Saturday, August 30, 2014

1st Day of Work!!

My School!
First day of work!! The students don't arrive until Sunday which is the beginning of the work week here, but the teachers start a week ahead. I was in professional development the beginning of the week, but on Thursday, I got to see my school! The 2 ladies who led my PD were so awesome btw. They gave us the new school curriculum, which is based on student centered learning with lots of room for presentations and projects which is exactly how I teach so I am really excited to get into the classroom! They also gave us a ton of info about the culture and how to teach to our particular high schoolers. It was very informative and I came away with a ton of lesson ideas and classroom management tips.

I asked the ladies if they knew anyone at my school that I could maybe get a ride from and they sent a mass email to people for me so I could get a ride! So nice! My school is in Baniyas and I live in Abu Dhabi. Google maps says about 35-40 minute drive depending on traffic. Some teachers were complaining about their commute being an hour or an hour and a half. I think they have never lived in a big city before, because an hour or hour and a half commute is not a problem at all for me because that's how long my commute was in S. Korea and San Francisco! Especially if your drive is in your own car or with a ride share and not on public transit. As long as there are no adjama's to grab my arm and physically drag me out of a seat they want, even though there are designated seats for them in the front of the tram (S. Korea!) and no fat, homeless guys with shirts 3 sizes to small (so you can just picture the huge, hairy gut that is escaping from said small shirt!) carrying a huge orange bag filled with the lord only knows what, and screaming about how Wells Fargo bank stole thousands of dollars from him that he somehow managed to save while living in his yellow van parked in the lovely neighborhood of Golden Gate park (San Francisco), I think the commute here is totally doable!

So I got a ride with a lovely lady who said to meet her in front of the holiday inn hotel, which is better than any holiday inn in USA and is massive, at 7:20am.

Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi
So, of course in my excitement, I am there about 10 minutes early! So I wait in the lobby of the hotel. We are supposed to be at work at 8 so I'm thinking the ride can't be quite as long as google maps has said. At 7:18 the girl gives me a call and says she will be a little late, around 7:27 or so. At 7:43, a lady comes walking up to the door and says, “Are you Ayanna? I'm here to fetch ya!” So I pile into a very small rental car with 3 other ladies and off we zoom! In between getting the dish about the school, I am trying to pay attention to the way we are driving. After the 5th round about I just say forget it! There's no way I would ever be able to make it to this place by myself!! So we finally arrive at our destination, a few minutes after 8! So it takes way less time to get there than I thought! Score, cus I like to leave my bed at the absolute, last, possible, minute in the mornings!

My lovely driver takes me around to meet folks. I meet the principal and the 2 vice principals who are lovely ladies. I am at an all girls cycle 3 school which is grades 10-12. There were other people in the principals office as well, but I have no idea who they were or what positions. Several ladies would shake my hand and say nice to meet you but not give me their names or their positions so I guess I'll have to figure that out the hard way! I have learned through my years of teaching that it pays to be extra kind to certain people. Of course I am a ray of sunshine to everyone who meets me.

And our lovely PD teachers told us 5 people we should really get to know at our school. Of course principal and vice principal, the secretary, the social worker, the head of Islamic studies, and the maintenance people. More than 5, I know, but these people can really help a new teacher out of every jam it is possible to get into!

The culture here in UAE is one of gift giving, so I brought little things from San Francisco to share with people. I gave the principal a book of the touristy spots of SF and the vice principals some Ghiridelli chocolate, yum yum! But they kind of looked at the tiny foil wrapped squares like, what the heck is this?? But I said, chocolate, and they got it! I met a bunch more people who were just a blur of faces at this point. And then she showed me to the EMT (english medium teachers) office. Nice open space crammed with desks and papers, papers, papers, papers! Then we head off to a meeting in the downstairs meeting room. I joined the other EMT's who sat in the very back at the last table. All of our Arabic counterparts sat in the front, not close to us. Normally, I am a sit in the front row type of girl, but I just went with it. Turns out, our first 2 hour (yes, 2 hours!) meeting was, of course, all in Arabic! The girls said to get used to that, because all the meetings are like that. It will be great to help me learn Arabic. One of the ladies could actually interpret, up to a point, and then she was lost. But that little bit was good to hear. The Arabic teachers were constantly talking during the meeting and seemed very excited. The noise level went up and down as the principal spoke. Sometimes it appeared she was yelling and I was like, are we getting in trouble, but then she was smiling as well. When the talking got too out of hand, she would bang her hand on the table three times and everyone would be silent. Teachers continued to arrive late and would go to a table and kiss the other teachers in greeting before sitting down. I was thinking, if this is what a meeting with the adults is like, how am I possibly going to get my students to be quiet! The whole meeting was very animated with some of the teachers calling out things, and the women laughing and talking, some sleeping, interesting to watch. Eventually, I took out my kindle and read, so I could see these Arabic meetings as good extra work time in the future.

After the meeting we went back to our EMT room and our HOF, Head of Faculty, who is Emirati said she would tell us the meeting in a minute. So, cool, we do get a translation! In the meantime, I decided to explore the school a little. Now, everyone who knows me knows I am directionally challenged. I mean, I still get lost in San Francisco and I was born and raised there! So my plan was to stick to the floor I was on and not stray too terribly far. Well, I only made it next door! Luckily, the room next door to ours is the Islamic teachers room! I peeked in the door and there were about 8 ladies talking and I walked right in and said, As Salama Alaykum! They were very excited and a few asked if I was new. I said yes and they ushered me over to this table they were laying out with a feast! I stood around the table with them and the few who spoke English asked me a few questions, where I'm from, how long in UAE. And then they told me to sit, sit and proceeded to prepare me a plate! They had this wonderful thick bread, and they cut it with their hands and put falafel inside with tomatoes and lettuce. Then they added hummus and some other native dish that was like a condiment to the sandwich and passed it to me.  Can I just say, so delicious! The falafel was seasoned with some different spices and the hummus was seasoned as well. Then for dessert they had small pieces of baklava from Jordan.  I still had a few pieces of ghirardelli chocolate left so I shared that with them.  I told the ladies that I would need them to help me learn Arabic and they said, yes, yes, of course! We teach you some Arabic, you teach us English, come whenever you want!  They were so nice I didn't really know how to extricate myself from the room, but eventually I said, well, I have to go check with the other teachers, and I said my good-byes and left.  I will definitely be making my way into their office again!

I also wandered into the library where 4 women were sitting on the floor behind the desk putting on make up!  When I came in they all said, hi, and one lady jumped up to tell me she was the librarian.  She asked if I was new and said, let me show you around my library.  She showed me where all the leveled readers were and also told me to come anytime for anything.  She said, I'm studying make up so, I help with your make up, I only know eyes right now so I will do that! And she told me to come study Arabic and whatever else I need.  One thing the people are here is incredibly friendly!

When I went back to the EMT office, we were getting ready for a meeting with our HOF.  She basically went over everything that was said in the Arabic meeting and said she would do that for all the meetings.  

First day of school with the kids is Sunday and I'm excited and nervous! Wish me luck!

Ciao for now!

Friday, August 29, 2014

I Got An Apartment, Uh Huh, My Own Apartment, yay!

Yes! An apartment of my very own! No more sharing a teeny 2 bedroom apartment with my mom! I'm out baby!  Whoo-hoo!

Come on in, visitors welcome!

Living room floor to ceiling windows!

See my chair!
 So, a little bit of drama with the apartment (because someone that had just gotten fired still lived there with an apartment full of yucky furniture!), there always is isn't there? Sigh.... but in the end, it is mine, all mine!  Now, I've had 8 months to think of my colors which is a blessing and a curse!  You know how it is when you know what you want and then you try to go shopping for it? You can never find the exact item that's in your head! Unfortunately.  But, I am determined to find exactly what I want and, hey, I'm probably not going to be able to finish decorating until like December anyway, so I have time!  So my color scheme is... the ocean! Yes, I want my apartment to be beige like the sand and many shades of blue like the ocean. I saw a restaurant with that color scheme on Kitchen Nightmares and I loved it! (What? You don't watch Kitchen Nightmares??)

Hallway, I really like it. It breaks up the rooms nicely.

1/2 bath for the kid
But now that I'm actually in my apartment, I'm thinking I want a red wall in the living room.  You know, like a blood red accent wall!  And then I want blue chairs and a dark grey sofa with red and blue accent pillows! I still want the bedrooms to look like the ocean, though, but the kid might want to do her own color scheme.  I'm going to get the hallway wall and my bedroom wall painted different shades of blue.  Just the bottom half of the walls.  I think it will look amazing!  I just have to pick the right shades of blue to go with everything else!

Kitchen fully equipped!  Oh yes, I bought a tv too!

Electric stove, yikes!
Anyway, I am completely excited! And I managed to even get internet yesterday so I'm way more excited!  It doesn't matter that the internet company was supposed to come on Tuesday! And then on Wednesday!  And then on Thursday!  And when I called Thursday at 6pm they said, we have til midnight to come so just wait, no problem! I had given up by Friday which is the holy day here, so imagine my surprise when I get a call, hello madam! Is you Ayanna? I am internet outside your apartment!  Yes, folks, he was literally in the hallway outside my apartment door! On a Friday no less!  I just said thank you for small miracles and let him in!

I love the mosaic on the wall!

Toilet & Bidet!

Bathtub looks amazing but is soooo tiny!

So now I have beds, a totally awesome white leather chaise lounge chair (cus I got it like that you know!), a really comfy blue chair with blood red accents, and I managed to purchase the entire kitchen from the previous occupant!  So I'm set!  No towels, no soap, no sheets, no pillows, no food, but I'm set!

My bedroom, complete with beautiful chaise!

The kids room.
Ciao for now!

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Abu Dhabi
I've said it before...and I'll say it again.  This is really a whirlwind! So much is happening and I have so much to get done it's a little mind boogling!  I'm so surprised I haven't even had time to do the touristy stuff!  I've been so busy trying to get my apartment straight, going to ADEC meetings, making sure my kid has something to do....I feel like everyday has been chock full and I am totally ready for bed at the end of it!  I have been to the gym a few times, I'm trying to do sun salutations in the morning, I've been swimming once. So basically, not nearly enough exercise!  I can't even really tell you what I have been busy with! Just the end of another day passes and I still have a huge to do list!

I have worked abroad before, and there is definitely a patience that comes with working in another country. Not knowing anything except, I'll be working somewhere in the UAE.  And that un-knowing-ness just continues once you are in the country.  Maybe it is less patience and more faith!  Because it has taken almost a year of waiting in the USA and 10 days of waiting here in UAE, but I finally know everything!  I know what city I will be living in, I have my apartment, I know what grade I will be teaching, and I know where the nearest grocery store is!  It's amazing how you take the little things for granted, and then when all that is pulled out from under you, what you have left  How you handle yourself in different situations.  Do you re-act? Or are you pro active? Do you fall apart at the first misstep? Or do you keep it stepping? Can you make lemonade out of lemons basically.  Or are you a honey or vinegar type! I highly recommend to everyone that you live abroad.  At least once.  It's not even about seeing the world, but getting to know yourself.  It's awesome!

This is my Life!!

Hello all!  So much has happened in so little a time it's a bit overwhelming! But nice.  So the hotel is amazing! Free buffet breakfast daily, a million staff in the lobby asking "Ma'am how can I help?"  Everyone on staff is so friendly.  I have also made an effort to learn the names of the regular faces I see and they really appreciate that.  My room received "extra" cleaning services (I guess it really needed it!) and I've received things such as copies for free rather than paying.  So my advice is to get to know people!  There are a lot of interesting selections at breakfast too.  From roasted mushrooms, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, beef patties, assorted cold cuts, omelettes,  hash browns, home fries, hummus, salad, cheese, cereal, fruit, fruit salad, and bread, bread, bread!

Yes, there's bacon!

Our dining room, the Chamas restaurant.

Lot's of yummy egg and potatoes treats under those cloches!

Assorted croissants and muffins!

I'm trying to eat better now that I have a new life.  Lol.  So I am starting with the good stuff, and then the next plate is the fun stuff!

1st plate

2nd plate!
I've also been to the gym a few times and the pool.  Which I have not used nearly as much as I thought I would! No time!  There are 2 pools here, one on another floor of the hotel and one down by the beach.  I met some friends at the pool by the beach the other day and Oh. My. God. Nearly died! I don't know why they wanted to meet at the hottest part of the day, and then, that trek to the beach!  There was no shade during the entire walk, which, shade in over 100 degree weather is relative anyway!  And we were walking on this wooden walkway that rebounded the heat from the ground to our legs! By the time I was halfway to the beach I was sweating like a mongoose! And I still couldn't even see the pool!  I finally had to ask the some stray staff if I was even close, and they said yes, ma'am, go through fish market and keep going straight, you will see.  They really wanted to laugh at my state of disarray but were far too well trained for unrestrained laughter, I could tell.  Finally found the beach to the left, pool to the right, and Anika and Tracy straight ahead.  I barely said hello before I striped off my beach wrap and dove (or, really walked but dove sounds better) into the pool!  It was only mildly satisfying because the water was hot!!  Oh well, I better get adjusted! Warm pools and hot pavement, and to die for buffets!

Ciao for now!

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Hi all!

Now I know what the term "whirlwind" really means, because that is what it has been here so far!  Everything is going so fast and I'm realizing I haven't even really taken any pictures!  It's hard to explain being here, it's different from home but very similar at the same time.

Friday was my first full day here in Abu Dhabi, and a few of us went to the Marina mall, which is huge and of course very modern with every store that USA has and more.  I bought a SIM card for my phone and bought a cheap phone for my kid.  It's only temporary, although the fit she had you'd think her leg had been cut off!  Then we ate at the food court.  I had some Indian food that was really quite flavorful for "food court" food.  Now, one thing you will learn about me is that I am a restaurant snob!  I can't help it, it's how I was raised!  I absolutely despise chain restaurants and usually avoid them like the plague.  I like a variety of authentic cuisines and would prefer a hole in the wall mom and pop place to _______ ( insert any chain here;  chipotle, subway, outback, red lobster, ewww!)  Don't even get me started on fast food restaurants!  So, when I say I ate in the mall food court, it's my idea of "slumming".  Hahahaha.  But one thing I have learned from all my travels is you find food where you can!  At least at first, until you can do some research and find the "authentic" restaurants!

Yesterday was our first "official" ADEC meeting and we learned some basic facts and phone numbers, opened bank accounts and, low and behold, received our furniture allowance!! I was in a happy state of shock!  I know in the past, people have waited weeks and weeks for that check.  But ADEC has definitely improved how they are handling new arrivals.  We are to receive our apartments and keys on Tuesday!  Unbelievable, strange, exciting, and scary all at once!

I will definitely write more as the adventure continues!

Ciao for now!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates!

I'm here! I still can't believe it, I need someone to pinch me! But not too hard!

So, yesterday I wrote about the start of my journey and today I'll continue with the flight.  First flight, SFO to ORD (Chicago) via American Airlines.  What you would expect from an American airline company; really crowded, no leg room, no food, had to practically get on my knees and beg for water, loud, horrible customer service; so, the usual wonderful flying service!

In Chicago, I went directly to the international terminal once I deplaned figuring I would rather be near to where I had to board for the 4 + hours layover.  Bad idea!  I had to go through security again, take a tram and finally arrived at terminal 5 to find... there is hardly nothing there! A few restaurants, maybe like 4, and airline lounges which I could not get into (believe me, I tried!).  When I asked an employee, they told me everything was in terminal 3, which is the terminal I had just left!  So if you are stuck in Chicago, stay in terminal 3 until the last possible moment!  At least we had WiFi.  I broke down and paid the 6 bucks cus we had nothing else to do.  I'm holding tight to my funds so, even though the kid wanted to eat, I was buying nothing!

Our flight was to depart at 7:45 so around 6 I made my way to the gate.  Met lots of other teachers, yay, and was told by 1 that she had to pay an additional $175 for baggage! Yup, they only allowed you to have 2 carry on's weighing 7 kilos total! About 15 pounds!  I had like 5 carry on's ( see my lovely carry on pic below!)  So I only took 4 up to the counter and yup, they weighed them, told me I would have to take stuff out of all of them, even my purse!   But then she let me move some things into 1 bag  and check that 1.  For $175!  Man, my money is dwindling by the second!  But it's ok, at least I'm finally on a plane, right?!  I have to keep that  thought in mind; at least I'm on a plane, at least I'm finally in UAE, and nothing else matters!

Check out the to die for cute Issac Mizrahi carry on!

The flight was looooooong! 14 hours long!  In a very teeny, cramped seat.  But at least I had the aisle, the better for people to bump into me, and at least 2 whole inches of leg space!  But there are reasons I love international travel so much; personal tv screen loaded with free movies, tv shows, games and more, free food and drinks, and good tasting food too!  And ultra nice staff.  The air hostesses ( and 1 or 2 "hosts"!) were lovely.  Of course they were all extremely tall, and extremely thin ( it's a requirement I think! I know, the feminist in me is revolting! But just a little bit!), and they were super nice!  Stowed my bags, brought me numerous cups of water and orange juice and apple juice.  We received on our seats a pillow and a blanket and a little pack with socks, toothbrush and paste, headphones and earplugs (if only they could drown out the sound of many many babies and toddlers!  But, alas, that was a job way too large for the tiny pieces of plastic.  They gave it a good fight though!).  We received 2 FREE meals plus snacks.  And we even had a menu with our choice of 3 different entrees!  They had biryani rice and chicken, lamb and couscous, and a lentil veggie option.  I had the biryani and Ajenai had the lamb.  That lamb was really good!  Like totally tender and it had eggplant with it.  My biryani was ok.  Ajenai loved the dessert, mango mousse with roasted coconut and some kind of nuts at the bottom.  The second meal was biryani rice, lentils and garbanzo beans.  I don't know what the seasonings were but they were so flavorful!  We also had a greek salad and some veggies and a kit kat!  And there were snacks throughout as well.  I watched 2 movies, that 1 with Cameron Diaz about dating someones husband, and the 1 that used to be with Harrison Ford but now has some younger guy starring in it.  In my opinion, not nearly as cute or as good an actor as Ford!  And I watched a bunch of tv shows too.  I only slept a few hours, guess I'm too old to sleep well on planes now!  But I walked around a lot and stretched, I feel like my time in Korea rubbed off way too much on me, cus I was doing some of the same exercises the adjamas (an endearing term for Korean crotchety old ladies!) used to do in the street!

What I wish my seat looked like...
what my actual seat looked like!
At the Abu Dhabi airport, a Nirvana representative met us and lead us all safely and quickly through security; have a printed copy of your visa!  Mine was in the bag I was forced to check at the gate and it was a little bit of a mad dash to print it out again from my email.  I was one of the first people to receive all 6, yes six, of my checked bags, yay!  But I don't think anyone lost any luggage.

Now, I have read all about the heat here in Abu Dhabi, I mean, it is the desert right?  And I knew that the thermometer was hovering around the 94 degree mark, but that still didn't prepare me for the blast that swept through that open door!  Lord have mercy, cus this heat sure doesn't!  Ajenai's glasses instantly, and I do mean instantly, fogged up so thick there was no way to see!  It was so hot even the back of my hands were sweating!  The backs of my hands!  I definitely will not be partaking in any sort of walking tours!  I doubt they are even offered, lol.

Anyway, we arrived at the beautiful and highly marbled, Intercontinental Hotel and it's absolutely lovely!
Intercontinental Hotel  Abu Dhabi Lobby

I can't wait to see what today holds in store!!

See ya!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

1/2 Way There!

So, first leg of the journey underway!  Managed to check in at the airport ok. With the following: 2 of what could only be classified as huge bags; 1 totally large duffle; 2 medium to large bags; 1 to die for cute Issac Mizrahi carry on; 1 business sensible carry on; 1 tote bag; 1 messenger bag; 1 purse; & 1 camera bag!  Yes people, I'm moving to the other side if the world! And it's not like all the bags were mine, the kid had 1! I knew a couple of bags had to be overweight because my arms were nearly pulled out if the sockets getting them into the car, so I planned to weigh them outside the airport and repack as needed. After staying up til 3am and waking up at 6:45, all I could do was throw stuff in the bag and say "whatever"!  

And I don't even know how we made it to the airport! My mom has a strange pack rat obsession with the trunk. I emptied as much as I could but there was still a ton of random stuff inside. And when I say random, I mean, random! She had a broken nylon laundry basket, about 10 buffing towels ( really, who needs to shine their car that much!), an empty bottle of window washer fluid, ( "I'm planning to refill that, Ayanna!" ), and a bunch of Trader Joes and brown paper bags, just to name a few random things. I somehow managed to fit 1 huge suitcase, the duffle bag (totally squashed, of course), and the to die for cute carry on in there. One bag I put in the rear window space. The other bags I piled into the back seat with the kid. She was so smushed her knees were lodged in her chest for the drive because she had to put her feet on a suitcase! 

Anyway, we made it to the airport in one piece. Turns out, 3 bags were over weight!  So me, my mom, and the kid were huddled in the middle of the sidewalk re-packing bags!  All three of our bums up in the air for all of Terminal 2 to see!  We got it down to just 1 overweight bag. Had to wait in a huge line to check in, but then they pulled us out cus our flight was leaving in 1 hour, yikes!  Had to pay $135 for the extra bag and $100 for the overweight bag, which was better then what they told us on the phone so I was happy. I was also happy cus my mom whipped out the credit card to pay for it! Thanks mom! 

Now I'm riding high in a packed to the gills tin can in the sky!

Can't wait for my 5 hour layover in Chi town! 

Finally, it happened to me.....

right in front of my face and I can't believe it!! 

(that's part of a song for those of you who don't know!)

Yes, people, it has FINALLY happened! 8 months! EIGHT MONTHS! But I finally, finally, finally, received my "golden ticket"! On my way to Abu Dhabi Thursday, August 14th!

Goodbye Rigolo Cafe! Good bye bored and semi-deranged co-workers! Good bye Phyllis! I won't be able to tell you what's in the Cioppino any more!

Hello, Abu Dhabi! Heat, sand, desert! Let real life start!