Monday, March 19, 2012

I Finally Have an Apartment and a School!!

Family Room
    When I moved to Abu Dhabi, I had envisioned myself waking up to the view of gorgeous beaches with the gulf breeze wafting through my window. Well, Al Ain is land locked, so that isn't exactly what I got, but it could be worse for sure! I have been placed in a complex located a little on the outskirts and on the way to my school. It is only temporary and I will get to pick my own place when the lease is up in June. They pay by the year here, so when teachers go home mid contract, it leaves ADEC with lots of empty apartments to fill. They won't be renewing with this complex next year, which is why I get to move out in a few short months.
Bedroom I won't be using
Bigger room that I will use
        I am happy about this for a few reasons. 1) Normally they make you wait a full year before you get to pick a place and I only have to wait 3 months. 2) The place is furnished, so I don't have to shop now and then find a mover to lug myself to a place of my choosing. 3)I get to hold on to my housing allowance and take time to decide how I want to furnish my apartment, rather than feel pressure to buy everything in a week because we get booted from the hotel after 5 days once we have both our keys and furnish allowance. 4)Mohamed is setting up our electric,water, and gas. Jen and I also set up our internet/phone after a few short hours (insert extreme sarcasm) at Etisalat. All that being said, the place is not that bad. I just prefer somewhere with more light and closer to town. I feel fortunate that for now I can get to know neighborhoods I'd like to live, and I get to take a bus too and from school.
Patio seating at apartment
MUCH better bathroom!
Master Bath
Pool at apartment
     The apartment is 2 bedroom and 2.5 bath with a decent kitchen and family room. I will actually use the hall bath and bigger room, rather than the master bedroom/bath because they both have better light than the master. It also comes with a stove and fridge, which is nice because most places you need to purchase appliances. There is also a pool and a small gym, but I probably won't be using those as I just got a membership to the Rotana. The Rotana is a beautiful hotel/resort and has a great gym and pool. I plan to exercise during the week and relax there on the weekends!
     Now on to my new school. The place is gorgeous and only two years old. It houses both boys and girls, but they have separate halves of the building.  The staff all seem really nice so far, and I'll be working with all of them as I have landed a resource room position. I am thrilled to be able to work across the grade levels and help support the ELLs who really need it. It will be a lot of work for sure, but I think in the long run it will be less stressful than taking over a classroom at this point in the year.
     The craziest thing about my new school is that one of my heads of faculty is from Maine-Endwell. We have both taught at Homer Brink and know many of the same people. I think it's a sure sign that I am in fact meant to work and retire from M-E when I get home from this adventure. It's sounds a bit hokey, but I think it's the universe telling me not to forget about Homer Brink, which has been my dream school since I student taught there in 2004. In the mean time, I love having someone from home around who understands my love of Consol's and knows what a spiedie is!
Big bright hallways!
Main Entrance
     It is because of Lisa that I was able to get such a good deal on my gym membership as well.  A few friends and I went out for drinks on Friday night and ran into Lisa at the Rotana. She introduced us to the gym manager and he agreed to give us 50% off as long as we came in by the 25th. We went in today and are only paying $50 a month to use the awesome facilities. For those of you at home, think Court Jester, but with a beautiful outdoor pool, 6 restaurants, and a swim up bar. It's pretty sweet.
     Overall, I'm really loving life in Al Ain. It is much slower paced than the city and I enjoy the suburban feel, not to mention the fact that you can actually see the views as there are very few tall buildings. Break starts in a few days and I'm sure I'll be up to something fun, so be on the lookout for my spring break blogs!


Look Out UAE, She Can Drive!!

     As soon as I knew I would be moving to Al Ain, I also knew I would want to immediately rent a car, which is why I got my UAE driver's license last Monday! It was shockingly easy to get my license. Sure, I can drive in New York, but they don't make you do anything. Perhaps this is why there are so many horrible drivers roaming the streets of Abu Dhabi. I don't think I'm one of them, especially comparatively speaking, but still, they could make you do more to acquire the right to drive.
     All I needed was my translation of my NY license, passport, visa, and UAE id card application. They make you take an eye exam, which is kind of a joke. You literally name four letters on each eye and look at one picture for the color blind test. You pay 25 Dhs for the exam, and 200Dhs for them to take your picture and print it out. That's it, done, I can drive here now.
     Not that I'm complaining at all. I'm glad it was this easy, I just thinks it's funny that it was. I've been driving around since Thursday and it's been great having my own car again. I haven't had my own car since the end of January and it sucks not being able to go wherever you want whenever you want. I'm proud to say that I now know how to get to two of the malls in Al Ain, as well as Etisalat (phone company), Lulu, and my apartment! I bought a GPS in case I need to go anywhere else!
     Here's the thing about driving here though. The place has a round about at pretty much every intersection. No, I'm not exaggerating. It's crazy. I constantly have to go around circles and pray that everyone else is driving it correctly so I don't get hit. It's not the most pleasant driving, but at least it keeps me on my toes! They have named all of the round abouts, so directions sound something like this. Go straight at the Sheikh Bin Zayed r/a and left at the deer r/a. Or go through four round abouts and left at the horses. Street names exist, but are kind of a joke as no one actually uses them. Business even have their location listed in relation to other places rather than an address. For example, the UAE exchange is opposite ADCB bank and located in Al Ain gift mart. (Not to be confused with Gift City, which is right next door!)
     So, that is what driving here is like in a nutshell. It's a bit odd, but way better than taking taxis everywhere. I can't wait to buy a car when I come back from summer vacation!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Moment Of Truth!

     It's the moment you've all been waiting for! Ok, so maybe it's just the moment I've been waiting for. I finally got my placement letter today! I've been placed in the Al Ain region of Abu Dhabi, which is also sometimes referred to as the Oasis. I will work about an hour and fifteen minutes from my housing in a town called Al Wagan. I have yet to find out the grade, but I do know I am working in a new school that is coed and 1-5. Don't get too excited, I will have all boy classes and all girls classes. They're taking their integration in baby steps!
     While I had originally wanted Abu Dhabi City, I am not upset about this placement. Sure it would've been nice to live near the water and have the gorgeous views all the time, but there are several upsides to where I have been placed.
1) I will hopefully spend less money, as it it a little more suburban.
2) Supposedly, we receive a stipend for living over an hour away from work. (We shall see about this one!)
3) It is hot, but not nearly as humid as the city. I think I will be especially grateful for this in the upcoming months as the temperature continues to rise.
4) I will always appreciate both Abu Dhabi City and Dubai because I will only get to visit them on weekends! This will also give me something to look forward too if the the weeks start to drag.
5) Last, but certainly not is NOT the western region which is located approximately in the middle of nowhere! I will at least be surrounded by some civilization. Al Ain may be a city in the middle of the dessert, but there are still malls, restaurants, and activities that are easily accessible.
    So, there you have it folks. It wasn't my first choice, but I am surprisingly pleased with the outcome of today's orientation. I look forward to getting out to my new school, meeting my co-workers and acclimating myself to a new region of Abu Dhabi. All this paid vacation has been wonderful, but I am very excited to get to work!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Where Are You Going?

All the walls are covered in murals.
     The answer to that and many other questions, will hopefully be answered tomorrow. But for now, let me tell you about my week of observing at an amazing KG school! My small group of 11 had been here for about 8 days or so, when we received an email telling us we would get the chance to observe model schools for the next week. This was really exciting news because it meant we were not just going to get thrown in to a school, we would instead get the chance to see schools in action first. Other groups before us have not had such a great opportunity. The only downside of this is that we would have to wait another full week to find out which city we had been placed in. Our employer, ADEC, wanted to wait for more people to fly in so we could have a larger orientation group. Luckily the week flew, and now orientation is tomorrow!
     So, about the KG school...Jennifer and I were placed in a school located just outside Abu Dhabi Island, in Khalifa City A. It is an absolutely beautiful school that houses 6 KG1 and 6 KG2 classes. Think Pre-K and K. So anyway, the school is gorgeous with murals covering the whole entire hallway. I would be very lucky to teach in this building permanently. There are a lot of cool 'western' teachers there and I also found the Arabic teachers to be quite welcoming and friendly. On Wednesday and Thursday I wore my abayas to school and got many compliments from the the Arab staff, which was nice, since they're the one who wear them daily and see so many different ones.
     Throughout the week, I observed 8 different teachers and got to go on one field trip. It was interesting to see all the different teaching styles, and observe the obstacles that the English teachers had to contend with. I found it particularly interesting to watch an Arabic lesson. The teacher did a great job and it looked a lot like my lessons at home. It's funny because I know that it will be extremely difficult to get my classes to look like that here, since there is such a huge language barrier. It was nice though, to see that the kids can be completely engaged and attentive when they understand what is going on. It gave me a different perspective and I think it will help me be more patient as I start off with my own class. After all if I, as an adult, can get distracted during an Arabic lesson, imagine how 5 year olds feel listening to us babble on in English. It's gotta be pretty tough!
Little hard to see, but this is the playground.
Kids enjoying the fish tank at the park.
     Although I am pretty sure I'm the only one who enjoyed the field trip, I have to say it was my favorite part of the week! We went to Khaleefa Park and the kids really liked it. The class I was in, split the kids among adults, so I had 6 kids to look after. The were super cute, and for the most part listened and stuck together. It was just nice to be spending the day outside and enjoying the nice weather. It will soon be much hotter, so I have to enjoy while I can. I say I am the only one who enjoyed it because all of the teachers seemed stressed about losing track of the kids. There were some points that they got jumbled in with other kids, but it was nothing like trying to keep track of my kids at the Coney Island Aquarium, so I was quite relaxed!
Burj Al Arab
     On Sunday, I spent the day in Alona's room. This was great, because I knew Alona before getting her school by chance. She has been very helpful to our January group and was on our Facebook page answering questions before we got over here. She is a great example of someone who is over here and just loving life and has her own YouTube channel dedicated to videos of her life here in Abu Dhabi. (I showed some of you the video of her apartment.) We had met and gone shopping the first week I was here, so it was great luck to be placed in her school. She was kind enough to take us home and pick us up every day all week so we wouldn't have to take taxis! 
     Not only were the teachers and school enjoyable, so were the after school activities! After school on Sunday, Alona was driving us home and spur of the moment decided to take Jennifer and I to Dubai. We went to her apartment, which has an insanely gorgeous view so she could change, and were off to Dubai. It's about the same as a trip to Syracuse from Binghamton. 

Canal at the Jumeirah Souk
Burj Khalifa


     While we were in Dubai we saw the Jumeirah souk, which is not exactly a souk you bargain at, but it had beautiful stuff. I plan to go back to get some artwork for my apartment. We saw the Burj Al Arab, which is one of the most recognizable buildings in Dubai. (It's the building Tiger Woods hit balls off of.) We also went to the Dubai mall, which is the most beautiful mall I have every seen, complete with fountain light shows every half hour. (Like Bellagio, but way bigger.) Right next to the mall is the Burj Khalifa, which is tallest building in the world. You know, the one Tom Cruise scaled in MI4.
So that was a fun, but exhausting, little adventure. I will definitely be going back once I know where I am living and have money to buy decorative stuff for my apartment.
Inside Dubai Mall
     On Tuesday, we went with all of the English teachers for happy hour at a pub called Cooper's. It has this awesome big couch booth that made me feel like Alice in Wonderland because if you sit all the way back your feet dangle off. It's high off the ground and the back goes up to the ceiling. I had some really good fish and chips and yummy pale ale. It was great to hang out with all the other teachers and to gain a different, perhaps more realistic, view of the school.
      All in all it was a wonderful week, and I can only hope that the school I wind up in is as nice. Supposedly the principal went to ADEC to request for us to stay, but I'm not counting those chickens! I'm sure there are other schools which are more short staffed than this one. I need to sign off so I can get to crossing my fingers and toes that I get a good school here in Abu Dhabi City tomorrow! I'll keep everyone posted on where I end up!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

So Little Time!

     Well, it's been almost a week since my last post, and I have to tell you, I have not a clue where the time went! I feel like I am constantly going, going, going, because there is so much to do here, but the reality is that most of the time out of the hotel is spent at a mall or Lulu or both. That's not exactly fair. I have been doing other things as well, it's just when there isn't something fun and exciting to do, shopping (mostly window shopping) is better than being shut in the hotel. So, here are some of the fun things I've done since I've been here!
     My first Monday here, (the 27th) Ben, Maureen and I went to the Grand Mosque. They aren't kidding! This place was beautiful, enormous and completely over done. I love it! It is so large, that you can see it quite far in the distance and you can't help but pass it often as it is pretty centrally located. The mosque is incredible from all angles, inside and out and immaculately clean. It is particularly awesome at night. The marble and carpet feels cool and soft on your bare feet and it almost made me want to just leave my shoes off when I left.

Courtyard of the mosque
     The first trip was interesting because we weren't clear on all of the rules. You must be wearing a sheila if you want to take a photo with the mosque in the background or and abaya and a sheila if you wish to enter the mosque. They have a place where they will loan out both to anyone who doesn't have one. We did not know all the rules at first, which is why we have some pictures sans sheila. Once we were informed we got on board with the rules. I will definitely visit again, with or without any visitors from home, and won't make those mistakes                                    again!
    On Tuesday, a bunch of us decided it was time for a home cooked meal and for everyone to get together. I found someone in the group who was willing to volunteer their larger room, complete with an oven and made chicken cutlets and a simple pasta dish for roughly 15 people. It was a lot of fun to just sit around eating and drinking with everyone. If you're wondering about the drinking part...there are really nice liquor stores that are pretty easy to find, with prices comparable to the US.
     Finding the liquor store was another adventure from earlier in the week. We got basic directions, but still weren't really clear about it, so we wound up taking a cab beyond where we actually needed to go. We then got out and wandered aimlessly about, until we happened upon a store that had tinted windows and the letters A&E all over it. The place is called African and Eastern, so we were pretty sure we had found it! We had, and the wine made for a pleasant accompaniment for the pasta and chicken!
View from bus
Emirates Palace
     On Wednesday, a few of us decided to take the big bus tour. You know, just like the double deckers in NYC. It turned out that we didn't really want to get off at many stops, but it was at least a nice drive around the city with some beautiful views. We did wind up getting off at the Marina Mall (of course) and that was pretty nice for a mall! It has a skating rink and indoor roller coaster. We went to neither, but we did go to the Estee Lauder counter and have our makeup done. When I get my first paycheck, I intend to go back and purchase whatever it is she put on my face, because I looked like I was 23 again by the time she was finished with me, and it didn't even look like I was wearing any makeup! I also learned that I am somewhat of a natural at henna. Jennifer bravely volunteered her foot, and it came out pretty good!

Heritage Village
     Since the bus ticket was good for 24 hours, Jennifer, Maureen and I decided to use the bus the next day to take us to Heritage Village. This is a little area set up to look like the UAE pre-westernization.  It had model dessert homes (sticks and fabric, or stone), little shops (perfect for little souvenirs) and of course, a camel. It is right on the water so I was able to dip my toes into the clear blue water for the first time. It is really beautiful along the coast!
"Warming up at H.V."
Goods at H.V.
                                                 On Friday, Jennifer, Maureen and I went to the beach for a couple of hours. It was great! For $9 we laid on a nice quiet portion of the beach and got lounge chairs. I think it was well worth it to be away from the blaring music on the free portion of the beach. I know, I'm such an old woman, but I like to RELAX on the beach and if I'm going to listen to music it'll be my own. After the beach, we headed to Al Wahda mall, where a few of the teachers from the western region came back to visit with a bunch of us still here in Abu Dhabi City. It was interesting to hear what it's been like for them, but also a bit unnerving. I still don't know where I'm going to be permanently, and I really hope it's not out west. We shall see.
Behind H.V.
Love the crossing sign!
I get to swim in this!
     Later that night, I went to ShoCho again with Keisha and Leah to meet up with Leah's friend from Taiwan, who happens to be South African. It was a lot of fun and I got to have that yummy rock shrimp that I had had at brunch last Friday. We went dancing for a while, but I left around 2 so I could Skype with the folks. All in all, it was a very busy day!

     So, as you can see, I have been keeping quite occupied over here. I haven't even had time to catch up on my shows. I've only watched two episodes of Walking Dead since I've been here and now I am having serious American television withdrawal! It's for the better, lord knows I was watching way too much t.v. waiting around for that plane ticket. That brings me up to date for my first week and a half here and I will try and get completely up to date this weekend, so I can start writing posts in more real time. It's pretty tough trying to remember everything, which is why I'm glad I have this blog in place as a way to help me remember! Soon, I will post all about my week of observation in an awesome KG school, so be on the lookout! =)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

It's a Small World After All!...and There's No Place Like Home!

     That is one long title, but I can't help it, it all applies to this post!! So, by Saturday I was pretty well spent. I had already been out every day since my arrival and I was operating on very little sleep. (And, if you read my previous post, then you know that my Friday was a fun, but long day.) Back to Saturday. After loafing around and sleeping away a good chunk of the day, I was pleasantly surprised to receive my first official call on my UAE cell phone! (i.e. One that I did not know was coming, from someone I was not expecting to call.)
     It was Ramona, who I had just met the day before, and she wanted to know if I needed some hangover food like she did. I did, so Maureen and Irma trekked with me to the Al Wahda mall so we could meet Ramona at Fuddruckers. Yes, people, Fuddruckers. This is where the 'no place like home' part comes in. Abu Dhabi has all the creature comforts of home and then some, complete with the vat of cheese at Fuddruckers. I had a yummy chicken sandwich and enjoyed the company of some great people. We also stopped at Cinnabon on the way out to get some to go treats. Not to mention the fact that Starbucks is everywhere and makes me think of my bux buddies back in Binghamton. Just like home I tell ya!
At Lulu!
     Onto the small world part. On Friday, Ramona had mentioned offhand that she knew someone named Sergio. I told her that I also knew someone here named Sergio. (Melissa D's brother Rob, grew up with Sergio in Brooklyn, so Melissa passed his name along to me. We wrote a few times on FB so I could get some info on life in UAE.) As it turns out?....Same Sergio! So, I thought it was odd enough that she knew this one random person that I sort of know, but this is where it gets strange. We are leaving Fuddruckers and someone calls Ramona's name. I look down at the booth and there is Sergio! Can you believe it? I couldn't, and still think it's kind of crazy even days later. I am clear on the other side of the world and I run into someone from Brooklyn who I met on Facebook....NUTS!!
They closed the one in Oakdale, so it's nice to have one here
    While my mind was still reeling from that serendipitous incident, I have another small world/just like home experience a few days later. Ben, Maureen and I are walking through Lulu to pick up some groceries, (Seriously, this chain is as addictive as Target and I have been in a Lulu 6 out of the 8 days I've been here.), and we run into Ramona! Out of all the Lulu locations, we pick the one where someone we happen to know is shopping. It is just like running into someone from high school at Wegmans, except it's happening across the world! There is something about running into people I know out in public that just makes me feel at home. I actually think that is what has made me feel the most comfortable here. (That and the great people I get to hang out with every day.)
Not mentioned in the post, but these pictures
remind me of home in two ways. 1)They are
located on the wall of a Cosi, which is a place
I love to go in the city. 2)The same pictures
hang on my bedroom wall at home.
  The last thing that makes me feel like home is the fact that my hotel is located a few buildings away from a tent rental store. If you don't know me, I'll fill you parents own a rental store and I've worked there on and off for the last 14 years. It looks like I just can't get away from tents. It's strange, but oddly comforting. I definitely feel very lucky to be adapting so easily to this new life I'm carving out for myself. It helps to know that I can get anything I could get at home right here in the UAE. That, combined with the fact that I am making friends that will soon become my support system as well, makes me very confident about the next two years. Now, if only I would get my school assignment....=)
Right next door!