Monday, August 31, 2009

Rest Day, Kind Of

After a long day in the sun yesterday, I figured I better take it easy today. After sleeping in, I got up and began writing some letters to people back home (former students and ex-coworkers). Then I played my friend Audrey's violin for about 3 hours. It was pretty nice to sit down and really work through some pieces I haven't played in a long time. Maybe I'll have to give a little concert sometime.

This afternoon, I got on the computer and was doing a little bit of research on different running/triathlon/aquathlon races I could participate in over the next year. I have pretty much made up my mind that I am going to participate in the Dubai Marathon in January, and there are several 1/2 marathons I could do leading up to it. I also noticed that aquathlons (any combination of swimming and running) are much more popular here than back in the States. I saw several on the schedule that were a 2 mile run/short swim/2 mile run, and there is one that is an 800m swim, followed by a 5k run. I think that would be a great way to mix up my long-distance running, and I think I'd probably do okay in an event like that with my swimming background.

After doing all that research, I felt really excited about working out. So I kind of threw my "day off" mindset out the window and decided to go to the gym to workout for a while. I came back to rest for a bit (and to wait for the outside temperature to drop), then went for a good hard 6.5 mile run along the Corniche.

Finally, after working out, I felt more productive, so I wrote a few more letters, went to take care of some things I need in order to get my travel visa to India, and took my clothes to the dry cleaners.

After today, I totally feel re-charged for my big 2-day work week . :)

Good night from Abu Dhabi,


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Road Trip to Al Ain

I know I haven't written anything in the past few days, but in all honesty, I haven't really done much other than take it easy with my friends and try to to get over my sinus infection.

That is, until today . . .

We were sitting around last night and I got the notion that we should get out off the island for a bit. So after a little brainstorming, we decided we would take a little road trip to a city about 2 hours southeast of Abu Dhabi called Al Ain.

So this morning, Jeff, Danielle, Danielle, and I got up and took a taxi to the bus station. Tickets to Al Ain were only 10 dirhams (roughly $3), and we only had to wait about 15 minutes for the bus to leave. Here is a picture of what is essentially my back yard here in Abu Dhabi (you can see Abu Dhabi Mall and some surrounding hotels) . . .

Before leaving the island, our bus passed the Sheihk Zayed Grand Mosque . . .

Once off the island, the scenery changed quite dramatically from big city to miles and miles of this . . .

There were some really huge sand dunes, which made me remember how much I'd like to try my luck and sandboarding (like snowboarding, but on sand dunes).

After a pretty uneventful 2-hour bus ride, we finally arrived in the city of Al Ain. There were a few things that I noticed right away about the city that made it seem a lot different than Abu Dhabi: (1) there was a LOT more green space throughout Al Ain, and (2) everything and everyone seemed much more laid-back in contrast to the fast-paced hustle bustle I've grown accustomed to in Abu Dhabi.

As we approached the Town Centre area of the city, I noticed the clock fountain they have instead of a clock tower . . .

After we got our bearings straight, we decided the first thing we wanted to do was go to the camel market. Apparently, if we were at market at 8:00 am, we could have seen hundreds of men buying and trading camels (along with some goats). At 12:00 noon, however, the place was much less busy, as there were only a handful of prospective buyers and a few tourists like us there. I had a few people ask me if I was able to ride any of the camels, and the answer to that is no. However, the owners had some fun teasing us about touching the camels. I got to pet some of them, and one in particular really seemed to like it because it kept leaning its head over and rubbing it against my hand.

One of the highlights of the day was watching some camel owners trying to break one of his younger camels. He had a rope tied around the camel's neck like a leash, and he was trying to lead the camel around this open area. But the camel apparently didn't like that very much, because it was jumping up and down, bucking it's hind legs much like a rodeo horse would. I was watching this for a minute, then turned away to look at some of the other camels. However, about a minute later, I hear all of these men screaming. I looked back over and the wild camel had gotten away and was running around loose all over the market. There were about 5 men chasing it around, and the camel kept looking back at them like it was having a grand old time playing this little game. Eventually, the men caught up with the camel and roped it back in . . .

After standing out in the sun looking at camels for about 45 minutes, we were all ready to sneak ourselves some lunch and water. (Recall that it is not allowed to eat or drink in public during daylight during the month of Ramadan.) So we went to the mall, where we had to secretly eat our lunches in the stalls of the bathrooms. What an experience that was . . .

After our less than desirable bathroom picnics, we were ready to head to the Al Ain National Museum. Here, we were able to read a lot about the history of the United Arab Emirates and what it was like here before oil was struck in the 1950s. In a lot of ways, the culture was still very primitive up to that point. I saw some pictures of the island of Abu Dhabi in the 1960s and 70s, and the island was still pretty much all sand with some buildings scattered throughout--nothing like the island today, which is covered by hundreds and hundreds of skyscrapers and many more being built as I write this. Here is a view of the front of the museum . . .

And a model of a typical home setting in Abu Dhabi prior to the striking of oil . . .

After walking around all the exhibits in the museum, we decided to go to the Al Ain Oasis, which was like a big forest of date trees with paved paths to walk through it on. Probably the best of this was all the nice shade. We walked around for about an hour, and Jeff and I were able to pick some dates right off the trees to eat.

Finally, we got tired of walking around outside in the 105 degree weather without being able to drink any water, so we called it a day. We went back to the Al Ain bus station, got our 10 dirham tickets back to Abu Dhabi, and headed home. Here is a mosque I saw on the way home . . .

Overall, today was a fun day!

Just a side note: Since we will have about 10 days off coming up in the next few weeks, some of us have tentatively planned on making a trip over to India for a bit (Mumbai is only 2 1/2 hours from Abu Dhabi by plane). I'll keep you posted as these plans develop further.

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Being Sick

I came down with a pretty nasty sinus infection on Sunday. I woke up and had one of the worst head aches I have ever had, and my face felt like it was going to explode with all the pressure coming from my sinuses. I was also coughing and sneezing a lot too.

So when 8:30 came and I had to meet Jeff, Andrew, and Graeme downstairs to go to our meeting, you can imagine how much I did NOT want to go. But being that I'm stubborn and don't like to miss things like that, I pushed through it and survived through one of their boring meetings (barely though).

I don't usually go to the doctor (I haven't been in about 2 years), but after feeling more miserable than I have felt in a really long time and hearing about 20 people tell me how terrible I looked, I figured it was time to buck up and go. Luckily, there is a doctor's office about a 3-minute walk away from our hotel. I walked in, they asked me for my insurance card (which they had given to us at the end of last week, thank goodness), then they told me a doctor would be right with me. Less than 20 minutes later, I had seen the doctor, was diagnosed with a sinus infection, and received my medicine from the pharmacy (conveniently attached to the doctor's office). I walked home, took my medicine, then took a nap.

Two hours later, I woke up feeling like a completely different person. My headaches and sinus pressure were mostly gone, and my nose wasn't as runny either. I was really glad I went to the doctor, to say the least!

Sunday evening, I ate downstairs with Jeff. He had cooked some chicken fajitas, which were pretty good. We talked for a while, then he, Danielle, and I walked over to the mall to check out some of the Ramadan sales that are going on. We also went upstairs to the sports store to price out some pool, ping-pong, air hockey, and fooz-ball tables to fill up the big empty space I have in my living room. I think the pool table was the nicest option, but also the most expensive so we'll have to just wait and see about that.

This morning, I woke up feeling pretty much like my normal self. We went to a pretty boring meeting about using technology in our classroom. The presentation would be fine, except for the guy began by saying, "I know that this won't really apply to a majority of you who are in government schools, but I'll go ahead and give the information for those of you who are lucky enough to have computers and internet in your classroom." I'm not a professional on public speaking by any means, but I'm pretty sure that the one thing you should never do while giving a presentation is to tell 1/2 the room that what you are about to say is pointless for them to hear.

After a frustrating 2 hours of doodling pictures and passing notes back and forth with the people around me, err . . . I mean, listening intently to a great presentation about computers and technology, a few of us headed over to the Marina Mall to get a few things from Ikea. I ended up getting some tupper wear and a giant 8 ft x 5 ft canvas print of a photo of New York City to hang on my wall in my living room. It looks pretty cool and adds a lot of life to my living room.

This afternoon, I went to the Co-Op to buy a few groceries, as well as a printer. It turns out that you have to buy USB cables for the printer separately, but by the time I realized this the store was already closed. So I didn't get to try out the printer yet, but it seems like it will work pretty nicely.

Finally, tonight I stayed in and cooked some chicken alfredo pasta and watched a movie with a friend. It was nice to just sit back and relax by staying in for the evening.

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Some Photos

I know it is not a lot, but here are just a few photos of my new apartment. I always forget to take my camera when I go places, usually because I am running behind and have to rush out the door quickly so people don't have to wait for me any longer.

This is the door to my apartment . . .

This is my hallway (kitchen is the first door on the left, living room is straight back) . . .

This is my living room (curtains lead out to the balcony). . .

And another view of my living room . . .

The view from my balcony mostly consists of this mosque and a very busy street . . .

And finally my bedroom . . .

I will try to start taking more pictures!

Today we went to the gym for a few hours (I am gonna be sore tomorrow!), went grocery shopping, then went out for some Indian food.

My fasting is going well so far, although I decided I would cheat a bit and drink water so I don't die in this heat/humidity. I got a bit hungry around lunch time, but I didn't really feel hungry again until it was dinner time. For Ramadan, even if you are "fasting," you are allowed to eat after the sun goes down only, so that is why I ate dinner.

I am feeling a bit tired and I think I am getting sick as well, so I'll be heading off to bed now.

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Friday, August 21, 2009

A Good End to the Week

After a short 4-day work week with relatively brief meetings each day, the weekend came very quickly.

Wednesday after work, my friend Audrey called me up to see if I wanted to ice skating. We ended up going with some other people I hadn't really met yet (Hector, Antonio, Margarite, and Serica) to a place called Zayed Sports City at the other end of town. The ice skating rink was really big, and everything was really fancy and nice (pretty much like everything in Abu Dhabi is). I wasn't expecting the locals to be very good at ice skating, considering that we are in a desert, but almost everybody there was really good! There were a bunch of guys zooming around, doing jumps and twists and all sorts of other crazy stuff. I had a good time meeting new teacher friends from near and far. Antonio actually was from St. Louis, so I finally met somebody else from the midwest. Hector is actually from Colombia, South America, and Serica is from Ireland.

After ice skating, we went back to our hotel to eat dinner together. I was in charge of making the appetizer so I cooked up some pita fajitas (basically a grilled steak, tomatoes, lettuce, green peppers and onions on rolled up into a piece of flat bread. Everybody thought they were really good, so I was pretty proud of myself. Hector (with a little assistance from me) made the main dish, which was a type of spaghetti dish that had beef, olives, and mushrooms in it. It was very delicious!

On Wednesday night, we (being the same people from above) went to a club called the Oceans Club at one of the hotels in town. Since it was ladies night, the place was pretty much packed from wall to wall with people (and this place wasn't small either). We pushed our way through everybody and met up with Jeff and Graeme. I also met a guy named John, who is from southern England, and he was hilarious. He and I decided that we are going to take turns hosting a weekly guys poker night. After chatting for a while as well as a bit of dancing, we called it a night.

On Thursday, we had a short seminar about the holy month of Ramadan. It was pretty interesting, and I think I am going to try to fast during the month as the Muslims do, both out of respect for their tradition as well as for the cultural experience. Then some of us went to the beach for a bit and I ended up just taking a nap there for most of the time.

On Thursday night, one of the teachers staying at my hotel hosted a little party, so some of us went to get to meet some of the other teachers. Everybody I've met here so far has been really cool and I am excited to have the chance to work (and practically live) with them for the next 2 years!

Today, I slept in, then went to watch a movie with a friend. I met up with Jeff and Danielle to go eat dinner at an Egyptian restaurant, where I got this really spicy sausage dish called Khoshkhash (and of course hummus and flat bread).

Right now, I'm actually a few minutes late for a movie night so I better get going!

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taking It Easy

I feel like the past few weeks have been CRAZY! After Saturday, I decided that I really need to take the next few weeks easy and make sure I spend some of my time relaxing instead of being on the go all the time.

So, Sunday I really didn't do much of anything. We had a brief meeting in the morning, but then I used the afternoon to take a bit of a nap before hitting the gym with the guys. For dinner, I finished up my chicken spaghetti I made last week. Finally I went to the mall to enjoy some me time shopping for some new clothes.

This morning, we had a really pointless meeting. It was shorter than the amount of time it took us to get there and back in the taxis, and all the information was old news. We are starting to get the feeling that the Education Council is just having us go to all these meetings to justify our getting paid, because I haven't really found much of it to be very beneficial. Oh well. Life could be worse, right?

This afternoon, I went to the bakery to get some fresh flat bread so that I can make steak pitas tomorrow. Then Jeff and I went for a run to the Corniche and back, followed by a quick gym workout. I'm finding that working out everyday has really helped me feel more energized (it always does, so I don't know why I feel that surprised), and I feel like I'm getting into pretty decent shape. So . . . go me.

This evening, my phone stopped working so I tried to get that taken care of at the mall, but they pretty much sent me on a wild goose chase that resulted in 2 hours lost and a still-broken phone. But I think I finally got it sorted out where I need to go, so I'll do that tomorrow as well.

Finally, some of us decided we needed to go searching for a new restaurant to eat at. We ended up at a place called Al Qasr, an Arabic restaurant. They had really good hummus, and their kabobs were pretty awesome. Also, I tried the fresh strawberry juice that they made right there, and it was really good. The best part was that all of this was very inexpensive. I believe I may have found my new favorite restaurant.

My own internet will be fully up and running tomorrow, so hopefully I will be able to put some pictures up then.

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The 2 Week Point

Somebody told me when I arrived here that I would get homesick once I'd been here for about 2 weeks. I have officially been in Abu Dhabi for 2 weeks today, and while I don't feel like I'm totally home sick by any means, I did find myself thinking about home quite a bit more today than I have at any other point since I've been here.

Of all the things I miss, these are the ones that stuck out in my mind the most today (in no particular order):

1. Cooking with my sister: I bought some pasta at the store the other day to make spaghetti (comfort food), and since eating out is starting to get expensive, I decided I needed to make my own dinner tonight. The whole time I was cooking, I kept remembering all the fun times I've had cooking pasta (and other things, but mostly pasta) with my sister this summer.

2. Watching the Chiefs with my brother: I was able to call my brother Chris today, which was great. I can't remember how, but somehow it was brought up that the Chiefs have their 1st pre-season game tonight. Not only am I going to miss watching them play (even if they lose, I love watching), but watching the games with Chris was always the best. I can't wait until I get to do that again.

3. Being a swim coach: It's just a habit of mine that whenever I see somebody swim, I immediately start making a list of things that they could fix in my head. Well, today at the pool, I saw some kids who have obviously participated on a swim team at some point because they were swimming all the different strokes and telling each other "Take your mark . . . " and what not before they would push off the wall. Their mom was trying to give them some pointers with very little success, and the coach in me just couldn't resist so I went up and asked her if they were on a swim team anywhere. She told me how they had just started swimming that spring for a team just outside of London, and I told her about how I am a swim coach. To make a long story short, I had the opportunity to give the kids some pointers on their strokes. Doing so just made me realize how much I miss all of my swimmers back home in KC. :(

4. My nephew: There was no one moment that made me miss Tyler today, but I found myself talking about him 3 or 4 different times with various people throughout the day. I was getting his picture out of my wallet to show them and everything. I'm a proud uncle, what can I say?

To be honest, I love it here in Abu Dhabi, as well as all the wonderful people I have met thus far, and I don't want to go home anytime soon. But if you'll allow me to be a bit cliche, I will say that distance and time definitely do make a person realize which parts of their life they treasure the most.

Good night from Abu Dhabi,


Friday, August 14, 2009

Thursday is the New Friday

In the UAE (along with all other predominantly Muslim countries), the work week is Sunday through Thursday. And yesterday, being Thursday, felt every bit like a Friday from back home.

We had our last day of orientation with the Abu Dhabi Education Council, which was nice. I actually left for most of the day to go with all the other people who haven't done their medical and police checks yet. My medical check = not fun. First of all, when we got there, they told us all to take a number at this machine. My number: 492. The number they were calling at the time: 356. So after waiting for about 90 minutes, they finally called me. They had me fill out this form (that had a bunch of typos on the English side), and they told me I would need to do a blood test and an X-ray. So they led me back to this hallway, where about 30 other people were waiting to do a blood test as well. So after waiting for another 3o minutes, it was finally my turn. I was a little worried before, but when I got up to the little room where they took our blood, I could see that they were using clean needles and everything looked super sanitary so that was a relief. Also the nurse was extremely nice. However, she did a horrible job at actually taking my blood sample. First she started out with my left arm: She jabbed the needle into my arm, dug around for a vein for about 2 or 3 minutes (I'm not even exaggerating), then finally made the observation "I can't really seem to find a vein, maybe we should try the other arm . . ." Gosh. Ya think? So she then (a bit more gently) put the needle in my right arm, and began looking for a vein there. Just when I thought it was going to be a repeat of my left arm, she finally found the spot and took my blood. Needless to say, I hope I don't need to go get any more blood taken while I'm here!

For the X-ray, I had to get back in line in this waiting room with about 15 other men. They told us we needed to have our shirts off to be ready for the X-ray, so I had to stand in line shirtless with a bunch of other shirtless guys for about 5 minutes. Pretty awkward, I know. Then, when it was time for me to go get my X-ray, I realized that they didn't have any lead vest-thingies to wear. But I guess a little X-ray radiation to all of one's vital organs never hurts, right?

After we finally got to leave the wretched medical center, we headed over to the police headquarters. Once again we had to draw a number and wait, but this time it was a much shorter wait. I got called up to this huge, scary guy's desk, where he asked me some basic questions about where I was from and who my employer was and what not, then he sent me to wait in a chair to get my fingerprints taken. The guy at the fingerprinting station must have been having a very bad day, because he was extremely impatient and rude. He would put my fingers on the machine and roll it really quickly, and most of the time the print wouldn't register on the machine the first time. Each time that happened, he kind of scowled at me like it was somehow my fault. The teacher in me wanted to tell him that "haste makes waste," but luckily, the rational person in me kept my mouth shut.

When we returned to our meetings, they were on their lunch break. Then, we had our final meeting, where basically all of the people in charge just told us how awesome we are and how excited they are to see us get in our schools and begin working with the other teachers and our students. Before we left, they gave us a nice little gift, which included a leather note pad, a pen, and a USB memory stick thingy (I can't remember what they're called, but you know what I mean).

From meetings, a few of us went to a new mall, the Khalidiya Mall, to go to a place called LuLu's Market. We had heard they have the freshest groceries in town. When we got there, I noticed an athletic apparel store, so I went in there to get some clothes for working out in. Then I joined the group in LuLu's to get some grocery shopping done. I got some steaks and chicken, along with some fruits, vegetables, and fresh flat bread from the bakery.

After we got back to our hotel, Jeff and I went for a run to the Corniche and back (about 2 miles). Normally that would be nothing to me, but since the temperature was roughly 105 degrees with 95% humidity, it was a bit rough. By the time we were done, we both were drenched in sweat and looked a lot more like we had gone for a swim than a run. Good times.

For dinner, about 10 of us decided to go to a British pub called The Captain's Arm. I got a steak sandwich and fries, which were okay. My British friend Graeme thought it was really good, but I told him I'm used to the best in Kansas City. After dinner, we met some other people who are living at our hotel and we all had what Graeme calls a "proper pint."

After talking for a while, I invited everybody over to play some Wii. So about 15 of us walked back to my apartment to hang out. We ended up taking turns playing from 10:30 until about 2 in the morning, and everyone had a lot of fun. We all decided that "Wii at Matt's" should be a regular occurrence. Also, in talking with one of the girls that just arrived here on Wednesday, I found out that she just started learning to play the violin last year. I told her I play the violin, and so now I'm probably going to be giving her violin lessons. Ha.

Finally, Jeff, Adam, and I decided that we were a bit hungry so we decided we would walk around and try to find a restaurant that was open. At about 2:30, we found KFC (which apparently is open to 4 am here). I was amazed at how packed the place was that late, but I guess people stay up a lot later here than what I'm used to. We ate some good ol' fashioned fried chicken and biscuits, and ended up back at our hotel about 3:00. Good times.

Today, I was able to sleep in until about noon, which felt good. Jeff, Erin, Kate, and I walked over to the beach and hung out there for a few hours. Then we went to the mall to grab some lunch at Mugg and Bean. I had this dish called "Deep Sea Pie," which I guess was their own twist on shepherd's pie that substitutes beef with salmon and what I'm guessing was a random assortment of other seafood. It was pretty good.

This afternoon, I cleaned all the dirty dishes we used last night and tried to tidy up my apartment a little bit while watching a movie. Tonight I'm going out to eat for some girl's birthday party. Should be a good time.

Good afternoon from Abu Dhabi,


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Meetings + Some Fun

So for the past few days, things have been pretty much the same: Wake up early, go to meetings all day, then find something fun to do in the evenings.

Yesterday, about 6 of us went to the Marina mall after meetings, where we spent about 3 hours at Ikea. I got most of the kitchen/household items I've been missing, but mostly just had fun goofing around with all of the weird and interesting stuff they have there. After that, the guys and I hit up the gym to get (more) buff.

For dinner, we went to an Indian restaurant, where I felt adventurous and tried some squid and biyirani rice. I was expecting something pretty exotic, so when the squid came out pretty much whole, I wasn't really that surprised. It was pretty spicy and pretty delicious.

After that, we headed over to Chi Chi's to grab a much deserved margarita. We ended up staying there until 1 in the morning sharing stories.

This morning, 7:30 came awfully early but I managed to stay nice and chipper through all of my meetings. Go me.

After meetings, we headed to the mall to go . . . where else, Ikea! I didn't really need anything but it was fun to just chill out in the nice air-conditioned mall. We also ended up going to a place called Carrefour (pretty much like Wal-mart). I got some laundry detergent so I can actually clean my clothes, and Jeff and I got a football to throw around when we go to the beach.

Speaking of which . . . Jeff, Erin, and I went to the beach this evening. We felt like we had worn out our welcome at the Meridien hotel for a while, so we decided to sneak into the Beach Rotana, a five-star hotel near the mall. This place is ridiculously nice on the inside, and also pretty nice on the beach side too. They had 2 swimming pools, one with palm trees coming out of it. Pretty cool.

We swam around for a bit in the pools, then we went to the beach where Jeff and I played some good old-fashioned catch with the football. Then we went back to the pools to watch the sunset.

Afterward, we went to the mall to grab dinner in the food court. I had my first Abu Dhabi McDonalds experience, at which I tried the McArabia sandwich. It was basically a slice of flatbread with some lettuce, tomato, and 2 beef (well, "beef") patties on it.

Tonight, the 2nd wave of teachers arrived at the hotel so we felt like it would be nice for them to have some of us who have been here a week to greet them (in English) and help them get their suitcases up to their rooms, things we wish we would've had when we first got here.

After that, Jeff, Andrew, Erin, and Kate came up to my place to get our Wii on. We played about 6 games of Wii tennis before we all decided it was time to get some rest.

Tommorow is our last day of meetings with everybody, and from here on out any meetings I have will be at my school at the southeast end of town with just the other people who will be working there. I'm not sure how many people will be at my school, but I know that Andrew will actually be teaching there with me so that should be fun.

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Monday, August 10, 2009

The Daily Grind

This morning was pretty much the same as yesterday morning, with the exception that our bus left without about 12 (out of 23) of us. We were supposed to come down for the bus at 8:00, which we did, but apparently since we were not actually ON the bus at 8:00, we were late. It is funny that we have waited for nearly an hour for our busdriver to get to our hotel, but he would not wait even 1 extra minute for us. Oh well. We caught a taxi and got there about 15 seconds after the bus did anyway.

The meetings this morning were fairly boring, so I won't go into much detail about those. After lunch, some parents from Abu Dhabi came to discuss what they would like to see from us as new teachers in Abu Dhabi. As we are really here to serve them and their children, I thought it was great to actually get input from these people.

For our last hour, we split back up into small groups and discussed in a bit more depth what our role will be in the Abu Dhabi schools and how we will mesh with the "native" teachers. Unfortunately, our facilitator was being very vague and wishy-washy and so currently I still am not exactly sure what my role will be. But I guess since my principal and colleagues will be unique and have their own set of expectations (as each school does), I suppose I will have to wait and see for myself anyway.

After an unusually long bus ride home (our bus driver took a major detour at one point, I think because somebody cut him off before he could get over), some of the guys decided to go join a gym near our hotel and work out for a bit. The gym is about a 3 minute walk from our hotel, and while by no means is it fancy, it's got everything I need to get back into decent shape: treadmills, bikes, rowing machines, free weights, and all the typical weight machines. I just got a 1 month membership just in case I decide I don't like it or if I find something better in the next few weeks.

After running about 3 miles on treadmill and lifting some weights, I felt a lot better. It has been about 3 weeks since I've had a chance to really work out (and they've been a little bit stressful), so I was starting to have a lot of energy pent up inside of me.

When we got back from the gym, Jeff, Andrew, Graem, and I walked to the mall to grab some food and hang out at the pool hall for a while. At an Arabic restaurant in the food court, I got some lamb kabobs and flat bread, which was pretty good for food court food.

On the way back from the mall, I stopped off at the hypermarket to grab some random household items and groceries.

At the end of the day, I look back and think that this is probably what a typical day in my life will look like for the next month or so (at least). While it was pretty exhausting, it was also pretty fun.

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Work Day #1

After getting an unexpected wakeup call at 6:30 this morning (my alarm was set for 7:15), I decided since I was already up that I should go try to find a local bakery to eat at. I found a place around the corner that was serving chocolate croissants for 3 dirhams (roughly 75 cents) each, so I ordered a couple of those. They were quite delicious, making the early wake-up worth it.

At 8:00, we caught the bus to the school where our meetings were at. When we got their, the Minister of Education (comparable to the U.S. Secretary of Education) was there to greet us. They gave us a big packet of resources and a travel guide to the city of Abu Dhabi, as well as an agenda for the day.

First, the Minister of Education and some of his staff spoke to us about the educational history in Abu Dhabi and the UAE in general, and also about which direction they are hoping education to go in the next 10 years or so.

Next, some principals from various schools in Abu Dhabi spoke to us about the school system infrastructure, and how there are various private-public charter schools in the area as well as government-run public schools. From what I have heard, I will be teaching in a government school, and rumor has it that some of the class sizes in these particular schools can reach 35 students or more. Seems a little daunting, but we'll see what happens.

After a short tea/coffee break, we returned to listen to a man who owns a business called Embrace Arabia. Basically his job is to travel all over the world and give seminars regarding the Arabian culture to people who, like us, will be doing some sort of work in an Arab nation. He was a great speaker and pretty funny, but his presentation was just too long (nearly 2 hours) for me to sit still. Apparently I was not the only one who was getting restless.

They served us a quick lunch, then it was back to more meetings. We split up into groups of 6 or 7 for some Q & A time with some school administrators. They further explained the school system from a more Western point of view (the 2 facilitators from my group were both Canadians). They also gave us some insight into the curriculum we will be using and also warned us about the lack of materials the schools give their teachers. Since I handmade most of the classroom decorations, resources, and school work I had for my students last year anyway, this was not that big of a deal to me, but it was pretty bad news for some who were under the impression that we would be provided all of those things.

For our final meeting of the day, we had some teachers who have been in our shoes for the last 2 years give us their perspective on coming from abroad to teach in Abu Dhabi. It seems as though they were much less prepared for their teaching jobs over here than we have been, so it made me feel a bit grateful that so much information has been given to us about what to expect before we got over here.

After this last meeting was over with, just a little past 3, we took the bus back to our hotel. When we got back, we decided it would be a good idea to grab some ice cream since it was so hot, so about 8 of us walked over to the mall and went to Coldstone. I got some coffee ice ceam with chocolate chips, and when I tipped them, they started singing a very goofy song that I think was supposed to be a spin-off of Mary Had a Little Lamb. By the end of it, I almost regretted giving them the tip, but they were all grins so I guess it was worth it.

After ice cream, we walked down to the supermarket, where I grabbed some steaks and chicken for my grill, as well as some fresh veggies and some spices. My friends Kate, Erin, and I went back up to my apartment to make dinner. I grilled the chicken, Erin was in charge of the baked potatos, and Kate really didn't do much of anything except for go down and get some butter and salt when we realized we didn't want to eat our potatos plain. I thought it was pretty fun starting up my charcoal grill right in the middle of the city, 15 stories up. Once we got things started, we played some tennis and bowling on the Wii. They were pretty awful (not that I'm great). I was trying to let them win and I still won. But it was fun anyway.

Dinner took a while, mostly because the chicken took forever over the charcoal grill. But we eventually got to eat and I'd say it was pretty delicious. Since they more well-travelled than me, I asked them about some good places to go for trips. I think as of right now, my top 3 places I want to go on my long weekends are (in no particular order):

1) Egypt (I've always been fascinated by the history and pyramids and such, and it's only about three hours away so I pretty much have to go)

2) Turkey (I've heard nothing but great things about Istanbul especially, and I know the girls aren't bad looking there either) :)

3) Greece (who doesn't want to go there?)

Well, it is time for me to start thinking about going to bed and getting well-rested for another long day tomorrow.

Good night from Abu-Dhabi,


Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Productive and Satisfying Day

From the moment I woke up, I just had a feeling that today was going to be a good day.

First of all, I woke up with the desire to clean my place up (which hardly ever happens), so before I even showered or anything I got right to tidying things up around my apartment. Then I headed over to the mall to grab some coffee and get some household shopping done. I ended up going to the hypermart (similar to our Walmarts) and getting kitchen utensils, some supplies to make my own Turkish coffee, and a grill. I think I am now basically set as far as having things to cook with, now I just need to go to the grocery store to buy some things to cook!

When I got back from the mall, I got started on putting my grill together. I don't have any tools, so getting some of the screws in all the way was a bit of a challenge. However, I am now the proud owner of a functional grill and I have already had about a dozen people ask if I was planning on having a 15th-floor BBQ anytime soon. I'm thinking next weekend I will have my cohort of teachers over for some beef and lamb kabobs, along with some sweet Wii action.

Just as I was finishing cleaning up after my grill-putting-together and putting all my kitchen utensils away, Jeff called and asked me if I wanted to go bowling. He and I had met this local girl at one of our meetings last week, and so she invited us to go with her and her sister. We met up with them at the Marina Mall and had fun hearing about their perspective on the city and what kinds of things they recommended we do for fun. After we bowled a game, we walked around the mall for a while and grabbed some coffee.

After a while, we had to get back to our hotel because the owner of our hotel invited us all to eat at his 5-star Lebonese restaraunt tonight. I was expecting pretty good food, but when we got there, we were all amazed at how far they had gone out of their way to treat us like royalty. The entire table was filled with food (more than we could ever have finished), and all of it tasted great. We were really appreciative of all the food they gave us, and then we found out that that had only been the appetizer. They then brought out several different kinds of meat, all of which were delicious (I had chicken, lamb, beef sausages, and veal). Every time our plates started to get empty, they would come by and offer us more. Also, they would never let my wine glass get empty before they would swing by and top it off again. I don't think I've ever felt so tended to in my life!

After our main course was served, a belly dancer came out and performed for us. She did a variety of different dances for us, then had some people come up and dance with her in front of everybody. Of course, she picked me to come up there and I shimeyed with her for a few minutes. Not my cup of tea, but I couldn't be the one to disappoint a crowd!

At the end of dinner, the owner of the restaurant informed us that not only would this extravant meal be on him tonight, but also that we are welcome to such treatment once a month so long as we continue living in his hotel. Believe you me, I am not moving anywhere anytime soon . . .

Finally, we came back to our hotel. Some people came up to my apartment to see the grill, then we wished each other a good night's sleep. We have to meet at 7:30 in the morning to catch the bus for our full day of meetings tomorrow. Ugh.

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Friday, August 7, 2009

Getting Settled In

Yesterday was a good day. I woke up at about 7:00, got some coffee downstairs in the cafe, then had to catch our bus to go to the Hilton for some more meetings. When we got there, they had free breakfast and coffee waiting for us, which was awesome.

The 1st meeting was pretty dramatic due to the fact that several people were pretty unhappy about not getting the roughly $6000 furniture allowance we were supposed to get since our apartments are already furnished. I don't really care since my furniture is pretty nice and now I don't have to spend a whole lot of time picking out and arranging new furniture. There was also a group of people that are living in a different hotel and think ours is better, so they threw quite a fit about that. At this meeting, we also found out that our internet and utilities will be paid for by the hotel, so now the only expenses I will have while I am here are my phone bill and food.

After the 1st meeting, they provided us with lunch (and more coffee) while they were getting things ready for the 2nd meeting. At this meeting, we met some of the administrators from the Abu Dhabi Education Council (essentially, our bosses). Of the four that we met, one was American, one was Canadian, one was Scottish, and one was Australian. They mostly just introduced themselves to us, gave us a few practical pointers about living here in Abu Dhabi, and then gave us a preview of all the different curriculum and professional development seminars we will be attending next week.

Since we are going to be "working" for 8+ hours each day next week, we decided that we should do something fun after our meetings. So we went back, changed into our swim suits real quick, then left to go to the beach/spa. We sat on the beach and swam in the ocean for a few hours, then we went inside to sit in the steam room and hot tubs for a little bit.

For dinner, one of the girls had organized a birthday dinner for one of the other girls at a Mexican restaurant. The food was pretty good, but it was funny because they put BBQ sauce on a lot of their dishes. Now I'm curious to know how much we back in the US "misinterpret" other cultures foods and make it likeable for us.

Finally, some of us went out to a place called Trader Vic's, where they were playing live music. We all danced for a while then headed back to our hotel.

Today, we didn't have anything planned for the day since Friday is the holy day here and therefore the 1st day of the weekend. I didn't set my alarm clock and I ended up sleeping in until 11 o'clock. It was great.

Shortly after I woke up, I could hear the super-long special holy day prayers that are played over the loudspeakers at the mosque. This lasted for about 30 or so minutes.

After getting ready, I wandered downstairs to the internet cafe (since our internet still hasn't been connected properly) and ran into my friend Andrew. After a bit, we decided to head over to the Marina Mall to do some exploring/shopping. We got a cab, and we headed through town to the marina. On the way, we saw lots of cool buildings, including the royal palace.

At the mall, we grabbed lunch. I got Sbarro (Italian food), and once again they had a unique Italian dish I had never seen before: rice with meatballs. After lunch, we headed to Ikea to look at home furnishings. I didn't really buy much since I wasn't totally sure about what I did and did not need for my apartment, but it was nice to get some ideas for some things. I had never been in an Ikea, but Andrew said that it was almost exactly the same as the one he goes to in Toronto.

On the 5 minute drive back to our hotel, we probably saw 9 or 10 Porsches and lots of other really fancy cars (mind you, brand new BMWs and VWs are very average here). You can get a pretty good idea of how wealthy (or not) the people in a particular place are by the kinds of cars you see. It is pretty obvious that this is one of the wealthiest places on earth.

This afternoon, I used the day off as a chance to relax and get a few things done. I finished unpacking all of my things. I also rearranged some of my furniture in my apartment the way I want it. Then I played Wii Golf for a bit.

Overall, I'd say I am feeling a lot more settled in and comfortable here in Abu Dhabi now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Blah Day

So I woke up this morning when the prayer siren went off at 4:40, and I couldn't go back to bed afterward. Not the best start.

We were supposed to get our health/police checks today. But when the time came for us to all meet down in the lobby, I found out that they had somehow forgotten to bring my residency visa (they had everybody elses). So I had to stay here by myself while everybody else went and got theirs done. I have to do mine tomorrow now, and hopefully I don't have to go by myself!

While everybody else was getting that done, I did a little shopping. I walked to the phone company's office to get a phone, but since you have to have your passport AND your residency visa to get a phone plan, I couldn't get one. But while I was there, I found out that most people just get pre-paid plans here anyway, so I walked to the mall and got this phone there. I haven't really tried calling or texting anybody with it yet, but it seems pretty cool.

After that, I had some time to kill before the time the other people were supposed to get back. So I walked around the mall, ended up in an electronics store, and bought a Wii. It came with Wii Sports, but I also got Mario Kart, Mario Party, and Punchout.

After that, I went back to my apartment and got my phone all set up. Then I set up my Wii and played it for a few minutes. I suspected that my group was going to get back soon, so I stopped and went downstairs. But they were running way behind so I had to wait for a bit.

By the time they got back, I had laid down to take a quick nap. Turns out my cat nap actually lasted 5 hours. Haha. By the time I was up, I had pretty much missed out on anything fun that I could have done today. So I went and grabbed a quick bite to eat for dinner, and that is pretty much all I did today.

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Our First Orientation Day

Wow. What a long day.

Today I was awakened at about 7:30 when my phone started ringing. It was my friend Jeff. Jeff had an allergic reaction to some food he ate last night. Jeff needed to go to the hospital. Matt was tired. Matt had no idea how to get to the hospital. But Matt took Jeff to the hospital anyway.

When we got to the hospital, we found the emergency room. They took him right in since he was about to pass out, and the nurse and I helped him get onto the bed. They kept bombarding me with questions about his insurance, phone number, address, and so on (all in very broken English, mind you). I had to explain that we just arrived here 2 days ago and I met Jeff after we got here, and that basically I knew nothing about anything! But we were able to communicate the necessary information eventually, and since Jeff was passed out by then, I had to sign my consent for them to care for him. Yikes.

Since we had an orientation later today that I needed to be at if at all possible, I called our employer to tell them about our little situation. It took about 20 minutes to get the right phone number since the person at the front desk didn't know very much English either, but eventually I got ahold of them and they gave me permission to leave the hospital so I could go get ready for the meeting. I was a little nervous leaving Jeff there by himself, but they said they would have somebody check in on him if necessary.

There's nothing like making an emergency room visit to break the ice in a new city . . .

But anyway, I took a cab back to our hotel and got ready to go to our meeting, which was at a hotel conference center across town. We were told to be downstairs in the lobby at 11:00 to catch the bus. I was down there at 11:00 sharp. The bus rolled in at about 11:50. Kind of frustrating, but I am learning quickly that timeframes in Abu Dhabi are very casual and that nothing ever happens on time. In a way, this is kind of a relief, because usually I have difficulties with being on time too.

We all got on the bus and drove across town. This was the first time I'd seen most of the city in daylight, and I have to say that the city is very beautiful. There is a ton of construction going on right now, but there are also a lot of fountains and cool-looking buildings.

When we got to the Hilton (which was gorgeous by the way), they led us up to this big conference room. They were serving sandwiches, chicken, and an assortment of other things, as well as juice and coffee. I was pretty tired but wanted to stay awake during the presentation so I had 4 cups of coffee. It was amazing.

The presentation started after a while (about 15 minutes late, of course), and the HR director of the Abu Dhabi Education Council talked to us for a while about a variety of different things. I will try to summarize this presentation as best as I can:

1. We will not moving out of this hotel anytime this year. Since there are apparently no apartments available in the entire city (I think there are actually waiting lists for most places, which is crazy), we will just stay put where we're at. This part is okay with me, since my hotel room is pretty much an furnished apartment anyway. What is not okay with me is that because our places are already furnished, they probably won't give us the $6000 they told us we'd get for buying furniture and what not. We all threw a big fit about this since it was in our contracts, and I believe there is a petition in the works regarding this matter. We'll see.

(The nice thing about living in a hotel is that they still clean my apartment every day for free. I got back this afternoon and my bed was made, they had cleaned my dishes, and they had folded some of my clothes that I had thrown on the floor. I'm pretty sure this is going to spoil me. Forever.)

(The second nice thing about this is that basically the entire hotel will be occupied by the teachers who I will be working with in Abu Dhabi. It'll be 70 teachers living in one building!)

2. We have to complete a physical and police check tomorrow. Since I don't have any contagious diseases and I'm not pregnant outside of wedlock, I'm pretty sure I'll be ok. We'll see though.

3. We got our phone SIM cards that treat international calls as local calls, which is great. Now all I need to do is go buy a phone, and I'll be in business. The calling-my-family-from-Abu-Dhabi business.

4. They are setting up bank accounts for us and we will be able to access those in the next few days. Since they are not paying us until the end of the month, there was nothing really that exciting about this . . .

5. We'll have our next orientation meeting, at which we will find out who will be working at which schools, next week sometime.

After we got back from the meeting, we showed some girls who are going to be living at another hotel our rooms. They liked ours way better than theirs, and now they want to switch to our hotel. They're pretty cool, so I wouldn't mind if they switched either.

We all went to dinner at the mall this evening. I got Greek food. I can't remember the name of the dish I had, but it was good!

Then we walked around the mall some more, but we were all getting tired so we we went back to our hotel/new home after about 15 minutes. We are hoping to make tomorrow another "sneaky spa day." That would be nice after today.

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Monday, August 3, 2009

My 1st Full Day

After our long flight over here, they decided to give us the day off today before we get down to business. I'd say I took advantage of the opportunity.

This morning, I went down to the coffee shop in our hotel to try some Arabian-style coffee. It was definitely a bit stronger than what I'm used to but it also had a good flavor to it. I will have to go get an ibrik and coffee grinder so I can start making my own coffee.

After that, I met up with my friends Chris, Jeff, and Andrew to go to the mall to exchange my U.S. dollars for dirhams (the currency they use here). We walked around the mall for a while, just to see what kind of stores they have. There were a ton of jewelry and watch stores but otherwise it looked like an American mall. For lunch we decided to stay in our comfort zones and ate at a Subway, which was also pretty much the same. Finally, we went down to the grocery store to get some snacks to munch on. I got some "French cheese" flavored Lays potato chips, some flat bread, and water and juice.

This afternoon Jeff, Andrew, and I decided we wanted to go to the beach. When we got to the ocean front, we asked this man at the hotel how to get to the beach. He pointed us towards their hotel's private beach, and they also had a health spa back there as well. We hung out on the beach for awhile, then went and sat in this steam room that smelled like mints (and made us smell minty too). Then we started talking to these (cute) German girls in the hot tub and found out they teachers too (just visiting for their summer vacation though). They also informed us that they had to pay $30 to be at the spa for the day, so I guess you could say we accidently snuck in. Oh well.

For dinner we went to a Lebanese bakery. We had flat bread and hummus for an appetizer, then for my meal I got a flatbread that had meat and cheese baked into it. It was pretty tasty, and really inexpensive too! I think I am going to like the food here!

Sorry I didn't get pictures up, my internet service was not functional again today so I had to use the hotels computers. But don't worry, I'm trying to take lots of pictures to share!

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Arriving in Abu Dhabi

Well after nearly 24 hours of airports/airplane, I finally arrived at the Abu Dhabi International Airport at about 7:30 Abu Dhabi time. I got my bags, went through customs, then went outside to catch the bus to our hotel. It was so hot and humid outside, even after sundown that peoples' glasses were fogging up! Also, it's been really windy here the last 3 days, which means this place has been sandstorm central, which means visibility and air quality aren't the greatest.

On the way to our hotel, which is in downtown Abu Dhabi, we passed lots of cool buildings including the mosque in the picture above. It is more huge and magnificent in real life than it looks in the picture.

When we got to our hotel, we had to wait awhile because they had to make a copy of all of our passport pictures (I think for security reasons). My room is on the 15th floor here and though not the nicest hotel room I've ever had, it is probably the biggest. It has a kitchen, a big living room, a pretty big bedroom, then of course a bathroom. I have a balcony off of the living room, which gives a decent view of the surrounding neighborhood. I took pictures of all this stuff, so I will put them up tomorrow (hopefully) when I am using my own computer and not this hotel's slow computer.

Look for more details tomorrow when I'm not feeling so tired and cranky. :)

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,


Saturday, August 1, 2009


Whenever you knowingly experience the "last" of something, even the most ordinary things suddenly seem extraordinary.

Take this couch I'm sitting on right now. I don't know when or even if I'll sit on this couch again. I bought it 4 years ago from my neighbors before they moved to Minnesota. I don't remember that there was anything that really stood out to me about the couch, other than the price tag: it's a plain beige couch that's good (not great) for sitting on, and they were practically giving it away because they just didn't have a need for it any more. So for the last 3 years of college, it became a reliable fixture in my living room--it was always there, and therefore I always used it when I needed a place to sit. Not a single day has passed in the last 4 years when I have put any more thought into this couch than that.

But tonight, being perhaps the last time I will ever sit on this couch, I have recalled some of the memorable life events I've experienced while sitting on it. I realize now, this isn't just a couch. Though there were probably hundreds or even thousands of couches that were made just like it, they aren't just couches either--not once they left the furniture store. From that moment on, rather, a unique story begins to be embedded within each one. And just like a photo album or diary or video tape does, each couch alone has the ability (when coupled with a night like tonight at least) to trigger dozens of memories that might otherwise have been forgotten.

And the couch isn't the only thing that has morphed from mediocre to magnificent tonight. The the sound of crickets, which I've always thought to be a little annoying, has suddenly become music to my ears on my last night here. I don't know if they have crickets in Abu Dhabi or not, but even so, I won't be able to hear their monotonous melody in the big city. And night time just won't be the same without them.

I'm also going to miss those wretched flower pots sitting out on my deck. My sister ambitiously decided to start a small "garden" this summer, to add a bit of life to our deck I suppose. For a while--about 10 days--it really was something. The blossoming flowers brought a lot of color and a nice aroma out there. But Andrea, being Andrea, seemed to forget that, much like all other living things, a flower doesn't stop needing food and water once it becomes fully grown. So our little garden turned into a plant cemetary (may they rest in peace), reminding all who went out there of death and darkness. And though they've been dead for nearly 2 months now, because somebody still hasn't bothered to remove them, I realize tonight that I wouldn't have it any other way.

I could go on and on with a list of other things that I might not see ever again, or at least for a really long time. But I'm getting tired now and I need to get a good night's sleep before my big day of traveling tomorrow (later today really). Even though this will not be the last goodnight I ever say to the Kansas City night sky, the changes that I am about to experience in my life just became very, very real for the first time.