Friday, October 25, 2013

Rob's Golden Ticket

Rob got his ticket. He departs on Sunday and will be here Monday night.

I'm one happy girl.

One Week

There's no storyline to this post. This last week has been a whirlwind. A good whirlwind, but a whirlwind to say the least.

From orientation to medical checks, from the pool to the pub, here is a quick recap:

The ADEC seal is everywhere,
including on the coffee cups
that our personal orientation server
brought us.
First and foremost, I was officially told that I am a sixth grade EMT (English Medium Teacher). As some of you already know, there had been little communication about what grade level I would be teaching, especially coming into the school year late. I'm excited about sixth grade and there will be lots of support for us (curriculum maps, resources, etc). And I am more than confident walking into a "reformed" (that's what they are calling sixth grade this year) classroom, because as a department at NHS, we were already grading like ADEC wants us to, implementing curriculum like ADEC wants us to, etc.

We spend two days with a Cycle 2 (middle school) English Advisor and, even though it is going to be a difficult year, I'm more than confident that it won't be impossible (I was afraid of that, you know!). We have rubrics, assessments, books, and built in support system that far surpasses anything I got my first year of teaching. Our advisors were open and honest with us that there will be challenges. They mentioned having administration that is more traditional, colleagues that resist change, etc and my first thought was, "Isn't that the case everywhere?".

For more information on ADEC and the school reform that is happening in Abu Dhabi, click here. It is some pretty interesting stuff.

Hotel Living:
There are still a lot of things up in the air, though. I don't know where I'll be teaching, where I'll be living, etc, but for now, I'm in a hotel with other EMTs and they are (for the most part) AWESOME! It has been an instant friendship group with all of us going through the same things and sorting it all out together. They have been a true lifesaver.

Currently, my laundry is draped around my room because, while I have a washer in my room, I do not have a dryer. But in this heat, my clothes are dry in about an hour if I put them in the direct sunlight.

Olive Garden
Slightly different menu, but still
good ol' Mickey Ds 

Before I left, quite a few people were concerned about what I would eat here. To put their minds at rest, I've included the following pictures. I'm pretty sure we won't starve.

For you Michigan folks

My only complaint would be that the Starbucks doesn't carry the Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Which, if that is my biggest complaint, I think I'm doing pretty well. The other thing that will take some getting used to is almost every sit-down restaurant offers sheesha or hookah as part of their menu, so people are allowed to smoke inside. That will take some getting used to, for sure, but again, if smoking and a lack of PSLs is the hardest thing to get used to, I feel like I'm doing alright.

By far the best (and cheapest) places to eat are hole in the wall "refreshment" shacks. Falafel sandwhiches, with a side of hummus, for about 4 dirhams or less than $1.00. Delicious!

Vanilla latte, please!
Delicious and cheap

Being 5'10 and Blonde in Abu Dhabi:
People stare. But it's nothing that is super uncomfortable. Men will look away if you stare back. It's a theory my fellow EMT and friend, Kristen, came up with. We've tested it and pretty conclusively decided that men don't realize they are staring and when they see you staring back, they look away. Women start a bit when they have to look up to make eye contact with me. And young children just stare and smile and stare some more. I've yet to feel unnerved or uncomfortable.

We were told by one man at a soccer game that we walk and talk "like teachers", we're guessing that is a nice way of saying we walk and talk like tourists.

Other Random Tidbits:

  • The weekend here is Friday and Saturday, with the work week starting on Sunday. That will take a little getting used to for sure.
  • There is no easy way to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit. None. Today, it is 37 degrees. I have to use my iPhone app to know that it is 99 degrees Fahrenheit. If the rest of the world uses Celsius, why in the world is Fahrenheit ingrained in my brain? Thanks US school curriculum.
  • The city is busy and bustling. It comes alive at night. I was told to expect it, but it is still rather off-putting to see children out and about late at night, but it's the only time of day that it is comfortable to be out and about.
  • All the stores (everything from H&M to Gap, Nike to New Balance) have their "winter lines" for sale. We're talking coats and puffy vests, people! So for those of us who are new to the country, we can't find "summer" clothes. I have a feeling that visiting home during the winter will be quite the adventure.
More Photos:

One of Abu Dhabi's skylines

View from our hotel's rooftop

At night, the city comes alive!

U-17 Fifa World Cup - Pool Play Match:
UAE vs Brazil

Al Wahda Mall or
"Da Bulls, Da Bears, Da Mall"
For my dad!

The water is bathwater warm.
Desserted during the day.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I woke up in Abu Dhabi

I woke up in Abu Dhabi and, even after a full 24 hours, I can't really believe this is my new home.

My 14 hour flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi was uneventful and with the exception of being in a middle seat (grrrrrrr), it was a pleasant experience: tons of movies and tv shows to watch and plenty of food - yes, please to a Klondike ice cream bar at 2:30 in the morning.

14 hour flight

Best airline meal I've ever had - not saying much. 
New Girl to pass the time? Yes, please. 
Built in USB? Oh, sure.
It's still surreal to look at the map and
realize I call this part of the world home.

I was met at the airport by a representative from a travel agency and with her guidance, our (there were four other teachers on my flight) eyes were scanned, our visas were processed, and we were escorted through customs in less than 20 minutes. We loaded into a shuttle bus and 30 minutes later we were checked into our hotel, bags delivered, and, most importantly, wifi passwords in hand.

After an emotional half hour of not getting the wifi to work (aka not being able to talk to my hubby), I was able to figure everything out (thank goodness for personal VPNs) and I was able to talk (okay, okay, I kinda sobbed) to Rob.  He assured me that everything was going to be okay and to be honest, I only half believed him. I've never felt loneliness quite as keenly as that first night.

I've also never been to another country before (with the exception of a resort in Cancun - I don't think that really counts), so the airport, the flights, customs, the time difference, etc, coupled with the fact that Rob still doesn't have a ticket was draining and stressful, but after a good night's sleep and a (free) continental breakfast with deliciously caffeinated coffee, I felt a little more ready to take on my new country and city.

And today was AWESOME. First off, after a good night's sleep, I could better appreciate our appartment-style hotel. Last night, I was disappointed when we pulled up to it. Other teachers had posted pictures of 5 and 6 star hotels that wretched of way too much money and here we were checking into a very nice, very clean, but older hotel. That disappointment lasted only until I opened my eyes the first morning. It may be older, but it is clean and comfortable. And by older, I mean, not really old, marble floors, flat screen tvs, and a pretty decent view of the water. There is a rooftop pool and jacuzzi with a breathtaking view, but most importantly, there is a kitchen: a fridge, a two burner stove top, a microwave, dishes, coffee maker, toaster, washer (they don't have dryers here), literally EVERYTHING I will need to live like I'm not in a hotel (aka live cheaply). This is really important since we haven't been paid since August 25 and we have some pretty lofty financial goals.

Anyways, even though a six star hotel would have been awesome, I'm very appreciative of the fact that I have the tools necessary to live frugally the next few weeks.

After breakfast, five of us headed to the five story mall located about 3/4 of a mile away from our hotel. The guy at the front desk laughed when we said we would walk. He reminded us how hot it was outside, "Taxi cheap. Walk is hot." We all said, "No. It's fine. It'll be a good workout. We like to walk." Let's just say by the time we got to the mall, we did indeed get a good workout and were dripping with proof. I'm still glad we walked, but the AC was heavenly once we reached the mall. To picture the mall, think three storied, that has  everything from Nike to Pottery Barn - it's like walking into any mall in America, just bigger and better.

Nike Abu Dhabi
The bottom two basement levels consist of a beautiful combo of Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, and Target. It is appropriately named Lulu's Hypermart and is is HUMONGOUS. I won't need to shop anywhere else. And again, walking in, you would think you were any large grocery store in the US...if every grocery store had clothes, electronics, produce, fresh spices, and was large, clean, and friendly.

I purchased hangers, a curling iron, straightener, Gatorade, and Salt and Vinegar Pringles and I'm headed back tomorrow to do actual grocery shopping. It is awesome coupled with awesomeness.

This afternoon I settled into my hotel room. The only thing I'll be sorry about when Rob finally gets here is giving up closet space. I watched the sun go down over Abu Dhabi's skyline (no decent pictures, but I'll get one eventually) and went to dinner with three other female teachers who are also staying in my hotel. We had falafel and hummus and pita bread at the Lebanese Flower and it was delightful.
First official meal out in Abu Dhabi

On our walk home (it had cooled off to 87 degrees once the sun had gone down), stadium lights caught our attention and we took a detour  to check out a soccer, excuse me, football game. The security guard took a liking to us and told us to, "Go. Go. Enjoy." We had our bags checked, were told we couldn't bring our dinner leftovers and my (full and favorite) water bottle into the stadium. The "security guard" turned out to actually work for the soccer club as a vendor (or in marketing? His English was shaky.) and insisted that he would hold our bags for us so we could watch the game.

Kristen, the nervous giggler.
At first we were resistant, but decided, "Eh? Why not?" So we handed off our bags and water bottle and headed into the game. As were were walking in, we received a few strange stares from the crowd. I assumed it was because two of us are tall and young and blonde, you get used to people staring after a bit. I led us up to some seats and Kristen, one of the other teachers, started nervously giggling and couldn't stop. She sputtered under her breath, "Look around (insert nervous giggle). We are the only women here (insert nervous giggle)." And sure enough, there wasn't a single other female in sight. We all just sat for just a moment, unsure of what to do, so we clapped when the men around us clapped, cheered for the team that they were cheering for, and reassured ourselves, "Everything is fine. They wouldn't have told us to go in if we weren't allowed." We stayed for the rest of the half and I'm pretty sure we got on TV. The cameraman on the field spotted us walking in and more than once pointed his camera in our direction.

Definitely some seats available.

Upon leaving, we couldn't find our vendor/marketing guy anywhere. Typical, right? Someone sees four foreigners and thinks, "Sweet. I'll steal their doggie bag and water bottle." We asked around a bit, describing him (of course, we hadn't got his name!) when we ran into a man in full Emirate garb who introduced himself. "Ahmed" shook all of our hands, stating he lives part time in the United States and part time in Abu Dhabi. Long story short, he reassured us we had not been robbed, "This place is safe. No crime here! We find him. We find him." He helped us locate "Fajeev" and our belongings. Fajeev had kept everything safe and apologized profusely for leaving his post because he assumed we would stay for the entire game. Turns out, Ahmed, is the coordinator for events at the arena. He gave us his phone number and email and promised to connect us with someone who will get us tickets for a U-17 World Cup qualifying game tomorrow.  Fingers crossed that it works out! Oh, and Ahmed had Fajeev drive us back to our hotel, stating it would be way quicker than a taxi and he hoped to hear from us and to enjoy the rest of our stay in Abu Dhabi.

I have a feeling we will.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

We are still in Idaho, BUT there has been a development!

I received my visa and ticket on Friday. I am scheduled to leave this Thursday (Boise > Chicago > Abu Dhabi). However, Rob hasn't received his, and because he is also a teacher, they won't just add him to my itinerary.  Our recruiting agency told us to not stress, that his ticket is probably on its way, but as none of this process has been easy or stress-free, our stressing will continue.

While it is a relief that we still have jobs, that we haven't been forgotten, that our visas weren't denied, we embarked on this journey together and it sure would be great to take the first steps like we had planned: together.

If you would all continue to pray, hope, and keep your fingers crossed for us (primarily that Rob's paperwork gets processed and quickly), we would deeply appreciate it.


Yes, we will have Internet access in Abu Dhabi. Yes, I will (try to) keep the blog updated as our adventure continues.