Monday, August 31, 2009

This past week --

I continued to set-up my classroom and apartment.  I was a bit taken aback by the fact that I had to scrounge around the school property (as we all did) for a computer table, file cabinet, bookshelf, teacher's chair and whatever scraps of well-worn, over-used and often damaged furniture I could find.  This surprised me completely, but I was a true scavenger and found most everything.  You had to put your requests in to the Assistant Principal, Mary Pittman-Jones, and then wait for inaction on the part of the people who were supposed to find you stuff, build you stuff or move stuff to your room.  I don't know how Mary does it -- dealing with Ramadan and the shutdown of workers' energy.  
I waited only so long and then took matters into my own hands.  I trolled the kindergarten area and found they were getting rid of lots of stuff so I spoke up and got what I needed.  The problem was that noone was reading my sticky notes on everything asking it be moved to my classroom. CAN YOU SAY "JARBEEG"!!!!!!!  You better be Jarbeeg here or just pack up and go home!!! Others complain a lot that they cannot get anything done -- they are correct and have every right to complain.  I complain and then try to do it myself and network the right people to help me.  It has worked quite well so far.

My classroom was loaded with 10-12 boxes that I had to unload and sort out.  I spent last week doing this plus setting up my classroom and attending meetings.  I shop most nights to get things I need for my apartment and my classroom.  I finally put up a new shower curtain and bath mat yesterday -- I had to get rid of the gross stuff that was in place for me.

Last week, I bought a TV and DVD for my bedroom so I can have some level of privacy from Heidi and Tony.  Speaking of which, Heidi has improved a bit, but she is hot and cold -- a bit moody -- Tony continues to be a great roommate.

I visited the Emirates Palace Hotel on the weekend -- this 7 star hotel is magnificant!!  There was a display showing a new development called Sadiyat Island.  There will be a branch of the Guggenheim museum, the Louvre from Paris, a cultural centre, a Maritime museum and other fantastic development.  The architecture is very cutting-edge and quite remarkable since this whole area was one large desert 30 years ago.  Sheik Zayed struck oil and had the foresight to bring modernity and development to the region.  His son, Sheik Khalifa is the president of all 7 emirates and he rules Abu Dhabi -- his brother, Sheik Muhommad rules Dubai.  The majority of the oil money is in Abu Dhabi and recently, Dubai has experienced a downturn in their economy and has been borrowing $ from Abu Dhabi.  

This past weekend I had only 1 day of fun (Friday) and I had dinner at my new friend, Bianca's apartment.  I take taxis everywhere and have ridden the bus just once so far.  The bus gives seating preference to women and this is visibly posted and enforced.  My friend Bianca has an amazing and beautiful apartment with no roommate.  She is so lucky.  She tried to work for AISA, but eventually took a position with Sheik Zayad Private Girl's Academy.  Her apartment is what I thought mine would look like and she loves her new and beautiful school.  She could not believe I had to hunt down my classroom furniture.  Her school is shiny and new and has a pool and she says it is fantastic.  She is so happy she accepted this teaching position.  More $, great apartment and school.  Her school seems very well equipped and so far she has no compaints.  She has been in training and does not start school until September 6.  She even got paid at the end of August for 2 weeks.  Our school is not paying us at the end of August for 2 weeks, instead we have to wait until the end of September for 6 weeks pay.  Many teachers are not happy with this because they need the 2 weeks pay now to survive on.

The 2nd day of my weekend, I went to school at 9:00 and stayed until 4:00 working on my classroom setup.  A 1 day weekend is not what I expect every weekend, but I felt better being on top of everything in my classroom.

I finally purchased a few things at IKEA for my apartment.  Half the battle has been looking for the things I need for the apartment.  Looking for different styles of items that will suit the space I have and, of course, checking prices at different stores.  I have no drawers of shelves in my bathroom and bought a white 3 shelf cabinet with an etched glass door.  I also bought a package of 4 funky mirrors to tape to my wall length-wise to make a full length mirror.

I have found a wardrobe and TV table at another store, but they are out of stock and I have to continually be checking to see if they get any stock in "coffee" colour -- not mahogony.  It is sometimes hard with the language barrier in the stores because all the sales people are Indian/Pakistani.

OK -- enough of this past week -- I will start a new post to talk about my first day today as an official teacher.  

Monday, August 24, 2009

Let's catch up on news and updates!!!

It's been sometime since my last post because I cannot get my internet up and running.  Don't worry, I have not forgotten all of you and run off with a wealthy shiek -- yet!!!

Let me jump back to the day of my travel and initial arrival into the United Arab Emirates.

FLIGHT  --  
My flight from Detroit to Amsterdam was quit peaceful.  I had a window seat and no one sitting next to me -- fabulous!  I watched 2 movies and did light reading.  Upon arrival into Amsterdam, I made my way to the gate and waited about 2 hours before boarding for Abu Dhabi.  The flight to Abu Dhabi was quite full and I was rather restless due to the close quarters.  Watched another movie and continued reading all my rag-mags.  Hollywood gossip magazines are perfect "no-brainer" reading for such a flight.  I was glad to arrive and stretch my legs.

The mosaic tile work in the airport was the same as it was 26 years ago when I landed here on my way to Sri Lanka.  My carry-on bag was soooooooo heavy and my other bags were, as you know, over the top as far as their weight.  It was fairly  quick to clear customs as I had my work visa already prepared and waiting for me.  You have to have an eye scan before you enter the country.  There was a large group of new teachers arriving (I think around 22 of us) and the AISA administration staff (principals, etc.) were there to greet us.  Pretty hassle free -- thank goodness!!

Can you say "hotter than hades"!!!!  When I left the airport, I had to gasp for air.  It was like a wave of heat hitting me like a brick wall.  Asthma sufferers would die here.  I regulated my breathing and we were all taken to small buses to transport us to our apartments.  I paid a luggage attendant to load my bags onto a trolley and the male teachers loaded them onto the bus -- they all commented on the weight. 

 There are several different apartment buildings that the teachers are living in.  My particular apartment building is called "Pioneer" and there are several teachers in this particular building.  It is located in a great part of the city called "Khalidiyah".  There is a mall (Khalidiyah Mall) located behind my building -- about a 2 minute walk -- how lucky was that!!!!!  I often walk over to the mall to get all my supplies, groceries and stuff for my apartment -- it is really convenient.  You get accustomed to the heat and you are actually in the heat infrequently -- everything is air-conditioned very cool -- I love that!
My first night in, I was a bit disappointed with the apartment.  It is spacious, but the furnishings were rather "university student" IKEA looking.   I have since grown accustomed to it and find it quite comfortable.  My bedroom is roomy and I have my own bath with a stall shower. The baths tend to get a bit moldy due to the heat and humidity, but nothing drastic. 

MY ROOMMATES (2 of them) --  
My roommate, Heidi Hawkins, is a very outspoken and a "tell-it-like-it-is" kind of gal.  She is extremely articulate and bright, but a little aggressive in her tone and delivery.  She comes with a fiance who also lives with us.  Since I do not want to start off on the wrong foot and want to be flexible, I told them I did not have a problem with the arrangement.  The truth of the matter is that I quite like him.  His name is Tony and he is a British engineer.  He is very pleasant and respectful in his exchanges with me.  He is warm and very welcoming towards me.  He is the sensitive warmth that buffers his other half -- I think my living arrangements will be more palatable with him around to tone down Heidi.  That being said, she does have her moments of warmth and welcome -- moments.

MY SCHOOL -- THE AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF ABU DHABI --  (AISA) as it is known is about 14 years old.  It is a tad rundown, in comparison to some of the new, shiny schools, but I like it.  My classroom is a bit small, but I will make do.  The director of the school, Gareth Jones, is a great man and his wife, Mary Pittman-Jones is the assistant principal for the elementary grades.  She is very approachable and warm.  On the other hand, the elementary principal, Dr. Robert Evans, is a young American with a PhD in educational administration.  He is direct and not warm and fuzzy at all.  He reminds me of a Republican General with his direct delivery and fast talking.  I think I will like him.  Apparantly he has a Republican tatoo on his leg???  I have not seen it, but heard -- should be interesting.  The school is undergoing construction of a new elementary gym -- they already have a secondary gym.  They are also constructing a new canteen (cafateria).  Construction moves very slowly as do many things in this country.  All the work is done by Indian and Pakistani labourers and there is a definite language barrier with them.  

They love their malls!!!  The main mall is called "Marina Mall" and it is huge and beautiful.  Emirati love to shop and just hang out at the malls because it is cool and something to do.   I shop at a store called LuLu's which is like a Walmart and Zehrs combined.  It is 2 floors and has most things you need.  Another similar store is called "Carrfour" and right next store to this is IKEA.  Most grocery items are written in Arabic and English.  I have found virtually everything I need except a curling iron.  I brought a brand new one from home and it will not work here because the voltage is 220 vs. our Canadian voltage of 120.  A new curling iron will cost me approx. 280 dirhams which is about $95.00 dollars!!!  Everyone here uses a straightener for their hair so curling irons are a novelty item and more expensive.  I am still setting up my space in the apartment, which is mostly my bedroom.  I will buy a tv and a dvd player for my bedroom so I can have privacy from Heidi and Tony.  I really don't mind at all.

I have met many new people from everywhere.  There is a good showing of Canadians and Americans, but we also have Australians (Aussies), New Zealanders (Kiwis) and South Africans.  There are people from all over the world here and my fellow teachers are very experienced travellers who have been to so many places.  A few of them have taught in China, England, South Korea, etc.  Most are experienced teachers as well.  The age is generally younger than myself -- around 25-30 years. -- but there are also some 40 and 50 something age group.  Everyone is friendly on a superficial level so far.  It will take some time to really get to know people and make true friends.

"Ramadan Kareem" is the greeting of good wishes to those celebrating Ramadan.  The fast begins at sunrise with the first call to prayer.  No food or drink all day until the sun sets and the call to prayer signals you can break the fast.  It is heard across the city over the prayer loudspeakers.  At that time, everyone has an "iftar" meal which breaks the fast and they load up on food and drink.  They reverse their schedules, kind of like being on a midnight shift.  Day becomes night and night becomes day due to the obligatory fast and prayer.  We will have a special Ramadan school schedule and some of our students may not even show up right away.   We are not permitted to eat or drink publicly during this month -- no public water bottles.  You are also not allowed to chew gum or listen to loud music.  You are asked to dress respectfully with your shoulders covered, but not your entire arm.  I find it all very fascinating and hope to attend an iftar meal during the month.

The curriculum is very interesting, but somewhat complicated.  I am not thinking about it just yet as I am trying to set-up my classroom and get everything ready for an Open House we are having this Thursday.  I will have 19 students and some may come and go throughout the year.  The International Baccelaureate program for elementary school is called "Primary Years Program".  There are strict guidelines of material to cover and the philosophy is very "hands-on" for the students.  There are ongoing meetings to discuss curriculum guidelines and smaller team meetings with the 5 grade 4 teachers will happen regularly to plan units of learning and methods of teaching.  You can do your own thing within the units of learning so there is an element of freedom and creativity for the teacher.

I had the pleasure of being toured around Abu Dhabi by Doug Bowsher, a native of South Windsor who even went to elementary school, St. Hubert, with my sister Mary Belle.  Such a small world.  He was an excellent tour guide showing me the Emirates Palace, the beach, his school, Abu Dhabi University, which is beautiful, etc.  He even allowed me to drag him to the  Marina Mall and shopped with me to help set me up.  Such a patient man -- he shopped with me for hours!!!!  He is really an excellent resource helping me figure things out and get my footing.

OK -- that is quite an update, I will try to post each week with news and continued information about my life in Abu Dhabi.  I will also try to email some of you directly.  So sorry to have not responded to many of you, but my computer troubles have interfered with communication.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Let the Games Begin!!!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009 -- Today is the big day. I started the day with church with my mom and dad. Saying good-bye to my fabulous family was so bittersweet. Gayle picked me up and my brothers loaded all my "stuff". My gregarious clan hooted and waved from the front lawn as we drove away. We picked up Linda and Kathryn and headed to Detroit for a little pre-flight shopping. I was able to load up on cockroach traps and a few snacks for the long journey.

We arrive at the airport and I have Jason helping me with my bags. I ask him quietly how he would like a nice crisp $50.00 bill. He wants the dough!!! First of all, I get charged $150.00 for the extra bag which is 75 lbs. He then tells me that each overweight bag (approx. 100 lbs. each) will cost $150.00 per bag. Grand total of $450.00. He double checks with the big-bosses inside the airport and he delivers the good news that I will only be charged $250.00 total. He earns his $50.00 bill -- he is thrilled!! We take curbside pictures -- hooray, my bags are checked to Abu Dhabi.

Inside I get slightly detained at customs to get the lesson on how to put my laptop through the xray machine. The customs officer is so friendly I ask to take a picture with him. He has to get permission from his boss, who grants permission. I am then asked to fill out a customer comment card which I obligingly complete.

My adventure has officially begun with 2 pictures to be posted soon with the baggage guy and the customs guy. It is 4:15 p.m. and my flight to Amsterdam leaves at 5:40 p.m. Thank goodness I have several "rag mags" to read -- such a treat!! And so it begin.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Time Has Come!!

It's Saturday, August 15, the day before I depart for Abu Dhabi.  I am sitting at The Social Bean with my brothers and sister.  My bags weigh over 85 lbs each -- 3 of them!!!!  Go big or go home!!  My Gravol- induced sleeps every night have been fabulous.  Each day has had me running around Windsor on errands, lunching with friends and saying my good-byes (so sad).  I am ready to begin my adventure in the United Arab Emirates.   Stay tuned for news, stories and photos.   You will all be with me on this journey!!