Saturday, July 21, 2007

Getting Attention

I got my first Faculty email today, from my new school in Kuwait.

I'm a little shamefaced- I have a sneaking suspicion that I've been sending Faculty emails to my spambox along with "Meet Big Beautiful Singles" for the greater part of the summer. At my current school there might be some justification for mistaking spam for staff emails. The new school, I'm thinking, maybe not so much.

The man was very nice, giving some tips to all the soon to be-new Ex Pats, namely number 3: "Don't call undue attention to yourself."

Don't call undue attention to yourself.

If it were only so simple.

When I announced my job offer in Kuwait, several friends pulled me aside and probed me for my intentions in moving to a different country. Particularly, a conservative country where there would be restrictions on my movements and clothing as a woman. After all, I'd graduated from a Left Coast, Private, All Women's College in my wild youth...?

(The tacit question here, being, "We know you mean well, but you aren't going to start a war? Are you? Please say no.")

The short answer is this: Leave only footprints, take only photos. It's kind of simplistic, but a minimalist attitude towards a culture you're entering lets you experience more. I mean, how much do you get out of a hike when you're screaming?

On the other hand, there are infinite ways to call attention to yourself. The noisiest people are not always screaming. Way back when I was a little Josie, I cultivated a severe and sincere distaste to attracting attention from anyone to stay alive. What I wasn't able to grow was the complimentary "Sure, you're right!" which would have saved me when I came out for food. Instead, I learned to do many things myself. As I got older, I found it was easier and quicker to do things myself anyway.

I don't set out to attract attention from anyone- one more person means I have to communicate effectively. It also means I might be misunderstood. It means I might have to backtrack to what I was thinking, find words to fit the situation and present it in a different light to make myself understood. This is all while I might be constructing a small catapault or eating something tasty. To say nothing of why the person is there in the first place, sure as I am of their own tasty dishes and catapaults in a place not around me.

The lesson here is that a total lack of intimidation, a high pain threshold, and an inability to lie will attract attention. Lots of attention. Which is frustrating as an adult, when you've spent your formative years up a tree without learning how to talk to people, or hide that you aren't having fun doing it.

And lets face it- I'm 5'8 and under 140 pounds. I could look like the tailgate of Satan's cow and still turn heads.

I don't have to stop off the plane in a micro mini skirt waving pamphlets about my political choices to attract attention. I'm different. It's done. What I have to figure out is the most polite, gracious way to manage it. Without starting a war. Welcome to my blog.

Friday, July 20, 2007

So there are 99 people at work who have come up to me and told me, "Gee! It's great you're doing something like this!" "I wish I'd have done this when I was younger!" "That's really f-ing cool, aren't you nervous?" "What's wrong with Germany?"

And the 100th, the one, who has definitely NOT.

He's a bit of a heavyweight around campus, and if he wants you to know he's unhappy he knows how to do it. And he's unhappy. Frantically digging in the garden here, shooting me baleful looks there. It's been about 4 weeks. It's not getting better.

"Hey Josie, what the hell is ____ doing in the garden?"

So I went to him today after the kids were on the bus and tried to straighten things out. You know, ask "What's wrong?". I did. Because, you know, being ignored and snubbed in my own classroom is uncomfortable after the second hour or so. Especially when your staff starts asking you about it.

It wasn't pretty, to say the least. He started stuffing things in his backpack when I showed up at the door.

So now I'm at home, crying. Wondering what on earth is the matter. With me for crying, with him for being an asshole. It just seems so...pointless.

I know what's wrong with me...this is a book I want tidily shut, pages all lined up and tied with a ribbon. School X--. End of story. Sent off on a plane with a party and cake and some home made cards and a wave or two. Goodbye Bay Area! HEL-lo sandstorms!

Instead, I have an angry igor stomping around my workplace, looking at me when I'm not looking and then looking away quickly. Refusing to talk. It just seems so...pointless.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A little history

on how I got to this point...
...or as one of my more un-Reconstructed co-workers put it after two shots, "Why the **** would you fly to ****ing ****? They'll sell you into ____! You'll be eating shaved camel ****s!"

I have a hard job. No bones about it. Not hard as in, "That's disgusting I'd never do it," though that can be part of it. Hard as in, encountering some of the worst things fate and humanity can visit on the least deserving. Then ignoring it, and teaching Kindergarten. Oh yeah, you have to tweak it here and there. I mean, just pop his eye back in if he pokes it out.

After a year of working 3 out of 4 weekends a month, I got sick. Very sick. In the hospital, 5 spinal taps sick. If you thought one spinal tap was Fun on a Gurney, wait till you get the Intern finding his way around the Your Spinal Cord when you haven't had water for 8 hours.

The point was, I nearly died. Complete with visitations of the Other Side, everything.

And when my loving friends propped me up, wiped my vomit and my behind, with every spoon of broth they poured into me they chanted, "You WILL find another job. You WILL find another job." Then, of course, I puked the broth.

I lost 15 pounds I didn't have to begin with. I went back to work, with cryptic post-it notes on chairs that read JOSIE SIT DOWN. I didn't have a choice- the first day back I was nearly suffocated by 5 students who expected wrestling all at once. So I looked for another job.

Where did I find it? Where else? Craigslist.

Wrong, wrong time

to have my bag stolen.

I had to take the day off work to go look for it. When It wasn't where I last saw it, there was the hair raising ride back on gas fumes; the police report; the DMV (indignant that I felt indignant for paying 21 dollars because my license was stolen); the hunt through the house for a second picture ID; the credit card companies, you know.

And that bag meant something to me- not only was it a damn nice bag, but it traveled with me on the trains through Poland. Auschwitz, Katowice, Mysłowice, Warsaw. It was just large enough to hold a change of clothes and a days' worth of food and drink, and I could sling it across my chest to fit in the small of my back. It had the wallet I bought in Krakow too- change purse, and just acquiring that patina of sweat and smoothness from a year in my back pocket. Take the credit cards, give me back my equipment.

Yeah, I had plans for the day...big breakfast, maybe take some stuff to Sacramento. Heavy lifting is out, since I sliced my finger nice and deep. But I did have plans. Damn it. Now I'm plan-less, day-less, and broke.

Not completely plan-less. I sat in front of the 'puter, doing all the organizational stuff I never have the brain for after a workday, and the heart for on a weekend. And I'm relaxed, which never happens on a weekday without plenty of post Eastern Bloc beer.

For my next amazing trick, good-by hike 164597 in Black Diamond Regional Park ( Truly, home away from home.