Plugging In

This image is from http://www.aaec.com.

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.

Eid Break. Maybe.

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.

This image is from http://www.familyholiday.net.

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.