Saturday, September 21, 2013

Life is Unfair

School is in full force.  It seems to be going well, but I am never sure what to expect.  I am not in the education industry, so I don't know how the year should go much less what makes a school in Dubai "good", or one of the "best".

Nor do I have any idea where it is that I would get the "best" value for my money.  I wish I did, but I am most certain that I do not know what that should mean from an education perspective.

Like all the other expats here, I am paying for a private education for my child, and hoping I made the right choice of school for them.  I do question it from time to time because I hear a lot of other people questioning it.

But is it really that bad?

I went to Africa for the first time in 2004 with my husband and some close friends.  We toured Namibia, Botswana and Zambia.  The main focus of the trip was to experience nature, photography and the animals.  I saw a lot of amazing things over the two weeks we were there, but the most vivid memory I have from that trip was a visit to a local school in Zambia.

I remember so much about that visit - the feel of the weather, the distinct smell of the land, the excitement of the children that someone came to visit.  It is still very vivid.

I anticipated a one room school, but I was not prepared for what I saw.  One room with desks and a small chalk board.  That was all.  Nothing else.

Each child had a notebook and a pencil.  The very few other supplies that were there - a few reading books with lessons about AIDS, and some pencils - were kept locked up so they would not be stolen.

I knew of the challenges in Africa, but to see them was completely different.  Even without a child at the time, this was an incredibly difficult reality to face.  Despite poverty, the children were smiling and happy.  We toured the rest of the land - the new well outside was about the only other thing to see at the time.

While it was very difficult to visit, I also found it very hard to leave.  Its hard to leave knowing you go back to a different kind of life and they stay there.  "Life is not fair?"  I curse the reality of that.

So if you ask me about the schools in Dubai.  My answer is that I don't really know what defines a good school here.  What I do know is that life is unfair.

Twabuka Community School, Zambia

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Life Advice

Last night I met a few girlfriends out for a kind of welcome back to Dubai drink.  A lot of people here leave for long summer holidays, and many people travel for work frequently, so unfortunately, this can result in not seeing our favorite people as often as we would like.  It doesn't make us any less close, it is just the nature of Dubai.  It is transient.

As I was chatting with three friends off to the side of the larger group, a guy approached us.  Like a pack of zebras, if there is one straying from the pack, the lion sees opportunity.

No one was there to meet anyone.  Well, except for him, so a look of disgust immediately appeared on my friends' faces.  I actually found myself feeling sorry for him because he seemed pretty intimidated and was not sure what to say.  I was not one to frequent bars when I was young, but "So ya" is not really a winning introduction anywhere.

While my friends quickly dismissed him, I felt the need to explain the situation to him.  "Look, we are four women, married with three or four kids each so we are not really your target market." Ok, I embellish a bit on the number of children we all have, but I wanted to add some fear factor to my story.

He proceeds to tell me he is 24.  Twenty-four?!!  I inform him I am old enough to be his mother.  Ok, I embellish a bit more.  Technically I could be old enough to be his mother but my son is five and I don't want to think about the gap between me and a slightly inebriated guy that is almost half my age.  Cringe.

He got my point, but before he left he asked us for some life advice.  You know, since we are so much older than him.  Maybe a desperate plea to keep the conversation going, but life advice... that's a tough one.  I am sure that at work and as a mom I do that a lot.  And I used to be a consultant - the profession of getting paid to give advice!

One friend advised that he to move to the other side of the room.  But again, I find myself feeling sorry for him.  I've been on this earth twice as long as he has, so by default I must have more experience and should have something useful to tell him.  Rejection and no life advice?  Double whammy.

The first thing I thought of was stay in school and stay away from drugs, but he was a bit too old for that.  Don't hit on groups of married women?  That seemed like a no-brainer by now.

After a quick assessment of my life in a loud, smokey bar I finally found something useful to suggest to him.  Humor.

No matter what happens in life, never loose your sense of humor.  I'm not talking about laughing in the midst of tragedy.  But really, if I can't find some humor or irony, or laugh at myself on most normal days, then that is not good.

So there you go, not that you asked, but the best advice I have so far is humor.  As for the guy, he went back to his friends, and hopefully had a good laugh.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Turkish Tea, or Çay

When I first moved to Turkey, I found the tea drinking a bit different than throwing a bag in a cup of boiled water.  First the tea pots threw me.  Two on top of each other?  Water on the bottom and tea on the top.

Then there were the glasses.  Drinking boiling tea from a tiny, hot glass with no handle?  Ouch.  And because the glass is small, it is just as easy to spill as it is to singe your fingerprints.  And how many sugar cubes does one need for that?  And if you are hosting, you need to be on the ball and fill that glass as soon as it is empty - small glasses finish quickly.

I learned very quickly that tea, or çay (pronounced chai) is a very important part of daily life in Turkey.  It starts the day with breakfast, is served at work, in tea houses, in cafes, at home again in the afternoon or evening, when guests come visit.. and the list goes on.  Many important decisions are made over tea - work decisions, life decisions, political decisions.

I got used to it quickly.  And who wouldn't?  Not only is it everywhere, but it is also very good.  

I still start my days with it and I hate to leave it in the morning.  I also drink it in the afternoon when I am working from home.  However, I find I miss that culture of tea everywhere.  I even considered an electric Turkish tea kettle at work, but that could get a bit tricky with a hot desk.

In Dubai, the norm is more the Starbucks and equivalent franchises of the world.  Arabic coffee (which is a Turkish coffee with cardamom) and Moroccan tea (mint tea) are easily available, but it is not quite the same.

Perhaps it is the comfort factor of Turkish tea.  The many glasses that I have shared with friends over the years have left me with a Pavlov-like reaction when I taste it.  Even on the most exhausting and challenging days, there is something comforting about çay.