How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Friday, November 30, 2012

It's a Jungle Out There: UAE Malls

Paradoxically I both love and hate the malls and shopping in the UAE.

 The shopping choices in the UAE are MARVELOUS! I have found almost every single store I have looked for: The Gap, Levis, Bath and Body Works, Columbia. True there are no Barnes & Noble and no J.C Penney's or Kohls, but I have discovered H&M, Boots Pharmacy, Le Senzia, and Lush.  

 And this country's shopping culture makes America's consumerism and materialism look like a thin dim shadow on the sundial of economic consumption. The people in the UAE are master shoppers, not mere novices. They are professionals in every sense of the word. And their unending array of choices proves it.

Rhinestone couches? They got 'em.

Sparkly shoes? Check.

Glittery dresses? Just choose one.

It's all here. In triplicate.

The "hate" part about shopping in the UAE is that the nanosecond I enter a store I am instantaneously stalked and hunted by the salesclerk, like a lion zeroing in on a hapless antelope warily gulping water from a muddy creek edge. You scream at the antelope, "He's behind you! Run!" He continues to slake his thirst, powerless to heed your cry of warning. The lion closes in. As the antelope drinks, his eyeballs roll in the back of his head because on some instinctive level he knows his ass is grass. 

I am the antelope. 

I stroll into a mall store to get a closer look at a blouse that has caught my eye from the mall superhighway, and in my peripheral vision I spy the pretty young Filipino salesclerk (jobs here seem to be divided among countries: Indian: taxi drivers, phone/internet installation; Pakistani: construction and apartment building supervisors, Filipino: retail sales, nannies; American, British, Irish, and Canadian: teachers (all Westerners are interchangeable in the UAE).  

 I walk around a clothing rack and the salesclerk ducks and walks around the next clothing rack, mentally calculating how many steps it will take for her to sidle up next to me.  I see the salesclerk as she attempts to predict my browsing pattern. She closes the distance. she goes right and then fakes a left. I go around another clothing rack. I lose sight of her. I quickly change my direction, thinking I have outmaneuvered her. Then I see a shadow. Ten feet....five feet.... two feet. She has won.
"I help you, M'am? Look at shirts?  Just arrive".
 I shake my head, "No thanks, I'm just looking".
She seems not to hear me, She pulls a shirt off the rack and holds it out. "This nice. Matches eyes".
"No, no thank you.. just looking".
 She steps back a foot, but doesn't leave. She trails me as I continue to browse. My concentration is now divided between the stalking salesclerk and my need to get a closer look at a red pair of pants in the back corner. The girl doesn't go away. She follows me. She watches as I examine the red pants, waits to pounce, mentally trying to pair the pants with a blouse from the next rack.  I allow my steps to linger two seconds too long. She rushes towards me. I shake my head at her and walk away from the pants.
But the girl still lies in wait, in it now for the kill, ready to tear the pulsating jugular vein from my debit card. Finally I grow exasperated and walk out of the store. I enter another store, the same thing happens. I swear it's the same girl...

This scenario plays itself out over and over again. Even in the one mall bookstore I have managed to locate, the salespeople stalk me, and believe me, the last place on earth I want to be retail hunted is in a bookstore.

 I have been reduced to contemplating the effectiveness of wearing a huge sandwich board that states in bold black letters:

But it would clash horribly with my red pants...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Shopping in the UAE

Didn't go to work yesterday or today while I tried to get Arthur under control. He has hit with a vengeance and I must have done something to really piss him off this time because he hasn't let up for over two weeks now. I finally broke and went to the doctor yesterday. There was really nothing he could do, but he did write me an excuse for two days off so I could rest and try and fool Arthur into going away.  Very nice, young doctor from Philadelphia; Dr. Brent at Oasis Hospital. If you are in Al Ain and need a good doctor I highly recommend Dr. Brent, plus if you are female and young, he is very cute.

Trying to get some Christmas shopping done while I deal with the Arthur attack. Love the shopping. Hate Arthur.

I found two dolls that I'm not so sure about giving to my granddaughters.. I'll let you be the judge:

 I'm thinking they might give the girls nightmares. They might give me nightmares...

The Barbie Arabic counterpart is cute though:

 And I bought Natiional Day dresses for all three granddaughters:

Going to Global Village soon in Dubai and hopefully I will be able to find something cool for my grandsons and nephew. And maybe something for me!

National Day in the UAE is December 7. It's a huge celebration in the UAE that commemorates the formation of the country, and this year is the 41st National Day. There are freaking lights draped/wrapped on everything. I just pretend they are Christmas lights and I sing Christmas songs real loud. Off key. Very off key.

To celebrate National Day, we have a four day weekend off from school: Friday through Monday, and rumor has it that tomorrow will be filled with nothing but National Day celebrations at school and then khallas! The girls will only come back to take exams next week, the following week they won't come to school at all, and then holiday break from December 13 to January 6.

I fly home on December 14th, and am looking forward to eating my fill of butter beans and cornbread. I'll probably gain fifteen pounds my first week back home.

Dad continues to get worse day by day, and it's not easy being so far from him and Mom. I fucking hate Alzheimer's. I know it'll be a shock seeing dad because he has lost a lot of weight and he is not as cognitive as he was when I left in August. But, I am still so ready to see him and wrap my arms around him.

This is my new UAE boyfriend:

 He doesn't say much, but he is fairly agreeable and lets me have my way...

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Different Kind of Thankful...

I do believe this Thanksgiving was the worst Thanksgiving I have ever had. I ended up going to the Rotana hotel for dinner with two other teachers and one of the teacher's teenage son. Neither of the teachers are American, so the emotional significance that this day holds for me was probably lost in translation somewhere. But, I also know they went out of friendship and caring for me.

The restaurant served turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes, but that was about all that was even a bit like traditional American Thanksgiving food.  At one point during the meal I looked around, saw a room full of complete strangers milling about and felt like the most alone person on the face of the planet, never mind the fact that I was sitting at the table with three people I have known since almost the day I arrived in the U.A.E. They still weren't my family.  

 I thought about last Thanksgiving when dad was still home, still able to walk, communicate a little, and eat unassisted. True, not many of the family were able to attend, but it was enough. Dad had sat in his usual place at the head of the dinner table, but I didn't know that would be the last time he would ever preside over a family holiday meal. That day seems like a million years ago, and then again it seems like yesterday. Last year's Thanksgiving  conversation had been family conversation about common stories, knowledge, experiences. The food had been prepared by hands that I knew and loved. A bond of blood held everyone together that day.  

All these thoughts and more started running through my head and heart during the meal at the Rotana last night. My throat constricted, tears welled in my eyes and I couldn't blink for fear they would spill over and then everyone would stare at me, and then I would completely and totally lose the last shreds of my composure and cause a scene. So, I started chatting on about John Kennedy, talking to my friend's teen boy about the band System of a Down.. anything to distract myself.  The conversation was stilted and uncomfortable, I knew. I also knew I was talking too much and too little. I knew I was not talking about appropriate dinner topics, but I couldn't seem to stop myself.  The friend's teen boy and the other teacher started picking on one another, trading insults and verbal jabs. It felt too real, too much like real conflict, none of which I needed due to my already overworked emotional state.  After the meal we waited thirty minutes for the waiter to bring us the check, finally paid, made our way back across Al Ain in the normal crazy traffic, and my friends dropped me off. 
 I rushed into my building, shut the door to my apartment, and cried for two hours straight

The entire night ended up costing 169 dirham  (about $46.00 US dollars). I actually paid good money for the worst Thanksgiving I have ever experienced..

But I am thankful that three people made the effort to be with me on this holiday. Maybe that should be enough.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lord of the Flies: Part Deux

I can now claim the title of serial killer. Doesn't matter that it's only flies. I am a serial killer..

I stalked them, and one by one, I purposely smashed in their dirty little fly heads with glee and joy nestled in my heart.

So, who thinks I need to "get a life"?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lord of the Flies....

Flies, flies flies,  It'll be the memory of the flies that awake me screaming from my slumbers in the nursing home thirty years from now.

 I teach in the middle of the desert. There are 100 houses (I counted them on google maps one night when I was bored) that surround the school. No stores- just houses and houses, a girls' school (mine) and a boys' school.  The entire girls' school is built around an outdoor courtyard/assembly area. The class rooms all open onto the outside. And normally that would be good: fresh air, sunshine, right? Wrong.

There are these flies in Bu Kayrrah where I teach. These flies are everywhere. And they aren't normal flies. They look like Georgia flies, but they are fucking vicious. They are demons. They aren't scared of anything. Swat them away with your hand? No problem.. they'll just come back and dive bomb you, trying their dead level best to enter your nostril, your ear, or some other orifice that flies should not enter unless you are a dead rotting corpse. Or a camel. Or a dead goat.

 It's been a rough week, so the highlight of the past two days has been my discovery of a rotted, bloated goat carcass lying stiff legged in the sun at the entrance to my school behind a trash dumpster. (yes, I am in the culture shock phase commonly referred to as the "Dead Goat" phase). Thank goodness the temperatures have cooled down and we don't have 110 plus degree days anymore. The goat corpse has only been baking in  86 degree heat for however long he/she has been there.  Did I mention there were about two million and two flies swarming all over the goat carcass? A phenomenal sight.

You know something is wrong when you take photos of a dead goat and feel a sense of accomplishment..

Today was a normal, ho-hum, run-of-the-mill day spent killing flies in the teacher staff room. You know, the usual stuff I do at work besides actual teaching. I am the great fly killer. The Arabic teachers turn on the air conditioner in the staff room, open the door, (WTH?) and the flies come in. The flies dive bomb us, they attack us. I try to keep them away from my mouth and my eyes. I cover my coffee cup. The dive bombing flies don't seem to faze the Arabic teachers. The Arabic teachers chat, drink their tea, laugh, visit. They seem oblivious to the swarm slowly overtaking the staff room like some biblical plague of locusts. The flies buzz around, seeking a weak spot. I duck and cover. The other American teacher ducks and covers too. We are the only ones who seem to even notice that the room has filled with about fifty pissed-off kamikaze flies. I close the staff room door and I grab my little blue plastic flyswatter. I stalk flies, I swat flies, I yell out 'Zap!" when I get one.  Fly carcasses litter the floor.  I sit down, triumphant and self satisfied in the body count.

An Arabic teacher gets up, opens the door, then sits down. I close the door, kill more flies. I sit down. An Arabic teacher opens the door, the flies come in, I close door, I kill flies......and this plays out over and over again like Bill Murray's movie Groundhog Day.  Finally at some point I give up, beyond exasperated with the flies and the loud loud chatter of six or seven Arabic teachers trying to out-talk one another.  I have work to do. My ears hurt. My head hurts. There's a fly in my coffee cup. 

This is my daily self determined breaking point,  I leave the staff room, the myriad of flies, and loud chatter behind to seek out sanctuary. Sanctuary that exists in the form of a small supply room that doesn't open onto the outside courtyard, but into a nice, mostly fly free inner hallway. To gain entry to this precious room, I have to open a double glass door and enter a short hallway that houses five classrooms/computer rooms, a custodian's office, and a "special" Arabic Teacher staff room where a few of the Arabic teachers have divided themselves from my staff room camp (I haven't quite figured out the little clique system yet). I then have to open another door and enter a large, mostly empty- empty except for the cushions lined against the far wall and on the floor- "Training Room" before opening yet another door that leads to the supply room. When I enter the first room I have to check to see if anyone is asleep on the valley of cushions.  Teachers and office staff disappear for great lengths of time to catch forty or so winks in this room, and when I open the door, I invariably wake someone and I get the "stink eye" look.

I believe that my sanctuary is not long for this world. I am interrupting nap time in my quest for sanctuary, and this cannot be allowed. I expect to go into work any day now and find that the supply room has been emptied and locked, then I will have no where to escape the flies, loud talking, riotous laughing, and clanking of  teacups. And I will go slowly mad, erupt into a boiling cauldron of unleashed insanity, have my little ass arrested, thrown into a UAE jail, and slowly rot in the midst of a swarm of vicious kamikaze demons while the memory of a fly encrusted goat corpse loops though my brain.

The "doomed" sanctuary.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Birthday....

Today is my dad's 70th birthday. I wonder if he knows?
This has been a very difficult day.  I don't  know if I have any tears left. And who am I crying for? My dad or me?
 Maybe a little of both.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Hollow Man (Short Story)

The door slams. Footsteps echo through the house  Hollis glances up from his place at the kitchen table where a lit cigarette has burned down into a stub in the red tin ashtray. How much time has passed?
     He feels someone staring at him.  It's his wife, Mary. 

     "You been sitting there since I left?"
     "Nope", Hollis murmurs.
     "Yes, you have. You haven't moved an inch".  Mary has the worn look of a woman who carries a day-to-day burden on her shoulders, and this burden has been much too heavy for either of them.
     "Well, maybe I haven't."
     "Oh, Hollis" Mary sighs. "I ain't faulting you none. This isn't what...".
     Hollis stands and pushes the chair back, "I don't want to talk about it."

     He shrugs his thinning frame into the jacket resting on the back of one of the worn out kitchen chairs. Chairs that he and Mary bought for their five year anniversary. So long ago. So very long ago.
      He feels Mary's eyes on him. He doesn't look at her, her eyes make him feel useless. He walks heavily across the room to the kitchen door, opens it and feels the sudden, cold gust of the December wind against his face.  He slams the door behind him and walks out into the yard.  He hears the familiar sound of the school bus rounding the corner. School is out already? Where has the day gone?
     Jonsey, the half deaf Labrador that just showed up as a pup years ago and ended up staying, comes out from his spot under the house . The dog walks up to Hollis and then sits solidly on his haunches staring at his owner.
     "Don't you go doing that too. Why's everyone staring at me all the time like I'm gonna drop dead right here and now?"
     The dog stares at Hollis a second longer.
     "I ain't got you nothing to eat, you mangy dog", Hollis said.
      Jonsey cocks his head and then distractedly starts chewing on his hind leg.
Hollis reaches down and rubs the dog behind his ears. "You a good ole dog, Jonsey". 

      Hollis crosses the expanse of what passes for a lawn. He stops at the work shed that holds his tools, rakes, hammers, nails, shovels, and lawnmower. His sanctuary. He pulls the rusted screwdriver from out of the padlock. He always intended to replace that old rusted out screwdriver with a proper lock, but never got around to it. Just like he hasn't gotten around to a lot of things.
     He guesses it doesn't matter much now.  What wasn't done won't get done. And it doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter. He swings the shed door wide and the smell of oil and dirt and gasoline hit his nostrils. All the smells he has taken for granted. All the smells that have filled him with satisfaction and comfort.  The smells of tinkering and leaving the world outside whenever he entered the close quarters of the little shed. A shed he built with his own two hands. Now the support beams standing sentinel in the middle of the shed are rotting away. Hollis planned to replace them next summer. Plans, plans. plans. What happened to them? 

     He sits on the shiny-seated wooden stool at his workbench. There is a broken lamp shoved to the back. A lamp he had promised Mary he would fix. But that had been what? Three, four years ago? A china dog figurine missing its head rests under a thin coating of dust next to a glass baby food jar filled with various screws. Why did he keep all those screws? What had he been thinking he could do with them? Could a man ever use up an entire jar of metal screws in a lifetime? He sweeps his hand across the table and everything flies off.  Glass shatters, the lamp breaks in two, metal nails bounce off the concrete floor, the headless dust coated dog skitters and disappears out of sight underneath the old push lawnmower, the glass jar with the hoarded screws explodes  Hollis puts his head down on the table and tries to think. What can be done? How can this be fixed? He lifts his head and runs his calloused hand though his still thick graying hair. None of it makes sense. He can't fix this. Some things in life are just unfixable, like the lamp or the china dog.  He knew when he placed the broken items on his workbench that he'd never get around to fixing them. He has lied to himself and to Mary. He can't lie anymore. He can't fix this.

      "Inoperable", the doctor said. Six months to a year. The cancer will eat him away. He will end up like the china dog. Or the broken lamp. Useless. The cancer will drain his and Mary's bank account and savings: expensive medicines, medical bills, and in the end, hospice care.  Mary will suffer. She will suffer no matter which road he chooses, but at least his way will mean that she won't end up destitute. Having to sell the house, move in with the kids, become dependent. She's too good of a woman to be reduced to that. His decision is made. They have worked damned hard al their lives. He won't; let it all be stolen from them.

      He kneels and pulls a metal box from underneath the workbench. His knees tighten when he tries to stand and he grimaces.  He places his weight on one arthritic knee and pain shoots from it like a knife, but it's a pain that makes him smile, even as he winches. It is the pain of life. 

      The metal box is heavier than he remembers. He places it gently on the  workbench, reaches to his left and pulls a small wooden matchbox from the rough hewn pinewood shelf.  The match box holds one lone object: a small metal key. He fingers the key and studies it before slipping it into the keyhole of the metal box., The box clicks at the turn of the key and the lid pops open, like the Jack-in-the-Box toy lid so many years ago.  Had that toy belonged to Jenny or Kevin? He can't for the life of him remember, and this angers him. Why can't he remember? 

     He picks up the white flannel cloth where it is nestled in the box, and unrolls it slowly. The gun is heavy. Solid. He has only ever used it to shoot the occasional rattlesnake that slithered unknowingly into the yard back, or to target practice on old soup cans down by the garbage dump. All these years the Ruger has waited. Waited for today. The reason for its existence. Its link in the chain. 

        Hollis flicks open the gun's chamber. It is unloaded, as he knew it would be. He takes the gun apart and oils each piece almost tenderly, before assembling it into the whole again. His brain is empty except for the task at hand. His hands work swiftly and surely.  When the smell of gun oil is thick and the air is saturated with a purpose, he loads the gun from a small box of ammunition that he has kept hidden in his toolbox all these years. Mary gave him that toolbox twenty Christmases ago.  He rolls the chamber shut. He places the remaining box of ammo inside the metal box. He locks the box and puts the key inside the match box. 

      He retrieves the shovel from where it has leaned against the wall for years untold, and carries everything to a dark corner of the shed and pulls on his old leather work gloves.  This small space is an area that he never got around to laying slab over. The hard packed dirt has never been disturbed.  He pushes the tip of the shovel into the dirt and leans his weight forward. A clump of rich black soil breaks apart.  He digs until a thin sheen of sweat glazes his brow. He continues to dig the hole deeper and deeper. Jonesey saunters into the shed, "Not now, old boy", Hollis tells him and the dog curls up on an old piece of burlap and silently studies his owner. 

      Finally, the hole is deep enough. Hollis places the metal box and the wooden matchbox into the deep recesses of the hole and shovels the dirt back into place. When the hole is filled in and the dirt packed hard with the flat end of the shovel, Hollis rolls an old metal barrel over the fresh grave-like area. He frowns at his handiwork and then piles musty paint flicked bed sheets in front of the barrel.  That will have to do.  He places the shovel back in its usual place.

     Hollis's thoughts are tunnel focused on the job at hand.  He sits at the bench and picks  the gun up from where it has been waiting. The metal is still cold.  Before Hollis can change his mind, he brings the gun to his lips, kisses the oil licked steel, then just as quickly he levels the gun barrel against the right side of his head. 

      But before his finger can press back on the trigger, he feels his chest seize. It's like a fist has grabbed him from the inside. The pain is unbelievable in its ferocity and suddenness. The gun falls from Holiss's hand.  He feels the world shift and he is falling. His head smacks against the dirt floor and he thinks, "This is strange". Then he is face down on the floor, staring at the gun where it has fallen, not six inches from his nose, and his chest is exploding into sharp wave after sharp wave. 

    Jonsey walks over and cocks his head in a kind of doggie perplexity.  Then Jonesey bends and runs his wet tongue over Hollis's face. Another fist grabs Hollis in the chest and he loses his breathe as the pain clenches at him again. It subsides a bit and Hollis opens his eyes and sees Jonsey staring at him. "Worthless old dog" , he whispers. 

        The beast in his chest shifts into another wave and Hollis laughs. Talk about irony. With every bit of energy left in his spasming body he shoves the gun with such force that it spins and disappears under the workbench with the cobwebs and the forgotten dropped nails. Everything is shifting into a gray fog. So, this is how it ends?  He thinks. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Who wrote that?  But this isn't the long protracted whimper he has feared. He smiles. He has beat it after all. His chest explodes one last time, His breathe stops, his eyes glaze over.   
     Jonsey lays his head on Hollis's still body and waits.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Alzheimer's Sucks, and I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

My dear husband keeps me updated on my dad's condition back in Georgia. It's not good. Dad continues to deteriorate almost day by day. He can longer hold his head up for any length of time, and most of the time he keeps his eyes shut. I read where Alzheimer's patients will do that as a way of shutting out visual stimuli that they can no longer process. Dad doesn't eat much and his weight has plummeted.  He might weigh 125 pounds. To put that into perspective, he weighed 186 in April of this year.  I know because he stepped on the scale at my house and I weighed him. Nowadays, Dad either stays in bed or the Geri chair at the V.A hospital, as he is no longer mobile on his own accord.

My daughter took her three week son, Cash, to "meet" my dad at the V.A hospital last week. Not once did my dad look at the baby. My daughter said dad's eyes were closed and when she begged him to look at her, he cracked his eyes open the merest of slits, smiled, and then shut his eyes tightly again. My daughter held Cash to my dad's chest and let my father feel his great-grandson baby against his body. Dad will be seventy years old Monday. Everything stolen way too early from my dad. All he worked for. All he planned for. He never got a chance to enjoy any of it. I'm angry about it all and don't quite know who to be angry at.

So, so difficult to be so far from home when something of this magnitude is happening to one of the most important people in your life. But, it was my choice to come to the UAE. No one else's but mine. I knew it would be hard. I never thought it would be this hard.

My dad is human. He has made mistakes, like all of us. I don't try to shift him to any godlike status because that would be taking his humanness away. My dad taught me how to fight, how to succeed, how to fall, how to get back up. And in the entire wide world I could not have asked for a father who could have come even close to loving me the way he did. I would give up years of my own life to have just one last conversation with him. Just one.

Meanwhile the beat goes on in the UAE. Syria is still rife with violence. Israel bombed Gaza yesterday. My friends and family back home worry about me because they read the news and I am in the Middle East, but all of that is taking place about 1500 miles from where I sit and doesn't effect my normal living and working life. The UAE continues to be a place where the unexpected is the norm though. It is simply accepted and one quickly grows used to practically doing every else's job, and not just in one's own workplace.  The daily customer service industries like the banks, the internet company, the education council- any sector where Emiratisation is prevalent- is rife with inconsistencies. The definition of Emiratisation from Wikipedia:

.."initiative by the government of the United Arab Emirates to employ its citizens in a meaningful and efficient manner in the public and private sectors".
"While the program has been in place for more than a decade and results can be seen in the public sector, the private sector is still lagging behind with citizens only representing 0.34% of the private sector workforce".

The lack of a Western work ethic amongst the National UEA citizenry is something I don't understand or can relate to, and it would be almost laughable, if it weren't so tragic. They are trying to operate in Western dominated and developed industries with Middle Eastern styled "Inshallah" way of doing business, and never the twain shall meet.   Thanks to the influx of redistributed oil wealth in the past 40 years, most of the Nationals have never had to work a day in their lives, and as we are stumbling into the 21st Century and the oil reserves are being acknowledged as not lasting forever, the UAE government is attempting to just about bribe their citizens into employment. The Nationals are accustomed to having expats do everything for them: pumping their gas, raising their children, cooking their meals, washing their cars, serving them in restaurants, waiting on them in stores, and managing their Emirati owned businesses (they provide the capital, an expat provides the skill and sweat).  

The sectors that the government is trying to steer the Emiratis towards in employment are insurance and banking, and these are the very sectors that are providing issues and problems for the Western expats.  These institutions can train the Emirati employees to supply basic banking customer service and services for  insurance claims, if they do not fall too far outside the realms of the ordinary, average services. But hit the Emiratis with an issue that requires a bit more initiative, hours to solve, skill,  knowledge, and persistence and it all blows up.  They will just walk away from the challenge, say "Inshallah" and put it behind them. But the problem doesn't go away. It just gets shunted to another employee who isn't Emirati and that employee has to unravel the tangled strings left behind. And forget about getting any problem resolved over the phone. If an issue arises it is best to GO to the service providers' offices, which means a lot of extra commuting after work. Thankfully, businesses stay open until very late due to the desert culture's internal clock.  So I can clear up any banking issues ( of which there have been several) at 7 p.m and I can pay my internet bill in person at 7:30 p.m.

My favorite times in this country continue to be when I close the classroom door and it's just me and my students, learning together.  My girls are teaching me so much about their culture and themselves, and like teens everywhere they are accepting and love anyone who is willing to invest time in them and show they really care. And, like teens everywhere, they can spot insincerity a mile off.  It's a good thing I don't have to fake my interest and feelings for them. I'd wouldn't last a week. My feelings toward the adults may be full of internal questionings and conflict, but it rarely crosses over to my girls.. I just see teen girls who are delightfully funny, inquisitive, and eager.

Today was Islamic New Year's Day, so we had the day off from work. We had a wonderful program at school yesterday to "celebrate" the Nwe Year. One of the Arabic teachers who speaks English (she may even be Emirati) stood beside me during the program and patiently translated the skit that the children had organized. It told the story of the Prophet Mohammed and his flight from Mecca to Medina, and his eventual return to Medina. I was able to follow along a little because I have researched the life of Mohammed and I guess it was apparent to the Arabic teacher that I had exerted some effort to educate myself about her religion.  As the Arabic teacher was relating the events, she was suddenly overcome with emotion and a tear spilled from her eye. I was startled and then deeply humbled that I was afforded a peek into her heart.  I recognized the deep and sincere love she holds for her God and religion. It was a revealing moment not only about her, but myself.  Her lone tear was a testimony to her faith.

What is Friendship, Really?
Today I was able to spend the entire afternoon with two friends. We visited the Hili archeological dig park and the Al Ain National Museum.  I am thankful for these two friends. In normal circumstances we might not have chosen one another, but I am finding that friends of necessity can become friends of the heart. They tolerate my incessant talking and random conversation shifts, my forays and diatribes about world events, the sometimes sudden mood changes I experience due to the grief and uncertainty over my dad, my dark humor that makes it damn near impossible for me to not poke fun at almost anything and everything, and my Arthur days when I can't make it another step and have to bow out of previously arranged plans. It's a wonder they even take the time to be with me, but they do, and for that I am indebted. 

And because these two friends are not from the United States, I am starting to see a reflection of how my country is viewed by others. Some of these reflections I agree with, some I don't, and some I know is just due to my friends not knowing much about America's history, as I don't know much about the histories of  their countries (I am making an effort to rectify this deficiency). Americans are prideful and boastful and vocal and brash, or as I insist on describing it: we can be "American Assholes". And damn proud of our assholishness, I might add because when we bring out the American Asshole it's simply due to our inherent inability to tolerate half truths, a job half done, or a complete and utter disregard for the rights of other human beings. Americans are always insisting that life be "fair", even when it is apparent that it never will be. That is all the framers of the Constitution wanted: fair.  However, the definition of fair is evolving and the United States is going through some growing pains. 

But I digress. Interestingly, my two new friends provide epiphany moments that otherwise might never have occurred in my brain. For example, today one of them made a rather profound statement that started the wheels spinning and I was suddenly rocked with the knowledge that my perception of the Emiratis as a rude and entitled acting people may just be that they are actually insecure and threatened by their status as an unrepresented population in their own country (around 20%) . They resent the fact that their young nation is overrun with so many foreigners, but they have developed a need for the workforce and thus are unable to sever the ties that hold them to us.  That resentment and insecurity comes across as rudeness and a superiority attitude. I am learning bit by bit.

My new friends provide other viewpoints that enable me to ponder certain issues and questions in a totally different slant and light. They make me think. They push my envelope of comfort. They are astute. They make me laugh. They even piss me off a times (and I know I probably do the same to them, hell, I know I do). They can relate to what I am experiencing on a day to day basis and they can also relate to my angry outbursts towards seemingly illogical behaviors (i.e not "Western").  They know in every core of their cells what it feels like to be the stranger in a strange land. 

I am also fortunate to be working with an English teacher from California who I admire and respect in every way. She is around my oldest son's age (29), and I have started to feel very protective towards her.  She is smart, beautiful, possesses an insight beyond her years, is hardworking, patient, and a balm to me on days when I am feeling surrounded by an ocean of  uncertainty. Again, a friendship born of necessity and situation, but one that is adding positively to who I am and increasing the size of my heart.
 I have become all sappy and meandering. My bed calls. I have two more days off from work.  I can rest knowing that I totally rocked my first evaluation Thursday and that my girls have conquered their fear and ignorance of English prepositions.

And I can revel in  the knowledge that encased safely in my refrigerator is a package of REAL American hot dogs that I scored at the pork shop. They taste EXACTLY like Ball Park Franks. It's the little things that make me happy these days.

and tomorrow I go to Abu Dhabi for a good old fashioned American football game that my friend's eighteen year old son is playing in.  

To bed, to bed, potato head,...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Starting to Feel Like a New Normal

I am starting to incorporate the calls to prayer into my daily thinking patterns. I find myself thinking, "Man, that afternoon went by fast.. there's the call to prayer again". Or I will step outside to go run an errand late afternoon, hear the call echoing, and see all the white dishdash wearing men making their way to the mosque that sits two blocks down and  think, "I'd better make this quick 'cause soon everyone will be on the roads and traffic is going to be crazy".  Afternoons start around five p.m when everyone comes out, blinking, like half blinded moles venturing out after dusk. The desert climate controls the day-to-day activities of practically the entire country. Middle Eastern desert countries do not run on a Western time table.  Late afternoon is when the temperatures cool down and going outside is at least tolerable, so activities shift from day to night. Even my students at school tell me that they don't eat dinner until around ten p.m and don't go to bed until midnight or later.  It is almost mid November now and the day time temps are still ranging around 85 F . The nighttime temps are starting to dip into the 70's though.

I just took the trash out to the dumpster across the street and realized it was a little before four p.m and if I want to go anywhere or do anything and not have to wrestle with traffic, I'd better get going within the next thirty minutes or just give it up. I think I' ll just stay in and give it up. 

Green trash dumpster across the street where I deposit my garbage

By the way, the best times to go shopping are daily between about one p.m and four p.m, Wednesdays two pm to six pm, or Fridays from eleven a.m to three p.m, Early  Friday afternoons I sometimes have the roads and malls practically all to myself.  Talk about heaven. Those are the brief times I don't have to fight other drivers on the roundabouts over lanes. I don't have to cuss like a Marine Corp drill instructor. I don't have to arrive home with my voice box gravelly from exertion. Honestly, I didn't know my cursing vocabulary was so extensive or that I could be so creative in stringing words like "shit" and "asshole" together into various run on sentences.

Tomorrow is a work day (our work week is Sunday through Thursday) and I have a cottage pie cooking in the toaster oven. I have met different people from different countries since I arrived, and the cottage pie recipe is compliments of an Irish friend who loves to cook. Not only did she give me the recipe, she came to my apartment and helped me prepare it step by step the first time. I feel like an old cottage pie pro now. And it smells so good filling the apartment with its bubbling richness. If I turn down the air conditioner low and snuggle up in the old sweater I brought with me from Georgia, I can almost pretend it is Fall back home.

mmmmmm.... good.
 with the mashed potatoes on top ready for oven:

I sure do miss the riotous leave color changes; the dogwoods shifting to red before erupting into oranges and yellows, the cherry blossom tree leaves kissing themselves into scarlet. The cool crisp smells of autumn.  I have thirty five days until I go home for the holidays. I hope Georgia graces me with cold temps and that frost dances on the grass early mornings.

My apartment is starting to feel like mine. I don't go to sleep every night now with an overpowering sensation of being in the wrong place. I read in bed before I go to sleep, set my alarms (I always needed more than one), then cuddle down under my comforter. I get up in the mornings, eager to see my students (the highlights of my days), teach, make the forty-five minute drive back home, go grocery shopping, cook dinner, skype with my husband and mom, go to bed and then the next morning do it all over again.

One thing that has made my life easier is that I have resigned myself to the fact that nothing works here like it does in America.  Seems like every week or so I have to battle the bank, ADEC, the internet company...and it's just the beginning. We were informed the day before yesterday that we have to go to the electric company "soon" and transfer the accounts into our names. Didn't give a date, just "soon". If we don't, then services will be disconnected. There isn't even a date on the letter. There is a date on the attached bill, however since the bill is all in Arabic I don't know if the date on the bill is the date payment is due, the date the meter was read, or what.  So, this situation has the potential to turn into another goat rope or it might go smoothly. There is no in-between in this country. It's either FUBAR or it isn't, but now that I have accustomed myself to that fact and always expect the worse, I am better able to cope. 
 The letter:

The bill:

 My new found attitude is what allowed me to not to completely lose my mind last week when the bank locked my account and I couldn't access my money. I found out the account was locked when I tried to use the card the previous night at a grocery store. From other experiences of this type in the UAE, I knew that phoning the bank would be a dead end street; I had to go to the bank in person. So, after a long day at work,  I drove to the  bank in Al Ain Mall, took a number and waited to talk to someone. Finally, I was next, and the bank rep insisted I hadn't brought in my passport and residency visa. I insisted I had: over two weeks ago. I was told to come back in thirty minutes and, "Inshallah, it will be straightened out today". I asked the lady waiting on me if she needed my passport and residency visa to make another copy and she said, "No, we have it". (WTF??). So I went and exchanged a shirt, window shopped, and went back to the bank thirty minutes later. They were closed for prayer. The bank reopened thirty minutes later, and after taking another number and waiting, I ended up sitting at another service rep's desk for two hours while he tried to get my account unblocked. Thank goodness I had brought a book. A very thick book. I refused to budge or go anywhere until I could access my money. Finally after the rep recopied my visa and residency visa, scanned them and faxed both to the main branch in Abu Dhabi, sent four emails to the main branch, and made numerous phone calls, my account was unlocked.  I didn't blow up. I didn't get angry. I was persistent and calm. Admittedly when I walked out of the bank I blew my top and started cussing about the situation, but I didn't blow my cool inside the bank, which is a step in the right direction. And there were other  teachers waiting in the bank going through the same thing. I wasn't the only one they had messed up. That kind of laid my persecution fears to rest a bit.

Most surreal thing I have done in the UAE? Walking through Global Village in Dubai and hearing the song Bohemian Rhapsody blasting over the loud speakers. But that wasn't the surreal part. My two friends and I started singing along loudly, playing air guitar while the locals stared at us as if we had lost the last vestiges of our minds.Think Garth...

CROSSED OFF MY BUCKET LIST: "Playing air guitar and singing to Bohemian Rhapsody in public in a Middle Eastern country". May Allah bless Freddy Mercury!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Growing Accoustomed to Teaching in the UAE: One Day at a Time.

My students at school have had a difficult time adjusting to group learning activities and the concept that learning can be interactive and fun. They are accustomed to rote memorization and copying text. When I first arrived, the students simply sat and looked at me as if I were a huge pink elephant that had been dropped into their midst. I would see them glancing at one another, covering their mouths with their hands, trying not to giggle at my teacher antics; antics (tools) that I have developed in order to keep students on task and busy trying to guess what in the hell that crazy teacher is going to do next. My philosophy is: If you can’t teach ‘em, confuse ‘em.  It’s worked for me the entire thirteen years of my teaching career.

I seldom have students tell me that they are bored.  My students actually learn in spite of themselves.   They learn how to think. They learn to approach problems from different angles. If I jump on top of the desk and begin to dramatically quote “The Raven”, my students listen. If I drag a refrigerator box into class and use said box to demonstrate prepositions by physically arranging the students into varying degrees of proximity to the box, my students listen. And if they listen, they respond.  If they respond, they participate. If they participate, they learn. If I provide an environment that fosters individual creativity over simple short term memorization of facts, with the goal of having my students simply pass some federally mandated exam that in the end is but a small measure of the abilities and talents of the students, then I have succeeded as not only a teacher, but an educator. Those fill in the bubble exams have their place, but United States education has made them the BE ALL for measuring student assessment.   Those exams do not measure the varying abilities and talents, or even address so called “differentiation”.

Over the past ten years funding has systematically been cut from music, literature, and drama programs in American public schools. Meanwhile, funding towards rote memorization materials, training, and exams have steadily increased in state and local budgets.  And we have the audacity to complain that our students “can’t think”.  Well, of course they can’t think.  Children as young as three years old, already very tech savvy, spend a great deal of time in a virtual world where they have little real time human interaction. Television, computers, ipads, and wii have replaced Hide and Go Seek, turning a refrigerator box into a playhouse or a spaceship, or running outside on a spring day attempting to outdo friends in cartwheel contests. Children don’t go into the great outdoors and play with other children without adult supervision anymore. Play dates are carefully arranged by parents and this takes away the spontaneity of real play. And if an issue between two children arises, an adult is at hand to immediately step in to solve it, so children begin their academic careers with little or no problem solving skills that teachers can build on. Then we further muddy the waters by insisting that teachers spend most of their time teaching the test and attending professional development workshops that take away from creating lesson plans, tutoring students, and grading papers.

Mandated assessments still carry far too much weight in the UAE, just like in the United States, but that is where comparisons cease to exist. This entire teaching experience in the UAE is like no other teaching experience I have ever had. 

I have had to grow accustomed to the fact that timetables and schedules are so fluid in the school. Classes are shifted at the drop of a hat, programs that interrupt the school day seem to materialize out of thin air at least once a week, there is no mandatory attendance for the students, and the “no problem” attitude is a way of life that seeps into education and the school day.  After a recent four day weekend break for Eid, the students did not return the following Sunday (that is our Monday) as instructed. The next day the students still hadn’t returned, or the day after. The students and their parents (I assume) decided that one week wasn’t a long enough holiday so they just took an extra week off on their own accord. The teachers came to school. We sat around and completed lesson plans, copied extension activities, put together bulletin boards, and then when we ran out of things to do, we kept up with the news online, chatted, and drank tea. It was all very bizarre. We were told we could leave every day around 1:30 p.m.  Almost not worth the forty-five minute Indy 500 drive I have to endure in order to even get to work. The ADEC education reform (a Western styled one) and the culture of the UAE are clashing.  Western teachers can be viewed as rigid and uncompromising by their Arabic counterparts. At the same time, the Western teachers’ points of view can be that the Arabic teachers possess little work ethic or skill in educational pedagogy. 

Couple these factors with the sheer numbers of Arabic teachers who have lost their jobs in the past five years thanks to the influx of certified Western teachers, and one can see how true cross cultural teacher collaboration could be tested.  Western teachers are loaded down with double the amount of class time than their Arabic counterparts, but really? I only teach four forty-five minute classes a day? Wow. I am fortunate in that I have not had any real issues with my Arabic co-workers (knock on wood). I make it a point to remember that every day I come into work, I am a representative of the United States teaching profession. I go the extra mile saying “hello” and inquiring about the Arabic teachers’ health and children. I smile, I offer sincere compliments.  I put my best foot forward and try to keep a outwardly positive outlook while I am on the job. Admittedly this can all crumble the minute I walk out of the school doors, and often does.  

 I come to work every day not knowing what to expect, but also knowing I love my students dearly. They are funny, eager, endearing, and warm. They're teaching me as much as I'm teaching them.  This is what education should be: a symbiotic learning relationship between the teacher and the student.  Now if I can just get them to use prepositions and conjunctions in their writing and speaking, we might be on the road to something here...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Any Foodies Out There??

Food. Let's talk about food. There are differences between what is available in the USA and what is available in the UAE.

Not available in the UAE (Al Ain) or VERY difficult to find:
Grape jelly (I'd give my right arm for a jar of Welch's grape jelly about now...)
corn meal
brown gravy mix in envelopes

But there is so much that is available:
 The beef  that is sold here is amazing. I had stopped eating beef in the USA, but when I arrived in the UAE I started back eating it again like an alcoholic on a weekend bender. The beef I buy is imported from Australia and is not shot full of hormones. It is lean and cooks with virtually no grease left behind. Unbelievable what they have done to American cows back home. Should be a crime.

And Milk. In the states if I bought a gallon of milk at the local Piggly Wiggly, the stamped expiration date would graciously give me two weeks to use it. Here, due to very little preservatives being used, the milk only lasts for four days, tops. I buy it in small little containers now. It tastes fresher somehow, but that might be my taste buds playing tricks on me.

 Vegetables and fruits? I  haunt the produce aisles of the grocery stores like one of those spaced out looking zombies in "Night of the Living Dead". There are fruits and vegetables that I can't even identify, much less know how to cook. I need to start taking photos so I can google them in my spare time.. One fruit, rambuten, looks like a spiny pear. Lanzones,  durian, jackfruit... names I have never heard.
Fresh produce is imported from the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, and India, so the selection is almost as varied as the imagination.

Dates are plentiful, in fact popular, because they are grown around Al Ain.  Emiratis are proud of the selection and quality of their dates. No UAE breakfast would be complete without at least three different types of dates included on the menu.

Pale amber honey, from right over the border in Oman, is said to taste like liquid gold. I haven't tried it yet because I don't want to become addicted. I am still dealing, unsuccessfully, with my Oreo habit..

I guess when I visit Georgia in December I will be transporting dates and honey packed away in my check-in luggage. But on the return flight back to the UAE on January 1st, grape jelly and brown gravy mix are going to take top priority. Screw the school supplies.

The local grocery store near me sells baby Cokes! I have never been able to finish any can of Coke, except the baby Cokes served on airplanes. Now I don't have to get on an airplane to drink one. I love my little 5 ounce baby Cokes... It's the little things that matter, after all.