22 December, 2009

Marching in Gaza - Partying in Beirut

"The mere possession of a vision is not the same as living it, nor can we encourage others with it if we do not, ourselves, understand and follow its truths. The pattern of the Great Spirit is over us all, but if we follow our own spirits from within, our pattern becomes clearer. For centuries, others have sought their visions. They prepare themselves, so that if the Creator desires them to know their life's purpose, then a vision would be revealed. To be blessed with visions is not enough...we must live them!" - High Eagle

I received three important emails today. The first was from a former colleague—a teacher, an organizer—asking for support on an upcoming trip; the second was from a close family friend introducing me to someone who will occasionally be in the area; and the third was from a close friend asking me to review his latest creative endeavor. All three emails managed to elicit in me some measure of guilt.

None precipitated as much guilt as the first. My former colleague is making a trip from the United States to Egypt, and from Egypt he will proceed, insh'Allah, to Gaza. His purpose, as you can read in his blog, is to engage in the Gaza Freedom March with 1,300 other international supporters from 42 countries and tens of thousands of Palestinians. I am simultaneously proud of him and slightly disappointed in myself.

I met B during the Southeast Social Forum, an event whose attendees convened to network and address issues of racism, economic justice, globalization, and inequality. He was a teacher, a role model, and an organizer. I had a mission, a purpose, and a cause. I taught at an urban public school, and I thought he should join myself and my colleagues. After nearly a year, we got him. A year after that, I left.

For seven years, my first seven years of adulthood, I worked in some way, shape, or form for a better world. I used to be a good person. This is how I feel now—I used to be a good person, before I moved to Dubai. I was going to change lives—maybe not the world, but lives, some lives. At the time I met B, I was teaching in Durham, North Carolina and I was attending the social forum and I was doing things that mattered. Then I left. I did not know how to recover from all those years of getting paid too little and spending too much, and I did not know how to save the children from within a broken education system, and I didn't know how to save myself from working too much and loving too little, so I left to save myself so that I could save others and I still do not know how that is going to work out.

So this New Years, B will be participating in the Gaza March for Freedom and I will be partying in Beirut. It's a shameful juxtaposition.

Since I have moved here to Dubai, I must admit that my quality of living has increased exponentially, but my satisfaction with my purpose in life has decreased. I did not come here to travel or for an adventure. I came here to save money and pay off college loans. That's really not the protocol in Dubai. And I have been sucked in—in some ways, some of the time. Namely, in the form of traveling on holidays. Because we're a multicultural community in a multicultural society, we have a lot of holidays. And because I am here in an area where I may not live again, thus will not so easily travel again, I feel it is an opportunity I should not forgo.

So my cousin is coming to visit this week. She's 29 and I'm 31 and we're both single. Thus, I figured we should live it up. She's coming all the way from Washington, D.C. over the holidays, and I should make it worth her while.

It has been one year since the most recent conflict in Gaza was reignited. The result for Gaza has been a year-long blockade, which the International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza hopes to end with the march. The result for Dubai, when the blockade occurred last year, was that all New Year's celebrations were canceled to illustrate solidarity with the Palestinians. I had several opinions at the time: 1) It is noble to demonstrate support for the Palestinians (and for the Israelis for that matter), 2) I don't think restraining partying on New Year's Eve is the only way we could illustrate support for the Palestinians (or for the Israelis for that matter) 3) I think this is an excuse to rein in over-zealous, excessive expatriate behavior, that—especially during this time of strife—could be construed as over-zealous and excessive, and therefore inappropriate. To be clear, I do not think the conflict in Palestine/Israel is a black and white situation, therefore, "taking sides" is not an act I care to commit or would deign myself able to confidently do. The situation is much larger than that. The damper on the New Year's parade last year did not dampen my spirits. I learned long ago that like the Fourth of July, New Year's Eve means copious amounts of preparation and just as much anxiety, as well as quite a big letdown as opposed to a big, magical evening.

But this year, since my cousin is coming and since I feel the need to walk away from this experience with something to show for it, a story to tell, and since I am slated to meet my future husband on an airplane, I figured we will go somewhere spectacular—do something noteworthy. Like deciding to pay off my college loans, I also figured if I am single, I might as well be single and fabulous; since I do not have the fairytale, this is the compromise I have made with myself.

I looked at a map, I thought of all I'd read this year, I proposed the idea, and we are going to Beirut to ring in the New Year. B is going to cross the border into Israel/Palestine in support of a people. This is a shameful juxtaposition.

On a daily basis, these ideas dance in my head. Travel. College loans. Teaching. The Mission. Social Justice. Quality of life. Broken Education System. Writing. Public Health. For the Greater Good. Marriage. Teaching. Learning. College Loans. Standard of Living. Educational Law. Dating. American Dream? Teacher pay. Health insurance. Sociology. For the Greater Good. Writing. Law. Editing. Freelance. Marriage. Health insurance. Traveling. I have no idea what I am doing here and where I am going to go and what I am going to do once I leave. While living here has afforded me a quality of life and a standard of living I could not have in North Carolina as a public school teacher, I continue to question whether this life is worth it. I am not so sure that what I am doing here is for the greater good and if so, in what way. I have not yet figured out how to proceed from here and find a balance between contributing to the greater good and enjoying a reasonable quality of life. So for now, I am here feeling guilty. There is a disconnect between what I want to accomplish in this life and what I am doing. Yes, I love teaching. Yes, I love traveling. I also love writing. I also want to contribute to the greater good—I want to make this world a better place. It all seems so abstract right now; it all seems so wrong.

We made a reservations for New Year's Eve in Beirut today. There were six more men killed in Palestine/Israel today. Six in the West Bank—six in Gaza. B landed in Egypt today, in preparation for the Gaza Freedom March. This a shameful juxtaposition.

My cousin asks me today if I will stay here three or fours years. I laugh out loud—"oh my goodness, three—only one and half more years to go!" I am counting. "I don't know what I will do next." I repeat to whomever is listening, "but it will not be this."

I looked at a map—Istanbul, Beirut—the closest, "safe" cities where we could be guaranteed a party for New Year's Eve. Both a three to five hour plane-ride away. Dancing with the glitterati. Eating the richest cuisine. Marching into Israel/Palestine. Helping people across the globe. B looked at the world—Egypt, the Holy Land—a situation far more complicated than religion and politics. Halfway around the globe. This is a shameful juxtaposition.

I have yet to find the balance between expending my energy contributing to the greater good and living the life I have have imagined. I have lived the extremes, but I have to live in equilibrium. Over the past year or so, I have been reflecting, contemplating, and ruminating on how to move forward in my life—rather which direction to move forward in. I have been moving across—horizontally—but I am more of a vertical soul. The situation is precarious.

B will be marching into Gaza. I will be partying in Beirut. One long party and 18 more months of guilt. This is a shameful juxtaposition.

4 comments:

sarah said...

you're pretty hard on yourself, sister. I'm pretty sure you're gaining/helping everywhere you go. love -s

p.s liked your parallel structure.

bouquetofparentheses said...

Oh Alexis, where to begin?

First, let me say that I understand your guilt so clearly. I have to say that one of the hugest benefits of teaching at the H is being able to come home everyday without having to wonder if I did anything to help the world today. (Thus, I can usually spend nights and weekends in front of the TV or out shopping with relatively little guilt.) But if I looked at myself hard enough, I might see that I'm creating a false sense of security in "generousity"...there is always more we can do.

But you are too hard on yourself (which I understand, because I am too hard on myself too. I think our type needs to band together and point it out to each other, since it is hard to see in ourselves.) I think that life is made up of seasons. You had a season at the H, and now you have a season in which you get to focus a little more on yourself (with clearly laid out goals for this season, I might add). I imagine that my seasons will eventually change as well. Would I be able to teach at such a demanding place if I had kids at home? I don't know. I don't think so. Could I still teach and influence lives at a less demanding place, while balancing my own needs? Yes. Which is what you are doing. And I TOTALLY RESPECT that. We are worthless at our jobs if we do not balance the needs of others with our own self care. I have learned about self-care from Nick. Here is a post he recently wrote about self-care in his job as a chaplain. You might find it interesting: http://tasersedge.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/7-months-and-2000-miles-later/

Finally, I agree with Sarah. Perhaps the kids you teach now aren't as needy as your kids at the H. Perhaps they would succeed without you. BUT, they are so much better off for having you in their lives. And specifically, they are better off having you who has knowledge of kids who aren't like them in their lives. Your experiences in a previous season are shaping and helping the kids you have now.

Alexis, you are already a selfless person and it is not up to you to change the WHOLE world, just little bits of it. So please, party on NYE in peace, and send your guiltless thoughts and prayers to Bry and Gaza.

Love you.

Damsel 'N' Dis Tress said...

First of all, you two are both amazing and continual sources of inspiration. Thank you for being in my life.

Holly, love the seasons. You're right. Those are the thoughts I was having before I came here. I am going to read Nick's post before I got back to work this week.

I love you both.

Gilighan Qabista said...

Your writing is awe-inspiring. Your vision for life, as confounding as it might seem, is beautiful and just as it should be. Don't give up. Keep fighting happily. Your day(s) of internal glory will come.