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