My Two “Scents”


At the end of my first ever visit with an Emirati family 5 years ago, the women lit oud to surround us with its scented smoke, sprayed us with their perfumes, and then told us that it’s tradition to send guests home 

“Smelling as sweet as our time together.” 

Oud, bakhoor, perfume, cologne. It’s all an essential part of everyday Emirati life. Oud burns in insense holders in homes, offices, and even in portable burners in cars. Perfume and cologne are stored by the dozens. The men and women of this country take their scents seriously and it’s always a pleasure to walk by them. 

So I guess it comes as no surprise that perfume is a common gift here. During this last year in Ruwais, I was gifted with these perfumes (and a few more!). As each of these gifts were given to me, I thought back to that quote. These families and friends shared their appreciation with me in the most Emirati way possible. When I choose one each morning, I’m brought back to memories of the students I’ve taught, the friends I’ve made, and the love I’ve shared in this country. 

Really though, on my last night in the UAE, I should be showering this country in perfume. I am leaving with a lifetime of sweetly scented memories and the perfume bottles to go with them. 

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Even the Littlest People Can Inspire

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I’ve been feeling the push to write a blog post again but haven’t- mostly out of laziness but partly because life is just so…routine these days.

Then tonight happened. An unexpected story with an unexpected hero (and heroine). I want to remember this again and again until I’m old and (hopefully not too) wrinkly.

Tonight I had Parent Teacher Conferences with my Grade 1 students and their parents. A little nerve wracking but normal. One of my students unexpectedly showed up with his mom in tow. They waited for 45 minutes before I was free to see them, yet were as gracious to me as if I had greeted them with a red carpet.

His mom came in and we started talking, though not in the same language. Mom spoke in Arabic, I spoke in English, and my fabulous TA translated the entire 30 minute conversation.

This little boy has difficulty learning and remembering what he’s learned, but has the most positive, can do attitude of anyone I’ve met. He is kind, thoughtful, hard working, and hilarious. He works his little heart out everyday at school. Tonight I learned that he’s saved every piece of work, every note, every sticker that he’s ever received in school. He and his mom and dad tape them to the wall of his room.

His mom told me that they do school work together every day after school, the little boy is always the instigator. He just wants to learn and practice a little bit more before the day is done. His ultimate dream in life is to become fluent in English so he can visit “Amreeka.”

This is where his mom stopped and told me a bit about her. She grew up in Ghayathi, went to school and university there, still lives there now. I want to make some connection to an American town that would be similar, but it’s hard to convey just how small and un-modern this little town is, even today. I guess the closest comparison might be a small (small) rural town in the South where a family has lived for multiple generations, has engrained customs and expectations, and people marry people from within their own community. His mom said that when she was growing up, education wasn’t emphasized, especially not learning English. (Remember that the UAE as an established country is only 45 years old. People, especially in small towns like Ghayathi, were living in bedouin tents not too long ago.) She didn’t learn any English until she went to university. Though she studied for a while, she wasn’t able to finish her degree because she got married and then had her first child. After that, she didn’t speak English for a decade, until her kids transferred to an English speaking school. She shared that though she wasn’t able to learn English, she aspires for her children to be fluent in English, since she wasn’t able to accomplish that dream. (She shared all of this as an apology to me! She wants to be able to communicate in English with her children’s teachers and apologized for not being able to.)

So mom shared these details with me, then went on to share a conversation she had with her son a few weeks ago. One day while they were working, her son started a new topic: “Mom! I want you to be like Ms. Suheir (our classroom TA) and Ms. Claire. Everyday they learn and learn and learn. They get to come to school to learn and to teach us. I want you to be like them. You can learn, too. Mom, you should go to university! Yes, mom, you should go to university!”

If the story stopped there, that’d be cute, right? A story about a boy who finds school so empowering that he wants his mom to have the same experience. But the story didn’t stop there.

After telling us what her son said, we talked for a while about her son’s positivity and fantastic attitude. We were wrapping up the conference (20 minutes overdue! I loved talking with this woman) and our conversation was finished. As she was leaving, she casually mentioned that she would be starting university next term and is feeling anxious but excited. At this point, I nearly burst into tears as my TA translated her comment and I put the pieces together. Her son, a 6 year old child with learning difficulties so complex that most children in his place would have begun hating school, has inspired his mother to go back to university and fulfill her dream of learning English.

I told them they must visit me in Oregon when, not if, she learns English.

 

 

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رمضان كريم

 or Ramadan Kareem for my English speaking friends 
Ramadan decorations in Ruwais

Ramadan decorations in Ruwais

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Ramadan decorations in Ruwais

This year, I decided to take part in Ramadan. Today marks Day 9…Nine [mostly] successful days of fasting.

[Here’s my little caveat…if you are reading this and are familiar with Ramadan, please correct me if I misrepresent any part of this wonderful holiday]

For those unfamiliar with Ramadan, it is the most special time of year for Muslims. Ramadan lasts for a month…the month of Ramadan on the Islamic calendar. During this month, participants must fast during sunlight hours. No food and, more impactful, no water. Here in the UAE, that means we’re fasting from about 4:00 in the morning until around 7:30 in the evening.

Muslims break the fast in the evening with a meal called Iftar. To follow tradition, the meal begins with eating a few dates and drinking a glass of milk or water. After this, the meals vary in as many ways as their are people participating. In more recent times, Iftar has become nightly celebrations with large, multi-course meals. Traditionally, however, Iftar was just a small meal to give the fasting person a small amount of energy. The second meal, suhoor, occurs just before sunrise.

Ramadan is a time to refocus oneself toward God, spend more time with friends and family, be charitable toward the needy, and focus on developing kindness, compassion, and patience. Some also say that fasting allows people to empathize with and feel compassion for those that regularly go hungry.

My reasons for participating in Ramadan are numerous. Here are the big ones:

  • This is my third year living in a Muslim country and for the past three years, I’ve tried to participate in as many cultural and/or religious experiences as possible. Ramadan, one could argue, is the biggest of them all.
  • I’ve been curious about Ramadan since high school, when it seemed absolutely infeasible for students to fast during finals week. I was astounded by their dedication.
  • Fasting intrigues me.
  • No water for 15 hours seemed nearly impossible to me, so I simply wanted to see if I could do it.

Since I’m not particularly religious, I decided to use the prayer times for reflection and journaling, which are two things I always tell myself I should do, but never actually follow through on. So far, I’ve only missed one day. Pretty good for a non-journaler.

I began this period of fasting with a few assumptions:

  1. Fasting would be freakin’ hard.
  2. I would be an incredibly grouchy person. All. The. Time.
  3. Working would seem unbearable.
  4. I’d give up after a few days because, well, who in their right mind fasts just because?

So, just a week into it, this is what’s been happening:

  1. Fasting would be freakin’ hard.
    • Days 1 and 2 were HARD. I’m accustomed to bringing water everywhere I go, so for the first few days, I was reaching for phantom water bottles. I was also hungry. Like stomach growling, dizzy, headachy hunger. However, by day 3 my body was used to my new meal schedule and I didn’t feel hungry throughout the day. However, I’ve been parched each and every day. After iftar, water is my new best friend. Overall, fasting is easier than I thought it would be, at least after the initial shock.
  2. I would be an incredibly grouchy person. All. The. Time. 
    • I’ve definitely had my grouchy moments…or perhaps hours, if I’m being truthful. Most of the moodiness came during days 1 and 2 when my body was getting used to fasting. After that, it was back to my typical grouchiness, which I’d like to say is fairly minimal. You’d have to ask my friends for a more accurate account 😉  An hour or two before iftar (breaking the fast in the evening), I get short on patience and am completely desperate to start drinking water. Of course, this last hour seems unending. The call to prayer is a much welcomed melody.
  3. Working would seem unbearable. 
    • This is true, but only because it’s the end of the year and we’re all ready for summer! I do, however, get tired quite easily, which makes packing up and moving classrooms a huge chore.
  4. I’d give up after a few days because, well, who in their right mind fasts just because? 
    • Obviously, I haven’t given up yet. I haven’t been perfect (one day, I was late for suhoor and another day I drank water), but I’m quite pleased overall. I can’t say I enjoy every moment of fasting, but I do like how enjoyable cooking and sitting down for meals has become, my intentional quest for kindness and patience (both things I definitely need more of…), and the camaraderie I feel with other fasters.

Something I didn’t expect? I realized I am completely reliant on meals to break up my day. The day seems to drag on with no end because there’s no food prep or meal to put my time in perspective. I have a lot of free time during the day when I can’t spend it cooking, eating, or drinking.

Also, a few hours into the day, my breath begins to stink. And it continues to do so until my first sip of water at iftar. I’ve asked other fasters about this phenomenon and it seems to happen to everyone. Honestly, this has been the worst part of fasting for me. Gum is not really allowed, but I’ve made exceptions because I just can’t handle it!

Below are just a couple meals from the last week.

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Breaking the fast with date, almond, and cardamom bites

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A typical Syrian meal

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Our small suhoor meal

Chicken Fatteh

Chicken Fatteh for iftar

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Not Just a Border Run

Well, after 3 years I’ve finally made it further than the Omani border patrol.

To celebrate the UAE’s National Day, we got 3 days off of school, aka a 5-day weekend and the perfect amount of time for an introductory rip to Oman. We headed off on Tuesday morning with no expectations or plans other than to reach Muscat that evening. From there, who knew.

We started the day in good ol’ Ruwais, packed and ready to start bright and early (and yes, 8 AM seems bright and early to me…).

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We had to take a slight detour in Abu Dhabi to pick up my…wait for it…custom designed abaya. My travel buddies can tell you how excited I was for this. After a few minor alterations, we were back on the road and I was nearly giddy with excitement.

I’ll pause the recap for a sec to explain the abaya choice. In the UAE, westerners are free to wear [almost] whatever they want. We don’t have to cover our hair, we can wear bathing suits to the beach, and t-shirts and capris in public. I am actually the one choosing to dress more conservatively than required. (For two reasons: 1. I would like to show respect whenever/wherever possible and 2. Have you ever tried teaching in a low cut blouse or short skirt? It’s not enjoyable.) Back to the abaya thing. We weren’t sure where we were going to travel in Oman and I’ve heard from various people who’ve lived in Oman that some towns are more conservative than others. So, I decided early on that I didn’t want to be “that typical American” during the trip (you know the one- has no clue about local culture/customs, offends someone wherever they go, etc). By wearing an abaya and covering during the trip, I was hoping to blend in. Plus, let’s be honest, I’ve been enamored with abaya concept since day one. I wanted to feel as regal and beautiful as all the women around me. So I wore an abaya. And covered. The entire trip. And I loved [nearly] every second of it. Seriously.

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Back to the trip. We spent about 12 hours in the car and saw some beautiful desert mountains (before it got dark…).

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We got to Muscat around 9 PM and easily found our hotel. Anyone who’s traveled in a foreign country knows this is quite a big feat. The hotel was unsurprisingly sketchy. Elevators as old as the country itself. A hallway full of used mattresses. Doors that didn’t really lock. A pigeon living in the broken AC unit. (No joke.) At least there’s running water and clean sheets, we reassured ourselves.

To get away from our room for, we explored the neighborhood a bit in search of dinner. Found a little Grill Shop to eat shish tawook. In every country, ittle neighborhood places are like a fabulous game of food roulette- you either have the best meal of your life or a dreadful case of food poisoning. We were lucky enough to hit the first option.

First night dinner spot. Complete with kitty companions.

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The next day (after surviving the night in our room!) we accidentally found downtown Muscat and wandered around for a while.

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Then we drove to the corniche and the Muttrah Souq. This is where I got my first glimpse of what I’ve always pictured this part of the world to look like (despite having lived in it for more than two years). Whitewashed homes build right into the mountains. Chickens rummaging around the yard. Weathered men and women walking up and down the street like they’ve been doing for the past 45 years.
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Then we saw the forts. And I was officially in love with Oman.

 

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We wandered around the Souq and the corniche for a while. I think we were all blown away by the mountains and the water.
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Having a car means that when you inevitably get lost, you might come across something even better than what you were trying to find. Enter, the royal family’s [very 70’s] palace. And the Omani National Museum that is sadly not open yet. Good excuse for another trip, I suppose!

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After the palace, we decided we wanted to drive to Nizwa during the day so we could see all the wonderful mountain ranges we missed the night before. Sure enough, they surpassed my expectations.

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A few hours later, we reached Nizwa and checked into our hotel. Our room happened to be brand new. Making up for the night before, perhaps? We had dinner and chai at an outdoor cafe, then went to bed early so we could have ample time to enjoy the brand new mattress. 🙂

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The next morning, we went on a search for jebal ahkdar, or Green Mountain (Which we never found. Another reason to return!) Insead of the mountain, we came across some ruins. Perfect. Then we drove up and down mountains for a couple hours. Terrifying. We asked the cutest, most wrinkled gentleman how to get to jebal ahkdar. He paused, looked at our car, and started shaking his head. There was no way we could get to the mountain without a 4×4. Bummer, but on to the next adventure!

We semi-accidentally (sense a theme with this trip?) found a restored fort in a little town called Bahla. It’s apparently kind of famous, as there were tourists from all over Europe walking around the town. After an encounter with my first (but not last) Omani squatty potty, another delicious local cafe meal, and the required after meal chai, we walked through the fort. Cool building, but there were no explanations about the rooms or the history of the fort.

After the fort, we decided to drive back to the UAE and spend the night in my favorite little town- Al Ain. It was wonderful to get to show off my old stomping grounds. The next day we finished the [long and boring] journey back to Ruwais. A short, but fabulous trip.

One last picture, I couldn’t resist.

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Abayas and Thankfulness

Next week, the UAE will celebrate its 43 birthday. This is always my favorite time of year here, not only because the weather is finally perfect, but because there is a constant air of excitement and anticipation. UAE national day is a big deal here and as everything in contemporary Emirati life, it’s done with flair. Lights and decorations on every corner. UAE themed chocolate handed out at any given moment. Abayas and accessories in flag colors. Anywhere you look, there’s a reminder of national pride.

On Thursday, our school celebrated national day with performances, camels, henna, and even an Arabian horse. The kids thought it was magical. I just love an opportunity to wear beautiful abayas.

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Then yesterday, we celebrated Thanksgiving. A friend and I decided to host our very first Thanksgiving. It. Was. Perfect. The whole day was nothing but enjoyable.

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We made the turkey day usuals (not always an easy task on the other side of the world, but everything was scrumptious) EXCEPT pumpkin pie. This was my biggest frustration for the past two weeks. I drove all over the UAE trying to find canned pumpkin. Fail. It does not exist here.

My co-hosting friend suggested I try making butternut squash pie. What? I didn’t even know that was a thing. But guess what? It was ahhmazzzzing (if I do say so myself). Like so good I might be tempted to make it instead of pumpkin pie from now on. Yum. And I felt extra Julia Child/Martha Stewart-ish because it was made from scratch.

From this:

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To this (ignore the whipped cream atrocity):

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And, as the blogging tradition goes, here’s my UAE Thankfulness list:
-Not to jump the gun, but it seems like third time’s the charm. I’m enjoying the new school, the new town (though it is SMALL), my students, and my grade level team. Simply put, school life is running smoothly.
-I’m thankful to finally feel settled and at ease. The rough start (moving 4 times in two months, lots of unkept promises) made me start to doubt my decision to come back. But khalas, no more doubt. I’m where I’m supposed to be.
-I’m thankful for the beach. It’s been my dream to live near the beach. I thought it would be in Oregon, but I’m not complaining about the swimmable weather here 😉
-And of course, for family and
new and old friends. The friends part of that equation is proving to be a little tricky this year, but it will work out.

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving and Happy (early) National Day!!

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G(h)ayathi

Last weekend (and by last weekend, I actually mean in mid September…posting this blog wayyyy late!), we moved to a new hotel, this time about 2.5 hours closer. It’s a very welcome change- no more “would you rather?” game involving a choice between a 3-hour bus ride or living in an empty apartment. Though I am SO READY to be permanently settled (for the next few years anyway) in my apartment, having after school pool time has been amazing. I am, however, ready to start cooking for myself again…never thought that day would come.

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Gayathi Hotel entrance

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My room- brand new!

Last Thursday (before we relocated to the Western Region), I had to stay in Abu Dhabi to get more medical testing done (a routine but lengthy procedure for the company I’m with). It ended up being the most productive errand day ever- finished my medical, picked up my Emirates ID, got a package that had been waiting for me for 2 weeks, applied for and received my UAE driver’s license, AND, after lots of stern conversations and pouty pleading (both from my end), I GOT MY PASSPORT WITH RESIDENCE STICKER. I was so, so, so (a million more so’s) happy.

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Because I got my passport/residency back, I was able to take a friend’s children on a border run. Oh, border runs. How I haven’t missed them. We ended up walking the border because we weren’t able to get Omani insurance for our rental car in time. And of course we had to go on the hottest day of the month. It. Was. Exhausting. BUT we finished in record time- an hour and a half- even though we stopped under each and every sliver of shade to rest and drink water.

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Border run camel selfie!

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Life in Pictures

Tomorrow marks my 3-weekiversary of being back in the UAE. Plus I just got a text message letting me know my Emirates ID (basically the “golden ticket” for getting anything done here) is ready, which in theory means that my residency visa is ready as well (which means I’ll get my passport back and be able to travel over Eid holiday!). I’ve also been feeling tremendously blessed by the new people I’ve met over the past few weeks. What an amazing group of people. And lastly, I have the sweetest, giggliest class ever. I’m head over heels for them.

Despite the crazy, stressful unsettledness that is my life (still staying in Abu Dhabi part time or on the floor of a friend’s living room or in my empty apartment the rest of the time, not knowing if I had a classroom for the first day of school, not having furniture or curriculum for the first week, etc). This week, the unsettledness and general confusion and chaos of life here really took a whack at my happiness and overall attitude. I started feeling discontent and easily annoyed with people because everything is so unsettled. I am eagerly, eagerly waiting for “normal.” It’ll happen in a month or two, but at this point a month seems So. Far. Away. Despite all this, I have so many reasons to celebrate life here. This blog post is to remind me of all the good.

So, because I can’t sleep, I’m going to celebrate by posting tons of pictures:

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#pdxcarpet Was so excited to get one last shot in before it’s gone forever!

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We were royally spoiled the first week we arrived. Swanky hotel, fancy restaurant meals, laundry service, and a few work-free days. It was quite the reality check when school started.

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Burkini season is upon us!

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My sweet set up. Borrowed mattress, friend’s living room, hastily purchased bedding. I couldn’t move into my apartment because our building had no running water or air conditioning. Welcome to the behind the scenes life of an expat.

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First day of school. Definitely more excited than my timid little firsties. They’re learning to love our classroom, though. 🙂

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We spent the afternoon exploring Ruwais in our zippy little rental. Found the mall, a beautiful sunset, and way too many roundabouts.

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It’s so humid here that it feels like you’re walking through a cloud. It actually takes effort to move forward because the air is so thick. Instant full body sweat and steamy glasses every time you take a step outside. It’s super attractive.

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My classroom, end of week one. Pretend bulletin boards, high school desks (the little ones couldn’t even push in the chairs because they were so big!), and no bookshelves or storage.

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“We survived a week” celebratory drinks.

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Complimented a taxi driver on his choice of music, ended up taking his mix CD home because he insisted I should have it. No complaints here, love me some “reagee” music.

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Water and AC finally fixed in our apartment, so I “moved in.” Very homey, eh?

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Classroom, beginning of week two. Little desks! Shelves! Interactive white board and bulletin boards! A rug! Curriculum! Soon, I’ll actually have time to organize and arrange things to make it feel like a real classroom. For now, it looks a bit like a storage facility.

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Funny signage/products.

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This afternoon, we played giant hello kitty ping pong in my enormous, empty, echoey living room. We found out it works as a great makeshift racquetball court.

Categories: Expat Life, Living abroad, Reflection, Ruwais, School | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Bussing in Style

So I’m currently live blogging while riding on the public bus from Abu Dhabi to Ruwais. I’m taking the bus because I bought a mattress in Abu Dhabi and had no way to transport it via car/SUV. So bus it is.

It’s a pretty swanky set up (think coach bus) and it doesn’t even smell…too much (a very, very common occurrence here as many people don’t wear deodorant). It costs 35 dirhams (about $10) for 3 hours of travel (taking the bus is quite a bit slower than going by car, which is just over two hours).

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There are 11 people on the bus- I am one of three women and the only non-Muslim (and therefore uncovered) female. Good thing I’m already used to being stared at.

The guy in front of me definitely just took out a six pack of beer and has begun a belching competition with himself. Totally illegal, but I’m super jealous that he is going to enjoy the three hour ride a lot more than the rest of us.

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So the whole bus ride is not nearly as beautiful as the picture above. The rest of the view is so boring, in fact, that I’m about to start lesson planning instead of gazing out the window, which is my typical travel hobby.

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An hour and a half in and just stopped at the Tarif (or Tareef, depending on which sign you read) bus station. I’m not sure if people are getting off for good or if this is just a prayer, chai, smoke stop. …I wish it was a bathroom stop, but I’d rather not get left behind in the middle of nowhere, literally hours of desert in every direction. Sooo…it was like a ten minute rest stop. Ample time to pee. I guess I’ll know for next time.

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Back on the road. Only an hour left! This whole blogging while riding thing really makes time go by quickly. The picture above shows what the road is like: two lanes, hundreds upon hundreds of trucks in the right lane (they’re not allowed to go in the left lane- ever) and ridiculously speedy cars in the left. Speed conscious drivers are stuck somewhere in the middle. When I drove my rental car on this road last week, I had to change lanes more than I ever thought possible. One moment, I’d be driving along with the road to myself, then the next moment, a car coming from Saudi or Qatar (families and men from these countries often come to Abu Dhabi and Dubai for the weekend) would be right up on my tail flashing his lights to get me to move over (the well known signal here). I then had to endure some tailgating and light flashing while I passed the long line of slow moving trucks. Then I’d have to quickly get over before the guy behind me created his own lane in the sand, praying I have amazing brakes because the trucks are going 40 Kms slower than me. Repeat this scenario infinitely and there you have a typical drive on this road. Never a dull moment.

30 minutes left! I’ll sign off here since it’s dark now and I can’t entertain you with any more pictures. We’ll see how the mattress transportation goes from the bus station to my new apartment…

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The Wheels on the Bus…

In this first week, I’ve met people from New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Hungary, Syria/Australia, South Africa, Turkey, and of course all over the States (including people from Oregon!). It’s been a fun game trying to guess where people are from based solely on accents. The people from Italy, Hungary, and Turkey threw off my nearly perfect score. 🙂
This week was our “orientation” at our respective campuses. We’re all still living in our hotel in Abu Dhabi city, but little Ruwais is about two and a half hours (over three hours when taking a bus) toward Saudi Arabia into the western region. That means we’ve been commuting everyday. Twice a day. All in all, about 6 hours in a little bus. …Oh my.

 

Sunday:

This was supposed to be our first day of work and the first day we saw our school, met our team, etc, etc. However, I, along with a handful of others were taken for our medicals. Nothing too exciting here, just a lot more “hurry up and wait” happening. I did, however, have to fend off a very flirtatious doctor. While I was shirtless. And he was doing an echo of my heart. Why he thought it was a good idea to flirt with a shirtless woman is beyond me. Awkward.

We got back to the hotel in the late afternoon, broke our medical fast (18 hours is a looooong time to have to be pleasant to people without food or drink), and then I woke up 12 hours later on Monday morning. Jet lag has not been treating me kindly this time around.

 

Monday:
We rode out to one of the other campuses in the western region (only a two hour bus ride each way this day!) for a meeting with the school board of directors and some Q&A time with them.

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Tuesday:
This was my first day at my new school. The entire day was someone chaotic as all meetings and professional development had been canceled. This meant I walked aimlessly around the school for hours, getting lost while trying to track down any first grade teachers. Spoiler: I didn’t.

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Wednesday:

We had a professional development session today! And I met my team! My room is still empty and I don’t have a schedule, class list (Update: I have a class list!), or school supplies, but overall, it ended up being a productive day.

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Can you say stressed out teacher? Our grade is in the new extension, which was still being finished on Wednesday. I’m both excited and terrified to walk into my room on Sunday (the first day of school). I’m looking forward to life in about a month, when things should be settled and we’ve established some routines both at school and at home. Even though I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and confused this week,  my gut feelings haven’t shifted. I still sense that this is a good school, Ruwais will be a wonderful place to live, and the community of teachers and support staff will just get stronger. I have experienced and observed that I am in a place with supportive, kind, and generous people. All the other stuff will sort itself out eventually.

 

Thursday:

No school! Slept in. No more of this 5 AM business. The admin of our school decided since we’ve been driving everyday, which basically makes a 12 hour work day, that the new staff got to recover today. While it was nice to stay in Abu Dhabi and relax (and hang out at the pool!!), the teachery side of me was freaking out about all that I need to get done but can’t.

 

Conclusions from the commute:

  • Long bus rides are a fantastic way to get to know people.
  • I think I’ve become even more extroverted this year.
  • Lemon mint juice is a fantastic pick me up after hours on a bus.
  • Date palm trees are beautiful, and seeing them makes me feel like I am back home.
  • This group of new teachers is going to do well here. Their attitude is fantastic and I am beyond lucky to be a part of it all.

 

Categories: Ruwais, School, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Day 1, Better Known as “The Day I Broke Into My Own Safe”

So here I am at 3:30 AM, lounging on the comfiest bed in the world, drinking terrible instant coffee, starting in on my “can’t sleep because of jet lag” blog post. Third year in a row. I guess traditions are good. 

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After a pretty nice flight from New York (except for the part where my seat mate spilled coffee on me and my bags…), I arrived to the newly renovated immigrations area in the Abu Dhabi airport. Despite and yards and yards of velvet ropes, I was one of only two people in the “other nationalities” line. After waiting for a grueling 30 seconds, I handed over my e-visa and passport, got my eyes scanned, and everything was stamped. It seems like immigration agents are notoriously straight faced, no matter what country you’re in. I think I would be too, with a repetitive job like that. My kandora clad immigration guy was no different- no smile, one word requests. As he handed me my passport, I said “shukran” (thank you, in Arabic) and he robotically responded “afwan” (you’re welcome). A second later, his whole demeanor changed as he realized I had spoken Arabic, when, clearly, I am not from an Arabic speaking country. He jolted from his seat, smiled, and with wide eyes asked if I spoke Arabic. When I responded with “shwaya” (a little bit), he just laughed and nodded his head, clearly pleased. Language goes a long way. 

I arrived to my (swanky) hotel around 11 in the morning, got settled in my temporary room, as my real room wasn’t ready yet. Took an amazingly satisfying shower (I’m not sure there’s a better feeling than washing off 30 hours worth of travel grime) and then headed down to lunch. I couldn’t help but overhear people throwing around some familiar town names (where the schools I’m working for are located), so I barged right on into their conversation and introduced myself. They’re all new to the UAE, so it was fun to hear about their decision to take the plunge and live abroad. Later, I realized that even a year ago, I would have been way too timid to introduce myself to strangers. Today, I only had to give myself a 10-second pep talk before I sat down with them. That’s a pretty cool change to me.

The day was fairly uneventful, just meeting a few people and settling into my new room. However, there were a few little details from the day that I thought were funny enough to want to remember: 

First, I got a knock on my door. When I answered it, all I saw was an outstretched hand holding two apples. Then I heard, “mumble, mumble, mumble, room service.” The hand thrusted the apples at me and left. The two mystery apples are just staring at me from the desk. 

Second, I knew I’d be running around the hotel all afternoon, so I decided to be super smart and cautious and lock my passport, money, and visa into my room’s safe. So I set the code, practiced opening and closing it a few times (can’t be too careful, right?), and then put everything in and left. A couple hours later, I needed to show my passport and visa to the guy who was setting up my bank account. He had come to the hotel specifically to help me. The title of this post obviously hints at what happened next. Go to my room, enter code, receive “err” message, second guess every memory I have in life because I’ve clearly lost my mind. Repeat. And again. Finally decide to talk with the front desk and get someone to open it. Then run over to the banking guy and apologize. Back up to my room to wait. And wait. And wait. Finally a person from guest services comes up with the key and a palm pilot (who knew those still existed?), tries to unlock it, can’t. She calls the head of security, I run down and apologize to Mr. Banker again. Run back to the room, see Mr. Head of Security banging on the door of the safe. Ms. Guest Services is talking on the phone with the safe company. I stand there mentally apologizing to the guests on my floor because the banging is LOUD. The head of the engineering department arrives. He starts banging, too. The universal key and palm pilot have long since been abandoned. The woman is still on the phone. I can’t help but make a terrible “how many people does it take” joke. Everyone laughs politely, but I’m sure they were mentally rolling their eyes. Mr. Engineer keeps banging, getting progressively more forceful while Mr. Head of Security watches. Walk into the hall to call the banker to reschedule, since I’m an hour late now. A guest opens their door and gives our little group a dirty look. Hear an “Oh my!” and walk in to see the door swing open. And that’s how we broke into a safe. 

Categories: Living abroad, Travel, United Arab Emirates | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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