Tuesday, January 31, 2012

...things that make me smile

  • Christmas cards in January. What fun to read all the messages from friends and family and know that they were thinking of me a month ago! I thought that using the school's PO box would be easy, convenient, and a money-saver.  Now I know better.  (Nothing is easy or covenient here!)  It did save me a bit of money, but the frustration wasn't worth it.  Mail is low priority here--the box gets checked only once in a great while.  (I now have my own PO box in MZ where I live, and check it once a week.)

  • Audio books on Kindle.  I just discovered that I can download audio books to my Kindle.  The daily commute just got a whole lot more enjoyable!  (Currently listening to "The Kitchen House."  I recommend it.)

  • Emails from folks at home. This week has produced a bumper crop of communication--long emails back and forth with Katie and a couple of good friends.  Ahhh, just what I needed! :-)

  • Skype.  What a wonderful (free!) invention.  I happened to come home early on Sunday (too pooped to go to the gym) and caught Arlene and Jadyn online before they headed out to breakfast.  

  • Homemade soup.  I made a bean, lentil, potato, vegetable soup on Sunday evening, put it in the crock pot Monday morning, and could smell it before I even opened my apartment door that night.  (Comfort.)

  • My students. They delight me.  They make me laugh out loud.  They puzzle and frustrate me.  They intrigue me and make me wish I spoke their language. (They are working hard to learn English!)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

...a Pitiful Pearl kind of day

My friend Mr. Insomnia visited last night.  He hasn't been around much since I moved here and I was beginning to think that we were no longer an item.  But he had different ideas and dropped in for a quick visit--only keeping me awake until about 1:00 a.m.  Not terribly late, but late enough to make me drag today.  I got up late and raced through my morning routine to make it to school on time, skipping the cursory application of makeup.  It's been unseasonably cold here, so today I wore my jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, covered by my abaya.  I drove a little faster than usual and made it in time for assembly.  I headed up the stairs to stow my bags but forgot to hold up my skirt so I wouldn't trip.  Bam.  I pitched forward and caught the full weight of the fall on my left hand.  Not fun on marble stairs!  I picked myself up in a daze, went to the office and sat down. A sweet, kind coworker asked if I was ok.  I was trying to keep it together, but burst into tears and bawled, "No, I'm hurt!"  She called the nurse for me who gave me Pandadol (same as Tylenol) and checked for broken bones.

I've felt out of kilter all day--both from Mr. I. and from the fall. My hand is stiff and sore, but nothing appears to be broken. (Alhamdullilah!)  My grade 11 girls asked if I had been crying. I explained that I hadn't slept well, got up late, didn't put on makeup, and then had had a mishap on the stairs.  (Clumsy was one of our new vocabulary words from the story we're reading! Miss Sue--exhibit A!) Maitha R. asked, "Miss, how you say I hope a person feel good?"  I wrote "I hope you feel better" on the board and then they all chimed in with their wishes for me.  (Have I mentioned how much I love these girls?)

Bedtime will come early tonight and I'll take something for my poor, sore hand.  Tomorrow is a new day, and it's good to be reminded that I am surrounded by caring people.

One last whine:  This sight doesn't make me smile.  The construction out my kitchen door is moving ahead at a brisk pace.  The view of the city lights from my perch outside is now blocked and I can no longer see the sky while in my kitchen.  Rats. So it really has been a Pitiful Pearl kind of day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

...a wedding

Meena invited me to attend her uncle's wedding last week, and I was delighted.  I ask the girls about customs--should I bring a gift?  What should I wear? What time should I show up?  They said not to bring a gift--no one does, and to be there about 8:30 p.m.  As for what to wear, they were quite adamant.  "Miss, wear a dress, do your hair, and put on some makeup!" I said I would do my best.

The wedding was quite an experience.  I got there a bit late because I couldn't find the hall, but was warmly welcomed when I arrived.  I didn't recognize Meena when she came up to me.  At school Meena wears her hair pulled back off her face, no makeup, and dresses in her school uniform with chucks on her feet.  The young woman before me had eyeliner galore, hair styled and hanging down past her waist, and a form-fitting sequened gown on.  I gasped; she laughed.  Meena led me to a table where other students from our school were sitting.  I sat down and looked around in wonder.  There were about 50 tables in the hall, and each one had a huge platter of rice and (goat? lamb?) meat on it.  Even though I was late there was still plenty of food.  This hall was for the ladies only, and I imagine there were as many tables laid in the men's hall.  The women were dressed much like Meena--over the top hair, makeup, and dresses.  I have never seen Emirate women in anything but their black abayas, so this was an eye-opener. 

 I was in time to see the bride come in--by herself--for a photo op.  She then sat down on a throne on the stage and waited.  Soon, a black veil was draped over her head, and the women started putting their abayas and shaylas on.  I knew this meant that men would be coming in. The groom arrived with the men in his family.  They danced with their canes down the center aisle, stopping to greet guests along the way. The groom's father (and Meena's grandfather) was a wizened old man who cried as he made his way up the aisle. It was touching to see.  This part of the pageantry felt very ancient to me. I can imagine Bedoins with their tents set up side by side, then the men of one family coming to claim the new bride for their family. The men finally made it to the stage where the bride was seated and they continued dancing.  Women from their family (close relatives who did not have to cover their faces) joined in the dance.  After some time the groom sat down next to the bride and the veil was removed from her face.  He saw his new wife's face for the very first time.  There were many, many photos taken, and then the couple processed out of the building.  Once all the men were gone, the women removed their abayas and shaylas and started dancing.  Do they ever move!  I left soon after that, but not before one of the girls made me go out and dance with her!  It was a delighful experience, and I hope to be invited again sometime.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

...a disaster

Don't worry--this disaster was not life-threatening. No, this was the kind of disaster that makes me laugh each time I think of it.  Last week our English department was asked to bring something to share for the Professional Development meeting on Thursday.  The school was providing some of the "hospitality" but more food was needed. Hospitality and generosity are big here, and since we were hosting the meeting for several schools, it was especially important to do it right.

We had a discussion in our office about what each of us would bring, and since it was the end of the work week and we were tired, most of us agreed that we would just be stopping by the store after school to pick up something ready-made. That was my intent as well. I don't have an oven for baking, and use a microwave and a two-burner hot plate for any cooking I do.  And, I haven't accumulated a lot of kitchen "stuff."  (Remember, the place was absolutely empty when I moved in--I have had to buy every single item.) But, I have a saucepan, and a glass tart dish (I had intended to make a blueberry pie at Christmas and the tart pan was the closest thing to a pie plate that I could find.) So, I had the great idea that I would make a flan-like dessert to take to school. (I also bought a tin of cookies as a backup plan--just in case I didn't have the energy to slave over a two-burner hot plate once I got home.)

I got home from the gym Wednesday evening, had some dinner, checked my email, then decided that I would go ahead and make the flan.  So I opened boxes, measured the milk (I now have a measuring cup!), and stirred and stirred.  I spread the packet of carmelized sugar in the bottom of the tart pan, and when the custard came to a boil, poured it in.  I popped it into the fridge, cleaned up the mess, nibbled a few cookies with my tea, and went to bed. 

In the morning I was happy to see that the flan had set up nicely, but realized that I had nothing with which to cover the pan--no plastic wrap, no aluminum foil, not even any wax paper.  Now if this had been a regular custard or pudding, there wouldn't have been a problem.  But, that carmelized sugar at the bottom of the pan made the whole concoction slip and slide whenever it was moved.  How was I going to get it to school?  I grabbed a roll of paper towels (that I had on hand because I mistakenly thought I was buying bathroom tissue) and carefully placed the pan on the floor of the passenger side of the car.  Carefully, carefully, I drove over the umpteen speed humps to get out of my neighborhood, and carefully, carefully pulled out onto the highway.  So far, so good.

As luck would have it, this particular morning was a foggy one.  (What a surprise to have fog in the desert!) This wasn't the first foggy morning I've experienced, so wasn't terribly concerned.  I drove slower than usual, both because of the fog and my wobbly passenger on the floor.  I kept one eye on the flan and was happy to see that while it did jiggle a little, it was still contained in the pan. Then all of a sudden, the fog got worse, and at the worst possible location.  I had just entered the roundabout in Liwa, about ten minutes from school, and realized that I could not see a thing.  Nothing.  Thankfully, other drivers in the roundabout were tapping their horns to let others know they were there.  I made it safely through the roundabout and immediately pulled over to the side of the road to wait for a bit.  There was no need to rush to get to school--everyone would be late this morning. 

But--the fog distracted me.  When it finally appeared safe to forge ahead, I had completely forgotten about the flan.  I was driving along, knuckles white with stress, when I happened to glance down. Liwa is very hilly, and at some point the flan had splooshed out over the edge of the pan, deposited a chunk of itself on the carpet, then settled back down for the ride.  Oh dear.  Well.  I pulled over to the side of the road again, and assessed the damage.  Hmmm, not pretty, but not horrible, either. I cleaned up the carpet, wedged some paper towels under the pan to try to stablize it, and started out again.  Another hill, another "sploosh" and another chunk on the floor.   There was no way I could serve this to the workshop participants.   I wasn't too far out of town, and a turn-around point was coming up, so I did a U-turn and went to the gas station where I bought some chocolates to share. (Why had I opened the cookie tin last night? So much for my backup plan!)

Back on the road, I headed up and over the hills to school.  I glanced down at the flan and saw that things were going from bad to worse, and I realized that there was no way I could even offer it to the ladies in my office.  So, I pulled over to the side of the road again, intending to get rid of the evidence.  I gave that flan the heave-ho...but it had the last word.  As it landed with a resounding PLOP! it sprayed droplets of sugar and sand all over my black slacks.  By this time I was laughing so hard that I'm sure I looked like a crazy woman to anyone passing by. 

(I think I'll just buy cookies the next time and leave them in the car.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

...things that I will miss

A while back I posted a list of things {from my old life} that I miss.  I wondered if there would be anything {from my new life} that I would miss once I returned to my {new} old life.   There is.  Are.  And surely the list will continue to grow the longer I live here. 

I will miss the little salon behind mirrored doors, in the city mall.  Or, more accurately, I will miss the nine young women from Pakistan and the Philippines who work there.  They don't have an easy life--they work from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Friday when they have a few hours off.  They all live together in a two bedroom villa with one bathroom. (Um, yeah--I have been provided with a two bedroom, two bathroom villa. Ouch.) They are not all friends, but they make the best of it.  These young women are always kind and friendly and ask about my children. (They met Katie, but not Nate since men are not allowed inside.) I always leave feeling renewed in body and soul.

I will miss working with one of the most incredibly talented teachers I have ever met. I am humbled by what she is able to do with her students in such a short amount of time.  (I feel like a child again, watching my mom work in the garden.  She made whatever she was doing look easy, so I would ask to use whatever tool was in her hand.  Once it was in mine, however, it wasn't easy at all.)  So I pick A's brain and marvel at her innate ability, knowing that there is no way I can come close to replicating what she does.

I will miss the exquisite yogurt that is sold by the gallon.
I will miss the endless sky and gorgeous sand dunes.
I will miss seeing camels in the back of trucks and along the road.

I will miss the people who are helping me to grow into who I am meant to be.

Monday, January 16, 2012

...sharing photos

I haven't been keeping up with the blog as I had hoped to do, and I know people back home (who are not on Facebook) are wanting to see pictures from Nate's and Katie's visit.  So...here's hoping this works:


p.s.  We had a wonderful time!