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.  :-)