Bungee Jumping, Skydiving, and Race car Driving

Jumping from a cage hoisted 50 meters (that’s 165 feet) in the air, plunging from an airplane at 4,000 meters (13,000 feet), and piloting an Aston Martin GT3 car around the Yas Island F1 circuit–all things I’ve done this year. So far 2015 has been pretty memorable. Jenia tells me I should write about these things because there aren’t many reviews online about them. So here you are; I hope you’re interested because I’m offering my .02 cents worth.

A thrilling moment (or rather split-second)!

A thrilling moment (or rather split-second)!

First, let’s talk about bungee jumping. There’s a place called the Gravity Zone in Dubai that’ll take your money and let you scare yourself. This past Friday was the last day of the season before they knock off because of the extreme heat, and I went with a friend to celebrate his birthday in style. He jumped first, doing a fine impression of Superman, and seemed totally unfazed by the whole thing, but I found myself suddenly suffering from fear of heights when I stepped to the edge of that metal cage and stuck my toes over. 165 feet doesn’t sound low, but man, it looks high when you’re up there with nothing surrounding you. I confess that I had to resist every natural instinct to grab ahold of the cage and stay in there. The instructor counted to three, and off I went. It only took a couple of seconds to bounce a couple times and then I was rapidly lowered onto an air mattress and unharnessed as the next thrill-seeker bunny-hopped to the cage (the bunny hopping is necessary as the ol’ feet are shackled together with the cuffs that will keep you alive).

About to bounce!

About to bounce!

As for the way Gravity Zone worked, I found it professional enough, with repeated checks of the safety harnesses and your weight. It’s not an amusement-park like facility, though, so don’t expect anything particularly glamorous. The facility is a little tricky to locate, off from 311 in the Motor City area of Dubai. But if you follow the signs to Motor City, which is on Hessa Street (61) it’s not too bad. Then head for the Kart Drome, which is where it gets a bit more complicated. Only a bit–look for the “Outdoor Kart Drome” and go there–you’ll see a yellow crane (unless this changes, of course) parked in the parking lot, with an airbag set up underneath to reassure jumpers.

Shon and his instructor, Leigh, ready to board the plane at the Palm Drop Zone.

Shon and his instructor, Leigh, ready to board the plane at the Palm Drop Zone.

Man, is that drop fast! Suddenly everything is fierce wind and racket.

Man, is that drop fast! Suddenly everything is fierce wind and racket.

What about Skydiving? Lots of folks know about Skydive Dubai, which makes splashy videos part of the package for first-time jumpers and also includes excellent photographs of people over the Palm. The long and short of it is the whole package, which has recently gone up to 1,999 AED, following the general trend of inflation around here, is well worth doing if you’ve ever wanted to try parachuting. Jenia bought me a gift certificate for a skydive package as a killer Christmas present, and I booked my jump for the end of April. The folks at Skydive Dubai were all very friendly and they did a good job setting me at ease with a bit of instruction about how to go out of the plane. That more or less erased whatever worries might have flitted through my mind when I signed six pages of waivers saying I’d never dream of holding Skydive Dubai accountable should anything go wrong and I perish or be horrifically handicapped. My instructor was a woman named Leigh who hails from New Zealand, though she’s been making six or seven jumps a day in Dubai for more than two years. My “paparazzi,” as he introduced himself, was a guy called Vova who came from Belarus. He asked me some stupid questions on camera (“What’s your Facebook password?”), and I didn’t know whether I should look at him or the lens (in retrospect, with the clarity of a video to watch, I should have gone with one or the other), so I definitely ended up looking nervous, which I guess was the case. Regardless, those two were fun to be around, and they did a great job helping this newbie have a good time.

Hurtling through the air at 125 miles per hour!

Hurtling through the air at 125 miles per hour!

I’ve seen skydiving described for the first-timer as sensory overload, and that does sum it up pretty well. It’s fast, loud, and overwhelming. Every bit of skin or flesh that can blow in the wind (at approximately 120 miles per hour) does. When the parachute deploys, there are crazy g-forces, and the same when making a hard turn. But once the ‘chute is out, it’s also an amazingly relaxing experience. It’s serene. That’s when I could drink in the scenery and marvel at what man has made of Dubai. From the time we left the ground to the time we landed on the grass, only about 15 minutes elapsed. It was all over very fast. Then it was back to life as usual–grabbing a bite to eat with the fam, going to the beach for a swim, etcetera. The transition from WOW! to normal was odd.

The guy at the rear hatch was putting a new memory stick in the on-board video recorder.

The guy at the rear hatch was putting a new memory stick in the on-board video recorder.

So what about driving a race car? Once again, thanks to the wife’s gift-giving (this one was for my birthday), I got behind the wheel of an Aston-Martin GT3 car on the Yas Island track. I can’t say it was the F1 circuit, because since there’s a stretch of very slow, technical corners on one part of the circuit, it was closed off and we were using only a portion of the track. Upon arrival, the folks behind the counter tried to up-sell me to full coverage insurance for my 20-minute drive. I declined, deciding not to wreck the car and settle instead for the basic coverage provided at the regular price. Then there was a briefing about how to drive–“Keep your hands gripping the wheel at 10 and 2 all the time,” stuff like that, as well as, “Entry points at each corner are marked with an orange cone and exit points with green ones.” The laps aren’t officially timed because that would bump the driving experience into a differently regulated category. My friends timed my laps unofficially as I drove past. I didn’t perform that well, honestly, and having not been on a track before (other than a brief stint behind the wheel of a sweet, Rotax-powered go-kart at Al Ain Raceway, and that’s not quite the same), I had to learn a thing or two about “using your whole line,” as my co-pilot told me. Yes, I’ve played video games like Forza Racing, and I should have been able to carry that knowledge–entering from the outside, exiting wide, etc.–over into real life, but it’s hard to break 20 years worth of on-road driving habits and move all over the track, rather than staying on one side of the road. It sounds silly, but that’s the way it was for me.

The little one had a blast just sitting beside the track and watching all the cars go past.

The little one had a blast just sitting beside the track and watching all the cars go past.

What was the drive like? The car was hard to squeeze in and out of, due to its full roll cage, a little slow to start, sounded great (ah, great, yes, a ripping, roaring, rumbling V8), and had lots of power, as you’d expect. But it didn’t flatten my eyeballs when I nailed it; it wasn’t a magical beast that put me in a whole different dimension of performance. Maybe I was expecting it to be like hopping on a Yamaha YZF-R1 and blasting to 150 miles per hour in about the time it takes to write this sentence. But I digress. To return to describing the drive: there was also no air conditioning (it’s a race car, come on, what’d you expect?!), it was very loud which made communication with my copilot/nanny a challenge (hand signals and shouting), and the rearview mirror was angled for the copilot to see out of, not me, so I had no idea when any of the other 7 cars on the track were on my 6, which irked me a bit. The highest speed I managed to reach on the straight was around 135mph, then I had to scrub speed like crazy and go through a couple of tight curves. The brakes were effective but felt sort of agricultural–not what I’d anticipated. Get on the gas too vigorously and the rear end squirmed around and started to go sideways. Nothing surprising there. To be honest, I was expecting more out of the car. To drive it like a pro, I’d need a lot more than 20 minutes to learn what I was doing, of course. The time in the car was really just adequate for me to get comfortable with it and feel like I could start to use it decently. Would I rate the Yas Island Aston-Martin Racing Experience worthwhile? Yes, sure, because when else would I get behind the wheel of a legitimate race car, never mind an Aston? But it wasn’t that great. Maybe it was the nanny beside me; maybe it was simply the nature of the experience as a beginner on a racetrack. Honestly, standing beside the track and listening to the cars, watching them go, that was almost as much fun as actually being behind the wheel.

For something really memorable, of the three experiences I’ve written about, I’d pick skydiving if I had to do only one of them, or do one again. That’s something that’s truly singular, and it’s something that challenged and rearranged my perceptions of what it’s possible to do.

Drop Everything and Go.

Maybe you don’t know the names Ted Simon or Charley Boorman. That’s okay. I’ll tell you who the two men are. Simon rode his Triumph around the world on an incredible 4-year journey, and Boorman rode a BMW around the globe in 2004 in less than 4 months. They’re dyed in the wool motorcyclists and dedicated adventurers. They love to explore the world and both authors have made livings based on their travels.

I must admit my only exposure to Ted Simon was through the TV mini-series “The Long Way Round,” which chronicled Boorman’s trip from London to New York City with his friend Ewan McGregor. The show is, by the way, worth your time–it’s fun, funny, and will appeal to the adventurer in you, even if you don’t ride a motorcycle or understand why some of us do. Take a minute and look it up, then set some time aside to enjoy a fascinating look at the world from the point of view of a couple of motorcyclists. That said, Simon is, as it turns out, the very model of adventurousness.

But I get ahead of myself. See, I attended the Emirates Literature Festival today in Dubai, and went to a session called “Around the Globe with Charley and Ted,” during which the authors discussed some of their commonalities: how wanderlust struck, how they started their travels, managed to fund them, and so forth. Held in a ballroom at the Intercontinental hotel in Festival City, the event was pretty full. I found an open seat at the front, and enjoyed an hour of the men’s musings.

The Intercontinental at Festival City.

The Intercontinental at Festival City.

Simon’s big journey included run-ins with the law (arrested as a suspected spy, for example), romance, and the momentous discovery that people all over the world are generally nice, welcoming, and helpful. Boorman didn’t get arrested, but found much the same thing–people everywhere, and I mean everywhere, are kind and helpful.

Speaking of countries that are deemed dangerous, Boorman said, “When anything bad happens, the news makes a big deal out of it.” He mentioned 24 hour news networks and the need for them to fill up space and time. “You never see a news reporter saying, ‘I’m here, and there’s nothing happening.'” To illustrate the point, Boorman mentioned looking over rice paddies in northern Iran, in a scene that might have been Thailand, with people working and wonderful agriculture everywhere. This seems a far cry from the image that Fox and the other news networks paint of Iran, doesn’t it?

Many of us don’t realize how much what we see and hear on the news shapes our perceptions. Simon elaborated on the idea, to much the same effect. Don’t forget there are millions of people living absolutely normal lives in most of the countries that are deemed “dangerous” by those selling newspapers. In essence, the world is a safer place than it is made out to be.

Indeed, there were plenty of people who advised me against moving to the UAE–it could be unsafe, it would be hard on Jenia as a woman, and so forth–but most of these people, though meaning well, hadn’t lived here, or even been here. They were all wrong; it’s been a great place for us to live.

Simon said that many people approach him and tell him they’d love to go on a similar adventure, but they can’t, because they have a mortgage, a job, etc. His response was profound: “Drop it all and leave it because you’ll be a much more valuable person when you come back.”

In 2003, I was talking to a friend named Gwen, a woman who was practically a surrogate mom for a while there. “I’d love to go to England,” I told her. “Well, why don’t you go?” She said. I blinked my eyes a few times, processing that. It really was that simple. I could save up some money, quit my meager little job, and go see more of the world. A moment before I hadn’t considered it that clearly. It had seemed like I had shackles holding me back–commitments and stuff–but they didn’t make an ounce of difference. That was more or less the beginning of my serious international explorations.

You’ve seen my posts on here about how living and teaching abroad have changed Jenia and me for the better. At this point, I couldn’t agree more with Simon’s advice. I may not travel the world in as extreme a manner as Simon did, and I may not host a TV show or manage to ride my bike as much as Boorman does his, but in the same manner as these two men, I’ve found a way to fund my globe trotting, to indulge the travel bug and discover that the basic desires of every person on the planet are the same.

If you want to explore, you should. Don’t worry about your place in the pecking order, don’t fret over what you’ll leave behind, just go, because it will change you fundamentally. Fear of leaving the familiar behind and exchanging it for the unfamiliar, fear of dangerous countries, or fear of talking to new people may prevent us leaving our comfort zones. Don’t be afraid. Go.

Charley Boorman, happy to pose for a picture with me at today's book signing.

Charley Boorman, happy to pose for a picture with me at today’s book signing.

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.

Making a Life

When we started to feel content here in the UAE, it was because we’d committed to making a life here.  Not necessarily to anything long-term, but rather to getting involved in the community.  It’s hard for a westerner to feel like he or she belongs in the area, since the local culture is (at least in Al Ain, I can’t say for sure about Abu Dhabi or Dubai) quite closed to those who don’t speak Arabic.  I’m quite alright with this, since my culture in the USA is much the same way to those who don’t speak English.  It’s all a natural part of moving to a different country.  I know if I learn Arabic beyond the handful of phrases and words I’ve picked up over the last two years (two years!) that more social doors will open.  Although it’s hard to feel like I truly belong here, it’s not been hard to develop relationships with other expats.  Jenia and I have, as we’ve said before, more friends than we did back home in the States.

Kabs (spelling?), freshly made at the Yemeni place.  Ever so tasty.

Kabs (spelling?), bread freshly made at the Yemeni place. Ever so tasty.

For us, this process of feeling comfortable began with people, and slowly expanded to being a part of other things in the area.  We started going to Al Ain Evangelical Church church and attending a small group.  I was invited to play with the church band.  We’ve ended up taking on the responsibility of being small group facilitators, which added a wrinkle to life, and we’ve also started ballroom dancing lessons, something I (Shon writing here, by the way) never thought I’d enjoy at all.

So what’s life like for us now that we’re in the groove?  It looks a little like this, on a relatively relaxing weekend, like the one we just had (which had temperatures dip below 100F and felt marvelous):

On Friday we zipped to the mall, then stopped by our favorite bakery for some savory pastries, and in the evening we attended a choral concert held at Al Qattara Arts Center.  There we met friends and encountered acquaintances, and enjoyed time hanging out with in the relatively cool, oven-dried evening afterward.  Saturday we took Frank and Mel and their expanding family to a fabulously atmospheric (read: hole-in-the-wall) Yemeni restaurant which might be called Al Kabisi (but I’m not sure, as I’ve never successfully translated the sign yet, and I didn’t think to see if it said on the newly-minted English/Arabic menus we were given).  Then we hung around Jahili Park for a while, made a de rigeur visit to Starbucks, where we paid more for drinks than we paid for our entire meal shortly before, and returned home so we could enjoy the evening at home.

We're now accustomed to seeing camels being transported, as well as the odd broken down Bentley and such.

We’re now accustomed to seeing camels being transported, as well as the odd broken down Bentley and such.

Being involved in the community and building a life here has allowed Jenia to build her photography hobby into something more than that.  She’s taken portraits of numerous families on the orange sands and in green parks, done a promo shoot for a local performing duo called Sarah and Adam, and is starting a three-day shoot for a school tomorrow.  It’s great.

Jenia's photos are better than mine, of course, but I snapped this one while she was shooting Sarah and Adam.

Jenia’s photos are better than mine, of course, but I snapped this one while she was shooting Sarah and Adam, and I like it.

I’ve left deeper things out as I recount simple events.  It’s hard to say how much we’ve learned about ourselves as we’ve made a home abroad.  Living here gives us a window on the world that we wouldn’t have had before.  We’ve gained an amazing perspective on life in the Middle East and the Arab world, and grown more culturally empathetic than before.  We’ve found ourselves, as we adapt, stretched and pulled, angered and moved to laughter, exasperated and impressed.

Now, when somebody asks me where I’m from, I no longer immediately respond, “Georgia, in the USA.”  I smile.  I’m from Georgia, yes, but I’m also from the UAE now.  I’ve got a life here, and it’s a nice one that I’m immensely grateful for.  I’m not sure how long we’ll stick around, but for the time being, we’ve got a good thing going.

Middle Times

It’s past mid-term, and in a term with only one day off in 12 weeks, everyone at work is tired.  The students are tired of coming to school, the teachers are tired (especially the ones in the English department, who have to cover for each other when someone is out), and everything seems to be sagging just a bit.

I’ve been sick, which is never fun, and although I did visit a doctor and get the requisite note to be sure I will be paid for the days I took off last week (which then has to be scanned and uploaded onto ADEC’s website for approval by my principal first, and then afterward by someone I’ll never meet in some building I’ve never been to), I’ve spent a fair amount of time working when I probably should have been at home recuperating.

But as I said, we’re in the middle now, and these are the sorts of things a person goes through anywhere.  I am, like most everyone else, ready for a break.  In a month, we’ll get a couple weeks off between terms.  I can’t wait.

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.

Surprise Day Off!

Even Google is celebrating Dubai’s hosting of the Expo!


It’s almost 6:00pm in Al Ain as I write this. Today is Thanksgiving for America, and we’re thrilled to be celebrating it with a surprise day off here in the UAE. You see…

Yesterday Dubai won its bid to host Expo 2020. This will supposedly generate billions of dollars ($35 billion, according to one article) of revenue for the area. Accordingly, Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, up and decided that today should be a national holiday.

As my friend PJ Smalley wrote last night, “The ruler of Dubai just informed the nation that there will be no school tomorrow in celebration of winning the bid for World Expo 2020. Why doesn’t President Obama order more spur-of-the-moment holidays? Gosh, who voted for that guy?”

You know nothing can happen in a way that allows people to plan anything in advance around here, and this is no exception. But it’s nice anyway. Let me tell you how the official word came around. This begins at 10:45pm. 1) Text Message from Pj–no school tomorrow. Check Facebook. 2) Facebook groups for EMTs and such–“No school tomorrow!” “Is this true?” “It’s true–here’s a link to such and such a newspaper website article.” 3) Phone call from my school’s English department coordinator: “My neighbor’s Principal said they’re off tomorrow; my wife’s Principal says they’re off tomorrow, and I’m assuming we’re off tomorrow. So don’t come to school.” My coworker who rides with me every day didn’t even believe me at first when I called him at 11:00pm to inform him that we wouldn’t be working the next morning.

To sweeten the deal a bit more, Baskin Robbins, everyone’s favorite purveyor of fattening junk food, announced they would give away free ice cream today. Our neighbors got some before it ran out.

Another of my friends, Katrina, writes: “I love this – the stuff legends are made of. A whole generation of today’s schoolchildren will grow up and tell their grandchildren, ‘I remember the day Dubai won the World Expo. They closed all the schools and there was free ice cream for everyone.'” I think she’s right.

Any way you slice it, this is the kind of thing that makes living here so wildly, and in this case, wonderfully, different from living in the USA. Surprise days off are nice!

If you’re interested in more of the stuff that’s been going on today, click on this link to The National. There’s been more interestingness…

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.

ADEC Discounts

Working for the Abu Dhabi Education Council has its perks.  Summer vacation is the main one, of course, but there are some vendors that offer discounts to ADEC teachers and employees.  And, if you missed it in one of my posts from last August (Flexible Pricing), there are vendors that take advantage of ADEC newbies and actually increase their rates (Infinity Services, if you’ll recall).

Now, for those of you who are prospective ADEC teachers, you may well be interested in what sorts of discounts that are available here in Al Ain, right?

To begin with, some furniture stores offer a discount to us.  Home Centre comes to mind.  In order to get this discount, you just need to furnish your ADEC identification (or visa, which is sponsored by ADEC, or some proof of employment with them).  If they have another sale going on, though, that will override the ADEC discount.

Most of the local hotels offer a discount to ADEC teachers for health club memberships (as well as food and drink from the mighty expensive hotel restaurants).  For example, the Danat Hotel Resort (near the Hilton) offers a 15% discount.  Some hotels actually have a welcome party event and they’ll offer deeper discounts than usual at those events, too, so keep your eyes peeled for those (the Danat has one coming up Tuesday the 11th, actually).

The Rugby Club offers a 10% discount to ADEC teachers.  They’re one of the more cost-effective places to go if you’re looking for a decent gym and pool, plus their restaurant has reasonable prices since they’re not a hotel (hotels attach very high taxes to food and drink; 16%, if I remember right–we avoid hotel eateries for that reason).

It might pay to know that Etihad Airlines offers 20% off airfare to ADEC folks.

At any rate, wherever you go, particularly if you’re looking at some kind of membership, it pays to ask if they offer an ADEC discount, because there are quite a few places that do.