My Farewell Tour

Years ago, sitting in class, didn't you wonder why you had to learn where Mesopotamia was? Why learn about the places so far away? What was the point of knowing about some huge desert in a place it was unlikely I would ever visit. Well, now I know why. One never knows in life what sort of interesting things will come about. And my life has certainly been interesting. But, now it's time to learn about another part of the world and depart from my safe haven of New Hampshire and head out to parts unknown in a place called Abu Dhabi.
I am calling this part of my journey, before I leave, my "Farewell Tour" because haven't you ever noticed that when a cool rock band is going to change members or break up, they have a Farewell Tour that lasts about a year? Well, I began my "Farewell Tour" at the Thanksgiving dinner table last November as I sat and looked around at my family, my cousins, aunts and uncles and I asked my mother what she would think if I decided to teach overseas. My mother responded favorably and I thought, well, then, this is it. This could be my last Thanksgiving dinner with the family in New England, for a couple of years. I mentally looked around at the family as if to impress their faces and that moment on my mind. At that point, my mother was the only one who knew that I was planning such a crazy, wild journey of my heart. I applaud her for being open to such an idea. Now that I am further along in my journey, she is still so very supportive. What more can one ask from her parents?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wow, that was some ride...

Welcome to my blog from the other side of the world...Abu Dhabi. I won't bore you with the plane details or the arrival details, which were all very normal and mundane...however, when I paid 4Euro for a spot of tea in Charles Degaulle Airport which then translated into over $6 American on my credit card, I realized I was not in "Kansas" any more (or New Hampshire.) At arrival, I was met by Haris, the assistant from my school. We collected Cindy and Tim, a married couple and Michael who arrived on a different flight at about the same time. I saw a cash exchange place where I quickly turned $60 American into 220 AED Dirhams. I also spied a friendly camel and I asked Michael to take a picture of me and I obliged and took one of him, as well. Haris then walked us outside where the humidity and heat hit me like a large wet, wool rug. It was immediately oppressive. Then Haris popped Cindy, Tim and Mike into a cab and I set off with Haris across the hottest blacktop I had ever experienced...mind you, I was pushing my life belongings in three suitcases, one laptop, and a large canvas the time we reached his car, I was exhausted. We quickly arrived at the Aloft Hotel and I put my belongings into my hotel room, got on the internet to announce my arrival to my family and friends and went up to the Ramadan tent to meet with my new traveling companions for a late night bite. I tried the Shawarma, with no yogurt sauce, thank you. It turned out to be a chicken wrap which was very digestible. After that, we retired to our rooms and I actually slept very well. In the morning we were bused from our hotel to our new school, the Institute of Applied Technology. Our first day consisted of paperwork and hearing about our new school. We were allowed to leave early and I finished the day by looking at housing prospects on Dubizzle, a website for the Arab World. I also networked with colleagues for ideas on where to go to look at housing prospects. Strangely enough, one of the first places I saw on Dubizzle, which I had also seen at home turned out to be the place I am going to call home. But, I'm getting ahead of my story.
The rest of that first week turned out to be a series of days where we showed up at school, signed in, were told our laptop arrival was imminent and were then told we could use the day in whatever fashion we wanted to...but first there were the medical tests. One of our school assistants, Moustaffah, drove us to a medical clinic. There were literally hundreds of people standing on line, sitting in chairs, waiting for a technician to call a name. This was my Ellis Island. As they called out names and numbers, I thought of all the immigrants who had come to America, with different expectations, but probably expectations that were not unlike my own..."Please God, let me get through this..." When I went for my x-ray, the tech put me in a small changing room where I was to stay until called. This was the most wretched moment of my journey, so far. This small cubicle was disgusting, filthy and dingy. For a medical building, it was so far below American standards. I did hope I would never have to see this building, again... Alas. 
The next few days were similar, showing up to work, released from work and finding a real estate agent who would take us around to see some apartments. However, after I had been at IAT for one week, Moustaffah came to collect me. "You need to go back to medical center." When I asked "Why?" Moustaffah merely shrugged his shoulders. After shuffling back through some long lines, I was told to go to Room 21. There I spoke at length with a practitioner who explained my lung x-rays were not approved. I would have to A. take antibiotics until the infection cleared up. B. undergo TB testing as they thought I may possibly have TB or C. I could explain what may be wrong and possibly get my records from home (A long while back, I considered bringing my medical records, but never thought of the x-ray problem at that time and I later discarded that thought)
So, I gave this lovely woman my "lung problem" history. In 2008, I had a bad bout of pneumonia, which the doctors had said was an "infiltrate." Even today, I'm not sure what that exactly means, other than the shadows are apparently still in my lungs, and I still have the cough from time to time. My options were given to me: I had to produce my medical records from the states within one week or go through additional testing for TB. (they also suggested the antibiotic again, as that would have made them feel better.) Keep in mind, this diagnosis and plan of care was all done without any stethoscope, blood pressure cuff or thermometer having been used. Apparently diagnosis in Abu Dhabi is done a bit differently.
A few days later, I received the med tests from the states, but by then it was the weekend, and following that, there is a mandatory holiday for the entire UAE so getting confirmation or any type of oversight for this problem is now delayed until perhaps Sept 1.
I mentally put the medical stuff on the back burner, as I knew that the worst that would come from that was a delay in my residency visa and THAT would mean I would have to make border runs to Oman (which is an ok place to go) or Yemen (don't worry, I'm NOT going THERE) to get my next 30-day visa stamp. And my front burner was now consumed with finding a place to live. I had seen housing options all over the area, and then that little picture of the white side by side villas in the Al Bateen area came up on Dubizzle, again. I had heard that two other folks from our school had already rented the top floors, but there were studio apts, and one bedroom apts still available. I drove out with Tim and Cindy and I was impressed with what I saw. I also liked the idea that I would have neighbors whom I already knew in the other apts. We spent the rest of the afternoon getting deposit money, signing some preliminary papers and working out the kinks. These apts  were still in process of being finished, but I was running out of time, as our 5-day stay at the Aloft had come to an end and I had to make housing choices. Since the apts still had that Beirut, Lebanon decorator look of open doorframes framed in concrete blocks enhanced by crumbling concrete and piles of broken rubble. However, I had seen enough episodes of Trading Spaces and Design on a Dime to know that there was potential in this little apartment of mine. I will have a huge living room of 20'x20' and a smaller bedroom area of 13'x20' with an itsy-bitsy kitchen area and an adequate bathroom where I can put a washer/dryer combo. 
So, now my days are filled with trying to find some inexpensive housewares in both new and used condition. I hosted my first impromptu dinner party with Jackie and Brandon on Friday night when the Indian restaurant where we chose to eat was lacking an exhaust fan and as the tears were running down my cheeks, we made the smart decision to move the party to my apartment to eat our Indian dinner. My new colleagues are quickly becoming my new friends. The next evening, which was last night, Brandon returned the favor by inviting a small group of us to his new flat for pot luck. I brought drum sticks courtesy of the hot food department of the local Carrefours store and one of those yummy looking cakes that has kiwi, peaches, and strawberries glazed on top. (yes, some things are JUST like the states) We met two new colleagues from our school who told their new immigrating stories. However, that will save for another day.
Oh, one last update...when my housing at the Aloft hotel ran out (5 days, only!!) I found a "deal" on Agoda for a 5-star room for only $69 per night for a small studio apartment/hotel. When I arrived, my room wasn't ready, so they upgraded me to a "Junior Suite" which is very comfortable. This is a lovely, older hotel with a gorgeous pool and exercise room on the roof. The staff has been outstanding. I like this hotel so much better than the Aloft, as it has a kitchenette and I have three wonderful rooms here. I would have chosen to live here, but it would have taken all my housing money, it's a 15 AED Dirham ride to school and the area is lousy. Other than that, I have the lovely bakery across the street that has the most delicious Baklava and Khanafa. Of course, due to Ramadan, I can only buy those at night, after 9:00pm. 
More later on Ramadan and how it affects Westerners.
I am happy here. I am missing my family, but don't have the homesickness that sometimes plagues me in strange places.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Look at the Emirates

The more I read about Abu Dhabi and its environs, the more impressed I am with the creation of this gem out of the desert. 50 years ago, it was merely a sandy fishing and pearl diving village. Today it has such a wealth of innovative buildings, technological wonders, and natural wonders that it could take me a while to explore all the gifts that Abu Dhabi offers. I am including a link to an interactive map so click on the word "Map" and explore a little with me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Have a Day/Date of Departure!

I had almost given up...after days and weeks of waiting for my e-ticket, I was beginning to think it was all a dream. Since I had been given a start date of Aug 14, I was pretty sure they were going to bring me over by the 8th or 9th of Aug. Going to Abu Dhabi is not like driving to Concord, there is a period of adjustment for the weather, the time change and the language and culture that takes place going from New Hampshire to Abu Dhabi, so I really did think that bringing me over a few days early would be to both our mutual benefits. Apparently, I don't think like an Emirati. They have given me a time and date of Saturday, August 13 with an arrival on Sunday, August 14. I have e-mailed my rep to be sure they would reschedule my orientation (they will). Then I began the process of calling or texting all my family members. My son, Jake was first as I knew he was on the road to work. His response, "Excellent!" That made me feel so good. My daughter, Jess, is next as she is an early riser. We discussed the time of arrival in Abu Dhabi and think we know what time I will arrive there. My mom and sister, Sue are next. Mom wondered who was calling her so early in the morning and Sue responded, "Nancy of course, she got her ticket." Sue had such conviction, she knew it was me. I called my son, Matt, then and gave him the news. Everyone was so upbeat and positive, I felt encouraged. 
I know that having your mother/daughter/sister leave the country for up to 6 months at a time is a difficult condition. My family has encouraged me from the very beginning to go ahead and do this. Oh, it hasn't all been easy. We have had our moments of tears and sadness, that's for sure. For the last 6 weeks as I have waited for this all-important mobilization news to come, everyone has asked, "When do you leave?" and my answer has been, "I don't know yet." And this week, it has gotten down to very little time left. My school had already given me a work-start date of August 14. With the arrival in a strange country, finding a place to live, and beginning work on the 14th. But each day, as I check my e-mail there is no news. The daytime TV shows mock me; Nate Berkus calls out to me, "Have you got your ticket, yet?" and David Letterman crows, "You can get free tickets!" Each little moment is an insult to my inner clock which is screaming out, "GO! Get thee to Abu Dhabi!" By this time, my family, which had previously been happily asking me if I had my tickets, and have perhaps been a little wistful about my leaving are now asking in tired voices, "Anything in the e-mail, today?" Yes, it is time for me to go. My house is ready for my son to take over with two roommates. Everything in my life is encouraging my leaving: my cell phone battery is only holding a charge for a few minutes; my hair dryer has stopped working. As Bob Dylan says, "One more cup of coffee  before I go" or in my case, tea. Earl Grey, preferably, with milk and real sugar.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Anorexic Packing

I'm trying to shove my life into two suitcases, one carry on,, a laptop bag and a large canvas bag. It's not easy. I binge, I purge. I see it all come back the next day. I binge and purge some more. In the meanwhile, as my packing has turned into a marathon event, I am also working at purging my outdoor life of a few extraneous living yard has been turned into a spectator sport. People stop by, drop their jaws and stare in what can only be described as abject horror, fascination or hilarity at what is going on in my yard. The backhoe is there, tugging pulling and thrashing with roots, tree stumps and large bricks and mortar. People ask my man Vincent what is going on. He responds, "Well, I think she hit the lottery" because, really it's no one's business but my own. In a way, I have hit the lottery. I am going on the trip and experience of a lifetime. The decision to tear apart my yard was borne out of a need to make the yard work very easy and accessible for my son, Jake, who is going to be my housing manager for the two years I am overseas.
I guess I have an all or nothing personality at this point. My house has been overhauled, both inside and out. Every bedroom is getting a bed, desk, bureau, bookcase and a "welcome to our home" basket with a stainless mug and a few items to help with the transition to our home. Two young men will be living with my son, when school begins on the first of September. I've been told a few horror stories from well-meaning friends, I am remembering some of the poor choices made by some members of the family who shall remain nameless. I am trusting a lot in God and in the power of his influence in this move to Abu Dhabi. I am also trusting a lot in three young men to use this time to grow safely, and enjoy a fairly stress free life in a small town in New Hampshire. My son looked up his college in the rating catalog, yesterday. "Hey, did you know that NEC is ranked higher than Colby Sawyer and Franklin Pierce College?" Of course I do...did he think I was sending him to some rinky dink New Hampshire school? As I move on to the field trip of a life time, I pray that my instincts are correct...that this is exactly what I should be doing at this point in my life.
Let the packing anorexia continue! I shall purge more, tomorrow.