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.