Monday, December 20, 2010

And so this is Christmas (John and Yoko)

Merry Christmas to all my whanau and readers from the blogosphere. And wasn't it lovely that two thoughtful members of the Argentinian football team should pose by our tree with santa in a globe!

Love and peace - Wozza

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Got my mojo workin' (Muddy Waters)

Who knew that moderation meetings could be such fun?

The students have sat formal assessments (tests) this week in Arabic, English, Islamic studies, science and maths. Of course it is necessary to have moderation meetings to guarantee some consistency between the markers.

In my NZ and UK experience, these take place after the marking has happened and then marks are supposedly adjusted. But this is always a haphazard process, very unscientific and of little benefit to anyone.

Here I have stipulated that the moderation meetings take place BEFORE the staff get into marking.

I've had two of them - one with the English Dept and one with the Arabic teachers (until I have a full team in place I am advising both of these faculties). Both were exceptionally positive and fun experiences. The English one resulted in some great vociferous debate from the English teachers before we could settle on some benchmark papers.

Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera but I remembered for the Arabic meeting. This one was of equal value but with Abdulla's input it was also screamingly funny. Left to right, in the two photos below, we have Abdul, Shaban, me, Abdulla, Farraj (Salem is the 5th member and he's seen in a photo below). Also pictured (in the photo immediately above) are Nadal and Khalifa who helped me out with translation and advice.

After the meeting the teachers are relieved of their normal timetable and stay at school until they have finished marking!! So, on Monday, five English teachers marked 200 scripts after our moderation took place and on Tuesday it was the five Arabic teachers' turn. The next day all scripts were checked by other faculty members. A very robust system all around.

I was both fascinated and impressed by the organisation and smooth operation.

We learnt a lot from each other and isn't that what it's all about?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Smokestack lightnin', can't ya hear me callin' (Howlin' Wolf)

I went to my first staff do in Al Ain last week - a BBQ picnic style affair at a place called Green Mubazzarah. It's a weird place in the foothills of Jebel Hafeet (the mountain that overlooks Al Ain). Apparently the Sheikh (the one with the palace on top of the mountain) looked down from his palace one day and decided he wanted to see some green as part of his view so he had Green Mubazzarah created. Who knows.

What I do know is they have completed this supposed vision in amazing style. Essentially it's an area of hot springs and water that irrigates the mountain and it's become a huge picnic destination for the people of Al Ain. And that's where we went for our staff picnic.

I, of course, got lost in it looking for my guys. After doing a slow tour of the area (huge children's playgrounds included) I remembered that I had some of the staff's phone numbers in my mobile.

The staff take it in turns to organise and cook the meals. The Jordanian staff were responsible for this one. I really enjoyed it - both the company of these guys (who don't speak a lot of English) and the food. They cooked fish and vegetables for me because they know I don't eat goat, and brought loads of fruit, so I was fine. Generally I am out of my comfort zone with meals in foreign lands - eating with fingers is tough (the fish was HOT off the BBQ), and the types of food on offer can sometimes be a real challenge to my taste buds (which are pretty bland).

The photos give a glimpse of some of the attendees. Wozza is easy to spot - look for the one in the Beatle t-shirt

In keeping with the food theme - Pat and Randy have promised a FUN Christmas for us in North London (hopefully involving knives and forks). Basically it's only about 7 hours to London from Dubai so we decided on a white Christmas this year. Arsenal are playing at home against Chelski on the 27th as well and I'm aiming to get Jacky along to see the best football team in the world battle the boys from the bridge. And beat them, inshallah. We'll leave the UAE on the 23rd and return in time for school to start the next trimester on January 2.

Love and peace - Wozza

Saturday, December 11, 2010

She's 200 years old (Frank Zappa)

This is post number 200!!! Wow - to quote The Grateful Dead - What a long strange trip it's been (from Truckin'). I will revisit post number ONE briefly for nostalgic purposes.

It was posted on June 30th 2008. Here is an excerpt:

So what have I/we been up to? Okay well the holidays were spent working around the house - painting the outside took ages (mostly coz Jacky lost interest and I just needed to get it done before school started). Jacky and I also built two lean-tos - one for the tractor and one for the horse float - these were built onto the sides of the haybarn. They're still up so, so far so good.

Last weekend Samantha started at Victoria University - Jacky handled herself with control but I lost it on the way home - and I was the same when Adam went back to NZ from England and Keegan left home so no change there. The house is certainly feeling different (emptier/quieter/tidier!!).

Okay that'll do it for the first one - I'm aiming for one a week!!

Interesting that the leaving home theme continues as Jade gets set to return to university in the new year and we have left home again.

I am proud of exceeding the roughly one entry a week thing though, and maintaining a good pace in the blog. I get a lot of feedback from whanau saying they love reading about our adventures, and PJ hasn't sent in any corrections for a while - so I must be doing okay (careful, careful).

A couple of special days for the boys: happy birthday to Adam for the 11th!! Adam turned 24. Wow - he's getting on a bit isn't he. Keegan will get the next phone call. He turns 26 on the 19th.

Next post I'll tell you about my first picnic with the school staff (and tell you about our holiday plans to revisit London and hang out with Randy and Pat).

Love and peace - Wozza

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gimme shelter or I'm gonna fade away (Rolling Stones)

Jacky and I had an amazing day at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. What a magnificent feat of engineering and beauty. We needed this after a series of really frustrating driving maneuvers took us down either blind alleys or six lane super highways going in the opposite direction. We made it though and it was worth it.

Some stats for you: It's the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the eighth largest mosque in the world. It is large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshippers. The main prayer hall (for men) can accommodate up to 9,000 worshippers. Two rooms next to the main prayer hall, with a 1,500-capacity each, are for the exclusive use of women.

There are four minarets on the four corners of the mosque which rise about 115 m (377 ft) in height. There are 57 domes covering the outside yard and the main building as well. The domes are decorated with white Bianco marble from Pietrasanta, Italy and the interior decoration is made of white marble from Laas, Italy. The courtyard is paved with floral marble designs and measures about 17,000 m2 (180,000 sq ft).

It has to be seen to be believed. Men and women have to dress appropriately, of course, so this means Jacky had to don an abaya and hijab to enter the mosque. It was worth it though cos I got some great pics. Enjoy!!

There is a kind of moat around the mosque to purify the airways. Makes for a very tranquil atmosphere.

Each of the marble columns has this flower tile mosaic. Very elaborate.

Everywhere around us were people taking photos. I volunteered to take some group photos of some Japanese tourists and then they wanted me (and then Jacky) in the photo too, so...

Jacky visited the ladies' bathroom and was amazed at the ornate decorations.

Below is the main prayer room for men. It has a huge chandelier as its centrepiece and the world's biggest piece of carpet. Pictured here is the wall wherein are inscribed the 99 names of Allah.

This was a very peaceful experience. I took this photo by the Sheikh's mausoleum where readers take it in turns to read from the Qur'an, twenty-four/seven! It is a very serene place.

Love and peace - Wozza

A voice says, "Hi, hello, how are you? Well, I guess I'm doin' fine" (Rolling Stones)

Some shots from National Day celebrations at my school: with the vice-principal and feathered friend; sitting with the Principal and other staff; dancing!; and with Abdulla and Nadal.

Love and peace - Wozza

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I live in an apartment on the 99th floor of my block (Rolling Stones)

This post comes to from Deno's apartment in the middle of Abu Dhabi.

The trip from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi is pretty interesting. Each direction is three or four lane blacktop with a median strip made up of endless date palms. The irrigation system on the palms stretches the whole way (about 1 and a half hours travelling at 120 kph). On each side of the blacktop are date farms that have been reclaimed from the desert. Again - each date palm has its own watering system. Staggering. After that is desert and sand dunes with snakes and scorpions as far as the eye can see. It's a vast landscape.

We got horribly lost on our first night here, trying to find Deno's place. There is a rabbit warren of streets and high rise buildings with billions of cars either parked in haphazard ways, or moving, with very few left turns available. So if you take a right turn, and it's wrong - it is a nightmare to even retrace your steps.

Still - we eventually found it and immediately found a car-park (a minor miracle) where the car has stayed for two days now. Dene's place is very central so we've walked everywhere: the Abu Dhabi mall; the Formal Park; the corniche; and the Hamdan Centre amongst other places.

The Hamdan centre has King's Recordings - a CD/ DVD shop that is really well stocked and has cheaper prices than Doha or the Virgin stores I've found. Al Ain has no real CD store - only what you find in the supermarkets so this was a revelation. Needless to say I stocked up!! Jacky spent her time in the Gift Garden getting nick knacks.

Jacky, unfortunately has woken with a migraine today - the bright lights from last night's trek are to blame - so I've filled in the time reading. I found a copy of Keith Richards' autobiography Life in an Al Ain bookshop and it is a really really addictive book. Doesn't read like tape recorded series of memories - more like an actual written memoir and it is unbelievably great. Keef is, of course, keef - honest, direct, intelligent, funny, with music oozing out of every pore. Gotta love him!

I especially loved reading about his early life and relationships along the way. Of course the big personality looming over things along with Keef is Mick and he doesn't pull any punches describing that dynamic. It's revealing, fascinating and made me want to go back to the music on every page.

Okay so I want to get back to it again so I'll chuck some pictures from the last few days of Abu Dhabi.

Love and peace - Wozza

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday afternoon, I'm just beginning to see (The Moody Blues)

It is, in fact a Tuesday afternoon. The students went home ages ago (they finish at 1.15 pm) and so have the staff (they finish at 1.16 pm). My advisory team have also left and so my car is alone in the car park. Here it is - we have a little Nissan Tiida hatch that scoots around the streets of Al Ain. Cute huh?

I thought it was probably about time I explained where in the world we are. So here is a map and some touristy info. As you can see Al Ain is about 90 mins drive from Abu Dhabi (going west) and Dubai (going north). We took about 2 hours getting to Abu Dhabi on the weekend because we didn't exheed the 120 kph speed limit and took a breather at a gas station for a coca-cola. And you can see on the map how close we are to the Oman border - I literally drive alongsiide it to get home.

The touristy bit:

Characterized by resplendent, red-hued sand dunes and a magnificent expanse of towering mountains, the city of Al Ain has much to offer during UAE holidays. Less two hours from bustling Dubai, Al Ain is one of the largest cities in the UAE and officially part of the Abu Dhabi Emirate. Glimpses of bountiful sand dunes through the tree lined highway toward Al Ain UAE affords excellent scenery on a drive toward the city.

There are many Al Ain attractions to explore during a visit to the city. After a hearty breakfast at one of the many great Al Ain restaurants, there are many things to do that will easily fill up the days quickly. Al Ain has long been a destination for many sheikhs of the UAE who enjoy the cooler temperatures as a welcome respite from the rest of the country’s muggy coastal humidity. Aside from the well-appreciated microclimate enjoyed during an Al Ain vacation, the many forts, some still in ruins and others well-restored, are part of a series of archaeological sites visitors can tour. UAE’s history shines through among these ruins, revealing age-old settlements which once thrived in the area.

Also known as the “Garden City of the Gulf” the oases provides ample amounts of water to the region allowing for many scenic parks and manicured gardens to flourish with lush, exotic plants. The vibrant and blooming city is yet another reason why so many choose to visit. It offers a beautiful contrast from the often stark and arid desert landscape. Though the coastal cities such as Umm Al Quwain and Sharjah carry a more tourist feel, Al Ain UAE has a more traditional Arabic atmosphere, affording a more authentic UAE experience. Points of interest include the Camel Souk, or market, camel races, the Al Ain Museum and the Ain Al-Faydhah Resort, a facility filled with innumerable kinds of entertainment.

We're off to Abu Dhabi for the weekend (staying at Aussie Dene's swanky downtown crib) so I'll take some pictures of that for the next entry.

Okay - time for me to get into the Tiida and drive home.

Love and peace - Wozza

Friday, November 19, 2010

Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky (Kansas)

Our first week in Al Ain has seen us doing the touristy bit with visits to the local zoo and the nearby mountain, called Jebel Hafeet. We've sussed out the shops and got ourselves lost many times but somehow found our way about. Luckily Ande left us her car for the week and that was a great help. We've managed to organise our own car now, a little Nissan Tiida hatchback, that looks hilarious next to the local all terrain vehicles.

We've also bought a few things - a DVD player is a key one and timely given that I found season 8 of 24 in a little store selling mainly Arabic tapes, VHS movies and what looks like movies on CDs. Weird, but 24 was the real deal. Needless to say we spent yesterday gorging ourselves on it and we're already 6 episodes in. And it's brilliant!! So far the best season of all.

Sportwise I have access to about 10 channels of football - Champions league, Premier League and from elsewhere. I watched a limp England team lose to France during the week and today Arsenal take on Spurs at the Emirates at a great time for me - 4.45 in the afternoon!

Anyway, back to the zoo and Jebel Hafeet. Here are the photos:

First up is this wolfus scratch-a-lotis. We watched him for a good five minutes as he tried to attend to an itch of mega proportions.

The mountain in the background is Jebel Hafeet and believe me it's taller than it looks! This exhibit was a favourite as the rhinos and Giraffes and gazelles had a huge shared area to live in.

The whole zoo was set out well and all of the enclosures were clean, had shade and water and the animals were well looked after. A major contrast to the zoo in Doha which was none of those things.

It being the Middle East though, even the zoo is undergoing change and had the requisite cranes of a human kind sharing with the other sort.

Our trip up the mountain was also eventful. I underestimated the amount of petrol it would take us to get up and back. Mainly because the mountain is very deceptive. It doesn't look that big until you drive up it in steep winding curves (although the English warning sign says: Beware - Wind Road). So it took us two attempts but oh man (sorry - couldn't resist) - it was worth it.

The views across to Oman (first shot below) and over Al Ain (behind Jacky) are fantastic.

On the top are two complexes - one is the Mecure Hotel and the other is one of the Sheikh's many palaces. This is what you see below. Staggering views and a sheer drop are its two immediate features.

We stayed until the sunset settled in (quite early - about 5.30pm) and Jacky took these shots as we drove down the hill back into Al Ain.

Love and peace - Wozza