Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Oh Abu Dhabi!

UAE Flags in Dubai

"Oh Abu Dhabi!" seems to be my new favorite expression.

I typically say it when little day to day experiences leave me in a head shaking, (almost) speechless state of mixed frustration, areyoukiddingme? disbelief, and helpless resignation. In this context, it reminds me that I just need to roll with the punches and be patient.

Today I'm saying it with a hint of endearment in my voice. Instead of "Happy Anniversary," "Oh Abu Dhabi!" is my celebratory expression to highlight a very special occasion: my 6th month mark! Yes, six months ago, I naively stepped out of an airplane and onto UAE soil for the first time. When I say "Oh Abu Dhabi!" today, it's a reminder to be thankful that I have survived . . . so far. ;-)

A few 'Abu Dhabi' things that no longer surprise me after 6 months:
  • jumpsuit brigades
  • constant construction
  • certain driving habits: people passing on the outside shoulder or tailgating with about 12 inches between cars or 2 vehicles in the same lane or the general lack of signaling, etc.
  • hearing the call to prayer 5 times a day
  • 5 year old students who bring their Louis Vuitton handbags to school (No knockoffs for these girls!)
  • seeing at least 1 car accident on the way to work e-v-e-r-y s-i-n-g-l-e day
  • being clueless 95% of the time about the last minute changes made to the daily school schedule (Wait--we're combining both classes today? How come I didn't know we had an early release? A parent meeting? NOW? In the middle of class?)
  • young teenage boys drag racing in their expensive sports cars down busy city streets
  • men kneeling to pray on the shoulder of the highway; (They're just feet away from speeding cars!)
  • responses that are neither yes or no--instead, they're "Insh'Allah"
  • slow moving lines (or people who don't even queue up at all)
  • the fact that there is no such thing as "standardized procedures" or "standardized answers"
  • when a few 'simple' errands take hours to complete
  • the sincere respect the Emiratis have for the late Sheikh Zayed & their current leaders
  • Banker's Hours: 8 am to 1:30 pm Saturday to Wednesday; 8 am to 12 pm on Thursday; Closed Friday and every public holiday
  • going to 5 different grocery stores in order to find the ingredients needed to make 1 recipe
  • using street names instead of street numbers and landmarks instead of addresses

Kandoora Crossing

How many people plaster their windows with Sheikh decals? LOTS.

A few 'Abu Dhabi' things that I still don't get after 6 months:
  • What exactly is a bedspacer?
  • How do the shops and companies survive when there is always so much construction? Surely it must affect business in a big way?
  • Is it even possible for one to leave their downtown residence and somehow avoid walking through Mansville?
  • Why do the weekends feel so much shorter here than they did back home?
  • What do these people have against car seats? Why do they let their little kids hang out the window or stand up through the sun roof while they are driving?
  • Why does every single restaurant offer take out?
  • How do the women do it? I can't imagine trying to jog in an abaya!
  • Please, explain it to me again: Why is the internet so stinkin' slow?
  • Since it's not really my style at all, why do I find the combination of aviator glasses and kandooras to be so attractive?

One of the many "Bed Spacer" adverts around my place.

A few 'Abu Dhabi' things I still struggle with after 6 months:
  • the poor human rights policies
  • drinking Arabic coffee
  • being sick so frequently
  • the gross amount of waste
  • the high suicide rates in work camps
  • unclear expectations at work
  • living in a society that is strictly segregated
  • being served so often by other people
  • the constant sound of honking horns (If you're going to check out any of the links in this post, you should check out this one! It's a video of the intersection by my house. My friends & neighbors in the same apartment building, Skyler & Sarah, took it from their living room window.)
  • having only a handful of books to use for reading instruction
  • having to ignore the teeniest, tiniest stray kittens you've seen in your life; When they meow at you, they use this tone that just says, "Rescue me!".

A quick (and limited) list of the many 'Abu Dhabi' things I appreciate and enjoy after 6 months:

  • cheerful greetings from the staff at my front desk
  • bus rides for 1 dirham
  • hugs and kisses from my students
  • feeling very safe
  • loads of bottled water with bubbles
  • baby kandooras
  • kind and supportive friends I've met through work, my apartment building, and church; (Plus one who came from home!)
  • humorous signs and typos
  • the color of the sea
  • always having enough hot water when I take showers
  • camels
  • speaking pidgeon Arabic; learning new words from my students
  • seeing the Grand Mosque on my morning commute
  • jogging through busy city streets while listening to the Amelie soundtrack on my ipod
  • real French butter; so much better than the butter at home
  • the Thursday night yoga classes the first couple months I was here
  • living next to all of the important bus lines
  • the smell of oud (I hated it in the beginning, but now, in a weird way, I actually like it!)
  • the beautiful dunes in Liwa
  • delicious cucumbers
  • sunshine
  • the special section on the bus for women
  • they way almost all Emiratis wholeheartedly love their country
  • gorgeous sunrises & sunsets
  • affordable health care
  • the beach
  • air conditioning

A restaurant down the street with a rather interesting name. This might be a favorite example of the previously mentioned "humorous signs".

Baby Kandoora
This is Noora's little brother. Isn't he a cutie?


Sunset in the desert

6 months and counting!

P.S. Heading out on a camping trip this weekend. Probably won't post for a bit!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Elephant in the Room

So, I've been avoiding blogging about Thailand. Guess I've turned it into the 'elephant in the room' thing: it's obvious that I went because I keep alluding to it, yet I haven't really started discussing it.

I think I feel overwhelmed and not quite sure how to tackle it. With 1,509 photos to choose from and 2 weeks of adventure to chronicle, it has definitely taken on elephant-sized proportions.

Maybe this weekend I'll get around to it. If you have suggestions about how to organize and manage such things (chronologically? thematically? randomly?)then, I'd be grateful for your ideas.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures of some real elephants we met in northern Thailand. Thankfully these elephants are NOT in rooms--instead, they get to roam without chains or fences at the Elephant Nature Park. Getting to visit was a highlight of the trip!


In the Press: This Was Not A Movie, Folks

In case you've only heard bits and pieces about this incident in Dubai, the Times Online provides an informative summary.

Creepy. (You know what else is creepy? A friend from church was attending a wedding reception at that hotel on the very night of the assassination.)
I wish we lived in a world where this:
was the only sort of secret agent business that was happening.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

28 Good Reasons . . .

There were a few moments on the Thailand trip when I caught myself thinking, "You know, you don't have to go back to Abu Dhabi . . . "

Even though those moments were tempting, they were also fleeting. In addition to a rather strong sense of duty, enough wits to know that I need a paycheck, and the fact that I left my computer in Abu Dhabi, I had 28 other really goods reasons to come back. Those reasons are, in alphabetical order, Al Hanoof, Al Hanoof, Alya, Alyazi, Anhar, Dana, Fatima, Fatima, Hamda, Haya, Maitha, Mariam, Moneera, Noora, Noora, Noora, Ranaa, Reem, Reham, Salama, Salamah, Sara, Shaikha, Shaikha, Shama, Shamsa, Shaqra, and Shoque.

This first week was, as I expected, a bit rough. However, the bitter taste of getting back into the 'daily grind' was definitely sweetened by 28 familiar smiles, 56 arms stretching out for hugs, and more endearing silliness than I can even quantify.

Here are a few of my kiddos getting ready to perform "Alice the Camel" for the school. Sorry you can't see their faces--modesty, you know!

After three weeks apart from each other, I missed my girls. I think it's fair to say that they missed me too. Despite the annoyances of working for my employer, the frustrating lack of resources, and the daily reminders I really don't have a clue what I'm doing, these little people make it worth it. For them, I'm glad to come back.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Psalm 104

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, Thou art very great;
Thou art clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering Thyself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters;
He makes the clouds His chariot;
He walks upon the wings of the wind;
(Psalm 104: 1-3)

When I read these verses a few days ago, I instantly pictured this photo. It's from the last part of our trip when we were staying on the island of Koh Chang. I like how the imagery in the poem and the scene on the beach just seem to go together.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sharing the Love

February: One of the worst months of the year
14th: One of the greatest days of the year

Valentine's Day may just be one of my very favorite holidays.
I know, I know, insert gagging sounds [here]. I'm not a fan of the chintzy cards or the Russell Stover candies, but I do like how there is one whole day specifically set apart for all things friendly, kindly, and lovely.

Back in the States, I liked the Valentine's Day buzz that was so endemic in my last elementary school. I liked the Frank Sinatra music playing in the cafeteria. I liked the
red and pink color schemes in the hallway. I liked how my kids instinctively personalized their valentine mailboxes (usually doing so in such a way that I could tell whose was whose without having to read the names). I liked the surprises. I liked wearing silly and ridiculous Friendship Fairy costumes to work. I liked the gluey, glittery, homemade cards. I liked how my class actually made a real effort to be extra kind to one another. I also liked the treats the kids brought me: cinnammon rolls, truffles, chocolate covered strawberries... Good stuff.

This giving of delicious goodies is a very nice part of Valentine's Day. It appeals to me so strongly because I like both the giving part and the delicious part. I also like what comes before the giving part . . . the getting to make the delicious goodies part. And that, my friends, is really what this post is about: making delicious Valentine's Day goodies.

Now to all those folks out there who might think chocolate is the only food worth consuming on February 14th, I'd like to propose an equally delectable alternative: homemade English muffins.

English muffins?

Yep. I think they're justplaindelicious in their own simple way. If equating English muffin with delicious Valentine's Day goodie is too much of a mind bender, it
's probably because you, like millions of other Americans, have been scarred by those hideous pock marked things in the far section of the bread aisle. I'd like to challenge those stale opinions. Homemade English muffins are so very different. Homemade English muffins are good. They're so good in fact, that I've been making them on Valentine's Day (almost) every year since I was a college freshman at Western. In addition to tasting gorgeous (especially when they're toasted and topped with butter and jam) they're pretty easy to make. Unlike most of their relatives in the baked good family, English muffins are cooked on the stove -- not baked in the oven. They also need to rise (but only once). From start to finish, it takes about 90 minutes. (How many you're making and how many pans you've got up and running can definitely extend the time.) Regardless, they're good eatin'. They also make for sweet giftin'--a very nice way to share the love.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day English Muffins
This recipe originally appeared in Family Fun magazine. It makes 1 1/2 dozen. They'll keep for several days stored in a plastic bag, or for several weeks in the freezer.
Ingredients (I've adapted it a tiny bit to make it vegan.)
  • 1 cup soy milk (or regular milk)
  • 3 tablespoons earth balance in small lumps (or butter cut into pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup warm water (110º F/45º C)
  • 1 package (1/4-ounce) active dry yeast
  • Cornmeal
  • 5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour (You can also use 1/2 whole wheat flour and the rest white flour.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Combine the soy milk, earth balance, and honey in a medium-size saucepan. Warm the mixture over medium-low heat until the earth balance starts to melt, then whisk it briefly. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the liquid to cool until lukewarm.
  2. While the soy milk cools, pour the water into a medium-size mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir the liquid gently with a fork. Set the bowl aside for 5 to 10 minutes, until all of the yeast has dissolved.
  3. Line two baking sheets with waxed paper and sprinkle on a generous amount of cornmeal. (This is where you'll set the muffins to rise.)
  4. Pour the cooled soy milk into the dissolved yeast and gently stir the mixture until well blended. Add 3 cups of flour and the salt to the liquid and beat the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth (about 100 strokes). Beat in enough of the remaining flour, about 1/3 cup at a time, so that the dough is firm enough to knead and no longer sticky.
  5. Scrape the dough from the bowl onto a floured surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour. Flour your hands as well, and knead the dough for 3 to 4 minutes. Let the dough rest for about 5 minutes.
  6. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, starting in the middle and pushing the pin from the center out, until the dough is a half inch thick.
  7. Cut the dough into circles with a 3 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Gather and reroll the scraps and cut out more circles (you should end up with 18 but I always eat the dough and end up with less). Now shape each circle into a heart: use a knife or scissors to cut a third of the way into the circle, round the cut side into the top of the heart, and then pinch the opposite side into a point for the tip. (This is my 2nd favorite part.)
  8. Transfer the muffins to the prepared baking sheets, spacing them well apart. Sprinkle cornmeal on the tops. Cover the muffins with a dry, lightweight towel and let them rise until they are almost doubled in height--about 35 to 45 minutes.
  9. When the muffins have risen, heat a large, heavy, ungreased skillet over medium heat. (If you have two skillets, you may want to prepare both so you can cook more muffins at once.) Or you can use an electric griddle heated to 300º. Carefully lift the muffins from the waxed paper and place them in the heated pan or griddle, spacing them an inch or so apart. You should be able to fit 4 or 5 muffins in each pan.
  10. Cook the muffins (this is my favorite part) for about 10 minutes on each side, using a spatula to flip them. You may have to adjust the heat if the muffins are browning too quickly or slowly. Transfer each batch of cooked muffins to a wire rack to cool. Before toasting, split them in two with a fork. (Splitting also ups the fun factor.)


If you haven't figured it out yet, I'll fill you in on a little not-so-secret secret: I'm much better at having adventures than I am at recording them.

I kinda already knew this before starting the blog, but I had high hopes that somehow, this time, it might be different. For me, when push comes to shove, the blog gets nudged closer and closer to the bottom of the priority list. (Some might actually call this more of a 'drop kick' motion than a nudge.) I admire (and let's be honest . . . envy) those lovely people who breeze through daily routines with enough elbow room in their schedules to create and listen and look and socialize and sleep and whateverelsetheyliketodo that makes them happy. To top it off, they not only do all of those wonderful things, they also seem to find the time to blog about it. Like I said, I find it impressive. Darn impressive. I also find it a bit beyond me. So, if I have to pick an area of focus, I think I'll stick to pursuing the adventures. Hopefully, someday, the 'sharing them on the blog' bit will fall into place.

To justify my absence (Me? Defensive?!?) I'd like to end this post with a brief recount of my adventures during the past month and a half:

---adventures camping with goats and listening to screams in the night and waking up in a the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah
---adventures counting and singing and drawing and reading and writing with my incredible, adorable, lovable little kiddos (this, coupled with the necessary yet still burdensome hassle of report cards and grading and planning, is further complicated by the unnecessary yet still burdensome hassle of having too many bosses who don't know what in the world is going on and who like to contradict each other so that you constantly have to change things. {phew!} yes, my job definitely takes up the great majority of my time.)
---adventures in fine dining with friends each week at Hump Day Dinner and again at Crossroads Bible Study (samplings include dosas and pasta with contraband bacon(!) and spritzers and pigeon pie)
---a few little random adventures like biking the city streets, getting my UAE driver's license, bowling, and going to Flamenco concerts
---adventures with the junior high youth group at my church (In this instnace, I almost think adventure is an understatement--they're crazy!)
---adventures traipsing through Thailand for 2 weeks with Jill! It was really a whiz-bang of a trip (think elephants, cities, sunshine, kingdoms, colorful buddhas, ruins, beaches, puppies, green curries and even a few massages); I liked it quite a bit.

In case I dive back down deep and don't bob back up to the surface for a bit, don't worry. I'm still here. I'm probably just a little short on time, energy, and effort . . . which was most likely well spent on my last adventure . . .