Category Archives: Courage

Ask for help. Watch what happens.

It’s interesting. Building a business. Teaching students. There’s an illusion that we should present ourselves as the experts, as if we know it all, or people will not have faith in us.

But then there is another school of thought that recognises we are all on a learning curve, and asking for help is, in fact, an act of bravery. 

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I’ve waffled back and forth between these two views, and suddenly had an epiphany. It was a moment of truth that came after watching a friend die this summer.

:'(

Life’s too short. 

Let me explain. Continue reading Ask for help. Watch what happens.

A Former Student Inspires – Here’s What Youth Can Do

What do you do when you want to shout to the rooftop, no, to the heavens that a former student has now climbed to the upper reaches of the earth’s atmosphere…okay, so I exaggerate…to Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, with a group of friends and set a record? A week ago, she was nervously expressing last thoughts about this journey and the desire to fulfil a goal for the charity she represents, Reach Out to Asia in Qatar. Now she’s become one of the first Qatari women to climb the popular, but nonetheless challenging, Kilimanjaro.

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First Qatari women to summit Kilimanjaro, 2014: http://instagram.com/p/uGadtxQeuk/ – Photo Dana Al-Anzy, Istagram

Note: it’s a collective win. I like that. No one has shouted out: “Hey, everyone! I’m the first.” No. Implied in those words Qatari women is the we did it together chic. I love that. There are many lessons I could teach my current students based on my experiences with those young people I have taught or worked with the past.

I met Dana Al Anzy three years ago when she engaged a colleague in a pie throw – whipped cream in the face – charitable project to raise money for one good cause or another. She whipped the entire student body into a frenzy, too, at Qatar Academy where the students and staff gathered around for a good laugh and fun after Dana announced the main reason for this mayhem: to raise money for a charity.

I ran a community and service program for two years before embarking on a new adventure in the UK. Qatar Academy is the highest ranking school in Qatar, and part of the illustrious Qatar Foundation, a think tank – home of several world-class universities and well over 100 enterprises – dedicated to science and research, education and community development. I rave on about Qatar Foundation because it is rave-worthy. The young people there shared their unique blend of similarities and differences to other young people I have met and taught worldwide. The truth is, learning difficulties are real for most of us. We’re all loved and potentially disliked by someone. Life has its twists and turns and requires a certain amount of diplomacy that I enjoyed watching at play in Qatar. I enjoy a good political scene. Dana Al-Anzy was a student leader who had an important role to play in our school, and she became the leader of the Model United Nations Amnesty International group. This required diplomacy. And this girl had it and had the passion for human rights that drives possibly everything she does today. The culmination of our efforts that year resulted in two peace doves being released to symbolize the group’s commitment to peace in the rising swells of war in the region. And now Dana has climbed Kilimanjaro to raise money for the rebuilding of Palestinian homes. Think globally and act locally. This is a truism that makes sense for us all. We’ve moved ahead now out of my classroom to the world…this young woman speaks my language: watch.

She talks of having a dream and of our need to watch the way in which we view the world. I think she’s so cool. I believe she is destined for leadership. And I imagine it is only a matter of time before she achieves her goal as a Qatari national. So, I’ve got to share her with my world, here, there, wherever you be. Watch this girl. She’s already making inroads with the First Lady of Qatar’s youth delegation to the United Nations.

If there is one thing I wish, I wish that my disenfranchised (some of them…I teach in tough areas) and far less privileged students in England could see themselves in her, for we all have the potential to be great instead of bricking up our real selves for an illusion of popularity, or because we ‘can’t be bovvered’. We can all be bothered to make a contribution, and to make a difference where there is need. This is regardless of our circumstances. (I’ve seen amazing feats in the UK, too, of course.) This young woman reminds us: simply choose your cause and go for it.

Tawakkol Karman – How I met this Nobel Peace Laureate at TEDx Salford

I bought my ticket as soon as I read that this Arab woman – a Nobel Peace Prize winner – would be speaking at TEDx Salford 2014. This was the woman who started a revolution in Yemen, the ONE country in the Arabian peninsula that I have always wanted to visit (my colleagues made it and have great photos of the qat-chewing men in the streets…hmmmm…while I was probably off gallavanting somewhere else or hanging about in Saudi writing during my breaks…it’s a hard life, choosing *where next* to go on holiday when you’ve got four months of paid annual leave). Sigh. I’ve seen much of the Middle East – Lebanon, Syria, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates – and travelled over 24 countries worldwide, to date. But Yemen got away from me.

It was never quite the time, never quite ‘safe’ enough to go to Yemen when I wanted to. If my father was (and he was, initially) going to disown me for going to Saudi (it terrified him, until he realised I was safe, I had close friends both Saudi and among the expatriates; and I could bring home 18 carat gold and great adventure stories), well, the proposition of my going to Yemen would cinch that fact. I was told by my Saudi friends: don’t even think it right now. Al Qaeda had just bombed the American naval ship docked in Senaa.

I even examined the option of teaching in Yemen in 2010 and decided against it when the Canadian principal of an international school tried to recruit me and revealed upon questioning that he and his wife were leaving (no-brainer: not the time to go to Yemen). There is another part of me that has lived in the Middle East so long with the so-called risks and dangers, and I was in Qatar when the Arab winds of revolution swept across the region and my Saudi friends in middle class government jobs saw their salaries increased dramatically (to keep the peace), I could imagine that Yemen is likely reasonably safe if you stick to the tried and true…tourist hotels, the main souqs and no gallavanting around the best parts…villages outside of Senaa. Even to see Old Senaa would be a treasure. For me, it would.

But now it is less safe than ever, or so it seems, from so far away, from England where I now reside. My feet no longer dust the dunes of Arabia, and I no longer work in Saudi, or Qatar (I left Doha and the illustrious think tank, the Qatar Foundation, in 2012). I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the land…directly. I follow through my friends and former students who are scattered across the region, and they are my proxy. How I miss it. How I sometimes feel crazy when people could care less about the issues that burn holes in my heart. Syria. Palestine. Yemen. Egypt. All of it.

But my love for Arabia came back to me with the arrival of this woman, this incredible woman, Tawakkol Karman, when she walked onto the TEDx Salford stage at The Lowry and spoke yesterday.

She spoke eloquently of her struggle and triumph with the Yemeni youth to bring on the ‘rose revolution’ of Yemen, toppling the president…because she had a big idea, a big dream. And that dream is justice, human rights, for the women and men and the children of Yemen, and for us all.

My heart was in my mouth as I speechlessly and breathlessly watched and listened to this woman talk with her hands, as Arabs do. I understand intimately because I have lived among Arabs, specifically the Gulf Arabs, and some of my best friends today are Saudis, one of whom has a mother who came from Yemen. I’m not supposed to know that. But I do. I know she came as a young bride to marry a Saudi, but that’s another story. I know the ways in which Arabs feel things so passionately, they must express those sentiments with their hands, forcefully. I know the strength of those hands, and the love of those hands. I know the ‘hanan’ and deep tenderness and compassion of Arab women in particular. They are known for this. I also know they are rock steady; they have nerves of steel and we women in the West can learn from them and what they have suffered and still endure today. I have written songs about the wisdom of Arab women. I felt Tawakkol Karman’s passion. My heart yearned for the Middle East, a place I have lived for 13 years, in peace, in deep peace and harmony.

So, of course, I ran down the aisle, pushing politely past people who had no idea what I was feeling or where I was going. I found her, at the bottom of the Lowry Theatre, greeted her with my best Arabic, delighted in her warm and sincere character as I gave her my album Bakhoor a compilation of my own struggles and journeys through the Middle East, pre and post 9/11. She told me she loved the photos on the cover – my many photos taken over many years travelling – and told me that a man had made a song with her words. It’s not hard to see why. Listen…

You see, the story is all hers, Tawakkol Karman’s. I share it with you via the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies. Today, the power of this woman steals my attention from everything else I have ‘on’. I called a Saudi friend who told me Tawakkol has recently lost her home in Yemen to the rebels who would love to topple her for promoting peace among the Sunni and the Shia…and among men and women…among people of all faiths and people who have none.

The power of this woman and her faith in a better world to come leave me humbled and heart full. She may be Mother Yemen, and maybe the Mother of Us All.

And worth watching…the entire 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony and acceptance speech of Tawakkol and the two other women who shared the honour with her.

Courage to Love

Yesterday, I sat in an assembly for Year 9 students. The school where I teach has decided to institute something called a ‘Culture for Learning’. The first step is to have the ‘Courage to Learn in Silence’. I like it. Twenty minutes of silent, independent thinking and effort – with teacher assistance nearby, as needed. Students find it hard. But they have been told to expect this in every class, every day. They’re improving, day by day. It reminds me of something…

This arrived on my Facebook page today. I love it. The courage to learn. The courage to kiss…and hug. Way to develop a ‘Culture for Love’. 

Do you need courage to love?