The Year That Dreams Come True


Sunrise-St. Thomas, USVI

Amid the many sad headlines, I have found a means to fortify my resilience by manipulating mindset through the mantra that this is “the year that dreams come true.”

In retrospect, it started when a one-way flight to Phoenix to find an auction deal on a car for our son resulted in a powder-blue Ford Mustang, which I drove back to Chicago. It sparked a recollection that I’d naively hoped that I’d find a Mustang on my driveway on my 16th birthday. The reality though was that I was the eldest of six in a middle-class family, and I was not even allowed to test for my driver’s license until I was 17 and ready for college. Yet, I enjoyed that ride from Phoenix because the car, the engine, the handling was everything I’d expected. Since then, I repeated that trip to acquire for myself a Mercedes SUV. Chicago winters are particularly caustic to cars, and now mine has no rust.
It occurred to me that through much of my life, I’d put off and delayed many wants and dreams. Whether due to finances, work obligations, or family responsibilities, I realized this year that my mortality could be approaching and I had better start knocking things off my bucket list before I no longer could. Nagging little reminders of my physical limitations were becoming evident too, even with attempts to be athletic. Rust can take many forms.
Realizing that it is through small, consistent habits that great changes are made, I have for over a year, almost daily, been using the Duolingo app to learn Spanish. Granted, I could invest more time and effort to expedite progress, but I have progressed and retained a degree of written comprehension that has benefited my work, and it has advanced my expectation of myself to be somewhat competent in several languages. I admire polyglots and was particularly impressed when my husband and I took our first cruise this year to the Caribbean. The assistant cruise director was completely fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese. The Caribbean has been on my wish list since I was a teenager, and I’m glad that we chose this time after the islands suffered from hurricane damage because one of the excursion vendors said, “Thank you; we haven’t worked in 2 ½ months.”
A cruise was something our son was pushing us to try for over a year. Not sure if I would be an unlucky victim of seasickness, and haunting anxiety of disaster, as influenced by the movies Jaws, The Poseidon Adventure, and Titanic, I delayed making the commitment until we could book the trip with points. During the first 5 minutes of sensing that the ship was moving out of the Port of Miami, I gripped the edge of the dining table, trying to look demure as I struggled to keep down a few bites of salad while listening to my giddy spouse, but I was fine for the entire 7 days.
Even my daughter and her husband joined the bandwagon, and they reserved a shorter cruise; but since their itinerary began before ours, we met them in Fort Lauderdale the day of their return which was also the day of our departure. It was our best adventure and we look forward to more.


Deira- Old Dubai

It seems like I am cheating winter this year. Shortly after the cruise, I booked a business trip to Dubai to attend the world’s largest halal food trade show along with a colleague. We packed the week with meetings and only had the last day to be tourists whereby we visited a beautiful mosque in neighboring Abu Dhabi and my niece, who also lives in Dubai.



Abu Dhabi, Sh. Zayed Mosque

Our meetings took us to all parts of the city; we fulfilled the dream-come-true-desire to eat camel milk ice cream and drink some deliciously flavored camel milk products, but we did not have time to check out the beach. Regardless, it was a successful trip, and it reconfirmed the value of mindset.

The Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is greatly admired by the populace, has embarked on a mission to counter the depressive state of the region. The approach is reminiscent of how we educators value positive expectations. He has articulated and set in motion initiatives to bring happiness to the people. And as about 97% of the population are expats, the need for harmony is necessary. As one person told me, “Bad attitudes are not tolerated here.” Even my niece confirmed that she and her husband love living in Dubai. People work hard there, but it is safe. Several stories were shared by various individuals that related how no one steals, even when wallets, phones, and briefcases are left unattended. Doors are not locked, and women and children are given priority seating on public transportation. If men transgress to those seats, they are subject to fines. Women feel safe even at night. Also, I was impressed with the cleanliness of all public areas and noted a robust economy. Eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing gum is not permitted on public transportation. On a Tuesday evening, a mall was bustling with families shopping and dining out. Most malls and restaurants are open quite late, and they do seem to have happy people. It reminded me of the 1970’s when we had a middle class with expendable income.
Before leaving for Dubai, I’d went to Macy’s to buy shoes. To my surprise, only some sizes were available, and the signage indicated that other sizes were only available online. JC Penney only had a limited supply of shoes as well. It was opposite to when Gorbachev was amazed to see the quality and quantity of produce in our grocery stores under the Reagan regime. That was a time of prosperity, and no one can convince me that what was then is now. No one seems to be calling it, especially since the 1% is doing so marvelously, but the rest I believe are struggling. Even our young people who may be doing well if they are gainfully employed may have anvils of debt that will burden them and prevent their progress for a very long time.
The headlines are troubling here, but Asia is rising and the global economy is growing. Isolationism and protectionism have never benefited anyone long term. History students know that, but our leadership apparently never studied or retained such lessons.
Positive mindset and people working toward a better global society, albeit with certain challenges, give hope. Read this pdf! Government in 2071: Guidebook It is a guide by which educators and policymaker should study.
A reason we chose to attend the Dubai Gulfood trade show was that although we see data reflecting prospering halal industries abroad, particularly in Europe and Asia, there is scant evidence of it here. Yet at this trade show, there were 163 U.S. exhibitors. When we spoke with them, it was clear that they were there to solicit business for export, but some of the largest expressed no interest to produce halal products or label them here in the U.S. We found it sad and felt a bit angry.

Since we were among trusted locals, we asked them about how they perceived the U.S. under the current administration. Frankly, they said, “Well, we feel that since you voted for him, you deserve him” (though I did not). For although they follow our news, we are just too far and removed to even care about. Bigger and better news is happening elsewhere. We have lost our former status and influence.


A reflective moment…

Meanwhile, I’m going back to making this the year that dreams come true, as I’ll be sharing my vision for education and steps that teachers can take to help students prepare for the future this April in Dallas and Chicago.


Love and Home

Doorway to English class

Love and Home
Is home the familiar place you land each night, or is home where your family gathers? I’d questioned this after being away from my home to attend the very successful and gratifying West Coast ISNA Education Forum recently in Anaheim, California, and also pursuant to shuffling several consecutive days between my home to cook the daily dinner, sleeping at my elderly father’s home to care for his needs, and working a temporary teaching assignment at my former school.
There are the comforting aspects of my home, like my own bed, my routines, seeing my husband and kids in our identified abode, known as home. Somehow, checking in over the telephone was not the same as face-to-face verification that they were healthy and happy.
Yet, while I evaluate, again, the prospect of getting the house ready for sale, I ponder if changing the familiar place in exchange for another is risking the setting that bonds us. If I move, will I disrupt that feeling of being home? Will I regret my decision? Or could it be that home is wherever the people I love are?
My extra few days to enjoy the companionship of friends in Redondo Beach and Glendale, California were enjoyable. Spending time with my dad in the home where I was raised was equally comfortable. Going back to teach in my former school, but in the new building addition, has also been touching a familiar chord. These clues may indicate that home is wherever the people I love are. The adage “home is where the heart is” comes to mind.
Could it be that with every place we go we may leave some favored aspects behind, but we can also create or design new niceties? I believe so; as life is full of change, the adaptable are those who thrive.
Fear may hold us back from opportunity if we are not open to new experiences, and that may mean that happiness may be unrealized. Yet, we never know. I recall many people who have left Chicago only to return because they tried some place new and did not find it to be better for them. Often times, they cited the fact that they missed their family and friends. Therefore, perhaps the strategy when relocating is to meet new people, contribute to the community, and grow new roots. Nice people can be found everywhere, and each new place needs leaders who can help.
Instructive to this point, my son mentioned that he likes community-based video games. He was chatting with three guys from Brazil yesterday, and he truly found satisfaction in connecting with them. He and his friends love this, and it is where he finds his community. Knowing this, I think that relocation will not be disruptive to him, as long as we still have the ability to physically be present to debrief each day. That will be the ultimate challenge though if we are distant from our other children. As a wife and mother, I realize that that is what defines home to me. It is not so much the place, because even meeting at a coffee shop to chat about the day can work; it is seeing those I love and knowing that they are doing well that brings me satisfaction. Home is wherever those I love are, and I want to enjoy my “home” everyday.

Hajj: The Parallel Universe


Flickr: Muhammad Ghouri

Allow me to sweep you toward a parallel universe, one that has been chronicled to change lives, the pilgrimage to the House of God, the Hajj.

Destiny opened the door to me in April 1989, when I made Ummrah, the lesser pilgrimage made in the off-season, with my husband and 11 other members of his family. By that time, we had been married seven years and had tried several interventions to procure a sustainable pregnancy.

It was said that water from the Meccan holy spring of Zamzam could cure. We all prayed, dutifully performed the sacred rites, the same as in Hajj, and I discovered myself expecting what was to be the first of our four offspring by the time we arrived after our Ummrah to Jerusalem. It was an experience that certainly changed my life, and I still recall the unique and other-worldly perceptions from it.

That is why I gladly accepted the offer of Dr. Badar Zaheer to edit and assist with editing and publishing his work, Hajj: Medical and Practical Solutions (ISBN: 978-1-4675-8505-7). At this time, it is in formatting for publication and Dr. Zaheer will be sharing information from it relevant to pilgrims who have medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and some of the general cautions about avoiding dehydration, crowd control, fitness and conditioning before the journey, in-flight exercise, and emergency phone numbers while on Hajj. I will also field questions and inquiries on behalf of ladies who may prefer to talk to another woman about our special issues and medical needs.

The previous blog, “So You Think You Can’t Write” was intended to invite fellow teachers and writers to realize that everyone can document, employ the process of writing, distill through multiple passes of the editing process, and procure something rich. I was not disappointed in the result. There was the prospect that I might teach middle school writing this year, in addition to my other projects, but I was delivered something better suited to my interests with this Hajj project. I believe it will bloom into more editing projects and publishing of my own work and others’.

As preparation for this assignment, my local library presented The Art of Hajj by Venetia Porter (ISBN: 978-1-56656-884-5). It is part of the Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys that I have cited before. The book meshes art, including print, textiles, photography, and various Islamic antiquities, with rich prose, quotations, and translations of script from those artifacts. It is a work of love and beauty, and it took me back…

…to Taif, where the Prophet Mohammad was once stoned and chased out of town by its people. Except that later, they greeted him back warmly when many of its residents accepted Islam. (Read the whole story here We’d driven all night through the desert in a GMC with seven children and six adults. I recall that we had to stop a few times for bathroom breaks and to pray at a mosque that was juxtaposed to a gas station. It was morning, and we saw a Saudi Arabia different that I’d seen in pictures. This place was green and mountainous. There was a garden park by a city center with fragrant flower bushes, and we ordered carry-out breakfast consisting of hummus, fava beans with lemon and salt, tea, and flatbread. Our next stop was to be Mecca, and I’d longed to see her. However, to my alarm, when using the restroom, I’d noticed that I’d started to spot blood. This condition did not permit me to pray. Dashed expectations, hiding tears while seeing my own reflection on the GMC’s window; I felt dismally that God did not want me!

We arrived outside the Harem (the Sanctuary) in Mecca, the place where all the Hajj photos show crowds circumambulating around the black cube-shaped building, the Kaba, the place of the first house of worship to God, build by Abraham (Ibrahim) who which monotheism is attributed.

It was necessary before entering the Harem to use the restroom (to find that I was able to pray again), wash and prepare for the rites. Outside the building, it was not clean, not feeling very hospitable, nor comfortable, and I was wearing a black abaya over a long, thin house dress topped off with a wrapped black headscarf.

We entered the immense, monumental building, and suddenly everything within me and around me became perfectly calm. I saw in the inner court the black Kaba in the center of a white, round, marble floor with pilgrims circling it in a consistent and orderly manner. I approached the periphery, my feet on comfortable, red carpeting, into a type of amphitheater surrounding the entire scene and on multiple levels.

My father-in-law, who knew no English, gently took my hand and led me, with an excited look in his eye, and explained many details he thought I should know about it in Arabic. Somehow, I understood everything he said, and he even pointed out to me the Station of Abraham, where a footprint cast in mud is attributed to be his and housed in an ornate case on the clean, cool, white marble floor.

Our niece and my husband’s sister walked the expanse with me all around the amphitheater, and witnessed the men and women circumambulating just below our level but in closer proximity to the Kaba. Then we prayed and sat for I do not know how long. Time stood still; I was content, felt I was home, and did not care to ever leave that place. I was bewildered and in love with the immense feeling of peace, simple, such simple peace.

Eventually, we were summoned to drink Zamzam water from those big thermos containers that football coaches get drenched with after a victory. I was told to drink until I was bloated from it, and then we went to the next rite which was to kind of jog or speedwalk from one end of a long hallway to another. That was formerly the span between two desert mounts, Safa and Marwa. This was where Abraham’s maidservant, Hajar, the mother of Ishmael, who was the brother of Issac, ran in desperation seeking water for herself and her young son. That event is what procured the miracle of God revealing the spring water of Zamzam to her. She was lost in a hopeless place, and God provided relief. The miracle of it parallels our lives and encourages trust in God.

After drinking yet more from Zamzam, we went on to Muzdalifah to gather some pebbles and to Mina where we threw them at the Jamarat pillars, symbolically re-enacting an event whereby Abraham obeyed Angel Gabriel’s order to pelt the Devil in rejection of temptation. Finally, we blazed the desert in the GMC to arrive at Mt. Arafat to conclude our rites and went on to Medina, the friendly city where the Prophet, established a community, received more revelations of Qur’an, and lived 10 years before being able to return to Mecca in a peaceful homecoming and transfer of authority where no one was to be harmed after many years of conflict.

Next, we visited the coastal city of Jeddah, a more liberal, humid, and crowded place where ex-pats work and trade. Completely exhausted, we drove all the way back to Riyadh, and shortly thereafter flew to Amman  eventually traversing to Jerusalem where I learned that Zamzam and prayers really worked! My first child was born that December.

If you are going to Hajj, I do recommend Dr. Zaheer’s book (ISBN: 978-1-4675-8505-7), but we are not certain if it will be quite ready in time for this Hajj. If you are an arm chair traveler, you will be swept as near as possible—without having to pay for plane fare—to that parallel universe experienced by those on Hajj.

They say the Kaba  is the Heart of the Universe, and it may well be because the continuous focus and worship of those toward the Creator is a unique power, a force, a love without limitations through time and space. I still feel it.

The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Mecca. Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings.

In it are signs manifest; the Station of Abraham. Whoever enters it attains security. Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to God. Those who can afford the journey, but if any deny faith, God stands not in need of any of His creatures (3:96-97 Holy Qur’an)