Thursday List: Things to Bring and Not to Bring

I have to begin by saying 2 things: firstly, I was planning to write this sooner, hoping it would be a bit of help to the people moving to the UAE for the new school year. Sorry if I’m a bit too late, guys! Secondly, this is my very personal opinion, and I’m sorry if this list takes too-girly a turn.

Don’t Bring:

1. Electronics and small appliances that don’t have dual voltage (speaking to Americans here, mostly). First of all, they may not work here even with the converter (Shon’s razor worked, his clippers didn’t), and even if they do work, there’s a good chance they’ll just blow out one day (RIP, my lovely hair-straightener!)

If dual voltage is not a problem, consider weight/price. Will it be cheaper to buy said appliance here or pay for an extra/overweight bag?

If you are curious, we brought our laptops & camera. We bought everything else here (most of it used).

The only exception to this list is a router. Do consider bringing a VPN-compatible router.

2. Books. They are so freaking heavy. Consider investing into e-books or purchasing books online from bookdepository.com They ship worldwide for free.

3. Crafting tools unless you are bringing the supplies as well. For whatever reason, “making things” is not a favorite pastime here. You may have some luck with yarn and embroidery floss for a reasonable price, but expect to pay a pretty penny for the scrapbooking/card-making supplies, and not be able to find any jewelry-making stuff at all.

Consider Bringing:

1. Your favorite outfit even if doesn’t fit the “clothes acceptable in the UAE” category. There will be all sorts of expat get-togethers plus you can always wear it to a hotel restaurant or just on a trip to Dubai.

2. Non-drugstore cosmetics. Clinique and MAC stuff is available, but costs 2-3 times more, ladies. I have a sneaking suspicion this is true for other brands, as well.

3. A bottle of your favorite hair product, if you have difficult hair. Chances are, it will take you a bit of time to find a replacement here (Americans, try Boots pharmacies). Personally, I still bring my favorite hairspray.

4. Clinical strength deodorant. No, you cannot get it here.

5. US ladies, if you are into Victoria’s Secret underwear, bring some along. Two words: unnecessarily expensive.

6. A small/lightweight/flat piece of your current house decor. It’s really nice to have something from home. We brought 2 plywood people with the maps of our hometowns on them, and we haven’t regretted it.

7. A VPN-compatible router.

8. A traveler’s credit card. We are quite fond of Capital One’s Venture. Most likely, you will not get paid until the end of September, so keep this in mind.

9. If you know you are planning to travel internationally during your time in the UAE, think about bringing some winter clothes. We knew we were going to Russia for Christmas, so we brought our jackets, boots, and a couple of sweaters thus saving a fortune.

A lot of people bring food. I have heard of suitcases packed full of grits (no kidding). While I do notoriously miss my Cheez-Its now and then, I have surely found new favorites (plus, most of the stuff you can’t get is not the best thing for you, anyway, and the healthy stuff can be easily purchased at iherb.com – they ship to the door).

This said, you can find nearly everything here. You will see brands you recognize, and brands you don’t (some of them are just a different name for something familiar). Don’t be afraid of trying new stuff! It’s part of the fun.

Also, if you are curious about baby-related stuff I bring from the States, let me know.

Expat friends, what would you add?

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Thursday List: Lessons Learned

In no particular order, allow us to present lessons we learned while we traveled this summer.  Humorous?  Maybe (or maybe not, you be the judge).  True?  We think so.

1) The Toyota Yaris is one of the worst cars ever built.  We rented one for a day in Georgia (that would be the state, not the country).  The steering had less feel and was more vague than a careless comment that could be either a compliment or an insult.  The blind spots were larger than a Ford Expedition.  The centered gauge cluster is less sensible than a drunken, raving Mel Gibson. The acres of plastic swathing the interior epitomize the notion of “cheap,” along with every other aspect of the automobile.  Also it has no power.

2) The author of the CNN article “The New London, Paris and Rome” is totally wrong about Ostend.  Ostend is boring and the beach unappealing–not “oddly restorative.”  Besides, we got locked in a Japanese garden while there.

ostend

Ostend. Bland, forgettable, and certainly not worth visiting.  Sorry Belgium.  We love some of your other cities.

3) Couchsurfing is infinitely more fun than staying in a hotel.  And couchsurfers are, as it turns out, not all hippies–they’re a varied group of interesting folks.  We stayed with a guy who works in the Belgian steel industry, two air traffic controllers, and more.  We met fellow surfers who had careers as mind-blowing as molecular modeling researcher and astrophysicist.  Not kidding.  The astrophysicist, a guy named Lorraine from France, is also a beekeeper.  He shared a story about how he was asked to deliver a beehive to the Prime Minister (all true, mind you). He said yes, of course.  “But I told them that because it is summer, if I put the beehive in the car to deliver it, it could be a problem.  Because of the heat, the bees could die.”  The person he was speaking to said, “No problem.”  “Yes,” he said, “It would be a problem.  The bees could die.”  The other person reassured him–“No, no problem.  You will not have to stop.”  He ended up having a police escort through the center of Paris so that he didn’t have to stop and wait in traffic, and he delivered the beehive and set it up at the Prime Minister’s place.

4) Traveling with a baby is not only possible, but for the most part, quite easy (and there’s a post about that in the making).  As a side note, carrying a baby in a carrier starts to hurt one’s back after a couple days (but it is notably easier than pushing a stroller all over creation).

5) We now understand our friends who told us a year ago that they were looking forward to being back in the UAE. Then, we thought they were, well, nuts. Now, we are those people, too.

6) It can be rather hard to explain to those back in the US – or the people we met during our travels – what life here is really like. It seems that there is a backstory to every story. Also, for some reason, it’s easier to tell about the negative experiences.

7) Speaking of backstories, here’s one now: just kidding.  Lesson learned when telling stories to family back home–trim the backstories to the bare minimum, or your loved ones will tune out before you get to the good stuff.

8) Strangely, following the most obvious road signs from one place to another doesn’t always yield the fastest route.  Take our trip to Reims from Luxembourg, for example: this should have been a short two hours, judging by Google Maps, but it took us no less than six hours of meandering secondary roads.

The French countryside somewhere along a rural road between Rheims and Luxembourg.

The French countryside somewhere along a rural road between Rheims and Luxembourg.

We found some great mountain roads between Luxembourg and Germany.  This was just over the German border.

We found some great mountain roads between Luxembourg and Germany. This was just over the German border.

Somewhere in France...

Somewhere in France…

9) That brings us to this point: enjoy being on the verge of lost or completely off track.  Make it a point to simply have a great time exploring.  Make the best of sore feet (an excuse to stop at that little cafe!) or winding back roads (pull over and get a photo of the picturesque mountain pass).  The single best day of our trip was when we were driving, completely by accident and thanks to the road signs, the French countryside.  And enjoy the crummy places you end up, too (within reason, of course), like Ostend.  Where else would we have ever gotten locked in a Japanese garden?  It was a memorable experience at least.

10) It’s good to come home.  We already knew this.  But what we didn’t expect was to grow tired of traveling, since we both love it.  Still, we did.  After what started to seem too long on the road, we found ourselves especially grateful to have our own space and the chance to return to our routines.

Should I Learn Arabic? Thursday List.

ADEC has a sales pitch for prospective teachers.  It’s effective: housing is provided, insurance is good, pay is pretty high.  They’ll tell you need that you should have some experience teaching, you should perhaps (or actually definitely, emphatically) be prepared to deal with some classroom discipline issues, and you have no need to speak Arabic.  You are, of course, also tempted by the exotic location and interesting sights.  This sales pitch is all true–you’ll have a nifty life here if you sign up.  They might mention in the interview that you should be flexible, too.  That’s the truth.  Living in a different culture is exciting, but it’s taxing, too, as you try to learn what is considered normal, abnormal, and basically try to adapt to a dramatically different way of doing things.

In fact, what ADEC tells you is entirely correct.  All of the things are true.  There’s much to commend the UAE to visitors and an ADEC job to expatriate workers.  English teachers will have good pay and benefits, and if they’re adaptable, they’ll learn how to work in the classroom here. The job doesn’t require them to speak Arabic either.  But, there is a difference between being required to speak the language and whether or not you ought to.

Today I substituted for a fellow English teacher.  I decided to practice conversational English skills with his students by talking to them.  I asked one boy about his rowdy classmates, and asked them why they behaved so badly.  He told me, more or less, “With Arabic teacher, it is Arabic and Arabic.”  He gestured with his hands, putting them side by side.  “But with English, it is English and Arabic.”  He moved one hand away from the other one at an angle.  He was saying, basically, that the kids don’t understand English well enough to get much out of having a teacher who only speaks English.  And after nearly a year here, I’ve got to agree with him.  After all, many of these young men speak only the most basic English.  The idea is that this will change as the New School Model comes of age, but that day is not going to happen for years yet.

What little Arabic I know I’ve picked up from my students and a few other people.  You ought to see the expressions these kids get on their faces when I use a new Arabic word or phrase.  They’re thrilled.  Their level of interest in what I’m doing increases dramatically, and they like interacting with me.  As a result, If I could recommend any one thing to a person considering teaching in the UAE, it would be to learn as much Arabic as possible.  The more you know, the more effective you’ll be in the classroom.  When it comes to learning Arabic, you might very well be put off to learn that there are many different dialects based on location.  When I found out that Emiratis use a rather different version of the language than most other countries, I allowed it to discourage me from learning much beyond “Asalaam aleykum” before I came.  Now it’s definitely true that the kids here speak a language that incorporates a lot of slang and words from Hindi and Urdu, but they know and understand standard Arabic.

So the question is, “Should I learn Arabic?”  The answer is, “Definitely.  Yes.”  With only a month or so left of the school year, I’m now setting out to actively try to learn more words and phrases.  Next year I may just find myself a tutor and start really trying to learn how to speak conversationally.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve also considered other reasons why it’s worth pursuing the acquisition of Arabic. Here’s a list:

1. It engages students.

2. It’s nice to know when students are calling you bad names or saying bad words, just so that you can respond somewhat appropriately (“What did you say?  Let’s go talk to the social worker about that, shall we?  Or do you want me to call your father?”) and scare your kids into better behavior.

3. It is a challenge–a fun one, if you feel inclined to learn a non-romance language.

3. It can only help you in situations outside of school when you interact with others, such as parents or people in important positions.

4. Learning a foreign language while you are teaching English as a second language gives you a much better measure of sympathy and understanding as to what your students are going through.

Thursday List: Things Russia and UAE Have in Common

Thanks to all of our readers for giving last week’s post thousands of hits!

For this week’s list, we’ve come up with a number of things that the UAE has in common with Russia.  I’ve been to Russia three times, spending weeks at each go, and the wife, of course, lived there for many years.  After the better part of a year living here in the UAE, we’ve noticed some similarities.  Let me preface this by saying none of it’s meant to be offensive.  That’s not the spirit that it’s written in.  These are just our observations.  If you disagree, feel free to say so.  Also, we’re tag-teaming the writing, so you’ll have to apply your brain power to figure out who’s the “I” sometimes, but we have a great deal of faith in your capability to use deductive reasoning.

Alright, let’s get started:

1) Fatalism.  Wow, that’s a strong word, isn’t it?  I don’t think anyone probably likes having it applied to themselves, but here I go doing it anyway.  When I first visited Russia, I was amazed by the number of people who would observe a problem and then shrug their shoulders and say, “Ah, what can I do about it.” Here in the UAE, the number of “inshallahs” a person hears everyday, especially when dealing with important paperwork, is maddening, and basically presents an extremely similar viewpoint on life.  Jenia says that there is a saying, “Avos’,” in Russian which means more or less the same thing. What can I do about anything?  Nothing!  It’s not my fault.  I have no part in this.  I make no guarantees. Maybe…. God willing…

2) Cheating.  It’s practically institutionalized here.  Kids expect it.  Teachers expect it.  The sheer lack of ability that’s applied to academic pursuits is mind-blowing.  In Russia, it is the same.  Many will probably argue, but in reality it’s not nearly as big an offense as it is in the US.  It was absolutely normal for me (Jenia here) to help my classmates with Russian/English/French and to get help from them with Trigonometry or Chemistry.  Teachers knew. We never got zeroes. Ever.

3) Crazy driving.  Picture this: you’re driving along the interstate highway, the motorway, going a little over the speed limit (i.e. 80 mph or so) in the middle lane, and a Bentley sedan zips past you so fast that your car rocks from the wind blast.  It’s followed a moment later by a BMW and an Audi.  Roundabouts are an adventure in daring and intimidation.  In Russia, traffic incidents are so common that people install dash cams in their cars to help determine who’s at fault (among other reasons).

4) Rules are made to be broken.  Or bent, or flexed, or altered, or applied selectively.  Russians hop over fences and ignore signs.  So do Emiratis.  Seatbelts aren’t usually worn.  The legal driving age is 18 in Abu Dhabi, but plenty of 16 year-olds drive themselves to school.  In both countries, the number of people carrying infants in their lap instead of in a carseat is mind-blowing (we think, it’s partly ignorance and partly the afore-mentioned “inshallah/maybe” mentality.  Need I say more?

5) A default religion.  Here people identify themselves as Muslim because that’s the culture they belong to.  I know there’s further religious reasoning behind it, but what I’m saying is that there are plenty of folks who don’t take their religion very seriously, even though they’d identify themselves as Muslim.  In Russia, the same is true, but of Orthodox Christians.  Even if they’ve never been to a church service, they’ll tick the “Orthodox” box.

6) Conformity.  Society doesn’t like individualists here.  You’re part of a group, and you have to do things the way the group wants them done.  You don’t see it to the same degree in Russia, but the old Soviet reality of punishable initiative still dwells in the minds of too many.  It is not always a bad thing, not at all.  It can be, however.

7) Attitude toward foreigners/strangers.  A friend of mine once said that Russians are like coconuts.  They’re hard on the outside, but soft and wonderful on the inside.  The same seems mostly true of Emiratis.  They’re mostly oblivious to you in public, but once you are invited into a home, you’ll find yourself in the company of kind, gracious people.  This leads us to number 8:

8) Hospitality.  When you become friends with a Russian or an Emirati, they shower you with hospitality.  You’ll find lavish meals laid out before you and people eager to share their culture with you.

9) Propaganda.  As a friend of Jenia’s mentioned recently, one can’t help wondering if the Russian government is drugging its people: reasonable individuals seem to be losing their critical thinking skills and believing in whatever the TV is pouring down on them.  In the UAE, a teacher is not allowed to talk about anything related to Islam, Judaism, or any other religion, he/she cannot use a map or a globe that has Israel and/or Persian instead of Arabian Gulf on it; both terrorist attacks and pigs are never to be mentioned.

10) Nature. Both countries have some fantastic views to offer. Yet, neither culture seems to care in the least about preservation. Littering of epic proportions is widespread.

We’ve chosen to write about things which are different from what your average American experiences back home in the USA.  Some strike us because they’re surprising, others because they’re merely unlike what we live with normally.  There are, of course, a great number of commonalities shared by each of the countries we mention, and the UAE and Russia are wonderful and interesting in their own ways.

Thursday List: Blog Posts I Need to Write

It’s been a long time since I contributed to this blog. There are all these ideas floating in my head, but it’s hard to get myself to sit down and put them into writing.

So here’s a list of blog posts I need to write. Maybe if I have them up here for everyone to see, it will be the motivation I need.

1. Good things about living here

2. Adjusting in a different country. To hate or not to hate?

3. UAE and Russia: what they have in common

4. Shon’s boys outside of school and our visit to an Emirati home

5. You know you’ve been in the UAE long enough if….

Thursday List: Dear Santa

I think it’s lucky we are not brand-dependent. We won’t be running around the local supermarkets in a frenzy, looking for “Comet,” certain that none of the dozens of local cleaners will work as well. My face won’t turn into a pumpkin if I turn away from Clinique ($70-something for a moisturizer that costs $25 in the US!) We may miss Red Robin (great vegetarian burgers), but, truth be told, everything or most everything we used to cook in the States we can cook here as well.

Still, there are things we miss. Silly things, most of them. Embarrassing, even. Supposedly, some of them may be found here from time to time, but you have to be very lucky. So, Santa, here’s what we want for Christmas:

1. White Cheddar Cheez-Its. Oh, how I want some White Cheddar Cheez-Its! I’d probably eat any kind at this point, but none are available.

2. Cape Cod Salt & Vinegar chips. More junk food, I know, but these are the best.

3. Soy protein powder for Shon. Everything here is whey-based (gives Shon a cough), meat-based (we are vegetarian) or completely artificial.

4. Pad Thai noodle kit by Thai Kitchen. We are starved for Thai and Japanese food here. It can only be found in big cities and is ridiculously expensive. If you think good sushi is expensive in the US, think again.

5. Japanese sprinkles for rice. Man, I miss the Asian supermarket! I would also kill for a giant bag of frozen vegetable potstickers.

6. A craft store in Al Ain. Apparently, nobody is interested in crafts here. There is a very small selection of yarn at fabric stores, no jewelry-making or scrapbooking/card-making supplies at all. The biggest selection of crafting supplies I found was at a local bookstore and we’re talking about 1 (one) aisle of construction paper, canvases, several different kinds of paint, yarn, foam, and styrofoam. I may be able to make Mod Podge at home, but there’s no way I can come up with my own Armour Etch!

I may be seen kissing the floors of Hobby Lobby and Michael’s when we return to the US.

7. A candy thermometer. While I’ve successfully made marshmallows without out before, it makes life so much easier! Apparently, people don’t make candy here either.

8. A decent photo printing service somewhere in this vicinity. I am not paying for shipping photos from Shutterfly, and the only two photo printing shops we found here seem to be using regular printers. Yikes.

That’s all I can think of for now. Give me a month or two, and I’ll probably be changing my stance on brand-dependency. That’s what might happen when I run out of my hair products from the States and remember what life was like before Aveda, CHI, and Big Sexy. Then again, may be not.

More Mosques: Thursday’s Pictorial List

Four local mosques: a pictorial list for Thursday.

There are, as you know, some lovely mosques around.  We’ve hardly photographed any of them, but these are all interesting in some way, shape, or form, and I thought I’d share.  None of these are amazing photos in themselves, and since they were all taken with my iPhone, there is considerable lens distortion in some images.  Still, I hear there is no better camera than the one you happen to have with you, and I think you might enjoy a look.

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1) In downtown Al Ain, this mosque, mostly hidden behind the palms and the fountains in this image, is perhaps the most modernistic one that I’ve seen in town. The green lights up top are clocks, which display the time in English and Arabic, as well as the date and month.

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2) This one is about the size of a small gas station and I think it’s picturesque in it’s own way.

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3) More attractive in person, this one has a couple of tall minarets and is what I immediately think of when I think of the word “mosque.”

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4) This reminds me of Alderaan (I told you I was a Star Wars nerd). Sort of spaceship looking, yes?

The call to prayer is echoing gently off the apartment complex’s facade as I write, and I think that signals an excellent time to end this post.

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!

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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!

 

I Just Witnessed

It’s not Thursday, list day.  But I forgot to make one yesterday, so here’s one.  I was at the pool for the last hour or so and I have seen:

1) A tramp stamp.  On a guy.

2) A transparent-assed black bikini on a woman.  She might have been wearing underwear rather than a swimsuit.  The top had a suspiciously bustier cut.  And what swimsuit honestly has a see-through butt area?

3) Several men with so much body hair that they could be wearing sweaters.

4) A sweet old Russian couple that I was tempted to speak to, but then realized I’d exhaust my knowledge of the Russian language inside of three sentences.

This has taught me that:

1) Tramp stamps belong on women.  And then only maybe.

2) Taste is in short supply.

3) Evolution must be wrong.  Why would Arab men, who have dwelled in this sweltering desert since time began, have so much body hair?  Hair makes a person warmer.  It’s illogical!

Sorry, but I didn’t photograph any of these bizarre but true sightings.