Last week the Emirates celebrated their 42nd National Day! Like last year the whole country went all out - decorations, fireworks, and the biggest UAE flags you've ever seen! The best part is all the people that go crazy decorating their car with national day things. The Rands posted a bit about National Day here and it has some great pictures of those cars.
Jenia and I have come up with a little ditty. Sing it with me; you’ll figure out the tune:
It’s beginning to look a lot like National Day / Sheikhs are all around / Take a look at the roundabouts / Where the colorful lights abound / Red, green, white and black can readily be found
Happily, the UAE’s colors, plastered everywhere throughout the latter half of November and up to the present, are coincidental with Christmas. The decorated buildings and roundabouts and such, sporting seasonal finery, put us in the holiday mood a bit.
National Day, December 2, was yesterday, and the build-up has been as festive as ever. Last year we were impressed with the zanily decorated automobiles and the sheer over-the-topness of the whole holiday, and we had to write about it sooner. This year, we must have grown a bit jaded, because we weren’t as frequently dumbstruck. We even ventured out, where last year, we stayed at home avoiding the storied convoys of lunatics recklessly driving all 7 emirates in one day. I believe that was outlawed this year, though, and we didn’t see anything like that. And besides, the in-laws are here, and we needed to show them some good food, so the heck with other concerns such as road safety.
Getting to Al Mallah, our favorite Lebanese restaurant, was easy. It was on the way back that we ended up stuck in National Day traffic. I reckon the traffic was a side effect of fireworks displays, but I don’t know for sure. Anyway, kids along the sidewalk sprayed the windows with shaving cream. People honked horns. There was silly string and super soakers. The Mercedes next to us had UAE 42 spray painted on the doors, hood, and trunk. I speculate that the paint would wash off. Cars wore all sorts of decorations. It took us a long time to get home–about 20 minutes, instead of the usual 5. All of which is quite alright, disregarding the unhappy baby who cried most of the way back.
Now, jaded or not, we did take some pictures of some of the silliest, gaudiest, most terrifically overdone cars we saw.
Besides National Day and its festiveness, December is also a good time for me. My work schedule involves reduced hours (there’s quite a story about how the principal sent us a text message with new hours, 8-1, and then somebody else within ADEC sent another the next day, countermanding it, so we all showed up at 7 as usual, only to have the principal himself arrive at 8 and ask why everyone was already there, but I’ll save it), and I can sink my teeth into curriculum design, marking (grading, for those of our readers in the States), and being fairly productive in a relaxed environment.
The worst part of my work day is invigilating the MOE standardized final exams. Thankfully, it’s brief this trimester, limited to about an hour. Today I think the test was over economics. As usual, I got a room assignment when I arrived to school, and then I spent an hour or so trying vainly to prevent kids from cheating. There’s always an Arab teacher in there with us Westerners, so there are two teachers in each room. Here’s how that goes: 9:00–test arrives, we distribute it, kids begin. The room is remarkably quiet (for here) as kids scribble away. 9:20–the kids start to fidget, heads start to turn, eyes wander for help. This goes away in 5 minutes or so as the Arab teacher and I move from one obvious cheater to another, waving our fingers and making stern faces. At this point, at least a quarter of the class would have been expelled from the room for cheating in the USA. The kids give up and buckle down again for a little while. At 9:30 four kids have finished their tests. They can’t hand them in and leave, though, because everyone has to stay until 10:00. The cheating continues, but they’re fairly stealthy about it until 9:50 or so. But this was a good day–it was all low key. A whisper here and there, a poke in the back and a pen indicating a correct answer, an exam nudged around so that it could be seen, etc. At 10:00 all but 2 students sign out and leave. Most of them forget to retrieve their cell phones from the desk up front where they’re left, so they step back in the door a minute later, and the remaining kids ask them questions. ”Yala, let’s go.” I help them leave. When all the tests have been gathered, along with signatures from the kids, I leave.
Reflecting on the morning, there is one interesting thing that I noticed. If I spoke to a kid to keep him from cheating too overtly, he would glance away from me, probably at his friend, then down to his paper, then over to the Arab teacher. What is interesting is where the boys place authority. I have some, yes, but not like the other teacher in the room. So why is it that my authority is so tentative?
Making the bizarre work environment better, I have only a week and a half before winter break, and knowing I have that time off certainly has a positive effect on my mindset.
But enough about work. Another thing about December in the UAE is that it’s quite lovely weather wise. This morning it was foggy and cool (60F, give or take). This afternoon, it’s up to about 85 and really nice. Of course it’s sunny, and the skies are remarkably clear and blue, which makes it very different from summer, when its hazy and visibility is low. Jenia has been taking advantage of this with a number of photo shoots in the dunes.
So in essence, I figure this is the most wonderful time of the year to live and work in this country.
It’s almost 6:00pm in Al Ain as I write this. Today is Thanksgiving for America, and we’re thrilled to be celebrating it with a surprise day off here in the UAE. You see…
Yesterday Dubai won its bid to host Expo 2020. This will supposedly generate billions of dollars ($35 billion, according to one article) of revenue for the area. Accordingly, Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, up and decided that today should be a national holiday.
As my friend PJ Smalley wrote last night, “The ruler of Dubai just informed the nation that there will be no school tomorrow in celebration of winning the bid for World Expo 2020. Why doesn’t President Obama order more spur-of-the-moment holidays? Gosh, who voted for that guy?”
You know nothing can happen in a way that allows people to plan anything in advance around here, and this is no exception. But it’s nice anyway. Let me tell you how the official word came around. This begins at 10:45pm. 1) Text Message from Pj–no school tomorrow. Check Facebook. 2) Facebook groups for EMTs and such–”No school tomorrow!” “Is this true?” “It’s true–here’s a link to such and such a newspaper website article.” 3) Phone call from my school’s English department coordinator: “My neighbor’s Principal said they’re off tomorrow; my wife’s Principal says they’re off tomorrow, and I’m assuming we’re off tomorrow. So don’t come to school.” My coworker who rides with me every day didn’t even believe me at first when I called him at 11:00pm to inform him that we wouldn’t be working the next morning.
To sweeten the deal a bit more, Baskin Robbins, everyone’s favorite purveyor of fattening junk food, announced they would give away free ice cream today. Our neighbors got some before it ran out.
Another of my friends, Katrina, writes: “I love this – the stuff legends are made of. A whole generation of today’s schoolchildren will grow up and tell their grandchildren, ‘I remember the day Dubai won the World Expo. They closed all the schools and there was free ice cream for everyone.’” I think she’s right.
Any way you slice it, this is the kind of thing that makes living here so wildly, and in this case, wonderfully, different from living in the USA. Surprise days off are nice!
If you’re interested in more of the stuff that’s been going on today, click on this link to The National. There’s been more interestingness…
What is there to write about? We’re long overdue for an update on here, but there just hasn’t been much of particular note going on. At least I don’t think there is, anyway.
On one front, relief is in sight–the winter holidays are almost upon us. This means the weather is getting comfortable, and it also means my time trying to corral students into their seats and get something accomplished is limited. Whew.
On another hand, we haven’t had to deal with all the junk that we did last fall, since we don’t need to deal with immigration hassles and such. That means we’re able to enjoy simply living a great deal more, rather than dealing with distractions all the time.
We don’t notice the crazy stuff so much anymore. But every now and again something especially interesting pops up, like the convoy of cars last month that were driving with their flashers on. We joined in, just for grins, and after getting bored, passed the group and snapped this picture of the guy acting as videographer for the whole goofy parade.
The baby is crawling–and hoisting himself up to standing positions (and then tumbling down again).
We’ve been trying to stay busy, but have been tired out because of aforementioned offspring. Still, we’ve managed to fit in time to hit the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the F1 races in Abu Dhabi last weekend.
We’re continually thankful for having good friends here, and for meeting new people and making new friends, too.
Jenia’s been getting more photography work, including for my coworker Adam’s musical duo known as Sarah and Adam. I snapped this picture with my phone when Jenia was shooting.
Oh, and there could be a raise in my future at work–that would be nice. There’s been much talk in the press lately about how pay rises were approved, and the rumor is that would be an across-the-board 2000 AED raise per month. That would be just lovely. It would sure make putting up with the difficult environment more rewarding.
While still on the topic of work, I should probably mention that this year has been easier thus far. With the administration taking a firmer stance on a few things (most notably and sensibly discipline), as well as assigning classrooms to teachers and having students switch rooms (instead of confining them in one space the whole day), the incidences of vandalism and hooliganism are much reduced.
But what else is there to write about? I mean, this is pretty ordinary stuff, right? You don’t want to waste your time reading about how we’re struggling to beat back the roach invasion (the little suckers moved in while we were gone this summer, and whatever we do seems to have very little affect on getting rid of them), or how I opened the fridge, grabbed the milk jug, and poured yogurt onto my cereal this morning, right? (that would be a result of the fridge failing to cool for some reason, and the milk curdling during the night) There’s not much point in writing about upcoming events, but I’ll mention them anyway. We’re looking forward to having Jenia’s parents come to visit in a couple weeks. After that, when they return to Russia, we’ll hop on a plane for a far-away country, too (but not Russia). Am I leaving you in suspense? Hopefully.
I’ve probably ranted and raved about what it’s like experiencing culture shock. I (Shon) had all the symptoms–getting fed up easily with the hooligans in class, or royally pissed off at the lunatic drivers; being aggravated easily and feeling generally that every single thing about this place sucks. There were days when I’d have happily hopped on a plane and kissed Abu Dhabi goodbye forever.
Now there are a bunch of factors involved in culture shock and the adjustment to it, don’t get me wrong. However, there are two things in particular that have helped me and the wife to get over our culture shock. All in all, at this point I’ve ended up quite enjoying living abroad (albeit not necessarily the job that brought me here). So what’s the easiest way to build a sense of belonging as a foreigner in this desert land? For us, there have been two things.
First, we kept in touch with the contacts we made when we moved here; people who I met on the airplane and at the Intercontinental. It’s great that we have friends who have been here exactly the same amount of time and who have shared the same experience all the way.
Second, we got involved in a small group that Al Ain Evangelical Church sponsors. The few times we went to church we met some nice people, but then we didn’t see them again. We had no reason to, after all. Eventually we decided to check out a small group for young marrieds because we got invited to it several times by people that Jenia photographed (she’s good–shameless plug here). It ended up that the group made us feel comfortable right off the bat, and before long, we felt it becoming a staple of our week.
At this point, the small group is really important to us as a source of spiritual growth, support, and friendship. Within the group we’ve met some really neat people from all over the world who share similar interests. We’ve had encouragement at timely moments from within the group, too. Once, when I was in the doldrums, trying to cope with the craziness of my work environment and the nuttiness of culture shock, I was offered this nugget of wisdom about looking for other employment here: “the grass is not greener on the other side: there’s just more sand. It may be combed and raked more neatly, but it’s just sand.” That helped me revise my viewpoint on work and tough it out until the shock receded.
If you’re here and you’re in a similarly culture-shocked (entirely normal, by the way) state, I’d suggest getting yourself plugged in somewhere. Socializing with only the people you know from the trip over can easily turn into a gripe fest, doing nobody any good. It’s a good idea to expand your circle and try to meet other people who’ve been here a bit longer. Maybe you’re not interested in church, but if you are, swing on by (if you can find the church–it’s a challenge, with the poor signage) and see about a small group. You may find it to be just what you need.
Well, as I write this, it’s Tuesday, October 8, 2013. There is a national holiday coming up, and the dates of this holiday were announced last week. Wait, you say, nobody knows the exact date of a holiday until two weeks beforehand? Quite right. That’s because, even with the amazing technology that we possess in this modern era, the local government insists upon waiting until the various phases of the moon are abundantly clear—remember, this is an Islamic country, and the Islamic calendar is lunar, not solar, and so things are more than a little different from the USA. Some holidays are fixed, of course, such as National Day, which always falls on the same day in December. The ones of religious significance are the ones that are in flux, such as this. It’s called Eid al Adha, and I mentioned it last year in our post about going to Muscat.
In a nutshell, the holiday is a celebration of Abraham, who you may remember from the Bible, and his willingness to sacrifice for God. Lots of goats will die during this time as people slaughter them and share the meat with their families and the needy.
Anyway, the holiday means that we have time off from work. As you no doubt know, there is nothing like time off to put a smile on a person’s face. Since Eid is going to fall on October 15, the middle of next week, we have been expecting to have most of the week off. However it wasn’t until two days ago that it was announced that government workers would have the whole week off, which, if you count the coming weekend, amounts to 9 days off in a row. That’s pretty nice, right? Now, I can only assume that we teachers are going to be off on those days, too, because the Abu Dhabi Education Council hasn’t seen fit to notify us peons as to when we’re officially off.
This is the sort of thing that can be a bit upsetting—after all, when given the time and the opportunity, the wife and I like to travel, and 9 days is plenty of time to go somewhere interesting. Knowing when those days would fall, though, is a key piece of information a person needs to purchase an airline ticket and make plans. On the other hand, far be it from me to complain too loudly—having 9 days is great, even if we didn’t have advance notice. Sticking around the house and perhaps seeing some new quarters of the UAE instead of going farther afield is still going to be pretty neat, I guess. Come on, Eid break. Arrive quickly. We need you. I need you. My sanity requires you.
Okay, I must give it to ADEC. They’ve come through. Although it was an entire 3 months late, they’ve credited my wife and child’s airfare allowance into this month’s pay. Granted, we can make the case that they’re contractually obliged to give us this money and it is supposed to be prior to traveling, not afterward. But regardless, we’re glad to have it (and also glad that we had enough money to cover our own tickets during the summer holidays, or we’d have been stuck in Al Ain).
This means that despite being late, as regards pay (except that raises have been frozen during the last two years) ADEC has always come through.
The baby is asleep in his Graco car seat. The wife and I share bits of conversation as the miles (excuse me, kilometers, for we’re in France) drift lazily past. We haven’t gotten to the interstate highway yet, and I don’t think we will. It’s become increasingly obvious that those green signs with white letters that clearly pointed toward Luxembourg in the center of Reims weren’t indicating the most direct route.
Pop music plays on the radio until we get tired of it and switch it off. Most of the songs are in English, and it’s nice to turn the dial and be able to find any number of radio stations playing music that is comprehensible to the average Western ear.
We zip from one small town to another. The speed limit’s not posted, but the other cars on the two-lane road seem to be moving about 100 kph, so that’s where I keep it, more or less. Sometimes the road gets rough, the faded blacktop mottled with pockmarks, and I slow, and at one of these points a guy in a heavy black BMW sedan who’s been behind me for a while blows past. I wonder how he can move so fast on this rough pavement and not be endangering himself and his passengers.
The sun comes out for a little while just as we leave another of the villages, and as the gray clouds peel back to expose blue sky, we marvel at the beauty of the gently rolling hills that stretch out until the eye can see no more to either side. There are pastures and recently cut wheat fields in shades of gold and green. Monolithic windmills spin slowly in the gentle breeze, and farmhouses and barns perch picturesquely in the distance.
“I know why Van Gogh found this worth painting,” I tell Jenia.
As we continue, the road is lined with trees on either side, trees that jut proudly upward, forming an umbrella over the road now and again. Beyond these, there are no trees to the left or right, just fields reaching out into the distance.
When we make our way slowly through a tiny town called Cauroy, there’s a community yard sale that seems to be in its final moments.
“Oh, I want to go,” Jenia says. So I take a side street that I figure will lead back to the little square, but the road instead brings us to a big shed and farm equipment. A man nearby watches us curiously. After turning around, I park beside the road and watch chickens through a fence while Jenia goes to browse the junk on sale. She comes back in 10 minutes with a couple of kitchen goods, items unique and inexpensive, nifty souvenirs.
This is because we took the long way.
Disclaimer: everything you read below is only our experience and our opinion.
I feel I should begin by saying that even before our Little Turtle was born, we kind of promised each other that as long as he turned out healthy, we would not stop traveling (and living) only because we have a baby.
This dialogue from the “Paris, Je T’Aime” movie is very close to my heart:
Vincent: Claire, make Gaspard a balloon, not a ball and chain.
Claire: Was I a ball and chain?
Vincent: Mon Petit Claire, You were not the ball and chain. You were the zeppelin.
Well, we got us a sweet little zeppelin (in my best Southern accent.) I tend to think that some of it is luck, and some of it is our decision.
After 8 weeks and 9 flights I came to the conclusion that traveling with a baby is not different from doing everything else with a baby. We only needed 4 things: my milk, diapers, patience, and flexibility.
There were only 2 times, I believe, when Turtle thew a fit: once in Maine, when his 5 cousins aged 7 to 14 were overly excited to meet him and he didn’t know what to make of it, and in the car somewhere in Europe when he was just tired of being in the carseat. The rest of the time, he ate (at every sight worth seeing, in every museum), slept in his carrier (we have a Boba Air and love it!), observed his surroundings, and made friends.
A side-note on the carrier: there was only one time we wished we had a stroller. In Sri Lanka, it would have been nigh impossible to roll it, in Europe, there are cobblestones everywhere. There was never the question of folding/storing/hauling something, which we loved.
Some practical stuff:
In Bonn, we ended up in a bigger hotel room, because they saw we had a baby. I suspect it would have happened at other places, too, if we went to check-in together.
In the Dubai airport, we didn’t have to stand in a single line. In Amsterdam and somewhere in the US we were allowed to board first. KLM was fantastic: the staff was very friendly and thoughtful. They actually provided us with an infant life vest, an infant seatbelt, and a little bag of goodies (even though Turtle was a bit too young for it.) Delta was much less impressive, I’m sad to report.
We were given a bassinet on 2 flights, and an extra seat on 2 flights. We found the extra seat to be more convenient.
At one of the restaurants, the waiter picked up Ari and carried him around during our whole meal, so that we could relax and enjoy our food, which we did!
Not once did I catch anyone giving me the evil eye for nursing in public (I don’t go all-bare, but I don’t use one of those nursing tents either.)
Everywhere we went, people on public transportation were quick to give up their seats so that one of us could sit down. So very sweet.
So there are definite benefits The drawbacks are few and far between, the main one being the slower pace: we had to stop to feed him, or he’d get tired of being in the carrier, or our arms/back would get tired. But it’s such a minor thing! We just travel differently now, that’s all.