Abu Dhabi Weather

Monday, September 28, 2009

Non-Ramadan Schedule

Now that Ramadan is over, businesses are open reasonably normal hours and restaurants are open during the daytime. I'm still getting used to that after a month of having to bring a lunch or going hungry. I don't mind bringing sandwiches but I still haven't gotten over the novelty of having a Subway sandwich shop in the food-court-like cafeteria. There's also a McDonalds, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks and some other fast food joint I've never heard of. For those students who are too busy "studying" in the library to walk all the way to the cafeteria, there's another Starbucks in the middle of the library.

With the end of Ramadan, we teach full 50-minute classes instead of the 35-minute classes that we had. The way my classes are scheduled, I teach the students two back to back classes with a 5-minute break. In between the blocks of two classes, the students get a 20 minute break. The students think that this is plenty of time to go to the cafeteria, wait in line with dozens of other students with the same idea, get a coffee or frappaccino, drink said beverage and get back to class. Some of the less time conscious students think it's a good idea to get in their cars to go to a restaurant off campus in the 20 minutes. Surprisingly, a majority of the students were 5, 10 or 15 minutes late.

At this point, it's important to point out that I've been instructed to be deadly strict as far as punctuality goes. This means that even if student's are one minute late, that I mark them down as late. If they are six minutes late, I'm to mark them down as "absent due to being late" for the first 50-minute period. If the students miss more than 10% of their classes, supposedly they get chucked out of school, but I think there might be a final, final warning at 15% and then really getting chucked out at 20%. Needless to say, there was a lot of bitching today when all but 4 students out of 20 were marked late or absent. It was a similar story yesterday. From what I've heard, my content area is only part of what I'm teaching. We're also teaching how to be employees and part of that is how to show up for work on time. While I've been told that you can't teach lessons I think this week I'm going to have to.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Yesterday we went to a water park called Dreamland with a few other families. It was about a two and a half hour drive from Abu Dhabi past Dubai. There is another water park a bit closer, but it's not as good for younger kids and a lot busier from what I've heard. I wasn't really expecting that much but when we got there, the first thing that struck me was all of the green space. It wasn't very crowded and there were a lot a chairs. We were able to group the families into a group of deck chairs in a nice shady spot by one of the bar / restaurants. After we got changed and settled, we headed our separate ways. I wasn't expecting all that much in the way of rides, but have to say they were pretty good. They had a pretty good variety at about 3/4 height of the rides at Noah's Ark (a water park in Wisconsin) without the crowds and lines. Also, it was only about $30 for my wife and I, $20 for my son and my 4-year old daughter was free because she looked cute.

The layout of the park was good, plus apart from food and drink everything was all inclusive. Nothing annoys me more than paying to get in and having to rent rafts for some of the rides. Even the lockers were free. They were combination locks that you could set your own combination for. The best thing about the park was the lax safety guidelines. Here's the typical conversation between me and one of the lifeguards when walking up to a slide with my 5 1/2 year old son:

Me: "Is he OK to ride this?"
lifeguard: "Can he swim?"
me: (uncertainly )"Uhhhhhh...sure."
lifeguard: OK, no problem.

In all honesty, he was fine and he can swim well enough for a waterslide. It was nice to be in a place that lets parents accept responsibility for their kids. In the U.S. there is so much liability that Lucas probably wouldn't have been able to get on most of those rides on his own.

The next natural question is: "What do people wear to a waterpark in a Muslim country?" The range was pretty interesting. There were women falling out of their bikinis and there were women in burqua swimsuits (burquinis). It was pretty much a come as you are atmosphere, however, an interesting event happened as we were leaving the park. While the changing and shower rooms were seperate, the locker room was for everyone. There was an Arab woman screaming at the locker room attendant who was trying to help her. It took us a while to work out why she was so upset. It turns out that the woman had 1) forgotten the combination that she set, 2) had forgotten which locker she put her things in and 3) had failed to write down which locker she was using in the attendant's book in case you forget your locker number. None of that was what she was upset by. She was actually upset that the attendant whe was trying to help her walked in before she could completely cover herself up. Keep in mind that the locker room is for everyone (changing room are seperate) and she had uncovered herself (i.e. her hair) in a co-ed locker room. Some people do take the covering very seriously, but not serious enough to put it away in a public place.

While waiting for everyone to get changed, I had a chance to relax with a shisha that one of my friends had ordered. It was a grape flavored kind of herbal tobacco filtered through a hooka which is basically a bong. It was really smooth and I could hardly tell that I was inhaling it until I exhaled and felt a little light-headed.

After we left the waterpark, we went to a well known liquor shop a five minute drive away and the four families stocked up on cheap booze. When my friend and I were going up the elevator to our apartments with a cart full of booze, we got a really strange look from a Chinese guy living in the building who asked, "Is that all alcohol?" I replied sheepishly that it was for two families, but even then he seemed surprized that we had that much. To be fair, my neighbor is having a party and I bought some sake and white wine for my wife's cooking. Still, it wouldn't even all fit on the handcart.

Overall, I would have to say that we all had a great time yesterday and are having an enjoyable vacation even though we couldn't leave the country.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Over the past few days, we've been keeping busy around the apartment with finding places for all the stuff in our 13 boxes along with swim in the pool on the roof. Yesterday, we went to visit some friends that we know from Fukuoka. We've been keeping ourselves busy despite no camping trip, which is good. Besides that, I've been really sleepy over the past few days. I've been taking frequent naps during the day and falling asleep shortly after the kids go to bed in the evening. I don't know if it's being in the air conditioning most of the day that's causing it. Our apartment seems t have two choices: too hot or too cold.

I haven't said much about my apartment and there was a good reason for that. Initially, there was a little worry about people complaining that I got a better apartment. Now that it seems like that has blown over, I can talk about it. The main reason that our apartment is good is the location. We're away from the center of town, but still close by some main points of interest. Spinney's, a supermarket that has the separate pork and alcohol sections, is a fairly close walk. there are a lot more green areas around us and we're a 5-minute walk from the beach. (see the photo from our balcony) Even though I'm not much a a beach person, it's still nice to be a 5-minute walk away from one. At least the views are good and I can watch the sunset from all the windows in our apartment.

The apartment building is a little older and it shows. Inside there are minor maintenance issues like a sagging ceiling by the elevator and cracked glass in one of the corridor doors. Overall it's pretty nice with a pool on the roof and a squash court on the seventh floor. There is also a fitness room with a decent treadmill and an OK weightlifting set. We have our own "personal fitness instructor" who cleans the pool and does a barely passable job of keeping the equipment maintained. While I don't know how much use I'll get out of the proximity to the beach once things cool off, (That's right, kids. During the summer it's actually too hot to go to the beach!) I do take our kids upstairs to the pool at least twice a week. There's something satisfying about being able to come home and say, "Put your swimsuits on, we're going to the pool," and actually be in the pool 5 minutes later. Having that convenience means that we can swim for 30 minutes and not feel like we have to stay longer.

As for the apartment itself, we live in a three-bedroom place with a huge living / dining room, tiny kitchen and a maid's room. Even thought the maid's room is about the size of a small walk-in closet, it has it's own bathroom and shower. We also have an additional three bathrooms, two of which have a bath and shower. It's nice to have a bathroom in out bedroom for when I have to pee in the middle of the night. In Japan I had to go down a steep st of stairs. Being ten steps away from a toilet makes all the difference. We use the maid's room to store suitcases and sporting equipment like my bike and helmets, running biking shoes. The maid's room bathroom is convenient for drying swimsuits and storing things like goggles and the kids' water wings. Our washer / dryer is in the kitchen and we still have a space for a dishwasher if we decide to get one. Even though the place is pretty big, we don't have much storage space. We have two built-in wardrobes and the maid's room to store stuff.

Overall, we're pretty happy with where we live. This side of town is pretty good and a convenient jumping off point for cycling or swimming. Because this side of town hasn't been developed as much, it's still easy to get a parking place. The problem lies in the fact that there are 6 residential high-rises being built on this block alone. While our place is seven stories with about 60 units in it, these new buildings are about 18 stories each. Ample parking and green space may be a thing of the past. Another worry is that this building was set to be knocked down in January to make room for what we're only assuming was a taller building. The school I work for was able to exert enough influence to keep that from happening (they have a lot of employees living here). Who knows how much longer they can keep the owner from deciding he wants a bigger building.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


After being told, "Don't worry, you have plenty of time," last week and having my doubts, it's official. My wife and kids didn't get their visas in time for the Eid holiday so we can't go on the camping trip to Oman like we'd planned. It's annoying having a full week off and not being able to leave the country. Correction: they can't leave the country. I have my visa and can go where I want though I'd probably have a rough time of it when I got back after leaving my wife alone with the kids. I could get angry and curse the system here while complaining about how everything here sucks, but there's not a lot of point in that. Besides, I have to accept some personal responsibility in this, too. I mistakenly thought that my family needed the visas before they could apply for health insurance. As it turned out, they needed the insurance first. While no one jumped up to correct me on that, I could've followed up on that a bit more agressively.

Further, to answer the question that one friend of mine put to me: No, I haven't seen all of the UAE, yet. I understand that there is a country out there to explore, but suddenly finding out the day before I was leaving that my plans are impossible is a bit of a downer. That combined with: 1) we don't have a car to go anywhere (we had plans to hitch a ride with friends to Oman) and 2) it's too hot to go anywhere in the UAE right now. We'll find things to do like unpacking 13 boxes of junk we sent to ourselves and catching up with friends in Abu Dhabi. We also have plans to go to a water park with our friends after they get back from Oman later in the week and I have a triathlon on the 25th. I just was looking forward to getting out of the city for once since we arrived here.

On another note, my wife continues to make friends with Emirati men who insist on helping her and giving her rides to places. Today she went to the post office to find out where the package with the rice cooker is. After spending 20 minutes trying to catch a cab home, "an Arab guy in an expensive car" asked her where she was going and gave her a ride. (I reminded her that in the U.S. we call that hitchhikking.) While we don't know for sure that he was Emirati, the fact that he was unconcerned about getting back to work seems to suggest that. She claims that when she's out shopping, no one ever offers to help her. Her theory is that when she wears pants and is out buying dinner, the Emiratis think she's a Filippino housemaid but when she's out running errands while wearing a skirt, she looks like a delicate flower in need of help.

That reminds me of something else we can do over Eid. My wife's friend from the other day offered to take us out for dinner some night. This coming week might be a good chance to experience Emirati hospitality.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


We finally got around to buying a clipper set so my wife could cut my hair. Once that was done, the beard no longer fit so I shaved that. I wanted to get before and after pictures but forgot to get the before picture until my hair was mostly cut so here's the before picture after the haircut but before the beard shave. I've also included an after pic with the "sideburns" that I've since shaved. Going into class today, most of my students were surprised to see my "new" look. That much was to be expected. I was a little surprised to hear a student tell me that everyone thought I looked Arabic before. Also, most of the comments I got from students included some form of, "You looked better before." I take that as license to shave once or twice a week.

Today was also a big day at our household because we got 13 of the 15 packages we sent from Japan. Initially when I got the notice that they'd arrived, I was excited. After I thought about it, I wondered what we had that we needed to put in all those boxes and where we were going to put it all. I could think of a few things that we were looking forward to getting, but not much. I called my wife to tell her and let her know I planned on leaving work a little early to pick them up. By early afternoon I had an email saying that she had already picked them up and Tia was having a great time with her toys.

I came home later to an apartment filled with boxes that need unpacking and not a lot of enthusiasm towards unpacking them. (Of course the one my wife was waiting for with the rice cooker was one of the two that didn't arrive.) My wife said that "an Arab guy" had seen her wandering around trying to find the entrance to the post office, helped her find it, pushed his way to the front of the line for her and then negotiated for her to get them delivered to our apartment. When she asked if he was going to get in trouble for not being at work he told her it was no problem. He works at a bank and they don't really need him. It turns out that this guy is an Emirati with some "assistants" "helping" him. From what I understand, most Emiratis have assistants that work for them and do most of the work.

Regardless, this guy was really helpful and my wife wanted me to call him to thank him. He was a really nice guy and offered to take us out for dinner sometime. I found it interesting that my wife had both a very negative experience with a native (the boy in the taxi last week) and a very positive one today. The guy today was really nice and helpful. The especially interesting point is that while a little embarrassed, she didn't seem to mind the pushing in front of waiting people today.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


As you can imagine, pig products aren't readily available in Abu Dhabi with pork being forbidden in Islam. We're lucky enough to live near a supermarket that has a separate section for pork so we can get our bacon fix in. To quote my wife, "I only liked bacon a little when we were in Japan but now, for some reason, I really like bacon here." Some things in that section like ham, and bacon are pretty obvious. Some other things like cup ramen, bacon flavored potato chips and baked beans make sense when you think about them. While I understand the reason, I never would have considered marshmallows a pork product if you had asked me. In a way I guess it's a good thing that there's a separate section for pork products to keep people from accidentally eating it.

Last night, we went to an "iftar" in a nature reserve. Iftar is the term for the meal after sunset during Ramadan. It was an invite via the Emirati Natural History Group that we recently joined. A friend of ours loaded both of our families up in his new SUV and we drove out there. We had a great time before suset playing at a beatiful beach. We were still playing at in the water when the sun set so if there was anything special that happened just before everyone ate, we missed it. We did get to stand in a huge line and miss out on the main course. The good news was that people were asked to bring a dish from their own country in a potluck style so there was plenty of food to eat while we were waiting in line for the food we missed. I made chocolate chip cookies and jokingly told some people that there was bacon in them. Some people didn't get the joke. I'm guessing no one would've got the joke if I had said that there were marshmallows in them.

Afterwards, there was a slideshow presentation about pearl diving and the various work that the nature preserve does. The kids didn't find it as interesting as I did for some reason so we went off and played with the kayak in a little inland pond.

There was an option of camping there and doing a pearl dive the next day. I was a little disappointed at not being able to do the pearl dive until I found out that it wasn't some fun little two-hour excursion. They actually make you do a full 12-hour shift with diving in salt water without goggles, or so they said.

Overall, I had a good time but don't know how culturally relevant it was since we missed the start of the meal and didn't even eat the traditional food. We had a good time and the kids enjoed splashing around so that was the important thing. Now that we have our air mattresses, sleeping bags, and tent, we can do more outings. After we get a four wheel drive vehicle of our own we'll have a good way to get out of the hassle of the city and do some cheap outings with the kids.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Birthday Party

It's official: white people have advantages no matter where you go. I was told by my Nepali taxi driver today that he was glad to pick me up and that if there are a group of people waiting that he will always pull up in front of the white person. This is keeping in mind that I live in a wealthy Arab country. (disclaimer: The following opinions are from a non-white Nepali person and do not reflect the opinions of the white male writer.) The driver went on to point out that the Emiratis smoke despite being asked not to, put their feet up on the dashboard, and play around with the radio, putting the music up to full volume. Oh, and he doesn't like Indians and Bangladeshis either for unspecified reasons.

I guess that could be one man's opinion, but my wife said she had an interesting experience when she was out with the kids today. After waiting for about 20 minutes with two kids in 100 degree heat (38 degrees for non-Americans), she finally got a cab, only to have a 15-year-old Emirati kid get in the front seat and tell my wife and kids to get out. Good for my wife, she stood her ground (considering she'd been waiting longer and had kids) but the guy wouldn't leave until the driver told him to get out. After he left in a huff, the driver went off on one about the Emiratis. It seems that the locals aren't especially popular with taxi drivers.

We had a busy day today which involved the kids going to a birthday party. One of Tia's classmates invited her and I figured that Lucas would pitch a fit if Tia went to something without him so I asked if he could go to. It turned out to be no problem because there were plenty of older siblings there. I originally planned on having my wife take the kids, but because she was busy with her medical exam for her visa, I went. The boy's father seemed glad to have me there as it was all mothers apart from him and me. It was a really interesting atmosphere with everyone speaking fluent English only to have a mother break off to talk to her children in their native language. Of the nationalities represented I noticed French Canadian (the hosts), Romanian, Dutch, Finnish, Scottish, Swedish, Emirati, English, Jordanian, Japanese (my kids) and American (me). While there were a few native speakers there, for the most part, I felt it was a very international group. I really felt like my kids are going to a school with a diversity of cultures and will grow up feeling a bit of pride in their culture and native language.

As everyone was leaving, the birthdy boy's dad told me to sit down and relax and offered me a beer. It was nice to hang out with the parents and get to know them while their maid cleaned up around us. I got two things out of this: 1) they're really cool people that I want to get to know and 2) we really need to get a maid.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Nothing new has happened over the past few days. I started reading a book about the Middle East. I figured that I should learn a little bit about the place that I've committed to living in for three years minimum. It's written in a simple way that someone like me can appreciate with lots of pictures and signs telling me when there's something important to remember.

Lucas has started coming home telling us new Arabic words that he's learned at school. When we ask him what they mean, he just says, "I don't know." This leads me to believe that he may just be making words up. It may sound cynical to most people, but he used to do the same thing with saying "Chinese" words that were really just random sounds. I've no doubt that he will eventually pick up some Arabic but for now I can appreciate his imagination or laugh at his enthusiasm for saying words that he can't remember the meaning for.

Lastly, I got my nameplate at work the other day. It has my name in English and Arabic. At least, I'm assuming that it's my name and not some sort of insult.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Finally we have an internet connection at home. The company gave me a call on Thursday after I got home from work and came by to get everything set up. I swear that my wife has spent every minute that the kids have been asleep catching up on email and talking to people via Skype. It's also been good for the kids to keep up with their Japanese by having video conversations with family and friends in Japan.

Other good news that we found out on Thursday is that I'll have a full week off in late September. The end of Ramadan is known as Eid and this year it happens to fall during the week in such a way as to give us a whole week off. I'm not exactly sure of who determines this or why they don't know until two weeks before the holiday, but most people seem surprised that we have as long as we do. Now faced with a full nine-day break, I feel a bit of pressure to go somewhere. Here we are in a part of the world that we haven't been in with fairly cheap travel options and a good chunk of free time.

A few places I was thinking about were Jordan, Egypt, and Manchester (We have friends who live near there and if we were going, it sure wasn't going to be any later in the year when it's colder). After asking around, I also found the options of Cyprus and Turkey worth consideration. I looked into the different options and found out that Jordan and Egypt are still too hot, Manchester wasn't good for our friends there, and Turkey would be a drag with young kids. I was fairly settled on Cyprus until I heard that a friend and his family are planning on going camping in Oman. My friend is a member of a group called ENHG or Emirites Natural History Group. From what I saw, they have a lot of different outings that looks like the sort of thing I'll enjoy taking my wife and the kids on. With this trip to Oman, it sounds like there will be a lot of families around, too. Tentatively, we have a trip to a water park on the way back from Oman planned, too.

As for Egypt, Cyprus or Jordan, it looks like we might have another week off for the Eid in late November.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kids' School

Lucas and Tia have started school at GEMS American Academy this week. They're very excited to put on their new uniforms and get on the bus each day. The school is new but its a part of a group of schools throughout the Middle East that has a really good reputation. I chose it based on recommendations from friends that lived here. Overall, it seems good so far, but it is a bit pricey. The school I work for pays the kids' tuition up to a point and we have to pay the rest. Unfortunately, Tia just missed the age cut-off by a couple of weeks so we're paying for her full tuition for the year. I'm actually relieved because based on the wording of the contract I thought we might have to pay for next year's as well.

Originally, I was considering sending the kids to the Japanese International School here but my wife was the one that wanted to send them to an American school. She reasoned that she could teach them Japanese at home, though I don't think she really knows what she got herself into. The Japanese school is a kindergarten through junior high school with a total of 39 students. A friend of mine sends his girls there and each of them has one other student in their class. It's subsidized by the Japanese government otherwise so the tuition is really reasonable. Knowing what I know now, I probably would've chosen to send Lucas and Tia there for a few years before switching them over, but we're still happy with the choice we made.

Lucas is in kindergarten and has a teacher from New Zealand. I haven't met her yet but I'm guessing that after six (sex) months in her class (cliss), my wife won't be able to understand his English.

Tia is in pre-kindergarten, I forgot where her teacher is from but I'm guessing that her credentials are pretty good. In the little mini newsletter that was put out, the teachers and assistants of pre-kindergarten talked about themselves, Tia's teacher didn't write that much about her experience. Two of the assistants who are teaching pre-kindergarten (four-year-olds) are from the Philippines and seemed to make a point of showing their credentials. One has a Masters in Education and 15 years of teaching experience. The assistant in Tia's class has taught high school Math for 20 years including Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and Statistics. Now she gets to make sure that my daughter wipes after using the bathroom.

While there may be other factors behind the circumstances, it's a little depressing to think that these highly qualified teachers can earn a better living as assistants here than they can in their home countries as classroom teachers. Also, I'm willing to bet that in many cases, they're better qualified than the teachers that they're assisting while making a fraction of the teachers' salary. The fact that I've been in this same situation isn't lost on me. I can think of numerous times in England and Japan when I was in the room in order to fulfill some sort of requirement while an assistant did the hard work. That's not to say that the teachers at GEMS don't work hard or aren't qualified. It's a funny world when the basis of which country a person is born in affects their earning power so drastically. I feel very lucky to have been born where I was and to be given the opportunities I have been.

Now it's time to go get a cup of coffee before checking my Facebook account.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


It's now official: We will never have an internet connection at our apartment, EVER! This irritating my wife to no end because I have internet access at work and she doesn't. It's ironic that she's demanding a level of persistence and aggression from me here that would've annoyed her when we were living in Japan.

With regards to my classes, I've had a few people ask me about why I'm teaching Math and not English. Initially, I was hired based on the strength of my English teaching credentials but was told by a friend that if I wanted Math classes, they could probably give them to me based on my teaching credentials. I was hoping to eventually get into teaching Math in an international school wanted to gain some experience here. When I arrived, I asked about teaching Math. Having taught Math in an English as a second language environment, I was offered the choice of a half English, half math schedule or all Math. I gladly chose the all Math schedule. When I took the classes, I had to admit that I would be fine teaching Algebra and Geometry, I would need a little bit of brushing up with Trigonometry and Statistics, and would need some serious review with my Calculus. My director smiled and told me that she didn't think it would be an issue.

I've been told that the students in the program I'm teaching had low English ability, but I didn't realize how true it was until I saw the textbook for Math. In some cases, it's a language issue but in others it's a math issue. A lot of the student's are missing the basic concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In examining how students have been able to get through 12 years of education without understanding basic math, I've been asking around to people who've been here a few years, going so far as to talk to someone who works for the department of education. I've come to understand a few things.

1) The UAE is just reaching their second generation of literacy in Arabic. This means that most of the students' grandparents can't read or write their native language. Before oil was discovered here 40 years ago, everyone was a desert nomad. The students have no books in their homes and no real role models for how or why to study.

2) The students have everything done for them. For the most part they've never had to work for anything. Having been raised in that environment, anyone would have a hard time studying.

3) The UAE has a curriculum that theoretically has the students learning Calculus in their last year of high school. Considering that this is one of the few countries in which students will never encounter a teacher from their own country (most teachers are Egyptian or Sudanese), there's a bit of pressure on the teachers to pass students. From what I've heard, most math education involves showing the students the problem, writing out how to solve that problem, then having the students memorize the work with no explanation of the concept. After years of that style of learning, it's no wonder that the students don't know how to study.

People may wonder how these students are able to get into the school. All Emiratis are given free tuition at our school. Their books are paid for as well. The only thing that they have to buy is the standard-issue laptop that everyone is required to have.

I don't want to sound negative but it's the way it is. The students here are very nice and respectful; they're just not used to having to work. The school I work for does enforce the standards of behavior and what we're teaching. Also, keep in mind that I'm teaching the lowest beginning students. Not all students are at the level I've described. After two years of our program, the students can get admitted into the Bachelor's program. I walked past a classroom today in which the students were learning electrical engineering. To answer another question that I've been asked: No, I don't regret switching from English to Math. I enjoy the change and would probably get pretty bored with the level of English that I would need to teach. Plus there is hope that I'll be able to get into teaching more advanced classes like Algebra and Geometry and get the experience that I'm looking for.