Camel Farm Pictorial

Pj and students heading for the camels.

A student and a young (2 year old) camel.

Petting the camel.

Posing with my students Ali and Hamed.

Pj becoming a snooker player.

Here we pose holding a realistic looking plastic rifle. The boys put on a show for us with the guns, twirling them and doing a dance later.

You’ll notice a few things from the photos.  The color of the sky, for instance, accurately reflects the color (or lack thereof) that is normal for August and September here.  It’s now the 27th, and today was the first day that I can remember actually seeing the sun beating down from a clear, blue sky, with visible clouds spread about.

The camel ride was a great experience.  While we didn’t get to take the reigns, we did get quite a good walk being led about.  I’ll try to get some more photos from Pj’s camera and share them.  The farm is a good distance into the desert and past the Al Ain oasis, so it was neat just to drive out there.  Seeing all the camels was cool, and we got a true cultural experience, as I mentioned a couple posts ago.

I had at least four, perhaps five, rounds of tea or coffee with the menfolk.  We sat on the surprisingly comfortable carpet arrangement you can see behind Pj and me in the last photo above.

We didn’t get home until 10:30pm, and we were bushed by then.

Need more info?

Thursday’s List: Mosques.

There is a mosque on every street corner here, or at least every other one. You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. Well, not much. There’s a mosque almost everywhere. They’re big, small, and in between. They’re modern, old-fashioned, and nondescript. They’re fancy or little more than a few rooms in a square building. Some are marvelously fascinating. Jenia and I have been taking some photos. Here are a few I’d like to share. Most are taken nearby in Al Ain. So this isn’t a list per se, but more of a photographic listing of some of the more interesting mosques we’ve come across.

This neat little mosque is right near our housing complex.

This one is on my way to work. I love the spiraling organic lines.

This rather large one is just across the street from our place.

This is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. It’s as gorgeous as it looks.

Another shot of the Grand Mosque.

A color shot of the spiraling mosque.

We intend to keep taking photos of neat sights in the region, and we’ll put up more pictures when we’ve gathered them. Sadly, I’ve been too busy working and it’s been so oppressively hot that we’ve not taken many photos so far. That should change in the coming month or so.

A Salaam Alekoum!


Food Friday: Arabian Cuisine

I should have taken photos.  But I didn’t.

Last night a teacher friend and I went to a student’s camel farm.  His family’s farm, really.  I’ll post about the whole experience shortly.  For now, let me just describe the meal.

At the end of the evening, we were treated to a true Emirati meal.  Everyone (all male, of course) gathered around a mat on the floor where there was a feast spread out before us: there was a huge platter that took two men to carry in, loaded with biryani spiced rice, and atop the bed of rice, there sat a freshly roasted goat or sheep, or some mystery animal.  Spread out around the edges of the mat were numerous plates with hummus, freshly prepared flat bread, roasted and fresh veggies, various other meats, and so forth.

All the kandora-clad folks settled down, not cross-legged (“Women only sit like that,” one of the boys told us, “Men sit like this.”), but with one leg tucked under and to the side, and the other knee up, foot flat on the ground.  My friend Pj and I were seated next to the elder man of the household, the grandfather, which must have been an honor.  We waited to sit down until after the old man did and he invited us to.  Everything was eaten with the hands.  Or rather, basically with the right hand.  That includes rice.  “You want yogurt on rice?”  We were asked.  “Sure.”  They poured plain yogurt on the rice, or rather, on portions of the rice.  Then the challenge: eat rice with no utensils.  I made a mess.  The yogurt helped the rice stick together, but I’m not well practiced at this whole thing, and I had to scoot closer to the mat.  The old man, whose name I was never told, cut some slices of meat and set it before me (on top of a ton of other stuff, of course).  I made a gesture of declining and thanks, but the signal seemed to go either ignored or not understood.  Everyone ate, other than the initial exchanges I mentioned, in complete silence.  The father of my student grabbed the skull from the butchered beast and ripped the jaw off from it, and removed the tongue.  That exposed the brain, and he placed the skull in front of me and gestured for me and Pj to try it.  “Good,” he said.  We both declined.  I feel positive I’d have declined even if I were not vegetarian.  Eventually I told them that I did not eat meat, and then there was a sort of look of relief on their faces, and the old man passed me a whole tomato, and presented me with half of a raw onion.  I laughed, and they seemed to be entirely okay with me not trying the mysterious meat after that.  Once, when I cracked open a can of 7-up, I noticed a young man across from me kind of murmur something to the guy at his side.  He was indicating my drink.  I noticed I was holding it in my left hand, and watching his face, I switched it to the other hand, and he grinned a little and gave me an approving look.

When folks were done, they just sort of disappeared from the, er, not table.  My students weren’t in the room, as I guess there wasn’t space at the…rug…for them.  After enough people had eaten their fill and migrated out, the father called, and in came a new batch, this time consisting entirely of youth.  Pj and I finished our food and headed out to the living room, but the first stop was to wash our hands.

At the sinks, we looked at each other and just grinned.  “That was incredibly awkward,” I said.  “I know,” he replied.  “And yet it was incredibly cool.”

The hummus was delicious.  The bread, fresh and good.  The veggies, both roasted and otherwise, tasty.  When I managed to get the rice into my mouth, it was good.  I left quite stuffed, and despite feeling more than a little out of my element, I think that I got to be a part of something I’d have never even witnessed, were it not for my students.

Week 2 of School, Done.

So how is the job, you ask?  Hard.  My experience at Randolph-Clay High School helped prepare me, for sure, but this is a different league of classroom management issues altogether.  Generally speaking there aren’t any kids who are just huge trouble makers, but  with a few exceptions, they’re all extremely talkative.  That makes it a real challenge to get anything done.

This week is my second one, and it’s been harder.  The first week was what my colleagues call “The Honeymoon Period,” appropriately enough.  Now the honeymoon is over, and kids are constantly trying all of us English Medium Teachers.  They’ll learn us and settle down a bit, but I dare not say how long that might take.

I’ve had some good days with them and some poor ones.  But there are some small triumphs, and I’ll share them in my next post.


The Great Move: Complete. Thursday List of First Impressions

I lost track of how long I’ve been here. Almost a week, it seems. My trip was strangely smooth and easy: no delays, no lost bags, I even arrived an hour early. It was great, no, great to see Shon again and hard to stay decent in a public place after a month-long separation.

Now I am here, with and even the worst jet lag ever cannot stand in my way of enjoying it!  My first impressions, like all first impressions, I believe, are mixed and a bit confused. Here we go:

1. It does not look like a desert.

I knew Al Ain was an oasis, but I still expected something like Arizona and was relieved to find it so different. Palm trees, some other trees that look like weeping willows, even grass sometimes. It’s not lush by any means, but it’s not all dry and brown. It really is beautiful in its own way.

2. The sky is not blue.

It’s hard to say where I got this notion, but I expected what Shon calls the American West sky here: big, blue, with scorching sun. The sun is scorching all right, but you don’t see it – or much else – because of the haze. Several people said it is caused by the wind above the desert. To give you an idea, Shon has been driving to school for a week now, and it was not until yesterday that he saw dunes nearby.

3. It’s a Noah’s Ark, a Tower of Babel.

The mix of languages, accents, and nationalities is phenomenal. I love it.

4. There is a mix of American, European, and local products/brands everywhere.

You go to a mall and see Bath and Body Works next to Marks and Spencer next to an abaya store.  In the grocery stores, I see brands I’ve completely forgotten about since I left Russia. It makes sense, but I didn’t think about it before coming.

5. I like everyone we met so far.

In Cuthbert, it took us about a year to meet people of our age and make friends. Here, we already know several couples.

6. The mosques are so very beautiful.

I keep waiting for the weather to get just a little more tolerable and life a little more normal to start venturing out to take pictures.  The call to prayer is beautiful, too, I think.

7. I haven’t seen any high-rises in Al Ain.

Most houses seem to have 2-3 floors, which means the city is spread out and feels open. I don’t really feel I live in a city until we go out and it doesn’t take an hour to get somewhere.

8. The British influence is very noticeable.

The first thing that comes to mind is “ground floor” instead of “first floor,” but there’s more than that.

9. Life is rather difficult without a stove and a blender.

But that will soon change.

This is all I have to say right now.  My rather slow washing machine seems to be done. Housework awaits!


Wow! It’s Been How Long?

Note: photos to come.  I’ll add them ASAP.

So much has happened over the last week and a half that I haven’t had time to write a post.  This is Shon at the computer, by the way.  Jenia is here with me now, of course.  I’ll let her write a post of her own about her experiences thus far.  Here’s what’s been happening in my life.  It’s almost Thursday here, so I’m going to do this in list format:

1) Participate in Bedaya.

The ADNEC and the flowing lines of the tower behind greeted us to Bedaya

2) Move from Abu Dhabi’s Intercontinental to Al Ain’t Hilton hotel.

3) Pointless orientations punctuated by personal proactivity.

4) Return to Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa City A to pay for used furniture and supervise Pakistani movers.

4) Pick up Jenia from the airport.

5) Move from the Hilton into our new apartment.  Sans much furniture.

6) Start teaching.

7) Stress!!

Yeah, I know, two exclamation marks.  Really?  What is this, kindergarten?  I use them for emphasis of the obvious: it’s really not easy to be sort of thrown into a new country and given very little advance notice about much of anything.  I’ll tell you more about all that later.

Let’s revisit the list: 1) Bedaya means beginning, and it’s a emirate-wide event held at the Abu Dhabi National Exposition Center.  The facility is impressive.  The thing is basically an excuse to have people get together and listen to the high-mucky-muck of education deliver a speech on goals, improvements, and progress, and overall, it’s really quite nice.

Newbies entering the ADNEC

2) The move from AD to AA was easy, but it was disappointing to move from the Intercon to the Hilton.  I didn’t realize quite how nice the Intercontinental was until I was in the rather dated Hilton.

Oh, I forgot to mention one other notable thing: we were finally given our housing allowances, about three days before we were moved to AA.  That means, of course, that all the new EMTs made a mad dash for Ikea and various other home furnishing stores.  I spent my time shopping Dubizzle for used goods, and while scoring some good deals, we still don’t have bedroom furniture in our apartment, which isn’t very nice!  Looks like we’ll be doing our own Ikea run Friday.

3) After being moved into the hotel in Al Ain, we EMTs were given no idea of what to expect.  We were armed with the bare essentials of information: our school names, and the online tool with which to locate them.  We weren’t given a calendar, expectations for attendance, or anything else.  Zilch.  Zero.  Nada.  “Do you think we should go to our schools tomorrow?” Went the conversations.  “I have no idea.  Yes.  Maybe.”  No information actually arrived for us at the Hilton until one of my new friends called the travel organizer from Nirvana.  “Nobody from any hotel has to go to work today,” we were told.  I decided to go anyway, just for the heck of it.  That was a great decision, as I met the school’s EMTs and had a chance to talk to them without distraction.  The next couple of days were filled with needless orientation events, which honestly didn’t help us much with anything.  It would have been better to just go to our schools.

4 and 5) After Jenia got here we spent two nights at the Hilton before finding a note under the door that said we were to be checked out the next day.  Lots of advance notice (that would be sarcasm, if you didn’t catch it), which is a  common feature of life in this area, I’m learning.

6) Yup.  Sunday-Thursday.  More on the teaching experience later.

7) How could you avoid stressing when you don’t have any time to do important things like set up your living space?  Or when you go around a roundabout?  Or when you’re at a new job in a new place?

I’m leaving on a jet plane!

My bags are not packed, but I sure am ready to go!

This time tomorrow my friend Desi will be driving me to Columbus to take a shuttle to Hartsfield-Jackson. At 5.50pm, I should be heading to Chicago, and from there to Abu Dhabi.

My temporary bedroom looks like a war zone, with clothes, toiletries, papers, and electronics all over the floor and my air mattress. I’m running around town like an Energizer bunny, saying good-byes, changing addresses, canceling insurances and suspending subscriptions.

Saying good-bye to Bruno has been the hardest one so far.

Over the course of the last several days, I’ve had my last (for awhile) Blizzard
Mellow Mushroom pizza
Bottle of ShockTop
Trip to Walmart