Supporting the Team Long Distance

I am hung over from the midnight match, manning 2 computers to watch my son’s 3  o’clock college game live on-line at 10 pm Euro time.

Squinting at a stop/start video picture, the size of a deck of cards, on one screen while scrolling down another tracking “delayed” live stats, is almost more frustrating than no game connection at all.
After leading, Nic’s team lost in the last second.  I shout, swear and slap the desk. Why stay up all night to follow a losing team during a losing season especially when my son plays only minutes?  Because I feel honored that he suited up even just to sit the bench.  He offered me a chance to be a part of sport USA, which I sacrificed when  I moved abroad.
Ironically, I left States in pursuit of a better life, at least for a female basketballer out of a job.  When my pro team folded, I flew to Paris where I was so lost I might as well have been blindfolded.  After two years in Germany, a car accident ended my career.  Now, a never day goes by without throbbing between my shoulder blades, in my low back, and at the base of my skull due to a broken spine.  Though it’s been 3 decades since I last drove the baseline, no physical pain compares to my heartache every time I see a hoop.
Fate played a nasty trick. I gave up my family and homeland in pursuit of the right to play basketball, but that privilege disintegrated when my body failed me.  I forfeited my own right, as well as, those of my children.
Whereas Americans relive their athletic exploits through their offspring, I bore my children abroad where sports never mattered the same way. Even though Nic and Nat, son and daughter of a semi pro volley ball and a pro b-ball player, inherited our athletic prowess, raised in France and Switzerland, they never had the same opportunities as American kids who learned how to give-and-go in kindergarten.
To send them back to the States to play college is a long shot; yet they rise to the challenge.
Guilty of imposing my goals, I rationalize that being part of a team in the competitive American atmosphere will make them better prepared for the reality of the work world.  But will it?  Or am I merely trying to resurrect my old dream and play again by standing on their strong, young legs?
Had I been able to play a few more seasons in Europe, and enjoy club ball into middle age, would I feel less frustrated?  My interrupted final season, like unfinished business, haunts me with a loss so profound nothing fills it, not coaching, teaching, writing, nor even marriage and motherhood.  Now with my body racked by pain, I lay in bed, staring at the pine ceiling of my Swiss home, praying, « Help me find another purpose. »  From as far back as I can remember, I lived to run, jump and play; the rest was just background music for my own “break” dance.  Each day, like a mantra, I repeat « Focus on what you can do, not on what you cannot!»
Just Do It!
So I stumble, fight to stand and cheer long distance, «Go team!»  Real players never lose; they learn.  And then step back on the court.

Flying into 2010

Flying into the next decade is for the birds.
Literally.  If you are physically unable to expand your wings and catch the breeze, forget flying. Take it from me, frequent flyer extraordinaire; human air travel is perilous in the 21st century.  A normal 7 to 8 hour flight to Europe (depending on tail winds) took a day.

Three factors contribute to today’s aerophobia – natural elements, terrorist threat, and airline
personnel.  Summer storms and winter blizzards make flying in and out of the Midwest challenging any season.  Our flight out of Minneapolis was delayed due to the late arrival of our incoming plane from Amsterdam, which was further detained due to « minor aircraft impairment » during a rough landing due to ground conditions.  Over share.  I would rather not be informed about structural damage. At regular intervals a stewardess announced, « KLM/Northwest/Delta Flight 258
to Amsterdam will be delayed another hour.  Boarding in 20 minutes. Oops, no detained 45 more minutes. Suddenly, boarding in 5 minutes.
Passengers were stressed out before they entered the plane.
In theory, checking in on-line is more convenient, but seats on our return flight were « unattributed » because KLM partnered with Northwest, who was taken over by Delta. KLM on-line sign-in sent us to NWA on-line, who sent us back to KLM.
At the airport’s « easy self check-in, » machine, we were still unable to print a boarding pass, so we requested old-fashioned human assistance. The airline worker at the check-in desk informed us that we would each have to pay $50 for a second piece of luggage and another $50 for seat assignment.  Good try! We argued. In the end she waved us on, claiming an overbooked flight so seating
could only be assigned at the gate.  We joined the long line of anxious flier wannabees at the gate.
After finally receiving our boarding passes, the hostess requested volunteers to take later flights because of lack of available space.  Two hours later, she announced,  « I have just been
informed the plane is bigger than we anticipated, so I invite everyone without seating to report to our desk immediately. »  How can a flight attendant mistake a plane’s seating capacity? Between security procedure updates, airline buy outs and cost cut backs, changes are implemented so rapidly that no one knows what is going on, least of all airline personnel.
As airlines struggle to survive by making major cutbacks, long gone are above-the-clouds open bars. Cocktails now cost $7. Snacks another $3. Thank you very much. Services are replaced by machines.  With on-line bookings, travel agents are a thing of the past.  I miss them, the only earthlings that could decipher the airline jargon. No one understands the lingo- deplane, offload luggage, transit station-all ploys to keep passengers updated without revealing any information
because no one knows what is going on.
But as the Christmas Day bomber reminded everyone, the biggest worry is air security.
Terrorist threats abound. With pace makers, belt buckles and body part replacements setting off alarms, everyone is jumpy.  I look forward to the new full body x-ray machines, so we wont have to strip down at every security checkpoint. While we waited at our boarding gate, CNN flashed Breaking News about Obama’s new Homeland Security measures, while an entire regiment of TSA workers patrolled like in a police state. In air, I added to the excitement by reporting a suspect, a green hooded, fidgety young man who remained in the toilet for over 15 minutes!
Alas, 22 hours after leaving Minneapolis in a blizzard and missing our connection in Amsterdam, we landed in the snow at Geneva where, miraculously, our baggage arrived in one piece in spite of the
baggage-handlers’ strike at the airport.
Murphy’s law best describes air travel in the 21st century: what can go wrong will go wrong. My advice: Take knock out drops before boarding.  Squeeze into spouse’s carry-on luggage. Wake up only after arrival at the final destination. Enjoy!

Swiss Minaret Scandal

Switzerland made the news again for the wrong reason. Rightwing leaders of the Central Democratic Union launched a popular initiative fora constitutional ban on minarets, the domed-topped spires on mosques, theIslamic architectural equivalent to the Christian steeple.  On November 29th, the ban passed with an alarming, 57.5 % percent of the vote. Only 4 cantons, the French speaking ones, voted against it.

Xenophobic, racist, paranoid? C’mon where is the threat?
Muslims represent 5% of the country and only FOUR minarets exist in Switzerland. So much for the image of peaceful, bucolic alpine country where cow bells ring.
« Switzerland is not racist. It is afraid, »
Youssef Ibram, the imam of the Geneva mosque insists. « We have failed to communicate that terrorism is not part of the Koran. If there are Muslims who have given Islam a negative image here or elsewhere, it should not be generalized to the entire Muslim community. »
Though Switzerland was widely criticized across the continent, a Euronews poll found that if a similar vote were taken in other countries the outcome would be the same with 69% of Europeans banning minarets.
To ban one’s religion, in effect, forbid one’s way of life, is repression, not dialogue. It is a sad reflection of the world’s only true direct democracy. Rather than making the country more secure, it fuels the extremists.
I, too, am afraid, but not of Muslims. I fear radicals in any religion or government.
Prejudice is always based on fear and ignorance.  We fear most that which we do not understand. If we are truly a democratic society, freedom of speech and religion are non-negotiable human rights and to tamper with this by changing the constitution in a country that prides itself on multiculturalism is abominable.
An Al Jazeera editorialist insists that a country that prides itself on tolerance and humanitarian traditions, and values civil liberties should practice what it preaches. How can a democratic society hold a popular vote on a matter regarded as integral to freedom and rights?
The only ones applauding the Swiss action are the right wing extremists and neo Nazis throughout Europe.  Rabbis condemn the decision citing a Swiss law passed a hundred years ago that banned Jewish practices in attempt to drive out the Jewish population. According to Amnesty International spokesman, Manon Schick, the ban violates international law guaranteeing religious freedom.
When my children studying in the States heard about the vote, they were outraged.  I still
remember, when as 6th grader my son visited temples, churches and mosques in Geneva and claimed, « the mosque was the most welcoming. » Our daughter, voicing a sentiment heard throughout the Swiss international community, insists « It is unfathomable that issue ever came to vote in the first place. »
That it passed reflects a greater underlying problem within Switzerland and Europe. Over 30 million Muslims make up a part of Europe’s social fabric. May the church bells and minarets round the world, calls us all not only to worship the heavenly powers, but also to commune together with
mortals here on earth before it is too late.

Don’t breath on me !

Everyone in my school is some state of the verb sick, as in, was sick, is sick , or will be sick.   No kidding. One third of our students are absent .  The remainder are in some state of sickness past, present or future.  Since swine flu hit Switzerland, I am afraid to breath.
Kids come to my lesson a)  feeling sick  b) having been sick  or c)  imagining being sick.
I follow school protocol and send students  to the nurse.  She sends them home.  Forty-eight hours later, Mom sends them back to me.  
« Why did you come back to school if you were sick ? »  I ask.
They answer because, a) I was bored ,  b) I didn’t feel sick after I got home or c) mom had to go back to work
So much for quarantine. 
Each day I walk through the halls dodging bullets. Students cough into their elbows and sneeze on my keyboard.  I washed my hands so frequently, I erased my fingerprints.  After all the hype, I wish I would get the flu to get it  over with. 
Everytime I turn on TV, I hear about another outbreak with terrifying fatalities in some part of the world. Not to make light of a  serious situation, but somebody is always dying somewhere.  Before CNN, we never heard about it.  
When your immune system is wacked-out like mine, you no longer fear getting sick.  Illness is part of your daily life, so as my British colleagues say, « you just get on with it. » Granted people have died from H1N1, yet people perish from the seasonal flu without all the pandamonium. I adopted a fatalistic approach. I have a poor track record as far as illness.  I have been sick every November for the past decade. That said, I listen to my body.  I am the only person on the planet that sleeps ten hours a night and eats the daily recommended one dozen servings of fruits and vegetables . 
Is the threat real or media hype ? News is so sensationalized no one believes journalists anymore.  No one believes the government either, no matter what country you live in. If the  H1N1 vaccination is so important then why are the medical professionals balking  about receiving the jab? According to my Swiss doctor, an immunologist, the flu, itself, is safer than the vaccination.  He  believes that the mafia is manipulating pharmaceutical companies  and behind all drama.
The French health minister announced 16 new deaths last week and urged people to get vaccinated, but no lines are forming at flu prevention centers.  Journalist have been crying wolf about the flu pandemic since  its outbreak  last March, so when it hits one’s neighborhood, people are blasé.
Go ahead listen to the authorities, get the jab, wash your hands, wear the mask, or try my foolproof advice.  Don’t breath until May.

Berlin Wall and Breaking Down Barriers

On November 9, 2009, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse, signaling the end of the Cold War. It is also the sad anniversary of Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) the Nazi state sanctioned anti Jewish pogrom which led to death, destruction and 30,000 Jews being sent to concentration camps. Like Germany, each nation’s past reflects good and evil, gallant moments when man did the right thing, dark hours where his actions were morally wrong.

No matter where you live, walls surround you. But in the West those walls have doors. Free to wander outside our homes, around town, over the state line, across the border, it is hard to fathom waking up one morning to a city split by barbed wire and concrete, dividing friends, lovers, and families. How could something so atrocious have happened in the 20th century? Unimaginable! But the political climate was different during the peak of the Cold War, where the communist east and capitalistic west were at odds.

During the 60s, 70s in the States, growing up in the heartland, one understood, almost by osmosis, that communism was evil without really knowing why. Calling someone was a commie was a defamation of character. In schools, we learned to duck under desks at the sound of an alarm in case of an air raid, as well as, a tornado warning. To children it was all mysterious and intriguing. Had anyone actually ever been inside the neighbor’s bomb shelter?

Yet childhood lessons remained ingrained. When I lived in Germany in the early ‘80s, friends proposed a trip to Berlin to see Check Point Charley, yet owning an American passport, I feared approaching a 100-mile radius of the Berlin Wall.

How much was propaganda? How much childhood fantasy? The fact remains, hundreds of East Germans lost their lives attempting to escape and millions of others lived in fear. Without a doubt, in that time, the Soviets ruled by force and oppression. The wall, originally built to prevent those in the east from fleeing to the west, served its purpose brutally well.

Yet walls remain dividing nations, races, religions, ethnicities, classes and ideologies. The Israel- Palestine wall of discord along Cisjordania. China – North Korea the wall of anti exodus. S. Korea –N. Korea the last wall of the Cold War. Botswana and Zimbabwe wall of unwanted. India-Pakistan –separating the two Cashmeres. Between Mexico and the United States, India and Bangladesh, Ceuta and Melilla to Morocco barriers prevent illegal immigration.

Invisible walls of racism, intolerance and discrimination still stand in our homelands, even in our neighborhoods. It is important to remember, to witness, and to bear testimony, to learn from our past.

Good and evil exists side by side in society. Yet to judge an individual by his race, country, religion, ethnicity or political affinity is to shortchange ourselves.

Today I treasure my friendships with those once labeled enemies. Wherever you live, dare to reach across the boundaries, to break down walls, real and imagined, that continue to separate us.

A Word A Day Keeps Doctor Away

I subscribe to A. Word. A. Day, though anyone who never deletes messages and regularly receives warnings, “your mailbox is full, you may no longer send or receive mail “ has no business collecting more words. But there are too many wonderful expressions out there.Like the word that flashed on my computer screen today. Nihilarian comes from Latin, nihil, for nothing, and means one who feels their work, is useless. Like it sounds, this word is hilarious, so LOL, which in SMS speak, means laugh out loud, (not love a lot, like I thought.) Great word. Describes my life.

Probably depicts your life too especially if you work in business, government, military, or education, like me. Unless self-employed, like it or not, we are cogs in the machine. My medium, education, epitomizes bureaucratic redundancy. Bureaucrats love to develop new theories and adopt new strategies. It makes administrators feel creative.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in education. No one loves the double speak, gobbledy gook, psycho babble more than school officials who pontificate on how to learn, what to learn and what constitutes knowledge. Consequently every so often, educators worldwide are obliged to rewrite the curriculum, so that it can sit on a shelf for the next decade until it is time to pass accreditation again.

At our last staff meeting, gearing up for our next accreditation, our director urged us to sign up for horizontal and vertical assessment teams. Horizontal squad? That’s for me, I thought, slumping in my seat, eyes at half-mast, nodding off.

In the education factory, caught up in the frenzy of curriculum, reports, assessments, accreditation, and accountability, I wonder what happened to the good ol’ days when all we did was teach? I spend more of my waking hours in meetings and in front of computer screens diagramming and documenting data, than in contact with kids.

The school system offers a parody of real life. Committee membership reigns over thought processes.A famous French leader, De Gaulle, coined the adage, “Want to bury a problem, form a committee”. Politicians taught us that.In the USA, we can also thank government for No Child Left Behind legislation, which as any teacher knows, is still wreaking havoc in our public school systems.

Schools offer a smorgasbord of committee choices.Strategic Planning Assembly. Campus Development Group. Ecology Awareness Association.Pilot Program for Global Responsiveness.And now our new Horizontal Assessment Team.

Alas in an era where technology makes us slave to machines and human contact is at a all time low, at an age when the food we eat, air we breath, and water we drink can be hazardous for our health, words remain a harmless indulgence. A word a day dropping out of cyberspace for free is a mini gift for our minds. When the drudgery of your job gets you down, google Wordsmith.org. for an environmental-friendly, safe, cheap chuckle a day.