Monday, September 27, 2010


What a difference a week makes! We are still at the Aloft Hotel, but are feeling so much better now that we know the answers to many of the questions we had last week. First, we have looked at an apartment that will be ours in the next few days. It's a two bedroom, 1 1/2 bath furnished apartment in the Tourist Club area of the city of Abu Dhabi. You can see it on Google Earth at the corner of Sheikh Zayed the Second St. (also called Electra) and Najd Street. It's a few blocks from the beach and a few blocks from Abu Dhabi Mall. Mark and Abby will have things to do while I'm at work once Abby's lessons are finished! We are happy not to have to buy new furniture, and all of our utilities are paid at the apartment. It's about twice the size of our place in Florida.

I also have experienced school Abu Dhabi-style. I'm going to choose my words carefully. Most days I enjoy my students, though they are very impulsive and rambunctious. I feel like I have not taught much in the way of academics so far, but have spent much time establishing expectations and routines. I am thankful a hundred times a day that I speak some Arabic. I can't imagine starting out with these students and having no way to communicate my directions! I have spoken more Arabic in the last ten days than I did in three years at the University of Texas. Most everyone can understand me even though I am speaking the classical form of the language. It is actually rather admired, my ability with what's called fus-ha. Very proper. Today I had a student rattle off some Arabic (very fast) and I told him I didn't understand. He argued with me, "Yes, you speak Arabic!" Finally he tried in English. I'm going to have to reduce my use of Arabic in class.

My school is a two-story, square gallery arranged around a central courtyard that has a canvas cover. The students arrive on buses mostly, and all wear some form of dishdasha, a long, tailored shirt that reaches to the feet. Most dishdashas are white, but some are cream or brown colors. The students take classes in Arabic, Islamic Studies, Social Studies, Science, Math, and English every day. They rotate through special classes for Gym, Music, Computers, and Art. Each period is 40 minutes long, and they have seven periods in a day. It's a bit shorter than school in Texas, so I have to be ready with a compact lesson for each period.

Outside of school, Mark, Abby and I attended an exhibit of Emirate Heritage over the weekend. It was great fun! There was plenty to see, mostly about hunting and camping. Many safaris in Africa were advertised. Mark found out that you must pay a fee of $45,000 (USD) to shoot an elephant. I was glad it was expensive. We learned that Emiratis camp in luxury. Abby was keen to have an Emirati-style sleeping bag, but we didn't want to have to move it to our new place and then ship it, perhaps, back to Texas. Much too bulky. Our favorite exhibits included the falcons and salukis (hunting dogs). Both were just beautiful. Abby had some fun digging in a mock archeological site that was sponsored by Hili Archeological Park in Al Ain.

We're finding there's lots to do. My school load seems to allow me time to do some of those fun things, too. It's a different place. I start to get used to things, and then I will have a jolt of realization about how different it is here. But so far, so good.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week One

Well, we've been in Abu Dhabi for a week now. We've learned alot about getting around, and I am prepared to start teaching tomorrow, but myriad questions remain unanswered. We don't know where we will live, when we will move, when my residency visa will arrive, when we'll get a rental car, or really any information about settling in. We are learning to deal with almost total uncertainty. Hey, the hotel is nice and the breakfast buffet is free!

I have been assigned to teach second grade, team teaching with another licensed teacher from Canada. I have to be at the school at 7:00 AM and can leave by 2:00 PM. The really good news is that I will have only 18 students to share with my co-teacher in one period, and 17 students in the other. We have been told, however, that placements can change if we are needed somewhere else. I'm looking forward to meeting the boys in our classes (all-boys' school) and getting to know all of my new co-workers. They have found out that I speak some Arabic, and now they will not let me get away with speaking English until I try to say my piece in Arabic. It's good for me, but hard. It makes me appreciate what my students will be experiencing!

Yesterday Mark, Abby and I went to the Corniche to visit the beach for the first time. One section is set aside for families. You have to pay to get in that part, but there are no rowdy groups of teenagers or groups of single guys. It was really comfortable and safe. Abby found some other little girls to play with and had a great time. Mark and I enjoyed the warm water (more than 90 degrees) and the covered beach chairs. We did see a security guy blow a whistle and lecture a few couples that were getting a bit too touchy-feely. It's supposed to be a family beach, after all.

Mark did laundry last night while I prepared materials for the first day. I've only prepared lessons for the first day because I have no idea what to expect. I'll have to go from there after I see what it's like! Later today we will visit the Heritage Village. It was closed when we went last weekend, but should be open this evening. It shows what life was like in Abu Dhabi before oil, and Abby intends to have a camel ride. I'll be sure to take many pictures to post on facebook. Maybe I'll even figure out how to post them on my blog!

We miss everyone, sometimes horribly, especially when things seem so different here. But we are adjusting and are beginning to appreciate some of those differences. That's what it's about, I think.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Arrival and First Impressions

After many goodbyes and a few tears, we finally were ready to leave. Mark loaded our 12 bags into his brother's truck, and his dad drove us to Houston Intercontinental for our flight to Chicago last Thursday. That flight was only two and a half hours. We changed terminals, which meant we had to go through security again, at O'Hare Airport. It turned out that all of my worries about my name on the eticket were unfounded, because everything went very smoothly, and we boarded our Etihad Airways jet to Abu Dhabi at about 8:30 PM.

The plane was really nice, with a personal entertainment system at every seat. We could each choose individual movies at any time, or play video games or see a map of the plane's progress. There was even a link to a camera feed from the bottom of the jet, so we could see the landscape passing beneath us even though we didn't have a window seat. I watched "Clash of the Titans", then had dinner (lamb tagine with couscous). Later I watched "Robin Hood" (the new one with Russell Crowe- quite good), had a nap, and had some dinner again. We didn't get a breakfast, as the time in Abu Dhabi at the second meal was about 5:00 PM. It was really strange to basically skip Friday. In all, the flight lasted almost fourteen hours.

As soon as we exited the jetway, representatives from the travel agency were there to greet us. They guided all of the teachers on our flight (maybe 30 families or more) through immigration to get our visas, then through customs. We boarded buses to go to our hotel. The Aloft Hotel in Abu Dhabi is contemporary and hip. From my room on the eighth floor, I have a view of a bay, a small peninsula with what look like palaces, and then the Arabian Gulf (which is commonly known as the Persian Gulf to people who are not living in an Arab country). Abby and I agree it's a hotel my sister, her Aunt Sandy, would immediately love. It looks very much like her new condo!

We slept well that first night, despite the fact that our bodies should have been ready for daylight. However, we did awaken pretty early. After a buffet breakfast, we decided to check out the Heritage Village so Abby could pet a camel. Our taxi driver dropped us off near the museum, but it was closed. We walked around and eventually found a sign that said the museum was closed until 5:00 PM because of the Eid (holiday). As it was only 9:00 in the morning, we had to find something else to do. The Marina Mall was in sight, so we headed there on foot. It was getting hot, but traffic was practically nonexistent, so we made a quick walk of it, some of us more willingly than others.

The Marina Mall is huge. It includes an IKEA and a Carrefour (French Wal-Mart), in addition to hundreds of small stores like Gap, Izod, Starbucks, etc. Many of the stores are not common in the US, but are well-known in Europe. We found a place to get freshly made juice drinks, then I amused myself by reading all of the transliterated Arabic store signs, like LaCoste and MotherCare. There is a central tower with a viewing deck that gives a great view of the whole area, and also an ice rink. Well, Abby had never ice skated, so we cajoled her into walking all over the mall without buying stuff and promised she could ice skate afterwards. She did really well! She held on to the side of the rink for the first several laps, but eventually got the hang of it and ventured to the center of the rink. She decided she would have to come back and skate on a regular basis. Mark and I were glad to just sit and watch, hollering out helpful skating tips now and then.

So far it's hard to believe we're in a foreign country. Everyone has been welcoming and helpful, and we've only encountered people who speak at least some English. We have met very few actual Emiratis, but we did see some people in the national dress at the mall as well as here at the hotel. They make up a small percentage of the population in Abu Dhabi. This city is extremely modern, with very little of it built before 1971. It's clean and well-ordered and has almost no crime. Maybe it's not so hard to believe after all!

I attended an orientation today and got this information: we will be living in Abu Dhabi. I'll be teaching at an all-boys primary school in the south of the city, an area called Mussafa. We'll be given the keys to our apartment as soon as they become available, but I'll start school on Wednesday and commute from the hotel. I don't yet know what grade I'll teach, but third grade is a good bet. I wish I knew more, but I am doing my best to just relax and enjoy the experience!

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Finally, we have a tentative leaving date: September 9th! All of the documents have Hilary Clinton's signature on them and a stamp from the UAE embassy, so we're good to go. We don't have actual tickets yet, just an assurance from the Teach Away, Inc. representative on facebook that the last group will leave on that date. No word yet, either, on whether or not I will go first alone or if the whole family will travel together. It's a really good thing we learned to live with a large dose of uncertainty over the last year.

I'll arrive on the 10th, rest(?) on the 11th, then school starts for teachers on the 12th. Nothing like hitting the ground running. I'm doing my best to be calm about it all. I mean, I have started school with my classroom still under construction before. But that was in Mansfield. I'm holding on to the favorable comments left by other teachers on the facebook site about their wonderful reception in Abu Dhabi, and how well they've been taken care of. I'm sure my employers will understand what it takes to move so far away and get settled in. I know they won't expect some amazing lesson out of me on the 15th of September, the first day of school. I'm sure of this, but the muscles in my shoulders are twisted into knots anyway.

And then there's the goodbyes. I've said goodbye to friends in Florida, wonderful people that I hope to see again. I visited with my sister and had such a fun time exploring Dallas hot spots. I'm going to miss her so much. We saw family in Beaumont and Lumberton, and look forward to being back next summer to see them again. Today I hugged my dad goodbye. He was here in Pearland to make the trip to Beaumont with us, and now he's headed back to central Texas. That was tough, even though I know we'll skype weekly. Soon we'll drop the dog off at my cousin's house, and that will be hard, too. Last, we'll say goodbye to Mark's family. A year isn't that long, right?

So, feeling the leaving today. I'm not regretting the decision to go. I can't wait for the challenges and discoveries ahead. New experiences make life worthwhile. We'll be different people when we see you all again next year.