How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Psychological Study in Why I Hate the UAE

 Since I have returned from the United Arab Emirates I have been experiencing a rather deep simmering anger towards that country and its people that makes absolutely no logical sense. Granted, the whole UAE thing wasn't the greatest experience of my life, due in part to my mind and heart being occupied by thoughts of my father who cycled into the last stages of Alzheimer's one month after I accepted the job, but it wasn't the worst experience either.  Being seven thousand miles away from home and not able to  help my family as things went from bad to worse was frustrating and made it extremely difficult to settle into my new teaching role and life in the UAE, but, if I am going to be totally honest, I initially went to the UAE partly in an effort to run away from my problems: my father's decline, my inability to do anything about it, having to watch as my mother spun out of control over the slow loss of her husband, grown child issues, my increasing Arthur cycles of pain. It was all too much. Going to the UAE to teach looked like a way to leave it all behind. To escape. However, I discovered the hard way that life follows you wherever you go.  You can't outrun it. And if you make a change in your life as immense as moving half way around the world alone, you'd better go with a clean slate.

When I arrived in the UAE on August 24 I had already gone through two years of extreme stress. I hoped for a fresh start, adventure, time to think, relax, teach, write.  I received far more than I bargained for.

First, I didn't expect the United Arab Emirates bureaucracy to be a such maddening game of cat and mouse, hit and miss.  I stepped into a world of constant inconsistencies and "inshallah's". A world that left my Western mindset in a perpetual state of turmoil and confusion. Usually relatively simple everyday tasks such as banking, setting up phone and internet service, finding peanut butter, driving to the mall, or procuring a dentist or doctor's appointment turned my new life into a quagmire. Lack of consistent daily living issues such as work schedules, organized lines where people wait their turn, and normal driving courtesies and sensibilities all became things from my old life when I crossed over into the Middle East. It was like I had landed on Mars. Or Pluto. Or Alpha Centurion. Or Baltimore.

The first week I felt like a bug trapped in amber. Sleeping in a five star hotel on a one star budget and having to heat up Ramen noodles in a tea kettle in a luxurious hotel room made my first impressions in the UAE akin to a weird waking dream. I watched my money carefully.  I didn't want to go through precious funds paying for taxis to drive me to restaurants to eat every day, but I couldn't afford to eat at the hotel either. Free breakfasts at the hotel became my sustaining food source. I stole bread, dates, bananas, and grapes, wrapped them in napkins, hid my contraband in my small purse, and casually sauntered out of the restaurant each morning. I wasn't the only teacher who had this idea-  seems we were all walking out of the hotel restaurant every morning with enough contraband to fill a small supermarket. After a week of this, the hotel started watching the teachers carefully at breakfast, going as far as to confiscate our stolen food hordes.  This, along with a largely uncommunicative Abu Dhabi Education Council, intertwined to plant a negativity seed of fear and distrust that started to germinate.

Two weeks at the hotel in Abu Dhabi and I had no idea when I would get paid or receive the promised ADEC housing allowance, when I'd leave the hotel, when my apartment would be ready, how I would get to work, or even where work was (all I was given was a school name).  There was little information provided by ADEC to the newly arrived teachers, and if it hadn't been for Facebook we literally would have been left stumbling in the dark. It was from Facebook that I learned when school assignments had been posted, where ADEC new teacher meetings were taking place, when I was being moved to Al Ain, when the furniture allowance was finally deposited, how to set up internet and mobile phone service, where to rent a car, how to get a driver's license, how to get to my school. It was all on Facebook. None of this information was provided to the new teachers by The Abu Dhabi Education Council. Not a good way to create trust. Hint to anyone from ADEC reading this: You guys really need to work on improving your shit-for-brains new teacher procedures.I mean, come on, not even a little booklet that might provide just a wee bit of information? It doesn't even have to be grammatically correct.

After I received my school assignment and was moved to another hotel in Al Ain by bus, with less than twenty-four hours notice, I was expected to report to my school the following day (still no paycheck or furniture allowance). I had no idea how to even get to my assigned school and I didn't have a rental car yet. The new teachers, including me, were in slight freak mode. At the last minute (which I learned is modus operandi for ADEC and the entire UAE), we were called into the Al Ain ADEC office for a clarification meeting that turned out to be not much of a clarification for a lot of teachers. But it helped us network with one another. Somehow I was introduced, via Facebook and a friend of a friend, to the HOF at the school where I had been placed. She very graciously picked me up from the hotel each morning and drove me to and from school for a few days. After that I rented a car and became the driver for another teacher at my school for a week. And I needed her. Badly. She pointed me towards our school each morning. My sense of direction sucks, plus everything in Al Ain is beige, and the round abouts kicked my ass.  After a week of riding with me the other teacher rented her own car. I suspect it was largely in response to my horrible, death gripping UAE driving. I mean, I wouldn't have ridden with me if I had had a choice. 

My school was another ballgame. I was greeted by another American teacher and discovered that the two of us comprised the only Westerners in the high school section. We were instructed to share a staff room with the Arabic teachers, who were nice to us for the most part, but largely ignored us. The other high school teacher was often the only person I heard speak English all day. The other times I was thrown into a barrage of confusing, perplexing jabber of unintelligible language. We were given no instructions, no leadership, no curriculum, no textbooks, no resources. I winged it for an entire month. My saving grace was the fact that I fell in love with a few of my students and they were eager to learn, if not exactly eager to cooperate.

After work and a fifty minute death race from the gates of hell on the round abouts each day,  I ran from furniture store to furniture store trying to purchase all of my housing items (towels, rugs, dishes, appliances, a bed, bedding- everything one needs to establish a household) and attempted to procure internet services before I was kicked out of the hotel. Then there was ADEC paperwork to attend to, lessons to plan, and clothes to hand wash in the bathroom sink. I would fall into bed exhausted at the hotel each night around eleven p.m only to start the entire process again the next morning at the grand hour of five a.m . 

Making certain my internet was hooked up  in my apartment was more than a luxury; it was as important to me as an in utero baby's umbilical cord. It was my life sustenance. It was the only way I had of communicating with my family back in Georgia. The only way of hearing my husband's voice.  The only way of following my dad's condition.  My link to home. And I was having zero luck with the only internet provider in the entire country, Etisalat.  They just refused to cooperate when it came to setting up my service. Everyone else in the apartment building had internet access before we even moved in, everyone but me, and no one could tell me when it might be connected, or even how long it might take (it ended up taking fourteen phone calls, four visits to the main office, and seven weeks of losing my mind). Then my laptop died and I came thisclose to having a complete and irreversible breakdown.  It was my first last straw.  I drove to the mall, sobbing the entire way, and bought an overpriced notebook computer. Later, one of the other teachers tried to comfort me by telling me that she had heard of one of the new teachers breaking down because her stapler broke. I guess it was supposed to make me feel better, and in a way it did. I mean I hadn't lost it over a stapler for God's sake.  As for my deceased laptop: six days later I breathed life back into it when I removed the battery and reinserted it.

So, where in all this does my anger towards the UAE come into play?  In all of it. In every unreasonable, fucked up, unorganized, chaotic, perplexing moment. In every rude Emirati male who rode the ass of my car, flashed their lights at me, and almost smeared my little rental all over the road; in every rude person who pushed and cut in front of me in line and then sneered at me; in every incomprehensible staff meeting I attended where all the Arabic teachers sat around and yelled at one another, the principal yelled back, and I sat in mortified stupefaction; in the way ADEC simply forgot their teachers after they placed us in our schools; in the way an Arabic teacher would come onto my class, say something to the girls, and they would get up and leave class en masse with no explanation; in the complete and total absence of any educational resources of any type; in the ADEC provided health insurance that I had to literally fight, yell and scream at to get my medication; in the knowledge that if I were ever sexually attacked in the country I would be terrified to report it to the UAE police for fear of them finding me, a mere Western woman, at fault somehow (I had read the local newspapers and heard stories); in the empty dead eyes of the numerous Filipino and Ethiopian nannies following their "Madams" around silently in the malls and grocery stores; in the way an Emirati teacher more or less called the Western teachers "alcoholics and whores" in a district wide staff meeting (she vehemently warned us not to come to work drunk or have sex at school while her posse sat beside her nodding their black shayla draped heads in agreement); in the way I was suddenly aware of my skin color and reminded I wasn't one of them, but on a rung beneath them.

 It all just chipped away at my defenses and created a huge unforgiving chasm, and then it made me angry because I saw myself and my country reflected back in a Dali-ist sort of way. But I didn't know that was what was causing a large portion of my anger. Until now.

It has finally coalesced in my tiny brain in the past week that the UAE is a dulled mirror of America at certain points in our own history. Bingo. I win the prize. The prize of self revelation.

 The UAE is a culture trying to walk a three pronged fork between sudden wealth and consumerism, tradition and a deeply ingrained unquestionable religion, and new temptations and vices. My insides clinched at the meaningless reckless materialism that grips the infant UAE; a spoiled toddler with ready access to more and more new toys, much like America before the Great Depression or during 1980s Reaganomic Yuppie days. I witnessed pre-Civil Rights America in the various methods the Emiratis use to reduce the human element amongst the poor non-National labor force that does all the manual work for them- some of the workers little better than slave labor with no rights at all; a harsh reflection of America's own unforgivable slavery and Jim Crow days. The double edged American "welcome" to the poor Irish, Italians,  and other ethnic peoples in the 1800 and early 1900s who came for a better life, is now shadowed in my mind with the faces of Ethiopian, Bangladeshi, Filipino, and Indian UAE workers (they can never hope for UAE citizenship- at least America offered that caveat).

The UAE is building buildings and malls faster than they can fill them, and these buildings stand on symbolic as well as literal shifting sands. The cities sparkle with a kind of facade-like sheen, carnival bright and surreal. Everything is bigger and bigger and even bigger, as if bigger can somehow ease a sense of arrogant insecurity over their place in the world. As if bigger can erase the fact that they are only two generations removed from the Bedouin desert life, accompanying  hardships, and third world status.  They brag too much over their own self conceived prowess, accomplishments, and wealth.  They  use oil and water like they are in an endless eternal supply- far worse than any American I have ever seen do in my generation. I mean, Emiratis have the rampant waste of natural resources down to a science. I guess they learned one lesson too well from the Western world. 

In short, they are us a mere fifty years ago in many respects. And I can't stand to admit that fact. When I look in the mirror, all I want to do is smash it, but instead I fault the UAE and hate them because they are fucking it all up so very well and so very predictability.  And with their dominating religion so deeply entrenched with their laws and form of state monarch governance, they can never hope to claw their way towards any type of redemption. They will fall. The self declared mighty always do.  They are just on a sort of fast tracked highway to hell.

I wish I were still going to be around in about fifty to seventy years when the whole shitbag implodes in their faces. And I'm not even suggesting that America won't implode as well, but I think we have a bit more time before that happens, due in part to our founders' extreme foresight in separating religion and state.  That'll buy us some time. When the UAE finally does topple, if I were around, which as I stated before I won't be, I might be able to feel a bit sorry for them and stop hating them so much.  I might be able to gloss it over like I do my own country's shameful history. I just want someone to get it right the first time, damn it. And all the UAE is doing is following a worn out timeless, historical blueprint of racism, waste, arrogance, and stupidity bumped up to the ninth degree. Babylon, Mesopotamia, pharaonic Egypt, ancient Greece.
Ce le vie.

Monday, January 28, 2013

From My UAE Journal: October 15, 2012

October 15

Every day that I go to work things become "curiouser and curiouser". Yesterday all the students were suddenly released to go home at twelve thirty because at the last minute the principal decided to cater in lunch for the teachers. Lunch was over by 1:50 and then everyone left.

Fifth session today, I was about ten minutes into my lesson with my 10th grade girls when an Arabic teacher came to the door. In halting English she informed me that I had to take all of my students and leave the room because workmen were coming in to paint the classroom NOW.

I located to another room, where it took a little over ten minutes to get my girls quieted down and on task again. If I had know earlier that workmen were going to paint the room I would have prearranged to have the girls meet me in another classroom to begin with, and invaluable instruction time wouldn't have been lost.  However, it didn't occur to any of the staff or administration to put me in the so called loop. And I really don't even know if there is a loop.

Then, in seventh period, the 10th grade girls didn't show up for class by the time the bell rang at 12:45. I waited five more minutes and they still didn't show up. Ten minutes after class was supposed to have started, a few of the girls trickled in and informed me that the nurse needed them to help her with a bulletin board. I told the girls no and before I could react or stop them,  they hurriedly left to retrieve the rest of the class from the nurse's office. Ten minutes later the last of the girls finally arrived followed by the nurse. She marched into the class, and in front of the girls told me she wanted the girls to basically skip my class so they could help her with a bulletin board. I told her that I was trying to teach and that I had already lost Thursday and Sunday's instruction days because school had been dismissed early, and that I was four days behind schedule. She looked at me and asked, "So, they come to me?" I wanted to throttle her, and I basically had to sit on my hands so I wouldn't wrap my hands around her throat. VERY SLOWLY  I told her I needed the students and that their learning was important. She still insisted that the girls be allowed to go with her. She said, "Only twenty minutes". I pointed to my watch and said, " Only twenty five minutes left in this period".  She still stood there expectantly. I finally said, "Why don't they go help you eighth period?"  I was still trying to be polite and smooth over the situation, but she wasn't taking the hint.  One of the students piped up, "Oh, that is computer class and the computer teacher won't let us". I said, "Well, I won't either".  The nurse finally waddled her big ass out of my classroom and I barely managed to work in ten minutes worth of teaching before the bell rang.

One of the communication barriers between the Western teachers and the Arabic teachers is that the Western teachers (I am guilty as charged) need to stop being polite and "Just say no".  The Arabic culture does not take to subtle or not so subtle hints we Westerners attempt to sugar coat in order to convey "No" in a polite manner. We should not sugar coat, because the Arabs do not understand this concept. When they have to say "No" to someone, they say "Insh'allah", and that saves them the arduous, unpleasant task of having to find a polite way of saying "No", so they aren't skilled in this type of communication beating-around-the-bush. I have got to learn to be more assertive and "Just say no" in a firm decisive manner.  Either way, I am not going to be popular or liked, so I might as well accept it, find my inner assertive person, and make things easier on myself.

One of the American teachers coined the phrase "Insh'allah'ed" today. As in, "I was Insh'allah'ed right up the ass and they didn't even use Vaseline".  That about sums up the way I feel right now.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sci-Fi Short Story: The Orb

"What is it?".
     "It is a world. A place where billions of beings lived and died".
     Turning the dimmed glass marble between his fingers he looked at the Elder.
     "I still don't understand. Why is it so dark and empty?"
     "Oh, that is the question, I see.", the Elder said.
     "Yes, you said that billions of beings lived here, but look at it. It's dead."
     The Elder shook his head, "It is dead.  You are very observant for one so young."
     "But you still didn't answer me", the young one insisted. "Where did they go?"
     "The originals-the first ones- ruled for millions and millions of years in relative success. They didn't create though. They just roamed. However, they lived in nature, they only ate what they needed, they didn't kill for sport, but for sustenance or protection."
     "What does that mean?"
     "What does what mean?' The Elder asked.
     "Kill. You said they killed. I have never heard that word before."
     "It how one destroys another."
     The young one cocked his head and peered down deep into the black orb.
     "That doesn't make sense", he finally admitted.
     The Elder sat down and sighed, "No, it does not. Many things about this ttiny orb don't make sense."
     The young one perked up, "Like what?" he asked.
     The Elder was quiet for a long time and the young one thought that the Elder had dozed off, but then the Elder coughed and sniffed the way one does when he has smelled something unpleasant that lingers.
     "The ones who came after. They killed it. They walked upright and they made tools. They are the ones who destroyed it. First they destroyed the very breath of the orb, then they destroyed the other beings that inhabited the orb.  Often in ways that were barbaric. Finally, at the end, they slit the orb's wrist and let her slowly bleed dry, then they turned on one another.  They bickered and they fought in the name of peace. They weren't satisfied with destroying their own kind one at a time, so they invented weapons that could destroy many at one time. Then more weapons that could destroy even more.  They pulled their gods into the destruction and made destroyers of their gods. They flipped the creation gods onto their heads and remade them into images of themselves.  They weren't satiated until it was all gone. And even in that final gasp they kept insisting that it was all in the name of peace. Then the orb went from a brilliant blue-green to black and it's been dead every since. It doesn't make sense, does it?"
     The young one shook his head. "So they were very stupid?", he asked.
     "Oh yes", the Elder replied,  "The stupidest that we've yet to create.  We thought they had some promise when they developed rudimentary music, art, and writing, but then they peaked out and that which you hold in your hand is all that is left."
The  young one gazed at the dead orb, trying to peer into its depths, and then quickly, almost casually, tossed it into the black sea where its splash created an ever expanding then disappearing ring.  The orb sank and was gone.
     "Can I create one?'", the young one asked.
     "You know the rule: if you do create, you must not interfere. They must not know of you. It is much harder than it seems."
     "I am old enough", the young one assured the Elder.
     "Then go off and make one. But only one", the Elder cautioned.
     "Can I name it?" the young one asked.
     "No, you must not even do that. Leave everything to the beings."
     "But what if they turn out to be stupid like the ones on the blue-green orb?
     "Then it is as it shall be", The Elder stated, "This is as it has always been".  
     "You speak in riddles", the young one said.
     "Not when you are an Elder like me. It is all very clear".
     "Will I one day be wise like you?"
     The Elder's eyes sparkled, "Only if it is to be", he said. "Now go, off with you to create. I have other orbs to toss."
     The young one skipped off and the Elder reached under his robes and drew out a small cloth bag.  He tipped the bag. Glass orbs of every size and shape fell into his cupped hand. One dull orb rolled off and plopped prematurely into the black sea. The Elder held the other orbs close and rolled their smoothness into his palm.  They were all dead. He could felt no light, no warmth, no promise from any of them.
     The Elder squinted his eyes and looked off onto the black sea in a vain effort to locate where the young one had tossed the Earth orb. That had been his. So long ago when he had asked the Elders for permission to create, that tiny blue-green orb is what had rolled out of his imagination.  
     Maybe the young one would do a better job than he had.  The glass orbs slipped from his hand one by one, each one making a dull "plop" as it hit the water and sank from view.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My UAE Journal: Oct 31. An Individual American's Perspective on the Arabic World

October 31

My daily perspective in the UAE is centered mostly around my students. My teen girl students don’t go in much for politics or even know what politics are, but they do have their opinions about Americans, however media controlled, shallow and tunnel-visioned those opinions may be. They watch movies. They see television. They process the advertisements. Coke, McDonald's, Kit Kat, Pizza Hut, Mac makeup, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Coach bags, Maybelline. Thanks to media they think that every American constantly drinks alcohol, parties in nightclubs, and has sex with anyone within reach; every young, bald black American man is either a movie star or a basketball player; and every American carries a concealed firearm wherever they go. Remember, the only representations they have of Westerners is media driven.  Rap videos, Honey Boo Boo, American Idol, Swamp People, CSI Miami, MTV reality shows.. that’s all they know about us. They believe that all male American teens are members of gangs.  I see this in the way the Arab teen boys often emulate this "gangster" stereotype by posing for photos, throwing up what they think are "gang signs" (more often than not, it's the American Sign Language sign for "I love you"), and striking their best Lil Wayne pose. Somehow the white kanduras (long white robes) and sufras (headdresses) makes these bad ass poses less believable. 

However, I have also been observing the UAE Arabic adults and filing the information away.
One of the Syrian teachers the other day asked me and the other English teacher who we were voting for: Obama or Romney. She then asked which one was more likely to go to war. Of course, her English was much more halted and we had to guess and decipher at what she was trying to ask, but I found it enlightening that she is so interested in our election (or "contest", as some insist on calling it). I wanted to tell her, "After November 6th all bets are off, and if certain Middle Eastern countries don't get their heads out of their asses it doesn't matter much who wins the American presidential election". But I kept my mouth shut.  It seems, like some Americans, that they have some misconstrued belief that the American president actually has more power than he does. I tried to explain the balance of power concept, but as this particular Syrian teacher had no frame of reference. I was merely wasting precious oxygen trying to explain it.

Much the same as America contributes to world misconceptions about the United States, the Arab world also contributes to their own misconceptions about the world around them. Newspapers and other news media in the Middle East are largely government controlled and censored, and read more like The National Enquirer when it comes to any type of journalistic integrity.  So, a large majority of Arabs do not get an honest depiction of America or the world in their media or in our media.  And their internet is censored by their government, so varying viewpoints do not make their way into the country.

 In their media Westerners are all conquering, war mongering infidels, and we have earned that reputation based on some of our military endeavors in the 19th and 20th century. Middle Easterners are also led to believe that America is an enemy of their religion and their god. And in a way they have earned that distinction by the many attacks made on the Westerner world by Muslim extremist groups. The Iranian hostage crisis of 1979;  the 1983 bombing of a  Marine Corps barracks in Beirut; the U.S.S Stark attack in 1987, the Lockerbie, Scotland Pan Am Flight bombing in 1988; the 1993 Black Hawk Down  in Somalia; the 2000 U.S.S Cole bombing; and then there is the World Trade Center attack of 2001. About twenty-five attacks between 1979 and 2001. All of these occurrences have only served to deepen the Western suspicion that links virtually the entire Islamic world to terrorism. America has our extremist groups too, but we attempt squelch any violent attacks, and if we can't squelch it, as in the Timothy McVeigh Oklahoma bombing in 1995, we most certainly prosecute and punish (McViegh was executed in 2001).  However, I also realize that America is united and we can act quickly on terrorist attacks within our borders. The Middle East is a conglomeration of separate countries, diverse offshoots of Islamic beliefs and practices, and separate histories. I mean, the UAE and Iran are still having a major tiff over who actually owns three islands located between the two countries, and this tiff has been going on since 1971.  How can these Muslim countries come together and present a united front against terrorism? Still, Americans believe the Middle East should be able to do just that, since we are operating from an entirely different set of  diplomatic, foreign policy,  and cultural perspectives. I don't think most Americans realize how truly separate the Middle East countries are.

Thanks to our media portrayals of ourselves, the Arab perspective tends to be that all Western women are “whores”;  we all slosh alcohol like an A.A  meeting gone renegade (I swear it’s those other Westerners who are throwing back all that ale and Guinness, not us piss beer swilling Americans); we all have numerous illicit affairs outside the bonds of marriage (one of the Arabic teachers actually told me that she thought married Western women were "allowed" to sleep with as many men as they wished); we have all shot at least one person with our concealed Glocks (this pertains to Americans); all Western women's wardrobes consist of nothing but thong panties, stiletto heels, and micro mini dresses (thanks a lot, Brittney and Paris- and they even pushed that one by losing the thongs a few times); and all Westerners, if unhappy with ANYONE for ANY reason will automatically throw the “fuck you” finger in a universal salute (well, that part might be true..).  Last summer in the UAE a Western doctor was accused of throwing the universal salute at an Emirati driver and the Western doc was promptly charged with the "crime", but he wisely left the country before his hearing and refused to return.  It was a no win situation. An Emirati's word will always be taken as the truth even if there is evidence to the contrary, which I am not saying was the case in this particular occurrence  (
If the West started arresting people for throwing the universal salute, three quarters of Westerners would be in jail. It's how we say, "hello".

Arabs in the Middle East don’t have ready access, or if they did, would read The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. The don't know how to  jump from numerous news sources like CNN , CSNBC, or Fox News sources and apply critical thinking skills (that's one reason they have us Western teachers here- to teach problem solving skills to the upcoming generation of Emiratis) . The everyday, average Emirati simply doesn't possess the critical thinking/problem solving skills (these skills run contrary to every other tenant in their culture- the tenet of collectivism) to see the big picture and separate the media chaff from the wheat, the bullshit from the murky truth. Yes, it's true that many Americans are losing this skill also, especially amongst the younger generation, but as a culture we still possess the ability to think critically, problem solve, create. My students, for example, just don't "get it" when it comes to working independently, making connections, or solving problems. Recently I was talking to my 11th graders about the basic concept of economy. I asked where the UAE got their money. They all chimed in and yelled, "The bank!". I then explained that countries produce items or services that other countries want, and gave them examples. I  asked them again where they thought the UAE received their money, what item did the rest of the world want from their country that was considered valuable? Blank looks. They never did arrive at the answer: oil. I had to tell them and then explain it to them. I am still not sure they understood the concept.

Arabs (and again I am speaking in generalizations) aren’t able to access or interpret the multitude of Western news opinion pages and editorials, and if they did, they still don't understand the entire "freedom of expression and opinion" thing. That luxury is not one they enjoy, thus the meaning of  "freedom of expression" is misinterpreted.  This was evident in the violent protests and killings that ensued after the existence of the damning (and poorly produced) Prophet Mohammed film was brought to light this past September.  The protesting Arabs seem to believe that just because the film was "insulting" that America's president could breach our constitution's  "freedom of speech" laws and beliefs and go after all those involved in the film like a modern day witch hunt.  But, you have to remember that most Arabs aren't allowed to disparage their leaders verbally or in writing, they aren't allowed to express displeasure with their government, they aren't allowed to question the political process. So when we say "freedom of speech" they clearly have no applicable conception of the term. That's the price for having had all of their needs met by their Sheiks for forty-one years.  They are taken care of, but the costs to individual and societal freedoms are quite high.

Arabs don't witness Americans wrestling over democratic freedoms, how we point fingers, picket, protest, yell and scream at each other, but then go eat BBQ together. They don’t know our history is long on independence and short on having that independence even minutely threatened, or even perceived to be threatened in any way (blame it on the damned British).  So, they glean what they know about us from what we ourselves are putting out in the media static continuum and they build on it.  And what do they know about us? Exactly what the media portrays. Nothing more, nothing less. Pop culture is coming back to bite America in the proverbial ass in a slew of misunderstandings and misconceptions.  And it’s all the fault of the likes of reality television, Rambo, WWE wrestling, Rhianna,, Kenye West, McDonald’s, and The Simpsons.

 And yes, Westerners have their own particular brand of stereotypes and misconceptions concerning the Middle East. I'll be the first to admit that. Most Westerners lump every Middle Eastern country into the same bubbling cauldron. They believe that all Middle Easterners are radical Muslims who go around burning American flags and chanting "Death to America".  What they don't realize is that each Middle Eastern country is as different from one another as a yellow rose is to a carrot. Most Westerners, especially Americans, don't step back and think about Western countries and how different we are from one another. London is not the same as San Francisco, Munich is not the same as Atlanta,  Houston is not the same as Belfast. We know this, but yet we still have no problem lumping all Middle Eastern countries together. Go figure...

But, and I find this interesting as hell, America still controls the fast food industry in the Middle East, and that speaks volumes. Some of the more radical Muslims may claim to hate America and other Western countries, but they love our capitalistic restaurants and name brand makeup, cars, candies, and clothing.  If I wanted to I could eat American fast food every single day and not visit the same eating establishment twice in Al Ain. I went to Dubai mall last week and browsed in the following stores: Levis, Columbia, Sephora, and Gap. I saw an American Eagle, Aeropostle, Texas Roadhouse, and Red Lobster. America goes down and we'll just take all our stores and restaurants with us.  The average Ahmed or Mohammed in the Middle East wouldn't like that.. at all.  They would go completely apeshit if their massive consumerism were threatened.  Religion may dominate, but consumerism rules and the almighty dirham, riyal, and dinar are the true gods.

Since I have been in the UAE, I have fallen victim to my American stereotype perspectives towards the Arabic world. I am working on it though, and trying to understand and pick my way towards some kind of unvarnished truth. It means that I have to put my prejudices aside. It means I have to acknowledge those prejudices. It  means that daily I have to take a good hard look at myself.  That's not always easy, and I don't always succeed.  I have to keep my humor and sarcasm intact in order to survive.
Stereotypes abound, from the Western perspective and from the Arab perspective. 

Neither of us understands the other's culture. More than an ocean separates us. Centuries of wars, rampant colonialism, societal philosophies, and individualism vs. collectivism separates us. The question is how to overcome all of this, and if we can, how do we sort out the stereotypes and arrive at a middle ground where the truth is waiting to be discovered, like an uncultured pearl?

My Famly's Alzhiemer's Journey Continues

When I spent the day with Dad last Thursday, he was more "here" than I have seen in weeks. He was still sad, still cried, but he and I were able to stitch small words together into sentences so I understood that he is tired of trying and that he doesn't know why this has happened to him.  I was able to recount to him the many successes he has had in his life, but that in no way makes up for what he is enduring now. He is existing in a living nightmare.

Mom wanted so badly to bring Dad home for the day, so this past Monday we did it. It wasn't a good day. He spent about five hours in his own house and I'm not even certain he realized where he was. When we brought him home on Christmas Day there was at least an emotional reaction from him; a recognition of the feel of his home, a memory that made him look around and smile- this last visit, all of that was lacking. He could have been anywhere. There was no cognitive or emotional attachment left in his eyes, his face, his demeanor that gave any indication that he knew he was in his own house.

My daughter placed my grandchild, Cash, in Dad's lap and let him feel the baby's cheek against his; we ate a home cooked meal of roast and chocolate pie for dessert; Mom played soft music in the sun room while Dad mostly slipped in and out of awareness; Mom and I fought to "walk" Dad to the restroom where Mom had to take over while I waited outside the bathroom door (there are some things a daughter shouldn't have to do unless there is no other choice); a friend, Buddy, from my dad's long ago days, came over and gave Dad a haircut.  

photo taken: Jan. 21, 2013:

 Surprisingly, Dad interacted a bit with Buddy. Dad also perked up a little when the next door neighbor came to visit.  There's almost a dream quality to  how Dad can be so out of it, but the second he realizes that he has a visitor, outside of the family, his old social charms struggle to surface. You can see the Herculean effort he is putting forth to try and reclaim his old self for a few precious minutes. You can see the strain in his eyes. You can see it written on his gaunt face. He still doesn't want people to know that he is not as he once was. He still tries to pretend, even though it is alarmingly apparent to anyone who sees him that he is a very sick man. He isn't aware that the charade is long over. I feel my heart tighten when I see him reach down so very deep and pull a sliver of his old self out into the light. Afterwards, he sleeps for hours, then wakes and cries.

 I don't think we will be able to bring Dad home again. It is too much of a drain on my mom, and it just makes Dad so very tired, and to what end?  This past Monday Dad was asking to "go back" to the V.A. by 4:30 p.m.  And then on the way to the V.A (I was driving while Mom sat with Dad in the backseat), he told her, "You don't want me". Of course, the words didn't come out that coherent, but I knew what he was saying and so did mom. She started crying. One second he is asking to "go back" and the next he is accusing her of not wanting him.  He does this occasionally. He will tell her, "You don't love me", but it's not my dad speaking. It is the crumbling synapses in his brain. It is the dying connections. It is the electrical misfirings. It is the lack of norepinephrine,   dopamine, and serotonin.

On the drive back to the V.A Dad kept asking where we were going. At first Mom told him we were "going for a drive", then she told him we were going to the V.A so he could see his doctor. Each time he nodded and would momentarily accept this information, but then five minutes later he would ask again where we were going. When we finally got Dad back to the hospital and his floor, all the nurses were there to greet him and tell him how happy they were to see him. They joked with him, they chatted, they patted his arm, and my dad actually lifted his head and smiled and his eyes brightened. Sometimes when a memory is being made you know that the moment is being etched deep in your brain. That is how that one moment was for me. I will carry this picture with me in my mind always: My dad in the black seated V.A issued wheelchair; his red, white and blue Veteran's cap plopped almost tent-like on his head;  his brown eyes sparking with life; his smile lighting the hallway as the staff spoke to him.

And there was Mom standing beside him, looking stunned and empty. Lost in her new role. Not knowing how to walk out of the hospital. Not knowing how to stay.. And I am watching all of this take place from twenty feet away. I am a witness. I am an observer.  But I am also his daughter.

I keep the observer walls fortified thick and high so I will not cry.  It works most of the time.

photo taken Dec. 31, 2012:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Signs, Signs Everywhere Signs and other UAE Observations

I am determined to try and balance out my overly critical, serious UAE Journal posts with weird and silly UAE observations. Kind of like having to eat my broccoli if I have four slices of cheesecake.. and I know, some of these do make fun of the UAE and they may sound critical, but I make fun of everything, so chill, okay? I am an equal opportunity person when it comes to shit like this. I come visit your part of the world and I promise I'll make fun of it.

Sit back, contemplate, shake your head, laugh your ass off.  Whatever.

 They must have used google translate:

I am quite sure this is supposed to be an uplifting message..

Come on!  ADEC has plenty of Westerner educators working in the main office who SHOULD have caught this:
And this person works with the Principle...

The message at the bottom of this flyer states, "Grand Mart International Supermarket with the grace of god announces the opening of its new branch..". Okay, here is my irreverent side: I didn't know god was that interested in consumerism..

 Right before I left the UAE I received this notice via the building super about transferring electricity, but it had no date or instructions. Pretty par for the course..

Al Ain Museum: Very good attempt at recognizing America's last Apollo flight taking a miniature UAE flag into space. Only problem: the photos of the "Apollo crew" are actually the doomed Challenger astronauts..

Is a FAMOUSE person a mouse/human hybrid?

Smurfette sure is showing a lot of skin.... Go Smurfette.

Old cholesterol man himself: Ronald McDonald!! UAE has the second highest rate of diabetes in the world and heart disease is rampant. They keep this up and they'll be more fat people speaking Arabic than fat people who say, "y'all".

Sign in Al Ain park telling me what all I can't do. Due to poor translation I was not exactly certain what all I was allowed and not allowed to do. I was scared to move an inch.

This little guy scared the hell out of me. He has a future in slasher films..

But, wow, the sunrises pure out rocked.

From My UAE Journal: November 11, 2012

Nov 11
Weird things at school: finding a handwritten note on my desk written totally in Arabic when I came into work today. The note is supposedly from the principal about keeping our desk areas clean. All the teachers in the teacher staff room got one. So, the principal hand wrote the same note ten times? And in a blue highlighter pen?

My desk area is clean, thankyouverymuch. 

All ten teachers' desks are in a circle in the staff room. I don’t have my own classroom so all my belongings are crammed into a 1 foot by 2 foot locker,  three small drawers at my desk, and the rest I carry around in my Mary Poppins bag.  Leila, the Arabic EMT, is not here today, so I can’t get the principal's handwritten note translated until she gets back. I have pieced together a bit of what it says through hand gestures and one word answers from the Arabic teachers who don’t speak English. Kind of like playing charades.  Maybe if the Cycle 3 EMTs actually had a place to keep our resources, I wouldn't be taking this so personally.

My desk on the upper left end.. (bag and green lidded cup). I have one of the little lockers too..

 I asked the vice principal today if Tara (the other high school EMT) and I could have a small closet sized room off the staff room to put the Cycle 3 resources. She said she’d talk to the principal when the principal gets back tomorrow and let me know. I am thinking the answer is going to be “no”. When they dismantled the old EMT resource room soon after our arrival it sent a clear message that we are not thought of as important to the education and culture of this school as the other teachers. I don’t even know where all the English resources that were in that room went.. It is now a room for the Arabic teachers who don't want to be around the other Arabic teachers. Maybe it’s a class thing, country of origin thing. I really can't figure out the pecking order and little groups here, in much the same way groups back in high school confused me. And the OTHER Arabic teachers' staff room is nice and clean, isn’t infested by these nasty black flies that dive bomb us all the time, and has the best furniture and desks. Kind of makes me angry, but if I could just get a room, no matter how small, in which to store resources that Tara and I can share,  I would be happy. We have an “English Club” classroom where the 8th and 9th grade teachers teach, but it is not always available, and it is always locked and I have to chase someone down to get the key.  So storage there would be haphazard, at best.

Thursday I only had ninth period for about 14 minutes before classes were dismissed because the buses were here..  waiting to see what happens today. 

Every week two Arabic teachers ask me to take their 8th or 9th period classes. EVERY week. Today one of the  two asked me to take her 9th period tomorrow, so I told her I had to go see about transferring  my electricity, but if she’d take my 9th today, that I’d be more than happy to take hers tomorrow. At first she acted like she didn't understand what I was saying, the she tried to wiggle out by saying, “I not know if girls have work with them today”. I told her to let me know by noon today if she wanted to evenly trade 9th periods, but I haven’t heard anything  from of her and it’s almost 1 p.m. Most of the Arabic teachers just don’t want to stay that late (3 p.m,) so every week they try to slough their classes off onto Tara and me. I’m not playing that game anymore. I am going to have an appointment every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from now on. The schedule says that I have 8th and 9th periods on Sunday and Thursdays, and those are the ones I am going to teach.. 

Also today: My 11th  grade class was interrupted two times by a KG (4 year old) boy. He stood outside my door and cried loudly. The girls went to the door and tried to comfort him and then brought him into the class. I asked where he belonged, and the girls said, “He wants his sister”. I again asked where he belonged and was told “KG” room”, which is downstairs. This little guy had been roaming the upstairs halls for about fifteen minutes. One of the girls took him next door to where his sister was supposed to be in the other 11th grade room, but then ten minutes later he was back again. This time I told the girls to finish their work and I went in search of the KG teacher. I found her (an American) and she was so exasperated. She said she knew the kid was AWOL but when she asked her Arabic co –teacher to go get the boy when he ran out, the Arabic teacher refused. The KG teacher couldn’t just leave the other students in the care of the Arabic teacher because said Arabic teacher also has a habit of disappearing at a moment's notice. The KG teacher ducked out of her class long enough to run up to my class and physically pick the child up while he kicked and cried. She had to bodily carry him out of the room. The EMTs are the only ones who supervise these children or enforce any rules, and sooner or later the Western teachers get tired of being the only ones who seem to care about where the children actually are.  We try, but it feels like we are beating our heads against a wall.

Hall where little KG boy was wandering..

And I get so tired of the black flies. The Arabic teachers come into the room and leave the door wide ass open.  The door opens to the outside overlooking the courtyard, and the flies come into the room and literally kamikaze us. I shut the door, an Arabic teacher walks in and leaves the door open, I shut the door, another Arabic teacher comes in and leaves the door open. I mean, come on.  But they seem not to notice the flies.  I don’t get it. It has almost become a test of wills between me and the Arabic teachers over the damned door. 

The Arabic teachers come onto the staff room and talk and chat very loudly. I mean SO LOUD that one day two of them almost got into a fight and I didn't know it because my back was turned. Sounded like normal everyday staff room conversation to me until I turned around and saw one teacher standing between two yelling, screaming pissed off teachers. They were trying to physically attack one another. One of them walked out and the other trailed behind her yelling and ranting. I left the staff room on my way to my class and saw where the yelling teacher had the other backed up against the whiteboard in front of an entire classroom full of students. She was snapping like a rabid chihuahua. Later I told the Arabic English teacher that back in the states this type of behavior between teachers would have been grounds for suspension, or worse, and she was genuinely shocked by this information. 

I am also admittedly a mite confused by the fact that the Arabic teachers don’t work on “work” at all; they sip tea and try to out talk one another. It gets so loud in here (I am writing this in the staff room while they "converse") that sometimes I get a ripping headache and I rarely get headaches. So any “work” in this room is out of the question.  I write a lot and attempt to shut the noise out, but sometimes even that is out of the question, like right now.

Lo and behold, the bell for 7th period dismissal rang 20 minutes early. The girls got up, put on their abayas (that is a sure sign they are heading for the bus) and left the building. I didn't try and stop them They would have just said, "We go now, Miss" and I would have been searching for a reason, an explanation, anything.  The entire school was empty in fifteen minutes.
 I packed my bag and left too. I am beginning to understand the "No Rules" rules. Rule #1: There are no rules.

Day by day, it becomes more and more apparent that I have surely slipped down the rabbit hole. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Predisone and a Possible Insanity Defense.

Day four on the drug predisone and I'm about as wired as a billy goat at a Madri Gras parade.  Stuff really helps the inflammation, but it makes me crazy.. er. CraziER.   The only thing that has helped calm me today is David Bowie. I mean, David Bowie isn't in my house or anything, but his music is, and that's the next best thing.  Ziggy Stardust, I love you. From goats to David Bowie.

See? My train of thought when I am on predisone runs down alleys I didn't even know existed. One second I'm pondering the concept of destiny and the complete absurdity of the philosophy, and the next I am meandering somewhere behind Door Number Two where I am completely slayed by the song "Come on, Eileen" by the Dexys and contemplating the ramifications of the song lyrics on early 1980s societal evolution. Everything ends up back to music or literature.

Speaking of books, have you read Bill Bryson's, "The Short History of Everything"? Don't. It'll fuck you up. I mean, yes, you should read it because it's such a good book, but no, you shouldn't read it because it causes 1970s drug flashback-like symptoms. I have been attempting to finish this book for two months now. I read four pages, I think, "Whoaaaaa, man", and then I have to put the book down and spend a week sorting out what I have read in those four pages. Then I'm ready to delve back in, and it starts all over again.  At this rate I'll finish this damned book when I am 82 (and I am a very fast reader) and drooling on myself in a state nursing home. It is one thick ass book. As an added bonus, the book is starting to cause me to experience some love/hate deep seated feelings towards Bill Bryson. I fairly chortled (sorry.. phrase I am been trying to work into a piece of writing for three years.. "fairly chortled". Sounds rather impressive and oh, so British, don't you think?) ) at his "A Walk in the Woods",  I laughed out loud at his "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid", I cringed and then laughed at his "The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America", but this book, this one is breaking my brain.  Literally. I hate Bill Bryson for breaking my brain. I love Bill Bryson because his writing makes me jealous as hell.

 Thank goodness I am reading two other books in addition to the Bryson book: Kurt Vonnegut: Letters and The Twelve by Justin Cronin. I got to have my post apocalyptic book fix thrown in there somewhere  When the world ends, if it be by virus, flesh eating zombies, or nuclear war I am ready to tackle the situation. I may not survive, but I have at least pondered the possibility of the varying ways in which society can ultimately destroy itself and I have actually made a plan for each scenario . I don't know if the plans are any good or not, but... Hey, at least I'm PREPARED! Are you? 
I didn't think so.

Now back to that billy goat at a Mardi Gras parade... what was I saying? Oh yeah, predisone.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Totally Random Things I have Learned in Fifty-One Years..

Today is my fifty-first birthday. Seems like a lifetime ago since I was in my teens, but then again it feels like the passage of a few minutes. I have learned a few important things in my fifty-one years of living that I am going to pass on to you. You can thank me later by mailing me copious amounts of chocolate, but only milk chocolate. I don't like that dark chocolate crap.

1. If you don't rinse the glasses well when you wash them the soap will give you diarrhea.

2. It is possible for a child to insert a peanut up their nose and for the parents of said child to be oblivious..

3. Children will believe anything you tell them, including there is a blue monster who lives under the house who will eat them alive if they ask for one glass of water at bedtime; eating Halloween candy will cause them to turn into creepy crawly roaches, so they must give all the candy to the closest adult: me;  McDonald's Happy Meals will make a person explode (I think that one is true..); and if they run in the house they will fall down, hurt themselves, and adults will laugh at them (also true..).

4.  You will always run out of toilet paper at an inconvenient time.

5. If someone tells you, "No problem", run like hell because there are going to be plenty of problems.

6. Everything that tastes good will make you fat and then make you die.

7.  It is not possible to sing all the lyrics correctly to any Elton John song.

8. Do not watch a movie about a plane crash within four weeks of boarding an airplane because you will HAVE to take a Xanax to be able to stay in your seat and not scream hysterically every time the pilot hits an air pocket.

9.  People say stupid shit all the time. Live with it.

10. If you think the milk has gone bad, ask someone else to taste test it.

11.  It is easier to forgive your spouse when you are just too sleepy to argue anymore.

12.  It is a bad idea to drink red wine and do shots of tequila in the same night.

13.  If you live long enough you WILL wake up one morning and think, "Why in the hell does my body hurt? I didn't do anything but sleep last night".

14.  If you are bleeding, something might be wrong.

15.  Wine is an essential food group.

16. Do not put out the good wine at a party, just the crappy stuff that you wouldn't drink under any circumstances, or you will be left with no wine. Hide the good stuff.

17.  Sexual song lyrics are more easily processed and understood by people over forty-years-old for some reason. In the seventies, I didn't know Donna Summer was singing about THAT.

18.  If you ever run out of gas and have to walk ten miles to the nearest convenience store you will never run out of gas again as long as you live. Only takes one time to know that running out of gas is not fun. I get nervous if my tank gets below three quarters full.

19.  Physical lust doesn't last, so always pick the most educated man in the room.  Brain lust does last.

20.  There is a point where you need to admit that you have had one cup of coffee too many and you need to STOP drinking it now!

21. Our parents become more important to us the older we become.. and the memories of our growing up years and all the stupid shit we did are what make family reunions interesting.

22. Do not bypass a rest stop if you have to pee while driving long distances.

23. It is much more fun being a grandparent than a parent.

24. Eavesdropping on others is fun and informative

25.  Always have one good friend who you can make fun of other people with.

26. Don't end sentences in prepositions unless you just absolutely can't help it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hand to Heart: Shit Like This Really Happens. To Me, Anyway..

A long time ago, far, far away in the early Nineteen-nineties I went to a little Georgia country beauty shop one afternoon to get a hair cut. It was the Nineties. I was dead ass broke and didn't have much choice when it came to being choosey about who cut my hair.

I had an appointment, so when I arrived the beautician told me to have a seat and she'd be with me shortly. She was giving a permanent wave to a rather redneck looking kind of guy.  He might have been anywhere from twenty-five to forty. His fingernails was filthy and caked with what looked like years of dirt and grease. Underneath the pink drape cloth fastened around his rather generous neck, he was wearing a red t- shirt, dirty jeans, and a pair of worn brogan boots on his feet. I picked up a magazine and tried not to stare at him. He looked like a character straight out of a Flannery O'Connor story.

I was trying to figure out which Flannery O'Conner story he had stepped out of when he spoke, "Hey?"
      I looked up.
     "Yeah, hey, you got any friends who ain't married?
     I realized with horror that he was speaking to me..
      "No, not really", I stammered. "Everyone I know is married", I apologized. Why in the hell was I apologizing?
       He chewed his bottom lip in thought (uffish thought) for a moment, then stated, "I only got two criteria when it comes to women."
      I could tell that this was either going to be real good or real bad. Unfortunately it spun into the latter.
     "Yep, only two criteria", he reiterated, "A woman of mine can't chew the same brand of  'bacca I chew, and if she's got young'uns they all gotta be the same color."
     He smiled in a self satisfied smug sort of way, and I noticed that his two front teeth were rotted out.
     I cleared my throat, shook my head in understanding, and said, "I'll keep that in mind", and I went right back to reading the ten years out-of-date Ladies Home Journal in my lapThat was the end of the verbal exchange. Thank God.
      It's been over twenty years since that day in the country beauty shop, but I still remember that conversation. I even remember that Bubba's perm turned out rather well.