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!

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