17 December, 2008

Everyone's Son

"It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today, but we have just begun. Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today." - Barack Obama

“Barack Obama?”

These words are just as often posed as a question as they are formed as a statement.

At home, in Dubai, people often ask me where I am from. Prior to the election, after I said the United States, I often received a perplexed look, mainly because I do not look like what they expect from someone who gives that answer to that question. Then if the person somewhat knew me or we had an extended conversation, they would beat around the bush (no pun intended) to politics to figure out who I was voting for.

The parents of my students, for instance, would get around to the election, and hint at the possibility of change – almost as if it were a code word. A few of them would come right out and ask, in a sort of hopeful tone of voice “Barack Obama?” I would slowly nod, do a little head bob and say “we hope so” and usually the person’s face would break into a smile - or she would grasp my hand or he would join in the nodding as well. If the person was gregarious, we would continue our conversation on the elated emotions of hope.

During the political conventions, I encouraged my AP Language and Composition students to watch one of the speeches and complete an informal poster analyzing the speaker’s rhetorical devices. I hung up the better posters in my room, and ended up with at least one analysis of speeches by Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin, John McCain and Barack Obama. The McCain poster had a large title that clearly said “McCain’s Tools.” On parent-teacher conference day, one of my student’s parents, (from India) were in my room and her father glanced around, pointed at the McCain poster and asked what it was for. I told him, and he responded by telling me I should be unbiased and that students should have been allowed to cover both sides. I knew at that moment that he judged me, first, as a McCain supporter, and second as “bad.” I quickly pointed out the other speech analyses around the room and the elaborate one up front which illustrated how Obama used Aristotle’s model of classical argument. I hoped that by the time he left the room he was satisfied that I was a supporter of change as well.

Another parent and I had an extended conversation about our hopes; she is from Palestine. Another mother, who happens to be European, overhead us. At the end of our conference, she mentioned that she shared our views, and asked if her son had told me they knew Barack Obama. I was shocked. The next day in class, her son handed me a pair of black and white Obama bracelets, and explained the family's connection. It was a good one, but not for these public pages. I did not take the bracelets off until well after the election.

Since the election, when people ask where I am from, I first state that I live in Dubai, but then add that I am from the U.S. I get the opposite reaction than I expected when I first left the States to live abroad. People are surprisingly happy. “Ah, Barack Obama?” they will ask, or “Ba-rack O-bama” they will say, enunciating the consonants in the first part of our president-elect’s name and quickly and confidently stating his last name.

I boarded my Air India flight last Tuesday evening, and the man in my row quickly struck up a conversation. After I told him of my native country, he quickly said “Barack Obama.” I said “Yes. January 20.”

At that point the conversations begin to blur. Someone makes the statement about Mr. Obama, and then they say “he is good?” and I say “yes.” “Bush?” they will ask. “Bad.” I reply. Or they will make the judgment themselves. They may imply that Obama has already been installed in office, and we reply, not yet, but soon. Often they will ask about his religion and his middle name. Generally, people are overwhelmingly happy and hopeful.

On the plane, I got out the book I began reading prior to leaving for my trip. The first week of December, I received two packages – one, the ultimate gift package for every holiday from October to January from my friend Rachel, and the other, three books from Amazon.com I had ordered in November, all authored by the same man. I began with Dreams From My Father.

“Barack Obama!” my aisle-mate, Sameer, said excitedly since my reading was by the same man about whom we initiated our conversation.

He asked to see the book, and I passed it to him.

He read the quote on the bottom of the cover: “Perceptive and wise, this book will tell you something about yourself whether you are black or white.” – Marian Wright Edelman.

“I think that will be true,” said Sameer, who is from the beach-side city of Goa in South India, pointing to the quote.

He, of course, asked if I was “like” Barack Obama – one parent from Kenya and one from the U.S. - and I shook my head ‘no’. He was confused, as many people are when I tell them I am from the U.S., and that both my parents are “American.” But, I had heard the Obama comparison before, even from my acupuncturist, and I will no doubt hear it again. Someone, I forget who, explained to me at one point that people on this side of the world will find it hard to believe that I am American because I am not blond. I found that an odd characteristic to identify as “American,” but here we are agreeing on Mr. Obama and I am calling myself an American for the first time in my life, so let us not ruin this moment.

I saw an ad on the news when I was in my hotel in Madurai for a forum to be held in Mumbai on the night I arrived, regarding what the election of Barack Obama will mean for India, and I really, truly understood. On the morning of November 6, (it was still the 5th in the States) one of the local papers in Dubai illustrated that Mr. Obama must now live up to his promises. The articles that day implied that the leaders of our region were ready for Mr. Obama to start fixing the world now, and they were going to hold him to it. Unfortunately, because of my flight arrival time I would not make it to the forum, but I liked the idea of it.

Seeing that commercial took me back to election day and all the joy of many people of the world, represented by the microcosm of folks at our school. It reminded me that the hopes of many people, clearly in India, and undoubtedly in other parts of the world, have the highest of hopes for our newly-elected president and for their own corners of the world after his inauguration.

In those two words they utter to me when they learn where I am from, are not a man’s name, but the hopes of a large portion of people around the globe for something bigger and for something greater than the man or our country itself. Barack Obama.

05 November, 2008

Yes, We Can; Yes, We Did; Yes, We Can

"And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments to palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand." - President-Elect Barack Obama

I left the high school around 7:45 this morning to run an errand at the elementary school. It was 10:45 pm eastern time in the States. On my way back to the high school, I passed a group of middle-school students.

"We got Florida!" a boy yelled while pumping his fist into the air.

"And we got New York too!" replied his comrade, a little blond boy.

I smiled to myself, but I did not yet know if it was because they clearly understood the electoral process, or because they were so enthused so early in the morning that Black is the new president.

As I walked, I was lost in my own thoughts regarding an earlier event in the morning. I awoke at 4:45 and checked the computer. The New York Times had Obama in the lead, but with only the east coast states reporting...not much to go on. As I drove out of the parking garage onto the dirt road, in front of my building, I passed a little brown boy and his sister - waiting for the bus, I am sure, which often blocks my path each day. I smiled as I drove by him. I suppose my thoughts drifted to my supposition that an Obama presidency would give this little boy, halfway around the world, a chance at a better life.

I was quickly drawn back to reality when I heard another group of younger boys listing states.

"He got Mississippi," one boy said. "And he just got Texas."

These boys were clearly in 5th or 6th grade. I smiled at how captivated they were by the election, although it was hard to tell if they were excited about those facts or not. I knew the faculty as a whole had done a phenomenal job educating our students about the election, the candidates, and the electoral process etc. We had a school-wide election assembly with students representing McCain, Nader and Obama, as well as their families, campaign staff and the secret service. Students had made Facebook pages and Yes, We Can commercials of their own free will. A radio station even came to interview the students and aired the session on several stations, including the Hindi ones.

In the two hours between when I first woke up and when I got to school, Obama had received about 130-something electoral votes. I met my principal on the way into the building, and he predicted Obama would make his acceptance speech by midnight. I didn't believe him. I still don't - and it happened nine hours ago.

The hour between those 130-something odd votes and 334 electoral votes went quickly. Pennsylvania came in. And then came Ohio. I began to breathe. But, I wasn't yet convinced. It was a little hard to believe, and it still is, that the country formally known as home would elect Mr. Obama, or any black man. It was a little hard to believe, and it still is, that the country I grew up in, that never felt like home, would elect Mr. Obama, or any black man. It is still hard to believe that the place that always made me feel like a second-class citizen, could transcend its fear of the other, and make a sound decision about its leader. Oh, I have the faith that many individuals can. But the majority of registered voters - I was skeptical.

My friend Erika got the school to ensure a live feed from her laptop through the projector to the screen for today, so I planned on watching election news in there during my planning period. Almost immediately after I read CNN's statement that they would not make any early calls without the votes coming in, Ohio turned blue (crib!) and CNN's John King admitted that there was no mathematical path to victory for John McCain. I was still prepared for something to go wrong.

I grabbed some papers to grade and my laptop and headed to Erika's room. The Times was calling Washington state even though they had 0% reporting. Even the history teachers were trying to understand that. NPR, CNN, and The New York Times all had Mr. Obama with between 204 and 293 votes. By the time I ran an errand and returned, Mr. McCain was giving his classy and appropriate, concession speech. The tears began to flow.

Erika and I were balling, and everyone else was glued to screen. In between McCain's concession and Mr. Obama's acceptance, I went to get tissue. Erika sent out an email announcing that the acceptance speech would be on at 9:00 (our time), so to come watch - in her classroom. I hadn't graded a single paper, and was not sure how I was going to fare the remainder of the day. For the most part, I was lucky. My AP students were presenting arguments about what our new president will have to do to unite the nation and I had the rubrics all ready - all I had to do was pay attention to them and assess them. I did not have to try to teach through the tears. And luckily, most of the kids were on Obama's page and most of them had deduced where my loyalties lie, so they would understand the tears as well.

"It's coming!," Erika was screaming in the hallway. "Obama's acceptance speech! Come on - in my room... it's coming on NOW!"

Students began pouring into the room. They were all in their pajamas as it was spirit week, and today was pajama day. They kept coming and coming. I wondered if all 270 of them were going to come. I wondered if they would sit down and shut up before Mr. Obama began speaking. He was already at the podium. The kids piled in. They scrambled onto the floor and into all of the available desks. They sat on laps. Girls and boys, boys and boys, girls and girls. The room was dark except for the screen - it was like watching a movie at a sleepover.

I had no shame in my tears. A bunch of my boys sat next to me, and they didn't say anything about the crying. They understood.

"Is that right now?" one of my students asked, pointing at the electoral vote count on The New York Times home page.

It said 293. I nodded the affirmative. He got excited and pointed it out to his friends.

Mr. Obama was speaking. I was sobbing, silently. Erika was balling. The kids were in awe.

"...and to those of you in the far corners of the world right now, huddled around a radio..." a soft roar went through out crowd. A soft roar of pleasure and exclusivity passed through this room of teenage students, in their pajamas at school, with their wide variety of passports and nationalities. With their mixed up ethnicities, their dual languages, and their various, beautiful skin tones. These kids huddled around a projector screen in one classroom at a school in the most modern of third-world cities had been acknowledged by the man who was bringing them hope from across the globe and as they were experiencing one of the most historic moments of their entire lives and I knew right then they would never forget it.

I reached once again for the tissue roll that was rotating between myself, Erika and a few students.

While this is a defining moment for these kids, it was certainly a moment I doubted I would ever see in my lifetime. Certainly I acknowledged times had improved, but from my experience, I often doubted the sincerity and the authenticity of such changes. Even though I had many more opportunities than many folks belonging to the category of "other", I still witnessed, experienced and lived with that tense dynamic and it is part of who I am. I chalked up my success and my amazing opportunities, (and for the most part I still do,) to the individuals who provided them to me and pushed me and provoked me to do well - not to American society as a whole or any idea that times had changed.

But, here we are November 5th, 2008. The United States of America has elected its first black president. The United States of America has elected the best candidate for president - something they hadn't done in the past two tumultuous elections.

I spent the rest of the day oscillating between hugs of joy and tears of emotional exhaustion. I held hands with the mother of one of my students as she told a story of her friend, a Muslim woman who had to leave the States after living there 28 years. After 9/11, it was too tumultuous and too dangerous to be there, so she left. She instant messaged this parent of mine today, and asked her if now, since Mr. Obama is president, her son may actually have a chance. For nowhere in the Arab world, would they expect to see a black man elected either. The woman disappeared from IM without saying anything, probably, her friend (my student's mother) believes, because she was crying as well.

Finally, on my way home from work this evening, I got it. I fully understood Michelle Obama's statement. I understood the reasoning behind it before - because I myself, had never been proud of my country. But, this evening, after a day full of tears, hugs, hand-holding, and more tears - I, for the first time in my adult life, felt proud of my country. It actually occurred to me this afternoon that I could at some point go back to the United States to live - and possibly even feel like I belonged there.  Me - the amorphous yellow girl who has never felt like she has belonged anywhere in 29 years.

27 September, 2008

The Dubai Dream

"Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living." - Anais Nin

I was chatting with YG online one morning when I first arrived (actually it was about two weeks ago, but it feels like much longer...).

How is dubai
U like?
7:15 PM me: i do...but it's a little too western...i'll probably only stay 3 years
too much air conditioning
YG: Word
7:16 PM me: but i like. it's like living in new york 120 years ago
YG: Lol
me: you know, while they were buildin[g] everything and people just kept coming and coming
and there was probably always construction

Dubai does remind me of a growing New York, and the reason people come reminds me of the former American Dream. I say former because the American Dream does not seem as likely as it once did. Coining the term first in 1931 (according to the Library of Congress), James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America states:

"The American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

It is for the same reason, "a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position," that many people come to Dubai. The Dream, be it that relic of America or the current Dubai Dream, is founded upon the principles of wealth and social order based on one's abilities and work ethic.

And that is one of the things I love most about Dubai: the work ethic.

Aside from the nationals, people who come to Dubai come to work (unless they are wives or children); therefore they have a purpose. Approximately 80 percent of the population in the United Arab Emirates is composed of expatriates, and there are two legitimate (possibly three) ways to receive residency here: either work, or be the parent, spouse or child of someone who does. Apparently, one may also obtain a residency visa if he or she purchases a condo hotel(?). But otherwise, the majority of the people come to this oasis in the desert to work hard, save money, and provide for their families.

Oddly, the dreams are inextricably linked: some people come to Dubai to achieve the American Dream. I did. There's a twisted irony to some of this. I speak with people who have been here for twenty or thirty years, be they from India, Pakistan or Somalia, and they speak of their time here and then proudly conclude that because of this, they were able to send their child to university in America. I empathize. I left America because I was not able to achieve the dream there - not as teacher and not without massive debt. Although, I dare say this phenomenon of massive debt has served to perpetuate the financial debacle in the States, and while I sympathize with those directly and indirectly affected, I am humbled by the fact that I did not contribute by building my life with money I did not actually have.

So, I came to Dubai to achieve the American Dream; others do as well. Yet, not all come to achieve the American Dream, but instead the Dubai Dream, an entity all unto itself. The Dubai Dream is unique to the people of this hemisphere. While people in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and Jamaica continue to make their way to America to achieve the dream, people from Ethiopia, Somalia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Nepal and Bangladesh make their way to Dubai, and the city has a dream of its own.

It is due to this dream that a diabolical work ethic exists here and I am grateful for it. Things actually get done here, and give or take the occasional human folly, usually on time. Furniture deliveries are made on the day they are scheduled. I have had several deliveries after five o'clock, and one as late as one o' clock in the morning.

"Are you working this late because it's Thursday? Because of the weekend?" I asked the men as they put my dining room table together.

"No, no," one of the men replied. "Every day work until one or two in the morning. It is always."

At first I was surprised, but I quickly recovered calculating that with 35,000 people moving to the U.A.E each month, there is a great deal of furniture to deliver.

The delivery men will call continuously, so that they can deliver the item you purchased on the day they promised. Although I myself never purchased anything for delivery prior to coming to the U.A.E, my experience in trying to get other business completed on the day it needed to be done in the States was not so successful. Perhaps that was unique to the Southeast; admittedly it is the only place I lived as an adult and I found it frustrating as an Indiana/Ohio girl - with that Midwestern work ethic.

At school, the support and maintenance staff work just as hard. They arrive early in the morning, before I do, and leave late in the evening - many of them long after I do. The school is always in order as a result. The bathrooms are clean and there is always toilet paper, soap and paper towels. Every evening after I leave my classroom, the staff clean it, from the floors to the chalkboard. Every evening. If I request a file cabinet or a ladder, someone brings me one, and it occurs on the same day. In my time teaching in the States, there were only a few maintenance staff who were so consistent, and they themselves were immigrants. If they were absent, the substitution often came not nearly as close.

The professionals work hard and the laborers work hard here. Since most expatriates come here to work, the expectation is that they will do so and do it well. The people who work here, be they in construction or domestic work, teachers, sales people, financial investors, security guards, restroom attendants, and so forth, take pride in their work.

As an empath, being here in this amalgamation of world citizens has been a continual heartfelt awakening. Most interactions I have with the people here, from the workers to my students, reaffirm my faith in human beings. Their desire to please others, their graciousness, their honesty, their presence, provokes within me a daily awakening to the better side of humanity. That is the beauty of emigration. Those with the desire to work hard and improve their circumstances, exhibit the gall and the courage to do so simply by taking the initiative to move to a location where their dreams are possible.

Although I saw this desire in the immigrants at home in North Carolina, the States have a failed model for dealing with this reality, thus the effect is not as endearing. The American Dream is currently stymied by an ineffective immigration policy that breeds crime, resentment and a growing underclass. Here, the government has a vision for the Dubai Dream; and although it too is imperfect, it is shared, regulated and uninhibited.

It is the middle of the day, with a temperature of approximately 37 degrees Celsius. Outside my window, the men are constructing another complex. They will not stop until well after dark. They are very busy - building a dream.

11 September, 2008

By the Numbers

"Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness." James Thurber

This morning, at 8:10 local time, our school held a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11. We are an American school, therefore, I suppose, it is appropriate. My students and I sat quietly during our moment of silence, and a few of us teared up, but once it was over we moved on with class and did not mention the event. The destruction of the Twin Towers occurred seven years ago. Yes, the more than 3,000 people who died represented over 90 nationalities. I wholeheartedly concur that the day was tragedy. I remember. I was there. I was learning how to be a journalist. I was confused by the news reports, and I also cried. Sometimes, I still do.

September 11 is a day that was tragic. It is a day that should be remembered. But it is also day in which the United States and the West are more solipsistic than necessary.

Every year in the United States on September 11, the media and the politicians spend the majority of the day remembering, discussing and analyzing the calamity. Right now, as I write this, the BBC is in Pakistan covering the implications for the "Islamic world" and the United States of the September 11th events . Somewhere, on the cover of a newspaper, there is a picture of the plan for the memorial in honor of the victims of 9/11. On the cover of The New York Times, rightly so, there are the photos illustrating the former presence and the current absence of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. Right now, on National Public Radio, they speak of September 11. And these are my observations from afar. I can only imagine what the coverage is like in the States right now.

Those who lost their lives in the destruction of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did represent over 90 nationalities. But, we have over 180 nationalities here in our little country. In my class alone, during that moment of silence, my 24 students probably represented over 30 different nationalities. And these kids live in the Middle East. Most of them have lived on multiple continents. They have a keen awareness of war and conflict and death, and it is doubtful that September 11 was a defining moment for them because so many "Americans" died. It may have been a defining moment because it has exponentially increased the degree of upheaval in the world in which they live. It may have been a defining moment because from that time on, because of their passports, or their nationality, or their religion or where they've lived, someone may meet them and immediately and indiscriminately label them a "terrorist". It may have been a defining moment because for some of them, that day may have an impact sevenfold this past seven years; it may have divided their worlds for a lifetime.

Yet all over the world there have been catastrophes brought on by nature, cataclysms precipitated by religion, and calamities driven by nationalism; however, how often do people build monuments to the victims, honor them every year and all day in the news and broadcast it internationally?

The only time I find information regarding Yom Hashoah, is when I am searching for information for lesson plans for either Night, or the Holocaust. I don't hear a list of names read every year in the spring, on the 27th day of Nisan. How often, do I run across a program on television or hear one on the radio, on the seventh of April in honor of the more than 800,000 victims of the Rwandan genocide? Until two years ago, I had never even heard of the genocide in Guatemala, in which approximately 200,000 indigenous Guatemalans were massacred. Annually, how many people on "that" side of the globe, commemorate the nearly 220,000 victims of the December 2004 tsunami; and every year in August, are the more than 1,800 victims of Hurricane Katrina - mostly poor - honored? How about the folks in Chile, Uganda, Gaza, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Armenia, Beirut, Congo, Guinea, Kuwait, Liberia, Zimbabwe, and currently in Nigeria, Haiti, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq - will they have a day in which the media and the politicians read names, build monuments, hold moments of silence, re-hash and relive the sadness on the anniversary all day every year?

07 September, 2008

Under Construction

“Sure, where there is a will, there is a way. Too bad there is construction going on on my way.” - Loejse (Dutch Fictional Character)

My first week in Dubai I knew I would never be late for work. At least, not because I overslept.

The first morning I awoke in my bed in Dubai, it was approximately four in the morning. I looked out from my bed straight into the distance where I could see the lights of the city. I did not have curtains yet. I have huge picture windows in my bedroom. One faces the south and the other, the west. To the south is the sand for about one quarter mile and behind it the city; directly to the west is another new building under construction, and beyond that, more new buildings under construction.

By about 5:00, I decided to get out of bed. I knew there was no more sleep to come, so I might as well unpack. I put on some yoga clothes and began piddling around the house. I noticed a bus full of construction workers drive up. About ten minutes later I walked back into my bedroom. I was grateful I was dressed.

The workers were right outside my window. I could have opened it and had a conversation, using our inside voices. I stared, briefly shocked at how close they were. They looked at me. I walked out of the room.

We went on like this for several days. I needed some curtains. I heard IKEA had cheap curtains that would fit our windows. I would get some then. If I wanted to get real curtains later I would find an upholsterer who made them, and do so when I had time to decide what I wanted, or find some while I was shopping that I really liked. For now, before I had ever been to the store, I thought IKEA would be fine. The search for curtains began. I finally purchased some, and I fully recognize they are a temporary solution to the problem at hand. But even though they keep out the lights and the eyes of others, they don't solve the construction problem.

"I want to go back to the Marina," Kelly said one day. "It's nice there. And it's finished."

I burst out laughing, but the truth to her comment was disturbing. Everything around us was under construction. We live near the new school, so we will be close when it is built. Around the old school, our current building, everything is being torn down.

Exhibit A - the top photo is our neighborhood. My co-worker and new teacher coordinator extraordinaire, Jen, took that from the roof of her building. The plot of land closest to the viewer, is where the new school is being built. Today the board announced it will open in the fall of 2010. All the way in the background of the photo, slightly right of center, is Ski Dubai, the ski slope in the Mall of the Emirates. One side of our apartment building, Kelli and Adam's side, looks out at Ski Dubai. Our building is between the new school and Ski Dubai.

Building name?

Sheikh Rashid? The New Building? R441? Dubai Real Estate Wasl building? It's near the Mall of the Emirates...It's near the Golden Tulip Hotel...the little one, on the inside road...It's near Jasmine Moon...across from Chicken Al Mumtaz...

"... ah, yes. Chicken Al Mumtaz. I am coming."

Because Dubai does not use an address system and the majority of the roads do not have names, getting to our building in a cab, having items delivered, and receiving services has been a challenge.

Exhibit B is the view from my balcony. Exhibit C is the view from my bedroom window to the west, and in it are the construction workers from the first morning. Exhibit D is the view to the south.

Sometimes, I see a bright light in the sky and I get excited because I think it is the moon. More than once it has been the light on a crane. There probably will not be a time when I live here, in the building with no name, when something in my neighborhood is not under construction. So, I think of it as I do students' learning - it's about the process, not the product.

02 September, 2008

An American Tale

"Sarah is a zealot, but she’s a fun zealot. She has a beehive and sexy shoes, and the day she’s named she goes shopping with McCain in Ohio for a cheerleader outfit for her daughter." Maureen Dowd, The New York Times

There is nothing more American than the 2008 presidential race. First off, let's look at the cast of characters: we have Mr. Obama, a black man whose mother is from Kansas and his father from Kenya. In addition to his uncanny life story, he has a gift for rhetoric. A great gift. His wife grew up on the south side of Chicago, where she attended Chicago's public schools, and then went on to graduate from Princeton, followed by Harvard Law School. After working in corporate law, Mrs. Obama dedicated her professional self to social programs. She is now the ideal mother and wife. Mr. Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, is an all-American lawyer-turned-Senator, who respectfully commutes to Washington D.C. from Delaware and is married to an educator, Dr. Jill Biden. Still in the picture, but now on Mr. Obama's team, is his former rival, Mrs. Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton, champion of women (scorned) and cheerleader of the working class, despite her early Republican ideals and Ivy League education, also happens to be the former first lady and wife of Mr. Bill Clinton. Finally, for the last of our main characters we have John McCain, a 72-year-old white guy and Senator who served for 22 years as a naval aviator. Senator McCain's plane was struck by a missile more than once during the Vietnam genocide (I mean conflict) and he was eventually taken as a prisoner of war. He is married to an alcohol heiress. And just when you though it couldn't get more American...

Enter Ms. Sarah Palin. Mother of five and staunch Feminist Pro-Lifer, Ms Palin has taken the campaign trail by storm. Friday the McCain campaign introduced Governor Palin to the Americans and they were captivated. Here is a woman who hunts and fishes and refers to her husband as "First Dude." Here is a woman who cuts budgets, attacks corruption, and wears a bouffant with schoolmarm glasses and red shoes. Here is a woman who needed a background check.

"Don't you wish you were American?" asked my coworker Erika to the other teachers. "...so you could have elections as exciting as ours!" The faculty lounge erupted with laughter.

This campaign, in one day, has morphed from exciting to thrilling. I cannot stop laughing and clapping for the numerous challenges to the moral beliefs of Americans that Governor Sarah Palin, formerly "Sarah Baracuda" and Miss Wasila, and her family are providing for our country.

"Our girl," as many people fondly think of her since her first coming out press conference four days ago, has a few skeletons in her icebox. Not only is her 17-year-old unwed daughter pregnant, but she herself and her husband eloped and had their first-born only eight months later. Her husband has a drunk driving charge and a few other minor nicks on his record, and Ms. Palin has been accused of attempting to ruin a few careers, some of them belonging to her family members. She may even have toyed with a little idea known as secession.

Can this election be any more American?

Not only did the campaign begin by challenging the status quo of our Anglo-fixated and patriarchal precedents of what is presidential with the advent of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama leading the Democratic primaries, but it continued when the people propelled Mr. Obama into the position of Democratic candidate for leader of the "free world". The entry of Miss Bearskin Baracuda into the arena on Friday continued to chip away at conventional conformity and she has surprised us all even since then.

I am not thrilled because Ms. Palin's teenage daughter is pregnant. I am not thrilled that her dirty lingerie is being aired all over the news, national and inter. I am thrilled because with this cast of characters, each individual from the United States of America who votes, is truly going to have to consider what's best for themselves. Each individual from the United States who casts a ballot, is going to have to consider what's best for the country. Each individual from the United States who shows up on election day is going to have to consider what's really important. And each individual from the United States who participates is going to challenge and be challenged by his or her own beliefs, principles and prejudices.

There is nothing more American.

01 September, 2008

Calling Name

I can only guess that being called a Turk
when one is an Armenian
is as heinous as being called
when one is Aretrean.

Apparently being called a Turk
when one is Lebanese
despite how much Turkish blood
one actually has,
is as despicable as being called
if one is a Polish Jew.

And seemingly deplorable
to name a Palestinian, Israeli
and a Honduran, Salvadoran
a Serb, a Croat.

My experience was in disrespect
of another sort
color, class
and sexuality
outdissed religion
and nationality
my "now" kids historical reality

Accustomed and acquainted
with the American way of being hated
I was less than prepared -
hadn't fathomed these babes would dare
to thwart me into a time when
"get your dawg paws off me"
"you f@^*!%$ faggot"
seems a minor offense
to the deafening words
from a child of Lebanon
to another of Armenia -
...and vice versa...

31 August, 2008

Before and After

"One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life." - Chinese Proverb

For the past week, my colleagues and I have referred only to two points in time as of any importance. Before Ramadan and After Ramadan.

Ramadan is the month of the lunar calendar in which the Qu'ran was said to be revealed. For this reason, Muslims fast for the 29.5 days in order to practice patience and humility. Ramadan begins tomorrow at sunset here and began in the Americas this evening.

We arrived here in Dubai the first week of August. There is much ado about everything when one is settling into a new country and here is no different. Thankfully, the school cuts through much of the red tape for us, otherwise I imagine it could be much worse.

Because life changes here during Ramadan, our goal was to complete logistical tasks related to residency, transportation and communication before Ramadan. I just made it. I have my residency visa, my driver's license and my mobile phone. I have my Salik tag, my wireless Internet and my bank account. And now, I finally have my automobile. After Ramadan, I will consider acquiring my M card, a license one must have to purchase spirits. It is not a primary concern.

This weekend, people made sure to go out, for it was the last party before Ramadan. Folks made their runs to buy alcohol, for it was the last chance before Ramadan. I made a bigger trip to the grocery store, as hours will change and some food etiquette will too in the days between before Ramadan and after Ramadan.

We are supposed to have a gym in our building, along with the pool. The pool was finished about one week ago, but the gym remains unfinished. I ran into Binu in the parking lot Friday. "When will the gym be finished?" I asked him as he began to simultaneously tilt his head and grin. "Before Ramadan or after Ramadan?" He did the Indian head bob. I made a face. "After Ramadan?" He did the move again. I nodded my head. "After Ramadan." He nodded as well.

During Ramadan, many people here will work for six hours a day. Most schools, except ours, will have a shortened school day for the month. From what I have heard, people will work during the morning through the early afternoon, and then again in the late evening.

I was speaking to a woman at school about the hopes of getting my car before Ramadan. "InshAllah," she said. "Don't get your hopes up." She let me know that if I didn't get it before Ramadan, I probably wouldn't get it until after Ramadan. "People work during Ramadan, but they're not really working," she stated. I bit my tongue. My hopes were still up.

Also per rumour, is that driving is particularly dangerous in the evenings, when people are trying to get home to break the fast or Iftar. This is all second hand. My colleagues said it's a good idea to be home by 5:30 in the evening, so I will aim to do so. After all, I don't mind being home. Sometimes I jump up and down when I get here anyway.

Right now I am sitting here with the door open to the balcony. The music I often associate with the call to prayer has been playing throughout the city for over thirty minutes now. I can only assume it is because Ramadan begins tomorrow evening. I am faintly looking forward to this time. There will be no pressure to go out to smokey bars where ex-pats wear too few clothes. We will take our meals in private and sitting down, as opposed to on the go and in public. I will come home from work at a decent hour and grade more and write more and reflect more. And I too, perhaps will practice a little patience and humility.

30 August, 2008

So Dubai

"Satire - trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly." - Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary

I am officially in Dubai. I have my residence visa, a sweet, pink, little card, inserted in my passport. It will be considered null and void only if and when I leave the country and do not return for six months. If that happened I would also lose my job, thereby eliminating my need to return.

Gracefully inhabiting the sacred spot behind the clear veil inside my wallet is my United Arab Emirates driver's license.

I have my account at the local bank and my Etisalat Internet connection inside my flat. I have my quad band mobile, which I can use when I go back to the States on holiday (with a different SIM card) and no voicemail whatsoever. So Dubai. I have yet to call a number that ends with a message on which I could also leave one. Luckily (unless one is in a meeting) no one in Dubai is afraid to call back, and keep calling back until they reach their intended party. Who needs voicemail? We're in Dubai.

I just picked up my new car with 30% tinting (the legal limit here) and my Dubai plates and stopped to pick up my Salik tag on the way home. Salik is the toll system here, and the Salik tag, which is placed on one's windshield, is automatically scanned when a person drives under the toll. The government — or whoever — will send us an SMS when it is time to add money to our Salik accounts. This I will supposedly be able to do easily once I sign up for online banking benefits. It's all connected. On my way home, I switched three lanes faster than I ever did on the East coast to make my exit and did not disrupt traffic. Very Dubai.

Today, prior to going to pick up my car, I ordered domestic services and a maid will arrive for the first time Saturday morning, and then she will return each Thursday to clean up after me before I begin my weekend. (I do not yet consider myself an ex-pat wanker, but cleaning the whole flat end to end takes me approximately 10 or more hours, and with the amount of grading I will be doing this year, on top of planning, teaching and my master's program - it makes sense to hire a professional). So, Dubai.

Directly after I hung up with the woman from Sky Maids, I called the dry cleaners. They will pick up my dirty, dry-clean-only laundry from the security guard downstairs in the morning sometime after I fax them a map depicting the location of our Al Barsha building with no name. So Dubai.

23 August, 2008

Yes, We Can - The Obama Factor

"He stands not just for Black people, but all people." - We Are the Ones

Thursday in AP U.S. History, my co-worker introduced the students to the Yes, We Can videos. (And yes, they did look at other campaign media as well.) When they arrived in my class they were in awe.

"Miss, have you seen the 'Yes, We Can' videos?" They asked. "They're awesome!"

I was surprised they had not seen the videos before. My students are very news savvy. The day the papers announced Musharraf's resignation, the student's knew about. Some of them read the Huffington Post. They knew Obama was going to select a vice president soon. They understood the controversy of the (now unlikely) chance that the Clintons may have joined Mr. Obama in the White House.

The kids have yet to mention John McCain, in any manner in my class.

To boot, they understand the implications of an Obama presidency.

One of my students, stated that he would like to be president one day, of either of his home countries. He is half American and half Pakistani.

On the day Musharraf resigned, he got a little ahead of himself. "This is my chance!" he said in class. I laughed. He's a good kid who respects people. That's a good quality for a future president.

"I'm hoping Obama will pave the way for me," he said during his one-minute speech the first day of class.

No argument here.

Water, Water Everywhere

"A toilet is something of a feng shui hazard. Flush it and great amounts of ch'i, quite literally, go down the drain." Karen Farrington, Feng Shui: A Practical Guide to Health, Wealth, and Happiness

This is the first time in my adult life that I have lived in a “complex” style apartment. Prior to this I have always rented apartments in houses, duplexes, or other such non-conformist dwellings. The fact that I usually lived on the second floor meant I also did not have to deal with the effects of others’ whimsies and errors.

To try and manage my own space, I try to integrate a little of the Eastern philosophies, one of which is Feng Shui, the Chinese principle for enhancing ch'i in the spaces we occupy. One of the most stringent rules is to keep the bathroom doors closed, particularly between the bedroom and the bathroom. The reason behind this is because water is unpredictable and hard to contain.

Binu was downstairs when I’d arrived from work. He assured me that the blue bathroom, the one with the water heater explosion, was repaired and that it will not happen again. I was still very skeptical. I had, after all, been in the shower when it popped and the event was a little traumatic. I did not plan on using that loo anytime soon.

I got home and walked into the pink bathroom. I put on my flip-flops and I heard the phone ring, so I went to answer it.

“Why are my flip-flops wet?” I wondered.

I went back into the bathroom; the bath mat was wet, which was odd because it usually dries so quickly. I lifted it up. The floor under it was soaking. I looked all around the bathroom and did not see any water elsewhere. I looked in the toilet and I was surprised to see what looked like bits of spinach and maybe...carrot. The water was a greenish blue. I hoped I’d be able to catch Binu before he left the building.

I was walking to the elevator on the other side of the building when I saw him.

“It’s coming again?” He asked.

“No, not the blue bathroom today,” I tried to calmly explain to him. “The pink one.”

He walked with me to my flat as I tried to explain what I saw without sounding paranoid. After all, I have lost track of the number of times he has come to check on water issues for me. Although there always is at least one at the time of complaint.

I showed him the situation in the pink bathroom and at first he seemed confused. He didn’t see where the water was coming from either.

I told him it looked like someone vomited into the toilet. He quickly reassured me that no one had been in my flat all day. I said that was not what I was implying; I was just describing the visual.

He began flushing the toilet. I jumped at first because if the problem was the toilet, then it at some point it was spewing liquid projectile style.

After a few flushes, he confirmed that the drain was clogged somewhere on the parking level. He said that the problem was not my toilet, I just happened to be the recipient of the problem. So I get to suffer for the people who do not know to refrain from putting their food down the drain (we do not have garbage disposals). Sweet.

It was, of course the end of the day. Binu told me the technicians were gone for the day, so they will come tomorrow. He told me not to use the pink bathroom. Clearly. He said just to close the door, and they will fix it tomorrow.

I took the mats and everything else from the floor - my new trash can and the matching bins, all made of fabric of course - and put them outside on the balcony. I mopped up the floor and I closed the door. I was going to have to use the blue bathroom sooner than I thought.

Since I’d arrived in Al Barsha two weeks earlier, I’d learned just how unpredictable and hard to contain water really is. All of us have.

The master bathtubs are poorly designed. When water hits the back wall, where the spigot is, it runs across the back and down the side of the tub. When water hits the inside walls of the tub, it runs forwards and down the front edge of the tub, right onto the floor. We all dealt with this in different manners.

As a temporary solution, I placed small towels along both ends of the tub to absorb the liquid. Lee bought some silicone and applied it herself, but she was quite frank when she said it was ugly. Other apartments had L-grooves, which I still have not yet seen, but are also described as ugly. I called maintenance and the woman said they would apply more silicone to the tub. However, when Binu came to check it out, he explicitly said that he would prefer not to do so since silicone is ugly.

I eventually found some temporary solutions, including using the blue bathroom to shower and the pink bathroom to bathe. Once the blue bathroom had its hot water heater drama, I was resigned to the pink bathroom, and I placed a second shower liner on the inside wall of the tub. It worked wonders.

Others have had their share of water problems as well. Currently, when Kelli and Adam shower, the water comes back up from the drain onto the floor. One day, Kelli did something she had not done before in her green bathroom. She poured coffee grinds into the toilet. When she turned on the water in that sink, it was brown. “Does that mean...is connected to the sink?” She asked us Thursday night over cocktails. We all grimaced and could not discuss the implications.

One of Caira’s bathrooms has a leak inside the wall which is coming through on the other side. For this place we gently refer to as the desert, there certainly is no shortage of water.

Following the hot water heater incident, came the backed-up drain, and I made haste to clean up the blue bathroom again so I could use it while the pink bathroom was out of commission. The switching of the bathrooms and showers was getting old.

After one day of using the blue bathroom again, I felt reassured that things were fine in there. The ceiling tiles were a little beat up, but it could be worse.

Wednesday night I came home and Binu said the pink bathroom is fine. Somewhere on the parking level people were throwing things into the drain that should not have been there (construction materials perhaps?), but now the problem was fixed.

We had been at the car dealership all evening and it was now 9:00, so I decided to save the clean-up of the pink bathroom until the next day. The blue bathroom was fine.

Thursday morning I noticed a little water on the bath mat in the blue bathroom; I figured it was wet from the night before. However, once I got in the shower I noticed otherwise. There was water leaking form the ceiling. It was a slow leak, but leakage nonetheless.

I calmly finished my shower and decided not to shave - again. When I got downstairs, I left a key with the watchman and let him know it was for Binu. I had not yet called him, but he would be coming today. Again.

I returned home that Thursday evening and Binu assured me the leak in the blue bathroom was gone, and that it will not happen again. That was two days ago, and so far so good.

Although we are having our share of plumbing problems, which is to be expected due to the rapid rate of building here, it is nice to know that someone will come to fix them, or at least try. Whether this is a benefit of living in an apartment complex or the benefit of living in a city where everyone works very hard in order to achieve the dream, I do not know yet. But as long as the water only comes between Sunday and Thursday and someone answers the phone when I call maintenance, I just shrug my shoulders Al Barsha style and keep the bathroom doors closed.

19 August, 2008

Al Barsha

"Al Barsha!" -Ann Laros-Weaver and Grant Weaver

Finola Pinto is the woman who was in charge of our shipments from the Dubai side. One week after our arrival, all of the new teachers from my building still did not have our shipments. Most of us sent them in June. One was even coming from as close as the Philippines.

We discussed Finola everyday. So much so, that one of my coworkers' children, who is only six-years-old, but very verbal, got the message.

“Finola is not getting a Christmas card this year,” she said one day. No. Finola will not be receiving any kind of card from anyone in Al Barsha.

Al Barsha is the area of the city where we reside. To say it is under construction is putting it mildly.

Supposedly our building’s name is the Sheik Rashid; however, the name is not on the building, and we only know it by the plot number. It is a government building. Some people confirm that Sheik Rashid is the name, others say not. Here in Dubai we do not use street names or addresses. Mail goes to PO Boxes. If one is completing a form, not only does it ask for the building, but the landmark. Locations are dependent upon landmarks. All of the landmarks near our flats, aside from Mall of the Emirates and its famous ski slope, are new and therefore often unknown. This makes taxi cab rides and receiving deliveries an adventure all their own.

Aside from living in Al Barsha, under construction in more ways than one on its own, we have the frailties of new construction to deal with. This adds to our daily problem-solution activities - most of which have to do with water - clearly. In short, living in Al Barsha right now is a little jacked up - to say the least.

One day on our way to school, Caira was stating how she told Finola off the night before.

“I told her about herself,” said Caira.

“ I heard you told her she was a liar; did you?” said Ann.


“Did you say exactly that - ‘you’re a liar?'” asked Ann with a combination of humour and curiosity.

“No. I was a little more professional than that,” replied Caira. “And then I told her I was never talking to her again.”

“Ooh,” said Ann. “And did you say that - ‘I’m never talking to you again - Al Barsha'.”

Grant, Ann’s husband chimed in “Yeah, Al Barsha. That’s what we say now. It’s Al Barsha.”

We all burst out laughing. Finally, something more accurate and politically correct than "rustic," "up and coming," “ghetto,” "desert oasis" or the adult version of "jacked up" to describe the situation we were in. Al Barsha.

Al Barsha describes the fact that I won’t sleep past 5:45 on any day, due to the construction outside my bedroom window. Al Barsha explains all the plumbing problems. Al Barsha describes how dusty we might get walking through the sand and construction to catch a taxi cab, hopefully. Al Barsha is the best descriptor for the fact that we shipped most of our clothes, but that none of us had our shipments, nor had our washing machines been delivered. Al Barsha.

“Well I didn’t say that,” responded Caira. “I said I will never be using her services again.”

Al Barsha!” We all exclaimed.

15 August, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

“Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it." Lao Tzu.

I had a slight problem our first week in Dubai. We live in the desert. Although the transformation of Dubai means our skyline is constantly changing and it is becoming increasingly more challenging to count the malls, there is a little bit of sand left, mostly surrounding the area near my apartment. Because of the climate here, we wear sandals and open-toed shoes, and one has to walk somewhere, even if to the nearest road, to catch a cab. Therefore, my feet are always dirty by the end of the evening. Always.

I don't mind getting dirty, but I hate dirty feet and I despise the black marks they make on my new bathtub, in my new home. This is my first experience with anything close to living a luxurious life, and it's still new. Those of you who know me, know I love a hot bath, preferably every night. So every night, I had to wash my feet, and then clean the tub, and then take a bath.

However, after a couple of days, I got used to the fact that I have 2 1/2 baths, and I was enjoying using all of them. I would actually decide which water closet I wanted to use every time I needed to wash my hands or what have you. Utilizing the space in my elaborate flat was becoming fun.

So, I had a brilliant idea to use the blue bathroom to shower in, and the pink one for baths and as my main lavatory. This would solve two problems - by showering in the blue bathroom, I would no longer have to worry about the waterfall issue in the pink shower*, and I could just shower before I took a bath at night (it has gradually become more humid in the days after I arrived, and frequent bathing is essential).

As normal, I turned on the water heater approximately 30 minutes to an hour before I planned to shower. The pink bathroom has rockin' hot water, as does the kitchen, so I expected nothing less of the blue bathroom. (Each room has a separate hot water heater in the apartments in our building). I considered myself lucky because many from our crew were having hot water - or shall I say lukewarm water - issues.

I showered the first night, and my shower was lukewarm. The next day, I decided to leave the hot water heater on overnight for my morning shower. It was no warmer.

Everyone in our Al Barsha crew - Ann & Grant, Caira, Lee, Kelli & Adam, and I - had been calling maintenance for some reason or another in those two days. We figured out to leave our keys with the watchmen while we were at work during the day, so that deliveries and maintenance could have access to our flats and do what they deemed necessary. I called maintenance again and requested they increase the hot water in my guest bathroom. They'd done so for my coworkers, and it had worked. I also left a note with my key at the desk - "Binu - please make more hot water in the blue bathroom."

When I showered that night, the aqua was piping hot. I had my remedy for dirty feet, and a poorly designed bathtub.* Golden.

Or so I thought.

As I was showering yesterday morning, I heard a loud pop. The pop sounded hot. I know that seems like an inaccurate description, but that was the experience. I looked up, and water was coming out of the ceiling.

"I guess I am not shaving today." I turned off the water, got out of the tub, and proceeded to wash my face at the sink. The water was still coming. Steam began pouring from the ceiling. I turned off all the water in that bathroom, the lights and the water heater. I ran around trying to find something to put on that covered my shoulders and my knees and ran downstairs. On my way, I tried to call maintenance. The message said they arrive at 7:00. It was 6:45.

I got downstairs and I told the watchman. He seemed unconcerned. He told me to call Binu, our building's maintenance supervisor and walked me to an alcove where I thought I would find Binu but did not. Perhaps the guard just thought I would have better phone reception there. I reached Binu, who was not in the building, and told him the situation. He sounded like I had awoken him from sleep. He said he would come by. He also portrayed an attitude of disturbing nonchalance. I went back upstairs.

My bathroom was filling with water. It was not going down the drain. In our dear Al-Barsha building, each room that has water in it, has a drain. I called Binu again. He did not answer. I tried twice more. I got dressed. The bus was picking us up for work at 7:15. I was going to have to forgo breakfast - that disappointed me because I'd been looking forward to it all morning.

Once I was ready for the day, I tried to call Binu again - no answer. I got all my dirty towels - not many since my shipment had not yet arrived, and placed them between the bathroom and the guest room. Thank goodness neither my furniture nor my shipment was here yet. I went upstairs to get advice from Lee. She reminded me to get everything off the floor in the entire apartment - and to move my happy chaise as close to the balcony as possible. When I went upstairs, the water was in the guestroom. When I came back down, it was drifting into the hallway toward my bedroom.

I called Binu again. He answered.

"Water everywhere!" I said, following the 'eliminate all helping verbs, prepositions and pronouns rule'.** He said the technicians were already on their way, and he would call them and tell them the latest.

I went into the bathroom, drenching the bottom of my pants and getting rained on. I moved the drain cover - genius move - a little late - and heard the lovely sound of water draining, albeit too late.

The doorbell rang and the technicians rushed in with a ladder and some tools. I made a peanut butter sandwich. It was time to leave. I heard the water finally stop running from the ceiling. I picked up my bags, thanked the men, and went down to catch the bus for work.

Bubble Burst

"Filthy water cannot be washed." ~African Proverb

I arrived home yesterday at 4:30. Even though this morning was a disaster, this evening held promise. My shipment had arrived and had been cleared through customs. The delivery men were on their way to my flat. The last of my new furniture, at least for awhile, would be delivered tonight. I walked in, and I went to check on the situation in the bathroom. Everything was dry. Thank goodness. They had cleaned up the water.

I debated calling Binu to ask him for an update. I decided against it at first, then I wondered if later I might decide that they must have fixed it and end up trying it out. I settled on the decision not to use it all until I heard from Binu.

I did not know what to do with myself while I waited for my shipment. I still had nowhere to sit. I decided to sweep the floors.

I was in the hallway, and I heard a chilling, hissing sound. It sounded eerily familiar. I ran into the guest room and at exactly that moment water began pouring from the bathroom ceiling. I quickly looked over and saw that the water heater was switched on. I switched it off. Water kept coming, much quicker than it had that morning.

I got on the phone.

"The water is coming again!" I said to Binu.

"It's coming again?!"

"Yes! Right now."

"I am coming," he replied.

I went through the process of bringing in the towels from the balcony and lining up between the bathroom and the guest room again. I made sure the drain was open, even though it was not really draining. Finally, Binu arrived. The water was already in the guest room and headed toward the hallway.

I waited for about five or ten minutes, it seemed like fifteen, until the water went off. Binu was soaked. He turned on the sink, and all that came out was steam for awhile. The ceiling was whistling. He said it will make that sound for about 15 minutes, until all of the air is ut. (It actually took about one or two hours, but no more harm was done.)

Binu informed me that the hot water heater was overheated. In my head, I am thinking, 'you mean the one you just adjusted the heat for yesterday. I didn't need it that hot.' But no matter. I asked for it.

I looked at my watch; it was 5:15 on a Thursday. I had been lucky; 5:15 on a Thursday in Dubai is worse than 5:15 on a Friday in the States. In Dubai, the holy day is Friday. Everyone rushes to finish work Thursday evening, and Friday mornings Dubai is sparsely populated. I had caught Binu in the nick of time. If my water heater had exploded any later, he would not have been in the building to come turn it off so quickly, and most likely no one would have come that night, or the next morning. If my water heater had exploded again any later, my shipment would have been here, and possibly my furniture, and there may have been damage to both. In a sense, I was lucky I mistook the button for the water heater as a light switch.

I cleaned up the water in the guest room, and closed the door to the bathroom. The men would come to fix the bathroom Sunday. I resigned myself to using only the pink bathroom until then.

After I regained my composure, I phoned Finola. The delivery men with my shipment were supposedly downstairs in the lobby. My spirit returned.

14 August, 2008

The First 24 - Part 2

"The welcome ever smiles, and farewell goes out sighing." William Shakespeare

The Marhaba ladies were my first introduction to life in Dubai. The administrators from my school had given us very detailed instructions for arrival, so when I got off the plane, I knew to look for the Marhaba ladies; although I did not really know what they were. They would be wearing bright yellow-ish jackets and I would find them somewhere after the escalator. I knew they would have a board with my name on it, and that they would assist me in the customs control process.

As I walked through the airport, I immediately noticed how refreshingly serene the airport was. It had an air of cool, calm and collected. No one was rushing. There were no loud disruptive announcements. It was surprisingly empty. I felt at peace. What a lovely way to enter my new living space.

After approximately five minutes of walking, I met my first Marhaba lady. She was petite and she quietly handed me a pamphlet, confirmed that I was expecting a Marhaba lady, and pointed me in the direction of the the others, one of whom would be waiting for me. It was all very mysterious.

I arrived at the top of the escalator and saw two petite women in the Marhaba uniform. I had not expected this. I was imagining a large, burly woman with thick sunglasses and a yellow poncho, who could lift many suitcases and move people out of her way quickly. Not so.

My Marhaba lady took me to a place where I could leave my carry-ons and assured me they would be safe. I left them and went downstairs with her. She did not explain where we were going. We approached a counter, and handed the man behind it my papers. He stated there was no need.

The Marhaba lady explained that there it was unnecessary for me to have my iris scanned electronically, but that she brings everyone to that station because now, in Dubai upon arrival, the rules are constantly changing. (I later discovered many of my coworkers did have to complete this, although we had the same type of employment visa).

We went to customs control, and the Marhaba lady took us to our very own special line, in which we were first. I approached the counter and kept my head down. On the plane Paul told me not to look any of the men here in the eye. I did not know if he was joking or not. I figured he meant if I did so they would be more inclined to pursue, but I was overly cautious. The man behind the counter looked me dead in the eye and said "Hello, how are you?" I looked up and smiled. This is my new home, and I am being welcomed to my new life at every step. There was no reason to avoid eye contact or over analyze my presence here. I kept smiling and the man behind the counter handed me my passport and my temporary Visa.

My Marhaba lady adeptly acquired a porter. We went to baggage claim and were there for no longer than five minutes. The bright green on my luggage was easy to identify, so we moved on to the baggage screening. The Marhaba lady and I waited as my bags went through the machine. The woman screening them apparently found no reason to examine them. Moving on.

The Marhaba lady and I went on to meet the Superintendent of my school who was picking me from the airport and would take me to my apartment. I kept seeing this mascot, who is yellow and has a big smile. The woman explained that he is the mascot for a festival that is occurring, something about a smile campaign. Apparently it is Dubai Summer Surprises, and I have no idea what it's purpose is yet, but I think people win things at the mall, and that it is partially sponsored by a credit card. This is no surprise because shopping is a favourite activity here, for both nationals and visitors.

I could not believe we were done. I expected to be at the airport for hours, but in reality, it was less than one. Once we all arrived, it was hard to forget about the Marhaba ladies. We asked, but that was the only time the school will provide us with that service. Apparently there is a card that will make the airport process just as simple, but probably not as delightful.

We met Harold, and he asked the young lady where she was from. "Romania," she replied graciously.

Before Harold and I left, she turned to me and handed me my paperwork. "Welcome to your new life," she said smiling. I beamed.

10 August, 2008

The First 24 - Part 1

"The modern airplane creates a new geographical dimension. A navigable ocean of air blankets the whole surface of the globe. There are no distant places any longer: the world is small and the world is one." ~Wendell Willkie

I was bloody lucky. My row mates on the plane were brilliant - they could not have been better. I got to know them well enough since the lights, television and anything else electric was not working in our section from our row back. We had 14 hours and little light to get to know each other.

On the far left, in window, was an American who works in Doha, Qatar. He is a project manager and he has something to do with oil. We did not get into those details. In the middle, I found out the next day, a few minutes before disembarking, was Paul, an American who works in Kuwait, but has lived overseas most of his life. At aisle, was I, an American going to teach in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. We immediately began conversation. By the time we were prepared for take off, we were old friends. It’s a good thing because all the toys we brought with us to keep us busy, were useless. Our lights did not work, so we could not read. Our televisions did not work, so we could not view the movie or the tele. We were bummed to say the least...at least for the moment.

“I am so glad I am sitting next to you.” I raised an eyebrow at my row mate when he said that. “I have learned so much already! When I saw I was sitting next to you, I was like ‘thank you’.”

Glad to be of service, I laughed. I had learned much as well. I learned what signals were OK to use towards others when one was driving (and angry), and which ones to avoid. I learned which nationality had the best reputation for maid service - I’ll find out in a couple of weeks. I also learned that I will be able to afford dry cleaning services that will come to my house to pick up my laundry and drop it off, as well as the fact that I could probably have someone come to my apartment to do my nails and toes, as Paul does, as opposed to going to a salon.

“I can’t wait to see you in one year! You are going to be so spoiled!” He laughed.

I laughed. I was not going to argue. But I did a little.

“I am not going to be bougie!” I laughed and looked away haughtily.

Life in the Near East was going to be just lovely. I did not know this man’s name, but he painted quite the palatable picture of life in my new home. He was returning from holiday in the Bahamas.

I could not wait to get out of the plane and into the heat. I must admit, I was happy to sit next to him also. Another Black American, living and working happily in the Arabian Gulf region...and an Anglo-American who wasn’t complaining...good company.

Prior to boarding the plane, I was a little concerned about having an aisle seat. I love the window seat because I have an affinity for viewing take off and landing, and in between the two, I like to sleep with my head on the window sill. But for the long flight, I chose the aisle. How was I going to sleep without permanently injuring my neck?

“You can lean on me if you want, so you can sleep.”

Gaia bless Paul.

“That was some of the best sleep,” my neighbor stated next day.

I did not respond. I realized that I just slept on this man’s shoulder and I did not even know his name. I had already thought of him as my first friend in the Gulf region, and I did not even know his name. Somehow, that felt very wrong.

Closer to our arrival, he had his license out (or passport, I remember not which a week later) and I took it. Paul.

Approximately 12 hours after we sat down and began talking, I introduced myself.