Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our College's National Day celebrations

This week has been the absolute craziest week that I've had here so far.  The national Day (translate that into month) wackiness started with a bird show on the campus. 

From the Al Ain Zoo
Falconry is a big deal here and a lot of people have them, in fact, one of my student's brothers have them.  These zoo keepers brought the birds and had them flying for prey in front of the girls who screamed and took photos on cue. 

This one didn't want to go back to his handler and held the show up for a while.

The next day got even wilder when we became a parade.  Four floats and 48 buses filled with screaming, flag waving students.  We paraded through town for 90 minutes and then went to some sort of heritage village.  My students were pretty excited and cheered and sang the whole time on the bus.  This is a big deal for them to go out into public and be allowed to stick their heads out of windows like that because they usually act demure in public places.

All of the school kids lined the street to see the parade...this was a National Day slash recruitment event.
This is a women's traditonal Dance.  They swing their hair from side to side
while swaying to the beat of the drums.  There is very little movement and,
as dance and music are not allowed in Islamic culture, it seems to be done
only at home. 
Yesterday was my student's big day as they had a 'festival' in the college where each class in our level one had a booth/table to sell something,  create something or celebrate National Day in some way.  My class took photos of students with the traditional berka that their grandmother's used to wear on their faces and then they printed off the photos to give each girl.  

These girls cooked and brought in food to sell.

I bought the traditional clothes to wear for the day and had fun.  The outer black cloak is called an Abayah, the head scarf is called a sheyla and the inner dress is called a Kandora.  Here I am getting the tradional Henna done on my hand by one of our students.

I'm glad that I wore the traditional clothes for the day because I feel like I understand my student a bit better now.  They walk very slowly which is quite irritating but I discovered that it's impossible to walk quickly in these clothes so now I think I'll be more understanding with them.

With the traditional berka on my face

I also made a cake for the day in the shape of a UAE traditional fort.  Red velvet, French vanila and dark chocolate layers to simulate the colors of the flag.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gearing up for National Day

It’s the 4oth anniversary of the UAE and things are getting more and more interesting as the weeks go on.  Today at school, we had some young men come to perform sword dances.  Of course, the girls were very excited as they don’t often get to see men that they aren’t related to.  Plus, it was a beautiful day to sit outside for the show.

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You’ll notice that the photo of the girls is from a distance so that you can’t make out their faces.  They can get into a lot of trouble with their families if their faces are shown and it’s a big deal here to ask before taking the picture or make sure that you can’t make out who they are.

After the dancing, the level ones were asked to prepare some paintings for the upcoming festivities.  Chaos ensued as they coated their hands to make a giant hand printed flag.

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Here is Tim Smith, the Dean of the College lending a hand…literally.

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Here is Marion King, my supervisor, also getting down to work.

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Of course, it’s not just the college that’s getting involved.  The whole city is mad with lights and as the flag is white, red, green and black there is a Christmassy feeling to it all.  Every roundabout, every bridge, most large buildings and a lot of homes are covered in flags and lights.

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and we’re still a week away from the big day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The beginning...

Next week is the 40th National Day of the UAE so it's a pretty big deal around here.  There are events planned all over the country and our college has things going on this week and next week.  Today we made a giant 40 out of students and faculty.

You can see me in beige, behind the lady in a green top.

You can see all of our red, white, black and green balloons flying

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lemon Curd and Shiny things

This week at the college we had an arts & crafts souq (market).  There was a ton of stuff and it was a fun way to spend a bit of time away from my desk.  I had been looking forward to seeing what would be on offer as so much in the shops is plastic and cheap quality.

I bought a lovely bracelet from my friend Liz and I will be ordering more things from her as she makes such artistic and original stuff.

Liz with her jewelry
My friend Mary who sits next to me in our office...she's saved me so many times.

I bought some delicious lemon curd to put on toast....they also had really
creative chutneys

Not bad for a day at work :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

It's All in the Name

In taking attendance today, I noticed that it's pretty interesting how my female student's names are constructed.  They have a first name, often chosen from the Qur'an, like Fatima, Mariam, Salama or Mouza.  ( have five Mariams between my two classes)  Their first name is followed by their father's name, then their grandfather's name, then their great-grandfather's name and then their tribal name.  This means that all the kids in a family have the same name except for their first name...easy to remember your brother's name, I guess.

The tribes are old and pre-date the UAE so they can be found all over the Arabian peninsula.  In fact, they are often more closely connected to Yemen or Oman than to the other Emirates in the UAE.  Al Shamsi is an example of one of these tribes and I have a student with that name but there are also sub-sections of each of the tribes.  There are 70 tribes recognized in the UAE and apparently, there can be some prejudice towards certain tribes but I haven't seen that. 

All of the tribes seem to call themselves Bedu (Bedouin) regardless of their names. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tombs and Forts

This weekend was nice and relaxing but I did join a new excursion group and went out for one trip.  We met in the morning and, in a convoy of 4x4s, we went off-road into the desert between my apartment and the Oman border which is about 20kms away.

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The mountain in the background of this picture is Jebel Hafit and it’s really the only mountain nearby.  It was part of an ancient trade route in the area so in the 1960s, Dutch and Danish archaeologists spent quite a bit of time digging around the base of the mountain.  What they found was over 500 hundred tombs.  Each tomb contained approximately 25 bodies and a ton of artefacts.  The artefacts can be seen in town at the museum but the the Abu Dhabi Archeological and Cultural Ministry reconstructed some of the tombs.

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These tombs were built from around 3000BC so they’re pretty ancient.  There is also evidence of copper mining and smelting in the area and we found rocks that had been melted and then reformed.  We also found fossilized coral as this whole area was under a sea a million and half years ago.  Very cool place to walk around just looking at rocks. 

Amro, our guide, tells us not to be out here after 5:00pm because the military moves in and patrols for illegals crossing the Omani border.  He says that one trip he had a red laser on his chest from a sniper rifle and they were questioned as to what they were doing. 

On our way out, we spotted some camels.  The camel racing season starts soon and Amro has promised to take us.

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We went out to the Mezyad Fort next and it was interesting from an architectural point of view.  The forts were built out of mud bricks and covered with adobe.  They used palm trees and leaves for the roof and the whole thing could take 30 years to finish.  The forts are square with watch towers on each corner.  The center is open and they used to sleep, eat and live outside.  The walls were only necessary to keep enemies from stealing the women and water.  There was a well inside and a large room called a magis near the front entrance for men to entertain without exposing the women to outsiders. This particular fort is under renovation but Amro says it’s going badly because the restorers don’t understand the basic principles of the tribal lifestyle so they keep doing stupid things like planting trees in the living areas.

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Finished my weekend off with a bbq in the courtyard with Tanya and Patreshia.  I bought a shiny new bbq for $50 this week so i just had to take it out for a test drive.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Man Who Walked on the Moon

I was going to write this blog entry in 'matter-of-fact' and sophisticated way but I just can't.....I feel like a teenager who just met a rock star and, in a way, I did.  Yesterday there was a Festival of Thinkers panel at our men's college down the road and all teachers were invited.  The panel consisted of;

Charlie Duke (the 10th man to walk on the moon for Apollo 16)

Steve Oswald ( Discover and Endeavor Shuttle Pilot)

Sami Solanki (Astrophysist who is studying solar phenomenon
and is Director of the Max Planck Institute)

Garik Israelan ( Astrophysist who discovered that supernovas create blackholes)
There were other members of the panel, which was chaired by Svante Lindqvist of the Royal Swekish Academy of Sciences Sweden, but these four really impressed me.  They spoke on leadership, risk and exploration.  Charlie Duke was the most elequent speaker and had some really good points to make about teamwork, calculating risk factors and the importance of 'seeing what's over the next hill'. 

The audience was allowed to ask questions so they got the typical "was the landing on the moon real?" to which Charlie answered; "If it was fake, why did they fake it nine times?" and "I don't know about the other guys but they sent me to the moon."  I had a million questions but mine were either science related or more suited for a dinner table conversation rather than a quick panel answer so I went up afterwards and spoke to some of the panel members. 

Steve Oswald told me that a big group of 'old timer shuttle astronauts' were present for the final shuttle launch earlier this year and it was a touching send-off.  He also mentioned a bit about the loss of Challenger and Columbia as he was involved in recovery for both accidents.

Dr. Solanki and I had a quick discussion about funding for his institute as I was curious about the economic woes in Europe and how that was effecting science research...he is involved in four big projects right now.   The President of Germany is a physist so she has kept funding in place for research and education...lucky them.  His research in Solar changes has also been used for pro-global warming and anti-global warming so I wanted ask about that.  He said that he tried to be purely scientific in his research and got a lot of political flack for it but in the end, his research shows that solar differencials do not play a part in our current warming trend....Dr. Solanki also had some great things to say about inspiring young minds to encourage future exploration.

For me, the highlight was meeting Charlie Duke.  He was very sweet, asking where I was from and talking a bit about his trip here to the UAE.  We joked a bit about all the gadgets he needed as he had to remove a cell phone to attach a microphone.  To my delight, he sounds just like he does on all the NASA footage of Apollo 11 (he was CAPCOM) and of Apollo 16 on the moon...a steady, comforting southern twang. 

Here I am shaking Charlie Duke's hand

Monday, November 14, 2011


When I’ve heard the name Kathmandu in the past, it always seemed like a mythical, magical  place like Shangri-la or Zanadu.  Now I’ve been there and I can definitely say that it’s not mythical but it does have a certain magical quality. Although, you might have to squint to see the magic through the smog and insane traffic jams. 

I went with my friends Sharon, Serge, Linda and Julie and here we are at our first Nepalese dinner which was fantastic. 

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We had a rocky start with our flight being delayed overnight and the airline really messing up the situation.  Very unprofessional behaviour from almost every employee that we death with so I won’t be flying with Etihad again.  I would also warn anyone who is going to be prepared for a two hour wait at immigration in Kathmandu…the same on the way out.

We didn’t stay in Kathmandu that night but took a crazy van ride to Baktapur which is a UNESCO protected town .  The van was hilarious with no interior walls and broken windshield wipers so that driver had to keep pulling over to wipe down his window. 

Baktapur was interesting but crumbling and poor.  It’s got a neglected air in the evenings but the day is a bustling place with vendors and tourists…not to mention the packs of dogs.  The temples and palaces are still in use by the devoted so we could only see part of them but there were a dizzying assortment of red bricked buildings and stone carvings all around us.  This was the view from my room.

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Most of the buildings and roads are made of red clay brick which give Baktapur a warm, rich feeling.  The temples are covered with either stone or wooden decoration and the detail is fascinating.  Sharon had photocopied a walking tour guide so I could make a bit of sense of what I was seeing.  One particular set of Goddesses was supposed to be so prized that they cut off the hands of the artists so he couldn’t replicate the work.

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Walking the streets was interesting because you never knew what might be around the corner. 

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The first night we didn’t get much sleep as they were ringing the temple bell every two hours to wake the Gods…I’m not kidding here…every two bloody hours.  Also, the street dogs would howl and bark on and off most of the night.  I self-medicated with beer the next night so the Gods may have been awake, but I wasn’t.

The next day, Sharon, Serge, our new Nepali friend Benote and I went for a hike at the base of the Himalayas.  We drove up to Nagarkot to get our first look that those lofty peaks.

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You may have noticed a lack of mountains in that last picture…that would our view of the famous Himalayas for the trip….I’m pretty sure that Nepal doesn’t actually have any mountains and that they’ve just created an incredible tourism campaign.  It was a nice hike through the forests though.

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We eventually started to see a lot of people wandering the trail and then the trail became a road.  They were all going to  Changu Narayan which is the oldest Hindu Temple in Nepal.  There was a big festival and we got to go inside and see what it was all about.

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The women were all lined up with plates of marigolds, rice and other offerings to the Gods. 

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Serge and Sharon got blessed by the yogi who put a glob of coloured rice on their foreheads.

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They were also burning incense everywhere so the place smelt fantastic.  It seemed that if a Nepali was near a Buddhist temple, he or she was a Buddhist and if they were near a Hindu temple, they were Hindu…very nice inclusion of everyone.

The next few days were spent wandering around the city, shopping, eating and drinking.  Nepal Ice beer is on my recommend list for anyone who goes there.  We also had some pretty fantastic food.  Here we are getting our sizzling chicken with pineapple and apple slices.

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We spent our last night and day in a beautiful temple converted into a hotel.  Here Linda and I are on the rooftop overlooking Kathmandu…you’ll notice the lack of mountains :)

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On the way home I had to take a picture of these cotton candy balls in the UAE…they seem obsessed with the stuff and package it in the strangest ways.

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I did a bit of shopping and got a few decorations for my apartment.

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It was too short to get a real feel for the country but I’ve decided to stay in the Middle East for the next vacation so I get enjoy my surroundings a bit…I’ve come all this way so I’d better take advantage of it.