Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Education in the UAE--Let's Get Our Learn On!

As if moving across the globe weren’t enough of an experience, transferring schools midyear has been an experience I could have done without.
Mostly due to the fact we had to wait an inordinate amount of time for the sponsorship letter proving we would, in fact, be moving (who would make THAT one up?), we were unable to enroll the children in our preferred school. And, actually, our first three choices were full by the time we arrived. Finally, we chose the American International School. And while it was our last choice, it was only last based on geography. The boys have about an hour bus ride each way. Since buses are new experiences for Thomas and Lucas, they’re more than thrilled to wake 25 minutes earlier.
The curriculum is similar to the American, as it is an accredited American school. Basically, the only difference is that it’s set in Abu Dhabi. Oh, and they teach Arabic as well. Considering the boys were learning Spanish at their former school—a foreign language class is not that . . . well, foreign. Thomas excitedly showed us his name in Arabic from his first class. Poor kid has just mastered writing left to right, now we throw in Arabic, which is written from right to left. Studies show language acquisition is much faster for children, and pronunciation without a ‘foreign’ accent is less. And, as our world becomes more connected, multilingualism will be an invaluable asset in the workplace. Indeed, one of the benefits of taking this position was the fact we could offer opportunities to travel and learn that we would not otherwise be able to offer the children. To close, Albert Einstein said it best, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness. ~Ray Bradbury

If the above quote is true, we're having a hell of a lot of fun! I remember when Sam and I moved to Greenville, we somehow got turned around on 10th St during construction and were lost for about 30 minutes before we found our way back home.
As far as Abu Dhabi is concerned, thank goodness for taxi drivers and the ability to fake like we're not tourists. After about a month, we're finally starting to figure out where we are. We're lucky to live right on the Corniche. It's like Rome--all roads lead to the Corniche. Get me to the Corniche and I can find my way home. We've already been introduced to people from all over the world. Turkey, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Germany, Ireland, Egypt, Iraq, Persia, and the list goes on. . .it is truly a melting pot. Perhaps a salad is a better description: it all mixes together but manages to retain its unique flavor.
So, my first impressions:
1. The people are wonderful. Especially, with the children. Lucas, Helen, and Jack are the most frequent recipients of such affection. And Thomas is an anomaly with his blond hair and blue eyes. We were on an elevator, and a woman asked if she could take Jack's picture. He's probably still a screensaver on someone's phone.
2. I'm used to different periods of busyness. It's hopping here until at least 10 PM. But, dead in the morning. As mentioned in the previous posting, prior to 10 AM is a great time to shopping. It will take you a quarter of the time.
3. Everything is made fresh. Even fast food. There are an amazing variety of restaurants in the food court. My favorite was an Indian restaurant that gave me a huge plate of food and a salad, and something in a bowl (haha, but it was good) for about 25 dirhams (dhs) which is little over $6.
4. And my favorite thus far, the variety of produce. We've had pears from Egypt, dragon fruit from Thailand, carrots from Jordan, lettuce from Persia, and apples from France (I'm probably not doing a lot to decrease my carbon footprint, but the produce section is a field trip).
Fortunately, there’s an incredible amount produced/grown here in the UAE. My favorite being the chicken that’s slaughtered and delivered within a day (sorry to my vegetarian friends). I’m amazed at the difference in taste. Although, I’ve not made anything with lamb yet, I know it’s fresh, since it’s butchered right in the store. Really.
It’s been an eye opening experience thus far. Our ‘flat’ doesn’t feel like home yet, but it’s getting there. We’re learning our way around and we’re already becoming regulars in certain places (the Lebanese restaurant half a block away is our favorite dining spot). But, plan on taking it with you; it’s not an “eat in” kind of place. Happily, there are several playgrounds and parks where you can enjoy your meals.
There’s a lot more I’ll try to share as I remember. And now that I have computer access, it will be much easier to share those impressions on a more immediate basis.

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home. ~James Michener

Monday, February 21, 2011

Arrival--Part 2 OR "The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to." F. Scott Fitzgerald

Long story short, we arrived four hours late (around midnight). By the time we got through customs, put our bags through security again, and picked up our luggage off the carousel (we only left one bag at the airport--haha), and waited for the hotel to send enough taxis for our luggage and us, we arrived to the hotel around 3 AM.
Here’s where the jetlag set in. The kids were WIRED! All of them. It was like someone had given them a hit of speed. Understandably, their bodies were telling them it was 6 PM. But, I forced them into bed to try and establish our “normal” routine.
The first day wasn’t too bad, other than a little fatigue. But, that first night. Wow. I had about 90 minutes of sleep. Between Jack teething (forgot to mention he was teething during the flight as well), and three children who couldn’t sleep, had various excuses for getting out of bed, etc., it was a rough night.
After a couple more days, though, the kids went to bed at 8 and slept through the night. During the day, we were kept busy with sightseeing, visiting our new apartment, and settling into a new city.
Setting up a new household I definitely took for granted. In the States, I took for granted how easy this would be. Sure, you buy everything. But, that means everything. From appliances to furniture, down to minor things like curtain rods, towels, and toiletries. Not a task that can be achieved quickly nor easily.
Shopping here. Hmmm, I’ve heard it described at worst as the seventh level of Hell and at best, over stimulating. And depending on the time of day, it can be anywhere in between. I quickly learned to go to the hypermarkets (super centers) before three. A couple times, we made the mistake of being there after 5, and it was all I could do to hold onto the shopping cart to keep from being run over. It’s pandemonium. Since then, I’ve discovered the best way to shop is to go before noon and to wear sunglasses inside. Initially, I thought people wore sunglasses for sun protection. No, no. It’s to protect the eyes from the 4000W light bulbs that are used in the stores. I plan on taking people to Lulu’s and Carrefour as a tourist spot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Arrival--Part 1

Since it's been almost a month since I last posted, I decided to break the journey into pieces. Don't want to lose my faithful audience over an epic blog. :-)
Now I know why they tell you to arrive at the airport at least four hours before your flight when you're flying internationally. And honestly, there should be a caveat that if you're moving internationally, you should arrive at least six hours in advance.
While I thought we had whittled our possessions down to the bare necessities, we still had about 23 suitcases (I'm still not sure of the total) to check, and somewhere around 15 carry-ons, camera bags, diaper bags, backpacks, stroller, and purse. Yup, that's it. We were the freakin' Clampetts. All we needed was to lash a rocking chair onto the plane and we'd have been set.
Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers and sympathetic TSA officials, or we'd have been screwed. Or someone would've lost a shoe. Or, even worse, a lovey.
But, finally we were through check-in and security. I was truly impressed by how well the kids did, considering lunch was about two hours later than normal AND no one had a nap. We definitely dodged a bullet with that one. But, a good lunch and a DVD in the DVD player (that an incredibly intelligent person purchased for each child for Christmas), and we were good to go.
Some amusing things from the trip—the kids love soldiers. And there were lots coming through Atlanta-Hartsfield. Thomas asked one guy, “Are you going to Afghanistan to fly fighter jets?! Because that’s where my cousin is, his name is Curt. You should tell him 'hi' for me.”
When we took off from Atlanta to Chicago, Helen started squealing with laughter. Anyone that knows Helen knows how funny this can be. And also knows that it’s a sign of nervousness, as oppose to actually finding something funny.
We made it to Chicago. And even though our flight was early, we almost had the gates closed on us. We had to check in again to the Etihad counter, reweigh our carry-ons, and go through security yet again. Had it not been for the amazing ticket agent who let us slide on some overweight bags, then met us in security and escorted us through, we surely would have missed the flight.
And then we waited. . .
For four hours while some technical/mechanical issue was fixed. But, better to discover it on the runway, as oppose to midair.
Long story short, the flight was long, but the kids were AMAZING. We couldn’t have asked for a better flight experience.
Thanks for hanging in and the next chapter of “The Arrival” will follow our journey through the airport and to our hotel at 4 AM, Abu Dhabi time.