Archives for January 2010

Destination: Thailand (GIVEAWAY!)

A bit of excitement.

Tomorrow I’m off to Thailand to not only celebrate surviving the first semester but also my 25th birthday!

What a great time for a blog giveaway!

So in honor of these 2 momentous events I’m willing to do something I thought I’d never do: Share my Tutku!

Tutku on the beach

That’s right, the winner of this lovely blog giveaway will receive in the mail my favorite novelty snack… plus a few extras.

All you have to do is:
1. Leave a comment anywhere on the blog with the word Tutku in brackets, like so: [Tutku]
2. Tell 1 person something neat about Abu Dhabi. Like, “Hey, did you know that people in Abu Dhabi drive incredibly fast yet walk incredibly slow?” You could even just give a mini geography lesson and tell a friend where AD is located!
3. Enter as many times as you like.

I’ll compile the comments in order and select a winner with a random number generator.

Contest closes on my birthday February 9th at 4:44pm Abu Dhabi time (4:44am PST).

xo, jill

The (new) nest.

Blame it on the mortar and pestle.

Finally, nearly two months after my move across town, I’m able to post a few photos. My last apartment was a nice enough place. I liked it pretty well. But then I saw where my friends were placed, Asfar. Not only were their apartments a bit larger than mine, they came with a mortar and pestle. How neat! I immediately sent an email out to see if I could trade. Lucky for me, a teacher in Asfar was interested in moving to my building. His school was almost visible from my balcony.

Really, all that the swap required was a quick phone call to each building. But… considering who I work for it wasn’t that easy. After 3+ in person visits, several pleading emails, and a few phone calls… we decided to take charge and just move. That worked pretty well until I had completely moved out of my apartment and tried to move into the other teacher’s. I’m standing there with my life shoved into the back of my Yaris as the front desk clerk tells me I’m not authorized to live there. A few more emails, a few more phone calls, and me using my “I’m really irritated but I’m going to try to be nice to you voice” … and I had the keys.

This is the new place. Less natural light. Bigger kitchen. Bigger bed. A bit cozier.

My new apartment

My new apartment

My new apartment

I wasn’t too fond of the furniture but luckily I found a good deal on some replacements. Totally me, right?


xo, jill

Top 5 reasons why I love my students.

That pesky day job, again.

5. They care about each other.

My girls!

Even though my students are constantly tattling on each other, hitting each other, and spitting out nasty sounding Arabic phrases… they really care about each other. Our school is small and the girls have all been in the same class together since kindergarten. The minute one of them starts crying for whatever reason… a swarm of girls is around her to give her comfort. If one girl forgets her lunch, the others all give her food. If a student can’t communicate her needs to me, the girls who speak better English step in to help. Students ask if they can bring homework to their friends when they are sick. One girl missed several weeks of school to receive an operation in America. The girls were so protective of her place in the class that they would point out her empty desk to me… just in case I forgot? When she returned to school the students brought her huge wrapped gifts. When you don’t understand the verbal communication, you have the opportunity to observe all the other ways people demonstrate their love for each other.

4. They care about their siblings.

My girls!

Families in the UAE are large. I mean, large. My students tell me, “Ms. Jill…3 brothers and 4 sisters.” “…2 brothers and 5 sisters!” … If you’re counting that’s 8 kids… and it’s not unusual. Naturally this means most of my students have siblings at our school. My girls will walk around hand in hand with their younger brothers and sisters. They even proudly bring their siblings into my classroom each morning to shake my hand. It’s pretty cute. Sometimes at home you see the younger sibling cling to the older sibling, but this is different. It’s definitely not like the time in first grade when Ryan H. said he would pull my hair until my sister and her friends turned off their music on the playground and my sister said that she wasn’t going to let a first grader tell her (a third grader) what to do. Not like that at all, Jana!

3. They are exceptionally smart and love to learn.

My girls!

Last week I introduced the segment “Help Ms. Jill Count in Arabic” to my students. We had a little time to kill. Um, it’s kind hard. I’ve mastered 1, 2, and 5… but 3 and 4 always escape me! Then sitting and listening to my girls help each other with subtraction problems in both English and Arabic caused me to stop for a moment. Really, I’m astonished. These girls come to me for two hours a day, listen to me speak entirely in English (with just a few Arabic sprinkles), and they are learning. They are really actually learning and improving. Our progress is slow… but it’s real.

2. They really love their country.

My girls

I’m in no danger of forgetting where I live. My students would never let that happen. Anytime the colors red, green, white, and black appear my students say, “Teacher! UAE!” I have a banner of the Skeiks in my room, “Teacher! UAE!” We have a small flag above the light switch, “Teacher! UAE!” … You can give my students any shape, any shape at all, and they will transform it into the UAE flag. (Almost a party trick.) It’s a nice change of pace to be surrounded by people who are so proud of where they come from. In fact, my favorite part of the day is watching my girls sing the national anthem. They sing it every morning in very tight militaristic lines. A few of them sing so hard I’m surprised they don’t fall over, face first. Pretty adorable.

1. They really really really love me!

My girls!

Children tend to like me. We get along pretty well. But my girls this year… love me. I mean, really really love me. It’s not uncommon for a girl to get out of her chair in the middle of a lesson, hug me around the waist, and say, “Ms. Jill… I… love…you!” Last week I had to lift a girl down from a chair where she was standing and singing the Ms. Jill song into a marker. (It goes like this, “Ms. Jill, Ms. Jill, Ms. Jill… Ms. Jill…”) Today a girl stopped my lesson to point out to me that she had a hair pin in her hair, just like me! And when I put a girl’s ponytail into a topknot like mine, she didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the morning. It’s incredibly flattering that these very bright and beautiful girls think I’m someone special. I kinda think they’re pretty great too.

xo, jill

Sorry for the creeptastic blurred faces… we’ve got privacy and modesty issues.

Saying hello to familiar faces.

Like, my family!

When my aunt and uncle and I all realized we’d be in a similar corner of the world this January, we got to scheming. They were set to visit a school in Cochin, India… and I, of course, am in Abu Dhabi. As luck (and a bit of finagling) would have it, their returning layover brought them to the great city of Dubai for 2 days.

Familiar Faces

Last Wednesday I was especially grateful for my lax teaching schedule. I finished my classes at 9:35am and was granted permission to skedaddle so I could meet up with my family. The plan was for my aunt and uncle to hire a car to take them the 2 hours or so to Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately, their flight was delayed and we weren’t able to spend as much time together as expected. I was able to show them about town (Corniche, Emirates Palace, my apartment, traffic!, etc.) a bit before they headed back to Dubai for some much needed rest.

The following afternoon Molly and I drove up to Dubai to meet them (and their friend Duane) for dinner. After dinner we checked out the newly renamed Burj Khalifa and the light show.

Burj KhalifaDubai Mall

It was so nice (and a bit surreal) to have two of my very favorite people in my little stretch of the world. Oh, familiar hugs!

Familiar Faces

Love and marriage, Emirati style.

Not the occasion for a little black dress.

When I first met one of my Arab co-workers back in September, she told me her sister was getting married in December. “You will come.” I was very flattered to receive an invitation but didn’t want to get my hopes up. For us, wedding invitations go to close friends and family. I didn’t want her family to feel obligated to accommodate the new teacher.

Skip ahead to early December. My co-worker now spoke of the wedding in terms of how tired she was preparing for her sister. This time she said, “You will come?” full of hope and a tinge of pleading. It was clear that she really wanted me (and my Western co-worker) to attend.

For us, the festivities began a few days before the wedding at the Henna Party. You might assume that the highlight of a “henna” party would be the henna. Well, it’s not. The bride has been hennaed from her feet to her knees and fingertips to shoulders. Many Emirati families bring henna artists in from India for this special job. Unfortunately, when the bride finally appears at the party (near the end of the evening), every inch of her skin is covered, including her face. The bride wears a beautiful traditional white dress with a thick intricate belt. Her family dances her into the room to the beat of traditional drumming. The guests gather around clapping and making that “lalalalala” tribal noise (for lack of better description). The food is traditional Arab dishes featuring lamb or goat on a bed of rice. At this point, the guests begin to disperse. It’s at least 11 o’clock on a weekday evening.

Now, my Western co-worker and I didn’t know what exactly we were supposed to wear to a henna party… so naturally, we asked. We were told to wear nice clothes but not really fancy clothes. Really fancy clothes are worn to the wedding. I scoured the malls looking for something to wear and settled on a very classic little black dress. Let me tell you. I found the one occasion where the LBD is NOT appropriate. Picture me: black dress, black tights, black shoes. Picture them: Technicolor ball gowns sparkling with jewels and cleavage. Um. The one plus for me was that my Western co-worker wore slacks. I looked out of place. She looked like the waitstaff.

A few days later we arrived at the wedding better prepared for the lavishness we would witness. The wedding is for women only and takes place in a huge wedding hall built by the government. Acknowledging the tendency for Emirati weddings to get gigantic… the late Sheik Zayed built a marriage hall in each town, free for use by the local people.

Inside tables are spread around the hall with a catwalk leading up to the stage. On the catwalk are women of all ages dancing in amazing gowns of all colors. These are opulent, lavish, over the top dresses. Jewels. Bows. Sparkles. Ruffles. Lace. Cleavage all over the place. Of course, these women wear the makeup to match. I was so tempted to take photos but culture and modesty do not permit it. After much singing by a live female entertainer (wearing a dress that had a cut out over her buttocks!), the bride arrived looking beautiful and a bit bewildered. For this ceremony she wore a Western styled wedding dress… but of course, bedazzled. Eventually, as much of the guests are leaving, her husband and his family arrive. The couple stand on stage together for photos while the remaining guests eat cake. As the night ends, the wedding party follows the couple to their hotel honking their horns and flashing their lights.

Both experiences were unlike any other. I still can’t entirely fathom the opulence of the occasion. I mean, really. I’m so thankful for the hospitality of my Arab co-worker!

This is what I wore to the wedding and believe me, I was still vastly under dressed.

Emirati WeddingEmirati Wedding

xo, jill

Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Or something like that.

Back to our sojourn to Ras Al-Khaimah for the new year…

After exploring the museum for as long as possible, Molly and I were ready to check out the hikes in the area. However, true to UAE form, it couldn’t be that easy. We wanted to explore in Wadi Bih, which is noted as “the Grand Canyon of the UAE”. We were mentally preparing for grueling hikes crossing us over into Oman and back again. That’s when I noticed one key piece of information. Officials closed this particular UAE/Oman border to non-Nationals 2 years ago! Oops. Guess not!

See… the information printed online by the tourism authority didn’t mention the lack of passage for foreigners. Luckily, the off-road guide (Thanks Frances!) had several highlighted warnings sprinkled through the pages. I just didn’t see them…

Alors, we needed to find something else to do. After a bit of deliberation we decided to check out Jazirat Al Hamra. This is how the tourism authority described it:

Jazirat al-Hamra (Red Island) is the last authentic and traditional town still standing in the UAE. Once a small island, its inhabitants subsisted on maritime and pearling trading before they abandoned their houses in the middle of the 20th Century, when the rush to modernize started. An undisturbed picture of life before the discovery of oil is left behind and preserved until today. This whole area is unique for Ras Al Khaimah and for UAE, its shows all the elements of a traditional town, including fortress for the defense purposes, several mosques and a variety of house types. It is one of the best places to study traditional coral stone architecture used along the coast of the Arabian Gulf.

It’s funny that Molly and I both read the same description and developed vastly different preconceived ideas of what the village would be like. I latched onto the word “preserved” and expected to find something a bit touristy and museum like… Molly latched onto the word “abandoned” and therefore had much more accurate expectations.

Either way, it was fun to go traisping about through ruins under very dark and angry clouds that would soon chase us back to Abu Dhabi in favor of a roof over our heads instead of a tent (sans rainflap).

xo, jill

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