Balance: The New Way of Life

People oftentimes ask me what life is like living in the UAE. They ask what a typical day is like for me. So, here’s my daily schedule:

5:30 a.m.-Get awakened by the call to prayer; acknowledge the prayer call, and roll back over.

6:00 a.m.-Get awakened by the call to prayer; think about getting out of bed, and roll onto my other side.

6:15-6:30-Seriously consider getting out of bed, possibly get out of bed, and quickly return to bed.

6:35-6:40-Roll my eyes, check the time on my phone, realize that it is truly time to get out of bed.

6:40-7:07-Morning Routine

7:08-7:10-Head to the neighboring building/7-11/the bus stop in front of my building to wait for my carpool buddy

7:15-Leave the apartment community heading to school

7:22-Nearly die in the first roundabout, but somehow make it through to the next 5

7:30-Arrive at school

8:00-3:00-Mold the minds of my darling angels (who are sometimes demons)

3:03-Head to the fingerprint machine with my coworkers, administrators, and other staff to leave for the day

3:06-Wait on the traffic to be accommodating/Debo my way out of the parking lot to begin the trek home

3:20-Arrive at my flat (also known as apartment for us US people, LOL)

3:30-Walk into my flat; think about dinner; cook dinner; order dinner; skip dinner altogether

3:40-Scroll through the guide on my Firestick, and catch up on my favorite shows

3:50-8:00-Watch shows/hang out with friends/catch up with family at home

8:00-10:00-Begin counting sheep

My routine here is very different from the one I kept at home. For starters, I get to come straight home from work. School lets out at 3:00. By 3:10, the parking lot is a ghost town. Even administrators leave. Secondly, I am only 12-15 minutes (depending on traffic) away from my home. No hour long or longer (Lord forbid there be an accident on a Dallas freeway) to get from school to work. I can still make it home within the three o’clock hour, which never in life happened in Dallas. Thirdly, I only have one job here. No after school activities, evening adjunct classes, or anything. I literally have one job, and that one job is more than sufficient financially. I actually have a life that isn’t just work and going home only to repeat the routine the next day.

For those of you who really know me, you know how crazy hectic my life was at home. If my day ended 14 hours after it started, that was a good day. 18-19 hour day (which included teaching at the high school, sitting in traffic to go to my night job, teach a few classes, sit in traffic again to go home, and then finally make it home) was the norm. Here I have a more simpler life. The motto is if it didn’t get done today, Inshallah (If God Wills It), it will happen tomorrow. If not, no problem. The vast majority of people here do not stress over anything. They don’t take work home. When they’re at work, they’re at work. And when they’re at home with their families, they are at home with their families. There is a clear distinction between work life and home life, and the lines hardly (if ever) blur.

I needed this new way of life for my survival. For my sanity. For my well-being. For my peace. I was headed down a road of high blood pressure, continued obesity, and chaos, but thanks be to God that this door to teach overseas opened. Is everyday rosy? Nope. Are there day that I wonder why on earth I took this leap of faith? Yes. But when I think about the life that I am afforded now, and what the alternative of returning home right now would be, I hold my head up, stick my chest out, grit, and bear the bitter with the sweet.

I have something here that I never had before—balance—and I’m not letting it go anytime soon.

Officially Out In These Streets

After nearly six months of hiring drivers, taking taxis, and hitching rides with my friends, I am officially a licensed driver in the UAE. Driving here in the UAE is a totally different ball game, in comparison to driving in the States. The rules of driving here (better yet the lack of rules of driving here) are like playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette. For instance, stop signs are merely suggestions. If you want to anger drivers, come to a full stop at a stop sign. You’ll elicit the honks, flashing lights, and vicious stares of other drivers. Secondly, the overabundance of roundabouts (or traffic circles as we call them in many parts of the US) make for very interesting interactions at the intersection. Sure there are actual rules that correlate with the roundabouts, but the only people who seem to follow them are the Expats. If you’re turning right from the roundabout, you should be in the first lane, so that you can exit. If you’re planning on keeping straight, you should be in the second or middle lane, and if you’re planning to make a left turn or U-turn, you should be in the third lane. Simple enough, right? Wrong. Tell me why people who are making U-turns are in the first lane, people who are going straight are in the first lane, and people who are turning left are also in the first lane? See how this can pose a problem? Basically people get in whatever lane they want to get into, and you better be prepared for anything in those roundabouts. Some of them only have two lanes, some three, and some five. Needless to say, sometimes Jesus literally has to take the wheel. But, it does get easier with practice.

I was also fortunate enough to purchase a relatively new used car. I wanted a compact SUV or something similar to what I drove in the States. I had my heart set on a Toyota Rav-4 or a Lexus RX 350, but my pockets didn’t agree. I settled on a 2008 GMC Terrain, that I affectionally call Raine. Raine and I have hit the highway a few times heading to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but she is usually parked during the week, as I carpool with my neighbor to work, and we drive her car. It feels good to not have to ask anyone to take me to the store, or to pick me up from work, but I do miss being chauffeured around like a boss.

There’s No Place Like Home

Though I am loving my simpler, less stressful life in the States, there is truly no place like home. There’s nothing like spending time with the ones that you love, frequenting your favorite restaurants, and experiencing all things U S of A. Trimester one couldn’t end fast enough. Once it did, Jonathan and I were on the first thing smoking to Dubai to catch our flight. En route to the airport, I received some terrible news. My principal from my school had passed away after a brief albeit courageous fight with lung cancer. I was stunned. This is the same man who had encouraged me to pursue this new overseas adventure, and had even ensured that I was still gainfully employed after the first employment offer was rescinded. The same man who had served as the pillar of our campus and community. The same man I shared a host of laughs and good times with just months before. Dead. From lung cancer. After being diagnosed just six months prior. So, needless to say, the trip home would be anything but normal.

Once we arrived on American soil, we were welcomed back by Jack Frost nipping at our noses. It was cold. A far cry from the desert sauna that had become a daily occurrence. But, it sure felt good to be home. A little taste of normalcy. A small dose of reality. We made our way to our hotel, and started mapping out our first taste of artery-clogging, waist-expanding, hormone-injected American fast food. Though the UAE had a nice variety of American staples, there were several places that still could only be found in the America (as my students so eloquently call he US). The first thing I was craving was Chic-Fil-A, but the first thing we actually ate was Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. Either we were hungry, or that was the absolute best Raising Cane’s that we had ever eaten.

The next few days were full of meetups with friends and family, and checking off our list of must-see, must-eat places and foods. Due to the unexpected loss of Mr. Arendse (affectionally called Mr. A), I was able to see many of my former students, coworkers, and friends at his service. Immediately following the service, my work family and I frequented our favorite diner, and caught up on old times.

A few days later, Jonathan and I headed to Oklahoma, to spend some of the break with my family. Once we arrived there, we received another surprise: snow! Though I grew up in Oklahoma, and am fairly used to the white stuff, there’s nothing like a snowfall to welcome you to the holidays. Great times were had in Tulsa, like always, and we made our way back to Dallas to close out the trip in America. While in Tulsa and in Dallas, I stocked up on all of my favorite snacks, household goods, and things that I couldn’t live without. I made sure to raid Kroger, Target, Wal-Mart, and the .99 Store for enough goods to last me until my return home in the summer.

Jonathan came down with a serious case of the flu, and was not cleared to fly back to Dubai, so he ended up staying in Dallas. I boarded my flight with my overweight luggage, and made my way back to my home away from home.

Rest In Peace Mr. A. You will be missed.

The Price Of Home

Though I’m fortunate enough to have many of the luxuries from home, there are still many things that I miss from home. I’m missing crushed ice from Sonic, fountain drinks from Quiktrip, Chick-Fil-A, Raising Cane’s, Kroger, Target, .99 Store (Dallas staple), Mazzio’s and Coney Islander (Tulsa favorites) and too many other things/places to name. On those days that I need a taste of home, I order things from Amazon or head to the store in Dubai that imports mostly American products. The prices of the items are at a premium, and the sticker shock is real, but sometimes an expats gotta do what an expats gotta do. Feast your eyes on some of my purchases to have just a little taste of home. My wallet was not pleased after these purchases.


UAE National Day

Around September or October, the UAE starts to look very festive in anticipation of UAE National Day. Think of it as 4th of July/Independence Day, meets Flag Day, meets New Year’s Eve. It is a big deal here in the UAE. School’s are out, many businesses close, and everywhere you turn in the UAE is decked out in the country’s colors. Most schools have a huge celebration leading up to the day, and my school was no different. The students bring treats to the teachers, all the buildings are decorated in the colors of the flag, and just about everyone starts to celebrate the founding of the country. This year the UAE celebrated their 46th year as a country. Check out some of the pics below.


First Annual Friendsgiving

pexels-photo-265393.jpegI come from a very close-knit family. We always spend the holidays together, and have the best of times together. This year I would be missing Thanksgiving with my family, but didn’t want to miss out on the feelings of togetherness. I decided to host our first annual Ross Friendsgiving. I invited my coworkers, much of my village here in the UAE, and new friends to come over to celebrate. We had a potluck style dinner, and got to exchange cultural traditions by way of food. My South African coworkers brought over traditional South African and Indian cuisine. I tried Samp and Beans and Indian Curry. It was amazing! My South African friends enjoyed collard greens, banana pudding, and cornbread dressing for the very first time, and they are hooked! Cultural immersion and exchange is a beautiful thing.

A New Normal/Things I’ve Gotten Used To

IMG_1213The learning curve has been huge moving to the UAE. I had to adjust and acclimate to many things including the extreme heat, the Arabic language, the Islamic culture, and even the day-to-day happenings in the UAE. Certain things that used to be foreign to me are now my new normal. Here are twenty things that I have gotten used to/that have become my new normal:

1. Starting the work week on Sunday and ending the week on Thursday

2. Being able to order EVERYTHING using an app because EVERYONE delivers

3. Knowing the prime time to call home with the 9/10 hour time difference

4. Semi knowing what is being said on the intercom at work though I know very little Arabic

5. Experiencing the absolute best customer service from all businesses here

6. Realizing that I will likely not die while riding through the roundabouts though it seems I might

7. Realizing that time is relative and if it happens at the appointed time, great, if not, all will be well

8. Hearing my name pronounced correctly 95% of the time

9. Being able to function in a great deal of dysfunction, and living to tell the story

10. Hearing ‘Miss Nia’ 5,090,034 times per day

11. Having to go to the mall to do everything including grocery shopping, paying bills, etc.

12. Hearing the National Call to Prayer five times per day

13. Seeing my life flash before me every time I ride in a car

14. Knowing every single day what the weather will be without looking at the weather app (It will be hot, LOL)

15. Not seeing mailmen, not receiving mail, or having an actual address

16. Covering my arms and wearing skirts/dresses 99% of the time

17. Speaking in an English that is so broken that it’s probably not even English to others who don’t understand English

18. Learning (kind of) how to talk to multiple students at one time without missing a beat with any of them

19. Being called ‘Madam’, ‘Ma’am NiaShanta’, and ‘Miss’ by everyone

20. Being able to call on my service people to do everything for me including my laundry, cleaning my flat, pumping the gas, and just about everything else I don’t want to do

There are countless other things that I’ve gotten used to here, but these are the most notable.