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:

Monday, June 24, 2013


Yesterday was graduation, and this year I embraced the spirit & dressed for the occasion. 
This is a picture of my gown, minus my wrap. It gives you a small idea of the gowns that our graduates wore and unlike those young ladies, I wore my hair up... They wear their hair up most days, so for special occasions they wear it down, curled, jeweled, and then have the make up to match. Sometimes it was hard to recognize my students that I've spent the last six months with because they were so transformed. Our graduation was also attended by the daughter of the current leader of the UAE, Sheikha Salama bint Khalifa!

On the home front, the girls and I are looking forward to flying home in two weeks! Rob is still waiting to start his job. We've been told inshallah this week... Fingers are crossed, as it is has been a long wait and he's missing out on the US visit because of it. 
Zofia has learned how to crawl, so we have been madly baby proofing our house. Belle is now 10 (seriously, where has the time gone!). We have been saying goodbye to many of our 2011 companions, the people we started this journey with, and some from earlier years as they return to the US or go on to other countries. We are also excited to attend a 4th of July party next week with American & British friends. It should be quite an experience celebrating Independence Day with them! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Making a list and checking it twice

Truth be told, I haven't bought our plane tickets yet. I'm waiting on flight money to be deposited on the 25th. That does not mean I haven't been busy making lists: a list of things I need to bring, things I have to bring back, things we will need in the states, etc.

There are many things available in the UAE, after all it is a worldwide shopping destination, but there are also things you can only get at home. On that list, prescription strength antiperspirant (why isn't that available in a country that regularly sees 110+ degree weather?); saline solution for contact lenses (and for some reason my contact solution brand isn't sold here either), and Benadryl. That is just the pharmacy aisle. Then there are the snacks from home you didn't realize you'd miss: Triscuits, Cheez-its, Pirate Booty White Cheddar. Can you see a visit to Wal-mart in my future? Yes, you end up missing those big box stores and the convenience of one stop shopping...

While clothing is available here, sometimes the quality is not as good, and there are never the types of sales you'd find at home. We'll be stocking up on some of those items as well. Luckily it really is mostly one season (unlike my beautiful home state), so summer clothing with a couple cardigans & one or two pairs of pants is more than adequate. 

Then there are the experiences I've been missing: the beach at Echo Lake, BBQs at our friends, church on Sunday mornings, the views of the White Mountains, and all the friends & family we haven't seen in two years. 

So, after flights are finalized, I'll start finishing up the details of all we'll need on our visit: rental car, car seat, stroller, crib - oh never ends - guess we'll visit some yard sales too! 

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Yesterday, I decided to try again, this time armed with the coordinates. The beach was clean. The water was clear and warm.

Jumeriah Beach

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Springtime and other transitory things

Time goes quickly here. The school year seems so long at the beginning, and when people post days left until the end, those numbers make it seem even longer... This is true of school breaks as well, because suddenly you have all this time and then you wake up again and it is back to school. I haven't even written a word about our spring holiday and in three weeks, my grade 12 students will stop coming so they can prepare for exams. In about two months we will be headed to the US for our first visit since we moved to the UAE in 2011. I am sad that the last day of school is July 4th because it is one of my favorite holidays, but this year we can take comfort in knowing we'll be seeing family & friends for BBQs & picnics, even if we miss out on the fireworks.

For our spring holiday, we mostly stayed around town. It was nice to have the family time, do dinners with friends, and just recharge from a chaotic first term back after my fabulous maternity leave. We did take a mini family vacation out to the western region of Abu Dhabi (think very remote and a bit barren). We went with our expat extended family and enjoyed pool time, meals, camel rides, and Rob even went out on a quad (4-wheeler, not chair lift) with the other husbands.

This term back at school has not been without its challenges, but I feel like I have a better grasp on the curriculum this term (because I was part of the planning!). The girls are already planning their graduation celebrations and in the office the phrase, "Next year, we should....", is increasing in its appearance.

Our family started this year planning to return to the US, but we have reconsidered that decision and are planning to extend our time here. This is a bit of a bittersweet decision because many of our friends who started this journey with us (from the "oh my God, we are going to Abu Dhabi" stage) are completing their UAE experiences. Every year we've had to say goodbyes, and this year it seems like there are a lot more farewells. We, of course, have made friends who will be completing their "newbie" year and others who extend beyond their initial two year contract, but it reminds you that we live in a country and a community that is constantly in flux. You make friends faster here than you would ever do at home because you know time is short, but the shared experiences and need to rely on one another create strong bonds that you would never imagine happening in other circumstances. But I'm going to hold off on the farewell post until the end of June because I don't want to think about how much I'm going to miss the people who have been such a rich part of our experience.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

And the Sheikh came to my school...

The last couple months have been an experiment in keeping our heads above water. We have spent some time at the park, the Green Mubazzarah, and mostly trying to keep up with life in general. The weather has been so beautiful.  Now that we've finally gotten our schedule together, I'm about to have school break. I just finished putting all my marks (grades, if you are from my side of the world) in the system (which is good since the systems locks you out after today) and next will be a couple weeks of invigilating (aka proctoring) exams and then finally marking the Ministry exam at the end of the month. Our holiday starts on the night of the 28th and I think we are all ready for the break.

As I'm in the middle of the midyear blahs, I want to recount some of the blessings I have had with my school this year.  I have been really lucky with my grade level coordinator who  always goes to bat for us when necessary. She is really an instrument of change for the reform. In addition, I have a fabulous co-worker who has helped me to navigate the unfamiliar land of grade 12 in the UAE, assisted me with marking and overall making my transition to this grade level so much easier. My principal has been very supportive during some recent meetings, and I really adore so many of my Arabic colleagues who have gladly offered assistance when necessary and are also trying to help me improve my Arabic. I can't wait to go to my first wedding tonight for one of the biology teachers at our school. To top it off, our school had its grand opening celebration on Thursday and the Sheikh (Prince of Al Ain) came to my school!

On Friday, we took the girls to Global Village. It's only open until the end of the month, and some of the countries had closed already, but we had a good time taking in all the sights. It is kind of like a giant global flea market with lots of different food choices and performances.  Because it is in its final weeks, you can bargain quite a bit from the first price given, but doing that always makes me uncomfortable. I want them to just give me the "last price" to begin with, which means I will never actually get the real last price. There were so many products it was overwhelming, but at the same time, we didn't feel a huge urge to purchase much because so many items are imported into the UAE that most of the items for sale can be found somewhere here. Our favorite pavilion was the Africa one, but we had to leave without seeing as much as we wanted of it, when Zofia became tired of her global tour... I think after our visit to the Village, we'd all like to see a bit more of the world.

And today is two years since I interviewed to start this adventure.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Religion in a Muslim Country

It is common for some of my students to pray in the back of the class in the early afternoon.  They do so quietly, but devoutly, and the attention they pay to their faith is inspiring. This week, one of my students asked me what religion I was, and another answered, "Christian." I just smiled. We aren't supposed to talk about any religion outside of Islam in school.

Later this week, I was walking my students to the computer lab and we passed another classroom. My students made me stop so we could look in. The classroom had paper snowflakes taped to the window (odd in the desert), fake snow sprinkled on each desk with a small treat, and a fully decorated Christmas tree with gifts placed under it in the corner of the room.

"It is Christmas, Miss."

I looked into the classroom in shock. They translated from the class' Arabic teacher. They were studying major holidays in other cultures and religions and their relation to Islam. I really wanted to sit in on that lesson....

Meanwhile, as a family, we have found a church that reminds us of home and have been attending weekly. It is the same church that Belle and I went to last year that was closed by the town... Instead of meeting in a church, it now meets at a golf club at the other end of town. It is a nice way to begin our weekends, and fulfilling to my spirit to be part of a faith community.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Where's the snooze button?

I'm now teaching grade 12. It is a different pressure due to my students' exams mattering more than their ECART and the number of exams increasing. Luckily, I work with an awesome grade level team and they did a lot of this term's planning while I was being a full time mom.

It is weird to come into a class mid year because you feel a bit like a sub and it is a harder time to build rapport with your classes. I think it is because they've already established class norms and now I'm tasked with changing them to fit my expectations on how the class should function or adapting my management style to align with their expectations. Add to this the stress of formal observations and you'll understand why I'm a little overwhelmed at the moment. And I'm sure it has nothing to do with leaving my baby all day either....

Zofia & Rob are working on developing new routines, and Belle is working hard on her homeschool curriculum. We are all adjusting to an alarm clock and this weekend went very fast.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Back to school

Tomorrow, I go back to work. It has been a nice extended maternity leave (it ran into the December vacation), but I still haven't finished Zofia's paperwork. The process changed at the end of November, and required an extra step. By the time I received the now required approval to apply for her visa, her required medical card had expired. So, now I must wait to receive her new card with our new insurer to finish the process. Craziness, but typical.
 I had a lovely lunch with one of my favorite co-workers, who eased my mind about all the back to school planning I really didn't do. I've been so busy spending time getting used to being a family of four and celebrating holidays - and trying to catch up on sleep....  I work with a great team, and thanks to their efforts, I should be back in the groove fairly quickly, albeit while getting to know my new students. I don't know my schedule yet, but I'm happy that I will be on nursing hours so I can spend more time with the baby.
Right now, I'm going to go back to cuddling her because tomorrow at this time, I'm probably going to be with a room full of students, missing her.