Wednesday, September 20, 2017

International Peace Day

Sam's third week of school ended with a celebration of International Peace Day. 

Kids...! I didn't even know Sam was playing the xylophone!

For International Peace Day, parents were invited to attend their child's morning meeting. During morning meeting, after greeting one another with various ways to say 'Peace', the children were given a chance to define peace and what peace in their home might look like.

Afterwards, Sam's class joined together to sing John Lennon's "Imagine" for the parents.

Later in the day, each class would contribute to a flower mandala in the school lobby.

With three morning meetings and two parents, someone was going to get the short end of the stick. This year, it was Clementine. When Peter and Sam's morning meetings closed, we went down to her homeroom to check in. We stuck our heads in the door to find Clementine grimacing at us. She couldn't hold that face long; it soon melted to tears, "You missed it!" she cried at us.

Fortunately, we are babysitting Yertle the turtle this weekend, which did bring a smile to Clementine's face.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sam's Second Week of School

PTA Picnic

Saturday afternoon, we headed to the school for a Welcome Back picnic, sponsored by the PTA. It was a pretty easy sell. We only had to use two magic words, "Water slides!"

Clementine went down once, but thought the water was too cold!

The Cantaloupe and the Howling Moon

I have written here before about disappointment and was fully prepared to write about disappointment once again.

A few days before promotion announcements were released, my office in Washington released a notice advising employees around the globe that promotion numbers would be down this year. This -- in and of itself -- didn't come as a surprise. There was no overt mention as to why promotions would be down, but you didn't have to read between the lines. Ever since the election, the leaves were in the tea. Hiring freeze, budget cuts, and down-sizing.

This year marked the fourth time I was up for promotion. Many in my cohort had already been promoted; some were now on to their next promotion.

It's difficult not to divorce feelings of self-worth from failure to be promoted. By definition, a promotion is extrinsic recognition of your value as an employee and the granting of additional responsibilities as a result. Promotion panels -- people I have never met in person -- decide whether or not I get a promotion by what I and my supervisors write in my performance evaluation. The difference between being promoted and not being promoted is how I capture my work on paper and not the work itself.

I'm not bitter. I'm really not. In an organization with a global scope, I have no better way to compare someone working in Ouagadougou to someone working in Guangzhou. It is -- as they say -- what it is.

But divorce feelings of self-worth from failure to be promoted is something I have had to do for each of the last three years when promotions are announced and my name is not on the list. Each time I was passed over for promotion, I had to not only come up with reasons why it wasn't my year, but also build myself back up, convince myself my value as a person, a husband, a father, and an employee wasn't linked to my promotablity.

This usually isn't hard to do. After a few hours of wallowing, I'm usually conscripted into some task that has nothing to do with work: make school lunches, give baths, listen to Elise or the kids complain about their day, get asked to help build a lego B-wing. The people who love me most, who lives I affect the most, don't care at all that I wasn't promoted. My value in their eyes hasn't changed at all. If anything, the way I deal with this disappointment will factor into their estimation of me as a husband and father more than how I deal with being promoted.

If I wasn't promoted, I would have to find a new job in a few years. I didn't tell Elise this, but I had already started to think about what we would do if I wasn't promoted. I didn't want to be blindsided. That had happened to me once, and I promised myself I wouldn't let it happen again. Not to me, not to Elise, and especially, not to my young family.

The story is well known by now. I was working in commercial real estate in South Florida when the global financial crisis hit in 2008. I went almost two years without a paycheck, cashing in all my savings, 401ks, turning in cars, everything. I tried to catch a falling knife and paid dearly for it. I wasn't going to do that again.

I was luckier than most. I got an amazing new job that has taken me to Washington, D.C., Brazil, India, and now the Middle East. I like this job. I think I am really good at this job. I didn't think I was a very good commercial real estate developer. If only because I didn't like the idea we had to cut down so many trees. (It's a lot more expensive to move a tree than just cut it down; The bigger the tree, the cheaper it is just to level it.)

A few days after the notice about promotion numbers was posted, I received an email from my career development officer back in D.C. He just got out of a meeting with HR who told him they were on schedule to release the promotion lists before Labor Day Weekend. Labor Day coincided with Eid Al-Adha in Jordan, so we would be treated to a five-day weekend, and we decided to make our first trip down to Petra.

We drove to Petra on Friday, September 1. After a long day hiking, we hung out by the pool, had a few beers and an early dinner, then went to bed with the kids, turning the lights off around 8:30 or 9:00.

The next morning was Friday night in D.C. Peter was smooshed up next to me in the queen-sized bed. I carefully extricated myself from beneath the covers, careful not to wake him and tip-toed across the thin, hotel-room carpet. I reached for my Blackberry, but before I could turn it on, my iPhone flashed with messages from Facebook:

"Paul - a million congrats on your promotion!"


"PAUL - Congrats man!"

I quickly set down the iPhone, trading it in for the work Blackberry, unlocked it. The promotion lists were out. I pulled up the notice, opened it, and quickly scrolled through the names in alphabetical order, skipping to the H's.

I had been promoted.

I took the Blackberry to Elise and showed her. She hugged me. I tried telling the kids, too, but they were already engrossed in a morning cartoon on the hotel TV.

A few nights later, Elise and I went out to Rainbow Street. Ostensibly, to celebrate, but we would have gone out whether I was promoted or not.

We started at a rooftop bar at the east end of Rainbow Street called Cantaloupe. It was dusk when we settled at out perch, ordering an Amstel (see previous posts about the merits of drinking bad beer overseas), a glass of white wine, and an appetizer of grilled haloumi cheese, similar to the queijo coalho we had in Brazil, and looking out over Amman as the sun setting behind us, illuminated the ancient Roman columns atop the Citadel soft hues of pink and orange. The city lights began to twinkle on, as did the neon stripes running up the many minarets, followed by the call to prayer.

When you are down in the city, immersed in the streets, the call comes to you, first faintly, as though far away. As running water moves, so does the call, until it finds you. When you are down in the city streets, you hear one call, the call coming from the local, neighborhood mosque. There is one voice, one song.

But sitting high above the city, there wasn't just one call. There, we could hear all the calls to prayer. First one iman, one prayer, then a second, and a third, floating up, hanging over the city like clouds of song, at first disparate, as though two of the same song, started one at a time, they are discordant at first until the moment they are synchronous, if only for a moment, before becoming discordant again, magnified by a third and fourth, then a hundred songs, all at once, carrying over the city, from minaret to minaret.

It lasted for several minutes, and Elise and I could not compete with it, nor did we really try.

After Cantaloupe, we had planned to have dinner at Sufra, but I had failed to make a reservation, so we dove into the nearest shawarma stand and ate like locals, pressed up against glass looking out onto the sidewalk cafe outside. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017


The second half of our Friday outing was to the nearby city of Madaba, the City of Mosaics. After visiting Mount Nebo, we drove ten minutes to the quaint town.

The town of Madaba dates back to the Roman times, and we visited two sites before stopping for lunch: the archaeological park where sections of the original Roman cobblestone streets and mosaics are preserved and the Basilica of St. George.

The Basilica of St. George is most famous for the mosaic map of the region inlaid to the floor and dating back to the 6th century. With two million pieces of colored stone, the map depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns in Palestine and the Nile Delta. 

My mom would have really loved this one. She always liked churches, so I lit another candle for her. Hers is the tallest one. 

We had a delicious lunch of traditional Lebanese mezze followed by baked chicken and lamb baked in milk at Haret Jdoudna. After lunch we were given an hour of "free time" to explore the town. Not nearly enough time for our resident photographer who could have easily spent hours if not days exploring the nooks and crannies of the old town.

The kids enjoyed watching a weaver at his loom, hand-craft rugs and another vendor making sand art in tiny glass vials.

Sam's First Week of School

In addition to building an arcade over the first two weeks of school, Sam also had his first swim class in which he learned how to properly enter a swimming pool (prior to this I think the only way he knew how to enter a swimming pool was by doing a cannonball!).

The pool is brand new this year at his school, and he, Peter, and Clementine all have swim class once during the eight-day rotation.

I think all three are really liking their new school, even though last night Peter -- after having a ten-day break for the Eid holiday -- stated, "school wasn't really his 'thing'."

Mount Nebo

On Friday, we headed a short distance out of town to visit Mount Nebo, the place mentioned in the Hebrew Bible where Moses viewed the Promised Land.

The kids were disappointed when they discovered Mount Nebo wasn't actually a mountain and there wouldn't be a hike or climb to the top. The 'mount' is actually an elevated ridge, and our tour bus drove us all the way to the top, but from there -- 2,800 ft above sea level -- you can see the Dead Sea and -- on clearer day than the one we had -- all the way to Jerusalem.

At the highest point of the mount are the remains of the Byzantine church and monastery, first discovered in 1933. 

Inside the monastery, were tile mosaics. The mosaics had been laid down in two layers, with less elaborate patterns covering mosaics with images on them. Evidently, churches weren't allowed to have images in them at that time, so the mosaics with images (as shown above) were covered over by the patterned mosaics. 

The second layer of tile served the double purpose of protecting the later underneath from damage to the monastery suffered during an earthquake. Sam, ever observant, noticed the writing in the mosaics wasn't Arabic and asked me what language it was. I told him it looked like Greek, and he asked me why it was written in Greek and not Arabic. I told him I didn't know and that was a good question. "Why don't you ask Mr. Nasser (our tour guide)?"

So, I accompanied Sam, Pete, Clementine, as Sam asked Mr. Nasser why the script in the mosaics was Greek and not Arabic. 

Mr. Nasser explained that at the time, Greek was the more universal language. In many ways, it was what English is today, the language of commerce and diplomacy. It was spoken by the elite, and since Mount Nebo, even then, was a holy destination, the language was used for the convenience of those travelling from Europe to visit there. 

Mr. Nasser was so impressed by Sam's question, he made a point of adding the comment to his lecture when we got back on the tour bus!

I'm not usually one to drop a few coins and buy a candle, but I think -- of all the places we had visited so far -- my mom would have really enjoyed this one, because of its religious significance, so I lit a candle in her memory there. 

A serpentine cross sculpture, the Brazen Serpent Monument, at the top was created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni. It is symbolic of the bronze serpent created by Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4–9) and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified (John 3:14).

On March 20, 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the site during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During his visit he planted an olive tree beside the Byzantine chapel as a symbol of peace. The monument above marks his visit. Barely visible in the lower left hand corner, written in Latin, is the inscription, "One God, Father of All, Above All".