Friday, June 3, 2011

Where is the Rain?

Al Ain is called ‘The Garden City’, with its name literally meaning ‘The Spring’ because of the many oases located around the city and trees that line either side of most roads, but… “Where is the Rain?’. To put into perspective of how little rain falls here, in the last 9 months of living here I have seen rain a total of three times. And yet many plants grow here.

All the plants are supported by an underground irrigation system to supply water. And manure is mixed with the sand to make it fertile because there is no soil. So even with a lack of rainfall in this tropical desert climate, things are made to grow.

Each time it has rained, I was able to experience something new. The first time it rained was over a weekend in December. The drainage system gets clogged up with sand, so when it does rain like that weekend, water gets backed up. Hence the river that formed in front of my building that ran down the entire street… it had a pretty fast current and everything.

The next time it rained was over night on a weekday; it didn’t rain much and I didn’t think much of it until on my way to school when I got a phone call from one of my student’s parents. They called to ask me if the school was closed because of the rain… I couldn’t help but laugh, but apparently it is a common thing to close down the school when it rained.

This past week it rained during the day and I was able to witness first hand the reaction to rain and it was a sight. People run out to the streets to stand out in the rain and run around; they make the most of something that comes so infrequent. I was pretty happy to see the rain as well, that was until the smell of it just got to me. Rain here certainly doesn’t have that fresh, clean smell it does back home; smells more like dirt and wet sand.

Bryan the Camel says…
What you call rain; I call shower time!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Do You Have Sunflower Seeds?

At all of the schools here in Al Ain, morning assemblies are held outside to start off the school day.  They begin with daily ‘exercises’; that is if you can call clapping your hands as you spin around while the physical education teacher barks which direction to turn exercise.  After that hard core, blood pumping, invigorating exercise regime; the whole school sings the UAE national anthem.  There is nothing like starting off the morning with off-key, miss-sung, high pitched singing, it makes putting up with the hot 40 degree plus sun raise burning through your back less painful.  Just then when you think it’s almost over and you can escape from this torture soon enough that you can almost begin to feel the cool air from the A/C, you get smacked with reality when you get hit with sunflower seed shells.  Just then you know its not going to be a good day.

“Do you have sunflower seeds?” along with, ‘Take out your text book’, ‘Stop fighting’ and ‘I don’t understand Arabic’ are 4 phrases that I repeat constantly.  My day is spent so often saying those phrases that I would be able to get through a whole day if I was restricted to only saying them.

After I getting hit with sunflower seeds I knew it was time to find out who had them.  The problem is that once the students enter the school with sunflower seeds, you will find the classroom floor completely covered in sunflower seed shells.  The students spit them out like they are camels out in the desert with a complete disregard to who will clean up after them.  That means I now have to stand outside until the students forfeit over their seeds… told you it wasn’t going to be a good day.

Bryan the Camel Says…
             هل لديك بذور عباد الشمس؟

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Now Who’s Laughing?

It has been a while since I last posted anything because of my two-week holiday at the end of the second term last month.

The end of the second term meant final exams; the time of year were students become desperate because they know full well they are not prepared for the exams coming up.  So this begins the ensue of panic where students approach teachers for last minute reviews of everything that was mentioned in class; and I mean this literally.  Students come up to you asking for you to quickly go through the entire term from beginning to end because they never listened to you before, but are ready to listen now.  And it is unfortunate to say that students do this because it is common for the teachers here to give the questions/answers straight from the exam during these review periods.  Hence why my review periods usually end up empty after the first 5 minutes when the students realize I wont me giving answers away.

For me, the exam time here has become the part of the year I enjoy the most.  I have to put up with an entire term of students misbehaving, not listening, homework incompletion, assignments not handed in, projects that have obviously been purchased from the local store that sell ready-made-projects for students to buy instead of actually do themselves, and just a complete lack of respect.  So, I reflect back on all this as I write my science exams. 

The exam periods are two hour long, but most teachers write exams that are completed in the first 15 minutes of the exam; and students are use to this.  So when it came to the science exam, students where stunned to see exams 12 pages long that would in fact take up the entire two hours to complete.  The greatest joy for me was after about 10 minutes after the exam started, I saw most of my grade 9 students with their hands up and worried expressions across their faces.  Assuming they had a question, I approached the student closest to me and noticed there was fear in his eyes.  I asked what was wrong and he responded with the most sincere look and a desperate voice: “Sir, if I bring in a project can I get bonus marks?”  And it was at that moment that I laughed to myself and thought… ‘Now Who’s Laughing!?’ 

Bryan the Camel says…
            That’s what I call a spit in the eye!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Are You Happy Here?

I understand that situations and circumstances are depended on how one chooses to react to them.  And if one chooses to make the most of what is presented in life; then a bad situation can be made into a good one.  The reason I am starting this blog on a positive note is because I have been told that my blog has a very bleak, negative, gloomy tone.  This comment is usually followed up with the question… ‘Are you happy here?’

Now in an attempt not to disturb the can of worms which look like might just burst if I dissect the answer to that question and send me off on the next plane out of here; I decided instead to compile a top 10 list on the things that I have enjoyed/discovered thanks to being here.

10.  Learning about a different culture and language
I am proud of the little Arabic I have been able to pick up

9.  Discovering Za’atar
A condiment made of dried herbs, Arab species, sesame seeds and dried sumac

8.  Discovering Labneh
A thickened, strained Arab yogurt

7.  Bounty Chocolate ice cream bars
Never knew it was possible to make Bounty Chocolate Bars any better, but making them into ice cream certainly did!

6.  Living alone
I have demonstrated to myself that I can live alone, although tough, I can do it           

5.  Arabic Sweets
Butter, sugar, nuts all married together in light, flaky, crisp pastry…need I explain more

4.  Dates (the fruit)
There are numerous varieties and many different things that can be done with them; like jams, drinks, mixing them with chocolate and/or nuts

3.  Seeing Camels
I still get excited when I see camels in the far distant roaming the desert.

2.  Exploring Abu Dhabi and Dubai
What tremendous cities to visit and explore; so much to offer and experience

1.    Costa Coffee
Do not think this one needs explanation

Bryan the Camel says…
           No wonder you’ve been getting heavy to carry around… over half the list is food related!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Am I A Good Teacher?

The past few weeks have been not been the greatest weeks for me as a teacher.  And although this has not been the first time I have questioned my teaching ability, it surly has made me pay more attention to that deep little voice inside that asks… “Am I a good teacher?”

With each new adventurist situation, like the grade 9 students throwing chips from their window to the grade 1 – 3 students during recess and telling them to eat it as if they are monkeys in a zoo; that once almost inaudible voice gets stronger and more prominent.  It is a real disappointing scene when I am in the front of my grade 9 boy’s class attempting to teach the lesson when the whole class is not giving me the slightest amount of attention.  I have some student’s sleeping, others calling each other names in Arabic, and a few fighting in the corner.  Of course there has been improvement since September, but it is still a challenge to get order in a school with little administration support, students who don’t care about detention, homework or their marks, and the inability to communicate with parents because of language barrier.  If I can only use Arabic and quotes from the Qur’an like the Arabic teachers do to get through to the students.  Unfortunately all I have at my disposal is making them feel ashamed, which has to be done with broken-up English so they can understand me.  If I use too many ‘big’ words, like responsibility, agenda, unique or literacy, I lose them.  And when they tell me I am the only teacher that they somewhat behave for, I feel like I am making progress.

However, with days like today when a student sandwiches himself between the bathroom door and wall to lock himself in to avoid going to class, I feel like its one step forward, two steps back.

Bryan the Camel says…
            You need a ‘Please Don’t Feed the Animals’ sign outside the grade 9 window.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What Do I Say to That?

Things here have been interesting the last few weeks.  And really, at times just too much that I haven’t been in the mood to write any new posts. 

This past week has been just one of those weeks were the monkeys in the zoo of a school have just been wild.  Maybe it has to do with the full moon we had at the start of week, or that all other schools are getting ready for their spring break except for us, or that the dreaded summer with its painfully scorching 40 degrees Celsius plus weather has returned.  Whatever the reason for their behavior, I just know that I am thankful it’s the weekend; time to unwind and relax.

To get a glimpse on the past week I had, here are a few of the situations I was faced with that really left me thinking… ‘What do I say to that?’

-       When the nephew of the owner of the school says, “Turn off the A/C my uncle is paying for that”.
-       Student calls another kid the ‘N-word’, and when you take him to the office, administration does absolutely nothing about it except take the students word over yours when he says he never said that.
-       Grade 9 Student kicks another kid in the stomach and he drops to the floor.  When the discipline coordinator comes in the classroom the whole class tells him he fell off the desk, no one did anything to him; including the kid who got kicked.
-       Homeroom class students pull everything off the walls; posters, classroom rules, seating plan and calendar and write ‘hahaha no my calendar Mr. Sir’ where the calendar use to be.

I know that I am still fresh out of teachers college, but I can certainly guarantee that during Methods class we never discuses scenarios like that. 

Bryan The Camel says…
      You need to go for a camel ride… 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who is Bryan The Camel?

I know many people have wondered ‘Who is Bryan The Camel?’  And why would I name my blog that.

Well it actually all started about a year ago, when I was still in teachers college applying anywhere and everywhere for a teaching job.  I knew that a job in Ontario would not be so easily to come by with the surplus of teachers going on and the lack of expected interview numbers projected for the up coming school year.  That was when I decided that I should also think about applying overseas for a teaching job.  I looked up the different recruitment organizations and came across put me in contact with the recruitment officer of Canada and his name was Bryan.  Bryan was very helpful in not only finding me a job, but also in helping me make the decision for taking the job and to get mentally prepared for the move half-way across the world.  He also provided a lot of good information about living in the UAE.  In the emails sent, there was a constant joke about me getting a camel when I arrived in Al Ain to be used as a means of transportation.

So when I decided to start a blog to help keep in touch with people back home and to use as an outlet to express the journey I was going through, the first step was to think of a name.  I didn’t want to use my full name and I wanted the name of the blog to reflect my situation some how and give the blog a theme.  Thus the name ‘Bryan the Camel’ came to me and I thought it was a perfect fit.

Bran the Camel says…
            Thanks for coming along for the ride!