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: