December in the UAE

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.

AMG SUV IMG_3987 IMG_3992 IMG_3982

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.

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National Day

Did I ever tell you that I maintain a column for the hometown newspaper “The Citizen’s Times,” based in Cuthbert, Georgia?  Maybe not.  If not, it’s probably because you didn’t ask.  Anyway, I do.  I don’t know if anyone reads the column or not, but the editor keeps on taking my articles, so I guess it’s not a total flop.

Usually I find that writing for a newspaper and writing for a blog are two very different things, and although I might share ideas, very rarely am I able to adapt one directly to the other.  There was one time when I missed a deadline, though, that the editor copied a post from here and used it for the week’s article, so, hey, whatever works.  This week, though, I think my article will work just fine for the blog, too.  And you’ll love seeing the pictures that accompany these words.  One of the joys of blogging is the unlimited space–plenty of space for images.

So, without further ado, I present to you my week’s article from the Citizen’s Times.

National Day

By Shon Rand

The long weekend is over.  I went back to work today.  Fortunately, the remaining workdays before the trimester ends are short ones, so they’ll pass quickly.  But you don’t really care about my working environment, do you?  I’ll save that mundane stuff (Ha, if only that were true!  There’s never a dull day at my job) for another week.  Anyway, did I mention a long weekend?  That’s right; we had a four-day weekend that included Sunday and Monday off.  It was lovely.  The occasion?  National Day.  The United Arab Emirates celebrated its 41st birthday on December 2, and they did it in grand style.  The lead-up to the holiday covered at least two weeks, during which time various decorations started appearing about town: lights (the UAE’s flag is red, green, white, and black, so the lights are a pretty fair approximation of Christmas lights, and they put us in the holiday mood) ornamented the date palms, buildings, and, give or take, any ordinarily unoccupied space in the middle of a random town square.  We started seeing cars and trucks all decked out in stickers, flags, and even appliqués that bear the face of UAE founder and all-round-hero Sheikh Zayed.  Jenia and I photographed a couple of the most over-the-top ones, and when we shot one, the driver stopped and rolled down his dark-tinted windows to pose, waving double peace signs.  His passenger called out, “Happy National Day!”  There were fireworks shows, which usually featured the colors of the flag.  There was a manic kind of consumeristic–and perhaps exhibitionistic–patriotism that we don’t really see in the USA around Independence Day, despite the basic idea of the holidays being the same.  The holiday has come and gone, but the lights still hang, and people’s cars are still wearing their holiday apparel.  It’s quite a thing to behold.

How 'bout the windshield applique?

How ’bout the windshield applique?

The Sheikh shows up again.

The Sheikh shows up again.

Peace signs all around!

Peace signs all around!

Even motorcycles are not exempt from the madness!

Even motorcycles are not exempt from the madness.

If iPhoto will cooperate, I’ll add some more photos later.  For now, I fear I must call it a night and retire to my bed.  Until the next edit.