Saturday, September 21, 2013

One month

...I woke up in my apartment in my new city and country.  It's hard to believe it's been 4 weeks already.  So much has happened in four weeks - the majority of course - school related.  But today I finally got out - really got out to explore some of the parts of ABD that I really wanted to see.  The souks on Al Meena island were wonderful and there are so many more to explore, which I'll probably do when it's not so blessed hot and humid.  The fish market was many different types of fish and shark...real, baby shark.  I have to say that's the only one I had a problem with.  It's hard to describe why - but I just didn't like the idea of buying baby shark.  I've had shark fin soup - it's delicious...I just found it hard in my gut to justify.  The rest of the fish?  Amazing.  The parrot fish with it's brightly colored skin - wow!  I want to snorkel or scuba dive to see one in the wild - I bet in the crystal clear water of the gulf they are stunning.  The men at the fish market?  Hilarious.  My friend, B and I, were clearly tourists...cameras out - not buying fish, asking millions of questions.  The fishermen/vendors were generous and kind - playing with the fish and humoring us when we asked them questions.  One gentleman apparently took to B so much that he followed us out of the souk, got in his car and followed us in his car behind our taxi.  With a quick loan of my wedding band for her to flash to him and point at - he got the hint and drove away.  He wasn't scary at all - just apparently very interested in her.  It gave us something to giggle about as we drove to the carpet souk.

After the fish market we drove to the flower market.  Shop after shop of amazing and beautiful flowers and plants, both indoor and outdoor.  I'm already thinking about what I want and where to put them.  I think I'll get an indoor palm...maybe a cactus to remind me of home...maybe an orchid too.  We also saw an elephant - an elephant topiary that is :)  Getting a couple of plants will definitely help make my apartment feel more homey.

After the flower market we headed over to the carpet souk...which was a peddlers nightmare.  I've not seen such aggressive sales techniques since the county fair! ;)  There were some carpet salesmen who wanted to sell us carpets today for sure!  And to be honest - the first place we walked in will be the one we got back to when it's time to buy runs and carpets.  The guy was genuinely kind and willing to haggle on price.  I've already got a couple of rugs picked out!  Now I just need to get paid and go back.  It was very fun and some of the fabrics were amazing.  We went into a couple of shops which had the most amazing fabrics for pillows...but the fabric was from Syria.  ugh.  I just couldn't bring myself to buy it.  But the fabric was gorgeous.  So, if Syria could get their government figured out so I could continue my capitalist ways, that would be great ;)  (I'm kidding - rather I'd like them to quit using chemical weapons on their people - but that's a whole other discussion.)  We also learned how to tell the difference between a hand made rug and a machine made one. :)  The hand made ones are obviously more expensive, but wow!

Our last stop was Saadiyat Public Beach.  Since I've arrived I've wanted to put my feet in the Persian Gulf...not an inlet...but the actual ocean-for-miles gulf.  So today we decided we would do that.  We didn't originally intend on swimming...but once we got there...we couldn't help it and went in fully clothed :)  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  We are already planning our next day at the beach...complete with swim suits, a cooler and food :)

first step in the gulf :)

throwing up the Duck "O" 

post swim

drying off before catching the cab's so beautiful

Today I felt like I finally was no longer a slave to school.  I still have schoolwork to do tonight to be prepared for tomorrow, but I finally got out and saw things...explored my new city and it felt so good.  Next weekend it's a birthday weekend in Dubai for a couple of my new friends.  I'm extremely excited for that adventure as well.  One more new adventure in what is turning out to be a crazy, beautiful life here in the UAE.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Life in Abu Dhabi...

Many of you have asked what life in ABD is like...well - it's much like life anywhere else one would live, I suppose.  Yes, it's a foreign country with a different language and law structure, but "life" is generally the same.  I am experiencing what any person who moves to a new city would experience.  I'm learning where to go for shopping and eating and etc.  Today, for example, I tried out a grocery store called Spinney's.  It was wonderful!  (I'm going to make spinach and feta stuff chicken breast for dinner tonight - YUM!)  I'm learning my way around the city - I'm pretty adept at telling the taxi driver where to go now.  I'm learning that near death experiences are common whilst riding in the taxi's here.  I'm learning that I can not seem to find hairspray of any kind that's not in an aerosol can (grrr), which means oh dear husband?? Yes - you - the one who said you'd do anything for me?  lol - You might get a care package ready that includes a couple of bottles of my favorite hairspray.  I'm learning that the environmental, chemical laws here regarding how toxic ones cleaning supplies are - are pretttttty lax.  The local brand bathroom cleaner (similar to scrubbing bubbles in the US) could also double for a pest infestation bomb of some sort.  I mean - seriously....I spray in the bathroom while plugging my nose, with the bathroom fan on, close the door, put a towel down under the door to block any smell leakage and wait 15 minutes...then plug my nose, rush back in and wash it off.  While the local brands are cheaper, I might just spend the extra 15-20 dirhams for brand name Scrubbing Bubbles so I'm not exposing myself to cancer causing chemicals.  ;)

I can find much of the same food as in the US, but again have been told that buying locally is cheaper...and it has been.  I've tried some amazing salads from the deli, some chicken kabobs, local breads, hummus, taboulleh, etc.  I'm looking forward to learning more about the food here and actually taking a cooking class so I can really immerse myself in the culture.  I found a divine spice store in the souk across the street, which I fully intend on exploring more fully once I take a cooking class.  Can you say saffron?  ;)

Also - everything here is essentially in English and Arabic...road signs, business signage, etc.  Additionally, most of the music I've heard thus far has been American music.  Nothing like sitting in a local restaurant only to hear "Spank That" come over the speakers.  ha ha  It's pretty surreal.

I've been fortunate enough to meet and work with some amazing people from other countries.  I'm the only American in my grade level.  I work with two lovely ladies from the UK, one from South Africa, one from Eastern Canada and one from Australia.  I'm sure by the time this year is over, I'll have quite the unique accent :) It's been learning about their cultures and the differences and similarities between our countries.  I"m now a regular tea drinker - English style - steeped with a spot of milk.  I add a little bit of sugar too, shhhh...don't tell my UK friends ;)

I've threatened my girlfriends here with exposing them on my blog...but I won't this time.  We've had several nights of fun and laughter and while they are all housed at the Wafiq tower where I was originally supposed to be, they've been gracious to include me in their crazy going out plans.  :) It's because of this I won't expose them...yet...but suffice to say, "twerk" can dance like a madwoman.  All kidding helps abate the homesickness to know I'm finding such quality ladies to hang out with here.

I am slowly trying not to work myself to death...and yesterday took a walk with a friend near the Marina Mall.  Here are a couple of pictures from that walk.

I'm off to the post office now for my first PO experience. :)  More to come later.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Abu Dhabi - an amazing experience thus far...

Who would have thought when I posted my last blog post and added the picture that I would actually end up living in an apartment building RIGHT NEXT to the fountains in that picture.  (They are currently under renovation and aren't actually functioning fountains right now, however-  still impressive.)  I was originally not supposed to live downtown, but upon my arrival at the airport here, I was informed I would be living in the Bin Salama Towers in downtown ABD, not out on Al Reem Island.  I was initially disappointed, as I was looking forward to living in brand new accommodations with a pool and workout facility, however after getting to my apartment and finding out I had a 2BR instead of a 1BR, plus I have two extra bathrooms and maids quarters AND I'm right downtown with easy access to everything...I wasn't so disappointed anymore.  Truth be told, I love my "hood".  Location is everything and I love where I live and I love I have a 2BR...which means a spare bedroom for visitors :)  Come on over!!

So - where to start?  For some of you reading this post, you don't have access to Facebook, so I'll start waaaaay back, but will keep it brief.

A couple of years ago I explored the option of teaching overseas.  I have several friends who took the leap after graduation and it had always intrigued me.  When I became faced with taking a pay cut in my school district, I decided to look into it more seriously.  I worked with a recruiting company and when a first grade position in a private school come available, I interviewed via Skype and long story short - here I am.  I work for the Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls, which is a bit confusing as we have boys here in the elementary grades.  It's a lovely school and I feel fortunate to work there.  I've also made some amazing new friends, to which I'll address later on in another blog post.  Suffice to say - I work with a tremendous group of ladies whom I'm enjoying getting to know better.

So - let's back up - here is my facebook post from a couple of weeks ago...then I'll update from the end of that post.  Hopefully, I'll get through the tedium and business of getting the school started and be able to blog more regularly - that's my goal!!

To recap....from 8/29
One week ago today I hopped on a plane bound for a destination 8000 miles (or light years – depending on one’s perspective) away. In that last week I’ve moved and gotten nearly settled into my apartment, started new teacher training/orientation (my professional growth this year ought to be outstanding), overcome 11 hour jet lag, completed government run medical evaluations and documentation (pictures, fingerprints, blood draw, x-ray, etc) for my Emirates ID, learned how to exchange dollars for dirhams, learned how to convert dollars to dirhams (and vice versa), learned a bit of my neighborhood and discovered quaint little places to shop as well as vital places to shop (such as the grocery store and where to refill my phone cards), closed my eyes and prayed I wouldn’t die as mad cap taxi drivers speed through the city, got unpacked and nearly settled, got internet hooked up, eaten some amazing food, figured out how to use my cell phone here, learned the local way of using the restroom (seriously), learned a few short phrases in Arabic and all the while making some new and really fantastic friends from all over the world. I can only imagine what the next days, weeks and months will bring. I think this does definitely qualify as an adventure and I'm loving it so far 

I'll get the whole "restroom" thing out of the way first...every bathroom has a bidet or a modified version of one that has a hose sprayer, similar to one you find in your kitchen.  TP is used after you "wash" off with the sprayer and only used to dry oneself, then thrown in a wastebasket next to the toilet; it's not flushed.  Surprised?  Confused?  Weirded out?  Yea - so was I!  To be honest, it takes some getting used to, but I think one would rather be confused and bit uncomfortable than to have your toilet back up on you!  ugh.  :)  Now THAT would be uncomfortable.

I'll address the immigration situation next and I'm just going to come out and say this...unless you've been an immigrant, you don't really have the information you need to make any sort of judgement call on immigration.  I was blessed, (yes, blessed) to live in Arizona - a hotbed for immigration in the US.  Having grown up in Montana where there was basically no diversity, becoming more aware during my life in the Pac NW and then actually experiencing first hand the tragic loss of life associated with it in Arizona (remember my student who's dad was eaten by coyotes as he tried to cross the border back into the US from Mexico?), I still wasn't prepared for what it feels like to be an immigrant.  Everything you do here is reliant upon your passport and visa.  Lose or misplace these and it's a nightmare.  At the airport I had to have my eyes scanned...yes, I had to look into this machine and they scanned my eyes.  The UAE now has a scan of my eyes...that's a bit intimidating.  Fast forward to medical testing and fingerprinting day.  I am thankful we had a "handler" that walked us through the process.  He took our passports and visas and walked us step-by-step through everything.  Even with his help, it was intimidating and nerve-wracking.  Stand in the line here, wait for your number to be called.  Sit here, stare into the camera (can I smile in this picture?  Oh - it doesn't matter? ok.)  Get up, hand your paperwork to the woman at the next station, get your name called, talk to the doctor.  Oh? No issues?  Ok, take your paperwork to the woman at the next station.  Wait for your number to be called.  Come in, sit down, let me take your blood.  Take your paper to the woman at the next station, wait for your number.  Go into that room, disrobe your top for your chest x-ray (turns out we only needed to take off our bra or anything that had metal in it - I somehow wasn't told that part and followed the directions that were given to yes, I was the ONLY girl in my group to come out of the disrobing room actually disrobed and in the super duper attractive paper wrap shawl thingy - hahaha).  Put your clothes back on, go back to waiting room.  Then off to fingerprinting where they took every conceivable print off my hand that they could.  Oh - and yes, you CAN smile in your Emirates ID picture...but without showing your teeth...which means I look like the cat that ate the canary or a creepy peeping tom.  Ugh...wish I could do THAT picture over again...but no such luck. ;)

Anyway - I have had these moments that sneak up on me...moments where I am suddenly reminded that I am the immigrant, not the other way around.  Like getting in the taxi and not being able to understand what the taxi driver is saying and having that split second thought (you know the one I'm talking've allllllll thought the same thing), "Gosh - why can't they speak English?"  And then realizing, the taxi driver is probably thinking, "WHY CAN'T SHE SPEAK ARABIC??"  Seriously, right?  How many times have YOU (and be honest) complained about people who have come to America as an immigrants or (gasp) "illegal immigrants" and they don't know the language...and then you're frustrated, right?  Thinking, "If they're going to come to this country, the least they could do is learn the language."  Wellllllll, let me tell you - it's not that easy.  I chose to come to the UAE and don't know a lick of Arabic.  Does that make me rude?  I don't think's a hard language to learn...much like English is for those who go to America.  I will say this...I am learning tho...and I'm making it a point to learn.  It's coming slowing, but at least I'm trying.

Back to the moments that sneak up on I had another I stood with my first graders in our daily assembly...facing the flag and the music starts to play.  My mind was prepared for The Star Spangled Banner, even tho I knew it wasn't going to play - part of me still expected it.  Yet, here I stood with my class (along with the 5 other grade one classes), facing the flag of my adopted country, listening to a song to which I knew none of the words, but standing respectfully with my hands at my sides, wondering, pondering really, how many of my students in Arizona had done the exact.same.thing.  Facing the flag of their new country, listening to a song to which they knew none of the words, yet stood respectfully.  In no small way I felt like I was "cheating" on the US and I struggled with that for a bit, so I can only imagine what my former firsties in AZ felt like.  I have a whole new, deeper appreciation for immigration now, because I'm living it.  And to be honest, I'm living the EASY life of it comparatively.  My school provides a 'handler' to help us through the process.  Those teachers coming here through the public sector have no such 'handler'.  Imagine what they must be going through.  I've had enough anxiety over things, having to sort through immigration without a helping hand would be immensely intimidating and all the more nerve-wracking.

The beauty of it all is that I'm in a new country - experiencing truly astounding opportunities with many more to come.  (I can't wait to start traveling around the UAE and beyond).  The beaches here are gorgeous...the people are friendly and helpful and I'm having a truly wonderful time.  Once school calms down, I'll feel like I have more free time to explore the city and outlying areas.  I wish I would have taken the leap to international education much earlier...I am learning SO much!

In the next few days I'll post about my classroom and add pictures to this blog so you're not bored!  :)

Thanks for reading and sorry for the delay in finally getting something posted!