I Wish I Had a Date

My life currently revolves around dates. I’m in the process of ridding my apartment of its contents and have pickups scheduled for the next two weeks. As part of our clearance process, there are steps that must be taken so we can produce the necessary paperwork to have our resident visas canceled. Yesterday, a representative from the gas company stopped in to check the gas line so I could obtain clearance for the first of several utilities. Mind you, I never had a gas connection since I chose electric appliances, but the tech had to drop by to verify anyway.

Just as I suspected...

Just as I suspected…

Next, I’ll wait for my resignation request to move forward, which I submitted on March 8. Rumor had it that all requests would be processed by June 15, but dates don’t seem to mean all that much here so it’s still in limbo. Inshallah, I will receive an email next week so I can begin the multi-step exit process. If all goes according to plan, I’ll clear out of my apartment on June 30, shack up in a hotel for six days, and fly home on July 6. All of this is tentative right now, so we’ll see. I wish I had a date.

I will, however, tell you what kind of dates do matter to the people of the UAE- these babies:

I would be remiss if I didn’t explain the importance of dates in this country. Bedouins harvested, used, and sold dates long before the United Arab Emirates was formed. Nutritious, abundant, and easy to pack for traveling, dates have sustained Middle Easterners for more than 7000 years. Rarely will we attend a meeting without being offered chocolate and dates. Generally wherever there is coffee or tea, dates are nearby.

150-plus varieties of this fruit, which grow on the date palm, are found in the UAE.

Add to that the dozens of variations in which dates can be doctored up, and it’s borderline mind-blowing. Pass a kiosk in the mall and this is what you’ll see:

Dubai even hosts a Date Festival every year:

One of my students (she doesn’t speak much English but she smiles a lot) brought me a container of dates from her grandfather’s date farm.

d1

She had an English-speaking friend tell me that they’d last for months on my kitchen counter and I should eat one every day instead of sharing them. Now, if they were wrapped in bacon (so haramadan!) that would’ve been one thing, but I did end up sharing these with anyone and everyone who stopped over.  In the past two years, it’s definitely one of the nicest gifts I’ve received while here.

Now, the third type of date is something I may need help with, so all you Chicagoans need to flip through your Rolodexes and hook me up with your best catch starting July 6. Inshallah. That may be a taller order to fill than getting me out of here. Yet, after meeting so many people and having such a great time, I’m sure when I return I’ll wish I had a date. And I’m a much more tolerant human now. Really.

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Mahna Mahna (A Fractured Fairy Tale)

Once upon a time, there was a Princess who wore an imaginary crown and traveled the world whenever her busy schedule allowed. Due to the Al Isra Wal Miraj holiday, the princess planned a weekend getaway. It’s always fun to visit a kingdom, she thought. I don’t know why but it makes me feel special, even if I’m only wearing an imaginary crown. And with that, she hopped over to the island of Bahrain for the weekend.

Once arriving at the capital city of Manama, the princess took her first of four overpriced taxi rides to the hotel. Hmmm, why does the meter show one price but with a push of a button the fee doubles?  the princess wondered, but it turns out she couldn’t get a straight answer to that question for the rest of the weekend.

I know! I’ll just walk to the souk instead of getting ripped off again.  And with that, the princess adjusted her imaginary crown and ventured out toward the popular shopping venue, armed with enough dinar for her usual paltry souvenirs.

It seemed lovely at the time

It seemed lovely at the time

I wonder if all eyes are upon me because I’m a princess, she questioned.

“No!” a voice boomed. It was a military man brandishing an AK-47. “You’ve completely disregarded the dress code of this country. Exactly who do you think you ARE?”

“OMG, sorry, sorry, sorry! I’m a princess, and didn’t realize I couldn’t make up my own rules in life. I guess I should’ve given that more thought during my three-minute packing session.”

“Away with you!” the man seethed as he waved his weapon in the air. “Everyone! Leer at this slut until she returns to her hotel!” And so they did, and the princess slunk back to the Sheraton with her eyes fixed on the ground while the gazes of many burned holes through her exposed knees.

Back in the safety of the hotel, the princess spotted other tourists who were also inappropriately dressed, and she instantly felt more at home. I think I’ll just chill at the bar and forget about this afternoon’s unfortunate string of events. Sipping her 42 dirham vodka tonic, she was approached by a regal-looking man dressed in white.

“Foolish lady, why are you in this bar? Can’t you see this is a popular hangout for certain men? Who do you think you are?”

“I’m sorry,” the princess winced. And she adjusted her imaginary crown before slithering back to her room.

Well, at least I booked the hotel club lounge for my stay. I’ll head over there for snacks and happy hour, the princess reasoned as she tried to lower her anxiety level without the aid of a Xanax.

This is super-enjoyable, the princess cried as she settled into a comfy chair, armed with an appetizer spread of spring rolls, quesadillas, and a nice glass of cab, her elixir of choice.

Then all of a sudden, the princess heard a blood-curdling scream. What the…? She looked at the other club patrons but they were as puzzled as she. Then… in bounded 4-year old Mariam (aka the human tornado) screaming with arms flailing, followed by five other members of her family. Noooooo, lamented the princess. Don’t set this crew up next to me!” Surely the waiter could see the princess’ imaginary crown. He wouldn’t dare do such a thing… or would he?

For the next hour, the princess witnessed the systematic unfolding of Mariam’s meltdown. The cookie assortment, orange Fanta, and hot chocolate only fueled her ability to snag ice out of the community bucket bare-handed, manhandle every stir stick at the bar, and rearrange plates and bowls that her family had no intention of using. In fact, they seemed unfazed by the whole lengthy show. After the room had been successfully destroyed by a half dozen sugar packets dumped on the table, chair, and floor, Mariam’s family departed, probably to wreak havoc in the pool area (even though it was outside operational hours). The cleaning crew immediately descended upon the destruction and proceeded to tidy up the mess.

After the vacuum was turned off, the princess muttered, “Why was SHE allowed to do those things while I’ve been ostracized for EVERY misstep I’ve made today?”

“Because she is a princess,” one of the workers answered matter-of-factly. “And you… well, you must be a teacher here on a long weekend. We can spot your type a mile away. You often confuse where you live with who you really are.” The waiter smiled, brought over the bottle of cab, and filled up the princess’ glass.

“Thanks. Can I take this to my room?” she asked.

“Certainly, “ the waiter responded. “And, hey, don’t forget your imaginary crown.”

 

(Cast photos below)

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly in Madrid

It’s not easy to condense a week-long  vacation into a blog post. But since most of you take vacations and don’t report every detail to me, I’ll return the favor. I met the girls in the Madrid airport and we spent our first night in the Nuevo Madrid Hotel, eating (our first of several) Iberico ham & Brie sandwiches in bed, for lack of anywhere better.

Girls in hotel lobby

Girls in hotel lobby

The following day, we met my sister Jackie and my nephew Louis at the Madrid train station to ride the high-speed train to Barcelona.

My best Christmas surprise was that the girls had dug my beloved elf Buddy out of storage and brought him to Spain. He was super-scared to ride the train at first but later admitted it was an enjoyable few hours. He’s growing up so quickly!

For the next several nights, we stayed in a 3-bedroom apartment in the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona. Here’s our awesome view:

I chose this place because of the location and the fact that many reviewers complained about other buildings sporting a heinous number of stairs but no elevator. I was aware that the elevator would be small, but thought “better something than nothing.” It was beyond claustrophobic, more like a dumb-waiter, but we were able to send our luggage up and down and Jackie and I could use it at night to avoid climbing the stairway to heaven.

Other highlights:

  1. Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona. Construction began in 1882, was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, and resumed in the 1950’s but its completion isn’t projected until 2026.

Typical "Berg Girl at a museum" expression

Typical “Berg Girl at a museum” expression

2. Tio de Nadal- While waiting for our entrance time to Sagrada Familia, we wandered the nearby streets and repeatedly saw this log everywhere but had no clue what it was.

Jackie said it was some kind of local tradition. Well, it turns out that his name is Tió de Nadal and he’s a present-pooping log. I’ll briefly explain, but this shit’s hard to believe.

 

In the Catalonia region of Spain, Tió is brought into the home on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and is “fed” each day and covered with a blanket to keep warm until Christmas Eve. On December 24th the children hit poor Tió with a stick so he can crap out presents for them. While at the Barcelona football team’s stadium, Camp Nou, we witnessed some children hitting Tió and, lo and behold, when the blanket was lifted gift bags for all the kids were pulled out from under him. Magic.

3. There was more to Camp Nou than just witnessing Tió-abuse. I wouldn’t even have gone here if Louis wasn’t with us, but we ended up spending more time at Camp Nou than any other attraction. There was no match being played, but my sis and Lou had already attended a Madrid game before the girls and I arrived in Spain, so we just toured the stadium. Memorabilia fills cases in multiple rooms and lines the walls; we were also able to go into the stands. Super cool. Thanks, Lou! Next time, just buy the jersey outright. Lesson learned, I hope.

 

 

4. Gúell Park- Located on Carmel Hill in Barcelona. Carmel Hill is one big hill, I tell ya. The street we climbed had an escalator running up the middle for the last two blocks.

The park surroundings are very gingerbread-like.

Antoni Gaudí designed this park, as well as Sagrada Familia.

(This part’s for Jenna only: Gaudí, Gaudí, Gaudí, Gaudí, Gaudí! Enough??)

Lots of buildings, sculptures, and mosaic work. The girls were on a mission to find the salamanca, which means lizard for those of you who find that my level of Español surpasses yours :).

5. Flamenco Show: Not to knock my sis for planning many of the activities, but Kate, Jenna, and I agreed to dub this event “toe-tapping, knee-slapping, chest-pounding, hand-clapping, finger-snapping, greasy-haired fun.”

By the time we trained back to super-crowded Madrid, I was wiped out. We shopped, ate, stopped for coffee,

Enjoying your Starbucks, Janet?

Enjoying your Starbucks, Janet?

and meandered through a Titanic exhibit. Oh yeah, we also visited the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Spain’s contemporary art museum. Always cool to see some Dali and Picasso works, but we spent most of our time re-naming the questionable sculptures.

We also consumed gluttonous amounts of gelato, sangria, and churros with chocolate.

Louis enjoyed the seafood paella and lobster slightly more than Kate did; I think it was a little too close to its original form for her liking.

I concluded the trip with a chilly day in Rome (the girls had taken my winter coat back with them), walking around, seeing the sights on my own. Accidentally ended up at Eataly too, a nice surprise. I confirmed that even though my Spanish is terrible, my Italian is worse.

On deck: a month of Trimester 2 at work before my sister visits! No days off, but I have a few weekend activities to anticipate. I also plan to visit a few nearby countries that are just a short, inexpensive plane hop away. It’s now or never, as I’m entering the home stretch of this journey. I think I need some churros and chocolate to wash down that bittersweet pill.

Hasta luego!

 

Message in a Bottle

“Where should I send your Christmas card?” LOLOLOL. The three easiest ways I can think of are to put it in a bottle and drop it in the Persian Gulf, throw it out of an airplane at 35,000 feet, or secure it to a falcon and hope for the best. Abu Dhabi has neither an address system nor regular mail delivery. In fact, a year and a half after moving here I still don’t know what street I live on. Truth. We receive bills via text message and either pay online or at the mall. Luckily, I’m able to pay most of my bills right across the street.

I recently read with interest an article about Onwani, the Abu Dhabi address system that’s set for completion in December 2015. Wait… it’s already December, and it looks like there’s still a ways to go. Granted, numerous street signs have been installed in recent months.

However, there are still many streets with multiple names or none at all. Buildings are slowly being assigned numbers. A friend’s building now has an address or two; yes, there’s a different number on the back than the front. Mine has none. Like we learn as youngsters, one is enough for everyone and it’s not fair to exclude. Hopefully this will all even out soon. For now, we navigate the city using GPS and plugging in coordinates, building names, or a landmark near our destination, winging it by sight when we get close.

On the bright side, I never come home to a pile of junk mail.

So please scan and email me your card or send it to my condo back home and I’ll come home to a nice Christmas in July. I really do love all the holiday cards and family photos though, so don’t cross me off your list! I’ll hopefully have a nice family photo by next week to post on FB and Insta that will act as our card for this year. Meanwhile, I’ve amassed some photos of Christmas in Abu Dhabi. They’re not all pretty but most are, and it’s been really nice to celebrate the season these past few weeks.

Tree at Beach Rotana

Tree at Beach Rotana

Life-size gingerbread house

Life-size gingerbread house

Obviously for someone on the naughty list

Obviously for someone on the naughty list

??

??

Tree at Emirates Palace

Tree at Emirates Palace

Friends Ciara & John hosted a fun Christmas dinner last weekend

Friends Ciara & John hosted a fun Christmas dinner last weekend

And now begins our two-week break. Many people have already left to explore new places or visit friends and family at home. Happy and safe travels! I won’t be checking in while vacationing with the fam in Spain, so now’s the time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy 2016- peace, love, health, and happiness to all!

Breaking Free

There’s an Arabic expression used when you’re happy about something (or when someone sneezes, which I do quite often here). All you UAE teachers can belt out that magic word with me… “HAMdullah!!” It basically means “Thank God!” and I screamed it from the rooftops when we got the ok to take our students on a field trip last Thursday. After overcoming numerous obstacles that I CANNOT get in to in a blog post, we were cleared to attend a quasi trade show on its final day.

Taweya, which focused on various aspects of societal awareness, was held at ADNEC, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company. I’ve been to two other events held there, so my first thought was, “How are we gonna keep track of all the girls in such a huge venue?” I was never cleared to go on a field trip last year so feelings of inadequacy had long settled in, and though I was excited to go somewhere… anywhere… I was freaking out as well.
So right after Thursday morning announcements we took attendance, collected the permission slips, and waited for the signal to load the buses (which was done in a record 47 minutes!) My first time on a school bus, I was a bit scared. You’d be, too, if you saw the way some of them careen around here- it’s not at all like home. Our driver was fine, although he took the long way from our school to the highway. I have sympathy for anyone who knows less about the area than I do, so I let that go with maybe only one or two disparaging remarks.
There were six chaperones for four classes (and since it was a Thursday, many girls opted out of the excursion and just declared it a 3-day weekend for themselves, so classes were small). You’d think six chaperones would be adequate for sixty 10th graders but girls here are very protected, hence my job of looking after 13 students actually made me quite nervous. I must’ve counted to 13 a half dozen times before we even left the school grounds. I put one of my responsible favorites in charge of role call and told her she’d also have to round everyone up at the end of the trip (ironically, she was one of the last three to return to our meeting spot at the agreed-upon time.)
When we arrived at ADNEC we were ushered from the bus to the waiting room by security. Once allowed into the exhibit area, my bff co-worker Katie and I were thrilled to see the amount of security present, rendering our jobs all too easy. No worries of girls getting lost, leaving, hiding out in the bathroom, nothing… ahhhhh. The exhibits only spanned two of the rooms in ADNEC so we were able to walk around the area multiple times during our visit, keeping an eye on different groups of girls throughout the morning. Though the students would spot us and run over to chat every once in awhile, Katie and I had plenty of time to do what the Emirati culture does best- relax. Almost every booth offered coffee and/or tea, water, chocolate, dates, and even roses, not to mention plenty of swag. It’s a story best told in pictures, so here you go:

Greeted by a live Emirati bobblehead

Greeted by a live Emirati bobblehead

The UAE needs to start conserving water soon, inshallah

The UAE needs to start conserving water soon. Inshallah

Tea, cheese pancakes, and chocolate at one of the booths

Tea, cheese pancakes, and chocolate at one of the booths

Cool demonstration by police dogs

Cool demonstration by police dogs

CSI

CSI

Driving simulator. Though some of the girls play video games, it's obvious they don't have driver's licenses.

Driving simulator. Though some of the girls play video games, it’s obvious they don’t have driver’s licenses.

By far, the Emirates Driving School won the

By far, the Emirates Driving School won the “most popular attraction” award. The students waited in line to spin around in this car.

Meanwhile, Katie & I made sand decorations.

Meanwhile, Katie & I made sand decorations

in a shot glass

in a shot glass

Tea, dates, water. Good thing because we hadn't snacked for 3 minutes.

Tea, dates, and water. Good thing because we hadn’t snacked for at least 3 minutes.

Pantry goods storage safety: store cleaning products separately from food. Hopefully next year they'll move the cleaning products off the bottom shelf so pets and kids can't reach them. Again, inshallah.

These poor Emirati mannequins were served uncooked macaroni- yuck! The real point of the exhibit was pantry goods storage safety: store cleaning products separately from food (see back left of photo). Hopefully next year they’ll move the cleaning products off the bottom shelf so pets and kids can’t reach them. Again, inshallah.

In other words, watch out for buses or this could be you.

In other words, watch out for buses or this could be you.

US Customs Official pic

US Customs Official pic

The Emirati culture revolves around gift-giving: pens, pencils, highlighters, chocolate, flowers, coloring books, CDs, brochures, bags, etc.

The Emirati culture revolves around gift-giving: pens, pencils, highlighters, chocolate, flowers, coloring books, CDs, brochures, bags, etc.

We spread the word for the students to meet us at the entrance doors at 1pm. Yalla (hurry up!)!! Tweny minutes of yalla. The girls are capable of moving so slowly that sometimes I swear they’re walking backwards. Really, it’s kind of an art. Then there were the last minute hunger pangs and desperate need to grab Starbucks on the way out. We eventually navigated our way back to the bus, where all the students piled on top of each other in the back (see any number of previous posts regarding non-existent safety regulations while driving). Katie and I both may have dozed off despite the usual clapping, chanting, and screaming these girls do so well. But we’ll chalk up another success on our behalves. It’s a new day, people. We’re rockin’ it outta the park this year. Hamdullah!

Baby, It’s Cold Inside!

The luxury of a long weekend allowed time to explore a few attractions I’d heard about but hadn’t yet visited. Besides, who doesn’t like an excuse for a road trip? I decided that one day would be dedicated to “chillin’ in Dubai,” and by that I mean hitting up sights that offer a temporary respite from the 100+ degree temps.

Watching enthusiastic desert-dwellers enjoy freezing temp activities is almost as exciting as watching their reaction to rain, something I witnessed only twice last year. In the land of everything, what isn’t here naturally can be created in the blink of an eye.
Stop #1: Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates
Real snow!! And lots of it- three football fields’ worth, they claim. Pretty cool for a desert. This 25-story tall ski hill has a chairlift and five ski runs that range from beginner to black diamond.

Throw in tube slides, a freestyle area for snowboarders, and a children’s interactive snow park.


Those who are so inclined can also roll down a long, brain-scrambling run inside a giant clear inflatable ball. Should you decide to partake in these activities for the afternoon, skis, poles, hats, boots, socks, gloves, etc. are available for obvious reasons.
Stop #2: Dubai Ice Rink, Dubai Mall
This is just one of the many attractions at Dubai Mall, “the world’s largest shopping and entertainment destination.” The Olympic-size rink hosts shows on ice and big-screen telecasts of popular sporting events. It’s also the venue for Dubai tournaments of the Emirates Hockey League Cup. Every night they host a disco dance party with a DJ and light display. Groovy.

Stop #3: Chillout Ice Lounge, Times Square Center, Dubai
Dubai would have to hang its head in shame if it wasn’t the home of the Middle East’s first ice lounge. Luckily, someone had the bright idea to create a hot drink café (where else?) in the middle of a mall. The entrance fee is quite pricey (75dhs/ $20US) so I’d recommend waiting for a Groupon or using the Dubai Entertainer. A BYOJ (bring your own jeans) kinda thing, the fee includes use of socks, boots, gloves, a hat, and a winter coat. A hot beverage of your choice is also included and can be sipped while sitting on a faux-fur covered ice block chair at an ice table.

Visitors admire the changing colored lights while kicking up “snow” off the ground.

You can stay as long as you’d like, taking pictures on or next to the ice sculptures, but 20-30 minutes is enough because it’s a tiny place. And it really is cold.

It gets HOT in the UAE, even for someone who prefers warm weather. But I admit it was actually enjoyable to beat the heat in Dubai, if only for a day.

Eid al-Adha

My daughters have a soft spot when it comes to cute farm animals… they do eat meat but they’re not into gyros, and cringe when I post anything from the UAE that has to do with a lamb sandwich.


But in the spirit of education, here goes…
Starting tomorrow, Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, will be celebrated by Muslims for four days. One of Islam’s holiest days, Eid al-Adha celebrates Abraham’s willingness to take his son’s life at the request of God. As the story goes, just as Abraham prepares to kill his son Ishmael (Isaac), he is told that his intent to carry out this act is proof enough that he loves God and, as such, is given a sheep to sacrifice instead. Today, Muslims continue the practice of sacrificing sheep (or camels or goats) in observance of Eid al-Adha. The week before Eid, many sheep are seen being transported in trucks (and even cars) on their final ride to the families’ homes.

PC: AJ

PC: AJ


The animals are ritualistically killed and the meat divided into thirds with equal shares given to 1) the family, 2) friends/neighbors/relatives, and 3) those in need.
At this time of year, thousands of Muslims also take part in the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Participation in the Hajj at least once in a lifetime is a requirement of all Muslims who are physically and financially able to do so. Many people save for years to be able to experience this event.
For non-Muslims, Eid al-Adha will just be a nice 4-day weekend. As is typical here, many of the students already began their holiday earlier in the week; today we had a grand total of one dozen 10th, 11th, and 12th graders in attendance.
A few days ago, I asked the girls how their families celebrate Eid. Most times I wish I could extract more elaborate responses than I do, and this was no exception. Some are traveling to visit family; most seem to be having parties “in the home,” which is a popular phrase they use instead of saying “at home.” Many of the girls watch the animal slaughter take place, and since they probably have done so most of their lives, are not squeamish about this ritual as it holds extreme religious importance to them. They are focused on the communal aspect of Eid and are as excited as kids at Christmas, as gift giving (especially money) is also involved. The girls didn’t pass out gifts this year but last year I received a handmade keychain.

And here’s a window decoration at our school:

As for me, I’ll spend the long weekend in and around the area, eating camel burgers and lamb sandwiches, and will report back on the happenings.
Eid Mubarak, everyone!

Big Silver Taxi

Taxiing around Abu Dhabi is a weekend norm; fares are reasonable and the zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving renders it a necessity if you plan to have a drink or three. At this point, I’ve been in well over one hundred taxis. Easily identifiable, most taxis are silver with a yellow sign:

How to get a taxi? For me, Sky Tower across the street is where I often head. My building, Arc, is now actually connected to Sky via an enclosed overhead bridge, which is nice because prior to this we had to play real-life Frogger while dodging traffic across the multi-lane street outside our building. Waiting in line at Sky has become a bit tedious due to scorching temps, recent sandy days, and near 100% humidity. So lately, I’ve been calling for a personal pickup. Fares are reasonable- the meter starts at 3.50dhs or $1US; calling for door-to-door service doubles that fee, but is well worth keeping my hair from tripling in size and my makeup from melting into my already half-blind eyes.
Once you’re a regular, the whole call process is automated. The company sends a reply text within 10 minutes that includes the driver’s name, mobile number, and ETA. Sometimes the wait is 5 minutes, other times longer. Last Thursday night mine was 15; I decide to wait downstairs in case he’s early. The 15-minute mark passes, then 20. I take out my phone to call the driver and my phone’s ringing. I answer to an automated message: “The driver is waiting at your requested location. Press ‘1’ for the wait to continue. I press ‘1’ and then call the guy’s cell. He insists he’s in front of the building and I insist that, whoa, I too am also in front of the building. So now we kick into Abu Dhabi mode.
Me: “You’re at Arc Tower on Reem Island?”
Him: “Yes, Arc Tower.”
Me: “Are you at the front of the building where the sky bridge is?”
Him: “No, no bridge.”
Me: “Are you in the car park?”
Him: “No, I’m out front.”
Me: “Do you see the three really tall buildings with the penthouse that connects them at the top?”
Him: “Yes, I am there.”
Me: “OK, you’re next door at Gate. If you drive around the corner to the next building you‘ll be at Arc.”
Him: “Ohhhh, yes. I am at Gate. I’ll come to Arc now.”
So he picks me up and then has to call my cell to verify that I’m the person he’s supposed to pick up. Like at that point there was any doubt.
One problem with taxi drivers is that their English isn’t always the best. I know, I know, their English is better than my level of whatever their native language is, so I’m patient. Second, because of the lack of street names and addresses here, you better have some sort of GPS on your phone if you’re unsure of how to reach your destination because odds are they don’t have the tools to help. Third, drivers usually work in 12-hour shifts, so body odor and other smells can easily get trapped in the vehicle, making for a breath-holding ride. You just never know.
This guy began without any strikes against him. He was semi-understandable. I knew he wasn’t a newbie when I informed him that I needed to go to the Park Rotana and he asked, “To Cooper’s?” Good call, my man. And the big bonus… odor-free car.
So I settle in for 15 minutes of “Where you from? Where YOU from? How long have you been here? And you? You teach? You like it here? You have family here?” Pretty much the usual conversation. Meanwhile, I’m slumping in the back seat as he alternates between accelerator and brake, hmmm, maybe three hundred and fifty times. I think I’m gonna be sick.
Part of the reason the roads can get messy is this: Let’s say you’re on a highway that has a posted speed of 100km/h. Generally trucks are allowed to go 80, similar to rules at home. But in Abu Dhabi, if there’s a way to complicate something, it will be done. In a taxi, a verbal warning is triggered if the driver goes over the posted speed (Please slow down. You are “over-speeding.”), but when the speed is 100 km/h, regular cars are allowed to drive 120km/h before hitting the ticket zone. Generally, many traffic problems could be mitigated if faster drivers used the left lanes and slower ones used the right, but that courtesy isn’t practiced here. Throw in 1) those who don’t even hit the posted speed limit and 2) the far-left Emirati lane (for insane speeders who are aware of camera locations and slam on the brakes just before passing them to avoid tickets, then speed back up as quickly as if they never slowed down), and the speeds of cars on a single road can vary by almost 100km/h.

speed tower

speed tower

This guy was a weaver. Like me, he didn’t appear to enjoy driving slowly, so he switched from one lane to the next in an attempt to free us from driving behind those who had no desire to put the pedal to the metal. But every time his over-speeder message came on, he had to slow down. Taxis can be ticketed at any time, not just via the dreaded speed camera.
So it was speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down. Alllll the way there. Blech.
Finally, we reach the hotel. Now, tips here are not expected but they are appreciated. I usually just round up to the nearest bill, whatever that may be. Let’s say my fare is 27dhs; the driver will get 3 (which is about $1US). It’s actually acceptable to give nothing, so 3 is good. The guy’s happy and gives me his card and says I can call him directly in the future. I told myself long ago that I’d befriend a driver who didn’t annoy me. So far nobody has measured up. This one failed with the stop and go technique. It occurred to me that this is a metaphor for another aspect of my life. Yes, it definitely is. But I’m looking on the bright side. I may not have found my steady taxi driver this weekend, but there’s always tomorrow.

Home Sweet Home

Instead of scattering teachers all over the city, our employer has consolidated the city dwellers into the same apartment building. But this isn’t just any building. It’s city living… it’s island living… I’m the first to admit I couldn’t afford to to live this way at home. We’ve been placed in Arc Tower, a twenty-two story, 900-unit high rise on Reem Island in Abu Dhabi. The neighboring building is called Gate Towers. Because everyone uses landmarks as guides, I fondly nicknamed it “The Trip” before I knew the real name because it consists of three high-rises and a “penthouse bridge” that connects the tops of the buildings. Mind you, telling a taxi driver you live next to The Trip doesn’t get you anywhere, but I’m having fun renaming buildings so just play along. We’re also flanked by Sun Tower and Sky Tower. Yep, towers everywhere, and they’re all approximately three times higher than The Arc. The building we’re in is still under construction but there’s a 2nd floor walkway that connects us to Sky Tower. Inside Sky is a smaller “boutique mall” that has restaurants and a grocery store, plus a pharmacy, nail salon, bank, gelato store, coffee shop, etc. It’s not a far walk but everything can also be delivered because that’s just how service is here (and there usually aren’t delivery fees, either).
I haven’t scouted the whole area yet, mostly because I’ve been waiting for deliveries for the past few days, but I’ve managed to discover a few cool features. I have a view of a pool and playground from my apartment and also found another pool about 30m from this one (see? I’m going metric!) with a lazy river adjacent to it. There are also squash, tennis and basketball courts, multiple workout rooms, and a weight room, all included. A construction-laden area where road detours abound, it’s quite a challenging neighborhood to navigate, but within the confines of the Arc it’s heaven.
I live in a brand new, 76.5 sq m (824 sq ft) one bedroom, 1.5 bath apartment with an open kitchen that doesn’t have nearly enough drawer space, a cute breakfast bar, nice living room, small balcony, and tiny laundry area. My bedroom windows don’t open; they’re sandy on the outside but can only be washed by the management company. The door to the balcony opens out like a regular door; it doesn’t have a screen so I’m not sure how feasible it is to think I’ll leave it open in the coming months when the weather is milder. I have a view of downtown Abu Dhabi out both windows that reminds me of how- on a clear day- I have a view of the Chicago skyline out my bedroom window at home.
Now for the game show part of the story: each teacher was given apartment keys, 20,000 dirhams (approx $5,500 US), and five days in which to furnish an apartment. In reality you can take longer than five days but your hotel stay is up at that time, so most of us rushed out to shop. I hate shopping. And $5,500 is not a lot of money when you have to buy EVERYTHING. I bought a queen-size bed, headboard, nightstand, and bookshelf for my bedroom. For the kitchen I decided on a microwave/ convection oven/ grill (it’s fantastic!), a single electric burner, refrigerator, water dispenser, and three bar stools. My living room will consist of a sofa, chair, ottoman, coffee table, side tables, rug, tv stand, and an LG flat screen. I also bought a washer/dryer combo, not stacked, but where the clothes wash and dry in the same drum. Not sure about that purchase yet, but space and money are tight so I made a decision and will hope for the best. A week into this, I’m still waiting on the sofa (it’s on a truck that just can’t seem to get here) and my blasted INTERNET.
So if you need me, you can find me on an island in the desert.. how cool is that??
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The Waiting Game

Do you know when you’re leaving yet?

—- Nooooooo

How come you don’t know when you’re leaving?

—- That’s just the way it works. Stop adding to my anxiety.

The first wave of teachers was brought to Abu Dhabi last week and is currently divided between two hotels; it’s been really exciting to follow their adventures! Thanks to Facebook groups we’re able to connect, ask questions, make plans, complain, and celebrate progress together all day, every day! Orientation gets under way quickly. As an added bonus, teachers who have been in AD for a year or more have set up meet & greets for the new arrivals. They explain some pretty confusing processes, like how to get phones up and running and where to find places such as grocery stores, which definitely helps make the transition a little easier. The first group is now receiving housing assignments and keys, and we’re under the assumption that once they’ve been cleared out of the hotel more of us will be sent our plane tickets. The process seems to vary from year to year though, so nobody knows for sure what’s going on.

I received an email yesterday from my recruiter stating that the 2nd group can expect to go over in approximately two weeks. At least they’re kind enough to throw us a bone and send some sort of update our way, but the problem is that nobody knows who’s in the 2nd group, or how many groups there are for that matter! When our employer processes an entry visa, it’s given to their travel agency, who emails the visa along with a plane ticket. Although many teachers are chomping at the bit, I’m in the minority because I don’t WANT to be in the second group. Kate’s going back to school on Aug 14 and we’re awaiting confirmation from Jenna’s dorm of her Aug 19 move-in date. So, in a perfect world I’d receive a plane ticket to leave on August 21- it that too much to ask?? I know it won’t work out that way; if I’m in the 2nd group I’ll be rushing to leave before the girls are gone and if I’m in the 3rd or 4th group I’ll be sitting at home wondering why I haven’t been called over yet! It’s the stress of not knowing that is causing all my anxiety. Some teachers received 10 days’ notice of their departure but a small number of teachers were only given 24 hours’ notice. My current to-do list will require a minimum 3-day advance notice in order to properly execute my departure; however, once the girls are gone I’ll be ready to fly at any time. I’m so stressed out and need to re-group, so I had to declare today a stay-at-home day, where I’ll busy myself by cleaning the stove and refrigerator, and probably re-organizing some of my packing. It will all work out, as things have a way of doing.

For now, I’ll enjoy spending time with friends, family, my daughters, and my cats for as long as possible! I just popped over to beautiful South Haven MI for a short visit with my friend Robin and I will continue to enjoy this wonderful, mild Chicago summer!

Love Chicago in the summertime!

Love Chicago in the summertime!

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