Friday, January 30, 2015

The "Insh'allah" Way of Raising Children

Coming from a country where parents are arrested or turned in to Child Protective Services for letting their children walk to the park alone, and then living in a place where kidnapping and other real threats existed, there's quite a bit to get adjusted to in the Arab culture. Children here are allowed to play in the streets without an adult present, though they are usually just a few steps away in their patio area or behind their window (though that's not always the case. I've heard stories of children under 10 running a house while their parents were out of country.) I've seen them run errands at the store a block away across a street. I've seen them going to the park several blocks away on their bikes. There is something refreshing about it, though I don't trust the system enough to follow suit. It does make me wonder why there is such a huge difference... and some of it seems to always go back to the concept of "Insh'allah" or "if God wills it," a phrase used for everything. A beautiful part of this concept is the complete acceptance of physically or mentally impaired children, since they are seen as something "God willed to be this way and who are we to question that?" However, it applies to the broader theme of parenting as well as there seems to be an underlying acceptance of the thought that "nothing can happen to the child that God does not will to happen." (This concept can get challenging when trying to teach cause and effect.)

Perhaps it's also because there is a basic unity of religion. There are many things I do not know about Islam and what it has to say about raising children. I can only speak from what I've noticed in my interactions with the culture, but it makes sense that having the same core fundamental beliefs, though there are Muslims here from many different countries, would make parents more trusting of one another.
  Perhaps it's the widespread feeling of safety from a competent government and security force.  Maybe it's a combination of a lot of things, but the way of raising children in the Middle East is a stark contrast to the way of the United States. I have found it pushing me to question where the line should be drawn for a child's independence and the intricate balance between the free-range movement and cloistered children, set in the crazy reality of our world. That it causes me to question is good... but I'm still figuring out the answer.


Friday, January 23, 2015

A New Chapter

It began with the only family we had a relationship with in Ruwais deciding they were going to leave after this school year for a position somewhere else. As Ruwais is a little isolated and insular in some ways, it takes time to develop relationships and between work, life and not much to do, we just hadn't been around a lot of other people at that point. This, combined with several other reasons:
-Our children are getting older, and we want them to learn another Romance language more naturally from immersion in the culture.
-The weight of the artificial feel of things created and placed in a desert environment and
-The difficulty we've noticed people having of staying healthy here (along with other things) all combined in a decision to find a new position at the end of this contract.

I love what we have learned from this culture. I respect the people and their amazing hospitality. I appreciate the ways they have created awe-inspiring things in the desert. I am blessed to have met Muslims who very firmly believe in peace and who are trying to show the world that the terrorists you read about are not the only Muslims. I will miss with a vengeance the beautiful expats who reached out to me when I was pregnant and without support in a new place. It has been so nice to get to learn about the cultures of people from countries we haven't been in contact with before: Philippines, South Africa, UK, Holland, Nigeria, Ireland, Jordan, Egypt, India...The people are the best part of the desert.

However, we will definitely come away with a new appreciation for living green things.

(The punchline: The family who originally inspired us to start looking for a new position, will probably stay here for next year after all.)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tilapia; Nigerian Style

Our Nigerian friend has  been telling us that she would show us how to make Nigerian-style tilapia for a few weeks now, so we finally had a weekend without obligations to take her up on it. Ruwais has a good fish market (we are on the gulf) so that's where Ben took her first.
Right next to the fish market is a fish-cleaning center. It cost 4 dirhams for 5 fish, or about a dollar. They gutted and trimmed the fish.

They will fillet it for you if you want, but since she wanted to fry this fish and the meat is so tender it will disintegrate easily if filleted, she left it with bones and skin. 

When they brought them home they looked like this. I'm not used to working with fish at all, especially fish with eyes...

We washed and salted the fish and prepared a puree of garlic, ginger, chili powder and red onion.

She made two diagonal cuts on each side of the fish and rubbed the puree into them as well as in the inside of each of them.

After frying, they looked like this. We served it with "chips" and a salad. I made the dressing from yogurt, avocado, lime and cilantro and it went well with the fish.

It was delicious! Everybody enjoyed it and we really liked learning something new.

In addition to food, she has taught us the following words in Yoruba:

Eja- fish
Ediye- chicken
Bawoni- hello, how are you
Osheh-thank you
Coshelo- go away!
Eshegoma- thanks so much 
Kotope- you're welcome 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Winter Break and the Best Part of Ruwais

The best part of living in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi is the relationships you get to build with the people. There aren't a lot of things to do unless you create them: the park, the beach, the mall or recreation center are just places that serve for meeting people. There is a wide variety of nationalities represented in this place. So, for winter break, we had the opportunity to spend time with some of these people that make this place special.
Life in Abu Dhabi has consistently been made better by Filipino friends.
Taking a break at the beach with American friends.
Spending time with our friends as a complete family is challenging during the normal work week, so having a chance to visit during this more relaxed time has been really nice. We got together with our friends from the UK and Holland as well, but it was so much fun that I only have this picture, snapped by a friend as I was playing darts. (I won! It was luck. My method is simple: chunk the dart at the target and hope it hits!)
Ezra helping me play darts...

We've enjoyed having time to get to know our Nigerian neighbor better as well. She was a hairdresser in Nigeria and she asked if she could do Talia's hair one day. Talia had fun with it! She has taught us a few words in Yoruba and helped us learn more about her home countries food and custom

Our Nigerian friend fixed Talia's hair for Winter break.

As many of the people we began our desert journey with are ending their contracts and planning to move on, it is nice to touch base again with the friends we have together in this particular moment before everyone scatters again. This particular mix of people will probably never be together, even on the same continent, again. This is part of living the expat teacher life that is surprising sometimes, (like when you DO end up with someone you knew from a different continent together again on a completely new one) sad sometimes (It's always hard to leave/watch leave) and inspiring you to seize the moment every time.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Al Dhafra Festival 2014: Camels, Saluki and Sand


Camel crossing


If you want to see something unique to the Middle East, you can't miss the Al Dhafra Festival. There, in the middle of the desert near Liwa, a temporary town springs up each winter creating a place called "Million Street" because of the millions of dirhams that change hands at these annual events. Most of the money exchanged is for racing camels or camels in the camel beauty pageants, but many other things go on here:  a souk, Saluki (dog) racing, camel races and beauty contests, art contests, date (fruit) packing contests, classic car displays, horse races, car races of different types and more.

Ben holds Ezra on a camel display in the souk



Our adventure started when we left around 9. I had packed everything except some books for the trip, so we stopped by the post office to see if some books we were expecting from family had arrived. They had! The kids were very excited about them and that helped the 2 hour drive go much smoother, until Elias puked all over himself halfway there. We took him into the bathroom at a gas station and scrubbed him off and changed his clothes. He was fine after he puked, so we continued, just with an interesting smelling trunk.

The first place we visited upon arrival had a sign advertising "Children's Village" but they apparently don't open until the evenings, so we went to the nearby souk. There, a student from Ben's previous school in Abu Dhabi gave Ben a map and told him where the camel beauty contest and Saluki races were. While we were there, a sheik came through with an entourage and cameraman. We later saw his helipad with a helicopter and service men.
 
Camels in the viewing pens for their beauty contest
At the camel beauty pageant, one enters through a security scanner making sure you are not carrying anything harmful to the camels like weapons or lighters... and then you enter a giant tent with very nice padded chairs set up on risers like one of the most comfortable stadium equivalents you have ever seen. One of the young men passed out free bottles of water and soon, they let everyone go down and view the camels. Some young men were very excited and yelling in Arabic in the background, supposedly at the camels, the whole time. Talia and Elias were very excited to see the camels. In person they seem very big! One camel did a funny jumping thing where he would rock back and forth jumping from his front to his back feet as if he were excited... Talia told me he was dancing. She also said they sounded like big cows lowing, which I would agree with. The camels were all decorated with fancy beaded and tasseled straps on their backs and around their humps. The judges looked at the hair softness and quality, color, shape of the mouth and body to judge the most beautiful camel. The black camels were especially prized.

After the camel beauty contest, we went to the race track. (Betting is not permitted in Islam.) There, we saw camels racing with mechanical jockeys on their backs that are connected by remote control to the camel owner, who rides alongside the track on a specially prepared road and is able to remotely spur his camel on with the camel crop. (I suppose it is called a crop? It is some sort of stick used to prod camels along...)

Camel herders move camels via the racetrack between races
After the camels, we had a wait for the Saluki race. The weather was beautiful and there was green grass everywhere for the children to run around on and another comfortable stadium area, so the kids played until Elias had to go to the restroom... and the guy before him had (because there is no toilet paper, but sprayers or the bidet option) soaked the entire floor. Elias slipped in the water and got completely soaked. Fortunately, the nice breeze and sun had him dry pretty quickly, because he was out of a change of clothes by now. Every 5 minutes, an official would come through and tell us that "in 5 minutes" the race will start. This happened about three times, as is customary, and we just knew that when the screens showing the up-close version of the race came one, then it would be for real. When that happened, Talia and I took Ezra and went closer to the race track. The wind was very strong! With so many people stepping close to the track, we had to be careful to not get sand in our eyes.
A Saluki races for the prize
Before the Saluki raced, a herd of camels moving to a different location came through. A lady from the UK was also close to the track and was wondering what they used for the dogs to chase, a mechanical rabbit like the greyhounds, perhaps? No. It was the head half of a real deer carcass on the back of a truck. The owner of the fastest Saluki would be the winner of a fancy 4x4 truck, and they were very excited about the race. Just like the camel race, the owners raced alongside the track in their vehicles honking and yelling for their dog to win. After the race Talia was excited to see the dogs up close. They were sleek and shiny with pretty markings.

After this, it was around 2 p.m. (Elias' nap time and the baby was also falling asleep) and we hadn't had much for lunch besides fruit and nuts, so we left. The boys slept most of the way home and Natalia read one and a half of her new Anna Hibiscus (not an affiliate link, we just like them a lot) books that she loves. I'm excited that she loves to read and that her speed has really accelerated this year! Ben was hilarious the whole way home creating comedies in different languages and playing two different people in each language. (In one of them he was a Spanish-speaking car salesman trying to convince another Spanish-speaking customer that his vehicle was better than the other burro option.) We laughed a lot.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Seen in Abu Dhabi 31: Rescue Animals

Above: It was a rescued animal type of day: We saw the gas station attendants had rescued this bird from their parking lot and friends had found the kitten looking for food in the trash. The kitten was blinded from eye infection, had worms, fleas and a tail injury. It later died in the rescuer's arms.

There is a problem with an abundance of cats in Ruwais. Though it is supposedly illegal to feed or house them as pets, it still happens. Trash is removed twice a day by city maintenance, partly as a cautionary measure against feeding them or other pests, but they hunt through the trash cans at night and some leave food out for them. This leaves a lot of kittens wandering the streets throughout the year and the ones who make it to adulthood wandering everywhere and entering any house with the door left cracked open in search of food. 

There is no shelter or vet in Ruwais. The nearest is in Abu Dhabi a good 2.5-3 hour drive away. If anyone felt like starting an animal program out here, it would fulfill a desperate need.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Elias Turns 3

Elias was so excited about his birthday this year! I think it's the first one he's been old enough to anticipate and really understand. He (very nicely) asked if he could have a chocolate star cake this year with strawberries, his favorite. He also wanted "lots of balloons!"


I had two circle cake pans, but I figured I could find a tutorial online to turn two circles into a star, and sure enough, I did! Basically, you turn one into a pentagon and cut the other into 6 (one extra) even sliced triangles by removing the rounded part, and stick them together.



I used this devil's food cake recipe by Laura Vitale and the icing again is chocolate whipped cream (from this recipe) because it pairs so nicely with the fruit my kids always request. I did the writing with cream cheese icing for color contrast.

We recycled one of Ben's pretty blue flavored water bottles for a vase and put one of the gorgeous yellow marigold's from our garden in it. It has lasted all month.

Elias is a thoughtful, decisive little boy. He is always observing what's around him and figuring out how things work. We love him very much and look forward to many more birthdays with this special guy.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seen in Abu Dhabi 30: Knafeh



Knafeh, or, as wikipedia says:


"Kenafeh also spelled knafeh, Kunafeh, kunafeh, knafeh, or kunafah) is a Levantine cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup, typical of the regions belonging to the former Ottoman Empire.[1] It is a dessert specialty of the Levant, especially in Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Syria and northern Egypt. It is a first cousin of the Greek kadaifi and the Turkish tel kadayıf, künefe and ekmek kadayıfı. [2]"

Or, in other words, as we learned from our friendly Jordanian neighbors, DELICIOUS!!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

December's First Days: National Day and Murder

These first few days of December have been full of events:

 On December 2nd the U.A.E. celebrated their 43rd year as a nation. There were amazing airshows, fireworks and celebrations all over the U.A.E. Dubai's famous Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world, had a huge firework display from its many different levels. The Corniche in Abu Dhabi had beautiful displays along its coastline. In Ruwais, the mall was decorated with National Day colors and the schools had special assemblies and are off this week, but I'm not sure if anything else happened. I'm just enjoying the time with the whole family together.

Also happening this week is Elias' 3rd birthday, which he has been counting down to ever since August. It's probably the first one he can really understand what it's all about and be talking enough to express that.

December 1st, however, is what made the news back home: A woman in a niqab and gloves waited  in the restroom until the woman, an American teacher she appears to have been waiting for, entered. People heard arguing. The American was found later stabbed. The ambulance didn't get there in time. The American teacher was the mother of 11 year old twins. Their father was contacted and coming for them last I heard. Police said today on Twitter via AbuDhabiPolice that the suspect was caught and it is being labeled an act of terrorism since after the stabbing she supposedly went to bomb an American doctor's house.

If your goal in life is "safety," then there is still nothing here to worry about compared to the States. (That's not our goal and I believe that "safety" is an illusion in the first place.) This is an unusual event and the only one of its kind that I've heard of the whole time we've been here. 


Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Today, Talia and Elias were excited to get their name in pancakes for breakfast as something special for Thanksgiving. Since Thankgoving isn't officially observed in the U.A.E., yesterday was a school/work day and special breakfasts weren't easy to squeeze in.
(Not pictured: Benjamin with his- morning pictures aren't his thing. ;) )

Turkey is only offered seasonally here, and they're large for what our family can eat and only available at the mall that's not easy for me to get to (physically and mentally. ;) ) So, for supper we had roasted chicken, stuffing, broccoli casserole and a peach crisp. 

The kids and I had fun making paper turkeys to decorate the table. Hearing the things they were thankful for was a highlight of the day!

This Thanksgiving was dedicated to Benjamin: the guy we are all thankful for. He loves his children and puts in time with them training, educating, talking and playing. He puts his family's needs first and is always consciously providing for us now and keeping the big picture of the future in mind. There's so many things that go into being a good father. I'm thankful our children have him.

Happy Thankgiving!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Censorship

If you think I haven't been posting anything substantial lately, you're correct. It's not that I would write something criticizing the people or government here, because I don't usually write about that sort of thing and I truly try to find the positives in every place we live... but just the fact that there is censorship here makes it difficult to write at all. Maybe it's a mental block, because truly, with the immense quantity of nationalities, foods and cultures blending in this place, there's a lot I like to learn about and would like to share, I just never know what will be offensive to someone else. Over-thinking things really kills any creative flow or desire to write. Because of this, here's what you end up with: recipes, photos, what the kids are saying and, you know, basically anything without thoughts deeper than the surface level of life here because that's what is for sure (until I say it is, perhaps) allowed to be written.

There's nothing that makes one want to be critical as much as the preemptive admonition not to be.

There are so many good things here. I want to be able to write about them.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Green Spaces



I recently had a conversation with a friend comparing this desert to the desert of Las Vegas. Las Vegas, they said, was all sand, buildings and plastic "grass." Coming to Ruwais, then, it was refreshing to find more trees and grass than they had expected. 
There is an extensive gardening and landscaping effort throughout each city I've visited in Abu Dhabi. Miles and miles of Palm trees line the highways watered by even more miles of black hoses that utilize desalinated water from the gulf and give gardeners from places like  Bangladesh and jobs.
I have read some complaints about the amount of energy and water that is used to produce these green places in the desert and I'm not sure how to solve that problem, but every time I see these green places, I appreciate them. I'm not sure there's a way to measure, but I would bet it helps people stay sane and continue living here longer.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

When it's Difficult to Breathe

Respiratory health is difficult to keep in Abu Dhabi. It seems to be even more difficult closer to the oil refineries. I've heard several theories for this:
-pollution,
-constant sand in the air,
-buildings fabricated with materials not allowed to be used in other countries for health implications
-the chemicals sprayed for pests or fertilizers that are also stronger than in other places.

Who knows, perhaps it is a combination of all of those things... but as "winter" here takes a foothold, the coughing and breathing/throat problems have escalated among everyone that I know here, escalated, not appeared, because they were already rampant, I've noticed, for as long as we've been in the U.A.E.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Pakistani Recipe: Sabzi

If you would like to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, maybe you'd like to try this simple Pakistani recipe called "sabzi" which means "vegetables".
All you need are:

2 medium sized potatoes
1 large carrot
1 small/medium sized red onion
1 handful of peas
1 fresh tomato
dried fenugreek leaves
1 tsp coriander powder (crush the pods- so much tastier)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
desired salt and chili powder

Method:
Fry onions until translucent.
Add all chopped vegetables.
Add all spices including dried fenugreek leaves.
Add a splash of water and cook on low/medium heat, checking a few times.



It's easy and tasty and a great way to add more colorful vegetables to your table.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kids Unscripted: Chapter 29

Ben: (at supper) "Talia, you're waxing poetic about that..."
Elias: "Talia's not waxing in the diamond room!" 
(Diamond meant "dining.")
---
Elias: "Whale eat Jonah with cheese..."
Me: "With CHEESE!?"
Elias: "Yes. Whale eat one Jonah. Shark want two..."
---
Talia: "When I see bright purple it makes my throat feel spicy..."
---
Talia: "Sheeram and Yokeedotch [that's a phonetic spelling, I have no clue!] were running around the classroom. I think they wanted to get their energy out"
Me: "How do you get your energy out at school?"
Talia: "I write, you have to wiggle your hand to write!"
---
Elias: "Grammy went back to the Nice Dates of America"
---
Me: "I have an idea for your birthday cake"
Elias: "In the refrigerator!"
Me: "No, your birthday is not until December"
Elias: "We have to drive to December and get the cake!"
---
Ben: (to the kids outside) "Why is the bicycle on the table?"
Talia: "Because we are building a house."
Ben: "So why is the bicycle on the table?"
Talia: "It's a machine to carve off the sharp."
---
Me: "Talia, do you like mashed potatoes?"
Talia: "Yes, especially when they're surrounded by things I don't like..."
Me: "You didn't like the chicken?"
Talia: "No... it turns into strings when you chew it and it tastes like beach sand."
Me: "When did you try beach sand?"
Talia: "Well, it was an accident..."
---
Ben: "It's supper time!"
Elias: "No, it's shawarma-warma time!"
---
Ben: "Do you want some chill out tea?"
Me: "Chamomile? Sure..."
Elias: "I want some tea! Chilly tea!"
---
Talia: "It's a moth! It's brown, you like brown!"
Ben: "I like coffee brown and wood brown, not moth-that's-been-flapping-around-in-the-desert brown!"

Braiding Bread

Talia has been wanting to learn how to braid bread, so we had the opportunity to try not long ago and she did a pretty good job.

Next, she wants to learn to braid her hair and other people's hair. I have a feeling that will be a little bit trickier, and without such delicious results.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Coffee: Convenience over Culture

How great of a marketing feat must it be to go to a country famous for its high quality coffee and get most of the population to drink coffee crystals rehydrated with hot water?

This is a question posed in conversation with some friends the other day while discussing the prevalence of Nescafé (in Guatemala sometimes jokingly called no-es-café, or "it's not coffee") throughout the world. Guatemala had ideal conditions for quality coffee: lots of high elevation cultivation land that was 2) enriched with volcanic soil. Supposedly, these two qualities contributed to some of the best flavored coffee. Like most quality things produced by Guatemala, most of the general public never consumed it, but rather exported it.

While coffee isn't an export here, it is still very much a part of the culture. If you have business to do in a bank or other important office, sometimes you will be offered coffee or tea while you are waiting. Turkish or Arabic coffee, (coffee mixed with cardamom or other spices) is something associated with this region... and yet, almost everybody drinks Nescafé.

Perhaps, like many things, it's an example of convenience over culture.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Seen in Abu Dhabi: 29

There is a cage with several peacocks near a man-made lake on the way to the post office in Ruwais, Abu Dhabi.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Seen in Abu Dhabi; 28

Fall is here and it's finally planting season!
This little fellow was visiting the climbing plants on our back wall this morning.