IWD

Happy International Women’s Day!

It should be, and is, for many.

But it’s not, for far too many others.

We read Malala’s Magic Pencil this morning. About how she wove magic, achieved the unimaginable. With her words.

How words have power.

There is an audible gasp in the classroom when I tap the statistic that 130,000,000 young girls are unable to attend school.

This is unthinkable, for these kids. Unconscionable, for me.

But sad simple reality, for so many more.

A colleague adds that since COVID, these numbers are on the grow.


In the face of these official ‘days’, ‘months’, and various campaigns that so often act as bandaid, performative and toothless, I’m reminded of Cornel West’s clarity:

Now I have nothing against philanthropy. I just don’t confuse charity with justice.


And, so, again this year, with justice in mind and an eye on a world where we don’t need reminders

I raise a glass to the moms, grannies, aunties, sisters, partners, friends, teachers, and girls

Who weave magic, every day.

Alley

Like many things in Hanoi, these winding streets feel unimaginable. The narrowest of alleys, sheperded by iron gates, concrete walls, towering apartments. All linked with secret turns and punctuated by the sharpest of angles.

The sky darkens from gray to black, dusk is here. We’re unconcerned, despite being trapped like rats and even accompanied by a few.

We wander.

The slight woman with the twin baskets slung over her shoulder, perfectly balanced, conical Non La atop her head, overtakes, then keeps pace with us. I’m not sure where she’s going, but for now she’s a rabbit to our chase.

She pauses, slides open the imposing gate, and steps delicately up the three landing stairs. Removes her shoes and hat, and slips inside. The fresh vegetables lining her baskets have found their home.

We continue along, leaving our rabbit behind, until the impossibly narrow alley becomes impossibly narrower. Just wide enough for a bike, or a wild dog. As we squeeze through, and round a couple more corners, it’s clear we’re not sure where we’re going.

We round the next corner and pause to peer through the narrow slats on the metal gate, and finally recapture our sense of direction.

But what seems right has left us.

where did the lake go

Undeterred and resolute, we march on.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our time here

it’s that something amazing is around the corner.

Perch

My eyes are drawn

First, to the bike.

Immaculate, sleek, defined. This is the treasure of one who tends, with care. Both helmets perfectly placed, one hanging, as it should, from the handlebar, ready at moment’s notice. The second, lain in wait, nestled securely in cradle, eager for a second rider.

The spokes define the wheels, all aglow, bright silver against black rubber. HONDA, blocked, parallels the concrete slabs below. Decals, lit fire. Acute bumps against obtuse and apexes in a leather cushion, providing an unexpected yet perfect perch.

And so, unexpectedly, he perches, perfectly.

how did he get it so clean on such a sodden day?

Behind him, there’s a collection of less significant bikes. Parked for the hour, perhaps the day. They don’t mean as much.

Lotus is scrawled in rushed, looping black letters, trailing down the narrow white wall.

And I wonder what that might mean.


But, in the end, in this frozen moment in time,

He is what demands my attention.

He sends his gaze downward, greying hair framing his lined face, shadowing his black leather jacket.

is he content

world weary

wondering what is or what might be?

Nah.

without a doubt, his thoughts are on what was

He balances, safe off the ground. Legs – almost crossed – soles of bare feet touching, arm propped on knee, hands holding him in place, anchored, trenchant. He looks down, and away.

anywhere but here

or now

And I have two questions.

what is he looking at

and

what has he seen

Chrysalis

The days before proper Spring are cynics.

We follow their lead, and are solidified. Ensconced. Chrysalid.

These days we, along with this city of millions, are on lockdown. But we still find a way to venture out.

Let’s try to grab a bite

The weather persists. Cool, wet, saturated, all drizzle and (small p) acific nw.

they call it Moldy March for a reason

Even now, among this extended gestation, there are signs of emergence

Pockets of the city are vibrant, alive,

the breathe in, and out.


We’re antsy, today. Begging to slip the cocoon, branch out, take flight. So we meander, hopeful to find a nibble as we go. We pass shops, shuttered, metal doors closing us off to the world that lays behind.

Do you even remember what was here?

We pass our favoured restaurants, well lit and ready for business, encouraged by the warmth.

We might be in luck

But at each stop, the same sign, scrawled hastily in chalk, greets and gives pause.

sorry, take away or delivery only please

Despite our hopes, it’s not our night, nor our week, to dine out. Our hanger fuels our disappointment.

But we are reminded that there is more to this, something bigger afoot. Of friends abroad, for whom it’s not only not the night, not the week, nor their year, to eat out.

We pause and take stock of what we have. And look forward to that imminent, anticipated, treasured moment

When we all get to spread our wings

The Bends

The impossible lane, being impossible,

stretches farther than I imagined

My steps are tentative, the bike light guiding my way

I get a few strange looks, which beg

why is he pushing it

what’s wrong


We had laid the bike down that Saturday, Rhino and me. Our near-collision came around the blind corner at full speed, eyes ahead, not expecting our jump across her path. Brakes slammed, sliding to a stop just short of her.

We were both okay, road rash but nothing more

She paused, but only briefly, to ensure we were not injured

okay?

I paused for a minute, trying to decide if there was time and capacity to translate and explain what was really going on: I’m shook; scared for what might have been; surprised; uneasy.

yeah, okay!

And she was off.

You okay bud?

Yeah papa, I’m fine.


But the bike, only barely functional,

Was not.

So I walk, and push, and feel self-conscious.

And wonder what lies around the next impossible bend.

Many things

Many things can be true, at once.

My brown flip flops dart between the hardscrabble red dirt and dried brush as the sun beats down. Each step meticulous, geared to avoiding pokes and stickers.

Who am I

It can be true that colleagues and educators, around the planet, are giving their all, all day, managing kids traumatized, digitized, screenified, unsure of what might come

Unbowed, unbroken, they are keeping things together, working through lunch, recess, shouldering new roles, the midst of yesterday’s solutions creating today’s problems

Exhausted. Stretched.

It can be true that school leaders are trapped between demanding parents and fiscal uncertainty.

Complex systems, now reminders of what once was, stark in contrast to what now is. And decisions, always decisions, that ultimately, have human impact.

I would not want to be in their shoes

And am grateful for their work.

I transition from the dried grasses to the manicured lawns to the hot sands

I’m not good with transitions

Who am I

It can be true that decisions have consequences.

For family, for systems, for schools. And ultimately for people. For kids.

Human impact.

It can be true that managing, building, and doing the work of Distance Learning is impossibly challenging. Trapped behind a screen, the day begins and doesn’t let up. At all. Hours and hours, thousands of clicks and punches. And at the end of it all, still to ask

Did they get it

Working so hard to come up with content, in hopes that it strikes the proper chord, resonant with understanding. Much like in a typical day in a typical classroom.

But Distance Learning, by its nature, is atypical.

Distant, cold.

Limited, and limiting.

Separated by 1s and 0s, kids trapped behind screens, it is nearly impossible to know

Did they get it

As close to an existential crisis as teachers can have.

In a classroom, the kids have demands that never let up. Thousands of decisions, made instantly. But then, mercifully, the kids go home.

When you teach from home, the kids never leave.

It can be true that workload increases, a brand-new FFT, demand intensifies. To feel isolated and separate, on a literal and figurative island.

Alone, as others come together, dig in, unite.

These things can be true.

It can be true that we all struggle, that suffering is an eternal truth. That nobody wins in the face of a global pandemic. People lose connection, jobs, each other.

That a two-teacher family can struggle with quarantine, with home school, with helping their boys manage schedules, time, the endless pursuit of balance.

We flail about awkwardly, as if parenting or teaching for the first time, and blow it just the same.


It can also be true that there is much

to be grateful for


For a pause in the ether, echoes of solitude,

birdsong

I slip off the flops, toes digging into hot sand. Just hot enough to turn my steady gait into an awkward hop.

And as the cool water curls my toes

I remember who I am

Not today

I’m starting to feel the lactic acid build up. The wind, previously a boon, is now in my way.

We’re some 27 km into our ride as we crest the border of the town. A subtle shift, mostly green to now mostly shops. A row of stores, all metal, corrugation,

Shuttered.

When Vietnam locks down, they do it with fidelity.

Let’s try the back way

Resolute, we press our luck, thankful that this particular back way is paved. Smooth tires confront cracks in pavement, the gentle and constant bumps lulling me

I doze

A meditation, just me and the bike, the metronomic legs keeping beat

when I hear the shout

ARFARFARFARFARFARFARF

Not dog. It’s my buddy, attempting to scare the dog at his wheel

I am shaken awake

A local stray has made his bicycle a target; territorial, snarly

You are not welcome here

He seems to say

There’s a moment of concern of ankle bites and sharp jaws, but the confrontation ends as we continue forth. Fido trails off, satisfied this pursuit is beneath him.

Luckily, it’s not dogs who run these streets.

We round the next bend, narrowly avoiding an oncoming motorbike, a frenzy of beeps informing

I’m coming through

Only to discover a temple, open, inviting all, peace and no fury in contrast to pup.

Adjacent a tiny market, a gaggle of old ladies, smiling and laughing. Fresh veggies neatly arrayed in small plastic bowls.

Since we’re outside the city, we’re a novelty. They see us and smile, and wonder

What in the world are you doing here?

We wave a hearty hello and meander past, and they reply with shouts

Come shop at our market!

I’m pretty sure they say.

Not today

We reply, with a smile and wave

And, looking ahead, we pick up the pace.

Ebb

*

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythm

*

When crossing the street in Vietnam, you do it with rhythm

Two, four, six lanes of traffic, steady. Cadent.

Like how you pass days in quarantine.

We’re stuck here

For the first couple days after the COVID test, each ring of the doorbell, each wail of a siren makes the heart skip

Are they coming for us

It’s not rational, this response.

But neither is 2020

The hours dim and bleed into days. No ambulance visit, no PPE squadron, no alarms.

We gain confidence.

Most interruptions to the daily rhythm are benign, helpful. Even comforting.

ding dong

I mark the now-worn path to the door, slip the mask over my ears, and crack it ajar.

If the walkie-talkie is echoing, it’s probably food. A rattling cart, housekeeping, gifting towels and soap. Young Duc, smiling through his mask, attentive and eager to make our stay better. He’s doing the hard work for us.

Or it might be the nurse, resplendent, head to toe in cadet blue, mask, and glasses. Thermometer in hand and now, my face.

35.4

Still free.

Her visits give rhythm

But something about her, perhaps that blue suit, triggers

the bus coming to an abrupt halt and jerking my lagging neck. it’s next level disorientation, the kind that could only arrive after 48 hours of transit, four flights, 11 time zones, and a disaster nap

where are we

I fumble for the zip on my suit, restore my mask and glasses, and stagger down the steps to the assault of humid and hot

The roundabout and facade confront us, but it’s not a typical hotel welcome. No refreshing face towels, no friendly smiles.

This is all business.

We pull our bags off the pile, staggering, stumbling, incoherent, messy humans. As we approach the entrance to the hotel, we hesitate.

A man with an insecticidal spray can gives a couple quick pumps. Our bags and pants are saturated with what smells like home

if home was a chemical factory

We disrobe and discard. Stumble into the lobby

your name please

We are ordered into the elevator

ten ten and ten twelve

The realization that we will be apart now hits. Rhino with me, Elephant with Mama. A hurried, bleary farewell, as we are ushered into our spaces

Alone. Separate, but together.

I pause as the door closes behind. Heart races, breath quickens, I feel dizzy. Then exhaustion hits. There is no sense of calm, for now, no cadence.

No rhythm.

Mercifully, we find sleep, and sleep finds us.

*

The floor to ceiling windows light our way and offer the distraction of the world, moving along, taking place

without us.

We are both absent and here at once. Observers of the world, we call out to see if we still exist.

We are here

can you see us

Endless bikes pursue the expressway below, diverting only so slightly when a brave pedestrian makes her way to cross the road

She moves with confident grace, purposeful,

She lends us her rhythm

And as we watch from above, stuck inside, life, here, and now,

We are grateful.

We send messages through the wall, sneak peeks around the corner, blow kisses through our masks

And find support from friends, some old, most new. Sequestered together within these walls. We share worry, grief, exasperation,

We make use of granite table tops, soft chairs, the same worn carpet, our gym for daily workouts

We ebb, and flow.

Alone. Separate, but together.

We navigate with humour, gratitude, kinship, patience. A shared determination that we will get through this.

That all is relative, impermanent, and so many have it worse than us.

*

The breathtaking lightning storm that visits tonight

Reminds us of what is out there

That at its heart, this year is teaching us all that we are entitled to nothing

but the rhythm of our days, in all their uneven glory.

And, so.

we take nothing for granted

and look forward to the next time we can cross the street.

*

*

i didn’t know

Treasure waits patiently at the base of the tree for the seven-year old to discover

cracked open, stained. all hardened amber

spoils long gone, lunch, for a peckish gecko

or maybe it’s instead a gecko’s egg

It has Elephant wondering

what kind of mammals are birds?

We’re quick to respond

birds aren’t mammals, mammals don’t lay eggs

Wait

we pause for a second

The platypus lays eggs. It’s the only mammal that lays eggs.

Elephant seems satisfied. But Rhino is not.

No.

We look in his direction.

Remember the echidna.

And I’m struck, by the wisdom, here, in this innocent reply.

These unprecedented, tumultuous times, news comes with a daily smack, all anxiousness and collective angst. Too many unknowns. All bets off.

But the echidna is unfazed.

Don’t mind me

he says

Just hanging out, foraging over here, feeding my young without nipples, enjoying my unusually large brain, extraordinary privates (look it up), living slow…taking my time, in a largely solitary existence.

I was social distancing before it was cool

So.

We pause to appreciate patient treasures.

The gift of space, to be with only ourselves, to remember who we are. The extra moments captured, held close, by those who love us, and those we love.

There are hopes.

Above all, for health.

But also, gratitude, and grace, for family, community, friends, near and far,

Those who love us.

And those we love.

That this, like all things, is impermanent – and a gentle reminder to always, but especially now

remember the echidna