Saturday, December 24, 2011

...a holiday wish

Sunday, December 18, 2011


While it's true that I traveled half-way around the world to take this job, I am not a world traveler. Sure, I've taken the odd trip here and there, and have been on an airplane or two, but I am not a sophisticated jet-setter by any stretch of the imagination. Flight numbers, terminals, layovers...not things I usually think about. I am also a bit of a scatter-brain at times, and forget about certain details...until too late.  (And I'm afraid I've passed a bit of that gene on to my offspring.)

Nate and Katie are flying in to Abu Dhabi airport tonight.  At 9:40pm. Terminal 3.  And that's all the information I thought to get from Nate about their flight.  I vaguely remember something about a stop-over in Brussels, and he did used the abbreviation "AA" in one of his emails, which I assume stands for American Airlines.

So now I have myself in a bit of a dither.  On top of being extremely excited (and a bit sleep-deprived because of it) I am now as nervous as all get-out that somehow we will miss each other at the airport.  I keep reminding myself that AD Airport is not large.  I will be in terminal 3 in plenty of time and we will find each other. All is well, all is well, and all will be well.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

...adding to the family

Nate proposed to his girlfriend, Suzie, this past week! He was going to ask on New Year's Eve, but he just couldn't wait. I am delighted for the two of them, and happy that I'm going to be a MIL!  Congratulations, Nate and Suzie!!!

...the end of the term

Trimester one is officially over! Halas!  I just spent the last 2 1/2 days in a room with about 45 other Cycle 3 (secondary) teachers, marking the official grade 12 reading and writing exam for the entire Western Region.  Whew!  That was an experience!

On one hand it was very tiring and stressful to read so many essays. Everything is done by hand, and, being human, errors were made.  We had to check, double check, and triple check each other's math skills.

On the other hand, it was nice to get to sleep in (marking was done here in MZ, so I didn't have my usual commute), and fun to interact with teachers from other schools. My neighbor Maddie and I rarely see each other because of our schedules so it was a treat to get to visit with her in between packets of tests.    So now...I am finished with school until January 8, 2012.  Let the fun and relaxation begin!

(Nate and Katie will be here Sunday night and are staying until the 29th.  Yippeeeee!)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I live in a complex referred to as "the new teacher villas." There are "old teacher villas" and "teacher apartments behind the mall" as well.  The distinction is important for giving directions to delivery men since there are no street signs nor house numbers.  There is a lot of construction going on around us. In fact, our buildings are the only completed structures in this block.
Here's the front of our complex--twelve buildings in all.  Pretty nice, right?
This is the other side of the street.  I wish I had started taking pictures of this when we first moved in--they've been trucking right along, and maybe, just maybe, before the year is out, it will be completed.
Fencing off construction sites seems to be important here--whether to keep flying sand to a minimum, block the view to passersby, or to stake out the boundaries of the property, I have no idea.  The sheets of metal make a lovely sound when the wind is howling, though!
This is the view out back--if I stand on the ledge to my patio, this is what I see.  I'm hoping this project goes slowly--I don't want a building obstructing what little view I have! (I like to sit on the ledge in the evening--I can see the lights of Madinat Zayed and hear the call to prayer.)
This is the shortcut I take to walk to town--about a 20 minute walk.  I turned around and snapped this--you can see our villas in the distance.
Still going through the shortcut--sand, sand, and more sand...but look at that blue sky!
I imagine that in a few short years this area will be all built up and landscaped. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

...ladies first

I've mentioned before that men outnumber women here--by a lot.  The majority of those men are laborers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Phillipines. They occupy the lowest rung in the social ladder. 

The lines at the bank machine and in the grocery store grow quite long when the laborers are off work for the day.  I try to run my errands early in the day, but it doesn't always work out.  Sometimes I find myself in line, surrounded by many men.  Sometimes, no matter how much I protest, the men will step aside and motion for me to go ahead of them. At first, I thought this was chivalrous, but a couple of recent incidents have changed my mind.

Last week as I stood in line at the bank machine a man of status came along.  He hollered at the laborers to get out of the way, and made the man using the machine stop his transaction.  He motioned for me to move to the head of the line, all the while grumbling loudly about "these people."  He used the machine before me, then left in a huff.  After that, there was no way that the men would allow me to get back in line where I was.  I apologized, completed my transaction, and left.

A couple of days ago I was in the grocery store at a busy time of day.  As I stood in line a clerk came along and wordlessly took my basket from me.  I followed him, thinking that he was going to open another checkout.  Instead, he put my basket on the belt in front of someone else's things.  The men in line stepped back to allow me in. They had been doing back-breaking labor all day.  I had not.

So why don't I think this is chivalry?  After all, I was allowed to move to the head of the line just because I am a woman. To be chivalrous is to be courteous and generous, especially towards women.    For a couple of reasons.  Both incidents left me feeling embarrassed, with a sick feeling in my stomach.  I wasn't given a free pass to the head of the line because of my gender, but because of my social standing.  If it was chivalry, then the man at the bank machine would have allowed me to use the machine first.  He would have asked the men who had been waiting if they minded.  If it was chivalry, then the men in the grocery store would have invited me to go ahead of them. Instead, they had no choice. 

I have adjusted to many things here, and for the most part, I like it here.  But I hope I don't lose the catch in my belly when people are treated badly.  I hope I don't adjust to classism.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Camels, camels, and more camels.

Feeding time--they were busy chewing their cud.

These are less than a mile from my home.

Mr. Yusef

This guy seemed offended by the silly things I was saying to him.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

...what I miss

Last night I connected with both of my sisters on Skype, and had a good old gab-fest. Arlene was baking in her kitchen and I was ironing clothes--it felt so normal!  Lani just got connected to Skype, so we were excited to hear each other's voice for the first time in months.  It was so good to talk to both of them. Lani asked me if there was anything that I really missed, a certain food item that I couldn't get here.  I couldn't think of anything in particular--there are foods here from around the world, and I am not devoted to any one type of cuisine nor am I picky about brand names.  So what if the mayonnaise is a little different than at home?

However, Lani's question got me thinking about what it is that I do miss.  In no particular order, here is my list:

I miss being able to get coffee at a drive-through coffee shop.  This wasn't something that I did on a regular basis at home, but I could if I wanted to.  There are no drive-through anythings here, as far as I can tell. (Possibly in the city, but here in the rural area...nope.)

I miss riding.  I hopped on a cheap little bike today at a shop and took it for a spin around the parking lot.  Ohhhh,  I miss riding.  I still don't know that I'll get a good bike while I'm here and invest in the clothing and accessories to go with it, but I might just get a little beater for an occasional jaunt around the neighborhood on the weekends. 

I miss my friends. Yes, I am making new friends here, but building deep relationships takes time.  I'm puzzled, and to be honest, hurt, that friends at home have let me go so easily. Out of sight, out of mind?

I miss interacting with men. Oh, there are plenty of men around.  The ratio of men to women is almost 2:1. However, making eye contact or small talk can be interpreted differently than intended. (I thought the young man at the Exchange was being friendly because he's in customer service.  I was being friendly because my money transfer issues were finally being resolved.  His phone call that evening was totally unexpected!) The staff at my school is almost all female--Mr. Wahid and a couple of security guards are the only men around, and our conversations rarely go beyond, "Good morning!  How are you?"

I miss my kids.  I miss being able to text with them whenever I want to.  Even if I were to spring for the fancy (and expensive) phone that would allow me to do so, we'd still have the issue of the time difference. I might just spring for the fancy phone anyway.

I miss impromptu BBQs on the patio with my old neighbors.  I miss hearing Caleb's laugh through the walls and I miss Maria's baking.

I miss patio time, Noodles, and conversations with Jacque.

I miss the inventiveness and silliness of Jadyn and Liam.

I miss being able to make a day trip to visit my folks whenever I want. 

I miss speaking the native language of my students.  I still think in Spanish when trying to help one of my girls whose English is limited.  Spanish isn't going to help, but my brain automatically goes there.

I miss my accumulated classroom "stuff."  (Funny, I don't miss any of my household "stuff.")

I miss feeling confident as a teacher.  I'm working hard, we're having fun, the girls are learning, but...whew.  I haven't been a first-year teacher in many years.

I miss wearing a scarf around my neck because it compliments my outfit, not because it's required. I miss wearing necklaces and pendants.  (I have them, but there's no point since the scarf covers them.)

I miss my 10 minute commute to work every morning.  Audio books are going to be sanity savers on this 45 minute drive.

I miss my hairdresser.  I'm overdue for a cut and color, but don't want to go to the local salon again. We didn't communicate very well the last time.

I miss knowing how, where and when to pay my bills.

I miss the rain.

(A camel picture, just for the heck of it.  Look at the wad of cud in his cheek!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

...going with the flow

There are no substitute teachers here.  If someone is absent, other teachers make sure classes are covered. Right now I am proctoring an exam in the grade 12A classroom.  I'm not sure what the subject is--something that requires calculators, but I don't think it's math class.  The girls are the quietest I have ever seen them, and, since their test is written entirely in Arabic, they can't ask me for help.  As the girls finish they go to the back of the room and sit on the rug with their laptops to work on other assignments. (We were delighted to learn that the internet connection is strong in this room!)

I've mentioned before that the schedule can change on a moment's notice.  National Day is coming up, and there will be a school-wide celebration at a local community hall. I knew this, but what I didn't understand was just how much time would be devoted to practicing dances and presentations.  There is a lot of negotiating and switching of classes going on.  My stress level has risen a little--we just started on the big ECART project for this term, and need to have it finished by the end of next week.  Now I know, for next year, not to start on it so late. On paper, it looked like there was plenty of time to get everything completed.  Obviously, I'm still thinking with my Western brain.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I worried (unnecessarily) that I would have a hard time learning and pronouncing my students names.  Although I'm probably not saying "Qummasha" quite right (there's a gutteral sound that I just can't seem to replicate) learning their names hasn't been an issue, and I'm even starting to learn their nicknames. (Qummasha's is "Gosha.")  They don't seem to have middle names, and they use their father's first name as their last name.

I am "Miss Sue" to them.  In fact, all of the adults are called Mr. or Miss first name.  There was some confusion at the beginning of the school year because the paperwork that our principal received about me listed me as Suzanne Jennifer.  But...there was already a "Susan" working at the school and a "Jennifer."    (There was also a Jane, and her middle name was...Susan.)

Email is non-existent, and there is no intercom. So, if there is a message that needs to get out to all the teachers, the document (sometimes in English!) is brought around by a helper.  We read the message (or get someone to tell us what it says) and sign next to our names.  (Uh oh...but someone already signed for me. Was it Susan?  Jennifer?)

Mr. Wahid and Miss Selma rule the copy machines.  (One out of three is working right now.)  To get copies made, we write our names and the quanitity on the back of the original, then place it on the counter in the copy room. Fortunately, Susan is a cycle 1 teacher (grades 2 and 3) and Jennifer is a KG teacher,  and I am cycle 3 (grades 11 and 12), so our copies usually end up with the right person.  However, if we ask to have a form (that doesn't have any visual clues) copied, there is room for confusion.  Mr. Wahid tried to give me Susan's forms three different times in one day, but I kept telling him they weren't mine.  He solved the problem by putting them on my desk while I was in class!  (Mr. Wahid and Miss Selma are the nicest, hardest working folks in the school.  They now recognize my writing, so there are rarely mix-ups anymore.  The helpers who come around for signatures know me as well, so they no longer insist that I sign in Susan's or Jenn's spot.)

First names (or good names, as they are often called) are used in business as well.  If I call the bank to inquire about something, I identify myself as "Miss Suzanne."  At first I would say my whole name, with emphasis on the surname, as we do at home.  I've learned that it only confuses people, and my first name is all they need.
The view from our office doorway.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

...settling in

I've been here for three months now and am finally starting to feel, not at home exactly, but more settled. It's a good feeling. The Eid al Adha holiday last week helped--we had five consecutive days off from school so I was able to visit Katherine and Jo in Abu Dhabi, do a bit of shopping, and talk, talk talk. It was good to catch up with them, as always.

On Monday I went to one of my student's homes for Eid.  Several girls were there and it was fun to see them in their colorful holiday clothes.  Maitha asked me if I'd like her to decorate my hands with henna.  Of course I said yes!  It was a wonderful day--lots of eating, talking, and laughing.

I spent the rest of the break in total slothdom--I needed the rest, both physically and mentally.  I had brought all my schoolwork home and had great intentions of digging in...but didn't even look at it until Tuesday night.  There were very few students at school on Wednesday, and even fewer on Thursday so we got to go home at 1:30 each day.  It didn't matter that I wasn't as prepared as I had intended.
Yesterday morning I woke up, looked around, and realized that there was nothing pressing I needed to do.  I was rested, so the idea of spending another day just sitting around didn't appeal to me.  The sun was shining, and I knew I'd never sit at the desk and work. (I do need to take some time today to prepare for the week, but the task doesn't seem as daunting as it did a couple of weeks ago.) After putting my laundry out on the patio to dry, I jumped in the car and headed out to explore.  The sand dunes on the way out to the famous Moreeb Dunes are beautiful.

 I took way too many pictures that look much the same, but I couldn't help it--I'd come up over a hill and gasp at the scene below me.  There was a little camel farm around one corner, so I stopped to take pictures.  The caretaker saw me and invited me to come closer.  He and his coworker were friendly and hospitable. They offered me camel milk, which I've been wanting to try. It was sweet and mild--similar to cows milk.  They invited me to come back anytime, and I will take them up on it.  (Nate and Katie, this is one of our destinations in December!)

Thanks to a banker friend back home my money transfer issues have now been resolved. He looked at my receipt and gave me some good information which I was able to share with the teller at the Exchange. It only took four days for the money to arrive--a huge improvement over 1-2 weeks!  {Thanks, Dale!}  Since that is now working, I'm going to give up the quest for online banking.  It has taken too much time and energy, and isn't worth the battle.  I'll just go into the bank from time to time to ask for a statement.  Not perfect, but good enough.
I bought an inexpensive sewing machine last week in AD and made some pillow covers for my living room.  It's starting to feel cozier in here.  :-)

Friday, October 28, 2011

...a lot of

...facial tissue.  It takes the place of napkins in small diners, and paper towels in some restrooms.  Everyone has a box of tissue on their desk, and it is community property.  No need to ask permission to take one, as my students back home used to do.

...keys. Every door of my apartment has several keys dangling from the knob. (Why do I need to lock the bathroom from the outside?)  I have a key to the main entrance, and three keys to my front door.  (I gave one to my upstairs neighbor, just in case.) Even the refrigerator came with a key. 

...plastic page protectors.  Every document that I receive or produce at school goes into a page protector.  Everything my students turn in is in a page protector. loss.  My hair is falling out at an alarming rate here.  Whether due to the desalinated water, or stress, or both, I am not sure. It's stressing me out.

...white cars.  Oh, there's an occasional red or blue car on the road, but 90% of the cars here are white. I drove into AD last weekend and called my friend Jo to let her know I was in the parking lot.  "I'm in a white car," I said.  Oh, wait--so is everyone else!

...Toyota trucks.  It must be a rite of passage to buy boys a small truck on their 13th birthday.  At some point they graduate to a larger truck, then to a huge Landcruiser when they have a family.  Toyota is the make of choice, that's for sure. (And they drive them fast--really fast.)

...sand.  I have a 45 minute commute to school so have lots of time to enjoy the scenery.  There are some hills in Liwa that are beautiful in the early morning light.  I haven't stopped to take pictures because I know that my little camera would never quite capture it.

...water.  I was awakened the other night by the sound of water gushing in my bathroom.  It was coming from the ceiling, so there was nothing I could do but close the door and go back to bed.  Evidently the hose to my hot water heater (which is directly above my tub and directly below my neighbor's upstairs) jiggled loose. It is fixed now.

...chocolate.  There is chocolate here from all over the world.  I have no problem with that.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's 7:30 on a Friday morning--my new Saturday.  I had every intention of sleeping in today, but my eyes popped open at 6:30, and then my monkey-mind engaged.  I've been running on empty lately and really need the rest.  The to-do list for this weekend is long, but in-between "have tos" I'll sneak in some "want tos"  (like blogging) and maybe even a nap or two.  School is stressing me out.  I still don't have a handle on the structure and paperwork, so am playing catch up, while also trying to plan for what's next.  I would love to just be able to teach (and teach what is so obviously needed) but it isn't to be. I am working hard and doing the best I can--that's all I can do.  I've said it before--my students are wonderful girls.  I realized, however, that English class here is like a foreign language class back home--there is no urgent need to learn the language well. They're not leaving school and having to translate for mom at the bank or doctor's office.

My schedule here is very different than it was back home and at first glance it appears to be quite easy.  It isn't.  It's difficult to explain, but I shall try.  Every day starts with assembly (flag salute, national anthem, presentation) at 8:00.  At 8:20 classes begin.  They last for 40 minutes.  There is a morning break of 25 minutes at 10:30, and an afternoon break of 20 minutes at 1:50.  There are nine periods in the day.  For the most part, students stay in their assigned classrooms, and the teachers come to them.

There are a few fortunate teachers who have actual classrooms of their own, and they come to pick up the students when it's time for class.  I teach Grade 11 Art and Grade 12 Art (my co-teacher has the 11 Science and 12 Science classes.) There are eight girls in each class, and I see them twice a day.  For example, every Sunday I have 11A 2nd period and 8th period, and 12A 5th and 6th periods.  Every Wednesday I have 12A 1st period and 7th period, and 11A 4th period and 9th period.  I like the days when I have them two periods in a row--it's a longer chunk of time, and we can get a lot accomplished.  Each day is different.  When I am not teaching I am in the office that I share with five other teachers, although I often slip across to a room called "the resource room" to spread out and connect to the internet.

 It would seem that there is plenty of time during the day to get everything done--teaching four periods out of nine?  Easy!  But, since our schedule is different from day to day, it seems I just get started on something, and it's time to go to class.  I think I mentioned in an earlier post that the schedule can change and we won't find out about it until the girls knock on the office door.  Recently, I had worked all morning on a great lesson--I was going to have 11A for two periods in a row--and I was ready for them.  Just a few minutes before the bell rang, the girls came to tell me that they had to go to the nurse for vaccinations.  So much for that lesson! Once a week I take the girls to the library for free reading.  (More "free talking" going on than reading, but it's a nice change of pace.)  We take turns using the resource room.  (Not many resources in it, but it has big round tables that make group work easier.) My day is Thursday.  I can set up before the girls get there, so it feels more like teaching as I know it. 

Laundry is going, beans are soaking for soup, and I just had a nice Skype visit with my mom.  It's time to get some breakfast and get on with the day.  Sunday morning will be here before I know it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

...a language faux pas

My friend and former ELL teaching partner back home just reminded me of a story I've been meaning to tell.  Some background information:
  • I teach at an all-girls school.
  • The girls here are very sheltered.
  • They are very chatty.
  • Raising my voice only adds to the noise.
I was trying to come up with a signal to get the girls to settle down, so I printed off a sheet with several phrases:
  • Please be quiet.
  • Quiet, please!
  • Hush!
  • Keep it down!
  • Chill!
  • Zip it!
I slipped this into the back pocket on my notebook, and when I wanted their attention would quietly raise it and wait.  For some reason it had the opposite effect than what I was hoping for.  The girls got louder, and laughed and giggled even more.  I got stern with them and told them that when the notebook was in the air, they were to be quiet.  "Now ZIP IT!" I said.  It took a few times for this to happen before I wised up and asked someone what could possibly be so funny about the phrases.

Um, well, yeah..."zip it" sounds like the slang word for a certain male body part in Arabic. Imagine yourself in a foreign language class and having the teacher repeatedly say a certain slang word to you in English.  Needless to say, "zip it" is no longer on my list of phrases. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

...birthday wishes

A very sweet note from one of my new students...that also gives me several clues about what we need to work on this year!  Maitha is always listening and eager to learn.  I hope I can "learn" her a lot! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

...speed bumps

I’ve encountered many speed bumps, both literal and figurative, since moving to Madinat Zayed, being assigned an apartment, and starting school.  While it was wonderful to finally have my own place, it meant that all at once I needed to start cooking for myself, acquire transportation, and buy furnishings. Meanwhile, I also had to learn a new way of “doing school.”  Forget the pipe dream about less paperwork. To my dismay, there is more shuffling of papers here than what I dealt with before. (Be careful what you wish for, right?)  Thankfully, I am at a wonderful school.  The five ladies with whom I share a small office are all very kind and helpful, and I am grateful to have landed among them.  (I have heard stories from other teachers who have not been as fortunate.)
Time is passing very quickly—I can’t believe that we’re already into week seven.  My students are beautiful, intelligent, and kind,  and keep me grounded.  I wish I could do more ESL type activities with them, but the structure of the curriculum doesn’t allow it.  Actually, “curriculum” is a very loose term for what has been provided.  It’s actually more of a framework with criteria, and then we find our own materials that fit the theme.  It was crazy-making to not have internet at home nor a printer at school.  I would search for materials during free time at school (when I could find a quiet corner with a hot spot), try to save what I had found on my laptop, then go home in the evening and reformat and print things off.  It was exhausting.  Now I finally have internet at home and purchased another small printer for school—I almost feel like a real teacher again! I never expected to have to spend my own money on basic materials, but it is worth the peace of mind to be able to do the job.

The road system here is something else.  There are miles and miles of four lane roads, divided by fenced medians down the middle.  Every so often (or not so often!) there is a place to make a U-turn.  To get to school in the mornings I pass it on my left, go for a few more miles, then make a U-turn to return to it.  If you happen to miss the turn-off (as I did one horribly foggy day), you just keep driving several more miles until you reach another U-turn.  The city is laid out the same way.  There are not city blocks as we know them, but long stretches of two or three lanes on each side of the median.   Every major light has a U-turn lane.  Running simple errands after school becomes a chore—having to loop around and around is exhausting.  I’m learning to lower my expectations about what I can accomplish in a given amount of time. I might make a list of four things that I need to do and checking one of them off is considered a success. I mentioned speed bumps (or “humps” as they’re called here).  Every residential area has several humps, and they’re not all uniform in size.  Too often, no matter how slowly I creep over them, the car scrapes on the bottom. (I wonder if the rental company checks for damage there??)

Living in a new country is very different from traveling as a tourist.  It gives me a new appreciation for my former students who had the “deer in the headlights” look for the first few months upon arrival in the US.  Figuring out the banking (online doesn’t work for me, no matter how many times I’ve tried to resolve it), wiring money home (nope, that’s not happening right now either), and making sure that the 6,000 dirham overcharge for the refrigerator is credited to my account all take time and energy. 

In spite of it all, I am glad I came.  This experience is going to make me grow and stretch in ways that I never even thought possible.  If I can do this, then I can do anything.  A few weeks ago I heard that a neighbor of mine packed up and went home already.  It occurred to me that as difficult as this experience is, it has never once crossed my mind to give up and leave.  In spite of the speed humps that often feel like brick walls, in spite of the homesickness and loneliness, I am glad to be here. I am meeting wonderful people and having fun with my students.  I am learning new things at an incredible rate (insurance against Alzheimer’s, if the stress doesn’t kill me first!).  I look forward to next year at this time when it will just seem like business as usual, and not be so overwhelming.
Sunset at the last roundabout, just as I'm getting home in the evening.

P.S.  I forgot to mention...I live in a place where I can buy baklava any time I want, for very little money. Now that's hard to beat! :-)

10/25/11 update: The money that I transferred to my bank back home finally made it.  Whew!  It took much more than "3 days" but it's there.  I was back on the phone last night with the online banking helpdesk, and thought maybe, maybe, this time the issue would be resolved.  One last step was for the technician to transfer me to an automated system and have me follow the steps on the recorded message.  Once he transferred me, that was it--his part was finished and I wouldn't be able to get him back.  I thanked him and waited for the call.  It came through all right...but it was all in Arabic.  sigh.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

...being connected

I was beginning to think it would never happen, but it has.  I finally have internet at home.  There is no rushing things here--they happen when they happen, but that doesn't make the waiting any easier to bear.   I am alive and well, and just a bit frazzled from all the newness. Being able to connect with my family and friends again will help immensely.  Stay tuned for a real blog post soon. In the mean time, here is a camel picture to tide you over:

Friday, September 9, 2011

...what to wear

Ask anyone who knows me well, and they will tell you that I was in a bit of a dither about what to pack before coming here. The question I was most often asked was "will you have to wear a burka?"  My answer was always "no, just long skirts."  Beyond that, I didn't really know.  Information from Teach Away, the recruiting agency, was vague so I talked to my friends who were already here, did some research online and scoured the Teach Away site on Face Book for guidelines.  I bought long skirts, dresses, and jumpers, then fretted about them being loose enough and long enough. I bought one abaya online through East Essence just in case I'd need it.

I got to visit my school yesterday and met some wonderful people with whom I'll be working. So many beautiful scarves and abayas!  The good news is that our principal is liberal when it comes to how we dress. We can wear slacks as long as they are loose and the blouse is long enough to cover the bum. Our dresses and skirts don't have to trail on the floor--it's OK if they hit at the ankle. Our shirts and sweaters can have 3/4 length sleeves. She did tell us to wear a scarf around our necks, just in case men come into the building or someone official comes to visit. It's not her mandate, but comes from higher-ups.

It's a relief to not have to wonder anymore about what to wear. Now I can focus on preparing for the first day. Lesson planning? What's that?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011

...a range of emotions

Things that make me smile:

Yummy snacks with a funny name,
a fish tank imbedded in the wall,
 the children it attracts,
and connecting with family and friends on Skype.

Things that make me laugh:

Sinatra, live, at the Yas Hotel,
 friends who are also easily amused,
and a taxi driver who cranked up his rap music for three middle-aged women, and either had an itch, a twitch, or was gettin' down to the music (sorry, no photo available).
Things that, if I don't laugh, might make me cry: 
We spent the entire day at the main office only to receive a single sheet of paper that had our names, the name of our school, and, if we were one of the lucky ones, a phone number. I already had that information and was hoping for something more. However, it does confirm that I will be going out to the western region as I was originally told.  I wonder when that will be?
Maybe it's just as well there were no forms under this sign!

Friday, September 2, 2011

...the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

My friends and I had been wanting to visit the Grand Mosque and decided to go before the end of Ramadan and the Eid celebration began.  The exact date for Eid was still to be determined, but we decided to go on Monday the 29th of July, in case Eid began the next day (which it did).  Jo and I were able to climb the steps to the mosque dressed in our capris, but Katherine's were just a bit short.  We had to go up and get an abaya and shayla for her before she could go in.

What an absolutely beautiful place!  Visit this website to learn more. Their explanation is much more complete than mine would ever be, and I'm sure their vocabulary is more extensive than "Wow! Gorgeous!  Awesome!  Breathtaking!"
 The flowers in these pillars (about 100 of them!) are all inlaid semi-precious stones.  My head scarf wouldn't stay put, and our guide reminded us all to keep our heads covered.  (Oops!)
We were split into three groups for the tour.  The first few minutes were outside in the corridor area. It was cooler in the shade than out in the open, but not by much.  There were tourists from all over the world visiting.
Our guide had us go out into the courtyard and feel the difference in temperature between the white marble and the green stone used for the leaves.  It was amazing how much cooler the marble was!
What a welcome relief to step inside to the rush of AC!  Here, our guide is pointing out details in the ceiling.  There was so much to see that it was hard to take it all in.  The carpet was made in one piece then cut into three (or was it four?) sections to enable them to bring it inside.  Master carpet weavers then came and pieced it back together.
We were among the last ones to leave because we stayed and asked our guide questions.  She was a delightful young woman who spoke English very well.  She is from Yemen and is here going to University, studying urban planning.  She works at the mosque part-time. 
I took this picture to show perspective.  It's difficult to tell how large the flowers on the walls are from a distance. My hand span is about 8".
Since we were among the last to leave I was able to snap this picture of one of the empty prayer halls.  The flower above is on this wall.

I could easily visit again and look forward to having visitors--this will definitely be on our list of places to go and things to do!  From a purely architectural/artistic point of view, it is phenomenal.  And, much like in the cathedrals we visited in Italy years ago, there was a sense of reverence.  Everyone spoke in hushed tones and there were no children running about.  I would like to experience the mosque during prayer, but as I remember we were told that non-Muslims may not visit at that time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

...this and that

I have a post about our visit to the Grand Mosque percolating, but in the meantime there are some random thoughts rolling around in my brain.  Here they are, in no particular order:

--I used to wake up each morning and wonder what the weather would be like that day.  Here, it's sunny.  Every day.  Oh, sure, some days are breezier than others so there might be a haze in the distance because of blowing sand, but everyday I open the curtains to SUN!

--The wind doesn't annoy me here like it did at home.  I'm not itching to get out on my bike, so the wind doesn't matter.  Blow on!

--The hotel has a gym that is open 24 hours and free.  I've put it to good use.  Who knew that at 52 I'd start to (almost) like running?  (Thanks, Nate, for your encouragement!) Mind you, it's not a love affair like I have with cycling, but it feels pretty good to get some miles in on the treadmill.  I hope there's a gym wherever I end up.

--Exercise is a good thing.  Now if I could just do something about my sweet tooth and my desire to try every yummy thing I see here!  (Baklava, anyone?)

--Yesterday was the last day of Ramadan.  Today is the first day of Eid.  The first difference I noticed was music.  There was mellow sax music playing at breakfast and hip hop in the gym.  (I was really ok with silence in the gym.) It will be a relief to be able to eat and drink in public again.

--Snail mail takes about two weeks to get from here to Oregon. 

--I think I'm going to buy an air mattress.  If I have to move out of here in a hurry, at least I'll have a bed.  And, it will come in handy when visitors come to see me later in the year.

Sunday, August 28, 2011 excellent day

The bus from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain costs a whole 10 dirhams--less than $3 US.  A pretty cheap excursion!  The trip took about two hours. We didn't make it in time to wander through the museums (hours--or timings as they're called here--are different because of Ramadan), but the camel markets were open. The young men who showed off their camels brought out the most cantankerous fellow for us to pet.  He sounded like something out of Star Wars!  Katherine was the camel whisperer and called him "sweet face."

This was the closest that Jo would get to him.  One of the guys was our photographer, and took several shots with each of our cameras.  We all giggled when he put his scarf on Katherine's head.  When he switched to my camera he switched the scarf as well.  We laughed and laughed and had a great time.

After visiting the camels it was time for Iftar.  We hadn't had anything to eat or drink since breakfast so we were hungry and dehydrated.  We walked to the mall and found a wonderful place to eat:  Coriander, an Indian restaurant.
This mint and cucumber drink was delicious and refreshing.
The food was heavenly.  Jo and I both ordered white rice to go with our curries, but we could have shared. We ate and ate and ate.  So good!
After our meal we sat and enjoyed the open air patio.  I ordered a pot of coffee and wanted to take the china home with me. As we were leaving the restaurant I thanked the waiter and told him that it was the best coffee I'd had since I'd arrived.  He grinned at me and said, "It was instant, madam!"  Too funny!

We wandered through the mall for a few minutes, but realized that we'd better make our way to the bus station and head for home.  Our taxi driver warned us that as soon as we opened the door to the cab we would be surrounded by men wanting to drive us to Abu Dhabi--at a much higher rate than 10 dirhams.  He was right, and we were glad for the warning. 

A friendly young woman from Sri Lanka sat next to me, and we visited all the way back.  She is here working as a secretary and plans on going back home soon.  She's getting older (under 30 I'd guess!) and it's time for her to get married.  Her mother has made the arrangements.  Maryam gave me her mobile number and told me to call any time if I need help with anything. 
We didn't get back to the hotel until after 1:00.  We said goodnight, agreed we probably wouldn't see each other at breakfast, and headed off to our rooms.  I swiped my card, swiped it again, turned it over and tried again, to no avail.  It seems we were all locked out--maybe this was how they were finding out who had moved to their apartments--so we had to go back down to the desk and get out cards unlocked.  I don't know about the other two, but I sure didn't make it down for breakfast.  I spent the day dozing and reading and dozing some more. 

Tomorrow we're off to the see the Grand Mosque--we still haven't been.  Another excellent day in store for us.