Reflections on a Year

It has been a year unlike any year in our 60 years on the planet. Our first year living in an urban environment. Our first year living outside of Vermont as well as outside the USA. And of course, our first year working in an international school. It has been a quite a year.

Muslim and Christian, side by side

Living in Beirut has been the easiest part of this whole experience. We have always enjoyed spending time in places like New York City and Boston with the easy access to good restaurants and the vibrancy urban living offers. Beirut certainly offers all of that and more, both positive and negative. The mix of East and West, Muslim and Christian, old and new makes Beirut a very interesting place to live. Just last week I was walking our recycling down to the recycling bins on the Corniche, just as the mosque on the corner began the evening call to prayer. The sun was setting over the Mediterranean, the Corniche was full of families enjoying another beautiful night in Beirut, and the call to prayer mixed with the incessant honking of car horns gave me yet another, “OMG I am in Beirut!” moment. Other than the intense heat and humidity of the fall, the weather has been spectacular. I have skied twice. The dog poop on the sidewalks, the trash in the sea and strewn on the roads and the cutting of power every day may be negatives to this place, but they are just part of what makes Beirut, Beirut. Sharon wonders how well we will settle back into the tranquil life in Brattleboro once we return. Good question.

East and West

Living and working here have given us such a larger window on the world. We work with Muslims and Christians from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Spain, France, Canada and the US. We teach kids from Lebanon and others who have lived in places like Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kazakhstan, and England. Our cook is Palestinian. Other colleagues have worked and lived in Kuwait, China, Saudi Arabia, India, Turkey and the Dominican Republic, and they tell stories that make these parts of the world part of ours. It is fascinating!

The work has been by far the most challenging part of this experience. The school demands a great deal of its teachers, particularly in the elementary school. The principal is an excellent yet demanding administrator who  asks much of her faculty. The days are very long and while there is considerable prep time, much of it is taken with required meetings and for Sharon, hiking up and down four flights of stairs to another building to stand in line for the one copier available to teachers.   She is the only adult in the room with twenty kids with diverse needs.  There has been nothing like a buddy system to inform her of what needs to be done when, so she has been taken by surprise with requirements many times.  The kids and their parents are from a different culture than what we are used to, naturally, and the adjustment to these differences has not always been easy.  The kids at ACS in general are intelligent, polite and respectful, but they don’t always listen to each other or their teacher. Some, not all parents protect their “habibis“ like there is no tomorrow, and that is somewhat reflective of how the Lebanese live. They pride themselves on living life to the fullest, for they cannot be certain what tomorrow will bring.  As we end the year we have worked together ( I am half jokingly referred to as Sharon’s data entry clerk) to make the work load bearable. Sharon has gotten her feet on the ground as a classroom teacher, and the principal and parents recognize just how good a teacher she is. The day to day reality of life here is not as glamorous as this blog might had led one to believe. But we have survived.

Long days, and many weekends are part of the reality of an ACS elementary classroom teacher

Of course, the travel this place has afforded us has been just fabulous. I have flags hanging in my office from all the countries we visited this year; Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Syria and Greece. We already have plans to visit Kenya and Egypt next year. Our long spring break will likely be to the East; maybe Sri Lanka or Thailand. We look forward to visits from our kids as well as our good friend Donna, and they will decide on other travel destinations during their visits. Croatia, the coast of Turkey, Dubai and Israel are all places we hope to get to before we leave. Might we need a third year abroad just to do all the traveling we wish to do?

All in all we are both glad we are having this “adventia before dementia” experience. We miss our friends and family, but visits from Britt and Dave and Deb this year, emails, NPR and gmail chats with the girls and friends have kept us connected. We are looking forward to seeing everyone soon, but know that another year of hard work, and fascinating experiences await us next year.

A typical springtime sunset from our living room balcony

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One Response to Reflections on a Year

  1. Mike and Sharon:
    You have been an inspiration to us — both in terms of the blog I did while in China for the last 4 months and in terms of future international experiences once the kids are in college. A quasi-retirement plan if you will! Your blog has been spectacular and I appreciate (and can relate to) your frank description of your working conditions. I look forward to hearing about your next year in Beirut and travels beyond. As we head home next month, I must admit to also being a bit envious so I will live vicariously through your blog!

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