17 March 2012

Making Icing in the Rice Cooker, and other truths universally unacknowledged


It's me.

The blogger formerly known as dependable.


I've missed you, and the guilt of not talking with you has caused me to put off talking to you even longer. And then I woke up, looked around, and it was March.



I love you, don't leave me!

No, really. Don't leave. I have fun and exciting things to tell you. And they begin with alcoholic cupcakes.

Are you ready?

Wait. Just a minute. I need to go stir the frosting that's warming to spreadable viscosity in my rice cooker. Because microwaves are for squares, man.

Right. Back to typing.


Several months ago (or two severals, let's not get hung up in the details) I moved to Abu Dhabi to start teaching English to high school girls. For the past two several months, that is what I have been doing. And here's how teaching goes:

If you teach girls, your day is longer than if you teach boys. Why? Because the (segregated) schools share buses, and boys go home first. If you teach primary (Cycle 1) your day is longer than if you teach kindergarten, but shorter than if you teach high school (Cycle 3). I teach high school girls. My school day is roughly 19 hours long. 

Okay, maybe it's closer to 9 hours, but still. 730 to 330 is long, especially when you add a 30 minute (very short compared to the potential 90-minute commutes some teachers have) commute on either side of it. And it's a very draining day. There are 7 lessons a day in my school (other schools have 9-lesson days, but their lessons are 45 minutes each, which in reality means they're 30 minutes each, and it's basically untenable unless you have blocked schedules, which most schools do not....but I digress). 

Teachers do not have classrooms, students have classrooms. The kids stay in one place (more or less - mostly less) all day, and the teachers come to them. For any teacher readers I have, you will recognise that this undermines any sense of authority you might have, right from the start. Again, untenable, but it's what happens. It also means I share my classroom with 10-12 teachers, teaching 10-12 subjects, and I do that for 3 different classes. So I can't have a seating chart, I can't be at the door when class begins, I can't post educational bits and pieces or student work or anything else unless I do it in triplicate. 

This also means I haul all of my classroom necessities from one room to the next, all over the school. And since our students aren't to have the responsibility of taking their "textbooks" home with them, I have to carry THOSE all over the school, too.

It's all just a bit silly, if you ask me.

On the other hand, I have an office. I share this office with 5 other truly awesome English teachers. Our department, at least, is centralised.


Another Very Special Part of working in Abu Dhabi: sick notes. So, we have 15 sick days per year. However, in order to get paid for these sick days, we have to get sick notes. Behold, the sick note process:

Wake up in the morning feeling rather UNlike P Diddy, decide you just can't teach, as you're puking, sneezing, and practically dead. Text your school (HoF, Vice Principal, and carpool at the very least). Then decide if you're human enough to go to the hospital.

If you're very fortunate, you have found a place that makes appointments, takes our insurance, and can squeeze you in between rounds in the bathroom. If you're not that fortunate (or, like me, not that organised), you go to the local hospital's clinic. And then you wait. It's like ER for non-ER cases. 

So you see your GP, explain your problem, and get a prescription for whatever (usually Panadol, which is Tylenol), and go get stamps. The Clinic has to stamp your sick note. The hospital has to stamp your sick note, the HEALTH AUTHORITY has to stamp your sick note. By the time these things are completed, it's between noon and 3pm - IF you started before 8am. If you decided to get a little sleep before going to the hospital clinic, and get there around 9am, chances are you won't leave the hospital before 3pm. The health authority closes at 3pm, so you will have to go another day to get that stamp. Or send a non-teacher friend to take care of that little issue for you.

THEN you have to scan this sick note, along with the school form, into your computer and upload it into a last-century online document tracking system. If you're lucky, your sick leave will be approved sometime before the end of the month. And recuperation? You know, getting rest so that you can come back to school refreshed, healthy and ready to go? Dream on. You don't get sick time for THAT, silly!


Paper shuffling is an art form here. The more people who have to approve something (anything), the more people are employed. Government oversight is massive. Behemoth, one might say.

Whatever. I guess the challenge of the sick note (I mean, sometimes your sickness doesn't require a doctor, sometimes it's just a cold) stops people from calling out sick. Except until it goes around the whole office and half the school and people are dropping like flies. For real. And instead of one sick person, there are twelve, and no one to cover your classes. It's not really a functional system, but it's a system, and it works for someone. And they're paying me amply for the paper chase, so again: whatever.


And the great and mighty bureaucracy brings me back to the beginning: alcoholic cupcakes. 

You wouldn't think it, but alcohol is ample and readily available in this Muslim country. Of course, it is overseen by the government, too, as controlled substances are. In order to legally purchase the alcohol required for my Irish Car Bomb cupcakes (Bailey's, Jameson's and Guinness), I need a liquor license. For that I need a letter from my employer, a salary statement, a copy of my ID (lol, the ID), passport, proof that I'm not Muslim (Muslims cannot legally purchase alcohol, as it's not permitted in Islam), and an application. And a fee to pay, of course. 

Like everything else, making cupcakes is a process. Only, here, it requires weeks of the great paper chase in addition to things like finding cocoa powder (not too difficult) and bittersweet baking chocolate (impossible - substitute 70% cocoa bar from the candy aisle). Also, you learn to make do in the randomest ways in the kitchen. 

I don't have a mixer...so I use a fork.
I don't have a mixing bowl...so I use a pot.
I don't have a double boiler...so I use the rice cooker. 
I don't have a stove, so I use the hot plate.
I don't have an oven, so I use the toaster oven.
I don't have a microwave, so I use the rice cooker again.

Seriously, how did I live without a rice cooker?


In the end, St Patrick's Day weekend was as louche in Abu Dhabi as it is in South Carolina (Where? I hear you ask. South Carolina? wtf? Just trust me, ok). And the cupcakes...well, apparently, they were amazing. Perhaps made all the better due to the sheer effort required to make them.

I hope your holiday was at least as splendid as mine. And I hope your life has slightly less bureaucracy going on. But if it doesn't, well...at least we'll always have cupcakes. And homemade icing in the rice cooker. 

07 October 2011

Miss Me?

So. It's October now. I have missed two whole months of blogging.

That's right, I've turned into one of Those Bloggers - you know, the ones who start with the grandest of intentions then disappear forever?

C'est moi.

I won't tell you how many other blogs/pages/identities I have online. Okay, I will. Closest estimate is...five email addresses, 8-10 blogs, 2-4 facebook pages, only one twitter (I deleted the other one), and semi-active participation on several fora. To say I don't blog is to say I don't blog here. The lack of internet access at school has actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as those are the few hours of the day/week/whatever when I'm not online, posting, thinking, digesting.

I think I may have to cut back.


Right. So I live in Abu Dhabi now. My facebook page/group has turned into a mudslinging free-for-all with hints of sanity popping through from time to time. I try to avoid it and have more or less given up moderating - because they're all adults, and if "just sayin'" is the persona they want to put out there, then more power to them. Or less, as the case may be.

My apartment is small, and on the 18th floor. To the left I can see (besides more construction, which is the main architectural theme of Abu Dhabi) Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which is the Grand Mosque, which really is quite grand. (No. I haven't been yet. Colour me lazy.) To my right I can see the other buildings in my construction site/complex. They are much nicer looking and larger apartments...but I think we have fewer problems in our building. Behind me is the Executive Airport (Al Bateen?) and ahead of me in the distance is some body of water - ultimately the Arabian Gulf. It's not so bad.

My friends are, to my consternation, all teachers. I live in a commune (and not the hippie kind, either) filled with teachers and families of teachers. This is the very opposite of what I hoped for, living in Abu Dhabi rather than Al Ain. On the other hand, I live in a proper city. With, y'know, stuff to do.

There's plenty to do in Al Ain, of course. Just...not city things.

My school is about 30 minutes down to road toward Dubai. It's apparently a pretty big school, and quite old. (By old, I mean about 20-25 years. They don't have actual old buildings here, unless they're national heritage sites.) It's all girls, of course, and I'm slowly coming to grips with what my job actually entails. (This changes on a daily - even hourly - basis, so progress is by the inch.) My girls are in grade 11 and vary in age from 14 to 19. They are pretty evenly split Emirati & non-Emirati. Every day they tell me my eyes are so beautiful (which is disconcerting, until I remind myself that my appearance is in every single way a completely foreign appearance...but still feels odd) and that my hair IS NOT ORANGE. That's right, they think I'm blonde.

My sister will never accept this.

The year started out with titters and whispers and "Why are you so fat?" I expected this and am not offended. I mean, it's not a secret to me that I'm rather large, so why shy away from the fact? I took a page from Jack Black's book and simply told my students I like to eat! Ice cream is delicious, y'all. Ask Ben & Jerry.

Besides my physical appearance, my students seem to like me. It's an uphill struggle, and I have more than one student who just sits there and stares at me for the hour and does nothing. On the other hand, I have a few students who are overachievers. (I have NEVER taught overachievers before and am at a loss other than to tell them to bring something to do in class while we wait for the talkers to shut up. Not that I say shut up, of course.) One class I have promised to teach a Spanish word a day, and they in turn teach me a new Arabic word a day. Better still, they teach me correct pronunciation! Sort of. And they titter and giggle and laugh outright when I actually use Arabic.

Some things, though, are the same the world over. Students are SHOCKED (shocked, I tell you!) when you overhear their complaints - especially in another language - and answer them in English. On Thursday (last day of our week - which starts on Sunday, lest you think we have it easy...which we kind of do) one of my students was complaining in Arabic to her seatmate about the work they had to do and why they couldn't do it at home.

And I answered her! 

You have never seen eyes so wide and round. It was awesome. And instantly shared across the classroom - Miss knows Arabic!

That's right, girls. Don't mess with me. As my Spanish-speaking students in Texas quickly learned (and my English-speaking students in England always resented), I know everything.


And that which I do not know, I can surmise, guess, learn, or assume. Therefore, it's a rare day that my students get away with anything that I am not aware of. Sure, the little treasures get away with things every day. But usually those are just battles I am too tired to fight. Though if I hear "Sorry, Miss" one more time, I might actually scoop out my eyeballs with the broken end of a pencil and hang them from the white board.

But I think this is more than enough of an update for the past 2 months. I've left out loads, added some details that are utterly useless to the majority, and no doubt offended someone somewhere about something. Well, so it goes. Happy reading, friends. Now send me comments so I'm inspired to post more often!

photos from the following: blog4students.wordpress.com & northjersey.com

03 August 2011

Even Limbo Has to End Sometime

Or purgatory, the waiting game, whatever you want to call it. And my time of waiting is FINALLY up!

Look at what my horoscope said for the month of August:
Dramatic financial changes are in the stars for you this month Libra...You are finally on the path to financial success...if you can keep up your plan. You’ll soon see that you have such a loving and supportive network of friends and family. Many people fail to appreciate what they have right in front of them, yet you will see everything for what it’s worth this month.

Tomorrow is my last full day in America. Thursday I fly away to Abu Dhabi at long last. I mean, seriously. When I started chronicling this adventure it was 2010. JULY 2010. Now I'm making final decisions on what stays and what goes. A life in 100 pounds or fewer. And...I forget what this post was going to say, except farewell for several weeks. I probably won't have a regular internet connection for a few months. But I'll write all about it in the meantime, then catch you up.

25 July 2011

Wait for it.....

I'll be posting soon, I promise. Maybe, if I'm super quick, I'll post pics of the wardrobe I'm sort of sewing! Meanwhile, I got my flight info: I leave


and I have been living in my parents' basement for the past 3 or 4 weeks. You could say I'm ready to go. But not ready to go. But so ready to go!

17 June 2011


Today I was killing time while avoiding packing up the last of my worldly belongings to go to Michigan (step one on the way to Abu Dhabi). You shouldn't be surprised by this, as that's what I do most days - kill time and avoid packing. And during this time, I read (okay, scanned the "headlines" of) The Huffington Post. And I kid you not, there was an essay entitled The Romance of Elsewhere.

And I thought...Someone's been reading my mind!

My family has long been used to me taking off for parts unknown, but only recently (in the past year or so) they have started to express concern that I am "running away" from something. I'm not, though. Unless you count boredom of place as a thing to run away from.

I was so excited to read this essay; it was like reading my own life (partly imaginary, as I'm not from South Africa, nor am I a writer...yet). It's not that I hate "home" so much - though I do wonder what home actually is anymore - it's just that home is just...so...ordinary. I know all about home. There are so many corners of the earth that I don't know all about, and I want to go and see and touch and smell and just be


13 June 2011


Today, in preparation for Abu Dhabi, I started juicing. I blame my friend, who turned me on to this film: Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. He's about a week ahead of me and has already dropped a significant amount. And I looked around, and I looked down, and I looked in the mirror.

And I ran out of excuses.

I'm well accustomed to being the token fat girl in any gathering. And I don't usually mind. I'm not into body shaming, so I don't feel ashamed of my body, however wobbly it may be. (Very. It's very wobbly.) I mean, this body has gone around the world with me, had adventures, even worn cute clothes. So I'm not ashamed of it. Usually.

Imagine yanking this on AND THEN
all the rest of your clothes...
But it's hard work being fat. And it's even harder work being fat in a hot environment. I've been fat in Bangkok, Houston and Columbia (SC) - as well as other places - and I'm going to be fat in Abu Dhabi. And there are special considerations a fat girl must bear in mind when living in a hot environment. Considerations like...chafing. Crowds. Airplane seats (not specific to hot places, but specific to me getting to Abu Dhabi). Sweating. Too hot for spanx (other 21st century girdles are available). The doubled workload on my heart (already working hard for my weight, now working harder because it's so hot). And, I mean, shopping!

So I'm juicing. This is today's Abu Dhabi prep piece: drink juice. The bonus healthy bits include lowering my blood pressure (essential from the years of espresso and crap foods), getting all the gunk out, and just generally feeling better. Fruit and veg juices are the perfect meal for an aspiring vegan moving to the desert during Ramadan, no?

08 June 2011

Miscellaneous Bits

Today is Misc Day. Well, today and tomorrow. (What can I say? I have a lot of misc.) I have the house to myself, the house is clean - time to bring out the bits and pieces and strew them all over the living room.

like this, only more and with fewer guns - but more glitter

Today (and tomorrow - don't get all schedule-y on me now) I'm also going to scan all my random scraps of paper. Then I'll have them on file and won't be toting a bag of balled up notes to Abu Dhabi. Which is handy, as I'll quite likely be toting a bag of old journals to Abu Dhabi. Sigh. I just don't know if I want to leave them behind again.

I probably will, though.


You may have noticed (you know, the three of you who actually skim this blog on occasion) that it's been awhile since I wrote any practical TEFL-related posts. Would you care to know why?

You would?


Great. Because I happen to have nothing but time. And no one else to talk to (look, I told you the house was empty!), and hello! I'm procrastinating!

Fact is, since I got my paperwork back from the UAE Embassy, I have pretty much lost my focus. 

Not that you should be surprised by this. One of the things I know I'll be good at in the UAE is the vagueness of time over there. I'll do my very best to be on time to everything (and often end up being early - at least until I get all acclimated-like), but I'm not bothered if other people are late, if there are interruptions, etc. Time spent getting (and missing) trains and metros and buses has taught me to always bring something to do. And to just let it go. You'll get there when you get there, life will continue, NOTHING I had planned in my day is of life-or-death importance. 

Not even packing. 


Where was I? Oh, yes. Practical information sharing. And not doing it. 

Well, I guess I really just have nothing to share. The essentials are now covered. It took 5 weeks to get all my papers processed, but that was back in February/March. Since then I've quit my crap job to keep house & nanny for my sister, watched a lot of tv, and given away another couple of boxes of stuff. And I've researched the nonessentials. 

You know, stuff like where to shop, how to order a venti soya latte, which phone I really want, juicers, and decor for my so-far-nonexistent flat. 

Also, I've gabbed endlessly on facebook with other new LTs. To the point that I even irritate myself just for clicking the link. I mean, I love those people (some of them - sorry guys, I don't universally adore my co-workers, and I know some of you find me tedious...not my readers, I hope!) and am happy to answer their questions when I can. And, I mean, I convinced some of them to join twitter

.....yeah, that actually was a self-referential link...colour me shame-faced.

And that's it. It's been a busy busy couple of aimless months for me. But by golly, I am going to purge the miscellany. Right now!

Next week: Arabic lessons!