Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The gallery...

One of the most interesting experiences here thus far was my recent trip to the local public beach.  On previous beach excursions, I've gone in the evening or to a private "pay" beach.  However, my trip to the beach yesterday proved to be quite the spectacle...and what was everyone looking at, you ask?  Any woman on the beach.

Prior to moving here I had been told that as a woman I would be looked at...stared at...leered at.  Not all necessarily in bad ways - but because I'm a foreigner that men here would be interested.  I can, without hesitation, say this has been absolutely true, however not once have I felt unsafe.  I've been walking alone at all hours, going to and from a store or just going on a walk, and I've never had any issues.  Of course I'm safe - normally going with a friend, but even on the rare occasion I'm alone, my personal safety has never come into question.  Crimes against women are heavily prosecuted and to be honest, it's not worth the punishment.  The punishment is swift and severe, so crime on all levels is extremely low.  Anyway - my day at the beach can be best described by the following picture.

Ugh - I have to figure out what that spot is on my camera lense.  Anyway - look past that and you'll see men lined up against the railing...if you look close enough - just off to the right hand side, you'll see a guy in a long sleeved, white shirt, with a black beret and HE is why they're turned around.  The gentleman in white is a security guard, who for probably the 50th time, has blown his whistle and "shoo'ed" them away from the railing.  No joke - the men would line up along the railing to "view" the women on the beach.  Ok - I get it - it sounds creepy and to be honest, it was a bit creepy to be stared at, but when you know you're safe - you ultimately shrug it off.  

What I didn't get was a great pic of the scene in the water....primarily because I wasn't going to take my phone in the water with me.  I did take one from our spot on the beach...which sort of shows you what it looked like.  Guys would stare at you as you were swimming...and if you talked to them?  You made their day.  I had one boy - truly he looked 12, but was probably 19, ask me how my day was as I was walking out of the water.  I replied, "Fine, thank you - how are you?"  He about peed himself...and after I walked off, got the giggles.  One of my friends assured me I had just made his day....and all because I spoke to him?  It boggles my mind.

The people in the water in the picture above?  Men...and maybe a couple of women.  When we walked in the water, they would kind of spread out to let us through, then circle back around.  It was SO weird being on "display".  If you stayed in for a decent period of time, they would kind of forget you were there...but if you moved around a lot, they would notice.  The beach was full of security, so if guys got too close (according to the judgement of security) they would blow their whistle and have the guys move away from us.  So, despite the "gallery" effect, we never felt unsafe.  We literally had our own "security" that made sure we weren't being bothered.  Now, I'm sure this comes across like we were the only women on the beach and that's not true - everything I've mentioned applies to all the women on the beach.

Looking down the beach towards where I live.  I live just past the tall building on the left and in from the beach about two blocks. :)  This beach is where the Red Bull Air Races will be held.  I am BEYOND excited for February to roll around!!

Another thing about living here that is 180 degrees different from living in the states has to do with larger women - shall I say voluptuous and curvy women - are celebrated, not mocked.  Living here has done wonders for my self-esteem.  There is no pressure to be skinny.  No pressure to look like VS models - to starve to fit some societal ideal of the perfect woman.  I would say the majority of women here are a healthy size 14 or above.  Rarely do you see someone who is stick thin skinny or the opposite - morbidly obese.  I don't say this for any other reason than to express that living in a society where "thin" is the primary definition of "beautiful" and girls are starving themselves to meet some ungodly and unhealthy number on a scale is more damaging than you imagine.  I also don't bring any of this up as an excuse to be unhealthy.  I've actually lost weight here...without even trying.  To be accepted for who I am physically by society has been liberating.  I have enough stress with my job - the last thing I need to worry about is if I'm skinny enough.  "These chains are not placed on us from the outside, you know" - is a favorite saying of someone close to me...and I totally agree - most often we place the chains of judgement and pressure on ourselves more than anyone else does.  BUT - when it comes to issues of weight - societal expectations in the US are a bi*** and ARE placed on us from the outside.  I've already been warned by a couple of friends who have been here for a year, that upon returning to the US next summer, to expect culture shock when it comes to body image.  I think that's reasonable, as I certainly am experiencing culture shock here.  

I want to iterate this post is not meant to trash skinny girls.  I have several friends who have never dieted a day in their lives who are beautifully skinny - but also have their own set of body issues.  It's a two way street.  This is merely a commentary on the load of crap girls are fed from a young age, living in the US (as it's my only reference point until now), to be skinny...and that to be a larger girl somehow means one is "less than".  I've put up with that load of total BS my entire life from people that care about me to complete strangers.  Even when I was at my skinniest, I still never fit the "ideal" skinny.  It's so nice to finally be able to be my large girl self and not feel bad.  The fact that I'm actually losing weight...a bit ironic, don't you think?  I won't even try to figure out the psychology behind it. :)  (although it's pretty obvious, right?)

Monday, October 14, 2013

I'm so excited...

I am a huge fan of the Red Bull Air Races...and look what I just found out is coming to Abu Dhabi...



That's right...the season kicks off in ABD next February.  The best thing?  My apartment faces the Corniche, where this will start.  So, I'll be able to see the races from my apartment!!  I'll of course walk the 5 minutes to the beach instead, but I'm so unbelievably excited that I'll be able to SEE THE RACES!

Not to mention the Formula 1 races are here in November...I'm still looking into tickets for that, but they are expensive.

I'm so excited I can hardly stand it.

Flexibility, Marhaba, Eid al Adha, Al Ain, more rugby and my first live camel sighting...

Life in the UAE is not boring, that's for sure.  If I had to choose one word to describe what life is like and what it takes to survive here, I would choose "flexibility".  In the US we are very accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it.  You know where you can go to get things,  anything your heart desires, at least if you live in a city or a relatively large town.  Either way - you know what's available to you, when and where you can get it.  (for example - the charging cord to my Nook broke...as in the part that fits into my Nook broke off - wires broken, the whole thing is now in the trash...where do I find a new cord??  No Best Buys here...no Barnes and Nobles...and according to our tech guy - no place carries them.  Thankfully, it's a micro USB, so my phone charger will actually also charge my Nook...which I didn't know until now.  YEA for technie victories!)

Also, in the states you know within relative certainty, the timeline in which it takes something to get done.  Here?  It's not quite that easy.  Here you need to be flexible...and patient.  I might actually choose patient over flexible, however the two might go hand in hand.  Living here has helped me slow life down a bit...to be more patient....and flexible, which for a strong Type A personality has been quite the challenge indeed.  For example, in the states, your school calendar is fixed and you know almost a full year in advance what those holiday days off will be.  Here?  part of the school calendar is controlled by the moon.  Yes...the moon.  Eid al Adha  I'm not saying whether the difference is good or bad - it's just different...and requires flexibilty...and patience.  So, we didn't know we'd get a full 9 days off of school until last Wednesday...which meant making travel plans (or any plans for that matter) more difficult.  I understand now why the favorite saying in the UAE is "insha allah" - meaning God Willing.  If it's meant to be...it will be - insha allah.  It's slowly becoming my mantra as well.  Despite the patience and flexibility on-the-job training I'm receiving (insert sarcasm here), I am thrilled to have 9 days off from school.  The first couple days of which I spent hanging with the ladies in Al Ain - my first trip into the desert.  It was beautiful there and should I stay in the UAE long enough to have a family, I would probably move to Al Ain.  It's smaller, quieter, greener, and close to the mountains.

Sand dunes!!

I can't wait to get on a camel and explore those dunes someday!

A billboard of Sheikh Khalifa - current ruler of the UAE.

See those mountains in the background? :)

While in Al Ain we watched a rugby match and the team from Al Ain slaughtered their opponent - final score at half was 75 to 7...so they finished the game at half time.  It was pretty amazing.  The rugby matches here are little parties...this one had a band and a flamethrower as sideline entertainment.  

After rugby we went out for a night on the town.  A couple of my friends here taught in Al Ain last year, so we ran into former students and parents.  It was really wonderful to see the sense of community in this smaller town.  

Later on when we returned to our hotel and were about to go to sleep, our A/C went out.  We'd had problems with it all night, had the repairmen into fix it, were told it was fixed, only to lay in bed, almost asleep and here a "pop---shhhhhhh" and have the room quickly fill with a burnt stench and smokey smell.  They offered us another room and when we came back to the room the next morning to collect our belongings, this is what we found.
Smoke stains above the a/c vent.

and they had started knocking out the wall in the bathroom and ceiling to get to the a/c

yea - that would be the bathtub in the bathroom...with the floor covered in cement chunks and bits of drywall

Soooo....we took our a/c troubles to the pool :)

After our overnight -we headed back into Abu Dhabi.  On the way back we actually saw a live camel.  It was my first camel sighting and it was pretty thrilling!
Even tho he's in the back of a truck - it was still super fun to see him!  Next time, I'm going to find one to ride...it's a must and on my bucket list!

Prior to our trip to Al Ain - the secondary (high school) students at our school put on a Marhaba festival for the new teachers.  Marhaba means "welcome".  It was pretty amazing.  It was primarily the 9th grade students who organized the whole thing and it was truly wonderful.  They put together powerpoints and videos about the history of the UAE, as well as treated us to henna artists, amazing food, had traditional clothing called "jalabiyas" for us to try on.  One girl even brought in her pet falcon (yes, her pet) and we were allowed to hold and pet him.  It was amazing and so much fun!  

the henna artist starting...

My first henna - it actually got MUCH darker than this.  It turns dark brown when it's fully dried.

Amazing that someone has a falcon as a pet. :)

jalabiyas on display

"oud" - perfume...so strong, but so pretty

trying on jalabiyas

Me in my first "jalabiya".  I will definitely be buying more.  While not the most slimming of attire, they are super comfortable and the kiddos sure got a kick out of seeing me wearing one :)  They were able to dress in their traditional attire, kandooras for the boys and jalabiyas for the girls.  I wish I could post a picture of how absolutely adorable they looked!!

Some of the Eid treats brought in by the parents.

So - after school finished for the day and I now had 9 days off, I decided to hit the beach at sunset.  I've wanted to do this for quite some time and it seemed a fitting and peaceful way to end a very hectic week and to start a wonderful Eid break.  Here are some of the pictures from my sunset beach walk.

Once again...my life is so blessed.  Being away from everything I've ever known has caused me to be come extremely self-reflective.  I've always been a self-reflective person - constantly questioning myself and challenging myself to do better, to be better...and feeling sick to my stomach guilty when I fall short.  My time here is like that, but on steroids.  There is nothing like living in the unknown for some quiet self-reflection and change of perspective.  Perhaps, I'll share more of those changes in perspective with you later.  But for now....Happy Eid Al Ahda!  I'm going to read a couple of chapters in my new book - "I am Malala" about the 16 year old girl who was shot by the Taliban.  What an amazing story!  Take care and thanks for reading.  More updates to come!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Decorating and Rugby

Slowly but surely, my apartment is coming together here.  Piece by piece I'm slowly turning my apartment into a "home" rather than just a place I happen to live in.  Hopefully, by the time Eric visits in December, my apartment will be homey and not feel so sterile.  I still have quite a bit to do, but my living room is coming along.  This is the view from my dining room table.  I did not choose the curtains...they came with the apartment.  Rather than spend the money to replace them, I'm working with them :)  The daytime view behind those curtains tho is fantastic!  As for decor - there are a few home stores nearby, but so far the favorite has been IKEA.  Slowly, but surely....inshallah ;)  As for pictures on the walls, I'm thinking of only doing photographs from home or ones I take here.  Getting them blown up and framed.  We'll see how that works.  More pics to come as my little place comes together.

 2013-10-04 18.02.05

A huge thanks to Rebecca for letting me borrow one of her pictures, as I absentmindedly took NONE of the tournament.  Some of my friends here know members of the team from Al Ain, so we went and cheered them on last night at the Sheikh Zayed Sports Complex.  It was good fun and reminded me of my favorite American Rugby team - the Highwaymen!  I miss cheering them on when they'd come to AZ for their tourneys.  One of my favorite people in the world - happens to be a crazy rugby player! ;)  So I dedicate this past weekend to Geoff and his rugby team.  Come on over to Abu Dhabi - they have tournaments here too!! :)  And a few wonderful post-rugby places to hang out.

That was about it for this weekend.  With Eid holiday coming up in about 10 days, there will be more exploring and adventures to come.  I may even go on my first camel ride!  (and try desperately not to face plant, like a friend of mine did...and it was caught on video...lol)  oooo....and I feel HER nickname finally coming to me... ;) I'll reveal it soon, friends, very soon.  Everyone needs a good nickname.  I have to be careful tho - because I don't get to choose mine...  ha ha

Oh - I did have my first out of school run in with a student today at IKEA.  I have twins in my classroom and heard the sweetest "Ms. Lara?" from behind me in the line at the cafe inside IKEA.  It was a treat to see two of my students outside of the classroom.  So fun!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A few things no one tells you about, but should...

Just look at the pic and see what kind of shampoo/conditioner it is...

Yes, that's right - "anti hair fall".  Pardon me, but WTH??  No one told me I would need THIS.  And if you're wondering what it's for - take it literally - you use it so your hair doesn't fall out as you get adjusted to the water here.  So, I'm thankful to a couple of my new friends who told me about this my first weekend in ABD - after a quick trip to LuLu's grocery, I was set.  I haven't lost any of my hair, but my eyelashes have taken a beating.  In the pharmacy across the street in the souk, they sell a shower head with a filter in it to condition the water, which also helps prevent hair loss.  I'll be heading out this weekend to get one.   Seriously.  Oh - and if you think it has any effect on one's leg hair?  No such luck...of course not.  I couldn't possibly stand to not have to shave my legs, but lose my eyelashes?  Sure - because that makes perfect sense. wow.   Not that I'm bitter or anything ;o)

Taxi drivers...are either hilarious and personable, or rude.  I haven't really experienced much in between, however they ALL drive like Formula 1 race car drivers.  You basically get in the taxi and hold on for dear life.  I might need to take out life insurance.  The upside is that it's not my car, so drive like a madman - it's less cab fare for me to pay.

Car horns...I have heard more car horns used in my one month of living here than I have my entire life living in the States.  No joke.  Rarely do you hear the polite little tap...it's the "raaaaaaaawwwwwwwrrrrrrrck".  Go ahead and be at my school during pick up....HMMOG...more horn honking than profanities used by a sailor during wartime.

"Yeah, sure..."said by nearly everyone except expats.  It's hard for me to hear it, because to me it sounds Scandinavian...I grew up around Norwegians.  Here, it doesn't mean - "hey - I know where I'm going" or "Yes, I know what you're talking about."  It literally means, "whatever - please quit talking - uh huh - yep - heard you - no seriously, quit talking - crazy tourists."

Non-aerosol hairspray is virtually impossible to find here and crazy expensive when you do.  I get that they aren't as worried about the environment over here, but to go so far as to NOT have non-aerosol hairspray?  That's just crazy talk.  Yea yea yea - 1st world problems...I get it. ;)  But, I'm down to my last tiny bit in my travel size, so it looks like I'll be spending a chunk-o-dirhams in the next few days.

I'm sure there are more things I don't know about, but should have...it's only a matter of time.

Dubai...a weekend to remember

All I can say about this past weekend's trip to Dubai is "WOW!"

The End.

KIDDING! :)  So this past weekend I jumped into a car with 4 of my friends and caravanned (is that even a word?) with another car full of friends to Dubai for the weekend to celebrate the birthdays of two of my new friends.  To be honest, the drive between Abu Dhabi and Dubai is boring...it's road and sand....and some industrial things...maybe a fence or two and let's not forget the huge roadside signs of the Sheikh after which the road is named.  But really - it's just desert...and not Arizona desert - I mean sandy desert.

Anyway - pulling into Dubai I got a little misty-eyed.  It is still amazing to me that I live here.  For the majority of the week, my life is just work.  To and from school, maybe walking to the convenience store for water or milk or whatever, but it's just work life.  On the weekends when I get out of the city or get out in the city to explore, that's when it hits me that I'm not in America anymore - I'm living in a part of the world where traveling to amazing locations is easy and accessible.  So, for this small town girl from Montana, pulling into Dubai, one of the most talked about and amazing cities in the world, was a bit overwhelming.

Our first stop was our hotel...the Auris next to the Mall of the Emirates.  We dropped off our bags and then walked over to the mall where the girls had made reservations at the "largest Cheesecake Factory restaurant in the world."  It was a massive restaurant...situated right at the end of the indoor ski hill, Ski Dubai, which is the third largest indoor ski hill in the world.  We sat and ate dinner and watched skiers and other snow enthusiasts slip and slide their way down the hill.  What a fun place to eat! Check out this video for what it looks like to ski here. Ski Dubai

After dinner we got ready for our night out at Barsati's.  Barsati's This is an amazing venue - right on the beach with the Dubai skyline on one side and the Persian Gulf on the other.  A truly stunning setting and the perfect place to celebrate two 20 something's birthdays :)  It was a night to remember!

The next morning we got up and headed out to brunch at Double Decker - a UK style pub with an all you can eat/drink brunch for only 199 AED.  It was so good!

There were a few of us who were headed home that day so we made our way across to the Dubai Mall (directly adjacent to the Burj Khalifa) for a little afternoon shopping and site seeing.  There is an aquarium in the mall, stocked with gorgeous fish.  You can also SCUBA dive in the aquarium for a price.  How fun is that?  However, I'm not sure if I want to come face to face with any sharks. ;)  I do know this -  I am definitely looking forward to spending more time in Dubai soon!

The pre-party pic.

Outside Barsati's with the girls.  That's the Dubai skyline behind us.

More of my beautiful new friends.

Dubai skyline.

A gorgeous Bentley convertible outside our hotel.

Post-party pic - not too bad for it being 4:30am.

Our view on the way to brunch.

Laura and I in the cab to brunch.

Double Decker's

SCUBA diving in the aquarium at the Dubai Mall

The ceiling in the mall.  I want these twinkle lights in my house on my ceiling. :)

Leaving Dubai