Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hanging out at home

This week has been kind of a 'getting used to my place' week.  Where do I eat my meals, how do I actually prepare the meals in my bizzaro oven, where does that weird dookicky go and so on.  I've gotten most of the unslightly wall damage and odd electrical boxes covered up with art of one kind or another.  There have been some great deals at the mall so it hasn't cost me much to put some interesting things up.  I haven't invested in more than $20 for any one piece.  I even bought some blank canvases and paint and painted a few pieces myself for about $10 each.  One of them actually turned out good enough that I don't cringe when I walk past it.

The building cat, Scruffy, has adopted me and hangs out when I'm home.  He's very lovable but meows a lot so he gets kicked out at night.  He goes upstairs to his 'official' caretaker to sleep.

I've also been enjoying the outdoors a bit more as the temperature is falling to a comfy 37/38 at noon.  In the early morning and the evening it's okay for sitting or slowly walking now.  I'm looking at BBQs now so I'll be ready for next month.  As it is, I'm having fun watching out my windows at all the flora and fauna.

A bird dangles off a banana fruit flower outside my kitchen window
It's good that there is a lot of entertainment going on around me as I still don't have TV or internet but I guess I'm more motivated to go out and do things so I'm not going to complain. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


The ongoing saga with my internet has yet another chapter.  The company actually made an appointment with me to do the hook up so I was quite excited.  Everyone at work cautioned me and tried to make me see reason but I was determined to be optimistic about the whole process.  I've since learned my lesson.

 I wait for four hours the first appointment before giving up.  I waited two hours on the second appointment (later that weekend) before a man showed up with his tools and explained to me that there was no junction box in our building so I couldn't get my service.  They weren't in charge of the junction boxes so there would have to be some phone calls made to get that work order written up. 

When I asked the man why he made two appointments with a customer before checking to see if the work could be done, he just looked confused.  It would be funny if it wasn't happening to me.  Hopefully, things will be sorted by next week.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Al Jimi Oasis

My natural history group has different outtings every weekend so last weekend I went on a tour of one of the seven big oasis in the region.  Amer, our guide/host is a member of the group who took so many of these tours that he became an expert.  We were also lucky enough to have a local person in our group who worked for the municipality that takes care of the oasis so we got lots of inside knowlege on the place. 

It was like walking in a wild palm tree park with odd wells and irrigation canals.  Tall grasses are grown and harvested for animal feed.  There are tons of birds flitting around including green parots, swifts, bee eaters and swallows.  Interestingly, a lot of the birds were imported to increase the beauty of the country and, I'm assuming, polinate the flora.  We even saw a snake called a Wadi Racer. 

Here we are traipsing through the grass

a lot of this walled walkway was demolished in the wind storm last week and
we had to climb over downed trees

Historically, Al Jimi Oasis was a natural source of water like all oasis and it was used by the local community as a farming area.  They grew date palms, fruits and vegetables.  There was also a big fort for protection against any invading tribes who might try to steal the water, food or women.  

During the 1960's the discovery of oil created a movement out of the oasis and into the coastal towns so the agricultural communities died off.   To maintain the oasis nowadays, desalinated water is piped in from the coast and they almost exclusively grow date palms.  A palm tree needs 50 gallons of water every day and there are over a million in the area so that's a lot of water.  

they put mesh bags around the dates before they get ripe so that they don't fall on the ground
 Of course, the people who work in the oasis are from India or Pakistan and it's hard work.  They shimmy up these palms to bag and harvest the dates as well as cut the leaves every year to maintain the health of the tree.  Date palms were the most important possession that a person could have in the desert because you used the dates for food, feeding camels, making arabic coffee and the leaves for shelter and weaving.   Because of this, the late Sheikh made sure that every citizen had at least one date palm.  There are sections of the city where anyone can go and plant their palm and there are areas of palms that are donated to the poor.

There is still a fort there and it's open to the public but the local workers have decided to live in it illegally so they locked it up and we couldn't get inside.  I'll try again another time because it looked pretty interesting from the outside.

the fort at twight

It was hot during the walk but it was my first look at the UAE that didn't include a shopping mall so I had fun.  Afterwards, my friend/neighbor Patreshia and I went to La Brioche Cafe and had a good dinner surrounded by tables of white robed Arabic men.  The delicious corn-fed chicken in a muchroom sauce, whipped potatoes and a very large mint lemonade that I ordered was less than $15 which impressed me.  There was also a good selection of pastries that I'm going back for next time :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The weather

Last night we lost our building's electricity for 4 hours.   I think that some idiot cut something that he wasn't supposed to because no one would give us a straight answer and they claimed to be 'working' on the mosque down the road at 10:00pm which caused the outage.  It turned out alright because my neighbors and I sat out in the hall for a while and chatted.  This was only possible because the incredibly opressive heat has been replaced by a nice summer heat.  I eventually gave up and went to bed without air conditioning.  Of course, at 1:30 everything came back on and woke me up but at least I didn't wake up in a pool of my own sweat this morning.

It was so nice today that the students opened the windows and I taught class to a lovely breeze blowing in and the sound of songbirds.

The latest update on my internet is that the company is going to dig a hole for the fibre optic cable this week.  I may be stupidly optimistic but I'm going to assume that I'll have internet by next week sometime.  I wonder if I should buy a shovel and offer to help out :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Natural History Society

Last night I went to my first Natural History Society meeting.  There are a lot of these clubs in town and I'm going to have fun trying a few out.  This one is a keeper I think as it's like having a 'live' National Geographic in my life.  The lecture was on the coral reefs of the UAE and how they're being impacted by things like the giant palm tree islands that have been built. 

They built this right on top of a coral reef and destroyed it.

In addition to the twice monthly lectures, there will be weekend excursions and day trips.  There was a trip to the local souk (market) last week but I missed it so I'm going to try and tour the souk on my own.  The club website is here.

There are quite a few clubs here so I'll have to try out some of them.  It'll be a good way to meet new people.  I was going to join the book club but it's on Thursday evenings (last work day of the week) so that might be too ambitious. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dubai Conference

Last weekend, I went to the 24th Dubai Education Conference for HCT (my college). It was held just this side of the city so I didn't have a chance to see any of the gleaming towers or even the coastline and I was inside all day anyways so I'll make another trip to see the wonders of Dubai when the weather cools down a bit.

From my seat in the main auditorium

It was mandatory for all staff so I got to see the 1500 teachers working country-wide for the colleges and the 287 new hires for this year.   As far as conferences go, this one was kind of a bust as both lectures I attended were out-of-date but I did get to meet His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, UAE Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Chancellor of the Higher Colleges of Technology.  I even got to shake his hand along with the other 287 new hires.

He's the one in the middle
The best part of the day for me was the drive home as my friends Sharon and Serge had driven me and I could sit back and relax.  Then, suddenly we drove into a storm.  Sand obscured everything and blew wildly around the car.
The view on the side of the highway

The highway

Then the rains hit with thunder and lightening.  The roads flooded and trees came down everywhere.

no drainage
These updates are a bit slow because I still don't have internet at my apartment.  On the bright side, I do have a sofa and chairs now.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First week of school

I'm actually sitting in my office with all kinds of teaching materials surrounding me.  The college is quite nice and, although I've gotten lost a couple of times, I'm starting to feel comfortable.  It's been a bizzare week after being out of the classroom for a year and a half  but I'm slowly remembering all the little things that need doing and how to do them.

Al Ain Woman's College

I now have a regular taxi driver named Evelyn (from the Phillipines) who picks me and my neighbor (Patreshia) up every morning and brings us to work.  It's costing me about $2.50 every morning because we've been tipping her.  So nice to have a woman driver who speaks fluent English and drives calmly.  Some of my taxi rides have been crazy, hang-on-for-dear-life trips with an uncertain destination due to communication difficulties.  I like the idea of supporting a woman in this male dominated place also.

My work schedule isn't great as I have four 8:00am class starts and I'm not always at my best so early in the day.  In addition, my office and my classrooms are on opposite sides of the campus.  On the plus side, the students are very sweet.  They all call me 'Miss'.  "Please help me, Miss?", "No homework, please Miss."  Adorable!   Once in the class they take off their head scarves and relax so it feels more like a normal classroom to me.  

Our first week is kind of a write-off as we don't have text books and they're going to move students into different classes at the end of the week so we can't teach anything important because our new students will be left in the dark.  It wouldn't be so bad except that it's 15 hours to fill with nothing important...that's a lot of time to waste.  This confusion is apparently normal and everyone is very accepting of the disorganized start so I'm trying my best to chill out and make do. I've got four more hours to go and apparently things will be better next week. 

Sooo, I went into Etisalat (internet, telephone and TV) to find out why I still don't have services more than two weeks after registering and I was told that my building doesn't have a 'wire'.  I'm still not sure exactly what this means but they were very appologetic and said that they would install a 'wire' within two days and then someone would contact me for a connection appointment.  I'm expecting that it will be a nice Christmas present for myself.   In the meantime, I'm expecting my living room furniture tomorrow afternoon so I'll be able to enjoy my TVless existance with a nice soft sofa.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The bus station

I went up to visit my friend Karen in the capital City of Abu Dhabi the other day.  It was my first time dealing with the buses.  The trip was about two hours and cost around $2.50 so that was great.  What was also great was the fact that the buses run every 30 minutes so I won’t have any trouble getting around.

The ride was pretty boring with nothing much to look at except the date clumps hanging in mesh bags as they ripen and fall.  It’s dry scrub or rock most of the way.  I did get a glimpse of the Grand Mosque and it’s stunning from the road…apparently there are tours so I’m definitely putting that on the list.

The interesting part of the trip was when I was leaving Abu Dhabi and had to catch a bus home.  It’s a big station with absolutely no signs, no posted schedules and almost no employees.

After getting in line at a counter to buy a ticket I was told politely that women didn’t have to wait in the big long lines and I could go directly to the counter.  Then, after asking several people where to find my bus I was faced with a huge long line and immediately thought that I would be waiting for the next bus but when the bus did come, all the men were pushed out of the way so us ladies could get on and sit at the front.  I felt badly for those guys left standing but the heat was bad enough that I got over it pretty fast.  It’s funny how we hear all about the disadvantages faced by women in the Middle East but not so much about the perks.

My neighbourhood


I live in a place called ‘Old Sarouj’…across the six lane road is ‘New Sarouj’.  My actual building comes off a dirt road which is kind of annoying as no one can find it for deliveries and it gets really dusty.

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Luckily, the yard is filled with date palms, lime trees and has a kind of jungle feel to it.  This is the backyard..I’m not sure what they’re doing with the bricks.

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Al Ain is called the garden city because they had the idea to put in green spaces long before other cities in the country.  I’m not sure ‘garden’ is a great description but there are some tree lined roads and a few parks which I’m going to check out as so as the weather cools down.

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The most distinctive building in the area is the state owned telephone/internet provider, Etisalat.

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The other notable buildings are the shopping malls which are big and glittery.  I’m a five minute taxi ride from two of them which is very handy and costs about $2.50.

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Because it’s so hot here, there are covered parking spaces…I’m guessing that this is cheaper than building underground parking lots.

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Anyone for skating while shopping?

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I mentioned about the Eid candy in my last post so here is a picture of some typical baskets as well as the Eid moon and stars decorations seen everywhere.

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My next foray is to the industrial shopping area to look for furniture at more affordable prices…we’ll see what happens :)