Monday, May 30, 2011


I love contrast and extremes. I seem to be drawn to it for some reason and it fascinates me. I see a lot of contrasts in this city and even though I've lived here for a while, I don't think I'll ever get bored if it.

Yesterday on the way to work, the taxi driver took a road that I don't normally take. On this particular street there is a row of maybe three or four stunning mansions. I can't really describe how amazing these houses are or compare them to anything in the U.S. because we simply don't have anything that I can think to compare them to. Between a couple of these mansions there is an empty lot of sand. I think there was an older mansion there that was probably demolished. On this plot of sand, there is a black, three-sided tent. I assume this is the same kind of tent that many Gulf Arabs lived in years ago, but which has now become essentially obsolete. This particular tent has been there for some time and I can only assume that it belongs to the same person who lives in the mansion next door.

One night, Ray picked me up from work and we drove down this same street. I noticed the tent was lit up and there was a group of about 20 men seated inside. I was amazed. With mansions on either side, someone decided to have a friendly gathering in a tent. With all the money and apparent progress that has taken place in this country, it seems that someone still desires to remember the way life used to be. I would really like to meet that person, whoever he is.

Friday, May 27, 2011

End of Term

Wednesday was the end of our last 6-week term before summer classes. The last day is always pretty hectic because I have to get students' reports done and printed correctly and plan some kind of review lesson that is more fun than usual. Today's blog will just be snapshots of the day's thoughts and occurences...

I really hate making reports. There's no place for me to give a number for effort. This is incredibly unfair for students who try hard but still can't get it right. We're supposed to be as objective as possible when grading, but that's rediculous.

In my first class (Beginners), I was greeted by a student whom I'll call Yonas. He said, "Teacher, your face red!"
I responded, "Well it's very hot outside today."
"But teacher, you look like tomatom."
"What? I think you mean tomato."
"Too-ma-too. Yes! You look like too-ma-too. Spicey too-ma-too!"
The joke's on him...I didn't correct his pronunciation or grammar, heh heh.

Finally, on the LAST day of the term, I got the beginners to to mix and speak without my help. Usually the men and women sit on opposite sides of the room. Being in a mixed-gender class is not normal for them since everything here is segregated. Today I paired the men and women for a speaking activity and they were completely fine with it. I am proud!

In my second and third classes (both Elementary) everyone was very nervous about receiving their reports. Even though I had told most of them that they weren't in danger of failing, they still worried that they might. I usually don't give out reports until the end of class, but I couldn't take much more "Please, Teacher, I must see my marks!" So in the middle of class I gave the reports. Thankfully, no one really complained that they didn't get the grades that they wanted, even the one guy who did fail. Still, some did ask, "Teacher, why you not give me more high marks for speaking? I good speaking, Teacher!"

After I gave out the reports, I had a vocabulary review game planned. Charades. The students always enjoy this game, and I have to say it's fun for me to see them, all adults, laughing like kids and having a good time in my class. But one woman in particular (I'll call her Amani) REALLY loves this game. She usually comes to class, dressed in the traditional black abaya and sheila, with a serious, somewhat tired expression on her face because she suffers from some health problems. But when we play vocabulary games, she transforms. I have seen Amani become "a rock-star", "a butcher", "have a barbecue", "have a haircut", and "fall in love", all in my class. Her team always wins the vocabulary games.

One of the other teachers decided to bet on which teacher would receive the most end-of-term gifts. I lost. I think this is the first term that I haven't received any gifts. BUT all of my students insisted that I must be their teacher for the next term. At the end of class, I practically had to ask them to leave because they just sat in their chairs. And all the ladies kissed my face before they left. I'm not writing this to try and show what a great teacher I am, but because I'm happy that my students felt so loved. That's how I guage my effectiveness as a teacher. If I genuinely care about my students, the teaching and learning will naturally follow. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Just Another Manic...Sunday

In this area of the world, our weekends happen on Friday and Saturday so today, being Sunday, is the first working day of the week. (Yes, it took a very long time to get used to this. For more than a year at least I always thought it was Monday when it was actually Sunday. But that's a different topic).

Today I'll teach three classes, the first is Beginners and the other two are Elementary. Needless to say, they are low levels. Communacation with my students, especially the beginners, often includes hand motions and drawing pictures, making us all look and feel a little childish. This was really uncomfortable for me at first, but then I started taking a Beginners Arabic class and I started to see from my students' perspective.

Learning any language is difficult, but the differences between Arabic and English are huge. The grammar is incredibly dissimilar and even the alphabets of the two languages include sounds that the other doesn't have. Remembering even a few questions and answers in Arabic takes hours of practice and review and is mentally tiring.

Since I've been taking this class, I have really seen that it takes a lot of determination and humility for my students to learn English. My students come to class for two hours a day, three times a week. I'm only taking one hour a week of Arabic.This is their area of the world and Emiratis are proud people, yet they take more time and energy to learn my language than I do theirs. When some Emirati man sheepishly gets out one simple sentence and manages to screw it up, I understand what he's going through. I appreciate his efforts to keep trying and hope that maybe I'll have the same level of perseverance.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

For lack of a better title...Blog One

It's been a very long time since I've written a regular blog. This one will be quick since I'm a little busy today. Just a brief explanation of why I've decided to begin blogging again.

First of all, I'm an American and I live in the Middle East. My friends around the world, and especialy those in the States have been asking me for the past two years to please post some kind of regular updates about my life here, but I haven't. But better late than never, right?

Secondly, I understand that many people in the west have certain assumtions about the Middle East, about Arabs, that I would like to counteract. My husband, Ray, is half Egyptian, half Lebanese, born and raised here in Abu Dhabi. I'm an adult ESL teacher; probably 98% of my students are from the Middle East and North Africa and probably 97% are Muslim. They come from Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, and let's not for get the UAE. To some people in the west, this could seem intimidating. For me it's now completely normal. During my time here in AD (Abu Dhabi), my perceptions of "Arabs" have evolved. Their religions and where they come from is secondary to the fact that they are my students, fellow humans, and friends. I'd like to hope that by sharing my experiences and their stories, maybe some perceptions and paradigms could be shifted.