Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fluctuation of Feelings - Get Some Headspace

I'm learning to sit with my emotions.  Since moving to Kosovo, that means I'm acknowledging and sitting with 17 different moods a day.  At least.  They come without warning, the smell of Yogi's Deep Breathing tea steeping reminds me of the cup I drank with my mom and my sister before I left, sitting around the kitchen table, the cats winding around our legs.  And suddenly I want nothing more than to be at home with them.  Never mind that I wouldn't have a job or the money to purchase the Yogi tea.  Rational thought is not one of my mood swings. 

But occasionally the rational thought seeps in, especially while I'm practicing guided meditation.  After reading a particularly panicked email in which I described how exhausted I felt by daily interactions in a foreign culture, not to mention my non-stop schedule of teaching or preparing for class, my sister suggested I visit  They offer short, guided meditation in a soothing, practical British voice.  It's all about the fact that you don't have to make an effort, that you shouldn't try to be perfect at meditation.
Why can't I stop thinking? "Because you’re a human being, and our default setting has become frenetic thought! If we could stop thinking at will, we wouldn’t need to learn to meditate. Just be gentle with yourself. It’s like whack–a–mole — the more you try to quash your thoughts, the more they’ll pop up. Bring your attention back to your breath each time, and with a little practice the sense of calm will begin to increase."
It's helping.  It's interesting to slow down and be aware of what thoughts do flit through, as I sit back and watch them pass by.  Yesterday, when my new friend, British Mind-Guide/Guru told me to let me mind be free, to let whatever thoughts might come run free, I saw, smelled and heard the streets I walk everyday.  The muddy puddles of potholes where the alley isn't paved. The car horns honked in anger at the inevitable traffic jams. My heeled boots pounding on the pavement outside the market, announcing my arrival.

Today when British Mind-Guide/Guru asked me to scan down my body to see how each part was feeling, tense? relaxed? heavy? light? and to recognize my emotions, what we're actually feeling beneath our thoughts, the first thought was "I miss my best friend."  While that's a given, it's interesting to see that it's right there, beneath all my thoughts about my neck tension and needing to do the dishes.  Today I also thought about a countdown calendar.  That I'm almost to month 1, looking forward to month 3, when everyone tells me I will feel more comfortable in this new, different place.  And, looking forward to month 6, which is my deadline to consider returning home, to decide what comes next in life.

While I'm being very loving with these thoughts and emotions, I also recognize that focusing only on the future defeats the purpose. It defeats the present moment.  My Daily OM email today reminded me of the power of positive thinking:

"Confidence and empowerment are mental choices, so you may have to convince yourself by acting as if you already possess the feelings you want to have. Today you are able to convince yourself and others of the truth of your confidence and inner strength. Positive thinking, the use of affirmations, and our imaginations are powerful tools in building our dreams.

"...When we can convince our minds that such things are possible, we have made the first step in making them our reality. As with any energy, this works in the negative as well. This is why it is important to keep our thoughts positive. We have the same power to create and experience negative outcomes as positive ones; it is up to us." ~Daily OM

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Engage the depth, danger, and darkness of your life

Tomorrow is my two week anniversary of Kosovo: Round 3.  It's been a great two weeks, but, as my closest friends and family know, an emotional time.  Emails arrive in their inboxes ranging from the ecstatic to the forlorn.  Some are filled with long, run-on sentences describing my day with students, visiting the SOS Children's Village, meeting another American woman who has a fun sense of humor, a friend with Celiac so she gets it, and a truck and willingness to hunt for gluten-free foods.  Some are filled with audio files of me weeping.

I'd forgotten that homesickness actually feels like you're sick.  It's a heartsick, gut-sick feeling.  My walls are thin and I'm positive my lovely neighbor Lena is terrified to visit me, or is preparing a care-package to leave at my door with tissues and prozac.  Mornings seem to be the hardest for me.  I wake to emails written by friends who are nine hours behind in time, and something is triggered in my tear ducts.  That I'm missing out on so much of their lives.  My best friend is having a baby soon, and there is nothing I want more than to fly back to be there to meet this little girl the moment she arrives.

To BE there for my closest friend, to experience her growing excitement and belly, to shop for baby furniture and soft little onesies. Talking to my father about it, he told me he worried most about how much I'd miss this close friendship, and that I'll have to grieve the loss of proximity (but NEVER the friendship).  But then I wonder, why did I create this loss? And more doubt creeps in.  Yet I also feel, when I'm not in the throes of the heartsick feeling, that this move was the best decision for this time in my life. I needed to create change in my life, to push myself.  I absolutely want to be in two places at once.  Why is that not possible?

Reading Anam Cara this morning with my breakfast and Nescafe coffee, I opened it to a section about contradiction.  Have something to teach me, Universe?  John O'Donohue writes:
"We need to have greater patience with our sense of inner contradiction in order to allow its different dimensions to come into conversation within us. There is a secret light and vital energy in contradiction. Where there is energy there is life and growth. Your ascetic solitude will allow your contradictions to emerge with clarity and force. If you remain faithful to this energy, you will gradually come to participate in a harmony that lies deeper than any contradiction. This will give you new courage to engage the depth, danger, and darkness of your life."
So, this morning, instead of turning on an episode of Gilmore Girls to escape, I'm going to try a guided meditation, to try to remain faithful to the energy of contradiction, when all I want to do is run away from it.  It's too early to start drinking, so meditation it is.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ask Teacher Rebecca your most awkward question

How do you explain to your class of students, in your most proper English, a sexually explicit phrase?  With illustrations, of course!

It started when I was using the technique of drawing a picture on the white board to help understand a vocabulary question my student was asking.  So confident, such a great, creative teacher.  Repeat that phrase, I asked her.  It doesn't quite make sense, I said, as I illustrated the first word, lips, with a big set of smackers on a cartoon face.  What is the second word, I asked again?  Repeat so the whole class can hear.  Downstairs, she said in a thick accent.  Down, where?  Oh, stairs!  I started drawing stairs before I froze.

Taking my sweet, unknowing student aside, I asked in sotto voce, where did you learn this phrase?  She replied, mimicking my low tones, "From a Tokyo Police Club interview.  He said something about kissing? They're one of my favorite bands."

I erased my illustration with the back of my hand and told my student I could describe what that meant at a later time, perhaps not in mixed company.

Week 1 down.  It was off to a bumpy start, what with my perfectionism kicking into high gear (why can't you be the best the first time at something you've never done before?) but I've relaxed a bit and tonight was just fun. I love my pre-intermediate class, askers of inappropriate questions. We meet every weeknight.  They're loud and eager to speak in English, interrupting each other when someone is not working fast enough.  The class ranges from two teen-aged girls to men who are journalists to two women who, as doctors in their 50s, obviously led the way on the path to equal rights.  I can't wait to hear their stories, in a place where women only recently began working outside the home.

Last night, after a rambunctious round of role-playing, the two teen-aged girls stayed after class.  Teacher, what are you doing after tomorrow night's class, they asked me.  While I debated whether I'd buy my Milka chocolate bar and a bottle of wine BEFORE going home or stop at home to drop my books off first, they interrupted my daydream of doldrums and asked me to go out with them.

Hangin' with the high schoolers on a Friday night might not sound like I've found my community, but these girls are so sweet and funny and dream big dreams, I feel I have two new little sisters.  One of the girls brought her younger brother to meet the American.  Poor kid, he sat through 90 minutes of  English, his only consolation a mocha piled with whipped cream while he patiently observed three girls and another 2 hours of unintelligible chatter. Plus the hysterical laughing when "teacher" finally explained the lips downstairs comment.  (I made sure he didn't understand ANY English.)

I don't know whether to curse you or thank you, Tokyo Police Club. Not my finest hour of teaching, but probably the most fun. 

Cartoon robots have nothing to do with Tokyo Police Club or a night in Kosovo, but this popped up when I googled "cartoon drawings of people" and who doesn't love a cartoon robot?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

this too shall pass ... with a little help from cross-cultural comedy

My first night teaching fell apart a little. The make-shift classroom was overly heated, I overheated, and the books hadn't arrived. Books on which I had based most of my lesson. That's okay, I had the placement test to give the students. Wrong answer. The chairs with built-in desks had not yet arrived, making it nearly impossible to force students to write on their laps. These are part of the growing pains for the language center. Roll with punches, right? It's a good sign when one group has to meet at a cafe to find space/tables on which to write. But a bad sign, when a teacher, sans books and lesson plan, cannot roll with said punches.

Already nervous for my first class, I FROZE, off my lesson plan, jumping around from grammar lesson to past participle, certain the students could smell weakness. I couldn't seem to form an active sentence that I could convert into a passive one. I FROZE. It was like that bad dream, but I was wearing all my clothes. So when the guy from Turkey with the unintelligible lisp gave me an active sentence, followed with the joke "I could teach the class!" any remaining confidence I had was destroyed.

Thankfully, my second class of pre-intermediate students went much more smoothly. But I was questioning why I was in Kosova, why I thought I could teach, why I thought I knew English. Had I actually ever felt a punch before, let alone rolled with one? I couldn't remember. I was set to start my period the next day, my hormones out of whack with the time change, and I hadn't eaten a full meal in days, trying to avoid gluten in a food-culture based on flour.

Ahhh... emotions, flaky, easy come easy go emotions. After a day of feeling downright depressed and ready to board the first plane to L.A., tonight I had a lovely evening with my nightly pre-intermediate class. We discussed friendship, vocabulary and grammar. We talked about the uses of "who" vs. "whom," watched the "Scrubs" scene below, and learned that sometimes, comedy transcends the painful comedic moments of my own life and puts everything into perspective again.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Been there, done that

"Generally, the familiar, precisely because it is familiar, is not known." (Hegel)
Day 4 in Kosovo: I take the same routes every day: to the store, to the language center, to the cafe to meet a friend. If I stray off the path, I might get lost, and the only way I know to describe where I live is to reference a sports center and a park, and hope a stranger will direct me back home.  But even in my known path, I have to treat each step as new, eyes on the ground to avoid open, uncovered drains in the street, deep ditches left unguarded when the construction workers go home.  Will this ever feel familiar to me?

In Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, John O'Donohue warns about the familiar, and explains that it is merely a facade.  "Familiarity enables us to tame, control, and ultimately forget the mystery. We make our peace with the surface as image and we stay away from the Otherness and fecund turbulence of the unknown that it masks. Familiarity is one of the most subtle and pervasive forms of human alienation."

Yesterday, as I waited for the bus to take me to JYSK (the Ikea of Kosovo, pronounced "Yoosk") I felt the familiar sense of being isolated. The women on the street here are so close to each other, walking arm in arm, laughing and kissing goodbye, and seem to eye me with a questioning look. I also think they're judging my shoes. They're very European, wearing fabulous heels and boots that I doubt they carry in my size (BIG). Most likely I'm reading into this, but I find it very difficult to connect and break that language and cultural barrier with women.  I felt myself closing off, trying not to smile at strangers, which is my normal way of greeting people. (I was once told by a grip on a film set that he thought I was "simple" when he first met me, since I smiled all the time.)

Reading O'Donohue and Hegel's quote, I was reminded that if I shut off from engaging in each day, as I am, open and present to the mystery that surrounds me in the familiar, I will miss out on life.  So I hope that as I study the Albanian language and Kosovo culture, I can bring my own open eyes/mind/soul to it, to stay aware of the "turbulence of the unknown." 

JYSK, by the way, is a Danish company, and FAR more expensive than I expected (a wool throw for 50 Euros? Really?)  I bought new sheets and pillows, and baffled by the use of centimeters on the packages, ended up buying twin sheets for my double bed. I cuddled into my too-small sheets last night, thankful that nothing yet is too familiar.

Monday, October 11, 2010

(Almost) At Home in Kosovo

Home! In a hotel.

The Prishtina airport smelled like cigarette smoke, and reminded me why the British Airways flight attendant kept reminding our flight that smoking was prohibited on the plane and in the terminal. My friend Fisnik picked me up – so lovely to see him after almost five years.

As we drove down what I dub Narrow-Miss Lane, Fisnik navigated what seems to be rule-free traffic while I called my new boss. We parked and I kept reminding Fisnik to look for the street address I had for the language center, while he kept reminding me that street addresses don’t matter and aren’t listed. Naturally, the national was right, tourist was wrong, and we happened upon the sign for the center. I walked up the 4 flights of stairs to the language center office. I met Boss, his kids, and his accountant. He commented that I am tall. (It’s true.)

Walking downstairs to meet Fisnik and talk about apartment hunting, in hopes to find an available place where I could land for the night, it was only fitting that we talk over a cup of coffee. The main boulevard was crowded with students and vendors, and draped with the American flag flying next to the newly adopted flag of Kosovo. “See,” Boss said. “They knew you were coming today!” (Apparently, so is Hilary Clinton.)

We entered a smoke-filled café. Boss asked if I mind if he smoked. Since one cigarette would not mean much difference to the general cloud of smoke, and since he was really only being polite, I said yes.

As we sat, drank, smoked and talked, I brought the conversation back to the apartment hunt. Fisnik looked at his watch. Suddenly, a tall, solidly built man in a dark overcoat joined us. They said hello, and Boss introduced us to his friend, who sat, ordered an espresso, pulled out his pack of cigarettes and sat down to smoke.

Fisnik was eerily silent most of the coffee talk. Turns out, he is more paranoid than I am, which is hard to believe if you know me, or have received my 2am phone calls checking in on you after a bad dream. I am the girl who expects to find a dead body in every dumpster (watch Law & Order people – finding a body is inevitable, only a matter of time), and who lives by the motto: Only the paranoid survive. Fisnik was sizing up my new boss, and then the man he dubbed the “Silent Killer” (S.K.) in his overcoat, who, granted, could be straight out of Central Casting for that role. And is a lovely soul who went out of his way to try to find me a flat. Fisi told me all his paranoid suspicions later, when he felt better about my safety and life-span after Boss's wife arrived. She was lovely, smiling, straight from a pilates class and her job. Suddenly, we were all friends, and Fisi was driving Boss, S.K. and I through the dark, rainy streets of Prishtina, on our search to find me a home.

Boss and S.K. did their best and showed me a couple of places, while I played the role of American perfectly and dove in, trying to negotiate a rent I could afford. I’m typing from a hotel room (it smells like smoke), so the search continues tomorrow.