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

...an 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.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

...being a hermit

What a difference a day makes.  I did not leave my room at all yesterday, and the only people I had contact with were the two pleasant young men who come to tidy my room and bring me bottled water.  I've tried having a conversation with them from time to time, but their English is minimal and context specific.  They know how to ask if I want fresh towels or the sheets changed, but beyond that...we just smile at each other a lot. At first I had the urge to speak in Spanish to them--at home if I could tell that someone didn't understand me I automatically switched to Spanish.  I don't think that will help much here.

I spent the day yesterday answering emails, skyping with Arlene, made a phone call to Katie (I hadn't heard her voice since being here--we've chatted but it's not the same), and snacked on flat bread, tabboulah, tuna, hummus, and garlic paste.  That combo makes a great sandwich!  I put in one of my napping movies (movies I have seen so many times that I can easily fall asleep to them) and rested.

This morning I felt like myself again and went down to breakfast.  Jo, Katherine and I are going on an adventure in a few minutes.  We're going to get on a bus and head to Al Ain with hopes of going to a couple of museums and seeing the camel market.  (Maybe they'll get to meet Rochelle's second husband!  ha!)

I know that I will have dips in my energy and attitude like everyone else, and know what I need to do to take care of myself.  I do have a job, and eventually I will find out where.  Banking issues will be resolved, and I won't be living in this hotel forever.  I have family and friends who keep in touch, and new friends here to get lost with.  Stay tuned to see where we end up! 

Friday, August 26, 2011

...learning new things

When I got up this morning and saw that I had no internet access I was bummed. That's not so unusual--the connection comes and goes.  So while I waited around for the little yellow triangle to disappear I made some coffee and fixed breakfast. (I felt too lazy and antisocial today to go down to the dining room.) Still, no internet. Rats.  I puttered around, made a call to Katie (Hi Katie!), then checked again.  This time I clicked on the icon, and up popped a message from the hotel asking me to sign in once more.  Oh yeah, the internet is only good for a week at a time and today is the first day of my fourth week here.  Who knew one could get tired of living in a five star hotel? But, I'll have to continue to make the best of it, because this is going to be my home until September 4th, and possibly longer.  All government offices are now closed for the last week of Ramadan, and people are preparing for Eid, a very festive time.  The malls are decorated in a manner very similar to how we decorate for Christmas.  The stores are busy in the evenings with people shopping for gifts and new clothing.  I was in Carrefour last night, admiring some beautiful gift baskets filled with chocolates and dates, when an Emirate woman spoke to me. I was delighted--this was the first time that someone had initiated a conversation with me.  Her name was Amal, and she works for the official Tourism office.  She was so friendly, and graciously answered my questions about Ramadan and Eid.  She even gave me the phone number for her office and her personal mobile number. 

Because the offices are all closed, I still don't know where I will be living and teaching.  I can't even be sure that I'll be somewhere in Al Gharbia.  Jo was also told via email that she would be in the western region, but when she asked for more specific information she was given the name of a school here in Abu Dhabi.  She is disappointed because she would have preferred a more rural setting. Katherine knows that she will be clear out in Sila, close to Qatar, so I am the only one of our trio who has no idea.  I sent an email late Wednesday evening, hoping that I would get a reply before the end of the work day yesterday, but no such luck.  I knew ahead of time that patience and flexibility were the two most important attributes needed for living and working here.  I'm finding that I'm learning patience at a whole new level!  We have lots of free time coming up, but can't rent a car just yet.  I think Jo, Katherine and I are going to hop on a bus and do some exploring this week.  I need to do some research online to find out if the places we want to visit will be open.  Let's hope so! 

I've been here long enough now to have learned a few things.  Exact change is not always given, nor expected.  The coins, fils, are in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50.  If the change is 15 fils or less, it usually isn't given.  Before I realized this, I asked the clerk for my change and got an exasperated look in return.  Then I did the math and understood that the smaller fils are almost worthless. It did makes me wonder though, if they have to balance their tills at the end of the day.  Maybe "close" is good enough. 

I learned the hard way that produce must be weighed and labeled before one leaves the produce area. There are no scales at the cash register.   Luckily, I made this mistake on my first night here, and the small grocery store was not busy.  A bagger ran back to the produce department to do it for me.

I've figured out that lining up and taking turns is not done quite the same way it is back home. Once I understood about having my produce weighed I would politely stand in line and wait my turn--only to have people come from all sides and go in front of me.  I've learned to ease my way toward the front and place my bags on the counter.  They will eventually be weighed and tagged and handed back to me. I do try to time it so the counter isn't too busy.

The grocery stores are so fascinating to me.  It's like walking through a giant Trader Joe's on each visit.  I want to look at everything and try new things.  One of my former students expressed concern about what I would find to eat here.  I need to write to her and let her know that I am in no danger of going hungry! (The opposite is true.  Good thing there's a gym in the hotel!)

I get overwhelmed at times by how difficult it is to do even the most basic things.  Getting a mobile phone, signing up for online banking (error--please contact the bank), and getting my US bank's swift number for transferring funds...the list goes on.  I look forward to the time when it all seems familiar and "life as usual."

My friends back home have been in their classrooms for the past couple of weeks, getting everything ready for students on Monday.  I am used to the feeling of urgency at this time of year--so much to do and so little time to do it in.  Did I say I'm learning patience? I wandered through the school supply section at Carrefour last night and was glad to see such a wide variety of supplies.  If my school doesn't have something I need, then I know where to go.

Here's something that made me laugh:

 "...a composition very similar to that of human body fluid..."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

...a birthday wish

Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy

birthday dear Leslie, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to


 (And many more!)

(Blogger is still giving me fits and I can't seem to comment on your blog. Atticus is a cutie--so glad you have a new friend! Oh--and your heat wave?  Psshh.  ha!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

...a desert romance

Yesterday morning my friends Clark and Rochelle and their three boys picked me up and took me back to their home in Al Ain, about 1 1/2 hours away.  We talked non-stop all day long while I did my laundry.  I now know what kind of drying rack I will buy when I am finally out of the hotel and in my own place. It took only 15 to 20 minutes for each load of my clothes to dry. 
In the late afternoon we decided to drive around Al Ain so they could show me where they lived last year.  I got to see the border with Oman (but couldn't cross it because I don't have my passport and visa back yet) and saw "mountains" in the distance. 
Rochelle wondered if the camel market would be open, so we decided to go see.  There wasn't much going on--it was close to sundown and time for iftar (breaking of the fast).  We finally spotted some camels and Clark pulled over so we could take a look.  We would have been happy with taking a few photos through the fence.  All of a sudden a little pickup roared up next to us.  I rolled down the window and the driver said, "Baby!  Baby!  Come!  Come!" 

So we got out of the car and followed the man into the enclosure.  He insisted that I take the rope and touch the camel.  The two youngest boys were not at all happy about being so close to the big animals, but Rochelle, Gabe and I got pet them. 
We had all thanked the man for letting us see his camels and were ready to go back to the car.  All of a sudden, he grabbed Rochelle's arm and took off across the yard, hollering back at us, "Come!  Come!"  He only let go of her arm when she said, "Hey!  I'm a married woman!"  (Clark was looking on, trying to calm the little ones and wondering, "What is that man doing with my wife?!" 
The handler took us into another pen with an old camel that was lying down.  "Sit! Sit!" he ordered, so we sat. Gabe wasn't so sure, but the man made him sit for the picture. 
Then he had Rochelle get in the picture.  I was so surprised to see him caress her cheek.  Rochelle was speechless. 
Then, to top it all off, he put his head scarf on her head.  Rochelle was about to lose it by this time.
We again thanked the man for the experience (!) and headed back to the car.  The man followed me, saying "Money, eat! Eat!"  I was willing to pay him because I had wanted to see the camels so gave him  a 5 dirham bill. He saw that I had more cash in my wallet so kept asking for more.  I gave him 10 more, but he still kept asking.  The price kept going up until Rochelle told him that 25 was enough and we wouldn't pay any more.  I didn't think that $8 was much at all.   But, I doubt that Rochelle will take me again any time soon!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

...being like Gumby

I want to be like Gumby.  He could get all in a twist and still keep a smile on his face.  We've been in the hotel for over two weeks now, and still no word on where, exactly, I'll be living and teaching.  I sent off an email yesterday to (politely) inquire.  By the process of elimination I had deduced that, since my name wasn't on the list for Abu Dhabi city or Al Ain, I would be in Al Gharbia.  However, Al Gharbia (pronounced al garBEEa) is a huge region and I was curious to know in which city I would be placed.  The answer just came back:  "You will be placed in Al Gharbia."  Alrighty then.  I guess I'll just be patient and wait to hear more. 

We had three days of training this past week, which was very helpful.  On Wednesday they separated us by grade level so we could take a look at the curriculum.  I was glad to see that the standards are very similar to Oregon's.

While I was glad to have the training that was provided, it also heightened my anxiety about the task at hand.  I woke up Friday morning feeling a bit homesick and unsettled. It didn't last long--conversation at breakfast with my new friends, a run on the treadmill, and Skype with Arlene took care of it. 

My friends Clark and Rochelle are back in Al Ain.  They just flew in from Utah yesterday and are coming to get me on Monday.  It will be so good to catch up with them and pick their brains about...everything.  I also look forward to using their washing machine!  I have a cell phone (mobile, it's called here) again and have been texting with Clark.  Funny how something so small can make life feel more normal again.

Tonight Jo, Katherine and I are taking the shuttle to IKEA for dinner. (We laugh at ourselves for being delighted in such a small, silly thing. We've been in this hotel toooo long!) We also learned of an Australian place called "Jones the Grocer" that is open during the day (even during Ramadan!).  We're taking a field trip on Tuesday with the intent of finding a thrift store, getting our drivers licenses translated, visiting the Grand Mosque, and stopping for a bite to eat at Jones'. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

...standing out in a crowd

Last night Katherine, Joanne and I took a taxi to downtown Abu Dhabi. We wanted to find the souks (markets) that we had heard about, and hopefully snag a bargain or two on some clothing. Our driver dropped us off and we began walking. (I have never seen so many jewelry stores in my life!) We must have seemed quite the odd trio to the local people--a tall redhead, a petite brunette, and me. We finally found a souk--a series of small shops that sell anything from Levi's to tacky souvenirs (a shiekh and his lady salt and pepper shakers, anyone?!)--but our most pressing concern was our rumbling tummies. We asked shopkeepers along the way to point us in the direction of a restaurant. "Oh Ma'am, too far. You need taxi." I guess we looked too delicate to walk any distance! We kept wandering and looking and finally stumbled upon a delightful little cafe that sold sandwiches and fresh fruit drinks. After taking care of our hunger pangs, we were back out on the street again (in a good way) and made our way back to the souk. As we walked I heard catcalls and comments. It reminded me of being in rural Mexico a few years ago. I had asked my hostess, Candy, if the boys hooting and hollering realized how old I was--I could be their mom! She said it didn't matter--they had never seen a blonde person before, so I was an oddity to them. I was also reminded of our trip to Italy in 2000. Katie was a gangly 13 year old, badly in need of a hair cut. But to Japanese tourists in the Sistene Chapel she was "So pretty! So pretty!" After the previous day's taxi fiasco, we hit the jackpot on the way home. We got into a cab driven by the most delightful man from Nepal. He was college educated, and had worked as an accountant in his home country for 26 years. His job ended, but since he is still under 50 he needed to continue working. For 26 years he sat at a desk, so he decided he wanted to do something totally different. He loves driving a taxi, and is very proud of the fact that he speaks English so well. He had a wonderful sense of humor and kept us laughing the entire ride.

Today we're going to go to Carrefour, a large store (like Walmart on steroids) to get some more groceries and hopefully find an abaya or two. Katherine is so tall that she's having trouble finding floor-length anything.

An email came yesterday letting us know that official business is going to start this week--three days of training. Some folks are getting all worked up about the down time that we've had--they want to know where, what, and when, and they want to know NOW. (We're not in Kansas anymore...)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

...being taken for a ride

We've been here just over a week now, and are starting to feel confident in getting to where we want to go. There's a free shuttle that will take us to IKEA, where we can catch another free shuttle to Marina Mall. We found a grocery store just minutes away, and we know how to get to another small mall close by. We know that it costs about 20 dirhams (about $5 US) for a one-way trip.

Yesterday, Kristina and I headed out to Al Raha Mall. I didn't think much would be open except the Lu Lu's department/grocery store, but getting out for a bit sounded like a good idea. We got there just fine, wandered around and made our purchases (I found a lovely blue top for $49 Dirhams), bought some groceries (I really didn't need much, but it all looks so interesting), then headed outside to catch a cab back.

We got into the first taxi in line, and told him our destination. "Yas Hotel?" he asked. "Hmmm..." He fiddled with his GPS, then took off. I was sitting behind him and hadn't seen Yas anything come up on the screen, so asked him if he knew where it was. He said he had only had the GPS for six days, so wasn't used to it, but "No problem, I'll find your hotel." We traveled for a bit, then I told Kristina that it wasn't looking right. We should have been heading in the opposite direction, on a main highway. I kept looking for signs that said "Yas Island," but all I saw was "Abu Dhabi" and "Dubai." I finally spoke up and told him that we were going the wrong way, and offered the number of the hotel so he could call and get directions. He said he could find it. He took an exit and got us turned around--going in the right direction--but we were on a side road in a bunch of construction. The meter was ticking along, and we weren't anywhere near the hotel. Quiet, reserved Kristina showed me a side of her I hadn't seen yet. She spoke sternly to the driver and told him that she would be reporting him. She told him we would pay him 20 dirhams, and no more.

We finally made it back, and paid him the 20, even though the meter said the fare was well over 40. It was uncomfortable--I wanted to believe that it truly was an error, and he wasn't just taking us for a ride.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I had briefly considered entitling this post "The Ugly American," but unfortunately, we Americans are not the only ones with a sense of entitlement. I have been amazed, apalled, and bemused by some of the things I've seen my fellow teachers (from all over the globe) say and do here in AD. We are the guests, and we were hired to do a job. We were flown here at no expense to ourselves (well, maybe a little out of pocket for overweight luggage, but hey, there were just some things I didn't think I could live without!). Tickets for spouses and children were paid for as well. We are living in a five star hotel, provided a sumptuous breakfast each day, have access to a full gym, two swimming pools, and spa treatments for 50% off the usual rate. The staff treats us like royalty, catering to our every whim.

Every bit of literature that I read about coming here to teach said to be flexible, go with the flow, and understand that things work differently here. Friends who are already here told me the same thing. We were also told, repeatedly, that we would be arriving during Ramadan, the Muslim month of prayer and fasting, and that it was especially important to be respectful of the customs during this time.

I guess the woman who sauntered across the lobby eating a bag of chips and drinking a soda didn't read the same info I did. Nor did the young woman who got on the bus last night (on our way to the police station for fingerprinting) whose neckline plunged (and plunged some more). The woman who stood at the front desk complaining about the lack of an optimal view from her room must have forgotten who was footing the bill. The group of girls in Ikea who had to be told four times by security that taking pictures inside the store wasn't allowed should be grateful they aren't in jail. The man who pretended to lose his number at the bank so he could cut in line made us all look bad. I'm afraid the local people are looking at us and thinking, "Hmmm...and we hired YOU to educate our children??"

But, for all the dolts in the group, there are many more who are kind, respectful, and patient. I have met people from all across the States and from around the world. Conversation has been effortless, and friendships are blooming. I'm eager to know where I'll be teaching and to get my apartment. Living in luxury has been wonderful, but I'm ready to do some laundry, cook my own meals, and settle in.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Or should that be spelled "yoghurt?" Either way, a LOT of it is eaten in this country. There is always a big bowl of it at breakfast, next to the fruit salad, and another bowl with a bit of olive oil drizzled in it next to the cucumbers and tomatoes. Breakfast is the only meal provided, so many of us have stocked our mini bar fridges with food for the rest of the day. At the grocery store the other day we went in search of the yogurt section. I was so surprised by what I saw that I had to pull out my camera. The entire aisle was devoted to yogurt, in small containers and large. (The picture doesn't capture it all.) And, only a very, very few of them were flavored. I've tried different brands and like them all. The yogurt is smooth, thick, and creamy. Its flavor is fresh and not very tart at all. I had been making my own yogurt at home for the past several months, but I don't know that I will here. Milk is a bit expensive, but yogurt is not. Oh, and I haven't had any tummy trouble that often accompanies overseas travel. I think it might be due to the good microbes that I've been ingesting every day. I also tried something called "laban" that was right next to the yogurt. I thought it was a yogurt smoothie--the container looked just like what a smoothie comes in at home. It turned out to be a buttermilk-like drink--much milder than buttermilk, but thick like a smoothie. I liked it, but my friends did not.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

...a conversation with a cabbie

This morning two new friends and I took a cab from the hotel to the largest mall in Abu Dhabi--about a 20 minute drive. The porter shook his finger at the driver and admonished him not to take us on a roundabout trip--to go straight there and not to add miles. The driver muttered, "Yes, yes, I am not from Pakistan." He was from Bangladesh, and an "honest driver."

It always interests me to learn how people have learned English, so I asked the driver my standard question--"How did you learn English?" He thought for a second, then waved his hand in the air and said, "Here and there." He went on to explain that when he was young, only the priviledged in his country learned to speak English, and that was at the university level. Now, however, his children are learning English at school, and they start at the primary level. He apologized, saying that his English was "not so elegant." I assured him that his English was just fine--we were communicating, and that is what is important.

One of my companions asked him what he likes most about this country. Without hesitation he said, "It is safe. There is no crime." He then said that he liked having a job, and none are available in his home country. He goes to see his family every six months or so. He goes so often because his mother is 80 and has "the sugar sickness--diabetes," but his wife takes good care of her.

Once at the mall he wanted to know how long we would be--should he wait? We told him that we weren't sure--maybe a couple of hours, so not to bother waiting for us. He said he would be there when we returned--and he was.

A passing glimpse of the second-largest mosque in the world. I hope to get to see it up close!

Friday, August 5, 2011

...learning new things

I can open a hotel door, turn on the lights, run water for a bath, put a stopper in the sink and pull it out again. I can operate a TV and open a sliding door. Or can I?

The Education Council has put us up in a lovely hotel until our teaching assignments and housing have been determined. We arrived here around 10:00 last night, exhausted from the day of traveling. I looked forward to getting to my room, kicking my shoes off, soaking in the tub, and falling into bed. Instead, every little thing along the way had me flummoxed! I finally did figure out how to turn on the water, and I think I've got the lighting system down. The TV needed help from someone at the desk, so that wasn't my error. I won't be opening the balcony window again, though. It is big and heavy and almost impossible to close. It's not the usual slide-along-a-track type door. It's too hot to be out on the balcony anyway, but I had to take a look. A young man from housekeeping gave me a puzzled look when I asked how to let the water out of the sink, but he graciously showed me. I had to laugh--it was so simple.

To add to my consternation, the combo lock that I put on one of my bags wouldn't open. Thankfully, I had appropriate clothing in my other bag, so was able to go down for breakfast. Someone from engineering came up with a big pair of snips and cut the lock off for me.

I'm sure there will be more things to learn and other little bumps in the road, but I am delighted to be here.

The view from my window last night.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

...missing her

Tomorrow is the big day, and although my suitcases aren't quite organized and packed just yet, they will be soon. I've spent the past almost-two weeks here at Katie's. We haven't spent so much time together since her freshman year of college when she came home for three weeks at Christmas. Katie has continued to work while I've been here, and I've made play dates with friends and relatives who live in the area, so we've both been busy, but she and I have settled into a rhythm of living together. It has been a good way to end my time here before flying off into the unknown. Katie has to work tonight, so last night was our last hurrah. We went to a fancy place downtown, known for it's view of the city. We talked and laughed and took lots of pictures. We walked along the riverfront, even though our shoes weren't exactly walking shoes, and enjoyed the lovely weather and interesting people. The memory of sitting side by side on a park bench, slurping our ice cream cones and just being together will be one of my go-to memories to get me through the rough spots ahead. I will miss you, Katie!