UB Lessons: Taking Hard Things a Day at a Time

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Happy Sunday! And to all my American readers, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. As close as we are to the US, Bahamians are well acquainted with your grateful feast. Many restaurants and families organise Thanksgiving meals, but it’s by no means the big deal that it is for you, and definitely not a holiday. For plenty of people the day passes like any other, as it did for me this year. The date barely registered for me, and if it weren’t for instagram I probably would’ve had no idea. I’ve eaten no turkey or mashed potatoes, no pie or green beans – it was just a Thursday in my world.

Well, not any Thursday – the last one of my semester! I have final papers to mark now, but the teaching part of this term is o.v.e.r. I am so happy, as well as proud and thankful. I won’t say that the time flew by, because I felt every day of the last 14 weeks, but I do look back in satisfaction at how far I’ve come.

In the beginning, the close of the semester seemed like a horizon stretched out in front of me – far away at the end of my vision, out of reach. Learning how to manage each classroom, brainstorming activities to keep my students engaged and interacting with one another, planning how to actually deliver the material, and marking, I was swamped. On top of figuring out how to teach, there were many admin and/or tech related issues to resolve; as soon as I settled one another took its place. Focusing on the end of the semester didn’t give me any relief, it just made me feel tired. I wondered how I was going to make it to the finish line, and what state I’d be in when I got there.

Instead, it was more productive for me to consider my work in small chunks, taking the semester one class at a time. I celebrated at the end of every week and as time went on I became more comfortable at the front of the classroom. Many of the side issues went away, and for the ones that didn’t I found workarounds. Now here I am, having taught a semester of college! I handed out surveys in my final classes and the students all reported greater confidence since they’ve learned things, so that’s marvelous haha.

I’m sharing my accomplishment to encourage you in whatever hard season you might find yourself: this too shall pass! Maybe thinking about the end isn’t helpful because there’s so much to do between now and then; taking things a day at a time might be a better strategy. Then one day you’ll look up and realise – hey! I’m doin this thing! – and a few days after that you’ll look up and say – hey! I’ve done this thing!

I’d feel silly sometimes about being frustrated and upset, knowing that 14 weeks isn’t long, and there were surely people with much bigger problems in much longer seasons of difficulty. But it was still my season, new and hard to me, and I still had to work my way through it. It’s important to keep our problems in perspective, to recognise our privileges and luxuries, but not as a way to dismiss how we’re doing. And in whatever difficulty we’re having, breaking things down into smaller pieces, moving through with a view to steady improvement and skill development, our mountains can become molehills. Or maybe not, but we’ll certainly climb them. 😉

Forgive me for that corny analogy. I’ve gotta go mark now.

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Freestylin On My Birthday!

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Photo by Lucy Heath on Unsplash

It was my birthday last week! I had an amazingly joyful day, spending time with friends and family, baking and keeping myself amped up with cheers and freestyle raps. Yes, you read right! Driving to my dad’s house for dinner after work, and then at my dad’s house getting ready for dinner, I was coming up with rhymes about it being my birthday. That was pretty much as deep as they got haha. Here’s one that stuck with me:

Bakin’ chocolate cookies
Eatin’ chocolate cake
And she celebratin’
Because she’s 28!!
28 yup! 28 yup!!

Now imagine appropriate arm movements and head gestures, plus some jumping around, and you’ve got a better idea of how said rap was performed. I had so much fun. I was loud. I felt free. I just let everything else go and focused on the fact that I was alive and had a whole day to celebrate.

The day started off just fine, more on the low-key side. Then somewhere around mid-afternoon it was like a switch went off in my head. I don’t remember there being much of a coherent thought process, but I felt an urgency to be enthusiastic, and grateful, and to create more excitement for myself. It was my birthday! Who better to feel it than me?? So I started, and once I got going there was no dampening the turn up.

It’s been a few years since I was that amped about my birthday, but I plan to continue this trend in the future. Aside from making my day even more enjoyable, it was a chance to just be and tap into the spontaneous, exuberant side of myself. Days like my birthday remind me that even being fluid and carefree can involve conscious decisions.

Anyway, I know you can’t hear my actual birthday rap performance, but I can leave you with one of my favourite songs of late. I love to dance to this one, and often dream of learning the choreography. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and have a great week!

Introducing the Tines that Bind

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Hello! How are you this fine Sunday? It’s fine in The Bahamas anyway. And I have a little extra pep in my step thanks to the time change. You too? This extra hour will soon be lost in the whole ‘shorter day’ thing, but right now it’s making a world of difference.

Remember those times when I mentioned having a new project, and telling you about it eventually? That time is now haha. I’ve started a food blog! It’s called the Tines that Bind, and it explores the way food shapes place and relationships. You can imagine that the first part of my inspiration came because I love food. The second part came from loving this (Bahamian) landscape, this community, and wanting to make it real to non-Bahamians.

The Bahamas isn’t just a tourist destination. People – I – live the mundane and the frustrating and the joyful here too. I hope that in sharing recipes and talking about the everyday things that becomes clearer to readers around the world. Moreover, I consume a lot of food media and have often wondered where ‘my’ voice was in the conversation, why people weren’t talking about the food that I see around me and grew up eating. Initially I figured someone more qualified would get to it at some point, but then I realised since I was the one wondering I could also be the one writing!

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I went to an exhibition opening at our national art gallery over the summer. During the artists’ talk one of them said that there’s something about our (Bahamian/Caribbean) landscape that erases us as people in the psyche of everyone else in the world. That’s the poetic version of what I’m talking about. I felt people around me nodding in agreement, and I know at least one other person wrote his statement down. We want to feel seen, and taken seriously, and not just because we have lovely places for you to stay or have your destination wedding.

As I travel I plan to include food stories from the places I visit as well. The word tines refers to the prongs on a fork (or animals’ antlers) and in the bigger picture I’m thinking about how food is one of the great equalisers. We all have to eat! Whether we live in a powerful city or dreamy paradise. We all have different customs around preparing and eating food. I’m excited to learn some of these traditions and then share them on my blog.

So there you have it! The project I’ve been working on for the last few months. I hope you’ll go and check it out, and maybe become a follower! I still plan to write here, although I’m not sure what that’s going to look like in the long term. I do know that I love how easy and relaxing it is. On an ideal day, I wake up on a Sunday morning excited to write something, and then after an hour or so I’m done. I look for a photo from my gallery or on the web and then come back a few hours later to reread and post. Voila! TiB (Tines that Bind) isn’t nearly as simple. In fact, for any professional and/or veteran bloggers who may be reading, I’d appreciate any tips you have!

Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week. I hope to see you on the TiB side of things! 🙂

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UB Lessons: On Being Less Judgemental

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Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

I have four more weeks of teaching left in this semester, and if you ask anyone who knows me they’ll tell you I can’t wait. This has been a challenging position in so many ways, and at the end of each week I breathe a sigh of relief and say a prayer of thanks that I made it.

Issues regularly crop up in every corner: administratively, technologically, logistically and interpersonally. I have a mixed bag of students: some older than me, though most of them are younger; first years and students ready to graduate; singles, married people, more parents than I expected; and they all have quite different levels of ability. On top of all that, although I’m teaching one course, one section meets in the morning and the other in the afternoon, and they have completely different vibes.

One thing that’s stood out to me in the last few weeks is how well some of my students are managing their private difficulties. You wouldn’t know it from their behaviour in class, but some of them are going through really trying times – those major life experiences that can derail you or cause long ‘delays’ as you work your way through them.

I get a glimpse into their personal struggles when they need to explain absences or ask for flexibility with assignments, but if it weren’t for that I’d be like any other student in the class – oblivious. I wonder about the students that don’t know,  that are wrapped up in their own worlds. They have opinions about their classmates, I can guess at some of them from comments and body language, and they’re based on the somewhat shallow interactions they have with each other every week. Maybe they think that students who are regularly absent are lazy or disorganised; maybe they assume that students who don’t speak up in class don’t take the course seriously or aren’t prepared for the lesson. None of these assumptions would be correct.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. It’s a reminder for me to give more grace to the people that I meet. Not necessarily to give them a free pass to do poor work, or excuse them if they’re behaving badly, but just to be kinder in general and more forgiving when things go wrong. Even with people that I interact with on a semi-regular basis, I hope I can be more gentle and less judgmental – I don’t know everything about them, after all.

Despite being the kind of truth that we grasp on an intuitive level – we aren’t sharing everything that’s happening with each person we encounter – it is so easy to forget. I hope this post is a nudge for you to refresh your attempts at being broad-minded. I’d also love to hear if you’ve had any interactions lately that have brought this truth back to the front of your mind as well!

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Blessed Assurance, Because He Ascended

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I’m at the end of my day and am just setting aside a moment to blog. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write about so I thought I’d take a look at the daily prompt and respond quickly to whatever it is. The word for today is ascend.

The first thing – or person – that comes to mind after reading that word is Jesus, who ascended into heaven (and is seated at the right hand of the Father… the rest of the Nicene creed has now jumped into my mind too). I am so thankful for my Saviour and king, who is the reason I live and move and have my being. Without him I would have nothing, and because I have him I lack nothing; in fact, I have every good thing.

I memorised Psalm 16 earlier this year because it’s become one of my favourites. The second verse says: ‘I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”‘ I am so often tempted to think that once better things come to me in the future my life will also become better; I am tempted to feel that I am waiting and working for those good things. Verse two reminds me that I have all the good I could ever need or want because I call Jesus Lord. No earthly wealth or relationships can compare to knowing God and finding my joy in him. As much as I might find happiness with my family and friends, and from the comfort that money can buy, as much as they might make me feel secure, they really just point to the ultimate satisfaction and security I have in God.

That is really an incredible concept, and one – as I said – I am still learning. But I do have so much joy and peace because of God. I see his creativity and brilliance in nature; his love in the countless ways he is gracious to me; his generosity in the humbling, inspiring things about humanity, like art and music; and I am thrilled whenever I learn something new about him and his attributes. He is awesome! A good, good father, and so much more. At the end of the day, I can rest knowing that my value comes from being loved by God. I have no reason to worry, or to fear, or to feel inadequate. I should think less about myself and more about others because my future is secure, and God’s goodness is overflowing in me. I am eternally, immeasurably loved.

Fighting Fear, Being Generous

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Roseau, Dominica – AP Photo/Carlisle Jno Baptiste

Just after Hurricane Irma bullied its way through, Hurricane Maria ravaged Dominica, our neighbour to the south. The death toll is 27, with many more missing. Most of the buildings are destroyed, and the natural landscape is brown and broken, nothing like the lush green paradise that inspired the nickname Nature Isle. At the beginning of the summer I made a friend from Dominica who lives in Jamaica. He took an arduous 3 day journey to get back to his island – the last leg by boat from St. Lucia – and told me about the “total devastation” he found there. Busy with affairs on the ground, and working around spotty communication services, I didn’t get much more than that and an “it’s terrible”. I can hardly imagine how he must feel.

Dominica is very much in the thoughts and prayers of many Bahamians, not least because when we were struggling after Hurricane Matthew they gave us US$100,000. We have offered assistance from our Defence Force, and our Prime Minister has also pledged that we will accommodate Dominican students in our public and private schools.

On this point, too many Bahamians are struggling. They are crying poor mouth and criticising the government for wanting to assist foreigners when we don’t have our own house in order. They ask: What about our students, in overcrowded, under-resourced classrooms? What about our Family Island residents who need jobs and whose islands are recovering from Hurricanes Irma, Matthew and Joaquin? What about ‘choose another problem’?

On the surface, these are valid concerns, and I understand the practicality behind them. People would like to know the details of how we will accommodate the students and possibly their parents. At their root though, these questions are based in fear. Fear that we don’t have enough for ourselves to commit to sharing, fear of being uncomfortable as we extend our hands to others. We want to be certain the timing is right, but if we waited for timing before we helped anybody we would be sitting on our hands for eternity.

The Bahamas is more than four times the size of Dominica, population-wise. Economists use GDP to discuss the financial health of different nations, and if you compare our two, The Bahamas’ USD9 billion is 18 times Dominica’s USD500 million. Scaling figures to the per capita level paints a more helpful picture, and here we see our per capita GDP is $23,124 vs Dominica’s $7,144. Yet Dominicans managed to reach into their pockets and give us $100,000 – that I’m sure wasn’t just lying around on the table – and at the same time donate the same amount to Haiti. If we were to give them the same percentage of our GDP we would be sending them a cheque for $180 million.

So what happen to my people? I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said, but we love to talk about being a Christian nation and this response is anything but. Who hasn’t heard some message about how God spared us from this or blessed us with that? That same good God commands us to give, expects us to give and blesses us when we give. The Macedonians famously gave out of their poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). But you don’t need to be a Christian to see generosity as a virtue, or to believe in reaping rewards for loving behaviour. What kind of reputation do we want to have, regionally and beyond? Do we want to earn another mark in the column labelled stuck-up and unCaribbean?

These are the moments that allow us to determine the kind of nation we want to be, where we can do more than make pretty speeches and have earnest conversations. The choices we make set precedents, will be recorded in history books for our great-grandchildren to study. I am thankful for the compassion of our Prime Minister, and support the decision that he made on my behalf. I want our Bahamas to be known for kindness, helpfulness and openhandedness, and this is a step in the right direction.

On Hurricanes

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Bahamians spent most of the last week talking about and preparing for Hurricane Irma. We were getting ready for an apocalyptic-level storm, and (most) everyone was taking it very seriously. Our government evacuated people in the southern islands, who were forecast to be the worst hit. Schools and businesses on New Providence, in the northwest and home to the capital, closed as early as Wednesday evening, though they weren’t meant to start feeling the hurricane until Friday. Hurricane prep takes time, and no one had an excuse not to be ready.

Thankfully, the events over the weekend have felt more like a hiccup, and we were spared the devastation experienced by islands like St. Martin and Barbuda. This was the first time I was home for a hurricane in a few years, and it got me thinking about my more dramatic storm experiences.

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My earliest (storm) memory is of Hurricane Floyd. I was 9, and my family still lived in a condo complex, next door to my best friend. My youngest brother wasn’t born yet. I remember our condo was very dark because of all the shutters up, and that for hours all we could do was imagine what was going on outside, with the wind whistling, rain falling and mysterious things crashing. After the storm passed, my siblings and I walked through our complex with our dad, in awe of the flooding, the sand, the downed trees. I can still see my sister (or brother)’s red rain boots, splashing through the dirty water.

Michelle
Michelle came not too long after Floyd, and she was a doozy as well. By this time though we lived in a house and had much more space to play during the hurricane. Again, most of our house was in darkness because of shutters, but upstairs our two bedrooms were a little brighter since their windows, at the front of the house, were uncovered. My siblings and I ran back and forth between our bedrooms, watching the wind batter the trees from the second-storey windows. The family before us left behind a yellow box in the front yard, covering some small machine or appliance. The wind picked it up and tossed it all across the lawn; it ended up in pieces. Some trees blew over too, and there was generally debris everywhere, much like Floyd. I remember being thankful that we had a generator because of how long the power was off, and playing plenty of board games.

Frances and Jeanne
I don’t remember going through these storms, but I do know they were bad for The Bahamas. I think they both pummeled Grand Bahama, an island in the north, and possibly did major damage elsewhere too. They must have been kinder, if you can say that, to my island though, which is why I don’t remember them.

On top of these four, there was a hurricane somewhere around the end of high school, or in college, where all my cousins and siblings spent the weekend together at one of our homes (or maybe it was Frances or Jeanne?). We kept one another entertained, and afterward my uncle put us all to work cleaning up the many downed trees, tons of leaves and other debris from the yard. We filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, dove to retrieve foreign objects from the bottom of the pool, swept water and wiped windows. It was a lot of work, even though there were at least 10 of us.

After this was what I believe was Hurricane Sandy, since I spent this one almost alone at my parents’ house, and am assuming my cousins and siblings were back at school. I whiled away much of the time on the phone with the guy I was dating. I stayed in my darkened room, reading and texting him, reading and calling him. Every now and again I’d head down to the kitchen for a snack. The storm itself wasn’t very exciting, but I did enjoy having that guy to talk to and to keep me company.

This weekend, for Irma, I spent the time marking essays, getting ahead with other work and tidying my room. Yesterday my family and I watched the US Open women’s final. The weather was windy and grey, but Irma ended up passing us by and we were spared her terrible force. To every reader in a hurricane zone, I pray that we can all get through the rest of this season in an equally quiet fashion. I pray too that everyone whose lives have been dramatically altered by Harvey and Irma can return to a semblance of normalcy soon.