Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Safety First: Fire

I am haunted since last night.

In light of the unbelievably tragic event that shook Qatar yesterday when its biggest shopping mall saw a fire claim nineteen lives, including thirteen children and two firefighters as per Al Jazeera's report, I think we should all pay more attention to safety measures in public places. 

How sad that it usually takes a tragedy to wake people up but I too, like many others, tend to take safety for granted and dismiss the (boring) instructions we are sometimes forced to listen to over and over.

Photo: Al Jazeera

As an expat living in the UAE, I do my fair share of traveling and I am ashamed to say, when I am in a plane and those safety guidelines videos start to play, I usually turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. I cannot remember the last time I picked up that safety leaflet and reviewed those life-saving instructions.

Since I turned "mom" and travel with kids, I do make sure to check where emergency exits are though, both in airplanes and any new location we visit. I acquired that habit when I read an article about hotel safety. But that is definitely not enough. 

And to think that because one is familiar with certain rules, in an airplane for instance, is enough is simply irresponsible. I understand that more than ever today. 

Unfortunately, in a state of panic, one can hardly remember one's own name, let alone a set of regulations! And ironically, this is when we need that brain to function full-throttle. So there is no harm in taking a minute or two to refresh that memory of ours every time we find ourselves in a location where we are advised to do so.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Mia and I returned to Dubai for a few days to complete some residency paperwork and due to the heated weather, we ended up spending all of our time indoors. That included play areas and shopping malls. We are quite lucky to live in Motor City where the community is booming with family and children friendly locations. So we do not have to spend entire days at the mall. 

However, we did swing by Mall of the Emirates to meet some friends once and we took Mia to Magic Planet which is not your usual play area. It is a huge entertainment center within the mall! I always am uncomfortable when I go there because it is too dark, extremely noisy and the passageways between the game stands are a bit narrow so you always bump into other people. They have a nursery there too with a soft play area for the littler ones. It took me a while to locate it because it is sort of hidden in a corner, inside an aisle, and one enters it like, em, well like a cave.

Photo: Magic Planet

I will not go as far as to claim Magic Planet is a death trap but at times of emergency, one better be prepared and aware of all emergency exits and how to reach them or the chaos will simply make it impossible to get out, let alone save lives.

This does not apply to the Gulf only. Shopping malls are relatively new in Lebanon but they have become a favored outlet for families, especially now that temperatures are rising. Those living in the city need spaces for their children to romp and unfortunately, parks and "green" spaces are scarce in Beirut. 

I am certain the staff has been trained (and possibly even more now following that horrific event) but I know for a fact, parents do not enjoy such trainings. So we need to make sure we educate ourselves before we place our loved ones in potentially harmful situations. 

Get acquainted with the mall, if you do not know it well, ask. There are Info stations everywhere and they can answer any query and hand out maps as well. Know your emergency exits. If you cannot find them, ask. Make sure you understand where to go and what to do in case of emergency. If you do not know that information already, ask.

You simply can never ask enough.
And in such instances, there are no stupid question.

Leaving our little ones in the care of strangers is without a doubt daunting to any parent. Reading about tragedies such as Qatar in the news does not help. At all. Actually, it made me even more paranoid. That is why it is important to always make sure the venues we chose properly train their staff and apply safety regulations which are approved by the authorities and based on international standards.

Photo: R. Abouzeid

I know it is common practice nowadays to leave the children with the nanny in those places. Bear in mind that these ladies are usually employed to help with housework which means they have no training to qualify as educators. Some of them do not even have children and most come from rural, poor areas which means they are not familiar with safety guidelines.

So if you have to leave your children in their care, make sure you educate them just as you would do your own self. If they are to be in charge, they should be equipped with a minimum knowledge or cannot and should not be held accountable. After all, they never pretended to be something they are not.

And this applies to requirements at home as well. So many parents work and rely on in-house help to babysit their children. That necessitate both parents and all adults residing under that roof to be in complete knowledge and control of safety measures at home.

When we first moved in our apartment at Motor City, the whole community was new and the buildings had not been previously inhabited. Which means that everything, including fire alarms, were being tested by the new residents (us).

The false alarms went off so often, within a month only two or three people would eventually evacuate the premises! So many families with children would stay in their apartments until the issue was resolved. But how could they know for certain it was a false alarm? Yes, there were (a lot of) technical glitches with the system, but that does not mean the risk of a real fire was gone completely.

Leading by example is key. If you do not make the responsible move to evacuate, then in your absence your employee might think there is no harm in ignoring alarms as well, and your children might even show resistance when asked to do so. We all now our little ones love to mimic us. So establish good habits from the start and make sure you never compromise or skip a life-saving instruction.

And never, ever lock people in the house. They should always have a way out in case of emergency. I have seen this practice way too often and honestly cannot comprehend it. Aside from the fact that I find it outrageous, I do not understand why someone would welcome people to live in their home when they do not trust them.

Image: R. Abouzeid

Finally, always keep emergency numbers (police, fire, medical) somewhere visible. I like to write them on a sticker placed at the back of the phone. My mom prefers writing them on a wall in the kitchen. Whether you post them on your fridge, your bedroom mirror, or save them on the phone itself always make sure you tell the adult in charge about them and how to use the phone.

If your children are old enough to stay at home by themselves, they should also know these instructions.

  • Red Cross / Croix Rouge: 140 
  • Police: 112 
  • Civil Defense / Défense Civile: 125 
  • Fire Brigade / Pompiers: 175 
  • Information: 1515
  • Ambulance and Police 999 
  • Fire 997 
  • Emergency Services +97142232323 
  • Al-Ameen - report a crime or suspicious activities: 8004888
  • Dubai Municipality Emergency Number +97142232323 
  • Electricity and Water 991 
  • Airport Enquiries +97142066666 

I would like to end this post with a thought for the families of victims in Doha and a prayer for all those who lost their life in that tragic event. May their soul rest in peace and may God have mercy on all of us and protect our children and all children from harm, always.


Links to Safety First and Foremost posts:

Mamma Mia

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Ain't no *wall* high enough!

One of our neighbors at Motor City, mom-of-two Sereen Goussous chose to leave the luxuries of her comfortable life in Dubai for  six unusual days in China. But not on vacation.

She had approached the community back in February to introduce a fantastic cause and her commitment to hike the Great Wall in order to raise awareness and funds for the visually impaired orphans at the Bethel Foundation.

Image: Dubai Motor City Residents

Now she is back and we are so jealous of her amazing adventure we decided to get the next best thing and have her tell us all about it. Curious?

So who is Sereen Goussous? I'm thirty-six years old and I come from Jordan. I have two kids, Zaid, six years old and Kristina, three years old. I have been married for ten years to Waleed Halasa. He is my best friend. Currently I am a house wife.

Have you been in Dubai long? I have been in Dubai for 5 years.

How did you learn about Gulf for Good? I was reading an article in Gulf News about them and I went to their website and just got hooked since. They provide the perfect package. You help kids around the world by staying fit and challenging yourself.

Image: Gulf For Good

What drove you to take the challenge? I love nature and outdoors so much and at the same I love to help kids in need so as I said it was the perfect package for me.

What were the pre-requisites to be admitted in the challenge? Anybody who is in good shape and health can join the challenge. It is open to anyone from the Gulf countries.

You had to raise some money before the trip, how did you go about this first challenge? I was actually lucky in raising my funds as I had one sole sponsor which is great.

How did you physically and mentally prepare? I started training three months in advance. I aimed for three times a week in a gym and I enlisted the help of a personal trainer which was great and extremely helpful.

Image: Gulf For Good

You are a mom, what goes through your mind when you are away from your children and leave your family behind, even if it is only for a few days? It was very difficult to leave them behind since they are so small and it was my first time doing it but it was for a great cause and everyone has to sacrifice in order for us to help our fellow human beings. I didn't have any signal so I couldn't talk to them which made it even harder but both of them understand very well why I left and what am I going to do and they very proud of me.

How did your husband and children react when you told them you were taking the challenge? My husband and kids were extremely supportive when I told them that I would like to take this challenge. My husband encouraged me a lot and actually kept telling me don't worry about us at all we are all going to be fine just try as much as possible to enjoy your time.

As a mother, how did you feel meeting children in need when we do all we can to protect our own little ones from harm? Can you tell us a little about the orphanage? It was very difficult and an emotional day for me. Because seeing a picture of a blind orphan is much more different than actually holding and hugging him in your arms... It just makes it so real. I felt so sad for them that they don't have any parents and that some of them actually have but they abandoned them because they were blind which just broke my heart. The orphanage is run by a french man and his wife. He has turned the orphanage into a home for these kids and has put lots of effort and love into it. The orphanage is called Bethel Foundation

Tell us a few words about China, did you have a hard time adjusting? Chinese people are very friendly and polite. I didn't have any problem adjusting. I considered the trip a learning experience to me. I just loved the whole experience.

Image: Gulf For Good

Even though you prepared physically and emotionally, how did it feel when you found yourself on that wall? The first day was very hard as we had to climb around 300 steps and I was exhausted by the end of the day. But eventually you try as much as possible to keep pushing yourself as you know that you are doing it for the sake of these kids. It was an amazing journey and adventure.

Who were your teammates? We were twenty-three people in total from fourteen different nationalities including nine arabs from all different walks of life. The oldest was fifty-seven and the youngest was twenty-four. We were a great team!

Image: Guf For Good

Now that you are back home, looking at that experience from a distance, how do you rate it? What did you learn about yourself? What did you gain as a person? It was one of the most fulfilling things that I have ever done in my life. I challenged myself and gained new self confidence and met many inspirational people. It made my kids proud of me which means that I have been a positive role model to them. It made my husband proud of me which brought us closer. It made me happy and satisfied about myself because I now know that I was able to make a difference, even if it is small, to the lives of these kids.

Would you do it again? Definitely if I had the chance again I will do it again and again!  

Mamma Mia

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Honey, I shrunk the kid

May 23, 2012

We had established a while ago that Mia is having a hard time adjusting to her brother being around and she is showing it in a rather loud and clear manner

Faced with what appears to be self-destructive behavior, we decided to seek some professional help. 

Dr. Raed Mohsen, a well respected expert in interpersonal communication with clinical social work practice and counseling experience, and who also happens to be a friend of the family had previously recommended a child psychologist for a friend of ours and so we figured, why not take that same advice ourselves.

A Lebanese-American friend who lived his entire life in the USA accused us of surely not being Lebanese as such approaches are unusual in our country.

But apparently, we are not the only non-Lebanese Lebanese since we had to wait for approximately a month before we could see Dr. Danielle Pichon! 

This is partly due to the fact that there are very few child psychologists in Lebanon and so the existing ones are in demand and end up overloaded.

Which is a good thing, I guess. We used to think seeking professional help was some sort of a taboo (unfortunately, it still is to some) but the fact that we had to wait for a month before we could see Dr. Pichon is a sign that parents are now aware of the importance of this field of study for their children's education, health and overall well-being.

I am pleased to report, the wait did not extend to the doctor's office as we sat for less than 10 minutes in the warm, colorful, and really beautiful office that served us as waiting room. I appreciate punctuality.

It was refreshing after Mia and I experienced the worst "waiting-time" ever just two days ago when we went for her very first visit to the eye doctor. Our appointment was at 1:45pm. We waited 2 hours before the doctor's assistant did the preliminary exam at 4pm! She gave us drops and we had to wait for another half hour for them to take effect. Mia was sound asleep by the time the doctor could finally examine her!

Actually, everything about Dr. Pichon's visit was as smooth as her punctuality. We found her office without difficulty: she is located in Tabaris, near St. Maroun Church where there is a public parking lot we can use. Then we simply exited that lot on foot, from the small gate at the back and found ourselves right in front of the building we were looking for. It is one of those old Beiruti structures, with no elevators and really high ceilings. Old, untouched and a little dusty. Absolutely gorgeous. Dr. Pichon is on the first floor. 

St. Maroun Church's parking lot
Photo: R. Abouzeid

I stood in front of her door for a moment, wondering if I had made a mistake as it looked like I was about to enter a nursery. Which I was. Dr. Pichon also runs an establishment for special needs children. She told me many parents were now aware of the chances early treatments provide and a large number of her patients end up admitted at regular schools and do surprisingly well following this preparatory time with her. I was in awe when she told me she was treating a one year old with epilepsy! That is how early on parents and their child can begin their journey of recovery and learning. 

I have to admit, the whole place projected a good, comfortable vibe. The rooms were colorful, in a tasteful manner and there was a "film" touch that totally won me over! Black and white framed photos of old classics were sitting on the walls. And Charlie Chaplin was hanging there with his puppet friends, smiling at us while we waited for Dr. Pichon. Mia absolutely loved them!

The Chaplin office
Photo: R. Abouzeid

But we did not have enough time to properly get acquainted with Charles as the nicest lady came over and promptly invited us to cross what appeared to be either a play area or a classroom and into another space where we sat around a table surrounded with bookshelves. She took out a notepad and white papers and crayons and we began our talk.

Dr. Pichon began with the standard questions, mainly "who" and "why" but made sure to look Mia in the eyes first, and let her know we were about to talk about her and even asked for her permission. Another significant detail I truly loved was that she took notes as if she were Mia. So basically, she wrote (in French) "I am Mia, I am a year and a half, I have a baby brother, his name is Jad" and so on and so forth.

And so we put all our cards on the table:

  • Mia is showing signs of jealousy since the arrival of her brother but because she cannot formulate that jealousy with words, she is expressing it with anger and by screaming
  • When she gets very angry she sometimes pulls her own hair, bites her hand or even poke her eye which Dr. Pichon noted as self-destructive behavior
  • She sucks her thumb since birth to express two specific needs: when she is hungry or sleepy but since the arrival of her brother, she also sucks her thumb when she sees us taking care of Jad (some sort of emotional compensation); Dr. Pichon noted it as "regression" although Mia never ended the behavior to go back to it but I guess it can be compared to that kind of "return" as it does fulfill the same type of emotional need (yes, I am being all shrinky myself)
  • Mia can associate words together and speak two-words (sometimes three-words) sentences
As we spoke, Dr. Pichon picked up a paper and a crayon and started drawing Mia, all the while describing what she was portraying: "This is Mia's head, and here is Mia's belly. Here is one leg. And here is a second leg. Look, Mia is wearing shoes. Here is one shoe. Let's draw a flower on it. Here is the second shoe and flower. Here is Mia's arm. And her hand with little fingers. Here is Mia's other arm, hand and finger. And here are Mia's eyes, her nose and her mouth. Here is Mia's ear and another ear. Mia has shiny earrings, here is one and here is the other. And here are Mia's beautiful curls on her head". 

Mia and Jad as per Dr. Pichon's drawing

When we brought up Jad's name for the first time, she also drew a little baby, next to big Mia also describing his body parts as she was drawing them and she ended with the funniest touch: she started to mimic a baby crying and asked Mia "Isn't it what Jad does? Jad cries all the time, no?"

It appears Mia was taken with her and she kept observing Dr. Pichon the whole time and finally picked up the crayon and tried her luck sketching... Something. God knows what was going on through her head at that time, and she may have been trying to draw Dr. Pichon's arm, head and legs too! ;)

At some point, she felt comfortable enough to leave my lap and started to move around the room and observing things. She even spoke a few times.

Speaking. That is the key word we got from that first session.

Our goal, Dr. Pichon said, is to encourage Mia to communicate her emotions verbally instead of screaming or hurting herself.

The first new habit to acquire is to identify a cushion or some soft toy she can use to vent. Whenever she gets frustrated, she can pick up that object and punch it as hard and as many times as she likes and verbalize her emotion by saying "Mia, not happy". It is important that she not only punches but also expresses herself with words. 

Then we should respond to these statements by asking "Why is Mia not happy?" and follow with hypothesis: "Is Mia not happy because Mommy is holding Jad?" "Is Mia not happy because Jad is crying?" "Would you like to go sit next to Jad?" "Let's go sit next to Jad" (only if she wants it of course).

When Mia starts to scream, another tip is to look at her in the eyes and mimic her, without the screaming. So in fact, we pretend that we are screaming, as if we are a mirror facing Mia. And we tell her to pretend with us. And we explain that we do not like screaming. Then we can go back to the first tip which is to take the "frustration object" and punch it while vocalizing the anger. 

We can also explain to Mia that we love her just the same. A good approach would be to draw a huge heart and start placing "dots" for each person we love. "Mommy Loves Mia" is one dot. "Mommy Loves Daddy", second dot. "Mommy Loves Grand-ma", third. "Mommy Loves Grand-pa", fourth. And "Mommy Loves Jad", fifth dot. And we point out how much space there is left. So many other dots can fit, so many other people can still be loved, and no one is stealing anyone's place/affection.

Mamma's Heart

Then we draw Mia's huge heart and we do the same. When we get to Jad's name, we explain "Mia does not have to love Jad. Whether you love Jad or not, Mommy loves Mia and Mommy loves Jad just the same. Do you want to draw a dot for Jad?" and depending on her response, we add the dot or not. It is important that she knows she is not forced to like her brother. And also, that no matter how she feels towards him, it does not change how we feel towards her.

Another noteworthy remark was that at Mia's age, children do not know yet how to be brats. There is no such thing as "spoiling" a baby despite what people might say. When Mia asks for a hug, a kiss or whatever sort of attention or affection, we should give it to her. She is not yet at an age when she can abuse that, on the contrary, she needs that sort of response from us.

So it recommended that when she is angry or throws a tantrum, to be firm when we would like to convey a certain message, especially "No" but still be kind and wrap up the message with a kiss or a hug, even if it does not end her crying.


That led us to discuss Time Out. Now, I know such punishment's duration is proportional to the child's age and that most probably at Mia's age, she cannot comprehend the concept of "consequence" and "penalty". Indeed, she is too young but Dr. Pichon advised to teach her punishment as an "end" to bad behavior rather than a consequence. So if she is doing something wrong, we can remove her physically from that situation and place her in the area reserved for Time Out, hold her firmly and speak the word "Time Out" then count to ten (not more) and move on. She will eventually learn that when she does something wrong, she will be stopped.

I took the opportunity of being there to also enquire about other issues such as potty training and nurseries. Basically, Mia is still too young and we have another six months ahead of us before she is ready to potty train, although she already knows her potty, what it is for and she sometimes sit on it. 

Two is also the appropriate age to enroll in a nursery. Dr. Pichon does not advise taking that step before that age except in unavoidable cases such as when both parents have to work. In our situation, she said it is even more constructive for Mia and Jad to grow up together and near each other at that early stage.  

Conclusion: We have three weeks before our follow up appointment when we will discuss the results of what has been implemented, mainly how Mia has progressed in communicating her frustration and anger with words rather than screams and/or self-desctructive behavior.

Mamma Mia

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Schooling the school

The job of being a parent comes will all sorts of responsibilities which if ignored have far more damaging consequences than missing your weekly meeting at the office or ditching that monthly report. They have the potential of literally turning a person around. Not always in the right direction. 

Shaping minds; critical, intelligent, compassionate minds that is, is a 24/7 job. Understanding right from wrong, justice, legitimacy, bigotry, tolerance, hatred and acquiring the knowledge to make the deliberate and thought-out decision of choosing one and not the other does not come over night. It is a continuous effort on both the child and parents parts.

Building one's identity can be quite confusing and cruel at a young age. Let's face it, it is hard enough for adults, let alone for our littles ones.

That is why we need to be actively involved in every aspect of their lives, carefully looking, listening, and most importantly leading. 

This can get particularly tricky for expat families living abroad, sometimes in completely different environments than that they call home. It is hard enough to deal with what is happening in schools at home so how can parents reconcile between their own values and the ones their children must learn and abide by in a foreign school? 

Dubai is the kind of city where one has the opportunity to widen one's experiences just getting out and interacting with people. It is truly the melting-pot of the Middle East with expats coming from all around the globe, bringing with them their culture, food, music, art, and also their values and knowledge. It can be so enriching and amazing. But it can also be confusing and even distressing at times, when comparisons are made, judgements are passed and even violence arise. Bullying for instance feeds on those differences and intolerances. 

Image Credit: R. Abouzeid

I was in a car with a Lebanese friend a few years back, and her five year old son told her "I want to change my name". We asked why and he replied "I don't like it, I want to be called Anthony". This boy goes to a British school in Dubai where his classmates are mostly from Europe. His typically Arabic name must have been a topic for debate with his friends and with eagerness to identify and a desire to conform, he decided to swap his name for one he thought would be more suitable to his peers. I immediately reminded him that he was named after his grand-father and to be fair, he quickly remembered on his own that his name is special because he shares it with one of the people he loves the most. That does not mean, when faced with his friends at school, it is not a struggle (and maybe a burden even) every day to carry that name. 

So how can we make sure we are raising well-rounded human beings who know who they are, where they come from and who can be proud of that identity without at the same time falling into fanaticism?

Because when we decide to live in a foreign country, we understand that we are making the inherent choice of becoming part of that society. That of course does not imply forsaking our heritage, culture, values and believes. Far from it. It should be an additional reason to appreciate where we come from and each of the qualities that makes us who we are.

Raising awareness within our own community, at work and most importantly at home is essential. Equip our children with the knowledge to recognize injustice is substantial in raising intelligent, humane generations of fair, just and responsible citizens. 

That is exactly what Noha Zayed, a mother of two with her own business in fashion and design from Egypt did.

Having recently moved back to their homeland with their two children, ages five and seven, she and her husband faced some challenges when searching for the right school for their kids:
"Selim attends one of the top American international Schools in Egypt. He had been in British schools but when we moved back to Egypt, we only found space for him in the American school. I was reluctant at first because I grew up in the US and didn’t think much of the American system. But we had no choice, this was one of the top schools academically speaking. I was concerned as these sort of schools tend to be very elitist and I did not want my children to grow up in a bubble. We decided to go ahead because we do a lot of work on the kids at home: we have traveled with them around the world and specifically to poor countries so that they may see what the real world is like, to appreciate what they have and to become compassionate and fair individuals. Since they were very young, the were taught to be independent and only ask for help when they cannot physically perform a task, other than that they have to always try. So the school was going to help in the academic part and we were going to handle the rest."

Many parents opt for private schools just like Noha simply because they favor an internationally recognized and accredited curriculum that would allow their children to pursue higher education at any institution worldwide. That implies of course, that her second grader son Selim is to learn from the American books and materials the school adopts. 

Last thursday, he came back home with homework, nothing unusual there. Selim ordinarily studies alone at home but this time, he asked his mother for assistance as he felt there was something suspicious with the new material he was expected to assimilate:

Second Grade Assignment at the AIS
Photo Credit: Noha Zayed
Photo and comments on Facebook

Noha posted that photo on Saturday, May 19 and contacted the school to raise her concerns and complaints.

Indeed, Selim was not mistaken, and Noha quickly confirmed his suspicions: there is something extremely wrong with that assignment and the gravity of it all cannot be dismissed. So Noha did what any responsible parent would, and showed her son by example that one must not turn a blind eye when faced with what one knows to be wrong, unjust and unlawful. She writes on Facebook:
'The homework was part of a social studies and vocabulary lesson. It included 2 maps and a vocabulary sheet. 1 map showing the Middle East without Palestine but Israel in its place and another detailed map of the Palestinian territories portrayed solely as Israel. The Vocabulary sheet included 3 definitions of Israel. I was surprised and shocked I contacted the school by email on Saturday, Sunday morning I received a reply from the teacher apologizing for the "mistake" and saying that the children did not have to do the homework and will not be quizzed on this part and that there will be a class discussion on the subject. I also met with the Director of the school who assured me that extreme care would be exercised in the future to avoid these kinds of situations. I have to admit that the School's reaction was positive and they seemed genuinely regretful that this had occurred.'

To non-Arabs and even maybe some Arabs, this whole issue might sound ridiculous. Why not just talk to your child and explain your views on the matter? What is the big deal, right?

Well the big deal is simple: a people and their identity are being annihilated in its entirety. Putting aside the crimes against humanity and mass murders happening every day on occupied Palestinian land or that this very land has been unlawfully and unjustly stolen from those who have owned it since the beginning of times; Palestine is being erased from the map literally. Tanks are erasing it on the ground. Books are erasing it on paper. And educators are erasing it from the new generation's memory. That is the most dangerous kind of annihilation. As long as younger people understand there is a nation called Palestine, no one can deny it. Once future generations accept that Palestine is no longer on the map, there is no need to defend it on the ground. And an entire people can be dismissed.

The definition of the word "Israel" is even more criminal. Especially the part that says "Israel and its neighbors are in conflict over land taken from Arab people when the country was formed". How outrageously inaccurate! It makes it sound like Israel is fighting with unidentified Arabs in neighboring countries! Israel is fighting with the Palestinians over Palestinian land within Palestinian territories. It bluntly says Israel was created after WWII following the killings of millions of jews but nowhere does it say that for Israel to be created, millions of Palestinians were killed, pushed out of their homes to live below poverty line in camps set up in other countries while Israelis are settling down in those same Palestinians' stolen homes and land. Nowhere does it say that this "safe homeland" was inhabited by people before WWII and these people are still being murdered today for Israel to steal more land. Nowhere does it say that Israel built a wall of shame, ridiculously higher than the Berlin Wall to keep Palestinians imprisoned in poverty and humiliation.

This assignment might look innocent but in fact it is effectively spreading incorrect propaganda as fact and knowledge to a mind that is trusting the information's source. And it is without a doubt falsifying reality and by extension, distorting history.

It is one thing to teach such criminal propaganda to American students in American schools in the USA. It is an entirely different story to teach that garbage to Arab students, no matter what schools they attend or curriculum they follow.

Arab are not passive goldfish with Alzheimer. They know their history. And they will not accept to have their children learn a distorted version of the truth. Especially when this truth promotes injustice and crimes against humanity.

So we had a little chat with Noha to learn more about the story and how the school proceeded to rectify what had happened:

What were the red flags that led Selim to come to you with his homework? 
My boys are very independent so Selim usually does his homework on his own without any help from me. I usually discuss what he’s been learning at school with him on our ride back home from school. I was surprised when he came and said “I think you should take a look at my homework, its about Israel” I had talked to the children about the story of Palestine before and we always discuss it whenever it is in the news, we talk to the boys about the revolution, injustice, the police and all sorts of things and he found it strange that he was learning about Israel and that there was no mention of Palestine at all. To his mind, the whole story is not complete and doesn’t make sense that way. I was vey proud because I realized that the boys were actually listening and could in their own way understand these issues. People were always surprised that I speak to them about these things and to me that was confirmation that I was doing the right thing.

Have other parents voiced concerns about the same issue or similar issues in the past or is this an isolated incident?  
As far as I know this was an isolated incident, this is our first year at the school so I have no previous experiences. Concerning this issue, I spoke to several mothers and some voiced concern and were very upset but I think they chose to handle it in a more subtle manner unlike myself. But to my surprise and shock, many did not seem to mind at all and seem to give in to the idea that its only natural as we put the kids in an American school, so we should therefore accept whatever they teach our children. I find that logic astounding and unacceptable. I was surprised by people’s reaction to the matter, a lot of them thought that this was unacceptable but a lot of other people thought that this was ok and I actually got a lot of calls and criticism about my raising of the issue. They thought I was exaggerating my concern and that its not such a big deal and many just wanted me to shut up.

How did you approach the school and tackled the issue?  
I sent the school a very aggressive email and went and spoke to the director immediately.

Snapshot of Noha's email to the school
Image Credit: Noha Zayed

What was the school's response? 
They said that they would remove that part of the lesson, the children did not have to do the homework and that they would not be quizzed on it. They also said that they would have a class discussion about it and they would be more careful in the future.

So how did the class discussion go and were you satisfied with the way the teacher handled it? 
Selim said that the teacher asked them what they thought about the issue and what they thought the country was called: Israel or Palestine. I personally was not satisfied with this although I know the teacher very well and she is a very good teacher and I am sure this was a misjudgment on her part. I think negligence was the main problem. From what I understood the homework sheets were printed from a website by another teacher and given to all grade 2 students. But it is beyond me how a responsible educator could look at those sheets and decide they were ok and continue to print and distribute them to the students without thinking that something was suspect.
Though it is important to maximize public coverage, for awareness reasons, when such incidents occur; the majority of the public will unfortunately exaggerate the context, add untruthful details, dismiss or ignore the schools reaction, especially if positive and in a way generally not help. Still, the awareness aspect is supremely important since we are talking about our children's identity as fair and honest human beings. Never neglect to explain to and teach your children the complexities of this world and those ideas and ideals that form our human identity: killing is wrong, occupation is wrong, propaganda exists, television just wants you to buy things, the police should help you, the police shouldn't hurt you and should treat you with respect, being rich doesn't make you better than anyone else, etc.

As parents, when faced with such issue and with all these dangers in mind, we have two options: either ignore the matter and carelessly act as if it is no big deal excusing ourselves with a negligent (and criminal) "what is the use, my fighting this won't change anything anyway" attitude, or be a responsible citizen and speak up to defend our values and justice.

I truly wish more parents would get as involved as Noha and actually follow through with actions and face the educators when the latter fail to provide the adequate learning we trust them to offer.

So well done Noha!

Well done on bringing up an intelligent and bright young mind.

Well done for leading by example and showing how honorable, responsible and moral human beings should always stand up for what they know to be right.

And with a little luck, these efforts can generate some positive change at best, and a good lesson at the very least.

Mamma Mia

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Being the mother of two babies under the age of two, I tend to rant. No, that is not really honest. I started ranting way before I became a mom but having to be responsible for the lives of other human beings, all the time, well, it definitely helped me excel in that area that I now consider one of my finest qualities. And to prove my point:

Just yesterday I was walking down the street on my way to Clemenceau Medical Center for Mia and Jad's vaccines shots. Since we were running late (duh) and Jad decided he was hungry at the very moment we were about to leave the house (double-duh), I took Mia and left my mom to follow me with Mr. Excellent Timing when they were done lunching.

That walk from home to CMC implies passing through Hamra which is the busiest area in Beirut, if not the most congested of all of Lebanon. And with good reason. It is where all the banks, offices, headquarters and what have you are located. Not downtown as the name could suggest, no. DT people, we are watching you! We all know the rumors you try to spread and wish were true however, they are just that, rumors and Hamra is the heart of Lebanon. But that is not why I am here, ranting (although I never miss a chance to scream that reminder).

All of the above babbling was simply to clarify that in Hamra, it is virtually impossible to drive faster than 20 kilometers per hour. And yet...

As I walk down my street, a crazy lady almost runs Mia and her stroller over. In her defense, the traffic light is both green for those making a turn as well as for pedestrians crossing on that very "turn". Which means, if you are not in danger of being smashed by cars coming straight at you, you will definitely bump into those making a turn, literally on you. Allow me to illustrate:

Basically, all that is green is allowed to walk/drive at the same time. The red is what is not allowed to walk/drive. Obviously, it is a death trap for pedestrians.

That is why I am always very careful crossing that street but still, that car came up so fast, I had not even seen her approaching! Seriously. In an area like Hamra. Driving like a lunatic. I will be uncharacteristically generous today and assume she probably had been waiting for 20 minutes on that street before she could finally make that turn. The silly traffic light on that intersection is a nightmare! It flips from red to green to red to green faster than my dad zaps channels! Frustration is never a good thing when a steering wheel is involved.

But I take it like a MOM (Manager Of Messes), shake it off and continue walking... On the side of the road. Yes. Not the sidewalks. Simply because there are no sidewalks on that street. There are tiny elevated extensions of the street where people 1) park, 2) place chairs and tables and smoke shisha (I kid you not) or 3) install barriers so that and I quote "no motorcycle would drive by on the sidewalk and scare the customers". And where there are none of the above, it is simply because none of the above can fit as the sidewalk suddenly turns into weirdly skewed stairs. Ok then. My bad for expecting to have a small side of that road dedicated to me and my baby's safe passage on foot.

When I finally get to Hamra Main Street and enjoy the normal (so to speak) sidewalk, I reach the turn towards Clemenceau and there again, I have to walk in the middle of the road and zigzag between the cars as the sidewalk is either some jerk's improvised private parking or a mini-market. 

At last, I see the hospital on the other side of the street so I stop (obviously) and wait for the car on my left to allow me to cross. Then I check my right and the road is completely empty so I make my move. At that same moment, I almost crash into an jackass on his motorcycle, speeding on the wrong side of the road! I had forgotten that in Lebanon, I need to look at both sides even if it is a one way street!

The freaking idiot cannot be blamed. He obviously is brainless. Why else would he have been driving a motorcycle without a helmet? When there is nothing to protect, why bother, right? In the meantime, he almost crashed into Mia. That is the problem with strollers. Your kid is always up front. 

And the son of a bitch has the nerves to scream "Hey!" when he sees me. HE screams. HE. The all-time prick who drives helmetless on the wrong side of the street!

Yes. I stepped up to an entirely other level of anger and my vocabulary is adapting to the appropriate degree of fury I am feeling right now. Thank you for your understanding. 

Mamma Mia

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