How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Desert Dunes

I drive past the sand dunes every day on my forty-five minute drive to and from work. They are starting to become as familiar to me as the Mississippi Gulf Coast once was, long before Katrina tried to erase it. I can almost tell each individual dune from the others, like new friends whose names solidify their way into my memory. The dunes are red as fire some days, some days they almost glow orange, before fading to yellow on the tips like the sun has licked their edges. But the dunes are always the same shape and size.  Day in and day out, they are persistence in their sameness.  There are The Twin Dunes, Big Red, and Little Man, among many. Yes, I have named them.  I can almost reach out and trace their curves in my mind’s eye. They are like loved ones who age little by little, day by day, year by year. We don't notice until their years are apparent to the naked eye. The changes in the dunes proceed too slowly for our eye to perceive also.

 I know the dunes have to be shifting. There was a small sand storm yesterday and when I arrived at school the cleaners were sweeping up piles of rust colored sand that had blown across the courtyard and the hallways. So, the evidence is piled in the corners of the school where it sits until someone tosses it in the bin.  The sand dunes shift and change, but like loved ones aging away from us, we don’t want to admit it, because to do so would be admitting not only to the mortality of those we love, but also our own mortality. I do not see the sands shifting.  Big Red is the same as he was eight weeks ago when I first laid eyes on him.  

Big Red

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Logic and Other Observations from the Rabbit Hole..

 Beyond the Looking Glass
 One day Lewis Carrol and Queen Victoria dropped acid together. Suddenly Lewis exclaimed, "Let's decorate!" This was the result:

This is actually a little restaurant in the Al Ain Mall. Food is ho hum, but if you ever did acid in the 60s or 70s and are in mortal fear of flashbacks do not enter this place.

That's Illogical, Captain
Before I arrived in the UAE I was very wisely given a piece of advice: "Leave your logic and common sense at the airport in the United States and pick it  up when you come back home". I didn't really understand that sage piece of wisdom when I first heard it. I thought I knew what it meant. And it has taken me a little over two months to truly understand and attempt to incorporate it into my life. In fact, at this point I am thinking of getting it tattooed on my right butt cheek.

The following are comments I hear the Western teachers make:

"That's just the way it is"
"Get used to it"
"No rhyme, no reason"
"Sway sway" (slow, slow)
"Inshallah" (if Allah wills)
"These people are f*%#@ing crazy"

Cultural Observations of the Week
The UAE is, in every sense, a live-each-day-as-it-comes state of mind. People do not honor verbal agreements, they do not arrive on time; they do not hurry (except when they are driving and then it's like old Beelzebub himself has stuck a firecracker up their ass); they walk slowly, vveerryy slowly; they live to enjoy themselves, not live to work (unlike most Westerners, who could perhaps take a lesson or two from this philosophy, but just to a certain degree); their identities are in no way derived from work and career, but rather tied to their families. In fact, they can't even comprehend how anyone could gain a sense of identity or deep satisfaction from work, career, and a job well done. 

Emiratis live for life after 5 p.m. They fill the hours with shopping, eating with family, shopping, holidays, shopping, driving in the desert on the sand dunes, eating with family, and shopping. Did I forget to mention shopping?

Women do not move out of the family home until they marry. If they don't marry, they live with their parents..... forever. There is no concept of children leaving the proverbial nest. Even the sons will oftentimes bring their new wives into the family home. Children are not prepared or taught about living independently. Can you imagine having children and KNOWING they will never leave? *shudder*. I have nightmares just considering the implications of this.  Americans start pushing their kids out the door fifteen minutes after kindergarten graduation.

The family houses are built in mini compounds where multi-generations live under one roof. There are housing quarters for the gardener, nanny, maid, and driver.  Large families of six to twelve children are common, but more often than not, the children are raised by nannies who cannot set limits on their charges' behaviors. The nannies don't have that much "yank". They survive and keep their jobs by constantly giving into the children and bargaining with them. Thus, self control and patience are virtually unknown realms to the current school age generation of Emiratis, which, of course, makes the Western teachers' jobs a bit more challenging.

I have noticed that the UAE seems to be glaringly absent of  RV travel homes on the roads. I guess you would need one helluva RV to pack the entire family up and go away for a three day marshmallow roast. And where would the nanny and driver sleep? There are plenty of Rolls Royces, Mercedes, and Lamborghinis on the highways and byways, but no RVs... Not a one.

Have you seen this R.V
I'm Growing Accustomed To...
I am getting used to my washing machine playing a little musical jingle when the wash cycle is complete. When it happened the first few times I searched the apartment trying to locate where the chimes were coming from.  I thought I had finally went crazy.

I am also getting used to my apartment doorbell playing, "It's a Small World After All" when anyone rings. I really hate that song too.  REALLY hate that song, so I tend to answer the door quickly so whoever is ringing will stop.

I am growing bored with goats and sheep in the back of Toyota trucks. Although a friend told me that she saw a Toyota car last week at the mall with its trunk tied almost shut with two pair of goat eyes peering out, and I thought that was odd.  

I no longer think, "What a waste of gasoline" when I  park next to another car whose engine has been left running while the owner shops. I come out of the store thirty minutes or so later and said car is still absent an owner, and still idling away. But I do think, "That oil ain't gonna last forever, Bubba..."

Still Not There Yet..
What I am still not accustomed to is people shoving past me in line. Today a woman in Carrefour (imagine Super WalMart)  shoved her way past me at the register. I hesitated, allowed a few seconds to pass, shoved my anger down, and very calmly and clearly told her, "I was in front of you, you cut in line, and you are impolite". She cocked her head, mumbled an, "I sorry. You no in line". I said, "Yes, I was and you pushed me out of the way. Impolite", and I put the emphasis on the word "impolite". She muttered, "Impolite..?.", and got a look on her face that told me that she either A. had never had anyone call her on her behaviors or B. she had eaten spoiled left-in-the-sun Baptist Church potato salad and needed a ladies room NOW. Call me insane, but I think it was choice A.

Bling, Baby, Bling!
The people here love glitz and bling.  I have seen rhinestones affixed to items that I would never have thought to bling up. I am bound and determined to get a photo of the white leather couch in a Bwahdi Mall show window that is decorated in golf ball sized rhinestones. All I can think when I look at that couch is "Man, it would hurt like hell to get one of those rhinestones caught in your nether regions while curled up eating Ben & Jerry's ice cream and watching an episode of the "Honey Boo Boo Show". On second thought give me the Ben & Jerry's and shove rhinestones up my nether regions.  Just please don't make me watch Honey Boo Boo.

And Ace Hardware in Al Ain doesn't quite know what holiday they are preparing for.

A textbook case of dissociative identity disorder if I ever saw one.

And That's The Way It Is
Yesterday I went to Dubai to Global Village with a few friends. Global Village is like the Georgia National Fair, only without the fried Twinkies. There are huge buildings set up and each one has a sign over the door proclaiming itself to be "Egypt", "Vietnam", "Afghanistan", "Iran", "Iraq", "China" or some other equally exotic locale.  Each is like a large kiosk that sells items from the individual countries (except China.. China sold fucking EVERTHING!). There were some really cool items for sale; alligator hides from Africa, beaded brocade dresses from Pakistan, pungent teas from India. I want to go back before December and actually buy gifts for people back home. Anyway, I was walking with another American teacher's sixteen year old daughter. I was still trying to shake off a case of sudden and unexpected unease I had experienced walking through Afghanistan's kiosk (I thought everyone who met my eye in that Kiosk just KNEW I was an American). We ducked in and out of the large kiosks taking in the sights and smells. At one point the ever so blonde, tall, and in every respect Western looking teen girl stopped and said, "I told Mom we need to visit a country that we haven't bombed". I shrugged and told her, "Give it time".

For now, that's all folks....

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Life, Death, Culture, Memory.

Sorry, no funny lighthearted entry today. I will attend to that tomorrow.

I have four days off from work for Eid. Only problem is that I don't quite know what to do with myself. I slept in late this morning when I really should have gotten out of bed hours earlier. I had dreams. Bad dreams. Dreams where dad had died and I was called home, and it was so real that the pain of grief was settled hard like a weight on my heart when I awoke. Grief like lead, poured molten into my heart and left to slowly harden sat on my chest heavy like an invisible elephant. I got out of bed walked around the apartment, put some biscuits in the little toaster oven and water to boil for coffee. I needed some normalcy to dispel the dream, only problem is that in this small apartment there is no normalcy for me yet.  Everything is still fresh and new, like a recently skinned, bloody knee.

My normal is going to sleep at night to the steady rhythms of my husband's breathing.  Normal is waking to the screech of Jim's parrot, Pirate. Normal is my little dog, Truman, barking every time he catches even a glimpse of someone walking by the house. Normal is Mom phoning to see if I want to go to the grocery store with her. Normal is going to the bookstore with Jim and it REALLY being a bookstore, and not an office supply store (which is what they call bookstores in the UAE). Normal is not being stared at in malls due to my blonde hair and blue eyes (I have even had people ask if they can have their photo taken with me like I am Disney's Mickey Mouse) . Normal is the smell of newly cut grass. Normal is tending to my African Violets on my kitchen window sill. Normal is living in a world where I only have to tune my ear to spoken English.

Every step under my bare feet on the cold marble tile of this apartment reminds me that I am a bit like A Stanger in a Strange Land. The only sound I hear is the soft hum of the air purifier in the living room. The smells are those that seep in from other apartments: someone else's cooking, cigarette smoke, air freshener. The smells of this country are the sharp tang of a spice I can't identify, the heavy smell of human sweat, and the almost overpowering assault of sandalwood perfumes- all these trapped under layers of heat and invisible sand particles, pushed down to simmer and mix with car exhaust, camel dung,  rich coffees, and curry.

The varying, almost overpowering smells are what make me aware everyday, every waking minute  that Georgia is over 70000 miles away.  Amazing how the senses are part of the process of culture shock. Each new scent, sight, taste sound, and touch pulls the known rug out from under my feet and replaces it with one whose tapestry is woven by unfamiliar threads.  It is more than processing the behaviors and actions of the humans who surround me. It is shifting my five senses to accept sensory input that is not even a part of my experience or memory.

And it is the  sheer absence of smells that I have recently been able to process: the smell of vegetation, the green scent of chlorophyll, the smell of fresh oxygen that green plants generate.  I miss the scent of dark black soil and the tang of pine trees. I miss the sudden aroma of the earth opening to receive the fat raindrops right before a thunderstorm. I miss the smells of autumn; the clean crisp smell of the world being tucked in and falling to sleep so that winter may have her season. Those olfactory memories are the ones seared deep into who I am.

Maybe the dream last night was a direct result of my  having been so worried about Dad lately, but also because a new life arrived the day before yesterday that is carrying on a portion of my father's blood. My daughter, Lara, gave birth to a  little boy, Cash. He will be a comfort to Mom, and maybe a reason to make her smile again. 

Dad continues to lose ground. He is confined to a hospital Gheri chair when he is not in bed in his room at the V.A. He is developing a bedsore, he keeps his eyes closed most of the time, and his head is in a permanent bent over position that makes it difficult for him to even be fed.  But he smiles when Mom enters the room, and every time my brother visits my dad asks him, "How did you find me?".

However, in the midst of all of this, one small, new, unaware person entered the world to have his turn at this precious, miraculous journey we call life. At the same time, one very much loved and cherished man, who has savored the fruits of life for almost seven decades, slowly extinguishes.  That is how precious and gift- giving this brief expanse we call life is- it gives, we become greedy for more, but our allocated time cannot be bargained over or extended into eternity, or even one more day. We are born, we live, we die. It is the living part of the equation that we must pay particular attention to. That is the portion we often forget, the one that we are able to lose. We can't lose our birth, nor our death. They are timeless and more immovable than the massive boulders of Stonehenge. The one thing we can lose, our life, is what we squander and waste, as if we can take more time out of the a time saving box somewhere at the last moment, as if we can bargain. We cannot.

That is why my wish for new grandson, Cash Ellis, is this:

 That his life be one of contentment in his heart; he experiences the true meaning of love and is surrounded by it in abundance all the days he is on this earth; that he has the courage to take chances and grabs for the brass ring every opportunity that presents itself; and that his failures in life not be so many to discourage him, nor too few to not test his strength of character.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Crash Course on Hofstede's Theory on Cultural Dimensions

I have a love/hate relationship with technology
I brought my HP laptop to school instead of the small Acer notebook I bought . I don't understand why I can't log on to the internet from my full sized HP laptop. I can log on fine with the Acer notebook.  I have tried everything I can think to do, and I am now hallas (finished) and refuse to worry myself with it anymore today

 The 5k
I fast walked a 5k with Suzanne and Ciara yesterday (I only run if big, mean dudes with weapons are chasing me). The event, for breast cancer awareness, was held at the Rugby Club not far from my apartment. There were a lot of people in attendance, mostly Arabic. It was so very surreal watching teen girls dressed in the long black abayas, sheylahs, and cute little flat shoes trying to walk the 5k course.  They vacillated between sprinting, then strolling.  When sprinting, they would kick off their cute shoes and hold them while they ran barefoot.  As the course continued, their sprinting stopped altogether and the girls just strolled. Not many of the girls ever get any type of exercise. They are no organized sporting events in the schools for girls (or many for the boys, for that matter), and the girls are not going to even attempt a personal exercise program since the concept of exercise hasn't quite caught on with the culture. So predictably, lack of exercise in conjunction with poor diets of fast food and sweets, the UAE is starting to experience a surge in diabetes and heart disease among the population. Combine a sedentary lifestyle with a poor diet, and you have a recipe for obesity and heart disease. The irony of  a country "having-too-much-for-their-own-damn-good", much like the health fall-outs that America is still attempting to combat. 

And the most important tidbit: I am now the proud owner of a t-shirt from the event which I will wear proudly for years to come.

Now onto the boring stuff:
 I was reading excerpts from the book Outliers last week, Fascinating material, especially the chapter on the Korean Airline crashes that were rampant back in the 1990s. The author attributed these crashes, in large part, to multiple system failures, but they were also coupled with cultural mores regarding pilot/co-pilot emergency procedures, reactions, language, and cultural tone inflections. All of this was based on research compiled by a Dutch psychologist named Geert Hofstede. I have included the info from the website (, so I am giving credit where credit is due. The referenced material explains each of  Hofstede's dimensions and breaks the dimensions down country by country. I, in no way, know how valid this study is, or even if I fully agree with it or not. I merely offer the following as food for thought within the framework of a culture that continues to perplex me.

Below are brief explanations of Hofstede's dimensions, and also a comparison/contrast between the UAE and the USA on where the two countries fall within each spectrum.  Again, all the information was taken from Hofstede's site.

Power Distance- ".. all individuals within societies are not equal, attitude of culture towards these inequalities amongst us."
"The UAE scores high on this dimension (90) which means that people accept a hierarchal order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. Hierarchy is an organization is seen as reflecting inherent inequalities, centralization is popular, subordinates expect to be told what to do, and t he ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat."

"The USA scores low (40). This is evidenced by the focus on equal rights in all aspects of American society and government. Within American organizations, hierarchy is established for convenience, superiors are always accessible, and managers rely on individual employees and teams for their expertise. Both manager sand employees expect to be consulted and information is shared frequently. At the same time, communication is informal, direct, and participative."

Individualism- ".. the degree of interdependence a society maintains amongst its members. People's self image defined in terms of "I" or "We."
     -Individualistic- society's people belong in "groups" that take care of themselves and their direct family only.
     -Collectivist- society's people belong in "groups" that take care f them in exchange for loyalty."

 "The UAE has a score of 25 and is considered a collectivist society. This is manifest in a close collectivist long-term commitment to the member "group", be that family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in collectivist culture is paramount, and over-rides  most other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of the group. In collectivist societies offense leads to shame and loss of face, employer/employee relationships are perceived in moral terms and promotion decisions take account of the employee's in-group, management is the management of group."

"The USA has a score of 91 in this dimension which makes it a very individualistic society. This translates into a lose-knit society in which the expectation is that people look after themselves and their immediate families. There is also a high degree of mobility in the U.S and most Americans are accustomed to doing business with strangers. Americans are not shy about approaching their prospective counterparts in order to obtain or seek information.  In the business world, employees are expected to self-reliant and display initiative. Also, within the exchange base world of work, hiring and promotion decisions are based on merit or evidence of what one has done or can do."

Masculinity/Feminity- "..a high masculine score indicates that society will be driven by competition, achievement, and success, with success being defined by the winner/best in field. A value system that starts in school and continues throughout organizational behavior.
     -A low score (feminine) means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A feminine society is one where quality of life is a sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable.  The issue is what motivates people: wanting to be the best (masculine) or liking what you do (feminine)."

"The UAE has a score of 50 and the USA has a score of 62 in this dimension. Both are considered to be "masculine" societies."

Uncertainty Avoidance- "..has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known; should we try and control the future  or just let it happen?  This ambiguity brings with it anxiety in different ways. The extent to which members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous and unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these."

"The UAE has a score of 80 and thus has a high preference for avoiding uncertainty. Countries exhibiting high uncertainty avoidance maintain rigid codes of beliefs and ideas. In these cultures there is an emotional need for rules (even if the rules don't seem to work); time is money, and people have an inner urge to be busy and work hard. Precision and punctuality yare the norm, innovation may be resisted, and security is an important element in individual motivation".

"The USA scores a 40 s American society is what one would describe as "uncertainty accepting". Consequently, there is a large degree of acceptance for new ideas, innovative products, and a willingness to try something new or different, whether it pertains to technology, business practices, or foodstuffs. Americans tend to be more tolerant of ideas or opinions form anyone and they allow freedom of expression. At the same time. Americans do not require a lot of rules and are less emotionally expressive than their higher scoring counterparts."

Long Term Orientation- "...closely related to the teachings of Confucius and can be interpreted as dealing with societies search for virtue, the extent to which a society shows pragmatic future oriented perspective rather than a conventional historical short-term point of view."

There is "no score available" on the UAE in this dimension.

"The USA score has a score of 29 and thus the culture is short-term oriented. As a result it is culture focused on traditions and fulfilling obligations. Given this perspective, American businesses measure their performance on a short-term basis, with profit and loss statements being issued on a quarterly basis. This also drives individuals to strive for quick results within the workplace. There is also a need to have the "absolute truth" in all matters".

So, there you have it. Examine it, think about it. If Hofstede's dimension theory holds any validity, is it any wonder that the Westernized New Education Reform that ADEC is trying to implement in the UAE is turning into such an uphill battle? The cultural norms that attend the education reform are purely Western concepts, and as such, completely foreign concepts to the Emiratis and other Arabic educational staff. Either they will have to change their entire perspective on several of the dimensions, or the Western consultants//administrators/teachers will have to admit defeat and pack up and leave. Will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Friday, October 19, 2012

It's the Little Things That Create Culture Shock.

I have discovered that there is much more to culture shock than just becoming accustomed and acclimated to a different language, different style of dress, different dominant religion, different food, different weather. There is also the small, seemingly insignificant details of life that we more or less take for granted. What I have found to be true of culture shock is the impact that these changes have on our psyche.

 I have been in the UAE almost two months now. I am unconsciously, slowly acclimating into my life the day to day changes.

Changes such as outlets that are not only different from those in the USA, but don't automatically run juice through them when you plug in an appliance. They have to be switched on manually. The plug is three pronged, and the small switch next to it is the one that has to be turned on.  If the  red light is glowing, then its on. If it isn't then you aren't going to be able to heat your Lean Cuisine in the microwave.
 Another unaccustomed to change are the home air conditioners. I don't have central air in my apartment, although some of the better apartments do, What I have is a wall mounted air conditioner that is controlled by a remote control thermostat. There is also a little switch beside the remote control holder to switch it on. Again the little red light.  When I first moved in, the air conditioner in my bedroom, right next to my bed, decided that two a.m would be a good time to spit black ice at me. I had it cleaned and it hasn't spit on me anymore. And I can't think in Fahrenheit. I have to think in Celsius because that is how the thermostat readings are set.  Of course, I don't  have the Celsius numbers quite right in my head yet  (no fault of Jimmy Carter who did at least attempt to switch America over to the metric system in the mid seventies) but I do know that 20 Celsius is pretty cold, is perfect for my bedroom and sleeping, and my friends think my apartment is way too cold.

I also don't drink the tap water.  It's all desalinated water filtered through a tank on the roof of the building. Bacteria and other strange items can make their way into the tank. I  am told that if you were born or grew up here, then "no problem" to drink it, but if one wasn't, it's a good idea to just stick to bottled water. I even cook with it. So, I have a water service that delivers a huge bottle of water once a week, (although an empty bottle has been sitting outside my apartment for a week now).  When the bottle goes empty I have to heft the new bottle up and place it in the holder on the kitchen counter. I weigh about 113 pounds, The bottle weighs about 500 pounds (not really, but it damn sure feels like it). I am just relieved that no one has witnessed me performing this task yet. 

 I also have a teeny tiny midget sized refrigerator. It didn't make sense to buy a large one. I mean, it's only me. But, it does resemble a refrigerator on par with a circus clown car.

 And I don't have a stove. I have a two burner hotplate and a teeny toaster oven in the kitchen. I can see right now that I won't  be cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving this year, unless said turkey comes from the same  place as my refrigerator did. I need a circus turkey. 

 My new laundry "room" is another new experience. My washing machine is tucked into a tiny corner of my kitchen. I don't have a clothes dryer (there are no vents in the apartment for one) so I have a "dryer" that is actually nothing more than a Wanna-Be Southern clothesline. If I want clean work clothes I have to remember to wash them at least five hours in advance in order to give them time to dry completely. Of course, some of the teachers bought washer/dryer combos, but they cost more than I wanted to spend and I have heard that they merely transform the clothes from cold wet to hot wet. 

 My clothes dryer:

 One thing I think is a great idea are the drains in the kitchen and bathroom floors. The floors dip slightly towards the drain. This way if anything, like the washing machine or the toilet overflows, you just push all the water toward the drain with a broom. Easy cleanup!

 The one aspect I didn't expect is how excited I get whenever I am lucky enough to find American food items on the grocery store shelves. I don't care of I need the item or not, if I spy it, I buy it!! I almost peed on myself the first time I found Jif peanut butter.
Here's my stash:

 So the huge cultural differences like the language barrier are merely compounded by the small differences. That's true culture shock.  That's the point where you find yourself melting into a crying jag puddle and yelling, "What in the hell am I doing here?" Then you find a jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce in Spinneys grocery store and you think, "I can do this". But the scenario plays out over and over again, leaving you gasping and emotionally drained. Then one day, the cycling in and out begins to feel like the  new "normal", and you wonder how you are going to react when you are plopped back home after this adventure.

I miss my old life more than I can say. I miss my Dear Husband and our evenings together, even if we were in two different rooms; him tucked into his study, me in mine- he was just in the next room, and that brought me  a sense of comfort and peace. I miss the clean smell of autumn in the air- it is October, after all. I miss Mom dropping by at my house in the evenings, happily surprising me with her loving presence. I miss working in my flower garden, tending, planting,  weeding, and the dark Georgia soil burying itself so deeply under my fingernails that even after washing and scrubbing, it is still there like a talisman . I miss hugging my grown daughter to me, inhaling deeply and still catching an undercurrent scent of the little girl she once was.  I miss the sound of  rain and the earthy smell it coaxes from the red Georgia clay. I miss looking out the window and seeing the squirrels scamper after each other up, down, in, and out of the grand old Methuselah pine tree that stands guard over my home.

But most of all I miss McCormick's brown gravy mix in the envelope. 

a friend told me that if you cock your head to one side when you have your picture taken, it makes you look "cute".

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Another Lazy, Mostly Photos Entry

I am sleepy, sleepy, sleepy and can't possibly put together more than five or six.. okay maybe seven, coherent paragraphs in my present state, hence this mostly photo blog entry. 

LOOKY, LOOKY, LOOKY!!! I am now licensed to create mayhem behind the wheel of a car in two countries.

 Obtaining my UAE driver's license is the least hassle free task I have tackled in the entire two months I have been in this country. In and out in twenty minutes,and that includes the eye exam and the printing of the actual license.. And in the license photo I look angry or pissed or annoyed. I'm not. Merely shocked at the efficiency of the licensing department in the UAE. 

And I would be remiss if I didn't post my new friend's photo. His name is Fred. He doesn't say much and he doesn't seem to have any addictive behaviors or personality traits, so we should get along well.

Meet Fred: 

I Am No Threat to Martha Stewart
At one of my going away shindigs at my friend Scott's house before I left, my friends signed a shawl and gave it to me. It is one of my most treasured possessions. I wanted it displayed in a location where I could actually see it, so I pounded some nails into the concrete wall (bet my landlord will love that) and I draped the shawl behind my bed. Martha Stewart I ain't, but I do know what brings my soul and heart comfort.

De Car! De Car!
And this is a view of the outside of my little apartment building at night. The white rental car (Wannabe go cart) is mine.

Don't you just love the huge sun shade covers?  Believe me, they are not purely for decoration; they are a necessity when the temps reach 108 F plus and the sun has the power to blister skin in just a few minutes. 

The Drugs, Man OR Dave's Not Here.
And, last but not least, a photo of my Enbrel. I mean, seriously? How many people take a photo of their medication and then post said photo onto their blog? But I am so damned skippy-happy to have this blue and white box safe in my fridge that you'll just have to deal with it. Only two slight issues I have with  it: it's back to the needles because they don't sell the Sureclick injections here, and there's a bunch of Arabic written all over the box and I can't read it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Time to Go to the Mattress

Tomorrow I will wake up and cast off my negativity once again. I will think positive thoughts. I will look at each situation with new eyes. I will not be so sensitive. I will assert myself politely, yet firmly.  It is another day. Each day I will try, until I can try no longer.  Who knows how much a person can take? Maybe this is just my trial by fire into a new culture, but perhaps this is all it is ever going to be.  But tomorrow is a chance to start over.
I will leave the gun and take the canolli.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Heart Breaks, Even From Across an Ocean...

 I haven't written about my dad and his Alzheimer's battle in awhile. And it's not because I have stopped thinking about my dad or grieving for him. I simply can't think about it. When I do think about Dad, I feel as if my heart is being physically torn from my chest, and I am left with the ripped edges of my skin bloodily splayed open.  I didn't know that pure grief felt this deep, this sharp, this painful. So, I try not to think about it. I try to put everything out of my head as I go about my day to day business. I try not to let my gaze linger too long on the framed photo of him I have in my living room.  In the photo dad is staring straight at the camera, my mom is on his left side. He is smiling, his teeth flash, and fine feathered furrows crease his face. His eyes are the deep chocolate brown of Nestle Toll House chips. They are clear and sharp, not muddled, lost, and perplexed. There is life in those eyes. There is still my dad.

I cry. I can't even think about him without crying. I miss him. I wish so many times I could have him hug me just once more and whisper in my ear, "I love you", but I'm afraid I'll never hear him say those words again. When I left Georgia, dad had already began his journey down the last winding tunnel of the Alzheimer's journey. There was no slowing it down, no bargaining with it. Today, my dad is living in the Veteran's Administration in Dublin, Georgia. My mother could not physically care for him and his needs any longer. This is how he wanted it to be. He told me, when he was diagnosed in August 2009, that he did not want this killing my Mom. He was adamant. He made me promise that when the time came I would make sure that he was placed in the V.A Center.. I promised him.

 In late spring, Dad had started wandering from the house, growing more and more agitated with each passing day, not sleeping.  He was restless, easily angered, suspicious.

In early May my father was able to water the grass, putter around the yard, and help Mom with dishes, but he wasn't able to do much more than that. He had already lost any interest in watching television; could not remember to pull the kitchen cabinet doors to open them instead of push them, would ask over and over again where Mom had gone if she even left the house for an hour;  would dash to answer the telephone when it rang, but after the initial "Hello?", could not make his brain and vocal chords cooperate.  Shortly before he was hospitalized for the first time in late May , I went to visit him and Mom one evening. When I pulled into the driveway Dad was struggling with the big green plastic city garbage can. He had managed to somehow roll it down the driveway, but when I arrived he was fruitlessly attempting to push the over sized bin instead of pulling. I got out of my car to help him, and the look of pure frustration on his face stopped me cold in my tracks. He pushed too hard and the entire bin toppled over with a hard thud, spilling trash all over the concrete. I helped Dad pick the can upright and then scooped the trash back in. I then showed him how to pull it towards the road.  After a few failed attempts he finally managed to roll it clumsily to the curb. That's not how I want to remember my dad.

Now, less than five months later, Dad can no longer walk unassisted, can only eat with help, cannot take care of his daily hygiene needs or bodily functions, and he does not know how long he's even been at the V.A center. Every time Mom goes to see him (which is every other day) he asks in his own Alzheimer's language, "How long have I been here?" Mom always tells him, "Two weeks" and he accepts this without question.

I want to remember my Dad grilling hamburgers in the backyard on Fourth of July. I want to remember his face shining at me with fatherly pride in my stormy teen years, when maybe I didn't even deserve it. I want to remember the shine of happiness in his eyes when he held my minutes old daughter close to his chest while she cried and cried, and he smiled and smiled.  I want to remember his excitement and  joy at Halloween as he prepared for Trick or Treaters by donning his vampire or scarecrow costume. He loved Halloween. But Alzheimer's robs the family of those kind of memories. It dulls them, and leaves in their place helplessness, confusion, anger, grief, sadness, guilt. The last time I saw my dad, he smiled wide when I walked in his hospital room. I went to him, knelt down to the wheelchair where he was propped, and he clutched his thin arms around me as tight as he could, and he sobbed like a lost child. 

My father now weighs about 135 pounds. He is a shadow of his former self.  He is disappearing.

My heart is broken. Not broken to the same extent as my Mother's is, but broken nonetheless. Alzheimer's has robbed my family of dignity, decency, peace, and hope. And I will never forgive or forget..

I sit here and cry, and know that I have to somehow turn this back off. I can't think about it. I have a life to lead, things to do. I can't curl in a corner and wither, the way I want to right now.  I survive by not thinking about it.  There is no closure. Not now.  Not while Alzheimer's eats my father alive inch by inch, memory by memory, smile by smile,   There is no balm in Gilead..

And that is why I don't write about my Dad much anymore.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

R.I.P, Mr. Mouse

I poked my head out of the classroom around 1 p.m today to go use the restroom. I had been holed up since 8 a.m writing and trying to talk to ADEC tech support about why my classroom internet was down.  I couldn't find a soul in the entire school. No one. I walked to the front door of the school and looked out to the parking lot. Mine was the only car left. No one told me. All the teachers and admins just decided to go home early because there was a field trip today and 7th- 12th grades weren't at school. I quickly went and gathered my belongings to GET THE HELL out of Dodge, but then remembered my original mission: go to the restroom.

My car.. the only one left in the parking lot at 1 p.m.

I grabbed some Kleenex tissue because they never have paper in the restroom. I opened the stall door, unhooking my skirt with one hand as I tried to hold up the hem with the other so it wouldn't get wet on the liberally sprayed, constantly wet floor. I started to sit down and noticed movement in the toilet bowl. 

A Mouse. A tiny mouse paddling his little heart out furiously, trying to keep his itty bitty head above water, knowing in his tiny little heart that he was facing the grand exit from this world, seeking some kind of purchase on any tiny crevice or ledge. No such luck. It was a slick white porcelain bowl. I thought about scooping him out then I thought, "What if the mouse has rabies? I'd end up having to get a lot of those shots in the stomach that I heard hurt like crazy". Essentially our little mouse friend was one doomed motherfucker. And I still had to pee.

I considered peeing on the mouse because the other stall door was jammed and I had to go NOW. I determined that leaving a mouse to drown would invite all kinds of bad karma, but actually peeing on a drowning mouse might earn me instantaneous bad mojo shit forever and ever, amen. So, I crossed my legs and duck walked towards the student restroom where I had to squat over a squatty potty and almost fell down.  I exited the building feeling like my brain had been dipped in a bit of residual Salvador Dali paint and also a little like Burgess Meredith in that "Twilight Zone" episode where he wakes from a nap in a bank vault only to discover everyone else has disappeared.

Mr. Drowning Mouse

I went straight from work to the hospital prepared to do all kinds of battle, including bad-ass-one -breasted-warrior-woman-kick-ass-nine-ways-to-Sunday-kung-fu battle.  I ended up running back and forth from the hospital pharmacy to the doctor on the second floor (at first I had stepped into an office on the second floor, which I now suspect was urology.. there were nothing but old men sitting in the waiting room and they all looked at me in a very "WTH?" manner The nurse very pointedly gave me directions to the rheumatologist's office).  In between all the running around, I was phoning the insurance company (three times), raising a little good old American hell.

At one point in all this madness I was standing at the pharmacy window talking to the  pharmacist, Mr. Mohammed (by the way, I love Mr. Mohammed.. he was patient, helpful, kind, and understanding. The only bright spot in the entire hospital) and two men dressed in kanduras sidled up thisclose next to me and totally and absolutely interrupted mine and Mr. Mohammed's conversation. They were demanding that they be assisted NOW. I saw myself turn to them. I heard myself say, "You are one rude asshole" then just as quickly I realized what I was on the verge of doing, pulled myself out of the all too real fantasy, ground my teeth until my jaw ached, and loudly started counting backwards from ten. When I reached the number five, the man standing so close to me on my left that he could probably see any stray chin hairs I might have overlooked last night, started staring at me. I felt his eyes bore into me. I never once looked at him. When I reached the last number int he countdown (the number one, for all you mathematical challenged people)  I said quickly (I am the fastest talking Southerner I know), "Yeah, I'm just an American asshole". Mr. Mohammed raised his eyebrow in surprise, hurried the men off, and then told me, "I am so very sorry they interrupted". I said, "It isn't your fault. They were rude and ignorant". He smiled a bit in what I like to think was empathy, or maybe he was just trying to get rid of the crazed American lady who was demanding her drugs,  and then he proceeded to instruct me on how best to handle the medication situation.  He also  re-faxed all the paperwork back to the insurance company.  He asked that I give it a couple of days and come back Sunday and find out what the status was.

I then drove my grumpy-almost-got-bit-on-the-ass-by-a-mouse self  to a used book store where I bought four used books and an untold amount of serenity from the mixed smell of paper and ink, and the simple act of purchasing books.  I arrived at my apartment to find Ciara, my upstairs neighbor, in my apartment busily assembling three small cabinet/bookshelves that I had bought a couple of weeks ago and that were still sitting unopened in the extra bedroom in their original boxes.  Before she went home, she managed to help me piece together my new kitchen table and chairs, which she unselfishly picked up for me today at the mall. I never could have done it without her. I possess no mechanical or spatial talents....

Then Mr. Mohammed from the hospital pharmacy phoned and told me to come by Sunday. My Enbrel medication has been approved! It'll cost me about $359.00 USD for two month's worth, but I am so happy and relieved right now. 

Just remember: if your day includes a drowning mouse paddling around helplessly in a toilet bowl while you ponder if you should pee on him or not, it could end with a blessed man like Mr. Mohammed going above and above the call of duty.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Arthur and Cheese

Arthur (psoriastic arthritis) crept up behind me day before yesterday and bit me.. hard. Guess ole Arthur needs to maintain the status quo and remind me who is still boss in my life. As much as I hate him, his unexpected arrivals from time to time do keep me grounded in what is, and is not, important and necessary.

I missed two days of work due to Arthur's little visit, and I ended up sitting for literally hours in various doctors offices in the UAE to obtain a sick leave note and trying like hell to get an appointment with a rheumy. At one point I was in so much pain that I started crying and I scared the doctor. It was almost worth it to see the growing alarm and panic on his face.

Seems like I might not be able to get my enbrel in this country, and that would open an entire other can of worms for me. I need the enbrel medication in order to function. Two months without it and I wouldn't even be able to get out of the bed in the morning on my own.  Some things in life are beyond our ability to control though, so I will merely do the best I can to get my medication  and if it doesn't work out then I will cross the new bridges as they arise. As I have heard so many times since arriving in the UAE, "No problem, Miss".

I still don't have internet, but am lucky in that my upstairs neighbor was able to get her internet connected today. Now I can steal internet from her if I can talk my way into her apartment. I have given her cheese and crayons in exchange for internet. I don't know if I have much left that is of any value. Maybe she will take more cheese? I'll have to ask her.

Today at school we had a professional development meeting. Very bizarre in that everything was relayed in English and then translated into Arabic. That means it took twice as long as professional developments in the states. But, I have to say the meeting was infinitely more interesting.  The Arabic teachers can be quite a lively and vocal bunch. I didn't know what they were saying three quarters of the time, but damned if they weren't passionate about whatever it is they were discussing. A lot of interruptions, table banging, and "La, la, la" ("No, no, no). It was like sitting inside a roller coaster car just after the big slow dip and then the creak back to the top . The meetings at my school can veer off into turns I didn't even know existed.

Today is Tuesday; my "hump day". Thursday is my Friday, so two more days to go. In two more weeks we have four days off for Eid. A lot of the teachers are going to cool places like India, but I will be sitting my tired self in my apartment curled up with a new book acquisition. And I will be happy.

Just finished reading"Ape House" by Sara Gruen and it was a very entertaining book (she wrote "Water for Elephants"). I love her characterizations. She has a way of pulling the reader into her fictionalized world with humor and empathy. The story line of the book is very plausible and true to life also.  If you need to borrow a good read, I live off Tawan roundabout.. Come borrow the book. I won't even make you give me cheese for the privilege. I'm just kind of nice like that.

I ruined a pot of chicken and dumplings tonight. Note to self: it is not possible to make chicken and dumplings using Pillsbury breadstick dough. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Promise

I will never ever ever complain about health care, medical insurance coverage, and bureaucracy in the USA again. I swear.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Things I Have Learned In The UAE:

 *Stay away from all shopping malls and highways  after 5:30 p.m. After that time, the entire UAE resembles the December 3, 1979 Who concert where scores of fans were trampled to death.  If you run out of toilet paper, just use sand, don't try to venture out to buy a roll of paper. It may be the last thing you ever do...

*Kentucky Fried Chicken tastes like nothing but a dead bird here.

*All New York City cab drivers learned to drive in the UAE.

*I didn't realize that I could crave butter beans and cornbread so badly..

*100 degrees F feels cool after days of 108 temps.

*EVERY employee at the bank, internet company, and all government facilities will each give you a different answer to a simple question. No one knows the answers so they make shit up on the spot.  Don't even think about asking any question that requires more thinking than, "Where is the restroom located in this building?", and even then you'll probably end up having to pee in a broom closet or have your bladder burst..

*Driving down the road past nothing but miles of miles of red sand dunes gives one a very surreal feeling especially when the CD player is also blasting out The Beach Boys "Surfin' U.S.A". 

*When I visit Georgia for winter break in December my family is going to go nuts trying to understand the pidgin English that I have had to cultivate in order to be understood in the UAE. It's becoming habit.  "Me no go now", "You stay", "Me no understand"- all accompanied by grand, over exaggerated hand gestures.

*People from the Middle East can't distinguish between British, Irish, Australian, and American accents, so they all think were Canadian!! (A bit of humor there for my North of the border expat friends).

*It is possible to feel unnaturally like a criminal when buying bacon in a Non Muslims Only pork shop.

*Even here I am told that I talk way too fast and that none of the Arabic teachers can understand me. That's why they all just stand there and smile and me when I talk to  them. They haven't  a clue as to what I am saying. That might actually come in handy one day.  I'm still the fastest talking Southerner alive!!

*It's really funny to hear my students say, "It's cool, man". One of the necessary phrases I have taught them.

*Finding a jar of Jif peanut butter in the grocery store or spying a Mountain Dew truck on the highway can cause untold waves of happiness to wash over me. 

*I am fifty years old and miss my Mom and Dad as much as I did when I was six-years-old and spent the night away from home for the first time... and that's a lot.

*The evening call to prayer singing out over the dark Al Ain night is strangely comforting.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Vodka Saves, and So Does Jesus

September 28

I'm dead in the water as far as internet service goes right now. I moved into my apartment in Al Ain yesterday. I spent the night in my own bed last night and I swear it was more of a coma than actual sleep.  It's been a difficult week.  Such a  difficult one that that when I was talking to Dear Husband on the phone the other night I started blubbering and crying. I was so exhausted and overwhelmed by all that has happened in the past five weeks. I was hanging by a thread, and then my computer wouldn't power back on after work and I thought it had crashed, (ended up that I only had to take out the battery and reinsert it.).  Thinking my computer had crashed meant no more skyping with husband, no more emails- it meant I was virtually cut off and truly alone. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Poor Dear Husband took the brunt of it, although I did try to control myself a bit, for his sake. I mean, I knew there was nothing he could do about the computer or my stress, but when I heard his voice, I just cracked. At least it took my thinking my computer has crashed to push me over the edge. One new teacher recently fell apart because her stapler broke.

My days have consisted of getting up at 5:30 a.m, running down to the hotel restaurant and grabbing muffin to go with my hot tea, picking up another teacher who rides with me, driving fifty minutes to school, teaching amidst a severe language barrier, driving home around 2:30 p.m, phoning the internet company (I hate the internet company... simply hate them) , meeting delivery people at the apartment, rushing around from store to store buying all the items I need to set up housekeeping, washing my clothes by hand, trying to scrounge up dinner. I am finally able to get off the merry-go-round around eleven at night, and I fall into bed exhausted. I love to shop but it has gotten old real quick. I have bought everything from a bed, couch, refrigerator, washing machine, office desk and chair to soap, coffee cups, wooden cooking spoons, and clothes pins.  Just when I think I have everything I realize I need something else, and it's back to the mall.  Today I realized I needed a printer and a GPS. The GPS is a must have as I am tired of getting hopelessly lost, driving in circles, while crying and cussing.

The GPS is a necessity since there is no real addresses system. Addresses are a vague, rumored concept. You can't just tell someone, "I live at 566 Broad Street" and expect them to find you. House numbers or business numbers simply do not exist.. The directions here are more like this: "Go to the Twan Roundabout, turn at the Abela grocery store, go down about four blocks and it's the orange building with the brown car shades" and then you give them the plot number (I still haven't figured that one out, so I won't even try and explain) which consists of about thirty five numbers.   Seriously, that is how I give delivery men directions. And the amazing thing is that they actually find my apartment after about six or seven phone calls. in which they ask me over and over again to repeat the directions.  .]

 The delivery men, as good as they are at delivering and setting up furniture, can be quite frustrating with the six or seven phone call thing. I bought some furnishings last week and I arranged for it all to be delivered yesterday. I told the salesman at the store that I wouldn't be home from work until after three thirty and to hold delivery until then.  At one thirty p.m I received a phone call on my cell at school. It was the delivery man. In a thick Indian accent he told me he was on his way to my apartment and then he kept asking me something else.  I could barely understand him and had to ask him four or five times to repeat himself. I felt bad for him, but I honestly could not decipher what he was saying. I finally figured out that he was asking me to verify directions and then he said, "I come now", quite matter of factly. I told him I couldn't possibly be at the apartment until at least three thirty. He called me back three more times before I left work and two times while I was on the road in heavy traffic. Each time I told him "After three thirty". The last time he phoned I was so frustrated I just hung up on him. Then the Carrefour delivery men with the washing machine kept phoning also.  I hung up on the Carrefour man the third time he called. When I arrived at the apartment the furniture delivery men were waiting by my door amidst a wall of boxes. One of my neighbors said they had been waiting for hours. They came into my apartment carrying the boxes, pulled out all kind of tools, and went to work. While they were working away the Carrefour men came in with my washing machine, so I had six men working in my apartment at one time. I finally just grabbed a book, settled onto the couch, and tried to stay out of their way.  In about an hour and a half I magically had furniture and could wash clothes, and the men hauled the boxes away.

And then yesterday I bought a bottle of vodka and a Jesus.....

Kiera, my neighbor and a fellow teacher, asked if I wanted ride with her to try and locate a place called Spinney's. Spinney's is known for catering to Westerners in brand name foods from American, Ireland, and Britain. It is also known for its pork room where non Muslims can buy actual bacon and pork chops.  But, Spinney's is best known for its alcohol sales. Yes, alcohol, as in liquor. And although I have never been a big drinker, after some of the stresses I have experienced since arriving in the UAE, having a bottle of a little "something something" tucked safely away on a top kitchen shelf  is almost like basking in the well cocooned security that comes with having dental insurance right before biting into a sticky, hard candy coated apple. I needed a bottle of security within easy reach in my apartment, especially attractive when you know having such bottle is frowned upon and difficult to acquire.  So, Kiara and I went out in search of Spinney's. Thanks to her GPS, it was pretty easy to locate the building, but locating the store itself was a bit of challenge. There is no sign above Liquor Spinney's. Nothing to mark it as Spinney's.

      Kiera parked the car and we started noticing quite a few people coming in and out of a little unassuming side door. Each person who came out of the little door was carrying a small thick plastic black bag and looking very furtive and shiftless in the way people have when they think they are pulling the wool over someone's eyes. Kiera and I both agreed that that little door must lead to liquor. When we entered I felt as if I had been thrust back into America's 1920's Prohibition Era. Everyone in thee store seem to glance up and cast a discerning eye towards us, but then dismissed us and quickly went back to the task of scanning the fully stocked shelves. The bottles gleamed like jewels. Whiskeys were grouped together on a wall that consisted of five shelves. The same for vodkas, wines, rums. There was Russian vodka, Italian and South African wines, American whiskey's. Irish Ciders and beers. I browsed every shelf and read almost every label before picking out a blue bottle of Skyy raspberry vodka.  Kiera picked out a bottle of wine and a bottle of whiskey.

We approached the counter cradling our "contraband".  I had a sudden and swift feeling of being whisked back  to the summer of my sixteenth year when I tried to buy beer at a convenience store. I was summarily turned away with a brief reprimand and a derisive sneer from the convenience store sales clerk that summer. That humiliation has stayed with me to this day and haunts me when insecurity snags my sleeve. Anyway, I approached the checkout counter at the liquor store, and the male cashier  didn't even  glance at me. He rang up my purchase and I paid, half expecting any second to be asked for my alcohol purchasing license (that all persons are supposed to have in order to purchase alcohol). I don;t have one, by the way.  I was prepared to say, "Damn, I left it in the car" and exit quickly, but the cashier never asked. I paid, waited for Keira to pay, and we walked away with our own thick plastic black bags in hand, glancing furtively and sheepishly at patrons entering as we exited.

We stowed the precious alcohol in the car and then headed to a discount home furnishing store. I still need a chest of drawer to stow my clothes in. I didn't find the drawers,  but I did find a Jesus refrigerator magnet. His arms are outstretched in acceptance and love, and  the yellow halo around his head sparkles with glitter.  I bought him. I mean, I had to. He was calling to me. So, now I have a security blanket bottle of Skyy vodka resting on my kitchen shelf and a Jesus magnet watching over me (for a while anyway.. I have a friend who needs Jesus more than I do right now). And I bought both in one night in a Middle Eastern Muslim country. I am quite smug about it. 

And I haven't even opened the bottle.. yet.