Thursday, October 31, 2013

Nice to Meet You Abu Dhabi: Part Two

Alica, a friend I made through Facebook (thanks to Elizabeth from HRMS!) was kind enough to introduce me to some key places and one of her Emirati friends here. What an amazing day of exposure to local culture and people and getting to know a new friend (in person finally)!

 The Emirates Palace Hotel
This was just down the street from my hotel. I thought it looked like a nice place to run that morning that I ventured out into the blazing morning sun. When I approached the gate, the guards looked at me like I was a stray dog. They didn't exactly shoo me away, but I was told, "For guests only." 
Apparently there is a dress code here, and you can only drive in, not walk. They actually stop the car and look in to see what you are wearing. 

Inside The Emirates Palace
It is unbelievable on the inside! Gold leaf everywhere from pillars to walls to ornately decorated cathedral-like ceilings. There was even a gold ATM...yes you get gold out of it, not cash. It was like being in Midas's palace. Rooms run from about $550/night (not bad considering...) to over $8000/night.

Lunch with Sareea & Family
Alicia's friend, Sareea was kind enough to invite us to her house for lunch. She had prepared a beautiful (and tasty!) spread of her favorite foods for us. We began with tea and getting acquainted with Sareea and her oldest daughter Afra. Having spent a few years in Washington DC when Afra was elementary school age, they both speak very good English. We also got to meet Sareea's younger daughter Aisha who was a bit more shy, but also very sweet. Sareea and Afra were so welcoming, energetic, and comfortable to visit with, it felt like I'd known them for a lifetime.
Sareea has a warm heart and a big personality!

Three Beautiful Hostesses

 The Kitchen

 The Food
I have now discovered chicken briyani - yum! 
Wonderful salads on the other end too.

 Alicia - Me - Sareea - Afra - Aisha

(fresh fruit cup, chocolate mousse & date cake) - coffees - teas
Yes, of course I had all three desserts!

Sareea in her beautiful garden

 The family's party house - fashioned after the White House

 A photo of Sheik Zayed with his airplane pilot (Sareea's husband ) next to him!
Sayed was humble, but happy to pose for me next to his picture with the sheik.
 After the unique honor of meeting this wonderful family, we went to one more amazing spot.

The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque
 But first, there is a dress code...don't worry, they have "loaner" abayas and shaylas! 
Luckily we had our own coverings that would get us by.
All covered? OK, now you may enter...enjoy the brilliant artwork and stunning architecture!
See the helicopter flying nearby? It's closer than it looks here.

Want to see some of that inlay work up close?

Cool floors eh? How about the pillars and walls...

No shoes allowed inside the temple…

Inside the really can't capture this place and it's grandeur.

Kids are allowed to be kids (running-laughing-playing), but there is a certain respect and tameness 
that emanates from all, even the youngest.
Men pray out in theopen or they can go to a men's prayer room. 
Women all go to the women's prayer room.

All carpets throughout the mosque are carefully hand woven, I hear. 
I found the carpet in the women's prayer room to be particularly magnificent, and
 I felt the unparalleled quality of its woven fibers hug my toes as if it were saying, "Welcome!"

The sun was setting as we finished our visit...

Beautiful end to a beautiful day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nice to meet you Abu Dhabi: Part One

Night time view from my hotel 
Etihad Towers is outlined in blue in the background. Apartment complexes seem to come in sets of "towers" here. 
This one is a particularly nice complex.                       
Currency in UAE (dirhams and fils) is very colorful. I wonder if I'll ever know which is which without studying it for 5 minutes at the checkout. The bills come in aed (arab emirates dirham) 500 - 200 - 100 - 50 -20 -10 - 5. I haven't really figured out the coins yet, except the big ones are one dirham. I think they also have 50 and 25 fils, which is like cents. At the checkout, it seems that they usually just round to the nearest dirham and don't even bother with fils.

Daytime Adventures
 Elise and I managed to get very lost trying to find IKEA (on Yaz Island which is still developing as an area and much of it is clear for neither Garmin nor GoogleMaps), but saw this huge yo-yo shaped building on our journey. I've since learned to type in "Ferrari World"(a much more high-profile destination) if I want directions that actually get me near IKEA. In a total of about ten trips, I think I've managed to get there without getting hopelessly lost twice. Kim and I discovered that Yaz Island is a bad place to get lost when your gas light is on...there are NO petrol stations on the island!

Oh! And I even spotted a familiar activity...kitesurfing! (as they call it here) I've heard that summer is the off-season and that the wind is good from about September through June...
in case any of you wind freaks were looking for a new spot to try your skills. 
Who knows, maybe I'll give it a shot here since you don't have to worry about barges, rocks, bridges, river current...basically ANY obstacles besides other kiters.

The Night Scene
Then I went exploring the night scenes with fellow Oregonians, Lori & Dan 
and couple Brit friends, Jim & Ken. Dinner at Le Boulanger: chicken tika (basically shishkabob & veggies) with a big clump of intense garlic sauce - YUM! Lori and I decided that it was high time we tried shisha for the first time: grape & lime. I think I've figured out that the stuff you smoke is called sheesha and the thing you smoke it from is a hooka... 
Somehow the locals manage to make it look much cooler and more sophisticated.
The verdict: first puff or two was interestingly tasty but, 
IT'S STILL SMOKING! YUK! Nothing like the taste of ashtray mouth 
to ruin perfectly good garlic breath!

Despite the 100+ F degree temperature, we decided to walk the appx 2-3 km trek back to our hotel and were rewarded with the beautiful scene of the massive hotel down the street from ours, called 
The Emirates Palace. They put on a spectacular fountain & light display in the nighttime!

Shortly after this, dripping with sweat, we relented, hailed a taxi, and illegally squished all five of us in for the last kilometer of our journey "home." We tipped our accommodating driver BIG.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Getting Information

Boring title...I know. But, when information is all you want, it becomes HUGE when it actually happens! Although we were thoroughly enjoying our time to get acquainted with each other and our new surroundings, we were all quite interested in knowing more about our teaching placements and were relieved to finally get some information. Most of us did not know what grade or subject we would be assigned to teach, and none of us knew WHERE we would be living and teaching. Some people were relieved, some were puzzled, some were in complete shock and tears upon learning these things at our first big meeting.

Although I was completely prepared, and even maybe hopeful, to be placed out in the desert area called "the western region", I have to admit that I am very happy to have been placed in the Abu Dhabi area. Finding our schools was an adventure! We were heading in the right direction, towards Al Falah, the community that my school is located in. It's outside of town a bit, in the farming area.
Then things started getting interesting...
With Elise driving (brave soul!), me navigating, and Ethlyn providing moral support and entertaining commentary, we entered the coordinates (addresses do not exist here) for my school and we drove nearly an hour out into desert that got increasingly more desolate as we went. At the final destination, Garmin Jane told us to "navigate off road." We were at a Du cell phone tower surrounded by sand
- JUST sand - no homes, no shops, no palm trees, no people. 
Thankfully, we figured out how to use GoogleMaps and we able to find my actual school 
...a half hour back towards where we began! 

Finally, the work begins! Now that we'd all found our schools, it was time to get down to business at the ADEC 2013-14 Teacher Orientation at Sorbonne University on Al Reem Island, just outside of downtown Abu Dhabi. We were bused there from our hotels. Now we could see what this school system is all about. After we all rose for the entrance of Dr. Mugheer Khamis al Khaili, Director General of Abu dhabi Education Council,  he spoke about the need to educate today's youth of Abu Dhabi in English because the oil money will not continue forever and they must be able to function and work in a world whose one common language is English (at least that's the gist of what I got out of it). After that it was much like every other back-to-school large group gathering I've been to over the years...yawn.

An unlikely bunch of friends...
Elise form Massachusettes, Masooma from Manchester, UK, 
Me from Oregon, Ethlyn from NY, and Kim from Florida.
Not sure how we all found each other, but glad we did!