First off I apologize that I haven’t written in awhile. I’ve been extremely busy. The first few days were fairly easy, then I had a touristy day (here’s a link to some of those photos), and then it was go, go, go! Oh my goodness it was one thing after another thrown at us. On 9/11 I will be here a month, and in these short weeks I’ve been processed to be here legally, I’ve been poked and prodded for my health check (whew! I passed — hahaha no syphilis or TB), moved to a hotel in Al Ain, bussed back and forth from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi for curriculum training, bought my must-have-nows for my new apartment, got it cleaned, fought the electricity battle (here it’s not just a quick phone call; it’s a 2-week process with lots and lots of sitting in the ladies waiting room), rented a car, grew a pair of kahunas to drive said car, moved to my new apartment, and began teaching at my new school — almost all at about the same time.
To say it’s been crazy is putting it mildly, but I’m feeling at home now. My apartment is coming along nicely (will also post a link to apartment photos), and I’m comfortable driving — well it’s a bit freaky, but I’m used to the insanity. Stop signs, blinkers, lane lines, all that sort of stuff is just decoration to make we expats feel less homesick. Seriously, no need to use them, although during this morning’s traffic I did see my first police directing traffic. Sadly, no one knew what to do, and the police didn’t seem to realize that I needed to go straight, and that I was blocking the lane they were telling everyone to go right onto. It’s okay we all survived, and I patted myself on the back for being politely assertive. If you’re trying to picture what it’s like to drive in one of the roundabouts here just remember what it was like when you got down to the last few chairs in musical chairs, except with big-ass SUVs and tiny rentals. The maybe good news is it seems the country is trying to crack down on crazy driving because there are all of these speed cameras all over the place, but my problem is I can rarely find what the speed limit is. I’m getting it, but pray I won’t find tickets in my rental bill (there’s no real address system here, so the fine is either texted to you —your cell phone number is connected to everything; do not lose that sim card! — or sent to your rental company who will then bill you). I don’t know if these speed cameras help because the only people who mind the fines (because we can’t afford them) are the expats, and while we now drive crazy too; it’s a milder, slower crazy.
Okay, enough about the driving — except I guess I should add that I’m really surprised that I kinda, sorta like it. The inner maniac in me gets to have fun. I didn’t even know she existed. The next crazy thing and the other main reason why I haven’t written is the whole trying to get Internet thing. You see the cable company is the only cable company in the emirate (possibly the whole country), so there’s no competition. Human nature is what it is. If there’s no one to compete with, why rush to turn you on. Sure, they say they’re coming to do it, but then they call you at 2 to say they’re at your apartment. You remind them the appointment was for after 4. They say, “okay how about 2:30.” I say “how about 4.” They reply with a “2.” I say “maybe 3:30.” They say no and hang up. Then you make another appointment, but something goes wrong there too. It’s a process. One that takes getting used to, but I will eventually get cable/Internet. I know this because my kind neighbor gave me the password to her wifi. She’s proof it will one day happen.
If it sounds like I’m complaining, I am a little, but, mostly, I am so happy to be here. It’s an amazing country with so much to offer — including a touch of chaos. The best part is I absolutely love my school, and I’m not typing this because I’m worried someone I work with will read this. I really do love where I work. I work at an all-girls high school in the Mezyad region, which is on the back end of Jebel Hafeet (Al Ain’s famous mountain) and on the Oman border. It’s about a 35 minute drive, although with traffic it can be longer. Because it’s outside of the city it is a more conservative area, but I’ve discovered conservative doesn’t mean strict or intolerant. I can wear pants and three-quarter length sleeves. Everyone has been kind and welcoming, and I’m so enjoying getting to know the other women who work there.
I teach 11th grade Arts English (students choose between the arts or science track) and my students are sweet and energetic and hungry to learn (and sometimes they just want to play). They’re also chatty and love to try to escape to the bathroom so they can find their friends in other rooms, just like my American girls. They remind me of so many of my students back home. I am lucky because I get to see them without their abayas and veils. I get to see them be the kids they are, which is something I’ve always loved about teaching. I wish I could take and post pictures of them, but I can’t. It’s not allowed without everyone’s permission. Privacy is very important here, and it’s a jail-able offense to post pictures on the Internet without written consent. I kind of like that, although I soooo want to show you everything.
My work day is completely different. First off I’m the one who changes classes. My students keep their room all day. The schedule is different for each day, so I’ll often have some classes twice on the same day, which I love (more time to get work finished). I get 3 to 4 prep periods every day. Yes, you read that right. My favorite work day is Thursday (which is also my Friday) because I have 3 prep periods back to back in the afternoon, so I work hard in the morning, and then I kick back and actually have time to assess their work on the same day WITHOUT having to take any of it home. American teachers know just how shocked I am over this. Heck according to the British and South African teachers I work with, they do too. Another plus is that all the English teachers are in the same work room, and we have our assigned desks. I sit next to the other 11th grade English teacher (she has the science track), who is also my carpool buddy. This makes perfect sense because we have time to plan together and OMG cross-check how we’ve graded writing. Holy shit people we’re collecting real data because we’re given the time to do it. Now whether or not it’s the right data is debatable, but it’s a start.
Now there are negatives, but for me, for now, they’re trivial compared to the pluses. Email me when it comes down to end-of-term time, and I’m sure they won’t feel so little then. Of course also remind me that I have 3 to 4 prep periods a day! And, the worst behavior I have from my students is loud talking (sometimes it’s more like shrieking). There are no cell phones (although they do have them outside of school), no dress code violations (hahaha but a few do push it with lip gloss or something that has some sort of flare — girls will be girls), no drug or alcohol abuse (or side effects from suffering from adults who do that at home), no gang violence. Just chattering and trying to get away with not doing the work.
I do need to point out that I am extremely lucky. Others aren’t having it as lovely as me, and I do feel for them. It all just boils down to location and administration, and while I didn’t land the hi-rise city apartment I was lusting after I did land the right job. And, I thank whomever/whatever is responsible for that. I think here is when I should add a Humdallah.
As for my apartment and Al Ain, I feel very much at home (here’s some of what I’ve done to it so far). I’m looking forward to pay day, so I can buy some coffee tables and odds and ends to spruce up the place more. There is so much more to tell you, but I’m tired, and I’m sure your eyes need a break. Now that I have the magic password I should be posting more. OR, maybe next time I’ll be using my own password. Inshallah!