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.

Flexible Pricing and Cheap Translation

Flexible pricing is one of the odd things to be aware of here in Abu Dhabi.  Even big, shiny, reputable looking companies do it.  Case in point: the company that we were recommended (Let’s call them IfS; the name has been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty alike). They don’t have prices for some of their services posted anywhere. I have, like several others, paid 110 dirhams per document for translation services. I also paid 200 dirhams to have my marriage certificate attested. Yesterday I left my driver’s license with them to get it interpreted, again paying 110 dirhams, which is what I paid for the marriage certificate translation.

I have since discovered that there are also several people who got things translated for 60 dirhams and attested for 150 by the very same folks in the very same establishment. That’s a considerable difference in pricing, with no difference in service or explanation for the discrepancy.

IfS is also not the most affordable place around (at least not when they decide to charge folks the higher prices). There is talk about a place on Hamdan Street behind the Etisalat building (that would be the one with the golf ball on top, if you know AD) which translates for 75 dirhams per document. Other folks tell about getting a quantity discount because they went in a group. A reliable source tells me that the driver’s license facility actually will translate it while you wait for 60 dirhams.

dirhams

Here’s the moral of the story, kids: ask around about pricing for services, and insist on the lower prices if you hear of a place which, like IfS, has flexible pricing. Sadly for me, I didn’t know that other folks were having things done more cheaply until I’d already paid up front for the service.

As a sort of footnote, don’t underestimate the helpfulness of the hotel concierge, either. The concierge can give advice on a wide range of things. It’s very possible that the concierge could have recommended a place that would be reliable and more affordable for these services. One of my colleagues got a laptop fixed very cheaply because the concierge steered him in the best direction.

When it comes down to it, the 420 dirhams ($114.50) that I’ve paid for having my license translated and marriage certificate both attested and interpreted isn’t just totally outrageous. I mean, Jenia is worth that much to me and then some, and I’ve got to have this stuff done in order to get her here. But if you make this journey, bear my words in mind, because you might save some hard-earned cash if you are a bit more savvy than me.