Friday, June 25, 2010

"It was the best of times; It was the worst of times"

Welp, it's the end of an era...an era of sweat, blood, and tears. It is 12:35 at night here in RAK, about 33 hours before I leave this sweatshop backwater camel jockey country behind for good. I'm at school, yet again, because I got them to allow facebook on my computer for the last week, having no internet at home anymore.

How can I sum up this experience?

In my time I have not blown up my cooker, destroyed my fridge, caused any floods, or been traumatized by my washing machine. As far as I know, I haven't made a single student cry. I haven't given anyone the verbal barrage they so desperately deserve (FYI - Monty, Karen, Jacquie, and Melissa, you all made the short list)...although email is a wonderful thing... I haven't made any enemies (at least not actively). I've lost about 30 pounds of good ol' American flab (but unfortunately have another 30 to go...) I have managed not to blow my top over the UAE's human rights violations (such as making NRI's do hard labor in 50C weather, teaching their sons about sex via prostitutes, or imprisoning maids unfortunate enough to get pregnant because they were raped by their sponsors)...but only because I know there are things I can do nothing about and can't think about too much because they will make me so upset I might do something illegal.

On the other hand, I haven't gone desert camping, I never saw the Empty Quarter, I have added NO new recipes to my repertoire, and my Arabic has improved only by 4 words: left, right, how much, and yes (thank you, Socrates). And I have sleepwalked through a lot of this year.

On yet another hand (I may be turning into Shiva...) I managed to avoid some of my mistakes made in Bahrain. I had friends here. I didn't buy a car. I think I might have actually improved as a teacher during this year. There were times that I felt really unsure of myself, but the last couple of units I've taught were good, and I think I'm finally starting to understand the PYP. I wanted Stephanie to be a more personable administrator - she's very different from John or Kit, although since she was let go, I've seen a much more human side to her that makes me wonder if she didn't sacrifice that warmth for the sake of being "professional", but at the end of the day, the tension I felt because I wasn't completely sure where I stood with her did keep me pushing myself to understand the curriculum and how to work with the teachers.

I'm still processing it all. I wish I'd had the internet at home this week - I've forgotten things I was going to write in here, this was never meant to be one big cumulative report. I'm sure I'll remember some of those bits and bring them up later, but for now, let me finish with yet another Wicked quote:

"Who can tell if I've been changed for the better? (I believe I have been changed for the better.) Because I knew you I have been changed for good."

Masalaam, RAK. Hallo, London!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Final Countdown

Two weeks from today I will be in London. Two weeks from today I was supposed to be in Iowa, but the fact is that as long as I get to go to London and still be home before the family reunion, I'll live with the fact that the travel agent screwed me over. I have a plane ticket, I have my passports, if I get my ass in gear I might even have money by the time Thursday's over.

There are lots of logistics involved in picking up and moving halfway around the world. You can't live somewhere for a year without picking up some detritus. I've been leaving my books behind - just gave away the whole House of Night series to a TA I knew would appreciate it - and am putting together a bag of clothes for the GETH charity. Still, it seems there is more to do. I've got two boxes and a suitcase to send to Socrates' future residence, and I'm going to ship a box or so of my own stuff while I'm at it. I've sold most of the stuff I needed to, and tomorrow I'll go shut off my internet so that I can pick up my pay at the end of the week.

This is the way things are winding down here. I'm not even sad - I just wish it was over already. I don't regret coming here; at times it has been a monumental pain in the ass, and as times I've felt very alone, but in just about every single way it's been better than it was in Bahrain, and meeting Socrates was the cherry on top. On the other hand, it was not the experience Korea was - maybe if it were, I wouldn't be leaving.

Last Thursday I went on a consular run to pick up my new passport. Since I had to take the whole day off, anyways, it turned into shopping trip, part two, and afterwards I met the girls and went up Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building). Don't get me wrong - it was fun dropping 1000 dirhams like it was hot, and pretty amazing looking going up to have a look around. But it says a lot about the artificiality of this place, that it's a destination built solely on being the biggest, built on sating your consumer lusts. From the Burj you look out beyond the mall and Sheikh Zayed Rd and realize that the place is a desert - there are a few outcroppings of tall, futuristic buildings, but just beyond the oasis it's only a big, ugly desert.
There is very little of historic importance to see, 99% of the mosques don't welcome non-Muslim visitors, and most of the belly dancers are Russian or Brazilian. There's driving and whoring and shopping to your heart's content, but if you want to ride a real Arabian stallion, or learn about carpet weaving, or how to play a tabla drum, in other words, to see the warp and weft that the nouveau riche UAE is built on, you're going to be hard pressed to do so.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hallelujah!

The old passport is back in my possession, I'm going to be an art teacher full-time still next year, and we are down to a mere 23 days before I blow this popsicle stand. Oh, and since I have to return to the consulate to pick up the new passport, I'm going to have to take ANOTHER day off school (oh darn). I'm thinking I'll park at Mall of the Emirates this time, take the metro from there, and afterwards play in the snow. Oh, and shop. Can't forget the shopping. Have two days in London at the end of this hell with a sexy man; I needs me some new threads. Party on, Wayne!

I've been working diligently to cram in as much fun, new experiences as possible before I go, with a little help from my friends. This Friday past we hit the Wafi rooftop for "Peanut Butter Jam" - a bunch of little expat bands playing rock covers (I knew I was going to enjoy it when the first full song we heard was the one about living next door to Alice...)

...

Sometime during the night someone said, "What do you think, you feel up to Atlantis tomorrow?" and thus Trish, Carol, and I ended up going to the waterpark out on the Jumeirah Palm. Well, I've gotta be honest with you - after making the hour+ trek down for the third time in 24 hours, not driving but navigating which is actually more stressful, and realizing it was REALLY hot and I was REALLY not up for a sunburn, I was not in the best mood and I'm afraid I ditched Carol and Trish for longer than I intended to (started heading down the lazy river, which, it turns out, is much longer than the one at Fun Plex). I sat for a while and read, wondering if they'd turn up, and then decided I'd man up and go down the "Leap of Faith" - the nearly-vertical waterslide that zips down the front of Aquaventure's distinctive ziggurat slide complex. This slide is particularly cool because before it spits you out with a major wedgie (and, in Trish's case, with your boobies exposed - yay for my one-piece!) it shoots you through a shark-infested aquarium. Not that you can see it, because you're going too fast, but if you can manage to keep your eyes open a slit whilst water is sluicing up from your feet, you can see a kinda blue-green blur during three-tenths of the second you're on the ride.

Well, when I made my way back down to the chairs, Trish and Carol were getting out of the water, and so we ended up doing the rest of the slides together and having a blast. We hit Dubai mall on the way past for Taco Bell (for the first time in almost a year...yum, yum, yum, said Max) and tickets for next Thursday to the top of Burj Khalifa. While we were there I imposed on them to stay for the fountain show, which was on my list of things to do before leaving. I gotta say, it was pretty spectacular - the fountain was timed to a piece of Arabic music and it was almost like the streams of water were liquid belly dancers, the way they spun and undulated. But as I was sitting there I couldn't help but remember sitting in the shadow of the Burj eating lunch a few months back with Evil and Socrates, and feeling a little lost. I may not be alone here, but the world is lonely when you don't have a best friend to look to.