October 28, 2012

Eid al Adha

Today is Sunday, but I didn't have to go to work because this weekend was four days long thanks to Eid al Adha. That means "feast of sacrifice," more or less. Last year I saw a goat being walked down the road, clearly on its way to being sacrificed. This year I didn't see any of the sacrificial animals. I just saw less crowded bars; many Westerners take the break to travel to the desert or another city.

I have no passport and no money, so I stayed in Abu Dhabi and tried to relax. Which, it turns out, I'm not particularly good at. I'll work on it.

October 26, 2012

Persians vs. Arabs

So I'm trying to watch Aladdin, right? Everyone complains about all its Arab stereotypes, so I wanted to see them in action. But the problem is that it's not Arab. It's really more Persian. And I don't know why on earth I feel like it's necessary to make that distinction or why I see it, but I want to make it. Perhaps because in this region, that's the one general distinction that I've learned beyond the more recognizable East/West distinction.

In the Strait of Hormuz, between the UAE and Iran, there are these islands, Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb. They're not particularly big and like five people live on them, but the UAE and Iran have often argued about who exactly owns them. Historically, the Persians controlled the islands and the Qasimi tribe (whose descendants are now sheikh families in UAE) controlled them at another point. And thus Iran claims them on the basis of the Persian possession while the UAE claims them on the basis of the Qasimi possession. And unless you've looked it up, I'm guessing you have no clue what the difference is between the Persians and the Qasimi, so why should they matter at all?

I think that it's easy to lump all of Middle East history into a clump of general Arabs. But before the Arabs, there were Persians in Iran and a lot of tribes in Arabia. And then Islam happened and united those tribes into "Arabs." And the Arabs began to conquer the surrounding lands, making them practice the religion and speak the language of Arabs. But the Persians were not so ready to let go of their own history and culture. And to this day, Iran clings to it's own variation of Islam (Shia) and its own language (Farsi) and its own history (Persian.) And the culture that I'm seeing in this Disney movie makes me think "Persian." But that's probably because it's the only distinction I know from "Arab."

October 21, 2012

At least you have your health

This weekend I went to Maya Island, which is a man-made hotel island that opens itself up for parties on Fridays during the prime beach-weather months. We were there during the day, before it gets ridiculous, when it's just people hanging out by the pool eating fries and drinking beers. The group I was with decided at one point to play football (by which they meant soccer) and I followed after them to watch. But they insisted I play, so we compromised that I would tend goal. I was absolutely shit at it. At one point, the ball was coming at me and some guy was about to kick it in. I went to kick the ball away, but instead I kicked him in the shin. Hard.

I didn't realize how hard until a few hours later, when I could barely walk. Apparently, it was enough to mildly fracture my foot. By the time I got home, any pressure on the ball of my foot made me want to cry out in pain.

According to the Internet, the cure for a foot fracture is to put as little pressure on it as possible and give it time to heal. So I'm home from work today. It's a four day week and I am considering taking the whole week off to ensure proper healing of the foot. I even quit smoking to help my recovery. But I did not go to a doctor because I don't have insurance or money. My work will probably request a doctor's note if I want to get paid for the days off, which is amusing since they're the ones who failed to provide me with insurance or money. Tomorrow will be more healing, but the next day I might go in just to show them that I am indeed injured. (My friend got me a comically oversized flat-soled shoe that makes it possible to walk without much pain.) Or I'll take the week and they can dock my pay, whatever. I would much rather have a functioning foot than a few days of pay.

I might have absolutely nothing else in life, but I would like to be able to say "at least I have my health."

October 13, 2012

Desert safaris

Yesterday I went on my first desert safari tourist trip. It started with some dune-bashing, which I found absolutely wonderful. The moment when the vehicle is tilted almost to the point of rolling over and there is sand cascading up all the windows on one side is fantastic. Our driver was far more adventurous than the one leading the pack, and at one point threw up his hands in frustration with the lame maneuvering of the leader. I echoed the sentiment. The dune bashing was definitely the highlight of the trip for me.

Then there was a pit stop to see a group of camels, but after riding one in India, I'm over that attraction. Eventually we ended up at the camp. There was a belly dancer, who got upstaged by a little girl who got on stage while her group went into hysterics taking photos. (In fairness, the child was a great dancer.) There was henna, but after getting it up and down my arms in India, I'm over that attraction too. There was shisha, but it was apple flavored, which tastes like black licorice and is generally everyone's least favorite. There was food and I was encouraged to take more by the people working there, which was a very Arab thing for them to do. There was a huge dune, which was a bitch to climb up, but a joy to sled down. (The boards were meant for sandboarding, but I'm a skiier not a boarder, so I used it as a sled.) And there was a random cat, who crept under the table and scared the shit out of me, but cuddled so affectionately that I forgave it.

Generally, I loathe touristy things, but a desert trip is exotic enough that even with the touristy elements it can still keep my attention. I kept marveling at the fact that we were in the middle of the fucking desert. Because in Abu Dhabi, that fact is not always abundantly clear. But sitting on top of a sand dune watching headlights bob up and down other dunes in the distance makes the desertness of this place very, very obvious.

October 09, 2012

Waiting for Superman

Today I watched Waiting for Superman. It was a whole lot of propaganda. The gist is that American teacher unions are bad, which I've been preaching ever since I learned what the rubber room was. But then they go on to talk about how amazing charter schools are. The truth of the matter is that charter schools have roughly the same or worse outcomes for their students as public schools. The narrator admits at one point that he's only looking at the best charter schools and there are a lot of failing ones... but then distracts from that fact with the crossed fingers of people waiting breathlessly to get into a charter school. In the end, all schools are going to struggle a hell of a lot more than they're going to succeed, charter, public or private. There is no real solution to the education or inequality or life problems that the movie touches on.

My friend had a baby this week. The first of my really close friends to do so. I'm supposed to write a letter to him, but I can't get past "Welcome to the world." I'm not in a good place to spew drivel about the bountiful options of life or the wonderful lift of love. I'm a metaphoric failing charter school right now, and we should not be allowed to write letters to babies who have just poked their heads into the sunlight. I'd just ramble on and on about how nobody values education in the right way, and he'd be completely unedified by my words.

Just like you, poor audience. But you're not new to the world, per se, so it's your own damn fault for reading a single word I write. You should know better. But you don't because that's just the state of education these days. Nobody ever knows any better.

October 06, 2012

I'll always have Eritrea

I went to brunch again yesterday. Oops.

Usually I find myself socially amazing and the wit of everything, but yesterday I felt very flat and uninspiring. I think part of it had to do with the crowd, who were all born and raised here. Including locals, with whom I will always pause when I hear their nationality. The status and power that comes with it overwhelms me, to the point where I mention my American nationality with forced flippancy. I also vaguely alluded to America's military influence in the UAE, which was a totally lame attempt to make myself feel less inferior.

At one point, I was talking to someone who had the opportunity to get citizenship here, (if you work closely for a sheikh, it can be gifted to you) but his family declined and went with the American passport. And I was outraged on his behalf. He kept talking about the travel benefits of the American one and insisting he doesn't need a UAE passport. But the nationality here has insane financial benefit and I could not fathom anyone turning down such a wonderful opportunity. Granted, it was offered to his family at a time when it wasn't clear just what exactly it would entail, but I still insisted they picked the wrong passport.

But maybe I don't know anything. I kept babbling about how useless I think an American passport is to a rich person. But to a rich person, how useless are the UAE benefits? I didn't even think of that until this moment, to be honest. My worldview is skewed greatly by virtue of the fact that I am a poor, naive American.

I did impress someone by knowing where Eritrea was though. She said most people don't even know it's a country. So at least I have that.

October 02, 2012

The daily struggle

When I walk into each period that I teach, four children run up to me to ask to go to the bathroom, two students are physically fighting in the back of the classroom, and roughly two of the students are ready to begin. If I say, "Please sit down and take out your books," roughly 5% of the class will heed my instructions. If I repeat, "Please sit down and take out your books," nobody new will take out their books and the 5% who are ready take it as their cue to start talking to their neighbor.

I am not good at classroom management. I am especially not good at elementary school classroom management.

How do I make the entire classroom follow my instructions? It seems like it should be easy, even for 3rd graders, to sit down and take out their books. And yet, it is insanely difficult for me to motivate them to do it. The task literally drives me insane. To the point where I cannot control my urge to give up and walk out of the classroom. I have done it, actually, multiple times. Just walked out of the classroom. Only to get two feet away before I realize I cannot actually just leave.

Every week day, I have to wake up and go into a school filled with students who do not want to listen to me. Every week day, I contemplate vaguely how much it would really hurt me to not go into school that one day. And every day, I suck it up, put out my cigarette, and get on my way to work. Because I had great teachers who managed their classrooms and taught us to do what we are supposed to do. I managed to be trained into that sense of responsibility.

It terrifies me how incapable I am of doing that for others. Why am I so terrible at my job? And do I really have to fail at it again tomorrow?