Sunday, August 30, 2009

The First Days of School

Unh. I have survived Day One at RAKESS. I didn't actually teach, and the kids were really good on the playground when I had duty out there...so why do I feel like I got hit by a Mac truck? On the bright side, things are slowly coming together as far as the PYP curriculum, I haven't managed to make too much of an idiot out of myself in front of Casey or Stephanie, and my classroom's pretty well set up. So things could be worse.
Thursday night a bunch of people went out to the golf club and later, the sailing club. At first I wanted to go, wanted to make friends, but around five o'clock, I remembered that I don't like socializing in big groups like that (most of whom I don't give a flying fig about and at least a couple of which I find irritating) and that I was perfectly capable of entertaining myself in a much more enjoyable manner. And also, that I've never cared much for the sort of friends you make in forced situations like that. So I went to a net cafe for a while, then checked out the OK Pizzeria next door, and had some pretty amazing penne diavolo. When I got home, I read. It may mean a few extra bored and lonely evenings, but at least I'll be in good company. But maybe I'll put together a victory dinner for this Thursday night and share it with the people who might have potential.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Float on...

So, we are about finished here with day 4 of the full staff orientation week at RAKESS. This week has consisted of a little bit of "getting to know you," a medium sized portion of meetings, lots and lots of work on my classroom...although, actually, I'm not going to be teaching - like, my own stuff - until after our Eid holiday, the end of September or so (shorter school day = priotizing time)...and, of course, our outdoor, team-building, adventure day.

Yes, that's right - I said outdoor. Have you heard me bitch about the heat around here? Or the humidity? Or the SUN???? Well, maybe you haven't, but this blog is young. In short - I'm in the middle east. I think we qualify for the "World's Nastiest Summer" award. And that is why we left Sunrise at 4:30 a.m. on Monday morning.

Because the primary is so big they split us into two groups before sending us to our doom...er, I mean, to our very fun adventure day! Half started by kayaking around the inlet from the ocean in central RAK, the other half began by rock-climbing or biking up in the mountains. My group was the envied group because we got to do the climbing and biking in what passes for the cooler part of the morning...but because I'm contrary and a little scared of sunlight, I was wishing I could have got the kayaking over with before the UV got too bad. Oh well, life goes on, right?
Now, because my family has mountain goats in its Swiss ancestry, I was all about the climbing. My brother and at least a couple of cousins are into that shit. Actually, I think Shaggy ought to check out Al Shaheen, the group that led us, because I think he'd have a lot of fun with it. I think Diana and Katie ought to check them out too, because a large percentage of them are single and speak with lush Scottish accents. Anyways, so I was excited about my turn, and I scrambled up the wall until my arms got wobbly, then walked back down the cliff. Soon enough the bikers that started at the other end of the wadi made it to us, and my group went down and took our turn on the bikes. I had probably been on a bike more recently than any of my colleagues, but I was really impressed with how well everyone did. I also think I know what happened to my gear-shift. It wasn't a particularly hard ride, 3km on mostly level ground but the trail we were on was loose stones and we did sink into them and the sand every now and again. By the time we got to the vans, I was ready to knock back about a liter of water and never leave an air-conditioned space again.
But, of course, we weren't done yet.

We got to the area where we put in our kayaks, and changed into our "bathing costumes" (man, I love British words). Then we spent quite a while in the heat and sun, and I started worrying about my skin. So I went to put on more sunscreen...I'd already been doing this in the van while we were coming in from the mountains, since we were under the aircon...only to realize I had no idea where my sunscreen was. It was not in my bag. It was not on the ground, or in the room where I'd changed. I ended up borrowing someone else's to reapply, and then we spent another half hour getting geared up and playing games and I REALLY started to worry. I have what I like to call a vampyric complexion, and have been known to get badly burned when constantly reapplying SPF 45 sunscreen...and I was going to be out on the water where the light was going to be coming at me from the bottom as well as the top? Aish. I almost chickened out. Then our Head of Lower Primary came by, and told me, "Oh c'mon. At least try it." Except she said it in her British accent, and with her imposing, McGonagall-ish demeanor, I felt that there was no way that I could stay on shore. I was going out on the water whether I liked it or not, because I'd rather eat glass than lose face with her.

And I took one of the Indian ladies who couldn't swim with me at first. We got a little ways from shore, and she freaked (with, as I'm sure Babysis could testify, good reason, although she didn't know that at the time). So I came back and got paired up with a Canadian. We started out, but then we came back to shore, where the Al Shaheen boys were trying to figure out what to do with our odd number...so being sort-of experienced, thanks to the many float trips Dad took us on in our little green canoe, I volunteered to take a kayak out on my own, and that's what I did. I only capsized once, and managed to beat everyone at the game of British bulldog we played. I did get a little burnt on my hands where my shirt didn't cover, and weird patchy places on my legs, but by the time the skin cancer sets in, they'll surely have a cure for it, right???

Sunday, August 23, 2009

There she goes....

It's 4 p.m. in RAK (Ras Al Khaimah), and I'm at an internet cafe not TOO terribly far from the a.p.t. I actually wrote a nice, inaugural blog during one of my bored moments, but that's on my laptop, which I'm not willing to cart around in 50 degree heat, especially now that Ramadan's on, and my go-to WiFi connection, Coffee and Cream, won't be opening til after sunset. So you're getting this piece of crap instead. Suck it up.

Since this is the inaugural post, I should probably begin by giving you the lowdown on life here. RAK's the northernmost emirate (governing structure...kinda comparable to a state or province), and...hmmm, can the term backwater be used? Maybe not quite in its purest form, but I'll use it anyways. There are lots of new buildings without power, more than one mall operating at half occupancy, with another, BIGGER one in the works (both things fallout from the economic crisis, to my understanding), rubble - from what, I don't know - and at least a couple of dusty back alleys without lights. I know because when I decided to seek out food last night, I ended up meandering down a couple of them.

On the other hand, there are really quite lovely things here, too. I live in a building called the Sunrise. Or Mairaid. I'm not sure why it has two names, but I like calling it the Sunrise. It's pretty much going to be party central for the teachers at RAKESS this year, I think, because a ton of us and what seems like most of the British curriculum teachers live there. It's also - HALLELUJAH! - a ten minute's walk from the beach (which I will not be swimming at because...okay, it does still very occasionally suck to be a white woman), and the beautiful Hilton beach resort, which I'll be joining. I have my own apartment, which is probably three times the size of my place in Korea, so there's still a fairly good chance I may lose things. I've dedicated one of my rooms as my belly dance studio, cleared out most of the furniture and bought two ten-dollar mirrors (so far) for it. We had an introduction activity today at RAKESS, and my partner mentioned that I had an exotic habit, and that I was looking for other people who might be interested in belly dancing, which is not entirely true - if you know me, you know I'm more than happy to go it on my own, no matter what "it" may be. But three other ladies came up to me throughout the rest of the day and said that they had also danced, or were interested in dancing, and after experiencing what it was like to be part of a community of dancers, in Omaha, and at the end of my time in Seoul, I'm actually excited about creating one here in RAK. Dubai, eat your heart out!
I got to go to church on Friday, and that was good. I was a little worried about being assigned to the Sharjah ward. I had been told that there were lots of singles in Dubai, and as nice as married people are, they don't make what you would call, "Ideal Partners in Crime." They have families and stuff. So I was happy to meet some girls there - one of whom looks like a taller version of Diana (I had to restrain myself from boinging her curls), and seemed to find my mix of sarcasm and snideness agreeable. I may still consider Dubai once I've got a car.

The teachers are a really quite amazing mix. Everyday I get to listen to accents from all over the world - Aussies, Saffers, Indians, Brits from all over the isles, a few Americans, and...ugh. Canadians. Whose nationalistic pride I still don't totally understand. Maybe next year. There are lots of single ones too...yeah, that's a preoccupation of mine. To understand it you'd have to know my history in Bahrain, and that's too long a story to go into right now. Suffice it to say that in spite of the fact that I'm a fiercely independent person, and that my friends have actually been known to drive me NUTS (hello, Christa), at the end of the day you need them to put it all in perspective, to help you laugh at things or to sympathize with you over the frustration. In the end, it was not the crappy school or the atrocious student behavior or whatever that made me leave Bahrain...it was that lack of friends.

Last thing for now - Ramadan. It started yesterday, and it annoys me now, almost as much as it annoyed me three years ago. But I'm trying to think of it as a forced opportunity to work on some of my less wonderful habits. Which are coming along alright just by virtue of leaving the states...and possibly something deeper. I already feel better than I have in a very long time, like a layer of myself has peeled away leaving behind a softer, newer thing in its wake.