Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Istanbul not Constantinople

Eid has come and gone….leaving me with many, many enjoyable memories, a slightly depleted bank account, and a new found love of Turkey.

For the past few months I have been composing a “Top Ten Reasons to Live in Dubai” list in my mind. So far occupying the top spots we have shwarma (delicious little chicken sandwich) at 5, sunny warm days at 4, ladies night coming in around 3, and then it is a toss up between going to the beach in November and the easy accessibility to other cool spots on this earth. Over our 5 day Eid break, T Love (Teresa), Brad “the arranger”, T Kettle (Tim), and I took advantage of this last factor and headed to Istanbul. A 5 hour flight aboard Singapore Air and we woke up in beautiful Turkey.

First impressions? BRRRRRRRRRR!!!!! Now, for the record, I’m not sure if it was actually as cold as I think it was. It may be that I have simply acclimated to the desert heat and anything below 70 degrees feels like a blustery winter day. Regardless, to me, it felt cold. For the first time since I left the States, it felt like fall (maybe even winter). Not gonna lie….in the initial moments when I stepped off the plane, I was a little bummed we didn’t choose to go explore somewhere smack dab on the equator.

Of course nothing to warm the soul and nose like a hot cup of coffee. So off we went searching for the perfect joe. What we found instead was neither perfect nor joe (at least not how I define it…think Grande latte from Starbucks). In Istanbul, it seems you have three choices when it comes to coffee: first there is the famous Turkish coffee. This coffee looks like a cross between syrup and motor oil and tastes just about the same. It will, literally, put hair on your chest. Ladies be warned. Your second option is Nescafe. Apparently, no one told the Turks that instant coffee sucks and is in no way pleasing to the taste buds. Lastly, you have Chai tea. I realize tea isn’t exactly coffee but considering the other two choices it is the best and only option. Let’s just say we drank a lot of tea on this trip.

If I learned anything about Istanbul over my Eid holiday, it is that you don’t search for anything…you simply stumble across little treasures. (As a side note, the likelihood of stumbling upon such treasures is increased when intoxicated…mainly because it is easier to stumble and everything you find seems like a “treasure”.) Regardless, we spent our few days in this old city dodging rain drops by wandering in and out of little markets, coffee shops, and stores. We toured the Bosphorous by boat, explored the historical Topaki Palace which houses the most beautiful circumcision room I have ever seen, and admired the beauty of the Blue Mosque. We played hearts in the bars, checkers on the streets after too much wine, and “Ï bet you a million lira” games in the cabs (One million Turkish lira is equivalent to about 75 cents….but it sounds like a whole lot more, doesn’t it?). We laughed our way through a miserable bus ride (imagine….cold, wet, full blatter, and repetitive Arabian elevator music) and high fived each other when we ambushed the bus driver and aborted the mission halfway through. When we couldn’t understand our tour guide on the Bosphourus boat tour we had a dance party instead which may or may not have shocked a few of the older patrons. (Everyone, excluding my compadres and myself was Syrian…thus Arabic, not English, was spoken). When we drove 45 minutes out of town to get a stellar view of the city only to be met by fog and clouds, we had Turkish tea, a Krankle, and yet another laugh.

So did our trip go as planned? No. Was it better than planned? Absolutely. The coffee was strong, the hamburgers were divine, the company was sweet, and most importantly, my students weren’t there!!! It was a dream vacation indeed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Mix Bag of Dubai

I have all these random photos that I need to share....so here is just a little taste. Be prepared for an Istanbul movie here shortly!!!

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Posted by edittmar

Sunday, October 23, 2005

It is the weirdest thing....my calendar keeps insisting that it is October. Naturally I do not beleive it for one second. Afterall, I wake up to 90 degree days and spend weekends at the beach. There are approximately, um..... let me think about it, ZERO high school football games to watch. And there appears to be a less than lack-luster feeling towards dressing up like a bunny (or ninja or pirate...) on the 31st. Yup...it is fall but I don't recognize it. "My" fall has been marked, not by the of changing leaves and seasons, but by a change in lifestyle......a.k.a. Ramadan.

What is it?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It is during this month that Muslims observe the Fast of Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, Muslims fast during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. By fasting one can relate to those less fortunate than them who are often hungry. Ramadan is a time of charity, worship, and contemplation. Most importantly, it is viewed as a time to strengthen family and community ties. It is a beautiful tradition, really.

That said, I would make a piss poor Muslim….round about 11:00 a.m. my stomach gives in to temptation and all good intentions of fasting are out the window. I have, however, mastered the “visiting with friends” part of the tradition. One out of two ain’t bad, if you ask me.

So….what does Ramadan mean for me?
I can’t (or shouldn’t) eat, drink, chew gum, smoke (which I don’t anyway), hold hands, or curse in public. It isn’t so much that you can’t but is considered disrespectful and strongly discouraged.

I start school at 8:20 am as opposed to 7:45 a.m. School is out @1:45 instead of 2:45. So basically all of our classes are shorter during Ramadan. This is semi-sweet. For instance, we get to sleep in, but there is no lunch. You would think this would be a blessing if you were trying to shed a few pounds (which you would be if you lived in the UAE because you never have to lift a finger). However, I think you end up eating more. Anytime you are left alone in a room you feel the compulsion to stuff something in your face just because you can and you never know when your next chance will be. Or perhaps I just have a dysfunctional relationship with food….either way, I think Ramadan also means I will have to up my workouts to 4 times a week.

Starbucks does not open until 6 p.m. thus I’m making joe at home. Unsatisfying coffee + early hours + crazy kids = angry ditty.

I get to travel to Istanbul, Turkey for 5 days during Eid. Eid is a celebration/holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. We have 3 school days off and a few of us are taking off to wander around Turkey, drink strong coffee, and inevitably cause a bit of a ruckus. It is super cheap to fly there from here (all in all for flight and hotel I am paying around 350 US dollars!!!)

When I went on a desert safari last weekend, there were no belly dancers. But there was dune-bashing (a.k.a. hop in a Land Cruiser with a crazy ‘no-fear’ driver, strap on your seatbelt, and go flying over enormous sand dunes, almost tipping over every 2-3 seconds…..Fun in a sort of ‘wow-my-life-as-i-know-it-may-very-well-be-over’ kind of way), henna tattoos, shisha smoking, camel trekking, and dinner under the desert stars. SO MUCH FUN!!! If you come visit….this little excursion is a must!!!

Bars don’t have live music….no booty shaking for a month. Darn.

I actually have a little time to catch up on emails and blogs. Too bad, like my kiddos, I often fail to use my time wisely and now I must rush off to plan yet again.

Anyway I hope everybody is well!!! I miss you all and welcome any updates from the states!!! Watch out for them there hurricanes!!!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Life in Dubai

check out a few photos. I am experimenting with technology so we'll see if this actually works.

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Posted by edittmar

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Learning Spanish in the Middle East?

Tis’ true…I can barley speak a lick of Arabic. My “lick” being Inshallah, meaning ‘God willing’. Everyone begins and ends phrases with Inshallah.

Person A : Do you think they’ll have coffee at the meeting?
Person B : Inshallah. Are you going to make it happy hour tonight?
Person A : Inshallah. Do you think they will have a ladies night special?
Person B : Inshallah. If they don’t we’ll just take a cab to a different bar
where they have ladies night, inshallah.

You get the point. Needless to say, this phrase comes in handy, but all other Arabic words almost seem irrelevant. That sounds horribly disrespectful and I do not mean it to…..simply, most people here do not speak Arabic. There are tongues from India, Pakistan, Korea, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the US…..ALL OVER THE WORLD. In general, Arabic is heard, but rarely understood.

This paired with the more important factor, Castro, is why I have decided not to learn Arabic, but Spanish instead. So what, you ask, is Castro? Castro is :
• An anomaly
• Not a motor oil
• A proud Spaniard from the Basque Country
• Easily the funniest guy I know
• Best friends with everyone (plumber, landlord, sheik, cab driver, principle…doesn’t matter, he knows and loves them all)
• A Spanish teacher here at DAA but posing as an IT teacher for reasons I will not reveal.
• Convinced that beer and wine are not alcoholic beverages. I, too, have chosen to adopt this philosophy. After all, Castro es muy intelligente tambien.
• My polar opposite (at least when it comes to likes and dislikes)
• A great friend, neighbor, car pooler, and drinking buddy
• My new tutor in Spanish.

So every Monday (that is Wednesday for all you folks back home) a few of us convene on Castro’s apartment to learn us some Spanish. One by one we stagger in, some of us bringing Nutella and chocolate, others bearing hummus and pita, and all of us inevitably bringing a beverage of choice. Our class consists of :
• Dale (but we call him Whale which in Spanish is Ballena….so we now call him Ballena.) – 5th grade teacher, my floor mate, prankster, forever a 10 yr old boy.
• Teresa – my rock star buddy, speaks French like a champ, can dance like nobody’s business, throws a mean party but being that she never took Spanish, homegirl no comprende Espanol.
• Cai – P.E. teacher and proud Welshman, also a virgin to Spanish, but takes it all very seriously (I think only to impress Teresa but what do I know?)
• Tom – 50ish Science teacher I have mentioned before. He is quite good at Spanish actually, probably doesn’t need lessons but our classes are so fun so he comes anyways.
• Brado – a.k.a. King Benito Camellas. Thinks that his ability to say “tu madre” means he is fluent in Spanish but he isn’t.
• Me – clearly a Spanish master...enough said.

So generally class begins with various insults being exchanged between Castro, Brad, and myself. Someone will remind me that Tennessee lost their first game to which I respond by insulting their mom. Brad will inevitably start talking about what random gadget was invented in Minnesota to which Castro, Teresa and I will either ignore or pretend we care so much that he goes on for 10 minutes. All the while, Dale will be text messaging us funny quips and Tomas will be telling dirty jokes. It is the best introduction to a lesson a person could ask for. At some point, Castro will say in his very Spanish accent, REPETA POR FAVOR…..and the lesson begins.

We have learned the basics :
• What is your name? Como te llamas?
• Where are you from ? De donde eres?
• What is your telephone number? Cual es la numero de telefono?
• Mucho gusoto. Please to meet you.
• Me gusta la musica I like music.

Then there are the accessory phrases:

• Mucho busto. Nice boobs. (don’t know if I will
actually use this one but it is one
phrase closer to fluency, right?)
• Embarcharros Bunch of drunks
• Vivas con tu madre? Do you live with your mom?

You get the point.

So, the lesson goes on, interrupted occasionally to relay a funny school story or to hear Benito talk about the number of factorials that can be found in the square root of Pi if divided by the number of letters in the word Minnesota, until we complete the necessary vocabulario y frases. Really our Spanish tutorial ends when our sides hurt from laughing too hard, our beverages run dry, and/or we realize that we are unprepared to teach in less than 8 hours. After saying our proper goodbyes (Adioses, Hasta Luegos, Hasta Mananas, etc…) and exchanging mucho besos we part….each scrambling back to our designated Golden Sands II floor to enjoy a good night’s sleep. After a class like that, sleep is just frosting on the cake.

So, in case you were wondering…..I sleep well on Monday nights.

Friday, September 16, 2005


No, not my new favorite radio station. No, not how hot it was today. No, not the number of times I have wanted to call you all but realized it was 3:oo in the morning (your time). No, 104.5 has taken on a new meaning entirely. It now represents the temperature my body rose to last weekend landing me in the hospital for a good 5 days!!!

You know what they say, ‘Go big or go home’!!!

So, somehow I managed to get pneumonia in the middle of the friggin’ desert. Don’t even ask because I have no earthly idea how this happened. Apparently, it is pretty common here…..who knew? My little stint in the American Hospital meant that I missed the first two days of school, which I was kind of bummed about. However, now I think it is working to my advantage. When I finally did show up to school, the students and faculty were all so concerned and offering to do just about anything for me. While I am seriously pondering the notion of milking this one for all it is worth the reality is that I am on the mend….feeling great, in fact. Getting pneumonia has become just one more memorable experience in this epic journey abroad.

Last week was my first full week at school. I love it so far. The students are amazing. Really respectful, sweet, interested, and so, so diverse. I literally have students from every nook and cranny of the world. It is great because they have such unique perspectives on school, the world, life, etc…. Makes for some interesting discussions, that is for sure. Great school or not, it is certainly a shock to be back at work full time. I know, I know, all of you non-teachers are not feeling particularly sorry for me, are you? I love teaching but darn it if summer doesn’t disappear too quickly…can I get amen. AMEN!!!

As for daily life in Dubai…I just don’t have any complaints. I am living such a privileged life here….that might be the hardest thing to get used to. For example, every Monday my maid (yes, maid) comes to clean my apartment and iron my clothes. When I go to the grocery store, a man walks me all the way back to my apartment and carries all my bags. I spend days at the pool or nestled in a cool coffee shop and nights hanging out with some of the most fascinating, diverse, and HILARIOUS people I have ever met. Last night, for instance, I went to dinner by the Creek with 4 friends: Tom (50ish science teacher moved here from Syria, smart and so sweet, enjoys being the designated driver which comes in handy), Ben (music teacher, also smart, and quasi-dorky but then also cool), Brad (one of my 2 sidekicks these days which should automatically clue you in to the fact that he is super fun and way cool), and Castro (Spaniard, ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS, so genuine, so sweet, my “yang”). We just walked down to the water from our apartment complex, caught a water taxi across the Creek, had dinner at an Iranian restaurant, sipped coffee, and smoked shiesha (a local custom….sweet flavored tobacco smoked out of a large water pipe….yes, it is legal!!!!). It was so much fun. Good times…..they are pretty easy to come by in these parts.

Of course…..I am missing each and every one of you. I think about you all often and just hope with all my heart that you are well and enjoying life to the fullest. Thanks for all the sweet messages, cards etc…it is so nice to feel a tad bit in the loop even though you are so far away. Whelp, off to plan for yet another week of school.

Oh, I’m not sure how much it would cost but here is my phone info if you get the urge to call : 011-971-50-719-6205

Peace in the Middle East.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

So how do I sum up all that has happened to me in the last 10-15 days? Before I left for Dubai, I imagined many quasi-lonely nights where I fill the void of home writing blog excerpts and crying into my pillow. Fortunately, the latter is absolutely untrue (unless of course you count the time(s?) I woke up with a POUNDING headache caused by, well…see “ladies night” below. Point is….I have had little down time. Each minute has been filled, either with shopping for my new abode (which despite how glorious this sounds…going to IKEA and Carrefour are easily the last places on earth I ever want to set foot in again), working, meeting new people and developing fast friendships, and how do I put this gently…consuming copious (wink, wink Nora!!) amounts of beverages, generally of the alcoholic persuasion. So I figure I will briefly try and describe the above mentioned events as a way of apologizing for my horrible attempts at keeping in touch.

Bur Dubai
My new home is a 1 bedroom located in Bur Dubai. Bur Dubai is a thriving little commercial/residential area near the Creek overflowing with places, within walking distance, to go such as resturaunts, coffee shops, stores (especially electronic stores it seems), hotels/bars, and grocery stores. Having a car seems at this point irrelevant. For a small price taxis and your feet (the price you pay being encountering the intense heat. It is tolerable, but most often, unforgiving) will gladly take you anywhere you want to go. My cute little apartment is quickly becoming home…..my favorite part? Hands down, the pool!!!! I guess the only down side I have detected about life in Bur Dubai, is the commute to work. Every morning we are picked up by a bus and shuttled off to Dubai American Academy. It is not too terribly far away but the traffic SUCKS!!!! Perhaps no worse than rush hour on 66.

Dubai American Academy
My new school is located near Jumeria Beach, very close to the Burj al Arab (the crazy expensive hotel that looks like a sail). In fact I can see the Burj outside my classroom window….kinda bizarre. Also viewable from my classroom window is the, what will one day be “the largest mall in the world”…..complete with an indoor ski slope!!!!! No joke!!!! Dubai is all about excess and being the world’s best. This translates into many rich people with big dreams building over the top buildings. I think, perhaps, EVERTHING in Dubai is under construction.

Anyway, back to my school, let’s just say it is not a public school!! I think this is most transparent in the fact that their really are no standards that students have to be accountable for. I can’t tell yet if I like this concept but the school itself is great!!! The faculty is probably one of the nicest and fun groups of people out there. Everyone has so many tales of travel and life abroad. It makes for an inviting atmosphere to work in!!! In addition, I benefit from the fact that they believe providing the best education and are willing to cough over the funds to make this happen. What that means for me is that I get state of the art technology at my fingertips. My classroom is outfitted with a Promithean White Board (like a smart board but better) and a lap top!!!!! Yeah!!! Truly seems too good to be true.

My New Homies
Life in Dubai has proven to be an easy transition. Everything is so westernized…to the point that I rarely feel like I’m in the Middle East. However, I don’t think it would have been such an easy transition without my new crew of friends/coworkers. Key players :
· Teresa – Canadian, high school English teacher, so friggin cute, and easily my closest friend here. We share many, many, many laughs
· Brad – Minnesotan, high school Math teacher and all around funny guy. His favorite game to play is “see how much Ellen does not know about Minnesota” (BTW…I know NOTHING about Minnesota).

So many more characters to describe but this will have to do for now....must go plan for tomorrow because I am going toThe Black Eyed Peas concert tonight!!! Crazy huh?