“Living” Through It

What do you do when you’re sick of reading about nCoV? When you’re bored, cooped up, and flooded with queries from loved ones I think the best thing you can do is… blog.

A lot has changed in the past few days. The constant barrage from my news feeds, first hand reports, and personal experiences have made for some angsty moments. But a daily family vote means that we’re seeing it through (for now). Let me catch you up.


School/Work

Schools are closed until further notice. Most international schools will begin online learning on Monday February 3rd. WAB has things in place and we’re ready to go. It won’t be perfect. But it’s all we can do.

Last weekend, our school gave the OK for teachers to leave Beijing. This option has caused another layer of stressful conversations in the Langlands’ home. But more on that later.

WAB is allowing the community to come on campus from 10-11 am to get supplies and tools they may need for online learning. You can only get on to campus under tight restrictions. Before walking in the security gate, we masked up, showed school ID, had our temperature checked, and completed documents that notified the ministry about our travel movements during the Chinese New Year holiday. This measure will permanently end on February 3rd and campus will be on complete lockdown.


Our Village/Life

Our village community is normally open with multiple entry points and small alleyways snaking throughout. All but two have now been barricaded. At the two that remain open sit a security team and the occasional guy in a hazmat suit. They are checking temps and IDs. This caught me off guard yesterday and all I wanted to do was pack a suitcase and get out. 

I’ve calmed down since then.

This is our lockdown

The village is doing a lot to keep people safe. If you show symptoms of the flu, you are encouraged (read: required) to self-quarantine. At that point, the village governance will provide food to your home for 14 days. On our way to school yesterday, my friend took a picture of us crossing the red carpet. If you read the picture details you can learn more about the protocols that are hiding in plain sight.

Today, the grocery stores and veggie market proprietors reopened as their anticipated Chinese New Years celebrations ended.


Our Life/Beyond the Wall

For the last few nights, we’ve been meeting friends for dinner or drinks at local establishments. Some restaurants are staying closed because of staffing issues as staff haven’t returned from their government mandated Chinese New Year extension. The ones that are open are taking extra precautions to keep everyone safe. A benefit to some restaurants being closed, you can often pick up some fabulous produce from those that have set up tables outside. They would rather sell off their stock than see it go to waste.

One of our favorite Craft Breweries is now adding security measures to their ads.

A Lesson/Don’t Always Believe the Hype

When you watch the news or read an article online, I’m not sure you’re getting the full truth. I don’t know what life is like in the epicenter of Wuhan, but here is my lesson on perspective.

When I went to the grocery store yesterday, there are some shelves that are completely empty and huge gaps where the hand sanitizer once stood. I took a picture of the empty freezer cases but if I chose to show you only that, I would change the narrative. Because turning the corner to the 2nd freezer case–there was an abundance of food. It was all strewn about and disorganized so I’m thinking, maybe the freezer cases are just broken for some reason. But I wanted to show you that it’s not as dire as it sounds on the news. In all honesty, there is an abundance of fresh breads, milk, fruit, and veg. We wont starve any time soon!


Our Choice/Conversation Topics

Every day, the group of “staying teachers” seems to get a bit smaller. Some will stay. Some will go. For each family, there are so many factors to consider. For ours, here are some things we discuss daily.

  1. When will we be coming back?
  2. Should we buy tickets for a few weeks in Bali to wait this out? Or do we go home and stay with friends and family for a few months? If you don’t know the answer to #1, you can’t answer #2.
  3. Where should we go if we need to be available to kids between 8:30 am and 3:30 pm, Beijing time?
  4. What will be open today, tomorrow, and long term?
  5. What does the next step of government protection/mandatory closures/quarantine look like?
  6. What if more airlines stop flying out of Beijing? Will we be able to get out?
  7. What do we with our dog?
  8. How do we stay mentally healthy?

Our Opinions/Life Decisions

We are healthy and confident that we are doing what needs to be done to stay safe. So, at present, we’re staying. We’re washing our hands, wearing masks, avoiding large crowds, going on walks, and being social. We’re going out with friends again tonight and planning on taking advantage of Beijing’s traffic desert by exploring on bike and foot.


Final Thoughts/Small Moments

For now, we’re using the tips that our school counselors sent out in an effort to avoid cabin fever.

An excerpt from a fabulous message WAB sent from the school counselors

That’s all we can do.

Laugh…

This is a picture our friend, Stephen Taylor, took to show some measures
people are taking to keep their kids safe. Look VERY closely!

… and blog!

moving

I started “blogging” by sending emails to friends and family about our adventures in Kenya all the way back in 2001. Since then, I moved to a blogging platform which I used to write a public journal about our life and the exotic places we live. As we view our lifestyle as normal, to may of you… it is anything but!

That said, I’ve been losing my faith in blogging. Why put in the effort? Does anyone care what I have to say? And who am I doing this for anyway?

And then I realized… the act of blogging is cathartic! Taking the time to reflect on our adventures releases shots of joy that make the experience worth it.

So I continue (though moving from Blogger to WordPress) to journal this blog as part memory, part lesson, and private diary.

Welcome to our new-ish “home.”

the ups and downs of having MY brother

by Anouk

Brothers can be two things great or annoying. Never anything in the middle. Big brothers and little brothers can be very different and luckily I’ve only got one. He’s bigger than me. But he’s in puberty. And that’s tough! It’s tough for me. It’s tough for the entire family. But it’s mostly tough for me. So I’m going to tell you about the pros and cons about having MY brother.

First, I’ll tell a few cons about living with MY brother:

1. Mood Swings. During puberty, if you catch him at the wrong time you’ll be yelled at for a long time. The mood swings are weird. One moment he’s happy and the next moment he’s grumpy. It’s like he’s a machine with a switch. If you flick the switch, his moods change instantly. I have the same thing… but not as often!

2. Pranks. His pranks have become more frequent. They are also MORE annoying! Whenever I pass a doorway I flinch, thinking that he’ll jump out and scare the poop out of me. And when I get mad at him, I get in trouble for yelling at him and he gets away Scott-free. Another one of his regular pranks is that he’s telling amazing stories from school. When he sees that I’m in awe he’ll say, “Just kidding” and then he’ll laugh and make fun of me for begin so gullible.

3. He’s Older. So he thinks he gets to be in charge when our parents aren’t at home. He gets control of the TV, sometimes he tries to boss me around to do chores, or he’ll say, “Won’t you be a sweet little lamb and get me a glass of water” and I’m easily persuaded by his niceness. I can’t blame him entirely for this one, but sometimes I just wish I remembered to grab the TV remote before doing the dishes. Then I’d be in control!!!

But… there are also a few pros to living with MY brother.

1. He’s a Good Persuader. My brother has been around a few years longer than me so he has better persuading skills. He’s good at negotiating a free dessert and he can almost always talk my dad in to a late night swim. He can convince me to play his stupid games with his stupid made-up rules. And he can almost always convince you to help do his chores.

2. He is a Laugh and a Half! When he’s not in a bad mood, he’ll laugh at anything. His favorite middle-schools words are: poop, tittle, and kaka. He has potty humor. He got it from my dad, but it usually makes us all laugh even if we shouldn’t.

3.  He Teaches Life Lessons. Since he’s older, he’s in middle school first. And then he’ll be in high school first. And then he’ll be in college first. Since he has to do this stuff first, he tells me about it and then I’ll have the upper hand when I go through it. I mean, I already know how much homework middle-schoolers get!

4. He Loves Me. Xavier cares about me a lot. One example of his love is when I was in a play last week. He didn’t complain that he had to watch both nights! When we came home, he even sang the songs with me and gave me compliments on my make-up. Another way he shows he loves me is when our parents go out at night. Sometimes, I get scared and I get a pain in my stomach. But he gets me an ice-pack, makes me a toast or some tea, and tells me, “It’s gonna be OK.” He gives me the remote (though I usually turn on his channel).

As I said, brothers can be great or annoying. Nothing in the middle. But my brother is great about 51% of the time!

my little dog (by Xavier)

by Xavier

My dog is the greatest gift I have ever received.

Here I am, on the couch upstairs, writing this blog with my Samsung slate in my lap, my dog staring up at me and my video games calling my name. My dog has moved up to the couch, laying next to me, staring at the wall. I wonder what she thinks about, day after day, week after week, month after month. She is very lazy.

I wonder what it feels like to be a dog. Is it good, or bad? Sure, she doesn’t have to go to school, and she get’s to slouch around the house. She doesn’t have to hunt for food, she doesn’t have to do chores, and she gets to sleep whenever. Wherever! But, she is skittish. She seems to worry about people coming into the house and this is because she was abused when she was just a pup. We got her when she was just 5 weeks old. So we saved her from a bad life.

Having a dog can be bittersweet.

It was Halloween, 2014. I came home on the school bus. But when I walked into the house, my dog wasn’t there to greet me. I searched the house and garden. I ran outside and even looked around the whole complex, but I couldn’t find her. When I called my parents, I was bursting with tears. Scared out of my mind. Worried for my dog. My parents got home and we started searching in the car. We drove around our housing complex and neighborhood. The next day, a Saturday, we printed out many lost dog signs. We passed them out to the guards, hammered them on to trees, in front of  housing complexes, hospitals, and we also alerted all the pounds.

Everyday, our family felt more hopeless of finding her. Though we secretly hoped she’d be on the couch when we walked in, she never was. We were sad. Lonely. Lost without her. Our family wasn’t whole with her gone.

Four days later, in the middle of class, my dad came in and pulled me out. He said a man selling bananas near a hospital had seen our dog. My mom had rushed there to get her. She called my dad and said she was coming back to school. When she drove up at 11:24 on a school day, we saw our dog, poking her small, little black head out of the car. We all started to cry again. But this time, tears of joy.

Getting her as a puppy was a good gift. Getting her back was the greatest gift!

 

 

MY learning safari

this post was written on 10.27.14 and never published… darn technology!

It’s been over a month since I returned from the Learning2 Africa conference. I have started writing this reflection a dozen or so times, but every time I begin, the pull of my “to-do” list calls me and I end up DOING something instead of writing about what I want to do. But with deadlines looming, I am pushing the to-do list to the back, getting my act together, and sharing (or writing, rather) my thoughts on one of the most motivational professional experiences I’ve ever been part of.

Learning 2Africa. Being married to someone whom I consider, a tech visionary means that words and names like “Learning2,” “Kim Cofino,” “PLNs,” “Jeff Utecht,” “COETAIL,” and “Genius Hours” have been part of my dialogue. While braving traffic, through grocery shopping trips, or in moments stolen while watching the kids flop around the in pool, my husband and I often “talk shop.” From unit plans to integration—we push one another to try something new. But, as an elementary classroom teacher who has been working in schools with pre-determined goals that rarely include technology integration and learning “outside the box”, I’ve spent my professional development time (and money) on work that aligned more directly to my job. So attending Learning2Africa was a way for me to put my learning focus first!

Overload. For three days my head was swimming (and not just in amazing Ethiopian coffee thanks to my dear near friend Bezuayehu and the traditional coffee ceremony). I was learning inspired at every turn. The stimulating conversatations shared with like-minded educators from around the globe revitalized my enthusiasm for a profession that I have, in recent years, become rather discontented by. From the TED-type Learning2 Talks to my extended session with Kim Cofino (Developing a Connected Learning Community) and Alex Lancia (Electronic Portfolios), I could feel gurgles of enthusiasm bubbling inside of me as questions were asked and ideas were fleshed out. Touring around the word with Marcello Mongardi by using Google Tour Builder helped me brainstorm some fascinating ways to use the program across curriculum areas in my own classroom. Workshopping with Jeff Fessler was both motivational and moving. Jeff walked me through the journey he and his students went on as they used Comic Life software produce a dual-language graphic novel during a service learning project for Malaria awareness in Bamako.

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Bezuayehu and the traditional coffee ceremony

Conferring. Unconferencing. Reconferencing. Poster Sessions. And any other way in which people could be paired up to discuss and learn– at every corner I was being inundated with ideas and discussions to challenge my own learning safari. Regularly regrouping with my cohort group helped me reconnect with my Elementary people. During these sessions, we brainstormed strategies to help one another tackle tough agendas with our administrators or dialogued about how we could share authentic learning with parents.

Planning. My plane ride home to South Africa resulted in a 6-page to-do list with next-steps, people to contact, plans, outlines, and scenarios—the contacts from my cohort group and Twitter leads all tripled my PLN within hours. The top three items on my list—convince my Principal and TIC to allow my students and I to create an online portfolio for (at least) one unit of study, build a Facebook presence for my elementary class; and set up voice-activated Google on our classroom desktops.

Final Thoughts. To say that the top three items on my list are all in place and working beautifully would be a massive overstatement.  I’m a teacher—life gets in the way. There are always planning meetings, parent emails, bulletin boards, assemblies, and every day student issues that get in the way of one’s good intentions. But I’m on my way. My 6-page to-do list has now grown to 13 or so pages with registering for and working towards my COETAIL in capital letters across the top. But teaching is not a race. It’s a journey. A safari, rather. One that includes exploration, innovation, and connection.

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Friends from our Nairobi days