Back in the (Camel) Saddle Again

Dear Blog,

You’ve been hanging over my head like a black cloud. I’m compelled to write a post tonight, lest August 2015 go down as the only month I’ve skipped since I started chronicling this journey. Sometimes it’s difficult to find any words, so I’ve avoided you for quite some time. Yet, it’s August 31st and you’re staring me in the face point-blank, so here goes.

Summer was a whirlwind of driving around the Midwestern US, visiting family and friends, sorting, packing, and moving the girls and the cats into their digs for the year.

I didn’t spend enough time with Kate and Jenna. I saw many people several times but didn’t see anyone enough. I felt like a ticking time bomb, scheduling lunches, brunches, dinners, pool dates, concerts, a Cubs game, parties (Woo hoo! Canoeing at 3am!), and all kinds of other crazy activities. I took Kate and her BFF Brandon out to celebrate their very belated 21st birthdays



and shortly after that we celebrated Kate’s 22nd birthday in advance of its November date (but at least I have a pic to post on Instagram and Facebook when it rolls around). Thanks to all who were able to accommodate me at some point; I look forward to getting together with everyone at leisure upon my return next summer. I forgot to take advantage of photo opps with many folks, but here’s a taste of what went down:

The Berg Girls’ good-bye tears flowed freely; I guess we’ll never get any better with that. Then… wham! I’m back in my Abu Dhabi apartment. My first thought is, “Where did all this STUFF come from?” I’m at capacity. Plenty of clothes, shoes, swimsuits, candles, medicine, hair products, US crackers, Crystal Light, etc. I’ve really made myself at home here! I also had my place professionally cleaned (ok, it’s not really even a splurge at $24.50 USD including supplies) and everything’s in pretty good order now, especially for someone with ZERO motivation these days.

Employment: We started back to work a week ago but the students didn’t arrive until yesterday. About a quarter of them showed up and the rest will trickle in slowly over the next week or so. Here, or at least at my school, we don’t start formulating a plan for the year until the kids arrive. We actually DID get assigned to our own classrooms (yay!) as the first bell of the morning rang. Preliminary class lists were handed out. The school day has been lengthened by 40 minutes, but we’re hoping that it will be shortened in the near future, as schedule changes are de rigeur here; I think we had over two dozen modifications last year. But all in all, the day went as well as could be expected and I have a lot better handle on the whole thing than I did last year.

Weather: Hot, hot, hot. And if that isn’t enough for you, throw in steamy. Like literally, physically steamy to the point where I swear you can see it in the afternoon. And hazy. Downright disgusting. I’m coughing up my requisite lung, as I do every time I re-enter this country. Once my body adjusts to its daily intake of sand, I’ll be just fine. At this point I’ve amassed an entire pharmacy’s worth of products so I can self-medicate whenever or wherever needed. I’m not 100% yet but at least I don’t sound like Darth Vader anymore.

Goals: The year will pass quickly! Please hold me accountable for paying off the balance of my grad school loans. I paid a huge chunk last year but my expenses at home are greater this time around so it will definitely be a challenge. Luckily, a number of my friends here plan to tighten their belts as well, so I’ll be in good company. I still plan to make a few small trips during the long weekends we have this year. The moon sightings (which determine many of the Muslim holidays) appear to be in our favor; in other words, they’re hopefully falling on weekdays instead of weekends. We also have a new holiday, Martyrs’ Day, on November 30. If this is combined with Dec. 2 National Day, it will make for one helluva break! If the budget allows, I’d like to visit a few more countries on the Asian continent while Iiving on this side of the globe, but I’d be just as happy to explore some of the emirates that are right in my own backyard.

My last goal will be to land a job before I return home. Ugh. If it’s not one darn thing, it’s another. So I’m taking this one step at a time. Keep me in mind, though, if you have any connections back home. Or if you know a rich, single guy, preferably late 40’s and over 6’ tall who’d set me on an early retirement path. I’m not too picky. The clock’s a-tickin’, people.

So, that’s all I have to report at the moment. Now that I’m back here I’ve seen a number of things where I’ve thought, “Yeah, I gotta write about that, or “Hey, that would be a fun post.” All in good time, though. It’s just too hot to be outside for any length of time and too hazy to take good photos. Right now, I’m setting my alarm and turning on Netflix. Lazy girl mode has taken over once again. But I made it through the first two days of work, so I don’t even feel guilty.

Three Little Birds

I was introduced to UAE falcons last September. Shortly after arriving in Abu Dhabi I attended the International Hunting and Equestrian Expo, where a falconer first offered to let me hold one of these prized birds of prey. Initially, I was nervous- all handlers need to wear an arm cuff as protection from the talons, so that alone is cause for hesitation.

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After holding one, however, my fears waned (at least more than they have with squirrels.) So while writing a list of “must-do” activities for the girls’ Christmas visit, I added the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital to the list. In the UAE almost everything has “world’s fastest,” “world’s tallest,” or “world’s largest” attached to the name. So it shouldn’t shock you that Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the world’s largest of its kind.

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Since opening in 1999, ADFH has treated tens of thousands of falcons as well as other types of birds. Recently, it has expanded to include a dog and cat clinic along with a shelter for strays (crazy cat lady post pending). After arriving at the hospital and getting the runaround at the entrance gate, we were allowed to enter and wait for the 2pm tour. The tour began semi-on-time, which is pretty good for the UAE. We were first crammed into a tiny “history museum” that showcased falconry items, maps, and things. I can blow through a museum faster than anyone but this was a single room so there was nowhere to run. The guide finally entered and they closed all of us into the standing-room only museum for what seemed like an eternity (it was so long that there was a typical UAE break, where servers provided glasses of juice) to learn everything we ever wanted to know about falcons. Here’s what I soaked in:

Falcons have played an integral part of Arabian lifestyle and tradition for thousands of years; some bedouins still use them for hunting today.

The falcon is the national bird of the United Arab Emirates as well as a status symbol among the Emirati people.

The three most common types used in falconry are the peregrine, saker, and cyr.

The peregrine falcon is the smallest and most expensive and can sell for many tens of thousands of UAE dirhams (as much as $40,000US).

-Female falcons are larger than males and therefore more highly regarded.

-Falcons are issued passports to reduce illegal trading and can no longer be taken abroad unless their owner procures one.

Finally, the door opened and we were shuttled to the outpatient section of the hospital, where a few dozen falcons were lined up and tethered to perches, waiting for their check-ups.

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Most falcons wear hoods on their heads to keep calm.

Keep Calm and Wear a Falcon Hood

Keep Calm and Wear a Falcon Hood

Using a gas mask, the vet anesthetized one of the falcons before weighing it, taking a blood sample, checking its ears, and clipping its talons and beak.

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We were then able to hold and photograph the falcons. It takes a second to get comfortable and then they become quite endearing:

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Though that wasn’t the official end of the tour, it was for the three of us. Kate’s and my undiagnosed ADD kicked in and we felt like we had learned all we needed to know so we asked where the restroom was and made a mad dash for the exit. I guess we missed an aviary show but at the time it seemed much more important to head over to the luxurious Emirates Palace hotel to view the “World’s Most Expensive Christmas Tree” (supposedly $11 million USD).

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A few days later we joined a safari that included a demonstration from a falconer in the middle of the desert. He brought a peregrine male with him and demonstrated training and hunting techniques while the falcon swooped back and forth overhead. Again, we were afforded another photo opp:

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After the girls returned to the US, I happened upon this Instagram photo of Selena Gomez (no, I don’t follow her).

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Oddly enough, my pal Selena and I stayed at the same hotel in Paris in the spring of 2009; she was there to unveil some new clothing line while I was there to scarf down bread and cheese, drink wine, and visit Jim Morrison’s grave. Turns out she was in the UAE over Christmas break too, and held a falcon while on safari. Though annoyed that she couldn’t even throw a text my way, I’m flattered that she finds it necessary to follow me around the world. Living like a celebrity, yes I am. At least until my pre-dawn alarm sounds and I head back to this crazy thing called my job.

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