty sea air….I enjoyed the sound of a noisy washing machine thumping through a cycle of dark clothes…I tip toed around piles of clothes, scattered around the bedroom highlighting the colors left to wash…..the refrigerator is now filled with vegetables in baskets rather then old jars full of sauces that needed tossing….I stil have the feel of gritty Ajax that I used to scrub my sink …it makes my hands feel extra clean…the smell of Windex from cleaning my living room table is still in the air. This life feels so comfortable I can’t tell you how much it relaxed me like  a meditation of its own…lulling me into an intense sense of security.

But my day did not start at 7….now it always starts somewhere in the night…At 4:00 am I was already reading a Brookings Report on poverty. I start studying at around 4 but have been known to awaken much earlier…

I love the feel of studies unfinished and concepts becoming clear. I love knowing that I am doing the best I can….and that my best is pretty dang good…even amongst brilliant people I am holding my own.

I also have to admit to enjoying the feel of falling on my face and doing the occasional crash and burn. I certainly crashed and burned in Arabic class this summer.

Since it was too much for me I had to drop all Arabic studies…I gave up about the time I realized there was not time to take my Arabic test to qualify for studying Arabic in the program at my school. I opted for Spanish which did turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

I am now studying Spanish at an intensity I have never experienced before. What I love the most about it is that my class requires us to hold intellectual conversations discussing grown up subjects like inequality and recent newspaper articles for much of the time we are together. I am now conversing rather well in Spanish even though I am confusing it quite often with Italian. I am quite shocked to report that I am actually succeeding at my Spanish class and really enjoy both teachers involved.

The Arabic program was just as exhilarating…but I was not progressing much and my conversation in Arabic was down at the level of basics like, “Hi, how are you?” “What is your name?” “Bye, see you later…”

Now I am discussing inequality in South America and the Chilean Overthrow of 1973, in Spanish….solamente espanol….

Not only am I holding my own but I feel like I am doing quite well….I know because I am thinking in Spanish all the time now. My brain is keeping a tally of both English and Spanish as I talk so I know I can switch reading in a heartbeat.

This might be costing me my beloved Italian and Arabic as though so it is time to refocus on what I already have in order to hold onto it.

So this morning, at around 5:00 am I opened up a computer program on my phone I have not allowed myself to open since late August. I went over my Arabic vocabulary on Quizlet. It was like bending my mind in a different direction…sort of like going back to my housewife persona this morning at 7….I was surprised that within a few tries, I was actually scoring OK on my games with the site in Arabic.

The other day I turned in my first policy memo….I did the best I could…taking extra time and effort to follow the instructions since this is territory I am unfamiliar with…but at least I turned it in. I did a little victory dance as I printed it in the college’s copy area.

I have worked hard to get here but I think I am fitting in quite nicely. Instead of walking streets I know like the back of my hand back home I am now growing familiar enough to host a tour and explain details of the history of buildings in the area.

I am walking where Robert Lewis Stevenson has tread…I swigged on a hookah near a tree he is seen drinking under…I regularly walk inside a building that John Steinbeck lived in and wrote.

Needless to say I have had intense shifts in routine and perspective lately…but I wouldn’t change a thing…life as a grad student simply rocks…and I think it is good to drastically shift perspective once in a while….


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

McCone, not just a building on campus....

McCone, not just a word….

I am a lucky sort of person and outrageous coincidences happen to me almost daily.

I suppose it is best illustrated by laying out a side exploration I have had going on while at my school.

It has been common place for me to go into a large building that holds the Irvine auditorium. It is called the McCone Building. Inside there are two portraits of smiling white people from the mid part of the last century. They are clad in expensive looking clothes and exude wealth. His wife, Theiline's name, is prominently displayed over the front door along with John Alexander McCone's name.

The counselors to us students and many of the teacher's offices are housed in this building along  with my program regarding international policy.

I had the fortune of running into a man while buying some burgers at McDonald's during my orientation week....we talked for a few minutes and I learned so much about McCone that I have been collecting information ever since.

John Alexander McCone has his own Wikipedia page since he is such an interesting man. He was head of the CIA post Bay of Pigs and he correctly noted in a telegram to the Kennedy Administration that the assessment by the CIA was not to be trusted...he felt that  indeed the Russian government might be capable of trying to put nuclear weapons in Cuba. His assessment was pre-Cuban Missile Crisis and of course correct. This is now a famous telegram aptly named "The Honeymoon Telegram" since McCone sent it to President John F Kennedy on his honeymoon with Theiline in Paris.

This was all relevant to me since during the Cold War my own father was in the military having at one point been assigned to Fort Ord near here. His expertise was caring for a Nike missile in the  Bay mother was pregnant with me when the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded.

In my Spanish class I was involved in a discussion which talked about Bechtel's  stranglehold on the Engineering department at UC Berkeley...and how it was infiltrating research in a negative way since Bechtel now could stop any projects that interfered with their financial interests. The story told by a class member vividly described the ruthless nature of Bechtel's infiltration which culminated in a very influential professor being exiled out of the country without pay. McCone had a big stake in Bechtel, at one point they had a joint venture, Bechtel McCone Parsons Corporation.

For an assignment in that same Spanish class, I was assigned a video this week that asked us to watch a segment discussing a Chilean uprising in 1973. McCone involved himself with the CIA in order to protect an American company, ITT's interests. ITT is a telecommunications company that was going to have its Chilean sector publicly taken over by the Chilean government, under the new democracy being born. The democracy in question was squished with McCone's ITT friends winding up on top with their monopoly in tact while the Chilean people would be heavily terrorized by a ruthless dictator's 17 year regime. Our Mr. McCone served on the board of ITT, and used his connections at the CIA to protect a corporation, ITT, vastly effecting US foreign policy to work against a democratically elected president in what had been a peaceful transition of power, creating a terribly violent and unjust period in Chilean history.
In the history books the Pinochet Coup is referred to as CIA supported and backed by the US.
McCone is portrayed in 2 movies, X-Men first Class and a docudrama, Thirteen Days, about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I am not surprised that there is a confusion for companies like Bechtel over what is appropriate use of public entities like UC Berkeley or McCone over CIA involvement in another country's seems like it is a long running tradition in American politics...I also can see why other countries are not quick to leap at our help in internal affairs like Syria...we do have a tendency to allow our country's banks and corporations to first say in "country building" and therefore turn a profit.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Debating, a Policy Memo, a Loss and Hopefully a Win...

I am having a rather complicated life down here even though it should be fairly cut and dry. This is just one day's concerns. A slice of my life here.

Yesterday had two triumphs for me...each showcases a talent I have always had...but they also accentuated how much effort I have put into actually doing all the assignments. I wake in the middle of the night to get as much as I can done when my son is asleep....reading, taking my highlighter everywhere, but especially to bed.

At school yesterday I was involved in a debate. The class has been amazing for me since each day I am there in discussion with my classmates, this professor manages to take our human securities studies and apply them to the real world of international relations today. I lucked out and found myself with a positively brilliant group of students so it seems that each session I am there I have constant insights into how everyone is perceiving the course is like having several classes in one. Human Security was the perfect choice for me! The counselor completely understood what I would need to focus on after a few minutes of asking me about my life. I am really a Human Securities Policy Analyst....I can feel it in my bones!

And I was in my first real assignment in class...a debate with my classmates over human security versus national security. And I loved every moment of it!

I had studied both sides of the issue. I loved putting my argumentative style to work. And it was great for my confidence to be with such a brilliant group of their smarts would rub off on me. In this blog I write in my "casual style" but during debate I was able to use my "formal language" of my favorites.

I am also really excited about my policy analysis class. I had my first policy class at the end of my undergrad experience...and I remember crying when I read the first two chapters of that text. I had no idea how much I resonated with policy as a subject until I was reading the whole text cover to cover. For this class, now, we started discussing our first assignment on Tuesday and I thought it was due on Thursday...well it wasn't...yet...but with very little instruction I think I got it almost spot on...which surprised me..I honestly had not thought I was doing well....yet....I have been feeling like I am running but not catching up...but maybe I am there after all. Or at least in the vicinity of where everyone else seems to be at least.

Anyway, I was delighted to have finished an assignment that is not even due for a couple of weeks...I am going to do the final touches to it tomorrow and turn it in via email. I think it will help me be more focused on the readings and classwork to have it out of the way....

Most of my energy that was not spent on my son or studies this week went to of them was a brilliant student in that same policy analysis class. Veronica was always smiling and joking yet quite serious about our studies.

I sat behind her in the orientation week a few times. She was always with a bevy of friends so it was obvious to me she was quite popular. Veronica came from Brazil, and she sported a lovely accent....which around this multicultural school was highly desirable. We specialize in languages and having an accent here is sort of a badge of honor since it proves you have not only language but also international travel under your belt.

Veronica and I only shared brief conversations but as most people who know me can attest that was no real indicator of how much we cared about each other.

We had friended each other on Facebook, a typical behavior of successful people, in order to widen our networks but we were lucky enough to actually talk in person as well.

Veronica mentioned that she and her family needed a place to stay. She said it while smiling and kidding and I had no idea how badly she had meant it. We had now been seeing each other regularly for 3 weeks and I had never seen her without a smile on her face or a friendly hello from her lips.

She is the kind of person who always seemed to follow what was going on and I had already pegged her as a person to ask if I was unclear what was supposed to be done on an assignment.

The following class session Veronica was not in class. This was uncharacteristic! She was always there...with the same attitude I have about just being grateful to be in class. She and I knew the competition to get in is steep and to be accepted here is a compliment in itself.

I sent her a note via Facebook on my phone while our teacher kept up his classic humor that makes this class the kind people don't miss. My note said, "Where are you girl? We miss you in class!!"

There was no reply for several hours....when she did reply I learned of the trials she had undergone to be in my classes with me. She told me she could not talk since she had to leave and was crying too much to hold a conversation.

With two little girls and a husband, this woman and her brave husband had come down for me with a week and a half's notice of acceptance, and gotten into an emergency situation which was extremely difficult for a mother to endure.

The girls, 1 and 3 years of age, were not able to cry....the entire family was sleeping in a living room. They had figured on only being there for a few days but the dazzlingly beautiful coastal California city I am in is a very hard place to move to since it is not easy to find affordable housing. Families are expected to be making 3-4 times what one pays in rent, and as a student I can vouch for the fact that it is impossible for that to happen.

I also had found it very difficult to find housing for my 12 year old and I. I also had trouble in my first two weeks since I was attending an intensive Arabic studies program while I commuted 3 hours each way. The gas alone was eating me alive with its high costs. But I did it dutifully. I almost signed on to rent a room and hope I would find housing even though it meant my own 12 year old would be unable to live with me until I had it all sorted out.

In the end I wound up here in this lovely cottage very close to my school. But it was not easy and I was unbelievably behind at first in my classes thanks to the commute.

The bottom line is that we lost an amazing student....

Now I take my fellow students here to heart since I recognize that all the people I know with successful jobs acquired them through most cases grad school connections. The other people I am studying with now are crucial to my future career and I know it. There is no time like the present to jump in and start doing what is right.

So I ran for student body office. I figured it would bolster my ability to express my ideas that can change these situations for the better. I had already been thinking of running but I was not officially convinced until after I talked with Veronica until one in the morning, holding each other's hands with words.

I think this school is perfect, but I see room for new ideas...such as a real emergency housing situation to be within the school's scope. It was hard to find that my situation was not the hardest in that department....there are others who came from other countries and had a very difficult time negotiating the rental world of this lovely town.

And that leads me to my last I find out if I win the position on the student council.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Friday at the Mosque...


Since the Arab Spring I had started to associate Fridays with a new round of protests in Arabic countries. I was not feeling happy with Fridays since I am studying Arabic societies and it is hard to know that the most volatile day is also the most Holy. When you study a culture, they switch from being “the other” and turn into being people, just like yourself….I have felt this way for some time about the Arabic World. I don’t want to see other people explode into violence at all but especially on a Holy Day…it crushes me. One of the saddest aspects has been watching the mixture of a Holy Day and the over zealous nature of politics creating a match scenario that sets off the tinderbox of violence.

Last week we were in our orientations and class preparations. This week is the first week of the real deal. I actually went to my first real policy classes and language courses after working so hard to get here.

I have seen way too much of that violent aspect of International Relations and it was time to follow through on a wish I have had for a long time. I have really wanted to reverse this trend in my thinking poorly about Fridays and my wish was granted by my new friend Serena.

Serena took me with her to the mosque.

Serena is a beautiful woman who wears the traditional head scarf of a muslim woman.  I have had a fascination with hijabs them since to me they seem to exude elegance or class….a sophistication that I don’t usually have in my bearing and the way I carry myself.

Serena carries herself with this elegance and sophistication yet she reminds me of girls that were cheerleaders when I was in high school. There elegance made me feel more awkward then I already was, but it was reassuring since it seemed that they were saying with their friendship that I was fine the way I was normally.

In fact Serena was a lovely person to spend a lunchtime with…we discussed politics, boys and men, Christians, muslims, Americans and Arabic people. The entire time she oscillated between being witty, gentle, humorous and deeply thoughtful. It was like scoring a conversation with Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani Prime Minister for two consecutive terms.  Serena was beautifully attired in a hijab/headscarf that had sparkles that accentuated her sparkle in her eyes.

Serena invited me to go to her mosque when I told her I have always wanted to attend one. She did not miss a beat. She welcomed the idea of taking me personally to experience a prayer session with her the next day.

Years ago I told a couple of my Sonora friends, Maryanne and Jane, that I wanted to eventually pray my way around the world. People who knew me thought this was odd since I am not the regular church going sort. If you ask me to label myself I think I might be most comfortable with pagan…I like the holiday-food oriented nature of it. I like the way it views every religion as valid and holding keys to truth. I guess I think of the whole world as my church and all of its people as my brethren…..but I like cultural playing…I love to dance as if I belonged to whatever the specific culture I am in today is…last week I was Turkish at the Turkish Festival….they were real and human and loving and fun. I spent the weekend being Turkish…I could feel it…I dressed like a Turk….I looked around and tried to act like a Turk…I used Turkish phrases…I drank Turkish alcohol, (part of my quest to learn to hold alcohol…I can’t be the diplomat who can’t hold her alcohol!), and Turkish coffee and Turkish Tea…I ate like a Turkish woman and I felt like a Turk. There is one thing I did not get to do that I would have wanted to do if I had visited Turkey…I would have prayed at a church there.

When you feel the rituals and church life of a community I think you switch gears to a deeper level. You no longer feel the surface of their minds or their bodies through dance and words but in prayer I feel like I suddenly become in tune with their hearts.

Hence my excitement at attending a mosque. I have studied the biographies, politics, home life and languages of the Arabic World for years….now I had an opportunity to feel their hearts.

I leapt at the chance when Serena presented it…

I had scarves and an open loving heart when Serena met me at the car.

She played me a lovely chant called a Nasheet…I was able to sing along for a bit since it was repetitive.

The nasheet washed away my worries that I was harboring about the US intervention into Syria. I had been listening to John Kerry’s speech just prior to picking Serena up, which spelled out the need to stop chemical weapons and their usage against people in a Damascus suburb in graphic detail.

Another element was upsetting my soul. I have many friends that I have suddenly acquired from all over. A few are boys from different programs than mine….I feel a friendship and motherly, protective vibe about all of my fellow students but these guys are my buddies…one is from one of the Carolinas…another from Finland…two are from Pakistan. They are there for me…last night they showed up when my car died in the dark of the parking lot….

But my protective mother side has always worried about any military action since we are talking about boys and girls from our culture and theirs, (whomsoever that may be this year!)…but now military actions are including not just my own sons and daughters but friends that I have grown rather fond of…here on my new campus…

Peace is important…everyday…I meet new people that it would hurt to lose…people with real smiles and real eyes and great senses of humor.

This collective bunch at my school, might go home and now I can never again think of Pakistan as an abstract concept or a line on a map…Pakistan is now filled with grad students…and their families.

When I entered the mosque I was filled with emotion.

Serena gently guided me into the ladies area.

No longer is a mosque a foreign concept. I listened to the Imam give his sermon. He was an eloquent speaker. I only understood occasional Arabic words…but I could feel the emotion in the room…the love spilling out everywhere.

I had washed my hands and feet in preparation for ritual of Friday prayer so I felt cleansed of any negativity I had hung onto from the morning’s experiences of car problems and sad world news.

Instead my focus was now on the kindly ladies around me. One of the ladies grabbed me by the hand and showed me lovingly where to stand. She took off her own scarf and straightened my hair with a smile on her face, even though my recalcitrant hair kept finding ways to spill out from under the hijab.

I copied everything she did with the best precision I could muster. As we prayed, the children and toddlers played quietly. I found myself weeping quietly…tears streaming down my face…this service was filled with love, these people were love. I have never in my life prayed so fervently for world peace before.

The woman who lovingly straightened up my hijab and hair, gave me the beautiful scarf she had used to tame my wild short mane of hair…I was touched….it turned out it was her son who was the imam giving the sermon.

Serena and I talked afterwards about the world’s trajectory. We decided that things are already headed towards a peaceful planet already…I told her I want my work to be a part of it all…I don’t know how but it sure would be fun to help that side of things, the peaceful side of discussions…grow bigger…

Before I went to bed I found myself writing about all of this which has been swirling about in my head…and it occurred to me that maybe the best way to help create a more peaceful world is to have more of us cross the lines and pray together in each other’s churches…where our hearts are laid bare and our motives disappear

Here it is Sunday….and I can’t get over how positive I feel about Arabic Fridays now…no longer will I cringe, expecting a new round of fighting…from now on I will realize that Friday, in the Arab world is a time for reflection and prayer…now I will remember the violence I see on TV, is but a small group, while the vast majority of muslims are doing what Christians do on Sunday….praying…with their hearts full of gratitude and love…just like I experienced in our church’s here.

I guess on this Holy day for my culture, I will reflect on peace and globalization…peace is seeming to loom larger then I realized….sort of breaking out everywhere inexplicably finding a way to connect two people like Serena and I from completely different cultures.


wal hamdu lillah                                                     وول الحمد لله