Saturday, September 19, 2009

Oman what an Iftar!

Photo captions:
1. Dancing fountain at Emirate's Palace. I have more pictures, but blogspot won't let me upload them right now! Anyhow, the fountain pours from the ceiling and can create designs, images, even words!
2. Returning from Oman, Driver fancied some fruit.
3. Some of the sand here has the most exquisite red color swirled in with the buff color. Will try to get an up-close picture for ya!
4 & 5. Austere Oman
6. Well, this just makes me giggle! And it sends me into a 'snake eating its own tail' logic spiral: dirt is good because it keeps Omo in business, I guess, but if it's so good, why wash at all?!
7. This graffiti is in my 'hood, yo. I love the Gorillaz' music and this scrawl was like a little dose of home!
8. I need the lease-to-own false work solution. Is that an option?
9. An unusually sentimental construction site wall.
10. Here we have Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan. By the way, it's pronounced like the word "shake"; this was news to me! This gigantic light-up signboard is testament to the love citizens here have for their Sheikhs. They are pictured all over the city usually in relaxed, genial poses like this. I was struck by the implications of a government portraying their leaders as approachable, in stark contrast to the way American leaders are shown. The dimensions of this tribute are astounding - did you see the person in the bottom left corner?

11 September 2009

As I write this, I am returning to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi from the Sultanate of Oman. I entered the UAE on a visitor’s visa because the school did not yet have my papers in order and this 6 hour trip had to be made simply to cross a border and get a stamp in my passport. The countryside here is stunning. Craggy hills in dusky rose-red, gold, and buff abound and march into the distance. It looks very much like parts of New Mexico (Las Cruces, specifically) if you just switch out cactus for palms and adobe for onion tops. The visa bureau was a familiar, Kafkaesque experience. Long lines, bored and unfriendly civil servants, and

!gasp! I just saw my first camel in its natural environment!! A whole group of ‘em, in fact! What is the proper term for a camel crowd? A herd? A pack? A gang? (did the research: they’re a caravan, flock, or train) I can’t wait to go to the camel races…

no toilet paper whatsoever. As an added bonus to help curb any homesickness, they added the sound of continuous jackhammering to the experience. The sounds of construction were a lovely counterbalance to the constant beeping in the car as we drive back and forth. Most cars here have a feature similar to a governor to keep you from speeding. When the driver goes over 120kph it makes a sound like a garbage truck backing up, relentlessly. Not exactly a governor, more of a nagging mayor…

19 September 2009

The week improved after the trip to Oman, I'm happy to report. That night a group of us teacher types went to the Emirate's Palace Hotel for the decadent Iftar dinner offered there. Iftar refers to the traditional fast-breaking feast given in homes and restaurants during Ramadan. The room we were in was referred to as a "tent" but, as you can see in the background of the fountain pictured above, that is akin to calling this MacBook Pro I'm writing on a "pencil". White linen tablecloths and sterling silverware, soups, salads, bread, main courses, and desserts with gold shavings were the fare that evening and I packed as much in as I could hold! ok, the tablecloths and silverware weren't fare... Anyway, it was a lovely atmosphere and I had a great time being transfixed by that incredible fountain. They had so many displays programmed into it, I thought I could've watched all night and they wouldn't have gone through the whole cycle. I also enjoyed smoking shisha for the first time. Shisha is

noun an oriental tobacco pipe with a long flexible tube connected to a container where the smoke is cooled by passing through water; is a device wherein smoke is passed through water and inhaled from a long tube and it is also the name for the aromatic tobacco you smoke. Ours was grape-flavored!

School went well this week, as smoothly as things can when you're only 3 weeks in with an upcoming, week-long vacation distracting everyone from the business at hand. I feel like I'm developing some wonderful rapport with my students and colleagues. The kids are really terrific, although classroom management is tough in such a sardine can of a classroom. I've made some progress with putting the Smartboard to use. It's potential as an educational tool is fantastic and I hope to begin to realize it, I just need some curtains in my room of 5 large windows, so that the wonders of the Smartboard can be seen.

Eid al Fitr will start soon. When the moon gives the go-ahead, Ramadan will be Ramadone (credit to Chandra for that wordplay) and I'll finally get to see what normalcy is like 'round these parts. I definitely suffered some dehydration symptoms from not being able to drink water for most of the day. I also found it hard to wait until 8:30 at night to get access to certain stores. But at least I wasn't fasting! Some of my students were doing their best to fast and I'm eager to see if regular meals and bedtimes help with their attentiveness. Seems like a no-brainer that a ten year needs those things... In spite of being privy to tales of travel plans to Nepal, Greece, England, and Oman, I decided to stay here for the holiday. It made my head swim to think of trying to plan another trip when I hadn't wholly emptied the suitcases from the flight here and so many things are still up in the air. Instead, I plan to dig in a bit, visit the Grand Mosque, set up SCUBA lessons, go to the beach some more, visit Dubai again, begin volunteering with Strays of Abu Dhabi (SAD), and get my hair cut. "That'll do, pig!" Interesting side note: I could not share the movie 'Babe' with my students if I was so inclined because it involves the possible eating of a pig. Ditto for 'Charlotte's Web'.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Quasi-Princess Diary

Photo Captions:

1. The Burj al Arab gleams in the distance
2. One of the palm fronds (reclaimed island/ peninsula/ billionaire 'hood)
3. Dubai architecture is so pretty
4. Good thing I snapped this shot of the Burj al Arab before the bus driver squished it
5. The Burj Dubai, tallest building in the world. I like how the street sign seems to be referring to the vertical nature of the thing...
6, 7, 8. Mannequins are extra creepy here for some reason...
9. The aquarium in Dubai Mall. Largest sheet of glass in the world.
10. My toes at the pool
11. Cool window design on the building across the way
12. Looking up from the pool to the 46th floor and beyond!
13. Saad's sweet Norwegian Forest Cat, Kitty
14, 15. Swanky shots of the slightly better accommodations I enjoyed for the weekend
16. Pretty wall mosaic at the Shangri La, Dubai
17, 18. "1000 Flowers" Persian rug. Literally 1000 hand-knotted flowers.
19. Me and the bucking bronco Arabian horse statue, Dubai Mall
20. Nadeen and Alison in a mother of pearl inlaid throne, Dubai Mall
21, 22. Some goofball in front of the 3 story high waterfall, Dubai Mall
23. The ice skating rink in the mall
24. The Emirates Towers
25. Aerial view of the pool from the apt.
26. Arch by "The Address", a nightclub
27. Large, intriguing artwork
28, 29. Isn't it comforting to know that Ramadan mall decorations are just as tacky as Christmas mall decorations?
30. She's crushing your head? Fixing to give you a purple nurple? See comment for 6, 7, 8....

September 5, 2009

This week saw two fun and happy experiences for me: I began working with my new class and I went to Dubai for the first time. I’ll start with the most important.

So, Dubai is….just kidding! I have my priorities straight.

I have an incredibly sweet class of 9, 10, and 11 year olds. There are 19 kids on my class list, but 2 girls have not shown up yet. So far, they all seem incredibly well-behaved and well-traveled! A class poll revealed that the 15 kids present that day (the day after an announcement of a confirmed swine flu case in the school) were born in 7 different countries between them. Let’s see if I can remember the list –UAE, USA, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Guatemala, and hmmm, I’m missing one. Next test of my memory is their names. By the 3rd day, I had them memorized, but I still need to work on the pronunciations and forget about the last names! I haven’t even begun to crack that nut. We’ve got Ashwin, Asly, Diana, David, Do, Min, Sumayah, Hamda, Hagar, Zeo (my favorite name, hands down!), Mohamed, Belahl, Vadin, Mansoor, Fares, Khaled, Farah, and Farila. Hmmm, that’s only 18, but I don’t have the class list handy and you get the idea anyway. We played a game using adjectives and then put an alliterative adjective on a star for the class bulletin board and some of my favorites are: Kooky Khaled, Major Mansoor, and Zippy Zeo! Yeah, we’re having fun. They seem to be a pretty bright bunch, but I will definitely have to use what I’ve learned about scaffolding the curriculum for English Language Learners and differentiation in ways I’ve never had to before. I love the challenge, though, and I’ve found that many of my favorite methods and approaches to lessons translate to regular ed. (as opposed to gifted ed.) with just some minor tweaking.

Directly after getting home Thursday afternoon (the new Friday for me) Alison and I packed for a weekend in Dubai. We were picked up by a super sweet and funny Lebanese guy named Hussein and ferried to Dubai by BMW. Alison is quite the score as far as roommates go, I’m finding. She has connections galore. That, plus influence, is what they call “wasta” around here and I benefited from it this weekend! After Hussein dropped us off, we met Ali’s good friend from New York, a Pakistani guy named Saad. We hopped in his sexy blue Jaguar and headed to a lovely 46th floor apartment with a view of the gulf with the world islands visible off in the distance. Saad is in the banking business and very good at it, it would seem. He also has great taste in art and music, in my humble opinion.

Both nights in Dubai were spent out on the town and it is interesting to see how differently Ramadan registers there. Where Abu Dhabi practically shuts down until nightfall, Dubai maintains a semblance of normalcy. I’m guessing it has to do with the level of activity that comprises the norm, before the dilution that is Ramadan. I appreciated the relaxed atmosphere in Dubai, as I have been feeling that I must act unnaturally reserved while in public in A.D. I found people to be quite friendly, intelligent, and fantastically worldly.

The architectural creativity there is unbelievable and the growth is even more frenetic than Abu Dhabi’s. I felt like I was in the middle of a Doozer village. (You know, the construction-happy little guys on Fraggle Rock…) A mainstay of the conversation this past weekend was The State of the Economy, possibly more of a concern for Dubaians because the city is founded on largesse. I did not have a chance to gawk up close at many of the fabulous attractions, such as the Burj Dubai (tallest building in the world) or the Burj al Arab (7 star hotel shaped like a sail with tennis court helipads…didn’t even know the scale went up to seven stars!). But I guess now I have a reason (or 50) to return.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Photo captions: 1. I just wish Koolaid could adjust to his new sad.
2 & 3. Some shots in the Emirates Palace Hotel -down the hallway to the rooms, and a poster advertising the Louvre exhibit
4. Something childish in me snickers at "Ghantoot" every time I see it...heh heh, ghantoot.
5, 6, 7, 8. Views out front of the Emirates Palace. #7 is blurry because of the temp/ humidity differential between indoors and out. This happens to my camera lens and sunglasses on a daily basis.
9. A view down the schwanky stairs.

10, 11, & 12. Me and the Jumbled Mess ~aka~ the Guggenheim model
13. Interior Em. Palace
14. The exquisite dome!
15. My exquisite living room! Courtesy of IKEA
16. The mosque just across the way, supplier of decible-generous calls to prayer
17. Examples of ads on the main drag. Don't know what they're selling... but I want it!!

29 August 2009
So the first day of school is inching ever closer. I keep trying to envision myself working with the class, having all of those necessary start-of-the-year conversations. But I really don’t know what to expect! How difficult will the ESL factor be? How long will it take me to get the schedule straight? How ~in the world~ are all those 5th graders going to fit in a room half the size of what I’m used to?? Also, I was blessed/cursed with 14(!) large boxes of stuff, mostly art supplies, left behind by the woman I’m essentially replacing. I’ve been working to dole out the goodies to those around the school who can use them (think hoarder/ packrat level of stuff-collecting), but it’s a bit mind-boggling to me to consider why someone would think that they needed 1500 drinking straws and 30 pints of paint…actually, come to think of it, those two items could make for a really fun and extremely messy art project….yeah, probably a terrible idea…

30 August 2009
I went to the Emirates Palace Hotel twice on Saturday. The first trip was with two fellow teachers and one of their friends who Actually Has a Car. We wandered around the immense puh-lace, gawking at the soaring domes and terraced fountains. The exhibit on Saadiyat Island explained the plans for developing this manmade island attached to the island of Abu Dhabi city. Saadiyat will be a cultural center with a maritime museum and branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim museums. The developers paid 3.5 billion dollars for these prestigious names and Frank Gehry himself designed the Guggenheim building. My friend/coworker, Loretta, was not impressed by the model of the ‘Gug’. She kept calling it a “jumbled mess”. I’m willing to bet that the actual building will pack a bit more of a visual punch! The aesthetics of the new Louvre seem to be better appreciated from the inside than without. From the air, it looks like a low, flat mushroom of sorts. But the projected interior experience…it looks simply heavenly! Geometrically pierced layers form a dome that allows natural sunlight to stream in and light the place. They’ll use an open floor plan, allow the gulf waters to lap right up under the dome, and whitewash everything for a light and airy effect. It looks quite captivating! I think the projected finish date is 2012.

I returned to the Emirates Palace later that same day with my roommate, Alison. (more on her later (only good stuff, of course!)) We checked out the exhibit featuring ancient religious artifacts of Islam. What a beautiful display of textiles, metal works, fine calligraphy, gold leaf, tooled wood, etc.! All the curlicues, velvet, tassels, and sumptuous colors make for a very satisfying cultural experience. The reverence these objects have had bestowed upon them is palpable. We also checked out the super schwanky bar in the the E-Palace and treated ourselves to 50 dirham apiece drinks. (1 dollar = 3.68 dirhams, so 50 dirhams = over $13) We savored our pricey beverages and headed out.

My roommate finally showed up last Wednesday and I think I’ve had a bit of luck! She and I seem to get along very well and have a few important things in common. We are the same age, both vegetarians and animal lovers, have an eye (or two) for fashion and enjoy good coffee and loud(ish) music. She just introduced me to two new-to-me fruits from southeast Asia: dragonfruit and rambutan, both tasty and oddly beautiful. She puts up with my cats with good humor and is planning to bring her Chihuahua, Charles, here in November. We’re going to make extra cash by opening a petting zoo.

Speaking of extra cash, it seems that teachers can be hired to tutor the children of the royal family at the palace. I might have to do this just for the bragging rights! I mean, how often in life can you say that you moonlight at a palace?

School starts tomorrow so I think I’ll post what I have here. Past experience has taught me that the beginning of school tends to obliterate my previous train of thought. I may remember that I was in the process of writing a blog in a couple of weeks, but I have pictures that I want to share now.