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. 

1 comment:

CaitlinMarie said...

Hahahahahahaha homemade icing in the rice cooker. Hilarious.