Whatever is Lovely

We just finished our third week of school and it has been one of the best organized start ups I’ve ever been part of.  This is Allan’s third year as director and there is a thing about the third year at something.  It’s when you reach cruising speed and really start to get payoff for the difficult work of the start up phase.  All constituents of the school seem to be extremely happy and on board with the school’s direction.

When we cancelled school at noon last Friday because of a scheduled protest at the U.S. Embassy, across the street from the school, we hastily grabbed a few things and headed out to start the weekend a few hours early, giddy to enjoy what I call football weather:  sunny and cool.  We kept tabs on the embassy protest through the news agencies, never considering the embassy fortress with its maximum security walls and marines on duty could be penetrated.  We were stunned to see that a protester got to the flag pole, took down the American flag and raised the black flag of the Salifist Islamic party.  Hearts sank as a little later we heard that the recreation center area, which houses a pool facility and gym that we share with the embassy, was on fire.

But then the unthinkable happened.  This angry mob that had now swelled to around 1,000 people headed toward our school.  They breached our security fence and began what would be several hours of burning classrooms and looting them of every item of value.  Computers, band instruments, running shoes, nothing of value was overlooked.  Our school guards had to flee in fear of their lives and repeated, desperate pleas to the police and military to intervene produced no response for about three hours, enough time to finish off our campus.  Young looters casually walked away their arms loaded with booty.

Facing the devastation of a place we have poured our hearts into is crushing.  Lying awake a night wondering why the Tunisian government provided no support is haunting.  What does that mean?  Where do we stand?

Grief has these predictable stages.  Denial is always first and we were certainly in that state all through the first night and then the acceptance set in and so did the mourning.  Saturday, we faced reality either visiting school or scrolling through pictures on Facebook  trying to figure out whose classroom the charred remains represented.  There were constant phone calls and emails from friends in Tunisia and around the world to offer condolences and help to rebuild.

But anger is the next stage and I understand it.  Some people have begun to refer to our Tunisian hosts as “these people”.  Evidence of bad behavior from reckless driving to maids that finger items from their employers is lumped together with this event and drawn into a generalization .  I don’t think so many people believe it was motivated by righteous indignation for Islam, but was more of a misdirection of attitudes toward America, founded or not, coupled with the opportunity to steal some stuff.

I’m not angry.  I don’t know who to be angry at.  Educated, thoughtful Tunisians like our coworkers and landlords have been expressing their own frustration and humiliation over the behavior of a non representative minority who have now set back economic development in this country at least another year or two.  Who wants to come here and open a business if they can’t count on the government to help protect them and if there isn’t a good quality international school for their children to attend?

This morning my front gate bell rang.  I wasn’t expecting anyone and when I asked who it was, a man answered timidly, in French, but I couldn’t understand him so we stood there for a full minute, quietly breathing on either side of the gate until my son came down and told me he was expecting a man bringing a bass bow for him to borrow.  We opened the gate and there was a lovely man with a treasure for Anton.  I said to him with a little French and a little English, “I’m sorry, we’re scared.”

He said back to me in his broken English, “We’re embarrassed.”

I’m looking in my heart, in my true feelings, and I’m not actually scared, not in a big sense.  The government protection wasn’t there for us this time, but we have strong reasons to believe they are committed to our presence here and they will try to do much better.  The looters were a bunch of bored young men who saw a chance to make a few dinars selling a trombone at the Frip, the public flee-market, on Sunday.  The Salifists, the conservative Muslims who got this started, are difficult, but I think that going way too far this time may have forced our newly elected Islamist party to draw a line with them and begin to be less vague about how conservatively they intend to run this country.  It may have forced a good conversation by setting a bad precedent.

It’s going to be a week of confronting ugliness.  Kids will be out of school for at least a week while we roll up our sleeves, clean up what we can salvage, and determine what services we can offer.  It is going to be physically and emotionally draining so I am taking today to tend to myself and our home.  I want to go into the week in good health with love for the community and reserves to offer those who need them from me.  As per my ritual, I went to my corner produce vendor this morning and filled my shopping bags with beautiful fruits and vegetables from the Tunisian countryside.  Tunisia isn’t all broken, it’s really just our international community at the moment.  We don’t need to live like we are hostages; we’re really not and in so many ways, nothing is different from the way it was last Friday morning.  This cornucopia of beautiful produce is symbolic to me of all of the good things and people I so love here and it reminds me that I have the strength to start this all back up again.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8, NIV

60 thoughts on “Whatever is Lovely

  1. I’m happy to hear you are safe. After the events in Nepal in April 2006 and now this, I don’t think there is a situation that you and Allan cannot face together. At interviews in the future, if you are ever asked what challenges you have faced as a teacher, you will leave them speechless. Good luck with the clean up.

  2. Thank you for your kind – reflective thoughts & loving encouragement. Our prayers from Bellingham continue to surround you as you go about your next steps.

  3. Very beautifully put, Julie. We are thinking about you and send you all our love and strength. We have no doubt that you, Allan and the rest of the wonderful community at ACST will have the school back on its feet again very soon.

  4. Julie, that was beautifully said. You have expressed my exact sentiments for Tunisia and the unfortunate situation at the school. We are all thinking of you.

  5. Thank you for your thoughts, especially those words from scripture. As an American, and with a daughter in Tunisia, I am hoping and praying for a lasting peace, a strong but fair government, and perseverance for all those that believe in treating each other with dignity and respect.

  6. A nightmare for any international school and teaching family. Trying to understand without becoming bitter is a noble way to recover from this tragedy. Best wishes to you all during this trying time.

  7. Wow. Just, wow. We’re over here in Jordan but have friends at your school. We’ve all been following the news and thinking of you. Best of luck as you start to rebuild.

  8. We are thinking of you and your colleagues here In Saudi Arabia. Scott Haan who used to work in Tunis shared some the news through one of your colleagues. Hang in there, and as you said you need to move forward as hard as this sounds.

  9. This was beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing this. You are all in our thoughts and prayers. We here are quietly hopeful that the ugliness of extremism will dissolve as more people become aware of the manipulation of their deen for the political and financial profit of a few. God bless, isA all will be well.

  10. May God bless your efforts in clean-up and forgiveness. I share your love for Tunisia and Tunisians. May the mercy be great for them all. May you also be greatly strengthened.

  11. Good on you for taking the time to take us through your experience and share how you’re keeping fear at bay. All my best thoughts are with you and everyone there as you move through this setback. I’ll think about this very admirable blog for a long time. Thank you and very best wishes from Amman.

  12. This blog post was absolutely amazing. You are amazing. Thank you so much for everything you’ve written.

    Like Donna, above, we are over in Chengdu, China, and have friends at your school. I have watched the videos of the breach in horror and grieve for my friends whose children are now on official departure orders. My heart goes out to your entire school community. May your optimism be infectious. I hope you find blessings at every turn as you rebuild. Thank you so much for your faith and perseverance.

  13. I taught at another American School in the Middle East and can only imagine the pain and sadness that would come from seeing it attacked and looted with so much promise for a school year ahead. I am grateful nobody was hurt in the event and I wanted to say that this is beautifully written with a great scripture reference to focus on. Praying that what is rebuilt is stronger and better – that good comes pouring out of what was meant for evil. Stay safe.

  14. As always gentle, dignified and thoughtful…..you give others the strength to pull through with openness, respect and kindness……wishing all of you the very best.

  15. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Our thoughts are with the ACST community and the rest of Tunisia as the next few days, weeks, and months approach. In many ways, it explains the love and frustrations that many of us face in so many different countries.

  16. A friend here in Sri Lanka just shared your blog with me and I can’t thank you enough for this post. We have been dreaming of our upcoming post to Tunis for July 2013, our onward assignment from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Imagine our shock and sadness while following the news last week. Tunis was our number 1 choice of 36 possible assignments. I can’t describe how we felt knowing that the wonderful school our children are to attend next fall was being burned and looted. We are so unsure now what will happen to our assignment but hoping against all hope that things return to ‘normal’ there and that we can safely arrive next summer. So sorry for the loss there. I will be checking in here regularly now. Thank you.—- Carrie

  17. Thank you, Julie, for sharing your words and thoughts during this emotionally taxing and confusing time. ACST is fortunate to have you and Allan (we knew that before!) and we are certainly watching and keeping in touch from over here in Brisbane. We miss you all and feel so sad that all that we worked to build together has been ‘broken’. Please keep us in the loop of the progress to heal.
    Sheila, Ian, Holly and Lauren xx

  18. It is very easy to get caught up in the negative when something like this occurs. Your comments are so full of love and grace. Thank you for the reminder to take pleasure in the simple things in life.

  19. Thank you for taking time to give perspective to a situation that many find frightening and angering. Your words shed so much light on the complexities of living as a guest in another country, esp. when things go “awry”, no matter what those things are. Prayers!!!

  20. Hi Julie. I’m an international school teacher in Hong Kong. My colleague shared this link with our faculty. I am certain that the American community (and others connected to the school) have every reason to be upset and angry. I do hope, for their own health and well-being, that your message and attitude is embraced by others in your community. What an amazing way to deal with such a difficult situation; what an example of grace in the face of adversity.

  21. Lucy Witkop, LaCrescenta , CA – Press on and Carry On…God has much in store for those who TRUST in HIm. What a beautiful story! God in all of His Glory shows up in ways we never Dream of! Whatever is Lovely, whatever is pure, whatever is just! “God is GREAT! and Greatly to be Praised”… in ALL that happens!
    My prayers are with you all as you all start to clean up,rebuild, and find your way through destruction, pain, and sadness, but may you also find peace, hope, and God’s goodness to continue you great work!

  22. Beautifully written. Please let it be known that even though the schools looting and burning didn’t make headline news here in the U.K prayers were said for Tunisia and ACST on Sunday in our church. God bless you all there. Peace x

  23. Julie, I wonder if an adapted version of this would be accepted in NYTimes or some other big paper. It is an important and poignant story which would be a blessing for many to read.

  24. I am so sorry that you all went through this. The new school year should be one of joy and promise, not theft and destruction. I do pray that you will be able to offer some services to your students because the best place they can be is together, as a community, getting through this and learning from it, as long as they can be kept safe. Your school and its families are in my thoughts and prayers.

    Currently living in Cairo
    Former parent of SAS and ISKL students

  25. My wife and I were teachers at the Hong Kong International School, and we want to send our sincere best wishes and prayers to support your work. Thanks for sharing this report and thank you for your resolve.

  26. You’ve put all our sentiments, thoughts, strength and love into words. I’m sure that the ACST community will wither this crisis and come out even better. We are all really proud of all that Allan and your family have done.

  27. Dear Julie, we’ve never met, but a friend of mine shared your entry on Facebook. As a Northwestern expat/food lover living in the Middle East, I can tell I’m going to have to start following your blog. As an American worried about friends and colleagues in the region, I appreciated this thoughtful post. I saw some pics of damage at the Embassy that were sad enough–especially seeing the cars of Tunisian staff that went up in flames–but it’s heartwrenching to think about the school as well. It is good to remember that these mobs don’t represent a whole country just as a we would like people to realize that an online movie doesn’t represent ours. Thank you.

  28. Dear Ms. Brady,
    I just read your blog about ACST and while it breaks my heart that this awful attack took place, your positive, open- minded reaction and outlook are truly admirable. I went to ACST from January 1984- June 1990, when I graduated from grade 9 and moved back home to Cairo and have been living here ever since. Obviously our Arab countries have been tumultuous and undergoing major changes in the last couple of years, and we Egyptians, like most Arabs, are patiently, hopefully “waiting to see” what will come of these changes and revolutions. To generalize Egyptians, Tunisians, Arabs or Muslims is unrealistic and ignorant, no matter what the circumstances. Obviously the educated, clear-headed and religious (in the true sense of the word) Arab Muslims are appalled by these or any attacks on human beings, properties or beliefs. Your realistic, educated and understanding view of these attacks on ACST are awe- inspiring and I do hope your level headedness spreads to others. Over the past years, I have silently watched many (but definitely not all!) expat friends who I went to school with over the years in Syria, Tunisia and Egypt coil back into narrow minded and cruel generalization, joinIng the ignorant masses who have never visited our countries or known our people. I feel for your frustration, fear, anger and grief but mainly I am thankful that it has not caused you to lose trust and faith in the people you have known and have been living with for years. I truly believe that ignorance, and classifying people as “us” and “them” is the greatest vice of our current day and age as it imposes differentiation, fear and mistrust that rarely exist.
    I pray that you will stay safe, spending more happy years in Tunisia and other Arab countries and that you will continue to emit this wonderful humanity and open-mindedness. God willing, the clean up of ACST will be easier than expected and this will soon be just a memory of bad days that have passed.

    Best of luck,
    Hebba Kamel

  29. As a former ACST member my thoughts and well wishes are with all of you. Thank you for the compassionate response to such an uncharacteristic display of the Tunisia that I love and remember so fondly.

  30. May God grant you strength and serenity to face the days ahead and may you continue to be a light to those who need you. You are in my prayers. May God bless you, your family, and your community.

  31. Thank you so much for your beautiful words. Continuing to hold on to our incredible memories of Tripoli. . . Best wishes for recovery for you and for the school.
    BJ Diller, First Grade Teacher, American Cooperative School Calvert, La Paz, Bolivia

  32. Have you seen the Youtube video. It is most disturbing. That such a thing can be produced and sent out to the world is a tragedy. To blame America for it is a second tragedy. To use it to incite mobs is a third. That innocents are harmed and good will damaged is a fourth. That your lives are turned upside down and the lives of students, is almost too much. We evacuated ourselves and kids from Tunisia in January 1991 and it caused lasting hurt and lost of innocence. Protect your kids and show them the bounty of good relations. Help them sort this out with Tunisian friends. This too shall pass. And good luck,
    Peter Delp

  33. A a former teacher at international schools and now a Foreign Service spouse, I want to thank you for being eloquent and hopeful. I pray for you and all those caught in the events of the past couple of weeks.

  34. I read your words and could not find any hanger only hope .thanks. … I grew up in Tunisia and attend French school there ,my best memory remain in Tunis with his diversity of culture .in the Lycée Carnot , we were French ,Tunisian,Italian,Spanish so many confession too Muslims ,jewish Christian leaving together with great respect of each other. Tunisia has overcome so many changes and will find in her roots the strengths to go over this one too.thanks for your lesson of love.

  35. Hi Julie, I just wanted to say I found It very comforting to read your thoughts about this situation, the help and leadership you are providing, and the great people you are working with. Thank you!

  36. Julie,
    Thank you so much for your poignant words. I have shared your blog with our faculty here at Hong Kong International School, and we are using an excerpt in our advisory classes for our Middle School students to reflect on. Yours is such a powerful message on how to avoid prejudice of many due to the actions of a few. The American Cooperative School of Tunis community are in our thoughts and prayers.

  37. Hello. I do not know you, but I met Allan via a Skype interview during our superintendent search at the American School of Bombay a couple of years ago. I was particularly interested to meet him then, as my husband and I had both been Peace Corps Volunteers in Nepal in the 1980s, and so I have always felt an immediate bond with anyone with a connection to Nepal.

    I was so shocked to read Allan’s name in the news story when I first read about what happened at ACST; and, as we now live in Cairo, I can relate well to your experience and feelings – though what you all have experienced is so much more challenging than what I personally experienced here. I deeply appreciate your grace and the power of your message of forgiveness, understanding, and perspective. It is so important for people to hear and take in that what has occurred is not representative of entire populations. I too, after the events at the Embassy in Cairo, had people tell me, “we hate what has happened here; this is not us.” I knew that implicitly; but it was also so poignant and important to have it said directly to me by my Egyptian neighbors.

    What a powerful moment for you and Allan, and your school community – I hope that you are able to rebuild and renew and become once again the vibrant, engaging, unique community that international schools always are.

    Best wishes from Cairo!

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