Prior to leaving for the UAE, I had a zillion questions. Many of them centered around misconceptions that I had of what it would be like to live in a Muslim-centered culture. Many of them derived from judgments I had made of the Middle East based upon what we see of Muslims in the news (especially since 9-11). Many of them came from my own insecurities about leaving everything I knew. Heck, I'm the one who made the decision to go to a university thirty minutes away because as my dad wisely summized: "the umbilical cord just won't stretch from Northern California to UCLA!" So, approximately four months later, I sit here in Abu Dhabi and am able to answer with knowledge many of the questions which once kept me up late into the night.
Random Before AD Thoughts1. Will some poppy seed land on my luggage in some connecting airport causing the UAE police dogs to smell opiates on my person and put me in jail? (random, but happened to a British traveler when poppy seeds from a bagel that he ate while at Heathrow airport landed on his laptop case) Interestingly, I made it through the airport without even one person even checking my medications. I wasn't even sure my Advil was going to get through. There was one nerve-racking moment when we did the eyescan. My new friend at the time, Andre, and I nervously joked that we were entering some scientific experiment and now they had our data and we would be cloned or something of the sort.
2. How many people might I unknowingly offend by crossing my legs when I sit? (we have been instructed to sit with our feet planted on the ground as it is offensive for the sole of your shoe to be showing to another person) I don't even think about whether or not I am crossing my legs! I just do it. I do, however, make sure to not expose the sole of my shoes to anyone. To do so is definitely considered an insult. In fact, one of my fellow teachers and friends, Tawnee, had a student take off her shoes and throw them at her: a major offense.
3. Will I ever be able to eat with just my right hand? If we can only eat with our right hand, how are we supposed to cut our meat? Perhaps, the rule only applies to eating with your hands??? (As eating and especially eating meat is near and dear to my heart, I really must look into this one). Here's another rule that I rarely think about. However, I'm usually eating at the Abu Dhabi mall with Westerners or ordering Lebanese food with fellow ex-pats. Even amongst my Muslim friends, I'm not really cognizant of eating with my left or right hand. Perhaps, I need to mingle more with the locals, throw the utensils to the wind, and then re-visit this one!!!
4. Will I connect with the twelfth grade girls of Abu Dhabi? (At least I'll never have to worry about or spend instructional time sending a girl to the office due to a dress code violation like wearing a short skirt, a skimpy tank top, or an offensive t-shirt as they will all be in burkas). If there's one thing which keeps me here, it is the girls. They are amazing. There isn't a day in which a student doesn't run to carry my books or tell me how beautiful I am or tell me that "thank you" for something. In fact, on my birthday, I walked into a full-blown surprise party. The girls showered me with homemade confetti and silly string and lots of hugs. They sang happy birthday to me in Arabic and in English. They brought in a cake and homemade goodies. And, if that wasn't enough, they bought me a piece of bling: a watch which I rarely take off these days. It was one of those moments in your life in which you just step back and try to take it all in. I have students from all over: the Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Oman, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Morocco. One thing that binds them is that they are Muslim; and, to some, one might think their Muslim identity was the one thing that separates them from myself. It never feels like that. It just isn't like that. In fact, we use the basis of our spiritual faith (love for one another) all the time; and, in that moment, I just wished that those people in the US who believe Muslims are terrorists, etc. could feel what I felt in that room: a purity of spirit and a genuine sense of love and appreciation for one another. Isn't that what its all about anyway?
5. Do they sell Diet Mountain Dew over there? Onto the major negatives in my life...there is NO DIET MOUNTAIN DEW in the Middle East. I have told all my friends here that if they ever run into diet mountain dew, they must buy me a case and deliver directly to my door!!! The first thing I will do when I land in the US is head to the closest Circle K and down a 2 liter. Do not pass go; do not collect 200. I will be on a "do the dew" mission.
6. Will I ever see One Life to Live and General Hospital again? (Sad, yes, but in all honesty, I do worry about this. I need at least a fix of such mind-numbing television once every six months in order to keep abreast of my peeps). I probably won't see my soaps for a very long time. However, on the bright side, I do periodically put the Young and the Restless (a soap I barely watched at home) on as background noise. I'm still trying to figure out if it is new Y & R or old. Victor just doesn't age, so it is hard to tell. Also, I've caught up on all the crime drama I could ever wish to watch. Oh my gosh, they must think the US is just a major cesspool. At any time of day I can watch Law and Order or Criminal Minds or Burn Notice or Miami Vice!!! I'm also thrilled to say that Jimmy Fallon, Ellen, Oprah, and Jay are all on the tele here as is True Blood, Glee, Modern Family, Clean House, and the survivor series with my man Bear!!!
7. If I feel like I'm melting when it hits 105 degrees, how am I going to handle 115 plus degree heat? If it is this hot outside, will I ever be able to keep my make-up on or am I going to be sweating like a pig (poor choice of metaphor...pigs are off limits too) as I do when I'm down in Mexico? When I arrived in August, it was hotter than Hades. We had a welcome teacher party on the beach one night and we all call it the Sweatfest 2010. Since then, things have cooled down tremendously. Actually, it gets down to 68 degrees or so and I'm freezing. I can't wait for it to heat up. By March, I should be feeling the heat again!!!
8. Will I remember to refrain from hugging colleagues and giving students pats on the back, etc.? (In the UAE, such gestures are not done and are considered offensive). I can just see myself now: extending gestures in which I believe are endearing when all the while, I'm offending colleagues and superiors left and right!!! Wow, I'm so oblivious that I don't even stop to think about this one. I have students hugging and kissing me all the time. I give pats on the back. Hmmm...I now have to wonder: how many people have I actually offended? I guess you can take the girl out of California, but not the California out of the girl.
9. Do camels really spit? Can you actually bet on the camels at the camel races? And, if so, is the betting similar to the track here? If so, I'm all over the 20 dirham quinella box!!! I have only seen two camels in person and I don't think they really count as it was from the car on the way to Dubai. It is weird though. Just like in the US how there are cows along the freeways, there are camels here. I really do need to get myself to a camel farm and to a race. I have watched camel racing on television. They ride without jockeys (I guess children used to be the jockeys, but that has been outlawed). I believe betting is "haran" (forbidden), but what's the harm in a little side betting???
10. If I choose to read Kathy Griffin's autobiography on the plane ride over to the UAE, will it be confiscated upon arrival due to its content? Kathy made it!!! Also, the bookstore sells non-fiction novels written by Arab women detailing their stories (many of which include heart-breaking tales of injustice toward women). These books are not kept on some back shelf; rather, they are front and center. Granted, I live in what I call the Disneyland of the Middle East. It really is a melting pot of cultures and, for the most part, I am taken aback at how we all seem to get along and appreciate the differences as opposed to use those differences to build walls amongst us.