A Top 10 List: What’s Surprising?

Having been to Russia a few times, Ukraine once, and other Eastern European nations, I don’t always notice the things a newcomer would. I don’t even find things that once surprised me remarkable, tending to forget, instead, that anyone might actually be interested in reading about them. Yet, undoubtedly, there’s quite a few quirks one has to adjust to in this sprawling, chilly land. Here’s a selection of unusual things you might encounter on a daily basis in this neck of the woods.

  1. Trees wearing white paint. Actually, I think it’s lime. The purpose? Er, I don’t know.
  2. Toilets which you can’t flush toilet paper down, along with a little trashcan sitting nearby for your used tissue. Only problematic if there’s no waste basket nearby.
    IMG_9724

    No basket. Problem?

    3. Shopping centers, train stations, and other large foot-traffic areas with only a few of their many doors unlocked and open. Typically requires you to zig-zag. Let the cursing ensue.

4.  Heating cranked up indoors. This is a cool weather thing, of course, not  a summer time issue. Only surprising when you realize that there’s no control over said heating in your apartment, except maybe to disable it altogether.

5. Heating cranked up in public transportation. All modes. Taxis, buses, you name it. Sweat much?

6. No lawn mowers. Who cares for the many shabby, overgrown outdoor spaces around apartment buildings and alongside secondary streets? Nobody, it appears, except for on rare special occasions.

7. Early sunrise and late sunset in summer. This is a product of latitude, of course.

8. Late sunrise and early sunset in winter. Nothing makes you want to stay in bed more than the sun staying away.

9. Price tags for ordinary goods with numbers in the thousands. Generally goods aren’t too pricey, but you’ll do a double take as you remind yourself of the exchange rate.

10. Soup, sour cream, and cabbage are ubiquitous. “I can’t imagine a day without having soup,” a guy told me a couple weeks ago. Of course, the soups here are good, so why not have ’em regularly?

What’s it Really Like?

I got an email from someone the other day, and it started with the question, “How are you really liking it in Russia?” I have to grin a little because living and writing about life in the UAE required some care with words, given their strict laws (which might be as straightforward as you’d think, or might not be–see these articles for a couple of examples of what can happen if you vent frustration online), and this person emailing me assumed that the same would be true here. Maybe that assumption is correct if you are venturing into the political realm, but I’m certainly not. You can be sure that what I’m writing about life here is simply how I experience it.

Overall, things for us here are really not bad at all. Better than not bad, in fact, being here is quite nice. We’ve got a nice apartment and live in a good part of town. In general, we have been impressed with the friendliness of the locals, who are happy to practice their English with us, and we’ve found aggravations quite few and far between.

Maybe it’s partly because we’ve done this living abroad thing before, but we’ve had an easier time settling into life here than when we moved to Abu Dhabi. Also, though, I must say my employer here has been very accommodating and the process has been much less drawn out, so kudos to the parties involved in making it happen for us.

Now to the point: what’s Kazan, Russia, really like? It’s got a pretty, European-flavored town center, similar to someplace like Bratislava (but bigger). The outskirts look like Anywhere, Russia, or Anywhere, Eastern Europe.

#Church #belltower on #BaumanStreet, #downtown #Kazan #Russia

A post shared by Shon Rand (@shonmrand) on

It’s got lots of buses and trams and trolleybuses (electric buses) and taxis.

The sunsets are often beautiful, and the skies themselves frequently dramatic, as today, when the low-hanging clouds were flying through the windy air, creating a vast, moving panorama. Other days the crisp bright blue skies surprise me. Three years of living in the UAE made me appreciate this sort of thing much more.

The landscape is like everyplace else in Russia I’ve been–vast steppe, not in itself particularly interesting, but far from unpleasant.

#tbt to #Булгар and the banks of the #волга river. #Russia

A post shared by Shon Rand (@shonmrand) on

Kazan is generally clean and neat, much tidier and modern than I’d expected. I’m told within the last five years the place has undergone quite a transformation. There are a number of old wooden homes, warped and out of square, that still stand, but they’re quickly being replaced by sturdy, concrete and brick structures.

There are things to see around–the Volga (Europe’s largest river), the Kremlin and the leaning and highly storied Suyumbuk Tower, to name a couple.

It’s not without oddities–the driving is peculiarly scary, for people crowd into intersections 3-5 cars across where there’s only supposed to be 1 (or, perhaps, maybe, doubtfully 2). Drivers dart around breaks in the pavement or the manhole cover which protrudes too high into the driveway or roadway; cars crowd every available space (and drivers invent new ones) in the parking lot in front of our apartment complex; buses keep the heat cranked up whether or not the weather requires that, and people stay bundled up in the tram even though it’s too hot for coats; parents over dress their kids for the weather (we’ve seen parents in T-shirts and their kids in snow pants, for example), and you have to wear little shoe covers when you go in some public buildings, such as the school where I work, which is its own brand of annoying (enter the door, stop and stoop over, put some blue plastic things over your shoes, proceed, but now slipily and noisily).

Should you come visit? Yes, absolutely! This place is really worth seeing.

Now, I’ve got to get off to the shiny gym nearby and try to keep myself in shape.

A Week in Russia. Back in the USSR.

It’s bizarre to be back in Russia.

Despite what many people seem to think, I did not move “back home”. To begin with, I’ve never been to this part of Russia before, but even moving to the town I’m originally from wouldn’t have been moving home. In the past 8 years, I haven’t spent more than 2 weeks at a time in Russia. The country has changed dramatically, and so have I (life does that to you, and immigrant/expat life even more so).

Yes, I speak the language but I speak English, too, and linguistically didn’t feel out of place either in the US or in the UAE. Yes, I know the history, and the literature, and the cultural references, but I don’t know any of the recent movies, TV-stars or music (by choice, mostly). I am not used to hearing Russian anymore and I find myself having trouble understanding some of the local accents. “Sorry” slips off my tongue before I check myself and say “Простите” instead. I have no idea where to look for a nanny, how to pay a phone bill, or where to buy a measuring cup. It’s an odd place to be.

Overall, though, it’s been a good experience so far. As Shon said, the city is very clean and (overgrown lawns and notorious Russian roads aside) rather well-maintained. People are overwhelmingly friendly and helpful. That part in itself simply blows my mind. In my 24 years in Russia before I moved away, I have never seen a post office worker as friendly as the 2 that I encountered this week.

Here are a couple of things I forgot about: decor & clothes. The style of interior decorating is, should we say, unique. To put it in less flattering terms, I wouldn’t be caught dead buying these curtains and chandeliers. And the wallpaper on every single wall in the apartment but the bathroom ones? Yes, kitchen, too. Not my cup of tea. Thank God for good old IKEA with its plain stuff that allows me to tone things down a notch.

As for clothes, people just dress differently. There are quite a few stylish young people (mostly girls) around, but a lot of the choices make one wonder. I am curious whether we stand out much – it surely seems that I may be the only under-40 woman in town wearing boot-cut jeans 🙂 Turtle definitely stands out – he and the other expat kids were the only ones wearing short-sleeved shirts at the playground the other day. The local children were in fleece, or sweatshirts and sweatpants, or full-on jackets, and ALL of them wore beanie hats. The temps were in the upper 60’s. We surely got some stares and were probably considered lacking in basic child-rearing skills.

Grocery shopping is interesting. I anticipated some difficulties due to the sanctions, but things are never as you expect them to be. For example, I found Parmesan but not fresh corn or any kind of squash (fresh broccoli is elusive, too). Wholewheat flour and brown rice cannot be found even at the fanciest of the city’s supermarkets (iHerb, what would we do without you?) and vegetarian products wether soy or myco-protein based are unheard of.

Shopping in general is kind of weird – I miss being able to walk into a CVS (an American chain of pharmacies) and buy milk, pain killer, new nail polish, and a roll of scotch tape all in one place. Here, it requires going to at least 3 different stores. While it may not be a problem if you live or work downtown, it’s quite annoying when you are in the outskirts, carless, and dragging a toddler around.

I’m okay, though. Confused and exhausted, maybe, but fine overall. At the end of the day, being next to Shon & Little Turtle is all that really matters.

Looking Through Expatriate Lenses

Take a look at a Salvador Dali painting. Step up close, and scrutinize the details. Words like “weird” come to mind. In some cases, though, if you take a step back, or maybe two, or ten, thereby altering your perspective, “weird” is no longer the best adjective. Distance offers clarity. You find yourself looking at the same thing in a much different way.

It’s no secret that as you get older your perspectives on things change. Now that word, “things,” is the kind of word that us English teachers despise. It’s nebulous, and could refer to just about anything. But it’s precisely the kind of word I need here. Because what is it that has changed? Which thing is it that I look at differently? Well, lots of things, you see. But I’ll focus on two for the sake of time and at least a modicum of precision.

Politics and religion. You know, the heavy and polarizing stuff. Stuff that makes enemies of friends and friends of enemies. Stuff which we often look at through extremely biased and partial lenses.

Points of view on these matters change naturally. This is the ebb and flow of life, of course, but it’s also more. It’s also the shifting of perspective that comes from not just age and experience, but the impact of life abroad in different cultures and different types of governance.

So what has changed about my political views, anyway? As an American, dear friend, I was a Republican with pronounced leanings toward Libertarian ideology. Now, I’m not. I don’t identify with any party these days. Paint me an independent. Why the shift? Because neither party has it right. The Republicans stand in the way of sensible legislation such as Net Neutrality, and they seem to be preventing the best aspects of Obama’s Affordable Care Act from helping the state of American taxpayers as it ought to. By the same means, it seems like Democrats object to everything that Republicans do. As a result of these political shenanigans, there are preposterous events like government shutdowns.

I’m not saying that another system in the world is better, and I’m not saying that the American one is doomed. I don’t pretend to be an expert on any system in particular. But I can see more clearly now that the American one needs improvement. Let me dwell on Obamacare for a minute. In the UAE, I’ve got great health insurance, thanks to my employer and the country’s laws. The best and most notable effect of it: living stress-free when it comes to health care. And let me tell you, it’s vastly superior to putting off trips to the doctor because you can’t figure out how the hell you’re going to pay for them. I’ve been there, and it’s not good. I’m on the opposite side now, able to go easily for medical care when the need arises and not think twice about it. There’s no reason why the excellent American healthcare system can’t be this accessible, too.

In essence, having some distance from ingrained ideas about political parties and about what the government should or shouldn’t do (such as stipulate insurance for individuals) has made a big difference in my viewpoint on the matter. Another area that my point of view has changed, thanks to travel, thanks to the expatriate experience, is religion. Now don’t misinterpret my remarks as anti-religious, or anti-anything. That’s the wrong way to take them. As a rule of thumb, I’ve always approached my religion from a fairly critical standpoint. If it defies reason, I have to question it. I could ramble on with a story or two, or perhaps offer a way that I’ve personally done this or that, but suffice it to say I think logic should be applied to everything in equal measure, and since religion shapes our perception of each other and the world, it’s especially important to consider in this way.

Salvador Dali’s “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean” becomes a picture of Abraham Lincoln when viewed from a distance. Try it–step back a few feet from your screen and have a look.

Besides mere logic, I can now see travel informing my beliefs. As I stood in front of the Buddhist shrine next to our hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, where the morning’s drink offerings stood, unconsumed by any sort of god except perhaps a touch of evaporation, I thought to myself, “This is absolutely ridiculous.” And then I wondered how ridiculous my church’s proceedings might look to uninformed Thai visitors. I’d say it’s pretty likely they’d shake their heads in bewilderment, just like I was doing, as I was pondering their religious customs. As I drove past throngs of Muslims descending upon the local mosque, all summoned by the loudspeaker-broadcast call, I thought that the crowds were like mindless worker bees swarming the hive. And, in all fairness, I wondered if my Christian brethren looked any different from this to the average non-Christian passerby as they gathered for services on a Sunday back home. On another occasion, I watched Muslims prostrate themselves in prayer and I contemplated the act. Muslim prayers are more about submission than anything else, as the word Islam suggests, whereas Christian ones can take on any number of forms–petitions, supplications, arguments, requests for forgiveness. In my life, some prayers seem to have been answered, but others vanished unheeded into the great abyss. What is the role of God in our day-to-day lives, I wondered, and what really draws us closer to Him?

This leads me to the conclusion, rather obvious, I know, that the larger things matter more than the small ones. What I do matters more than what I say, and what I say only matters if what I do supports it. Why do we quibble over so many little things, when the broader strokes make the most difference? I can apply this question to politics, and I can apply it to religion. Little things matter, it’s true, because they’re part of big things. But the big things should be the focus. Instead of dwelling on differences, we should seek similarities. We have much more in common than we have to fight over most of the time.

Drink offerings at a shrine in Bangkok.

Drink offerings at a shrine in Bangkok.

One of my buddies here in the UAE, Randy, talks about traveling to the greener pastures of life when one leaves the complacency of home behind, taking on the expat life. He hits on something important there, I think, because it takes distance to help us see some things clearly. Not unlike staring at one of Dali’s bizarre paintings up close, then stepping back to a distance and taking in the larger picture, experiencing other places and systems alters our perspective on things. It helps us see that there’s more to a thing than we first thought, and recognizing the greatness–the size and complexity–of things, as well as considering alternative ways of dealing with them, well, that’s worthwhile, isn’t it?

Murder.

Murder.

The word hangs in the air. It settles like a heavy fog around you.

At least when it refers to a victim who is someone that you might easily have known, that friends of yours encountered, who lived in the same building as other acquaintances, and who was killed someplace that you’ve been.

Last week’s killing of Ibolya Ryan came as a surprise to us teachers, nay, us expats, here in Abu Dhabi because it occurred in a place so ordinary, so mundane, so average, that it was entirely unexpected.

There was no love triangle, no drunken stupor, no fit of rage or even a minor altercation. It would seem to be an act of cruelty by a deranged killer fixated on Americans.

The Emirati reaction has been sensational and swift. The Abu Dhabi police released videos on the subject, first showing security footage of the attacker fleeing the scene at the Boutik Mall, and then of the same person elsewhere, setting a primitive explosive device. Within 48 hours, police swept into a palatial villa and arrested the occupants—the woman, the prime suspect, was even removed from the property without being allowed to cover her hair. The videos are set to music, a puzzling choice, but they demonstrate efficiency and efficacy. That aside, the perpetrator turned out to be a woman who has to this point lived a life of evident luxury. That’s a point of interest, because most people who are well-taken care of aren’t prone to be extremists or likely to rock the boat which has always favored them.

The Gate Towers are just across the road from the Boutik Mall on Reem Island.

The Gate Towers are just across the road from the Boutik Mall on Reem Island.  Yup, been there.

It needs not be said that the Emirates is one of the very safest countries in the Middle East, and generally much safer than the States. It’s a country teeming with expatriates, one where the population predominantly hails from elsewhere. There are lots of Americans, and the number of Americans had been swelling since ADEC started recruiting heavily. Look on Teach Away’s website—there’s a picture of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and a banner that says “Always Hiring.”

But what about this new development? What about murder in the midst of it all? What does this mean to recruitment of teachers in the future? What does it mean to us here, right now?

The Arc is one of the beautiful new places recently built on Reem Island.

The Arc is one of the beautiful new places recently built on Reem Island. There’s quite an expat population there, many of whom frequent the Boutik Mall next door.

Last week friends from the States were here when the whole thing went down. They were surprised to hear of it, and I was somewhat surprised that their friends back home hadn’t sent them the same barrage of “Stay safe! Be careful!” messages that many of us teachers received. When they did hear about the vicious attack, they weren’t put off of the Emirates, though. They recognized it as an isolated incident, and could tell you that the odds of a similar attack occurring at home might be just as high (or as low, depending upon your point of view) as here.

That’s how we look at it, too. That’s right, friends, don’t get your panties in a wad; don’t let the sensationalist news media reports which tie the US Embassy’s standard warnings about living abroad make you think this place is unsafe. It’s not. Abu Dhabi is safer by far than Atlanta. It’s safer than Detroit.

But yeah, that word murder really does cast a pall over things.

Yesterday I got my hair cut by a hairdresser who does a great job at this place in the mall.

“Look around,” he said. “At Starbucks–no whites, no westerners. Before, there were many in the morning, other times of day. The women, they are afraid. I cut my client’s hair yesterday at her house, because she wouldn’t come here. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I don’t want to go to the mall. I don’t feel safe.’”

He spoke quietly. “This is a sensitive topic,” he said. “Business is affected. I think many Americans will go home soon because of it.”

I’m not sure why it’s sensitive. I’ve talked about it with my Arab coworkers, with my fellow teachers, and others. It’s something that does strike home, because that’s how random violence works. It makes random people afraid, because they know there’s no overlying logic, no definite targets, and no reason why it couldn’t have been one of us.

But what about that pall that’s cast? How do you deal with that? Even knowing the perpetrator has been apprehended, even knowing that, as the press says, the killer was a lone wolf?

The same way you deal with murder elsewhere. You feel. You grieve if you need to. You use common sense in daily life. And you try not to feed negative conceptions of what it means to be American.

There is no reason why Americans should be hated. We’re not a bad people. We’re not better than anyone else, either. We’re just people, and we have the same fears and joys in life as people all over the globe. So in the course of being a person, be one that is an ambassador of good will wherever you are, at home or abroad.

And that’s the only good takeaway I can offer.

Don’t fear for me or Jenia or little Turtle. We’re as safe as ever.

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.

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.

Normalcy

Dear reader,

Today I’m offering my newspaper column’s entry for the week.  It is something that any expat can probably relate to.  If you’re an expat and you agree or disagree, let me know.  I enjoy hearing your thoughts more than you probably know.

-Shon

How long until seeing this becomes normal?

How long until seeing this becomes normal?  Eh, give or take six months.

Vantage Points: Teaching Abroad

Normalcy

Normalcy is defined by freedictionary.com as “being within certain limits that define normal functioning.”  So, in terms of living our lives, normalcy is what we’re used to.  Our routines, our home, our friends, and so forth, all contribute to our sense of having a nice, normal life.  And all that is quite definitely abandoned when you move overseas.  How long does it take to achieve normalcy when you move to a new country?  Well, you go through a few marked stages before any kind of new normal can be established.  Experts say you go through a state of euphoria when you first arrive in the new place.  That’s when most everything is lovely and you’re all excited about being in a new country, a new culture, and having new experiences.  Then you swing to the other extreme, and basically hate everything about the new place.   Everything that isn’t like it is at home drives you mad.  Then, finally, you end up back in the middle, more or less, and living in this foreign country becomes normal.  Based on my own time here in the UAE, I’d say that’s entirely correct.  I went through each of those stages.  And now I’m more or less back to feeling normal.  I recognize that this country is vastly different from home, but generally I feel comfortable.  The other night I was hanging out with a friend who has traveled extensively. He and his wife taught English in Japan and Korea before coming here. Anyway, he commented that it takes about 3 or 4 months to get financially comfortable in a new country.  He’s completely right.  The first month is consumed by running about doing paperwork and errands concerned with residency.  The next month is more or less burned up with adjusting to everything else, making sure your apartment is furnished, and all that sort of thing; the third month, finally, is when you might just be able to put some money back into savings.  That’s when things start to balance out.  That’s when you start to have some expendable income for a change, and when you can think about things that make life more normal—getting a used car, purchasing a guitar, whatever.  I’ll tell you what: I never really appreciated how nice it is to just have things good and normal until I left my own country to come here.  And now that I’ve adjusted to life here, I’m glad to have normalcy return.