Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: The Year in Review

This has, without a doubt, been one of the craziest years my family and I have ever experienced, so it seems like a good idea to briefly recall all that has occurred...
In December of 2010, I was told (with everyone at my school) that positions would be cut for the budget. I had a feeling it would be me, so in January, Rob and I listed our house expecting a long wait for a buyer. In February, we received the news that my job was indeed no longer, and an offer on our home. By the end of February, I had applied for every teaching position I could find both near and far (including some place called Abu Dhabi that I vaguely recalled from my high school social studies class). By March, I had interviewed, been offered, and accepted a position to teach in the UAE, and began the paperwork circuit required to move a family overseas. Our house closed in May, and we moved into a 2 bedroom apartment (thank you, Heidi!) for the remainder of our time on US soil. My soon to be former colleagues threw me an amazing "pink slip" party (see this blog). In June, I broke my wrist from a fall in my creative writing class, watched my last class of Woodsville High School seniors graduate, and joined the ranks of the unemployed. Three days before I flew overseas, my birth mother died, and in August, I boarded a plane to the other side of the world.

I spent a month preparing for my family to join me, and in September, all the Littleton Tylers had a new address in Al Ain, the oasis city in the desert. For the last few months we've been settling in, playing tourist, attending concerts (Metallica and Britney Spears - yeah, a weird combination), celebrating a nation's 40th birthday, and learning about a new culture. We're ending the year in a new home (rented, but ours), with a new car, in a new country and are going to ring in the new year at a Coldplay concert in Abu Dhabi (the city). We've been making friends, and staying in touch with all our friends and family at home. We are truly blessed with all the support we've received in the past year that helped us survive all the ups and downs. Thank you for being there. We couldn't have made it through 2011 without you.

I don't know what 2012 holds for us, but 2011 is going out on a higher note than 2010 did, which I think bodes well for us.

Merry Christmas from the "land of sand"

Make your own slideshow at Animoto.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Decking the halls

Over here, the holiday season is known as the "festive season" and occasionally we are wished "Merry Christmas" by people who don't recognize the holiday in the same way. After all, Jesus is only one of the prophets, he is not the great prophet in Islam, and is not considered the son of God as in Christianity.  December 25 will be a regular work day for most of the country (because Sundays are our Mondays). 

We decided to attend the Christmas tree lighting with Santa visit at the Danat Hotel instead of the Hilton.  This turned out to be a good choice for many reasons. The tree lighting took place outside, surrounded by palm trees wrapped in lights.  Santa came in riding a camel, and children queued up as well as they ever do to get the requisite annual Santa photo.  The staff gaily lip synched to favorite holiday songs. The Hilton was apparently quite different - with Santa hanging from the ceiling, getting kidnapped by men with guns, and so much more.... Everyone attending commented on how bizarre it was.

Last week we went out to dinner at the Rotana with our friend Rich, and were able to admire their huge Christmas tree in the lobby and their bakery shop that was covered in real gingerbread and icing - to make a life-size gingerbread house. Belle took a small sample because she didn't quite trust me... Now, we just need to bake some cookies (maybe we'll start today), sing some carols (I think Thursday night at the Rugby Club), and prepare for the big night. Belle's stocking is hung, our tree is decorated with presents from our family in the US resting underneath, and decorations (and Santa hats) from our friends in NH. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

A reason to wake up early...

This week was a long one as I chased down students who did not submit their very important ECART and waited for the exams to be completed so I could grade them. It was a lot of hurry up and wait, but at this point, I think I have entered the grades correctly in the gradebook that no one really explained. Yeah.

On the home front, we've been researching vehicles to purchase since the payments will be cheaper than our monthly rental. Rob's narrowed it down to about six cars, which is good because I was completely overwhelmed by the task. Belle is going to her first rugby tournament tomorrow (she's going to support her "team" as she is not quite ready to play yet). Then after, we are going to the tree lighting at the Danat (or the Hilton) to see Santa. We can't forgo some traditions.

This morning, I woke Belle up at 5:30am and we both stumbled to La Brioche (which was not open when we arrived) to meet up with a group of international expatriates to see the camel races. I've been to races before (in college, I worked as a mutuels teller for a dog track and we telecast horse races; I'd attend the horse races at the fair in Rochester, and of course, the car races in Loudon), and they all had certain similar aspects: like wagering and alcohol. Not so, in a Muslim country.

Camel racing takes place on a dirt track (like a horse track). The camels have robot jockeys that the owners control via remote, and some have speakers so that the owner can speak to the camel as it runs. In addition, the camels have been trained to recognize the owner's vehicle horn and this is used to communicate to the camel as it races around the 5K or 4K track. This is done by the owner racing alongside the track in his Land Rover (and yes, all the owners were male). He may or may not have spectators in his vehicle. The owner concentrates on the camel and the remote, so spectators need to be extremely careful because while the owner is driving his vehicle, he is not concerned with people on foot or in other cars. So essentially, two races occur - the camels and the owners' in their SUVs.

While we were there, we saw 6 year old camels race 5K, and then they moved up the starting gate, creating a 4K track. It allowed us to walk along and get close ups of the robot jockeys and see LOTS of camels close up. They were incredible. It was an experience not to be missed and made getting up early on a weekend day worth it. And yes, it was a bit chilly this morning (you know, like 60's), so we wore sweaters and long sleeves.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Learning about National Day

On Friday, the UAE will celebrate 40 years as a country.  I'm not used to measuring a country's age in decades, and it is interesting to see how a younger nation celebrates its country's union.  The flag colors are everywhere, on clothing, jewelry, colored lights, and even on cars. Yes, cars are decorated to show the love people feel for their nation - and not like you're thinking... In the US, we decorate cars for sporting events, weddings, and yes, some holidays - including Independence Day, but I have never seen it to the extent I have over here.  I wonder if this is what my country looked like in its younger days, festooned with red, white and blue everywhere.

Because 40 years is a decade birthday, the number 40 is everywhere and there have been more celebrations leading up to the date than in other years.  Today, I took part in the final celebration for this occasion at school, where we boarded buses (after a special assembly), took a ride around to the far side of town, and then walked back to the school as part of a big procession. Flags were waved, cars were resplendent, noise makers were everywhere, and confetti floated in the wind. It was quite an experience, and then we were told that on Friday, the celebration in Abu Dhabi will take our breath away... Guess we'll need to make a trip to the capital city to take part in this celebration.

Because National Day falls immediately after the Islamic New Year, we are getting tomorrow off. I think we might go to Dubai to see the Da Vinci exhibit.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving and the holidays as an ex-pat

Thanksgiving in front
of a map of the world
Belle's 2011
hand turkey
I love the holiday season - the stretch leading up to New Year's is one of my favorites in the whole world. At home, I would start playing Christmas music on November 1.  Yeah, you are feeling really sad that you don't live with me right now... I can tell. And I start baking... By Thanksgiving weekend, we'd have several pounds of fudge in the freezer, and I'd be hauling Christmas decorations up from the basement. The feast for Thanksgiving would be the start of the excitement because now, everyone would be okay with Christmas music, the Grinch (the old cartoon one) could be put on repeat in the DVD player - because I wore out the VHS, and we'd all troop off after the Christmas parade (and early Black Friday shopping) to get our Frasier fir so it would be decorated by the end of the weekend. 

Living overseas in a Muslim country means we had to change all these traditions. For one, I didn't bring all my Christmas cd's, our ornaments are packed in storage, there is no room in our freezer for pounds of fudge, and our family is all back in the states.  Plus, finding a Frasier fur is impossible. So, we are making some new traditions this year.... Because there was no snow on Halloween, I didn't feel compelled to put on Christmas music. And, with family thousands of miles away, we celebrated Thanksgiving with our UAE friends at a potluck.  We purchased our first artificial tree - which we decorated with new ornaments while watching the Grinch on repeat (there are some things you can not live without).  We've been spoiled by all the lights for National Day on December 2nd - it is the UAE's 40th birthday - so driving around town is lovely with lit palm trees and roundabouts, but it will be a hard stretch when the lights go away after the holiday.

On the dhow dinner cruise
Since the last post, we've been keeping busy. We went to Dubai for a dinner cruise on a dhow.  It was really beautiful because of all the National Day lights. Some buildings had the UAE flag, red, green, black and white, in lights down the entire length of their buildings, while other buildings had the national colors and intricate designs. The water sparkled with the lights and made the night time skyline of Dubai especially beautiful.  We are learning that we'll need a better camera to really capture all the images we are seeing... or you all will have to come visit to see it in person. ;)

Then we visited the Green Mubazzarah for an evening and found the hot springs... which were as warm as bathwater - maybe hotter. Belle played on one of the many playgrounds, and then we checked out another camel, a pony, and a horse available to rent for rides. There was also a horse drawn carriage carrying people around. We took a cruise down the "toboggan" for 5 dhs a car, and tried to find the lake. It was much larger than we expected, and will go back soon for a longer trip - perhaps even during the day, now that the weather is nice. 

Belle tried out rugby last week at the Rugby Club and Rob's going to try it out tomorrow after Belle's practice.  And rumor has it, there won't be school on Thursday, in recognition of the UAE turning 40 and the Islamic new year.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Staycations and other adventures

As most people know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and happily, this appears to be recognized worldwide.  Belle and I participated in one of the several walks/runs being hosted throughout Al Ain, and even signed a poster - in memory of Rob's gram, Joanne, who went through two bouts with breast cancer.  She taught me how to crochet during her second battle, and I was able to really spend some quality time with a woman whose time ended much too soon to ever meet Belle.  Personally, I think they would have gotten along like a house on fire.  (Weird idiom)
After taking our long walk for breast cancer through the desert heat, we cooled down by taking Belle ice skating at the mall.  Yeah, life is like that...
In Abu Dhabi, we started school on September 11th, well, technically September 4th for me, and our first break was for the holiday, Eid Al Adha.  This is one of two Eid holidays (the first one followed Ramadan - Eid al Fitr).  This Eid recognizes the story of Abraham and Isaac, when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, and at the last moment, Abraham is able to exchange this sacrifice for a lamb caught in the bushes.  Whereas the first Eid is a celebration of completing the difficulties of Ramadan, this Eid is more about having faith in God and then being redeemed by this trust in God- but also a reminder that God may ask us to sacrifice and we need to be prepared when called upon (although rarely in Biblical texts does he require the sacrifice of our children, after all, He made that sacrifice for us).  Living in a Muslim country makes me think more about my own faith, especially as I learned more about this holiday, and the Hajj (religious pilgrimage to Mecca) which is supposed to take place prior to the Eid.  It is really interesting, and I encourage y'all to look into it if you want.  Okay, religion lesson over...

During our school holiday, we took a day trip to Dubai and did some skiing.  It was wonderful! Yeah, I know you are all wondering about us, ice skating and skiing in the desert. You can take us out of New Hampshire, but...  Ski Dubai was a lot of fun - we spent two hours on the trails - mostly sticking to one side because of our intrepid straight line skier, Belle.  It is located in the Mall of the Emirates and right inside the ski area are two ATMS that dispense gold bars - of course you have to have enough money to withdraw them, and I'm not quite sure what you'd do with one - but the idea itself is really cool.

On Friday, Mallory and I went to see Britney Spears in concert, and it was hilarious. I think her pop star days are waning. It didn't seem to bother too many people in the crowd that she only lip synched part of the time, and the rest of the time looked bored, or that she sat more than she "danced." I think it might have been her scantily clad costumes that kept the audience entranced, and the amount of skin and tight clothes that were being shown by the on-lookers was quite shocking after spending three months in a conservative country.

Now, we are back at school, in the final stretch before our big vacation in December... almost three weeks off.  Rob has all his paperwork done and is an officially licensed driver and resident of the UAE now.  It only took almost two months, and two trips to Abu Dhabi for translation services. This Friday, we are off to Dubai again for a dhow dinner cruise, and I hope some quality beach time.  The girls at school are starting to show up in sweaters and coats and I'm looking forward to the beach, but honestly, this November is the warmest one I've ever been through. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Let's start cooking...

I like to cook.... well, not really. I love to bake, but more than that, I LOVE having friends that cook.  It was a regular thing to have people over for dinner, both casual - hey, I made extras, want to stop in - and planned.  Since moving to the UAE, I have not had anyone over for dinner, and truth be told, I haven't really cooked all that much. My car pool pal and I noted that we really didn't have a lot of the basics that we always had in our kitchens - you know, sugar, flour, spices, etc.  So, this past weekend, I purchased my first UAE crockpot (hello, stews, chilis, and slow-cooked meals) and spices to begin really cooking. Now, if only I could somehow transport either of my NH transplanted Ericas to the UAE, life would be golden.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Running for the border and paying to go to work...

Last weekend, we completed a border run. We parked our car, walked into Oman, attempted to do the enter-exit procedure (enter Oman & leave) and were told after flipping through our passports, we needed to go back to the UAE to get our exit stamps.  This wouldn't be a big deal at home, but with 7 children under the age of 9, in the heat, through the desert, and after passing a big, dead scorpion, it was a bit much.  So we trooped back across the border, paid our exit fees, and then repeated our journey to Oman (this time in the car - apparently we could have driven before but that pesky language/communication barrier), paid our fees, and drove back so that Belle and Rob would have the essential entry stamp on their pink paper to allow them to complete their residency process.

We've also been spending a lot of time with our Abu Dhabi family, Corey & Mallory.  Corey is apparently the "Rain Man" of cribbage, and has been patiently teaching us the game. There are no cribbage boards over here, so Corey made one out of a piece of junk wood and another one out of a box.  They do the job, and I'm finally understanding the terminology of "skunk", "double", "runs", and "nobs".  Corey is a great cook, so we've been enjoying both the company and the meals.  Mallory has been an excellent resource for school lessons and I love that she is so sassy, sarcastic and fun. She is never afraid to laugh at herself, or at others, but it makes me feel at home - plus they are from the western region of Massachusetts which means they understand the whole rural New England thing.  Belle loves going over there to play with their two kittens, Alpha & Omega. They've had them since they were three weeks old and are finally old enough to get their first shots.  They are incredibly playful. 

My school is doing a carnival day on the 27th, and teachers have to pay to attend work that day.  It is not an optional work day, so if I want to get paid for the day, I need to help pay for the festival.  Weird.

And finally, I wanted to know who the big acts were going to be for the Yasalam Festival (part of the Formula One Grand Prix race events), so I entered my email and ended up winning free tickets to Britney Spears.  Mallory & I can not wait to go (for some reason, Rob didn't want to join me, LOL). 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

For the love of libraries

I've loved books since second grade, when Ms. Wilkinson helped me figure out how to put all the letters and words together to form meaning; since then, I've been a voracious reader.  So being surrounded by books has always made me happy. In my elementary years, I didn't spend a lot of time in libraries because my foster home was filled with books, and we had a bookstore (that my foster parents owned) right next door.

In 7th grade, that changed and I discovered the magic of libraries.  In movies and tv shows, libraries were shown as quiet, sterile environments with stern librarians anxious to hush you for the slightest sound.  If the Lisbon Public Library's librarian had been like that, I would have never spent so much time there. Selena was so full of life and sound, that being afraid to make a noise was an absolutely foreign concept.  Pat, although older and more sedate, also radiated this same energy and joy. Is it any wonder that I sought out this library all the time, first as a frequent borrower, and then as a volunteer?

At my last teaching job, before the big move, I was blessed with perhaps the best librarian I've yet met. My friend Donna, like the librarians that proceeded her, enriched my life by being not only a literary partner, but a mentor, sounding board, and often, my voice of reason.  This week, I've realized how much of a gaping hole is present because of her absence and the presence of a good library.

My new school's librarian is new to the field, and very sweet. But she is not fluent in my language and our library is currently not as rich as it needs to be in English books.  It is the first time in my life that I do not feel drawn to a library, and its faithful guardian.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A poem by Belle for Posh

A star that shines truly bright.
You'll find her in the stars.
That star is the brightest star.
She'll be brighter than the sun.
Everyone will wonder what is that?
I'll say...it's beautiful Posh.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Big girl bedtime

Since Belle was born, reading at bedtime has been a family ritual.  While many things have changed, including who is doing the reading, I'm happy to report that this has remained the same.

Thank you to all my former WHS colleagues who generously gave our family our first Kindle.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Career Day

Well, we just said goodbye to Rich until sometime this winter.  It was a whirlwind visit this time around, and poor Rob spent the first day of his visit in the hospital with what we think was a case of food poisoning.  He was poked, prodded, tested, and medicated, and thankfully, insured.   We both are feeling much better about the quality of medical care after this visit to the Urgent Care Clinic. 

Today he felt recovered enough to take Belle and her two car pool buddies on an independent field trip to Dubai.  They had received free children's tickets to the Dolphinarium (turns out they were VIP tickets). So off they went on what Rob is referring to as a career exploration day, since the girls have decided to become dolphin trainers. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Arabian Maus and Coffee Tables

First, a confession: I'm a dog person.  I always have been and will likely always be one.

So, for the most recent addition to the Tyler family, I blame two people: Belle & my friend Kristi (who recently adopted two very tolerable cats, convincing me that I would be okay with one in our home). For those of you who remember our last cat, Boo (and her fabulously awful stomach disorder), you will understand my initial reluctance in adopting another cat.  But, I love my daughter and she missed S'mores (see earlier posts) dreadfully.  So, I researched pets for our UAE home.  Meet Posh, a lovely old lady Arabian Mau:
She has been part of our family for a week, and tomorrow, we will complete the official adoption. She is very playful, loves to be touched, and is settling in fairly well.   She has always lived in homes with other cats, so I think she may be a little lonely, but Belle is working hard to make sure she is happy.

We also finally selected a coffee table for our living room. Introducing the coolest coffee table ever:
 Yes, I freaking love this coffee table. The top lifts up, there is storage below the top, there is a big drawer for storage in the front and storage on the side. Storage has become a key factor in furniture purchases in the land without closets.  

It really is the little things.

A Cultural Scented Adventure

Since moving to the Middle East, I've learned a bit about oud, a fragrant incense that is quite popular over here. You can smell it wafting through the mall, in souks and exhibitions, and apparently, it is popular in female schools.
While in my principal's office today, talking about visiting some other schools to observe fellow Cycle 3 Licensed Teachers, the school secretary came in with a pot of smoking oud. It was really smoking- to the point where at other school's (like a certain teacher's room when someone has accidentally burned their toast) the fire alarm would go off. I started wondering how long before I would have an asthma attack. She waved the oud around our principal, and then another lady came in with a ball of tinfoil containing more oud, and put it in the pot, increasing the smoke. The room filled with the gray, scented smoke.
The principal and secretary started talking to me in Arabic and gesturing to me and the oud. I had no idea what they were talking about... so the Arabic English teacher explained that oud is used as a perfume and that it was tradition/customary for us to all use the oud. They made me stand over the smoking pot with my dress sealing in the scent, and then the secretary grasped the top of my dress to help let the smoke flow through. For the rest of the day, all I could smell was the incense that infused my clothing, hair, and the rest of me.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pop goes the weasel

Today was payday which was so exciting, not just because I had less than 50 dhs left in my account, but also because I could finally finish all my legal paperwork to become a legally licensed driver again.  I have not driven in over a week, and I think Rob is quite sick of being my driver. 

The first step was stopping at an ATM to get the required cash fee for my Emirates ID. Then we were off to the Emirates Identity Authority.  I received my number for the typing room, and after my application was completed, paid the required fee. I then received another number to go wait in the female registration line.  Rob waited in the male waiting room.  After being finger printed (again) and photographed (again), I received a receipt that will allow me to pick up my id at the Emirates Post in one month, and more immediately - apply for my UAE driver's license. 

With receipt in hand, we drove over to the licensing department. After waiting in the queue in the female room (once again, Rob was banished to the male section), I learned that I needed copies of my passport and visa - available from the 1 dhs a page copy machine in another room. I returned triumphantly to the room, handed over all the required paperwork, paid the fee, signed my name, had another photo taken and then was told to wait for 10 minutes because the id machine wasn't working at the moment. After 10 minutes, we were told to come back tomorrow to pick up our licenses because the machine is down.

I can't wait to see what happens with the rest of our paperwork dance.... as Rob will need a medical check once his & Belle's visas are processed, which will be another fee. And then he will get to go through the above process - well, minus the female rooms. ;)

And this is how the money goes...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Settling in, a teaching post

Belle & Alanna
in their school uniform

Why I'm loving Skype right now
This was my second week of school with my students. Thanks to the help of other LT's I was able to learn the themes I need to be teaching to my sophomore and junior students. I'm finding the biggest resource I can turn to are my fellow LT's.  These people understand the complexity that accompanies teaching across the world and a foreign language, in an environment that is not always as supportive as one would expect or hope for.  I am so grateful for this community that exists with my fellow expats.  Today, my principal sent Ashaunda and me to visit another school to see what other Cycle 3 LT's are doing.  The teachers were so helpful and I know they will continue to be a great resource for us.  I am so glad that our principal sees the value in sharing experiences and meeting colleagues. 

I have two classes that I meet with twice each day. Teaching at an all girls' school is different in many ways from my previous teaching experiences, and I am not complaining.  The girls are very social, play a lot with their sheilas (the veil that covers their hair), and like to have fun, but at the same time, they work very well in groups, are extraordinarily helpful to one another, and sincerely want the teacher to like them and be thought of well by the teacher. When students need correction, they listen, and frequently stop by later to apologize for any poor choices.  As I trek through the school with my wheeled carry-on bag, I receive multiple offers to carry my bag by these girls, even ones that are not in my class. They are patient with me as I become more familiar with their names, and one class noted that I do not have the best relationship with pronouncing "r"s. I blame growing up in New England for this - but it reminds me of the importance of paying attention to ALL the words I am speaking because they are constantly learning.

It is nice to not have to spend time thinking about enforcing a dress code. The students wear uniforms. KG girls wear sweet little pink dresses, and the Cycle 1 girls wear grey jumpers (long dresses) with pink blouses and collars. Cycle 2 and 3 girls wear long blue jumpers and white blouses, with white or black sheilas.  The girls are not supposed to wear makeup, although I believe kohl is allowed due to their cultural heritage.  This makes it easy to focus on their learning. We start the day with a morning assembly, where the girls sing their national anthem, recite their pledge and do the holy Quran.  It is a beautiful way to start the day, and also allows all the girls to be viewed by the entire faculty and school administration. Conversely though, there is a dress code that I need to follow: dresses & skirts should reach to the top of my feet (floor is ideal), and sleeves to my wrist bones.  This can be difficult to get used to in the heat, but I am adjusting...

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Rob & Belle have now been here for ONE WEEK.   Their journey was delayed by weather (for 24 hours) and this first week together has been a whirlwind.  Rich arrived and hung up all the curtains so Rob wouldn't have to start with a project right away. Then he and I went out to dinner with my friend Kristi, and we were off to the airport to pick up our very tired travelers.  After arriving home around 3am our time, everyone went to bed, and I woke Belle up the next morning to take a placement test at her school.  Rob was able to rest for most of the day, but the jet lag is a kicker to overcome, and starting on Sunday, Belle & I had school all week and Rob drove her and my friend Cammie's children to school each day.  We said goodbye to Rich on Sunday, with Rob driving him to the airport in Dubai. On Monday, Rob experienced his first Abu Dhabi accident, which was NOT a good time, although everyone, including the car, was fine.  On Wednesday, Belle and I went to a fun little event at a local hotel, where we received lots of swag and had yummy food.  Then Thursday, we all went out to dinner at the rugby club.  Yesterday, we did a marathon grocery shopping trip after putting together our first wardrobe (have I mentioned we have no closets or storage outside of the kitchen!) and today, we might visit Jebel Hafeet, the mountain in Al Ain with hot springs.

Dinner with Rich & AD friends
I've been very lucky in most of my teaching career in finding great people to car pool with (Liz & Kim, I miss you!), and a move across the world did not end this streak.  The first bit of luck was finding out Cammie, a fabulous lady I met online because we both had little girls of the same age, and I were at the same school. Then, as we sat in the auditorium waiting for our letters to introduce ourselves to our new principal, this dynamic and amazing lady, Ashaunda, asked to join Cammie and me. Truly, it was fortuitous because everyday, we support one another as we process our work day, and make the hour long commute seem a little shorter. We see a lot of desert and some camels, every day, but we also find ways to laugh at things that might make us sad or angry. I love my car pool. 

Our school is in a small community that sort of reminds me of Lisbon, the school I graduated from. It is a K-12 girls' school, with boys attending for KG1 & KG2.  When I was given my teaching assignment, Grade 10 & 11 Art, I almost cried. If you've seen me draw, you know why.  Ashaunda was told 11 & 12 Science. Thank goodness she was brave enough to speak up, because that helped clarify that yes, we were teaching English, but there are two strands, science and art. The science strand is similar to CP & Honors from home, while the art strand is more like general level.  So, no art for me, yay!  Because of the size of our school, I only have one class of each (grade 10 & grade 11), but I meet with them twice a day. The girls wear blue jumpers over white shirts (the standard older girl uniform for the UAE in public schools), and all wear sheilas (a head scarf over their hair).  I'm starting to learn their names, although I don't think I've quite gotten the pronunciation down.  I've learned that our first semester themes are: Emirati Family & Culture (grade 10) and Healthy Lifestyles (grade 11). Currently both groups are working on writing assignments.

Belle has started school at Manor Hall, a private school, and also wears a uniform, a grey and red plaid loose short (looks like a skirt) and white shirt with school patch.  She loves that the lobby of her school has a chandelier and that it has a pool.  The building is physically quite attractive and in addition to her regular classes, she will also be taking French and Arabic as part of their curriculum. She has made friends already with Cammie's daughter, and they sit together in class. So, yay, for mommy plotting! :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Preparing for an adventure...

Our living room
The entrance to our home from
Twam S
Look closely and you will see CAMELS!
This is my new commute.
Since my last post, I have become more settled in the apartment. It has most of the major furniture (still lacking tables and wardrobes), but overall, it is ready for my family to arrive - which they will in two days now. :)  We will also be having our first guest, our dear friend, Rich.  He's been a friend of ours for more years than I care to admit (yes, I've achieved an age where that becomes a bit prohibitive) and I am so looking forward to seeing faces from home.  I've also been placed at a school!!! Yay!

The city of Al Ain is beautiful and I can not wait to begin exploring it now that I've rented a car and Rob & Belle will be here. The biggest difference driving here is the lack of police presence on the road and the vast number of radar controlling devices that really do ticket you.  Plus, in my city, there are roundabouts at almost every intersection.  I enjoy not having to wait for the lights, but the lane etiquette is still something I am learning. 

My school is about an hour away from my city, in a more rural region, which means I get to drive by the big mountain, Jebel Hafeet, every day, and then see camels and orange dusted sand dunes. The orange color is apparently from iron in the sand. The sand is so soft here. It is very fine grained and reminds me of Basin Head, a beach we once visited in Prince Edward Island. I have found a lovely group of ladies to car pool with each morning, which makes the drive a lot more fun.
Jebel Hafeet, the Mountain

Friday, August 26, 2011

When the bloom is off the rose

The master bedroom
(all the bedrooms have the exact same bed)
I've heard a lot about culture shock in the lead up and introduction to this adventure. It was addressed in the two pre-departure webinars, and again at orientation.  The stages (for those of you who missed out on all the presentations) develop over time... we start out positive (in the euphoric/adventure/honeymoon phase), then dip into anxiety (where we feel anxiety, uncertainty, confused), drop further into rejection (loss of enthusiasm/homesickness), and then move back up with adjustment (recognize & accept the differences - adapt & adopt the local culture).
Belle's freshly cleaned bathroom

This last week, I've definitely progressed into the second stage.  I'm moving out of my hotel accommodations into my apartment, which is exciting but also very stressful.  My hotel is over a 2 hour bus ride from my apartment or a 230 Dhs cab ride.  That can make it taxing when you need to go to the apartment every day during a week but it isn't yet livable.  On Sunday and Monday, I ordered the furniture and appliances that our apartment needed and then I went to the apartment on Tuesday to make sure I could get in (the first time we visited the exterior door was locked) and check the condition. We (the other residents) were told it would be cleaned prior to us moving in. Sadly, this did not happen, so on Tuesday, I spent several hours procuring cleaning supplies and began cleaning.

The view from our living room
at sunset
On Wednesday, I spent several hours at the apartment cleaning and waiting for the beds and mattresses to arrive (the first scheduled delivery).  After their arrival, I headed back to the hotel for a late dinner and to pick up more cleaning supplies for Thursday (the apartment is brand new, but it had lots of construction debris, dust, and markings on the walls).  Thursday was a miserable day. For those of you who know me well, you know that I loathe house cleaning and this was my third straight day of it (did I mention that I am excited to hire a maid as soon as I begin my regular pay?).  This was not the worst part though.  In the US, when you order from one store, the deliveries usually come together. I learned yesterday that in the UAE, the deliveries come by the distributor/manufacturer (meaning I am getting THREE different deliveries).  The first delivery came around 4 (I had been told all the deliveries would arrive between 11 and 7).  After two calls to the store call center, I was asked to please wait until 8:30 for the second delivery to arrive. Did you notice the present tense earlier? I'm now supposed to receive our stove, refrigerator and washing machine on Saturday (the day I am moving into the apartment for good).  The living room furniture is scheduled for delivery on Monday.

After dune bashing & camel riding...
before sand boarding.
Today, I am off to get the soft goods to finish preparing the essentials - pillows, sheets, dishes, etc. and tomorrow, I move. All of this preparing has made me miss my family more and recognize how much I depend on Rob to steady my nerves, be the voice of reason, and his overall know-how, Mr. Fix-it fabulousness.

In a few weeks, probably even in a few days, this will not seem like such a big deal. I'm going to be happy to present my family with our functional new home, and they will be able to help me finish preparing and personalizing.  It will be good.

Friday, August 19, 2011

When the tub doubles as your washing machine...

The Yas Hotel in Abu Dhabi
I haven't stayed in many five star hotels in my life, and never for as long as I've been at the Yas.  For the first week, you walk around with a glazed look in your eyes and in awe that this is the place you call home.  After that, reality trickles in and you discover that even residing in a five star hotel has its challenges.  The first thing you realize is that it could break the bank to eat at one of the hotel's fabulous restaurants each night and that room service will add up quickly. This problem is easily solved by filling the minibar (that you had requested be emptied) with food purchased from local grocery stores, that are longish taxi rides away.  Now, you can feed yourself in your room for some of those meals.
One of two rooftop pools

BUT, the biggest problem you will encounter has nothing to do with diet, or the location of your hotel being as far away as possible from anything you will actually need, it has to do with clothing.  I am staying in one of the world's most renowned shopping areas, so it is not a problem to purchase clothing - there are over five malls within 20 kilometers and more are being constructed as I write this.  Shopping is, in fact, one of the biggest local past-times. The question is raised by the end of the first week: where are you going to do your laundry?

My make-shift washing machine
The hotel's laundry service is discounted, but even then, one smallish load will cost approximately $26 US.  There are no laundromats. There are only laundry services (and being unfamiliar with the area) with unknown reputations that charge by the item. Plus, this is an area where the water never gets really cold, testing color-fastness. So, upon listening to previous and current travelers, you learn to wash your clothes in the tub, create make-shift clotheslines in your room and finally, buy a drying rack that you will have to add to all the luggage and shopping bags you will cart to your final destination. 

What makes this visit to historical laundry methods bearable*? Being a resident at a five star hotel.

*But it also makes you eager to move into your own dwelling, too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Can't talk about the weather...

Holding a falcon
I'm from New England, and we have a saying that if you don't like the weather, to wait a minute. As such, I grew up watching the weather reports and planning my days around the description. I had clothes for warm summer days, warm rainy days, cold rainy days, cold fall days, warm fall days, and the freezing cold of winter.  Since I have been in Abu Dhabi, I no longer need a weather report. Every day is hot and humid.  Just plan on it. Winter will also be warm - 60s and 70s.  Mind you, I am not complaining - especially when friends and family back home will be dealing with the joys of a nor'easter or the bitter February chill. I didn't even bring a rain coat. 

Mallory & I at the Mosque
One thing that is taking some adjustment to is time. First it was recovering from jet lag - which was a doozy.  Now, it is adapting to Abu Dhabi time.... I've always joked that my husband had two speeds (like a John Deere tractor), but most of the time he spent in turtle.  I would work myself up into a full blown anxiety ridden freak out about being late, and he would calmly keep going.  He's going to fit in perfectly over here.  After our orientation night, we were separated into groups to complete our medical checks and our police checks. I was in Group 2 so I needed to leave at 7am for our med check.  We left around 7:15 (despite a stern admonishment to be on time or the bus would leave without us) and proceeded into the city.  We were required to sit on the bus for about 15 minutes after arrival at the center, and then were assigned numbers and sent to a variety of different rooms to be checked.... This 15 minute process took almost 4 hours.  The second event, the police check did not go much better - we were scheduled to leave at 9pm and did not leave until 9:40. We were returned to the hotel after 1am. Yawn. 
My birthday cake

But then I had plenty of time to explore the city. We went to the Falcon Hospital which was incredible. We were able to hold a real falcon, watch a falcon endoscopy, and visit the boarding aviary. My fabulous new friends surprised me with a birthday cake on the evening of my birthday and then the following day, I visited the Grand Mosque. On my birthday, I was able to visit the apartment that my family will live in for the next year (we can change housing after a year - which I think might be likely).  It has been a busy week, but I miss Rob & Belle and can't wait for them to join me.