It’s All About the Journey…..

We have to really educate ourselves in a way about who we are, what our real identity is.

Deepak Chopra

            It’s funny. I’m sitting here, in an airport, reflecting on these past two years as I prepare to make this journey for the last time. Two years ago, I remember arriving in this very airport quite terrified and intimidated. Now I sit here, feeling quite relaxed (and quite tired, as it’s the middle of the night because that is the ONLY time flights seem to leave here) waiting for the flight that finally takes me home for good.

         Two years ago before I began this journey, I wrote myself a letter in one of my very first posts. (see original post here) As I await this much anticipated, and looooong flight home, I want to take a moment to write this girl back. The one that sat home day, after day, waiting for the flight that would bring her here to start this crazy and fascinating chapter in her life.

 

 

Dear Future Ali…..or Dear Ali in the year 2014….عزيزعلي (just in case I am now fluent in Arabic)

 Nope- not fluent. You learned about 20-30 basic words, but your students liked to giggle at you when you tried to pronounce them correctly. You tried, however, and they appreciated you for it.

 You are a week out of leaving the continent. You are heading to a place actually hotter than Phoenix. You are leaving your husband, family, and friends here. Scared now? DUH. But are you scared in 2014? OR are you sad to be moving back to the U.S.? Here are things I am scared about now. First off, let’s address the whole, “getting arrested” issue. Really? However, it is the Middle East. Hm, I know not to eat or drink in public during Ramadan. I know not to kiss, hug, hold hands, or even bat my eyelashes with my husband when he visits. I know not to discuss politics or religion…..I don’t even do that here! So aside from racking up a bunch of debt- I think I’m good? (ok, so in case I could get arrested for even joking about that last statement, let’s be clear- the only debt I’m racking up is here in the states….which brings me to my next fear……)

First of all, no- you aren’t scared anymore. You have frustrations with language barriers occasionally and the very different way things work here, but scared? No. And yes, you are a bit sad to leave. But only because you really like the person you have become here, and don’t want to lose that feeling. Oh, yeah- and you didn’t get arrested!

I’m BROKE! Not having any income for a 6 week summer is one thing. But now, I have a 3 MONTH summer. My Bill Me Later and credit card company LOVE me at the moment. I’m hoping that I will start crawling out of debt once the first couple of paychecks hit my bank account and then perhaps I can start *gasp* saving money????

Ok, who were you kidding with the whole “saving money” thing? Some things never change! However, you always paid your bills back home, and still had money left over to enjoy your life here. You were also quite indulgent at times (don’t get me started on the whole “brunching” phenomenon!). And you traveled! You went to places like the Black Forest in Germany, went on a safari in Kenya, rode an elephant in Sri Lanka and watched the sunrise over the Himalayas. No worries…..you can deal with that credit card when you get home. OOPS!

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In Darjeeling, in front of the Himalayas

What about the actual job??? I have no idea if and how the students there will be completely different than the students here. I’m sure some things are universal. Right??

Your students were actually quite similar to your students back home. They came with a slightly different set of challenges, but they were still children. And you loved them………..even when they made you insane.

Then there’s that whole living alone situation. Let’s face it- I’m 40 years old and live within 3 miles of where I grew up. I have never lived on my own. I break out into hives just having my husband do a practice run on how to set up my Internet once there. Let’s not even mention what to do when the first creepy-crawly shows up in my apartment. I’m not sure calling the husband to fly 14+ hours to fulfill his bug catching marital vow will fall under the term “practical.” (Yes, that was a vow. Mine was to clean the litter box.) Ok-joking aside, this will be the hardest part of this journey. I love my family and friends and am scared to be so far away for what seems like such a long time.

Yeah, this was difficult. The night the car park collapsed in your apartment complex and they evacuated you all to a hotel was pretty traumatic. You were pretty scared, but you survived it. You learned how to trust your instincts more and figure things out on your own. You learned how to be a problem solver. Um- you still hate bugs. Fortunately, you lived on the 18th floor, so they left you alone!

So, I looked up the stages for what a person will go through whilst working abroad:

1. Honeymoon Stage (aka- vacation time!)

This really didn’t hit until about a month in. Once Ramadan was over, and the place started to come to life, you perked up and ventured out to see more.

2. Culture Shock: (aka- the Rejection Period!)

Oh yeah- there were many times like this throughout the 2 years. What changed over that time was learning who to align yourself with that helped you understand the culture here instead of making you feel bad for not knowing. There was one person who in particular that was amazingly open in answering questions you had about the religious practices and beliefs of this country. She became a very good friend to you, and she has a very special place in our heart.

3. Initial Adjustment Stage (aka- everything I know is wrong)

Yeah, yeah- see above.

4. Mental Isolation (aka- watching sad movies in Arabic and not leaving apartment)

You had some feel-sorry-for-yourself days. There were days that the thought of staying two years seemed quite unbearable.  It became a lot easier as you developed a strong circle of friends that got you out of your own head and out of your apartment. It’s ok to have days when you when you are feeling low. What’s important to remember is that those days don’t define you. It’s how you pull yourself up that does.

My circle of friends in the "sandbox"

My circle of friends in the “sandbox”

 

5. Acceptance and Integration (aka- this is pretty amazing)

Yeah. By the end of the first year, you were really enjoying the benefits of living here! By the second year, most things were quite familiar. It was really great to have family come out to see you so you could play tour-guide!

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Ok, 5 stages. I can do this. Only, can I do all the stages in one month??????

Haha! Insha’allah!

As for fear, dear future self, remember what you learned in your martial arts training? Courage isn’t about NOT having fear, but doing something in spite of it.

SO THERE. I’ll bet you are doing well in Stage 5. I will look forward to meeting you there. Until now, I will look forward to taking my fear on and knocking it down.

Sincerely, Me…..the one that is patiently waiting to travel out there

Hey-you’re a lot tougher of a broad than you thought. The lessons you learned here will follow you throughout your life. Lessons like learning that relationships are more important than business. It is really the M.O. of this country, and when you stopped being so impatient, you saw the benefits of this and began making more friends with the people around you that came from all over the world. The perspectives you gain from this is a very powerful thing. Also, it is imperative you keep a positive attitude. If you look for the good in situations and people- you will find them. If you look for the faults – you will also find them. That thought kept you afloat these two years.

You also got a small idea of what it feels like to be the minority in the room and felt the injustice of being treated differently due to your background, religion or language. I hope you hold on to how this feels, and become an advocate for the individuals that may feel this same way when they are in America.

These two years were difficult at times….many times….yet, ultimately rewarding. You leave this country a little wiser, a little stronger, and a little OLDER!

You did good, kid.

Now- go home.

Very sincerely,

Me

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Moving…..Again

It’s weird how inanimate objects can stir up emotions.  They are just things.  They don’t feel.  They can’t offer us words of comfort.  They can’t love us.  Yet, their presence, or absence, can sometimes hold power over us.

When I first moved here, one thing I was really excited about was decorating my very own place.  I had never lived on my own before, so it was a little added bonus to taking on this adventure.  On one of my first souk shopping trips, I found these two little table lamps that I just fell in love with.  They were completely impractical and didn’t even give off that much light.  I just loved them because they were pretty.  (Don’t judge)  We were still living in a hotel at the time, so it was even more silly to buy them on the spot.  But I did, and most nights, they are the only lights I turn on.

So here we are- nearly two years later.  And now it’s time to start that process of moving back home to the states.  This week, I started selling off my decorative items, leaving only the furniture for the last week here.  Today I sold those two little lights that I loved so much.  I sold them to someone who “likes pretty things.”  A kindred spirit!  🙂  I suppose I could take them back home with me, but I feel they somehow don’t belong there.  They represented something very unique to my own experience here.  And it’s time to let them go.  All of the wonderful experiences I have had here and all the wonderful people I have met here will always be a part of my life.  I have pictures, OH so many pictures, along with a very good memory and a very broadened outlook on this world.  You can’t sell those or give those away.  My little lights will, hopefully, now brighten someone else’s little apartment overlooking this strange and beautiful city.

First Purchase

 

Happy New Year???

Traveling with my best friend.......

Airports….either the happiest place to be, or the most depressing.  I think of where I was at mentally just over two weeks ago.  Sitting in several airports on too many layovers after too many hours of flying, but so excited to go home.  Now I sit here waiting to start the long flight back to the sandbox.  (By the way….I suppose there is something quite poetic about flying on New Year’s Eve- but at the moment, I wonder what I was thinking in booking this flight?!) I reread the blog I wrote the first time I was at this airport getting ready to go to Abu Dhabi for the first time.  There was so much pain when I wrote that.  You would think after doing this several times, it would get easier to leave.  Instead, it seems to get more difficult.  There was a point this morning, just after getting my boarding pass and saying my sad good-bye to my husband that I thought, “what if I don’t get on this plane?”  In fact, I am still sitting here at my gate wondering if it’s too late to run far away from this airport and back to our home.  This airport, that held such excitement just a mere two weeks ago, now just feels cold and quiet.

I know I’m whining, and I know there is a silver lining in all of this.  But it wouldn’t be very authentic if I only wrote about the shiny happy times in this blog.  It wouldn’t be fair to omit the challenges that come with this journey.  Anyone reading this that is considering working abroad needs to know that it is NOT EASY.  Anyone reading this that is going through the same thing needs to know that they are not alone.

Now to not be a complete Debbie Downer on New Year’s Eve……

When I next land, it will be a new year.  2014.  The year that I come home for good.  Also, I am very blessed to feel so heartbroken at separation after 18 years of marriage.  This says something!  Finally, I have received such positive feedback from so many of you.  So many kind words.  You have no idea how much they fuel me through times like this.  These things are what get me back on the plane.  These things are what keep me “sane.”  These things get me through the sad airport trips.

Thank you for listening to my rants.  Have a wonderful New Year!

Paying it Forward

So, due to what I’m seeing on social networks and responses to my blog, there are quite a few people that are working overseas and leaving loved ones behind. Last month, I posted advice for a family member that was leaving the nest for the first time. I feel the need to do this again for those of you that might be in a similar predicament as myself and dealing with feelings of homesickness or loneliness.
So, here goes…..

– First off…make friends! They will become your lifeline as you adjust to the newness of everything.
– Put yourself on some type of regular schedule. Whether it’s working out, work, cleaning….whatever. Something that gives you a sense of “normalcy”
– Give yourself distractions. Maybe it’s shopping, sightseeing, movies….whatever. Continue your regular hobbies, but don’t be afraid to pick up a new one!
(That being said, do acknowledge your feelings and deal with them. Be PRESENT                 in your life. Emotions come in all shapes and sizes…the good, the bad, and the                   outright nasty. Just remember that the largest amount of growth comes through                   adversity.)
– If you are apart from a significant other- create a regular video chat time. Commit to it, no matter how you are feeling. If you were face to face- you would be dealing with all emotions. Don’t put on a show for the sake of distance. The more normal you can make your long distance relationship, the better!
 (BTW…there are great Countdown Apps for your next time home. During those                    sad and lonely times, it will help to see your time overseas in smaller chunks.)
– Overall- appreciate this moment in your life. Remember that it takes an adventurous soul to even attempt to take this on. If you are separated from a loved one, value the fact that you can miss them. It will make your reunion that much more special!

I write this from a moment of gratitude. I feel so blessed that I not only get to have this Great Adventure, but that I have so many people supporting my success. I know that there are people reading this that are considering taking on this type of endeavor, or enduring it right now and need to connect to something. I hope these words bring a sense of comfort and camaraderie. And above all else, take one day at a time. Find peace in your journey and carry on.

Missing Home......

Mile 9

When I turned 30, I started running ½ marathons.  Since then, I have tried to run one every year…..about 10-ish?  (STOP DOING THE MATH!)  In every single one of them, I always hit this mental wall at mile 9.  The start of the race is about the excitement.  There is the crowd of anxious runners, the music, the spectators, then finally the Star Spangled Banner (which always gets me teary much to my “bad-ass” alter ego’s dismay).  Then you begin.  You dodge your way in and out of pockets of people to find your rhythm.  Your groove.  When you hit mile 6, you realize you are about half-way finished.  Yay!  Then reality slowly sinks in.  You still have another half to go.  You try to keep a positive attitude.  Then you hit mile 9. DAMN you, mile 9.  Perhaps it’s just me?  But when I hit mile 9, I no longer care that I’m “almost” there.  I’m tired, I have blisters, my toes have gone numb, my knees are screaming, I want to drink lots of water….hell, who am I kidding- I want a margarita!  (hey- I’ve lost a lot of salt at this point!)  Needless to say, at this point, I am thinking of quitting.  How lame would that be, right?  I am not the best runner.  I have no desire to do a full marathon.  It takes me about six months to train for these, and I should be thinking homestretch!  Alas, it never fails.  Low point at mile 9.  Don’t get me wrong….at mile 10 my morale starts boosting.  By 12, I’m flying to the finish.  Mile 9 just always pulls the rug out from underneath me.  I am in mile 9 of the first year of my overseas adventure.

I’ve been here since August, and only have five weeks left of my class.  My husband comes out here in three weeks.  You all are now thinking, “GET OVER IT, WOMAN.”  I’m just zapped.  I fight to stay motivated and strong.  I try to stay energized even though I keep ending up sick.  I get lonely, even though I am not alone here.  Mile 9.

I have a great summer planned ahead of me, I actually get PAID over the summer, I get to be home for more than three weeks at a time, yet I struggle to be enthusiastic.  Mile 9.

I guess the blessing of experiencing this feeling before in my life is to know that this too, shall pass.  I have accomplished a lot this year.  I have started going back to school to obtain my Masters Degree, I have lived on my own for the first time in my entire life, I have learned more about myself as a teacher here than all my previous years in the states bundled together.  So what I have learned about mile 9?  Keep focusing up, not down at my feet.  Don’t stop to walk, it’ll just be that much harder to start up again.  Look at all the runners around me.  They have got to be feeling the same way, right?  Encourage each other to keep going.  Get my best song going on my Ipod and put my game face on. Mile 10 is coming up.

Finish Line!

Dreaming of Another World (aka…more ramblings from an airport terminal)

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So sitting here in another airport bar in the midst of a 7-hour layover, heading back to Abu Dhabi after my spring break.  Then this song comes on, “Dreaming of Another World.”  It kind of hit me, because that is what this whole adventure ends up feeling like at the end of the day-some strange dream.

So there is “Arizona Ali” and “Abu Dhabi Ali.”  Apparently, these two haven’t met just yet.  I realize this, because every time I travel from one to the other, the other place seems     quite surreal.  In fact, I can’t quite tell which is home and which is a vacation anymore. And during these long commutes, I feel like I’m in this strange in-between place transitioning from one life to the other.

“Arizona Ali” is a very content Ali.  She is happily married to a wonderfully patient, kind and understanding man that supports this strange journey of hers.  She lives down the street from her family and enjoys drinking wine with them celebrating any occasion.  She is content hanging at home, loves being outside, and runs an organized- Type A kind of household.

AZ Ali and her Barbie Car (mid-life crisis car)

Oh, how I’ve missed you!

The world's best husband!

Oh, how I’ve missed you more!

“Abu Dhabi Ali” is a bit more restless.  She wants to venture out more, spend money beyond her means, eat and drink a wee bit more than she should and is often looking ahead at “what’s next?”

The Abu Dhabi Adventure Club

Making the most of my time here!

At moments like these, when I’m transitioning from one to the other, I ponder how I got here?  Can I do this another year?  And what happens when this adventure is over?  Do these two personalities harmonize? Or does one get lost in the other?

In about 5 weeks, my husband will be coming out to Abu Dhabi and meeting “Abu Dhabi Ali.”  I’m hoping that will help bridge the gap?

Can’t wait!

Head in the Clouds….

It’s that time again.  One more week, and I’m heading home for break!  It’s been a whirlwind trimester so far.  I bit the bullet and enrolled back in school to get my Masters Degree in Education.  The timing is right and with online schooling, it makes it a lot easier to commit to from another continent! I think that is why I have been a little lazy about writing here?  Anyhoo, I have recently been turned on to Word Clouds.  We are using them for assignments, and I’m quite convinced I will get addicted to these things.  If I can get the technology going, I’d love to create these with my class.  But for now?  I will share here.  I tried to encapsulate this blog in this picture.  Enjoy!  (www.tagxedo.com is da bomb!)

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End of Trimester Reflections

I’m sitting here on a looooooong layover in Germany, just finishing off my first trimester teaching, and heading home for the first time since I arrived here in August.  Many have been asking me to talk about teaching in the Middle East.  I have hesitated, because there are a lot of negative posts about teaching here.  I certainly can see those gripes and understand them, but in the same respect, I want to focus on the positives.  I have some perspective on the exasperating part of teaching.  Hell-what teacher doesn’t?  Didn’t most of us teaching here come from overworked-underpaid-underappreciated positions in the states?  Isn’t that part of what drove many of us out here?  I know that I was burned out at my job last year.  I had many behavior issues, was making crap money, and felt that I never got the pat on the back that I knew I deserved.

Perspective.

Now I’m teaching 8,000 miles away.

First off, I’m making better money.  Nuff’ said.

Second, I’m teaching roughly 165 days as opposed to the 200 I was working.  Hm, less work, more pay?  Ok….I’ll take that.

Now as far as the students.  Yes, the behavior is much more difficult to manage here.  Overall, this country is much more lenient with expectations on how kids behave.  Which creates problems in the classroom.  I would be lying if I said my first 2 months were easy.  Cuz they weren’t!

But here I am- finished with my first trimester and feeling some satisfaction with what I have achieved so far.

My two biggest behaviors in my room left me pulling out my hair everyday.  One would often run away after sitting in class for about 10 minutes.  She would run around the school and become a disruption for everyone.  The days she would stay in my room, she would create a very hostile environment and suck up all my energy.  I would take a deep breath and try my best to IGNORE the rotten behavior and pounce on her with praise the MOMENT she would do something headed in the right direction.  It was a slow process….but she started to like the praise.  Soon, she began to stay in class the full time.  When she was in a cooperative mood, she would work with other students.  When she was feeling temperamental, she would have the choice to work on her own.  Everyday, we would have fewer and fewer outbursts.  She finally got to a place where she would have a moment, take some time to calm down, then APOLOGIZE to me.  Every once and a while, she will run over to me while I’m in the middle of teaching a lesson and give me a hug.  I’m not sure what did it for her…but our relationship is in a hugely different place then it was at the beginning.

My second challenge was a little girl that was emergent in her English skills and take out her frustrations on me.  She would often yell out “Me no like English”….etc.  Sometimes I would correct her with “I don’t like English”  She failed to see the humor in that and would continue her outbursts and often sit at her table refusing to work.  Sigh….

About a month ago- something changed.  She was starting to want to speak correctly in English.  If I corrected her on something, she would repeat it back, then we would high five.  Sometimes, she would write something down and want to read it for the class.  This past week, we were conjugating verbs.  She was like a sponge with this.  So much so, that for the past few days, I would say something like “time for us to write”…in which she would yell out…
“I write”

“You write”

“She writes”….etc.

I suppose some may find this annoying….but seeing her so enthusiastic about learning English was way too much fun!

So, I’m not going to go into graphic details about teaching here.  There are gripes about teaching in any country.  If I’m going to take on this challenge for the next 2 years, I want to focus on these little victories.  I want to stay positive and make the most of my time here.  So that’s all you’re going to get from me.  J

But for now, I have way more important things to think about…….like catching my flight home!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Giving Thanks

I will keep this short and sweet today.

I am sitting on my balcony overlooking the water, watching the sun just start to make an appearance.  It is still Thanksgiving back home…..we just had our “ex-pat” version last night.  It wasn’t perfect, as we had to work, but we still tried to make it special and something familiar.  So as I sit watching the sun peek in as it has just left the other side of the world, I find myself especially thankful for so many things:

I am thankful for new friends here that help keep me “sane”

I am thankful for finally being paid decently for a job that I am good at

I am thankful for having friends and family that support this adventure

I am thankful for having a balcony that allows me to watch the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening

My amazing view

I am thankful for the Internet that allows me to stay connected with the people I love back home

I am thankful that I have a little furball here that seems to love me (although I think he plots to kill me in my sleep?)

What is he thinking right now??

I am thankful to have the most amazing husband that just cooked for Thanksgiving by himself for the first time!

And I am so very thankful that I get to go home for Christmas in 3 short weeks

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Cake That Broke the Camel’s Back?

I remember going to college the first time and being warned about the “Freshman 15”  You know- that weight you are supposed to gain your first time away from home?  That was just a smidge over 20 years ago for me.  NOW, there is the  “Abu Dhabi 10???”   (or something close- as I don’t ever step on scales)

Let’s see, I moved out here in August and was put up in a 5 star resort for about 5 weeks.  During this time we had a free breakfast buffet with EVERYTHING you could want for breakfast…..including a few things you never thought you’d have for breakfast.  And because I was broke in a country 8000 miles from home, I ate what I could to avoid spending too much for lunch or dinner.  However, when you are in a resort that is connected to a mall with a food court- temptations can be LOUD.  And even on the days you do avoid mall food or the occasional room service, you have to dine on what you can cook in your room with only a water heater.  This usually is Ramen, soup or anything else laden with sodium and carbs.  Oh yeah.  Bring on the processed foods.  Then try to fit in those jeans.  UG.

So then we move to our apartments.  I actually managed to take off the LBS. I picked up at hotel #1.  Because now I am buying and cooking for myself….and PAYING for myself, I was a bit more conservative with what I ingested.  Plus I started running again, which always helps curb boredom/I’mallaloneinaforeigncountry eating.  Managed that for a whole 3 weeks.  Then, the great collapse of 2012 happened and we moved to hotel #2.  Ah yes….the 5 star Yas Viceroy.  Only THIS time, we had ALL 3 meals comped.  And when I say “meals”- I mean full-out extravaganzas.  All you can eat.  And some days I did.  You see, I have a weakness for sweets, and boy-did they have them.  At my house, I don’t keep any thing with sugar around, because I will eat it all.  In one day.  Ok, in one sitting.   Sue me.   So now, every buffet has copious amounts of salads, soups, BREADS, main dishes and desserts.  Oh dear.  (on a little side note- what is the deal with this country and white flour and processed sugar?  Holy cow! )  And this little ride lasted just over 4 weeks.  It’s funny, because you don’t notice weight creeping on when you are wearing an abundance of flowy skirts and loose sweaters.  You don’t notice that weight creeping back on until you go to put on your favorite jeans.  There is only so much you can blame on that nice gentleman that comes to take my laundry everyday.  Sigh…….

So now I’m at hotel #3.  There are the buffets, but not the 5-star ones my spoiled self has grown accustomed to.   Plus, I have a little kitchenette to cook my own food which means I’m trying hard not to hit those buffets as often and actually eating in my room.  My jeans still aren’t very happy with me at the moment, but hopefully I will be in my new apartment soon getting back to eating that doesn’t require a feed bag.     😀