Arid Letters

The Diary of an English Teacher in Arabia


2 Comments

YAbuDhabiDoo

Greetings all, I’ve been in Abu Dhabi for about five days now. Right now I’m streaming the Packers vs. Vikings game in my hotel room. It’s 2.45 AM, but I don’t mind being awake right now as I fell asleep around 4 pm yesterday, woke up briefly for supper, then went right back to sleep. So you can deduce two facts from this situation: 1) my life has been pretty easy since I got here, and 2) my sleep schedule is still a little wonky.

So a lot of my time over the last five days has been spent in the pool, the sauna, the gym, and in the sea breeze on a deck chair under palm trees. Winter weather here on the Persian Gulf coast is simply dreamy –  mid 80s and breezy every day. I’d say I got out of the Midwest just in time!

Don’t worry, I have been doing SOME work things since I’ve been here. (Packers just scored their first TD of the game, yay!) I’ve been going around to different offices filling out paperwork and getting fingerprinted for my Emirati ID, and had a couple different doctor appointments to clear me for residency in the UAE and qualification for the ADNOC health insurance. Yesterday I was in the doctor for about three hours, then the driver didn’t come to pick me up for another two hours, so it was a lot of waiting.

All things considered, my employer is way WAYYYYY better than my employer in KSA for the last couple years. I’m working for ADNOC schools – ADNOC stands for Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. So I’m not just working for a oil company, I’m working for the only oil company in the emirate, which means I have government benefits and get fairly pampered.

Today is my last day in the hotel, I believe they’re sending me to Madinat Zayed today. MZ is the city where I’ll be working, teaching in a K-12 school. It’s a city of less than 50,000 (this makes it by far the smallest city I’ll have lived in since coming to Arabia), on the edge of a gas field. While still in the province of Abu Dhabi, I’ll be about an hour and a half from the actual city of AD (but only half an hour from the coast – a sea kayak is high on my shopping list). Once I get settled in, I’ll be purchasing a car, hopefully a 4×4, as there will be a lot of opportunities for desert and beach adventures where I am this year. The employer gives me an interest free car loan to be repaid over two years – did I mention how pampered I feel this year? Anyway I better stop reveling in my good luck or I’ll jinx it. Did I mention I had to wait for five hours doing nothing yesterday? And the breeze coming off the gulf can feel kind of chilly if you’re wet and in the shade. So it’s not all beer and skittles over here.

My intention this year is not to spend all my time on the beach or in the mall however. Last year I was really inspired by my scholarship students from Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. I was impressed with their resolve and determination, heartbroken hearing some of their stories, impressed with the ability of education to really help people, and inspired to try do my part to make the world a better place. The UAE has had boots on the ground in Yemen for some time now, which has ushered in an interesting time in the country’s history. It may be the first gulf country to really develop a sense of nationalism and patriotic pride similar to what we have in the west, as their boys are being drafted and killed to fight for their country. Of course, that’s the war to the west, but there’s also the war to the north with daesh (devils) in Syria and Iraq.

As I’ve read commentary about these wars, two things have impressed me. 1) These are wars that are being won and lost in the media. Daesh have been successful through social media recruitment and shocking Youtube videos. 2) These are wars deeply rooted in generational ideologies which can’t be stamped out no matter how many bombs and bullets we employ. The only way to defeat extremism is by changing peoples’ hearts and minds.

I can contribute to the fight on these fronts. I’m actively looking for opportunities to make the world a better place through education. I don’t want to spend all of the next year by the pool (just some of it). I really hope I can find opportunities to help the underprivileged and elevate the consciousness of myself and those I meet through education. I also hope to spend the next year getting healthier and more disciplined. I’ll have lots of opportunities to be physically active, and plenty of free time to read and meditate. So I’ll have to try stay focused and not slip into the materialism and gluttony that is endemic to the luxurious ex-pat lifestyle here.

Well I’ve written quite a bit and the Packers are taking shots at the end zone at the beginning of the second half. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, and let me know what’s up with you! I really intend to be more in touch this year, so if you write I pinky swear to respond (somewhat) promptly.

much love – Sim

P.S. A couple days later, I’ve moved to Madinat Zayed. And we are out in the middle of NOWHERE. My accommodations are a resort on the edge of the Empty Quarter (more really nice digs – I’m getting so spoiled. If you feel like getting jealous google “Tilal Liwa Hotel”. Yeah, that’s my house). I’ll be teaching 6th and 7th grade students, almost all Emirati nationals. More about them soon.

Advertisements


2 Comments

Transit Kaleidoscope

I’m a little disappointed in the content I’ve written for this blog. I – WE, really – probably expected something different. We expected crazy stories about the strange things here in Arabia – camels, scorpions, mosques, veiled women, oil wells… I don’t know, what DID we expect, anyway? Something DIFFERENT, I guess.

But the reason I only sporadically have something different and strange to write about, is that I spend more time noticing the things that aren’t different, but the things that are the same.

So let me tell you a story, about something that has stayed the same: hotel rooms.

A year and a half ago, I was sitting in a hotel room in a strange town – Huron, SD, the definition of “strange town” if ever there was one. I was there doing a few weeks of training for my new job in insurance sales – this was going to be the job where I saved up money to settle down and start a family and turn my plans into reality …

Well, it’s like Grandpa Brubacher told me just last week. We were sitting in a Culver’s in Wausau, Wisconsin, and he said, “Boy, stop trying to plan so much. A lotta things are gonna change and you won’t be able to change ’em.”

Gramps is a wise guy – I mean, my plans sure changed a lot since last April. In fact, that week, as I suffered through the training for my new job, was also the week I made my decision to go abroad. Everything changed that week. You changed, so we changed, so I changed my plans. That’s all a guy can do when he’s sitting alone in a hotel room.

But this is all wrong. I told you there was going to be a story about things that are the same. That was my plan, when I started writing this, but I keep encountering deviations.

Here’s something that stays the same: nights spent alone in hotels in strange towns. Tonight, the town is Manama, Bahrain – more of a city than a town, sure, but still a strange place.

Here’s something else that stays the same: if you’re in a strange city, alone in a hotel room, you have some strong drinks in the evening. I still remember how bitter that overdone coffee tasted every night in Huron. Tonight, I think it’s tea – double bagged, with so much sugar that there’s a layer of crystals left in the bottom every time I empty the cup.

The tea is sweet. So is Bahrain. It’s 3.30 a.m. right now. Jet lag and strong drink will keep you up too late, or have you up too early, or something. I can’t tell. It’s always changing.

I’m trying to reel it in here. I’m sorry, I really am. But things get so foggy when you’re in transit. Memories, time zones, plans … They all run together until all you can do is dance on their grave and puke them up out the other end of the kaleidoscope until the future looks more mixed up than that abortionist’s dumpster of a metaphor that I just pulled out of the blender.

In writing classes, they’ll say, “Show, don’t tell.” The funny thing is that “show, don’t tell” sounds more like telling than showing.

But the outcome always outweighs the decision, that’s what we’re getting at here. So I’d better start showing you some stories. The people want pictures!

Next time … I promise I’ll tell you a good story. That’s my plan, anyway. But tonight, I only have chopped up, scrambled, tiny pieces of stories, running together … You find yourself in a strange city, can’t remember how long you slept or when/where it was, you’ve got too many hours on the plane behind you, and kilometers to go before you sleep (all respect to Robert Frost). And the only thing to do is have some strong drink in an empty hotel room in the early early morning. So I pour some more tea and play some music that I would usually detest, but under the circumstances, so far from home, it makes more sense.

You guys, it’s a true story: I’m listening to Sheryl Crow tonight. Strange cities and empty hotel rooms have a way of making things like Sheryl Crow sound ok. You have plans, they change, no problem. You think we know who I am until we find out that you don’t know who we are, but that’s ok too – it’s all people. Time and plans and stories all run together, and the drink is still hot and strong.

Empty hotel rooms in strange cities have a way of invalidating doubts and regret. But make no mistake … Every single day, I still wish you could be here with me.