Sunday, September 29, 2013

School In The UAE

     As we approach week three that of my life in Abu Dhabi, life is pretty good.  I am living in Al Ain and I have made a nice group of friends.  My school is located an hour and 15 minutes(100 km/50 miles) from the hotel that I am living in (more on that later) and honestly, that is the worst thing that I can complain about.
     My school is called Al Badiya and it is an all girl school (all middle and high schools are gender segregated in the emirate of Abu Dhabi) it is a Cycle 2 and 3 school, meaning grades 6-12 (6-9 is Cycle 2 and 10-12 is Cycle 3).   The girls wear uniforms that consist of long navy tunics with a baby blue blouse underneath.  They also cover their hair with a shawl called a shayla. Not all students are from the UAE, I have students who originate from Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Jordan.  Some of these students wear the proper hijab and not just the shayla.  As a teacher  I have to cover my head at school and wear long skirts and long sleeved shirts.  There are currently 5 foreign teachers at the school.  I teach grade 6 science, another Irish teacher is grade 6 English,we are expecting grade 6 math.  The other three teachers teach in cycle 3.  Two are from the USA and one is from Toronto, they all teach English.  Most of the foreign teachers wear an abaya which is the traditional dress of the UAE.  My principal is very conservative and covers her face fully, especially when there is a male  in the school (a delivery or a visit).  If we are in a meeting or just in her office and there are no males present she will lift her face covering and we can see her face.
     I am lucky because although my school is far, I only have to teach 3 sections of grade 6.  They have Science 6 times in a week, this translates to 18 classes a week.  Each class is 45 minutes, but by the time the girls get to class and you get them seated you have already lost about 10 minutes.  I have anywhere from 3-5 classes a day depending on the schedule.  I have been at the school for 2 weeks and we have already had 3 schedules.  You can come in on any given day and have the schedule changed on you, it is just the way things are done here.  For now I have a driver take me to school along with two other teachers drive.  Since I am still in the hotel, I have to get up at 5 am to get ready to leave at 5:50.  The other Irish teacher and I then take a taxi to another teachers house (about 15-20 minutes and 8 dollars) this is where the driver picks us up. We then drive about and hour to school.  Our school in the country.  We pass sand dunes, the tallest mountain in the UAE Jebel Haffit as well as date and camel farms.  We also drive along the Oman border.  When we finally get to school around 7:20 am.  We have to check in with our 5 digit teacher code as well as our fingerprint (there is a machine that reads our index finger).  There is amorning assembly from 7:45-8:00, during this assembly students sing the national anthem (which is very upbeat by the way) as well as pray.  The principal , as well as the vice principal speak and then at 8 am the students head to their first class.
If I teach the last class I am done at 1:40 pm.  The sad thing is since we drive in with a cycle 3 teacher we have to wait until 3:15 to leave because that is when Cycle 3 finishes. Until we can get the transport sorted out so that the Cycle 2 teachers can leave at 2,I just have to suck it up.  It is ok because I get to write lovely blog posts like this.
 The students are really nice and they are so interested in me.  Even the students that I do not teach want to know my name and where I am from.   Their English is not that bad.  I must admit that the students here have better English than the students in Japan.  The New School Model (that is the name of the reform in the UAE that started in 2008) is in its 5th year,so the students that I have have had English since grade 2 and you can tell the Englishof the students in grade 6 is equivalent to the English of the students in Grade 11 or even 12.  They are very eager to learn and participate.  Just like home there are students who do not want to be there and would rather be playing with stickers than leaning Science.  Also there are kids who do not like to sit down.  All in all I must admit that  girls I teach are very good and I have not had any real problems.  There are a few things that are annoying.  First there is no travel time between classes, so if the students are in another part of the school and they are coming to my class they are going to take their sweet time and that cuts into my already short class time.  Also there is a habit here of older siblings coming to the door to ask for food.  At first I thought that this was only happening in my class but then I realized that is something that happens all over the school.  Now when the girls come to the door for chips and chocolates, I just close the door in their faces and send them away.  A few days ago I had a woman come to the door that I thought was another teacher but it turned out to be  mother that wanted to know how her daughter was doing in my class!  Also the girls love to ask to go to the bathroom.  I am always afraid to say no at that age because some of them may be on their period or genuinely have to go.  I try and only let one girl go at a time.  I caught a girl the other day who said that she had to go to the bathroom eating a sandwich because I could see her from my room.  I called her name so loudly that she almost dropped the sandwich that she was eating.
Speaking of eating that is another issue.  Students have 5 classes in a row and then they have a 20-25 minute “break” which is supposed to be lunch and that is it.  There is no recess or anything.  I really feel for them.  Sometimes in my morning class thy complain that they are so hungry so I let them eat in class.  They are only 10 and 11 years old.
Just like the students most of the teachers are not from the UAE.  They are from Jordan, Egypt and Sudan.
I am heading back to Abu Dhabi for the weekend.  Going to try and check out Ikea to get an idea of what type of prices I am looking at when I get an apartment.
Oh before I go, I did say that I was going to talk about the housing situation.  Well, there is no situation.  We have been in the hotel for over a week and we have not heard a single thing about housing or where we are going to live.  Don’t get me wrong I am not going to complain about living in a 5 star hotel, the only thing is that I have to do my laundry (there is no machine in the building) and I have to eat out whenever I want food.  Housing department said that we were going to hear by the end of the week, but we haven’t heard anything.  The rumour on the street is that there is not enough housing for us because one of the buildings they were going to put us in was not fit for living, so they are going to build us a complex.  Once, again I do not know how true this is.  If not I have also heard that the housing they are going to put up in will be not the best.  Oh well, we will just have to see.
     The good news is that we have received our housing allowance (about 5, 800$) so I am not touching that until I see my place.  I have been pricing things but I am not going to purchase anything until I see where I am living.
I wish you all the best and if you have any questions,please leave them in the comments sections.

Thanks again for reading!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My Week In Abu Dhabi Part 2

Saturday, I just relaxed at the hotel.

     Sunday, we had an Orientation at the Aloft hotel. 

We signed up for our bank accounts and they also gave us a credit card.  Can I just say that the interest rate in the country is 0-1%!  Wow! Compared to the 11-12% that we have in Canada that is a steal. There were people from ADEC who discussed Visa issues, because some people are bringing their spouses over.  We also discussed housing (briefly).  At this point we still did not know where we were going to be placed.

After the orientation a few of us stayed at the Aloft and had some food and drinks.  In Abu Dhabi you can only get alcoholic drinks in the hotels (and a store called Spinney’s that sells alcohol).  Alcohol is not sold in restaurants that are not attached to hotels. Also the only clubs/bars are attached to hotels.  There are no stand alone clubs or bars.

That night a few of us went to Lebanese Flower a popular restaurant in Abu Dhabi.  We had sheesa aka Hookah or water pipe which is flavoured tobacco.  My favourite flavour so far is apple, but there is mint, grape mint, watermelon and many more.

  I was also introduced to my favourite drink in this country: lemon mint.  

Basically it is lemonade with fresh mint chopped up in it.  The funny thing about Abu Dhabi is that even though the country is so hot (on average 38C) they seem to not put ice in their drinks.  I always have to ask for ice and when they bring it to you they bring you two or three ice cubes, I find it so strange.  Here are a few pics of what we ate that night.  My favorite was the lamb kabobs.  I LOVE lamb.

Monday, we went to the Corniche which is a boardwalk and a beach.  They have family beaches in which you pay 10 dirham (about 3$), to go to this area you have to be a couple or a family.  I was with 4 guys so that did not work. We had to go to the public beach which was fine.  The beach was stunning.  I still cannot believe that there is a beach in the city. The water was warm and a stunning turquoise blue color.  It is not quite man made, they have just extended the natural coast line to add more sand and create the beach and the boardwalk. 

I must admit that there was only one other woman on the beach besides me.  I wore a black one piece and got so many stares it was kind of scary.  Even the guys I was with commented that they had never seen a woman get stared at so hard.  To this day I am not sure if I was getting stares because I was in a bathing suit and the men are not used to seeing that or if it was because I was with four guys…  When we were done at the beach we took a taxi back to the hotel.  We ended up getting yelled at and kicked out of the taxi because we were damp from the beach. 

More to come!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Week “Vacation” in Abu Dhabi—Part 1

   Hello readers from near and far! I am so sorry that it has taken me so long to write you but you can only imagine that I have been so busy living it up (and working of course!) in Abu Dhabi.  I hope that you have a bit of time because this post is going to be long and also will be in multiple parts so that I can express what I have been going through the last few days.  Last Friday marked two weeks since I have been in the United Arab Emirates and so much has happened. I would suggest you get a coffee, a snack, sit back and enjoy.
     When I last left you I was leaving Paris on a 10 pm flight. When I went to get on the plane I was in the 14th row.  I walked to the economy section to see that it only started at row 19. I didn't understand.  I was shocked when I finally realized that I would be sitting in BUSINESS CLASS!!!!  WTF!  I was so excited.  Never in my life have I been in any other class but economy. Etihad airways has First, Business and Economy class.  I had a super comfortable chair, my own earphones that were attached to the chair and a personal screen.  I had so much leg room that I could swim in it.  The food was fantastic; I had lamb with couscous and veggies. The service was on point and it was the best flying experience that I have ever had.  On the descent one of the flight attendants sat next to me and I explained to him that I was moving to Abu Dhabi to work. He was a young guy from Kenya and he was really nice.  I gave him my email address and he email me the next day.  He is such a sweet guy.  Turns out that he lives near the hotel that I was staying at in Abu Dhabi and he came to see me once.  He also gave me the contact info of a friend that is living near me.

   As you know I arrived in Abu Dhabi on Friday August 30th at about 8:00 in the morning.  When I got off the plane I had a lovely young lady waiting for me with my name on an iPad.  We walk through the airport and I spotted a man with a laptop bag and I quickly realized that I had forgotten my laptop in the overhead compartment on the plane. I then had to run back and get it. Thankfully it was still there.  The lady escorted me through the airport with a speed that I did not know existed.  I skipped every line, as I got my visa stamped and my eyes scanned. When I arrived at the luggage carousel my luggage was there (thank God) and I was shown the driver that would be driving me to the Crown Plaza, where I would be staying.  In the car I was accompanied by a South African woman who would also be teaching with ADEC but she has already lived in Abu Dhabi/Dubai for 5 years.  She was switching from the private sector to the public one (more money) and was now working with the ADEC (Abu Dhabi Education Council in case you forgot).
   On the drive over, she explained to me about so many things about the country.  The first thing that I noticed about Abu Dhabi was how clean and it was.  This country really is the epitome of old meets new.  One hand you have the desert and all the Islamic people in traditional dress on the other hand you have amazing architecture, 60 story apartment buildings and luxurious hotels.  The next thing that I noticed is Abu Dhabi is hot.   At 8:30 in the morning it was already 31 degrees Celsius, I love it. 
     We arrived at the Crowne Plaza and I was given a very comfortable room.

 I had two double beds, free wi fi as well as free breakfast buffet every morning.  The breakfast buffet was great.  The only thing better is the buffet at the Bellagio in Vegas.  I had fresh juices to choose from in a variety of flavors including mango, pomegranate, watermelon and more.  There was an omelet station, salad bar, fruit bar, fresh coffee, bread, everything your breakfast heart desires. 

     My absolute favourite thing was the smoked salmon.  All you Montrealers know how much we love our bagel and lox with cream cheese.  The bagel was missing, but they had cream cheese. Every morning I had; fresh juice (usually mango and pomegranate), smoked salmon with a bit of cream cheese, watermelon, two pieces of fried Halumi cheese and a coffee.    I went to the breakfast right away and I made my first friend Eleven.  Yes, his name is Eleven, like the number.  He is from Miami and he is this super cool, hipster type of guy. I knew that we would be fast friends.   I also met Mateo (Mat) from NYC, a super cute, tall English teacher with a deep voice that doesn't really match his looks.  I also met a beautiful Muslim Canadian girl who I connected with right away. I went to my room after breakfast changed and headed to the mall to get a SIM card so that I could have a UAE number.
    I had unlocked my phone before I had arrive (for 10$ on the internet, I got an unlock code sent to me it seemed super sketch at the time but it was cheaper that the 50$ my company wanted to charge me).  We had to give up out passports to  our company to get our visas put in, so all we had was a copy of our visa and passport.  Unfortunately, Etisilat (the monopoly phone company) would only take originals so I had to go to a small company that charged me 3 times what I should have paid, but so is life.  You then have to add data (about 30$ for 1G) and minutes.  I must admit that the data, which lasts for month, it pretty good.  Anything is better than the 200MB that I had at home.  On the other hand the minutes (with are also used for texts) seem to not last as long and I have already purchased about 37$ in minutes in about 3 weeks and I have not talked a lot at all.  At the mall we ran into 2 South African teachers and they invited us back to their hotel to have a drink. They also informed us that there was going to be a pool party that night.
     Before I go on I just have to tell you about the malls here. They are on crack plus steroids.  I have NEVER seen so many huge malls in life.  Anything that we have at home, we have here plus more.  Abu Dhabi has Zara, Mexx, H &M (which has plus sizes by the way), Starbucks, Tim Horton’s, Applebees and I could on and on. The prices are the same, but it actually works out cheaper for me since we have 15% tax in Quebec and there is no tax here. So even if something is the same price as at home, the no tax makes it automatically cheaper (can you say hello Iphone 5!?).For example, I got 6 items from H&M for 113$ Canadian.  On another side note the money that they use here is the Arab Emirate Dirham 1$ Canadian= 3.4 dirhams.  The malls are so clean and  bright and big.

     After the drinks we headed back to the hotel and we got ready pool party.  I am always down for a good party so Eleven, Mat and I decided to go.  I posted the information on FB to see if anyone else in our hotel wanted to join us and two other girls came along.  The party was at the swanky ALOFT hotel and it was free for ladies.  I wasn’t sure what to expect since sometimes when you hear the word “pool party” everyone is just  AROUND the pool and no one is actually swimming.  This was not the case.  So many people were in bathing suits and many people were in the pool.  There was a DJ and it front of the DJ booth there were sprinklers and every half an hour it would “rain”.  It really didn’t matter if you got wet, because it was so warm that you dried in about 10 minutes.
     The party was a blast.  I met so many new teachers and I even had my picture taken by an online magazine.  One of the waiters took a liking to a follow Canadian girl and he gave us free drinks and food all night it was so  sweet. 

 The sad thing is when the end of the night came and it was time to go home I had the equivalent of 2$ ion my wallet and I needed 10$ to get back to the hotel (p.s.  cabs are so cheap here because the gas is so cheap.  Gas is about 0.30$/L!!!) A cab ride that would have cost 35$ at home costs about 10$ here.  I had no money so I had to pull the most ghetto move.  I had to ask a guy that I HAD JUST MET at the party to lend me 20$.  I know that he was a teacher and that I was going to see him on Sunday at the Orientation for all new teachers so I would pay him back.  He said no problem and gave me the money.,  The funny thing is this guy is now my good friend and we laugh about how I had to borrow money the first time I met him.
    I made it home around 4 am.  Note, I had not slept yet.

More to come!