short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Where the Brave Dare Not Go

With my shoes winged with foreign languages, I have slipped right into the land of the enemy on multiple occasions. I did not fear to run where the brave dare not go for I was well armed. I had clearly been given the gift of words, and ultimately I could speak them in 17 languages. So, it did not matter that over time, the enemy differed. I spent the Cold War with the Russians and Czechs and the more recent hot one with the Arabs on both sides of the Persian (Arabian) Gulf and both sides of the Red Sea. I deftly intertwined myself with the culture and committed myself to helping all of them improve their educational systems. During a ten-year career stint in international educational consulting, I brought the knowledge of the Americans to Russia, the knowledge of the Russians to Brazil, the knowledge of the Brazilians to Bahrain, the knowledge of the Bahraini to Cambodia, the knowledge of the Cambodians to Austria, and so on through 24 nations.

What I brought and how I helped varied by country. In Uzbekistan, for example, I helped build a state-of-the-art English language program in Tashkent. I trained K-12 teachers in Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara, traveling across the country on the old silk route from China, a road lined with winter-bare mulberry trees, their crotches cocooned in silk. The driver assigned to me and I shared the road with camels, donkey carts, 1930-style bicycles, motorcycles, modern cars, and oil tankers. Sometimes we had right-of-way, but more often, they did. In Samarkand, I lectured to the faculties of mathematics and foreign languages at Samarkand State University. In Bukhara, I explained to a teenage tour guide with limited experience in silk processing how silk is woven (I quickly saw the parallels with weaving wool; something I was familiar with from my summers of textile-mill work). During my days in Uzbekistan, I worried along with new-found friends that the further drying up of the Aral Sea, graphically represented by the unused irrigation canals in Samarkand, would reduce the cotton harvest and undermine the Uzbek economy. On the positive side, I shared pride in the poetry of Alisher Navoi, who published his works 300 years before Shakespeare. Among my most interesting work was assisting the Ministry of Education in developing programs that would later facilitate the re-establishing of Uzbek as a national language. At a federal workshop on the topic, attended by the regional ministers of education, I was the workshop leader and, of course, conducted the sessions in Russian, with a translator standing by to translate the comments and questions of the regional ministers from Uzbek into Russian. I was expected to make a few remarks at the opening session, which was broadcast on national television. I had a friend translate my words from Russian into Uzbek, and I practiced saying them until even the Uzbek janitor could understand me. When I had finished speaking at the opening session, Dr. Yoldashev, then Minister of Education and a bear of a man, stepped over a divider, walked over to the podium, and wrapped me in a bear hug.

In Brazil, I conferred with volunteers working to get 50,000 (!) children with lost interest in school off the streets and into learner-centered programs. In this process, I met a living angel, Dagmar, who founded Casa do Zezhino (Little Joe’s House) to give an alternative future to the children of drug dealers in the favellas (Brazilian-style ghettoes). She, though, was unwilling to be called an angel. She said one had to die for that! On one of my many trips to Brazil, I commiserated with friends when they were robbed in their own home at gunpoint, an all-too-frequent occurrence in the cities that boasted millions of residents for they “boasted” a high crime rate as well. My native language served me well throughout Brazil, as did my cross-cultural flexibility, genuine interest in other ways of thinking and doing, and ability to acquire new languages quickly. I provided seminars to English language programs in a dozen cities, from the Amazon in the North to the capital city of Brasilia in the heartland to the high mountains in the South. In Belem, at the northern tip of the Rain Forest, I learned to tell time not by the clock but by minutes and hours after the daily early afternoon deluge. In exotic Bahia in the East, I wandered through the under-the-city catacombs with an interpreter who knew only one language: Portuguese. In the South, I taught Russian at the Universidad de Rio Grande do Sul. In Rio de Janeiro, I participated in discussions in Portuguese to establish a national language policy, and using both English and Portuguese, I brainstormed with the staff of the SaƵ Paulo superintendent of schools on ways to reduce violence in the schools.

In most countries, I appeared on radio or television and gave interviews to newspaper reporters to help publicize the work of one local organization or government agency or another. Along the way, I developed networks of people to help each other — and often that help extended into areas unrelated to education, such as putting together a physicist from Samarkand with a White-House-sponsored organization that could help him, asking a vice-rector at a Russian university to serve as evaluator of an American government assessment of Soviet foreign-language teaching, and, of course, there was the child artist from Siberia who became part of my family.

Going where the brave dare not go was not without its disconcerting moments. I was abandoned in more than one country when plans for pick-up fell through. Always, though, an unexpected rescuer appeared, sometimes in the most unforgettable way. For example, on one flight to Sao Paolo, Brazil, I sat beside a young businessman named Eddie from Campinas, a town about an hour outside Sao Paolo and ironically the town to which I was headed. When I arrived, the embassy escort was no where to be seen. A call to the embassy’s weekend duty officer brought no elucidation or assistance. I would have to get to Campinas on my own, figure out what hotel I was supposed to be at, and track down the director of the institute I was supposed to be helping — all on a Sunday afternoon and with no contact information. I had only the office phone number of the embassy officer responsible for my trip — and Eddie’s home phone. A little reconnaissance at the airport turned up a bus service to Campinas. Upon arrival, I called Eddie, who was surprised to hear from me so soon but gamely picked me up at the bus station and brought me to his home for dinner with his wife and daughter, where I spent a more delightful evening than I would have spent alone at a hotel. Later in the evening, we called the information number at the institute where I would be working the next day and got the home phone of the director from the recording. Once we called the director, everything was back on course.

Going where the brave dare not go has also not been without moments of danger. Being mugged in Moscow and Amman and even in quiet Urabana, Illinois, where I was tazered by a purse snatcher, made that evident. Fortunately, in all cases, I was not harmed and I had almost no money in the purse — four cents is all the Illinois purse snatcher earned for his efforts. On the positive side, my traumatic experiences earned me a glimpse at police stations and police processes in Russia and Jordan — cross-cultural information I would not otherwise have learned. Interestingly, the small-town Illinois police were far less successful at tracking down the perpetrator, let alone getting my things back, than were the Moscow militsiya (police force) in a city of 13 million.

(Note: As you read this post, I am working on being prepared for my next risk, to take place in a month or so, the details of which I will share with you after the fact, for reasons of safety.)

This excerpt is adapted from my book, Blest Atheist (MSI Press, copyright 2009).


  1. May the Lord continue to watch over you and keep you safe....

  2. Thanks, Karen. He has never let me down in that regard!

  3. Goodness, so much to catch up on in your life!! Thank you for visiting and commenting on my "Moon" post. I know the Lord will be your sidekick in whatever you do and wherever you go. Hugs, Kerrie

  4. Hi Kerrie, good to hear from you again. I thought I lost you when Blest Atheist was hijacked. Then I found you again online, and here we are! Have a blessed Sunday!

  5. Hi there, Thank you for your sweet comment on my blog and for visiting. Your life sounds exciting and quite an adventure. I want to read more of your testimony-I am married to an unbeliever and want to see how the Lord reached your heart. Also was raised a Catholic.
    Travel mercies on your upcoming trip.

  6. God bless you and protect you Elizabeth


  7. Hi NanaNor, thanks for stopping by and for your good wishes. Re my testimony, you can read the full story on My husband remained an agnostic for quite some time, but God brought him around, too. You can read about that in this post:

    Ron, thank you. Blessings!

  8. Grace and peace, always!
    I want to congratulate your blog.
    Begin to follow from now.
    I invite you to visit my blog: comment, critique, enjoy ...
    I remember on my blog have a translator for the English. (If you do not speak Portuguese).

    In Jesus, who is the true path.

    Sandro Duarte (from Brazil)

  9. Obrigada, Sandro. Fallu Portugues (um pouco -- mas nao muitto bem). Eu seu seguidor.


About Me

My photo
I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.