September 13 2012
A faculty meeting was called for 12:30. Students have been dismissed early. The meeting room is packed with women as there are no males allowed on campus. The principal is in front of the room seated at a desk. She is speaking, in Arabic, quite forcefully, and I don’t understand one word she's saying. I peep at the other Western teachers. The ones who were here last year sit politely with their hands folded in their laps. The newbie Western teachers look a bit panicked. One Arabic teacher who speaks English tries to translate into English what the principal is saying.
I gather that Cycle 1 and 2 students are to be dismissed at 1:30 and teachers can leave at 2:00. We are told that Cycle 3 teachers can leave at that time too, but ADEC (Abu Dhabi Education Council) informed us new teachers that Cycle 3 dismissal would be at 3:10 everyday, and that Cycle 3 teachers are to stay until 4 p.m. Guess ADEC forgot to tell my principal this.
It is very noisy with the principal talking, Arabic teachers trying to talk over her, and a teacher trying to translate for the non-Arabic speaking teachers. The principal pounds loudly on the table to get the attention of the Arabic teachers. This works for about two minutes, then the Arabic teachers get loud again, so she starts pounding on the table and yelling again. I look over at another Western teacher. From her expression I can see that the constant yelling and pounding is giving her a headache. She keeps pinching the bridge of her nose. One of the Arabic teachers claps loudly and the room quiets down again. Seems the Cycle 1 and 2 Arabic teachers are arguing vehemently with the principal. Six women are talking angrily at once. The principal is trying to talk over them. The principal screams, someone else claps her hands, it gets a little quiet, then the noise levels start to slowly re-build, and the screaming starts again. This goes on throughout the meeting.
I look over at another Western teacher seated near me. She is scratching her head, staring off into space, a slight grimace on her face. The translator tells us that the principal is talking about six committees that are to be formed. Each teacher is expected to join at least one. I have no idea what the committees are. I now know what it is like to feel alien. As soon as the principal stops speaking, a loud debate ensues. The voices grow louder and louder, but then all of a sudden the noise take a sharp turn and the shouting voices grow softer, evolving into soft laughter and giggles. Massive platters of food are carried into the room.
I think things have calmed down but then suddenly a few of the Emirati teachers start shouting at the principal. The principal again pounds on the desk and starts shouting over the shouting, so everyone seems to be shouting. Now I’m getting a headache and the room is getting warm. I want to take off my thin cardigan, but know I can’t because I am wearing a short sleeved top under my cardigan. No bare arms allowed. The translator tells us that principal wants us to present small gifts to students for good behavior. The yelling and screaming starts again. This is turning into a Twilight Zone episode.
I hear the word “ADEC” clearly spoken a few times. The principal appears angry, as do some of the Arabic teachers. I get the feeling that the Arabic teachers are not happy with some directive passed down from ADEC. The Arabic teachers start talking even louder. The screaming crescendos. Then, all of sudden the meeting is apparently over and the Arabic teachers get up and converge en masse upon the platters of food. The food platters are topped with flowers; white lilies and brown tinged drooping red roses. The food is mounded underneath the dying flowers. The women start piling their plates high, grabbing the flowers, pushing each other. I have no idea what has just occurred.
I sit off to the side in safety with the rest of the Western teachers. I gape openly at the melee, not quite believing my eyes. An Arabic teacher comes over to us clutching a plate indicating that we should go prepare ourselves a plate of food. I am not quite ready to have my arm gnawed off in a battle over rice and goat. I shake my head and protest that I am not hungry. The rest of the Western teachers do the same. The principal waddles over, offering small plates filled with sweet cookies, dates, and chocolates and places the plates before us. We thank her and nibble on the treats. Some of the Arabic teachers start leaving, clutching wilted flowers and Saran wrap covered plastic plates. That’s our cue that we can finally go home.
On a sheet of paper that I have been keeping notes on, I write “WTF just happened?” in large red letters.