Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lost in translation (or all about transportation)...

I come from Northern NH, where cars are a necessity and trucks are even better.  When you move overseas, you learn about the transportation needs of new locations. 

Moving to the UAE taught me that my family could survive with one car (we had always been a multi-car family - and usually also had a back-up third car/truck)....  If we had been placed in Abu Dhabi city, depending on my school's location, we might not have needed a car at all because public transportation is so prevalent. Due to the location of our first flat in Al Ain, we learned that having a personal vehicle was the way to go, and after observing the driving here, we opted to purchase a new car.  Many people chose to buy, but I also know many people who enjoy the conveniences of renting.  
It took less than a week to find a buyer for the car, but due to some confusion with my registration (I really should have learned to read Arabic and be more fluent with speaking it), the sale took almost two weeks to close. After multiple visits to the traffic office, bank, and phone calls, as well as the assistance of a good friend, and her Arabic speaking husband, the registration issue was resolved and the sale could conclude with a final trip to the traffic office.  

Thank heavens for a patient buyer and for being a woman, as each visit to the traffic office allowed me to skip the queue and jump to the front of the line - even before they started to recognize me upon arrival! Definitely a cultural perk I will miss.

After concluding the sale, I learned that there are no refunds on your Salik account (the UAE version of EZPass), so for future exiters, let your Salik run low before selling your vehicle to minimize the loss.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Becoming a critical thinker...

This morning, Belle and I were talking about my Goodreads review of Rick Riordan's new book, The Sword of Summer.  Riordan is currently her all time favorite writer and started her on her journey of fandoms. As such, I will be forever grateful for him and his writing, but that doesn't make him infallible. She acknowledges issues with his later books, and she has yet to read the new Norse book, only my review and what other Riordan fans have been posting.

To give you context, here's my review: 
"I really wanted to like this book, but it is even less developed than the Kane Chronicles, and not as well done as the Percy Jackson series. The story lacked strong character development and after spending a whole book in Magnus Chase's head, I honestly couldn't tell you much about him. There is not enough time spent world building in both the regular world and the other eight worlds that make up the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology. It reads like an early draft rather than a developed story that is marking the beginning of a new series.
Also Riordan attempted to add some diversity to the story by the addition of some Muslim characters, including one of the leads. While this is admirable in thought, it is unfortunately not well researched. A Muslim can not serve Odin as a Valkyrie as that directly conflicts with the central tenet of Islam, that there is no God but Allah... it made the character ring false and grated whenever her hijab came up in the story.
I am unlikely to read anymore in the series which is sad because I've always enjoyed Riordan's work and how accessible he makes cultural mythology. It had such potential. "
Having spent the last years in a Muslim country, we have truly been lucky to learn more about the Islamic faith. We have many Muslim friends and have had many discussions to learn more about their religion and also examined how it relates to ours. Riordan never made any of his characters religious before, so it was an easy sell to have them recognize their demi-god status and acceptance of historic mythology. In making one of his character's religious, he's removed that part that is true faith, allowed her some of the trappings of her faith without the substance behind it, and made it more like a dress up experience. As a person of faith, it was upsetting and, and as a human being, I find it disrespectful and as Belle put it this morning, ignorant. She recognizes that our time abroad has allowed us to be thoughtful in this instance and to be aware of what many may miss. We have been blessed with the opportunity to learn and see faith in practice in both our home church community and while living in a Muslim country. 

All faiths deserve true respect. Religion isn't about the trappings, but the beliefs and values.  Adding diversity is great, but be educated about how you do it. Look at what G. Woodrow Wilson has done with Ms. Marvel - that's a better example of a Muslim girl standing by her beliefs in a fictional world.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How things change while you are busy living life....

I stopped blogging about our new adventures because, well, honestly, it stopped feeling so much like a new adventure and just felt like life. As we prepare to depart the UAE, it feels like it is time to blog again...

Since August 2011, this has become our home away from home. We attend regular community events, belong to a local church, developed traditions (yes, we will be doing our annual holiday cookie decorating), and we run into friends whenever we leave the house.

Our lives have changed a lot.  Professionally, I have become the grade level coordinator for my school and helped further develop the curriculum for the Abu Dhabi School Model. I've become educated about different learning models and discovered that I was IB before that was really a thing (now onto getting some official training in it, so I can claim the qualification!). Socially, I've made some great friends and had some heart wrenching "see you laters." On the plus, that means we have friends all over the world  (but that is also a negative too, as it means they aren't nearby)....Personally, our family make up has changed as well. I came with a family of three, and I'll be leaving as a different family of three... Birthing and divorcing in a foreign country was an experience, but not really something I want to write about at this time.

This July, it will be time to call some place else home, and currently, we have no idea where that will be - so strange for this NH girl who likes to live by a plan. It may be repatriation to the US, or it could be the continuation of our expat adventures. It's in God's hands at the moment. If you have any suggestions, we'd love to hear them.

The move is predicated by Zofia becoming school age - preschool next year! - and Belle's tuition continuing to increase (as well as other cost of living expenses) with no correlating income increase. We've started to sell off the non-essentials (like the dishwasher), and my car has been listed for sale, with a sale pending.  I've rented what I believe will be our final UAE car, a Toyota Yaris, and we'll continue the reduction of things you accumulate, but won't go on to the next adventure with you. I think the next items on the block will be a gently used recliner and the two extra mattresses I've somehow accumulated (one day I will count the number of beds that were somehow collected by us during our UAE time....).

And so begins, our long goodbye to the UAE....

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Three years in the sand...

I used to try and blog at least once a month. It was easier to find the time when Belle was an only child, and Zofia hadn't gotten mobile. Plus, my work commitments were comfortable.  The last six months have been a bit overwhelming in trying to balance the social lives of a toddler and preteen, my own needs, and my job. Something had to give, and sadly, it was the blog. Facebook friends have managed to stay up to date through occasional photo postings,  but the blog was neglected. I'm hoping to rectify this now that my schedule has been changed for the 9th time this year.

Three years ago, I was told I would need to be flexible and the last two terms attempted to see how much I could stretch. In my contract, I am allowed a maximum of thirty hours for responsibilities during the school week, and since September, that was what I was assigned. It was exhausting and I was always on the go. For the first term, I had a colleague keeping me company at the maximum hours, but the second term, I was the only teacher in my school with that load. What kept me going was the support of two of my coworkers who made sure I always had the copies I needed, helped me develop resources, supplied me with resources and tools, and made sure I kept my sense of humor. With their help, I still managed to have a reserve of energy to keep up with my two busy girls. For this final term, I am back down to a more manageable timetable.

Winter in Al Ain (end of November to the beginning of March) is the absolute best time to be here. The weather is like a New Hampshire summer with warm days and mild nights. We spent a lot of time outdoors, taking walks, visiting the zoo, climbing sand dunes, going to parks, grilling, and enjoying the temperatures.

Belle has been enjoying school this year and made some really good friends. She was named Star of the Week for two weeks in February, and is adjusting well to the Cambridge Curriculum (British) and spellings. In the last few weeks, she has been learning how to play rounders (British version of baseball) and has even scored a run. Next term, she is joining the school choir and she has auditioned to be in a school play after spending a term doing drama as an extracurricular. 

Rob's schedule doesn't leave him with much time at home, which has been hard for the girls. During the week, I have the help of Zofia's fabulous nanny, which makes the "single" parenting a little easier. But he is enjoying being part of the working force again after his stint as a stay at home parent.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The rain in the homeland

I haven't posted for a bit and find I've got a few posts to catch up on. Here goes...

The month of July was so green and lush. While most of our friends complained about the rain, we luxuriated in it. Buying umbrellas and needing to pay attention to a weather report were things we had missed about NH... What we did not miss and indeed had forgotten were the bugs (which were greatly increased in response to the damp). Belle elected to stand outside in a downpour while I completed a visit at the Social Security office to the confusion of onlookers.

While the rain was indeed lovely, it was even better that we were able to spend time with friends and family we had only seen online for two years. We are truly blessed with incredible people in our lives and it was a joy to see each and every person. 

The flight home was a bit of a nightmare, due to flight delays and lost luggage, but our time in the US was a pleasant break from our desert lives. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

School's out for summer!

\Yesterday was the last day of school for the 2012-2013 school year.  The week was filled with professional development activities for our School Improvement Plan and preparation work for our Irtiqa'a review next year (sort of like the NEASC accreditation process but compressed into one year). We also had time to clean out our files, organize our office, and celebrate the school year. Our school had three EMT's complete their contracts and decide to repatriate to their home countries. We also had a teacher retire. Local female teachers can retire after 15 years if they have children. At the end of the year luncheon, one of the local teachers sat with a group of EMTs, and we complimented her on English. She told us how she had studied for three years to become a doctor, but a family member decided that it was not a good thing, so she became a teacher. She's been a teacher for a number of years now and would like to get a master's in curriculum and policy. She applied and was accepted to attend a university in the US. Her husband does not want her to leave for the two years, but said she could only he would not give her permission to take her children with her.  It was hard for me to see how accepting she was of these challenges to her professional goals, attributing it to Allah's plan and will, and yet, I had to remind myself of some of my friends who were unable to come abroad with their spouses and stepchildren, or their own children because of similar circumstances. It is a different culture and people are protective of their children and their exposure to different cultures.

On a lighter note, we were able to celebrate the 4th of July with friends from different parts of the world (including some Brits). We had a lovely indoor barbeque because it was too uncomfortable to be outside. We even did an impromptu baby music class.  Rob had a celebration at work, so he didn't completely miss out on the holiday. 

In three days, the girls and I board a plane for the US, a day before the expected start to Ramadan.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Homeschooling ends...

Last year, we decided that we were going to homeschool Belle. This decision was based on a multitude of factors, including the quality of education she had been receiving. The biggest issue was the bullying she had experienced throughout the year, and the lack of response from her inexperienced (it was her first year) classroom teacher and the school administration.

I spent weeks researching curriculum and programs before selecting Moving Beyond the Page (an integrated language arts, science, and social studies curriculum) with Everyday Mathematics. Moving Beyond the Page was a really solid program and literature rich. Belle moved away from textbooks to novels and activities. 

The hard part was motivating a 9 year old who was distracted by her baby sister and a dad that was accustomed to sleeping in (replaced by naps with the baby). This led to a progression of later and later start times, and sometimes a lack of any work being completed. The positive side is Belle and Zofia truly adore one another. The negative was that I spent my time at home fighting with Belle to do schoolwork and neither one of us was getting a break as make up work consumed our weekends. 

We decided this spring that Belle needed to go back to a brick and mortar school. We started casually asking friends about their schools and reading websites. We did drive-bys to establish locations, and researched the difference between British (many schools offer this) and American (limited offerings) curriculum. Based on our findings and what we knew about various schools, we arranged school visits. 
On Monday, Belle took a placement test and on Tuesday, she was accepted into Year 6 at Al Ain International School. I just paid her registration deposit and by the time I arrived back to my school had received the first term invoice. So starting September 8th, this will be her new school: