Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hate to leave you here babe, but you treat me so unkind (Eric Clapton)

Rambling Man (You may say I'm a dreamer - Chapter 10 part 12)

The rambling days were to continue with a briefish Chinese connection before a return to stability in 2013.

When I left Al Ain in 2012 and returned to our new house in Otane, Hawke's Bay, I expected to get a job easily - not because I was cocky - but because I was prepared to take anything from English teaching upwards.

Instead I applied for three Principal jobs, was short listed and interviewed for all three (Dannevirke, Central Hawke's Bay, Havelock North) but in each case the job went to a Principal in another NZ school. Doh!

Not one English job came up, and no other management jobs that I could even apply for. Doh!

Instead Peter Joyce got in touch - was I interested in a job in China? Well yes Pete - sure, why not? Nothing else was happening in Hawke's Bay.

It would be working for an American guy (Luis Alcarez) and his Chinese business partner (Maria), as Principal of a school helping prospective Chinese pilots gain relevant English skills.

I flew to Christchurch to get some professional development from Airways (who were somehow involved) and, after installing a house sitter in Red Phoenix Farm, Jacky and I left NZ for Wuxi.

With no clue as to what we'd face we arrived in Shanghai and met Maria and our translator, Wood. He also drove us around, for a start to Wuxi - about 50 minutes west of Shanghai. 

It was winter, and freezing cold. 

We headed to our apartment (10th floor) and battled the cold (the heat pump ironically froze the outside water pipes and we had no water for a while), the new city (six million in Wuxi so a small town by Chinese standards), and a new job (Wood and his wife, Tina, and Lois were very friendly, as were the students).

We bought two push bikes and cycled around Wuxi in our spare time, exploring the malls, shopping centres and parks.

Funnily enough - we were the only westerners on bikes! Actually we were pretty much the ONLY people on bikes. In modern China it's all about electric scooters.

While it lasted, it was great but soon enough the American connection to the company dropped out and Maria stopped paying the staff. Doh! Kevin Simms' warnings were spot on!

During the 2013 Chinese new year we were given a one way ticket back to NZ. The (Chinese) writing was on the wall.

Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - the most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia".

So, during this time I had applied for two jobs back in Hawke's Bay - one was Deputy Principal at Woodford House in Havelock North. Didn't hear anything back - Jackie Barron must have seen the Chinese postmark and put one and two together.

When we returned to Otane, I applied for a second time to Woodford House - Head of English. This time I popped in to see her and hand delivered my application.

That did the trick. I no longer had rambling on my mind!

Love and peace - Wozza

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Midnight at the oasis, send your camel to bed (Maria Muldaur)

Rambling Man (You may say I'm a dreamer - Chapter 10 part 11)

The northern Purdy clan gathers at Christine's
for Irene's 90 not out party!

Life in the Al Ain years was good. Really good! Work (as detailed in the previous post was great) but the lifestyle for me and Jacky was terrific as well.

Jacky and her ex pat wife friends used the malls as gathering places. And then they shopped! Suffice to say we brought a lot of stuff home to NZ afterwards - cushions, bedding, shoes, clothes, art work, CDs, stereos, TVs , and so on - A LOT of stuff!

Along the way we had frequent overseas trips: back to NZ and Waiheke Island; to the UK to see Christine, Irene and the rest of the Purdy clan; and memorably the Christmas 2011 trip to London for the most wonderful and gayest Christmas celebration of all time with Patrick/ Randy and their friends.

Wozza and Jade at the
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Meanwhile back in the UAE, we moved from The Gardens apartments to Yellow Jimi - another enclave of ex pat Cognition workers (think Melrose Place) - we were neighbours of Graeme and Jansy, Pete and Paula, Brett and Margie and Gavin and Noella on the top floor. They were all awesome kiwi friends.

Our downtimes were spent walking (often to the Al Jimi mall), with weekend road trips to Dubai and the Dubai Mall (OMG - I LOVE the Dubai Mall), Mall of the Emirates (playing at Ski Dubai with Jade), Burjuman Centre. We also did frequent road trips to Abu Dhabi (great music store there - Kings Recording), with the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque a constant highlight. We went on tours of Dubai (with visitors like Brian Smith and Jade), Jacky went for frequent riding sessions at the Al Ain equestrian centre (while I walked for an hour around the complex). Camel rides in the desert and visits to Al Ain zoo were great too.

A lot of dates were consumed!
Life in the sandpit  was a full on experience! 

I loved it - the consistently great weather, the people, the sand dunes, the coffee treats in the malls, the shopping, the cheap petrol!

Shame it had to end but the unreal bubble life does have a use by date. By the end, Jacky had had enough extended holiday (she hadn't worked for three years) and it was time for another change. We'd bought a house in Hawke's Bay and I was confident I'd pick up some kind of teaching job - management or just English teaching would have been fine.

With my usual naive spirit of optimism I returned to NZ  in June 2012 (Jacky had left in January to work through possession of the house - Red Phoenix Farm).

The hope was the rambling years were at an end, some stability and security was the thinking. But more post is needed before that would happen!

Love and peace - Wozza

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Locking in the pocket a smile (The House Of Love)

Rambling Man (You may say I'm a dreamer - Chapter 10 part 10)

Abdulla, Nidal and Abu Keegan on National Day.

When Jacky and I arrived in Al Ain we were very pleasantly surprised on a number of fronts.

Jacky and Al Ain in the distance from Jabal Ali

My old muckers from Doha - Colin Donald, and Graeme McFadyen were in the UAE as lead advisers and Brett Sloan from Taranaki was also in Al Ain. I was amongst friends.

CJ, Brucie, Brett, Graeme, Ali and our Principals
Our accommodation at the Gardens apartment complex was fabulous, close to the Hilton and its gym, close to Bawadi Mall, and only a 25 minute commute to Al Foah on the northern side of Al Ain for me.

Trees and gardens and manicured hedges were everywhere in this beautiful oasis town. We fell in love with it - the place (apart from the traffic and the madness of driving), the lifestyle and when I got to Ali bin Abi Taleb school - the people!

Jan Thomas - a good egg
My blog post before I started work at the school holds up -

This excites me no end. I've missed being in a school; a place I've lived in for the last 26 years. 
Schools are special places with their own individual worlds. Each school world has its own culture, its own characters and customs and ways of doing things. There are leaders and helpers, outsiders who interact with the organisation, rules and regulations, parents and their children - all moving and working in a symbiotic relationship. The movement can be in a variety of directions but when all are working together in a positive way a school is a force to be reckoned with.
Yeah, okay - I admit - I started with a positive attitude but then it all got better and better. I've loved plenty of my jobs but this one was special. Really special!

Mohammed at work 
When I started at the school, there was only me. No translator (so English teachers like Nidal, Magdi and others helped me hugely); I was the Lead Adviser but also the Arabic and English adviser. Two guys in Graeme McFadyen's team came over to lend a hand in maths and science a few hours a week but generally for a few months it was just me.

And it was great. Really great! I had time to settle in and get to know people and the routines.

With Mohammed and his ESOL teacher
The Principal - Mohammed and his deputy, Fadhil, welcomed me with open arms and hearts!

The English teachers (Nidal, Magdi), Mohammed the librarian, the Arabic teachers (Abdulla, Shaban, Salem, Abdul), Hassan the art teacher, and Khalifa would all became special friends. 

Eventually an advisory team was constructed and support came in the form of a (great) translator - Hisham, ESOL advisers came to help Mohamed and Fadhil like David Wallace, and other advisers arrived on a more permanent basis: Dave (Davego) in science, Alvin in maths initially and then the wonderful Jan Thomas, Gavin - IT, and Pete Kehayioff in English.

Music teacher, Ahmed, at taboor
As a team we hummed! Although...going out a limb here - don't think Dave and Alvin liked each other much!

During my blogging at this time I wrote the following post: 

Here's my list (in no particular order) of 25 things to be thankful for in my job as Lead Adviser at Ali bin Abi Taleb School.
    1. The laughter I hear in the corridor outside my office every day (from a revolving cast).
    2. Air conditioning - couldn't do it without you Mr General.
    3. Barbecues organised by the irrepressible Abdulla
    4. My dream team of advisers. Take a bow Jan, Peter, Davego, David, and Gavin.
    5. Sharing an office with our translator, Hisham (a mutual support network of two).
    6. The band at taboor (assembly) every morning.
    7. Watching the teachers walk arm in arm with students.
    8. Shaking hands with students at break time.
    9. The Arabic teacher meetings - a riot of laughs.
    10. Morning greetings with the staff and handshakes all 'round.
    11. It's a boys' school with an all male staff - alhamdolilah (praise to God).
    12. It's a Cycle Two school (Grade 6-9) so nowhere near the same pressures as in Cycle Three.
    13. Mohammed, the Principal.
    14. Holy Qur'an readings by the students which float in the morning breezes.
    15. The view of the trees outside my office window.
    16. School rituals.
    17. The music coming from Ahmed's room (with Nidal's singing from time to time).
    18. Abdulla (one of the Arabic teachers) and his daily greetings.
    19. The boys' enthusiastic singing of the national anthem at taboor.
    20. The friendly warm relationships.
    21. Vice-Principal Fadhil's laugh and cheeky smile.
    22. The enthusiasm for learning and embracing change.
    23. The lack of private agendas that sabotage improvements for students.
    24. The sweet black tea.
    25. The open gate that symbolizes a lot about the welcoming atmosphere at the school. 
That sums up my feelings - these two years were a wonderful part of my life with an incredible cast of characters! 

Salaam alaykum - Abu Keegan bin Graham Purdy

Monday, January 9, 2017

Here comes the nice (Small Faces)

Rambling Man (You may say I'm a dreamer - Chapter 10 part 9)

Meanwhile back in Stratford...I was back with the sheep!

When Jacky and I returned to Taranaki in July of 2010 we found the family all geographically spread out. While we were in Stratford, Keegan was at Auckland University doing his masters degree, Adam was at Waikato University, Samantha was either in San Francisco or Wellington with Jesse, and Jade was in Palmerston North doing her nursing degree.

This is how we continue to live - geographically spread out. It's just what we do.

I decided on a few things. First, I'd said farewell to the Indian barbers of our neighbourhood hair cutting souq in central Doha. Cheap - 15 QR, and great if you liked a buzz cut with an upper body massage thrown in and some sweet smelling scent chucked on the bristles. Hygiene wasn't big on their agenda. Actually, it wasn't anywhere on their agenda. But they were cheap!

So - I was growing my hair!

Secondly, I wanted to return to university to work on my doctorate, rather than get another teaching position so I sussed out Massey and Waikato for what they could offer me. Massey were pretty snobby and unhelpful but Waikato were much friendlier so I started planning. 

A PhD in English or education? I was excited.

In the meantime Adam graduated with his music/Japanese centred BA, Jacky went back to work at New Plymouth's Base Hospital. and me? Well - I did house renovations and watched Lost In Space boxed sets!!

Then Cognition rang. There was a contract available in the United Arab Emirates - working as a Lead Adviser in a school in Al Ain - an oasis town of some 400, 000 people in the heart of the desert, about 90 minutes from Dubai heading south.

I said, no thanks! I'm enrolling in the doctoral programme at Waikato University.

Weeks went by. I decided to opt for an Education focus...but...

...the thought of new adventures in the Middle East gnawed away at me. I told Jacky (who already knew what was coming). Cognition rang me back - was I interested yet? This time, I said, YES!

We were heading back to the Middle East for a two year contract, to Al Ain. The rambling days were not done with just yet!

Love and peace - Wozza

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Where trouble melts like lemon drops, high above the chimney top, that's where you'll find me (Judy Garland)

Rambling Man (You may say I'm a dreamer - Chapter 10 part 8)

Wozza goes to Doha.

Qatar and its main city Doha were huge unknowns. We had no idea what to expect.

The internet can only tell so much and the initial one day induction by Cognition people in Auckland didn't provide me much light and shade either.

It was a big adventure. I was living my Dream Big mantra that I'd shared with my students at Stratford High School.

Jade, Jacky and I arrived in Doha in November of 2009 and were met at the airport by one of my new in-country bosses - Colin Donald. He took us to our new apartment in an older section of Doha - close to the famous Souq Waqif. 

Apartment 704 of Legends Hotel Resort and Spa, Corner of B Ring Road and Najma St., Najma District, was to be our new home for the next 8 months.

Wozza with Deno and our translator (photo
by the world famous Graeme McFadyen)
Initial impressions were on the whole pretty good - Colin seemed to be a good guy, the heat in Doha was okay at 25 degrees, and the apartments were modern and spacious. The cleanliness of our place wasn't up to Jacky standard though so we spent the first few hours cleaning. My working life started with interviewing prospective Principals with Colin (CJ), Graeme McFadyen and Dene Bright (Deno) in a swanky hotel. 

I still have no idea what this was for really as nothing came of the process, but we did the interviews over three days as we were instructed. These first work days were all a bit of a blur really - given the culture shock, the working with translators and finding my place in the scheme of things.

Luckily Deno was a dryly hilarious Aussie bloke who I immediately had rapport with, Colin was laid back and cool and I knew Graeme already.

While I was doing this, Jacky and Jade were learning more about Mall culture, taxis, and how women are regarded in the Middle East.

Wozza with Andie, Reem and Rami
Given they are both blond, very attractive women, and in Jade's case feisty with it, the transition wasn't an easy one.

When we walked down to the souq in the evening there were no other women around, local or otherwise. Jade and Jacky attracted a lot of attention and Jade especially hated that.

Breakfast with the team (Ian next to me)
After a couple of months Jade decided she'd had enough and needed to head back to NZ and get ready for university life in Wellington. This was after we'd been camel riding on a desert safari in a beautiful part of Qatar's border with Saudi Arabia.

Michelle and Gavin have helped look after each of our children during these transitional moments and Jade also had Samantha in Wellington (she'd moved into a flat) so we felt relatively relaxed about things. 

She started at Victoria but quickly realised she wasn't doing a course she liked nor did she like Wellington, unlike Samantha. Instead, she decided to go to Massey at Palmerston North to do nursing.

Colin was the leader of our Leadership Project team - a mixed bag of people from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, with some local translators thrown into the mix. Half the team were preparing for a big project that was in the planning stages, the other half (including me) was delivering professional development to a group of 80 to 90 Qatari Principals who had been fired by the ministry. They were pretty grumpy - they had to attend our sessions to get paid!

We were working in a marriage venue called Regency Halls - two huge halls with a smaller hall attached. We were in the smaller hall!

John Lambert and I were joined by Karin (a.k.a. Barbie) and/or Aussie Di with Refka and Reem as our translators. Hilarity ensued!

Colin, Wozza, Deno, John and Deno's son.

It's impossible to describe the atmosphere and the craziness that happened on a daily basis (two days we worked from the office to prepare sessions, and three days we delivered seminars).

A few memories - watching some Principals being dropped off at the entrance to sign in (to get their pay), then immediately walk through the venue to where their driver picked them up. The female Principals were very much in a minority - about 15 of them and they could not mix with the men. Breakfast  happened after the first session - exotic foods that took me forever to get used to.

At Regency Halls with my bros.
It occured to me as I was writing this post that I had blogged about all this stuff at length back in 2009 - 2010 (a sample can be found here, including some images of my co-workers like Barbie). Re reading my entries was a hoot - just go to Blog Archive (bottom of the right hand column) and dial into 2009!

After the course finished with the Ministry Principals I was seconded onto another team (called National Professional Standards) - again delivering PD to Qatari leaders with Andie and Aussie Ian Smythe with Rami and Reem as translators. 

It was still cool but not as much riotous fun as the John led team. Eventually that contract ended too and by the end of June 2010 we were back in at our house in Stratford, New Zealand.

It had been a blast! Doha was an experience, an adventure and a half, with some amazing people and some challenging times with no professional regrets!

Love and peace - Wozza