Ramadan in the UAE can be gloriously meditative, or terrifically chaotic. Mornings during Ramadan, and in general throughout the year, are the former. Getting to Carrefour at 10 am is a transcendent experience. You can park your car near the store and get a car wash for 21 AED ( a little over 5 USD) while you shop for the week’s groceries. An empty Carrefour is a divine one. Empty aisles allow you to happily peruse. During the holy month, recitations from the Quran are played on the speaker.
Regardless of personal creed, the experience can be lovely. Open registers when you’re finished shopping keep the smile on your face. In Al Ain, there’s typically a bag attendant that handles your groceries and another attendant waiting outside to help haul your stuff to the car. A car that’s now been washed. Tipping is appropriate but not totally necessary. Above everything, the UAE is brilliant in terms of customer service. Next stop, the car needs fuel and its tires need air. One needn’t lift a finger; again all things that a little tip can take care of.
The past meets the present in the United Arab Emirates.
Teaching abroad, however, isn’t as consistently happy. It can at times fall under the category of terrifically chaotic, or just simply, chaotic. When most people consider teaching the UAE, they picture the futuristic bright city of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. A place full of diversity and immigrants. Fancy malls, the world’s tallest building and cheetahs as pets. While owning exotic animals is now against the law, most of these things are a reality, but the inside looking outward is something that is rarely seen.
Miracle Gardens in Dubai
There are 7 Emirates, and not all are equal in wealth, population and culture. The city of Al Ain in Abu Dhabi, for example, is much more reserved and traditional. Thus teaching here as a Westerner can make you feel vulnerable at times, but still interesting from an anthropological point of view.
Students can be very curious about your personal beliefs and habits, all of which is very understandable. More than that, standards in education change rapidly and at times without warning. Forget flexibility, one must be fluid if they are to work as a teacher in the UAE. With that in mind, mornings like today have and continue to make this experience worthwhile. The access to travel from Dubai, the friends you make around the globe and the students that you perpetually learn from have added tremendously to my humanity. I will never be the same.
Needing constant perspective is required here; as unpredictable as things can be, there are no school shootings and active shooter drills for teachers and students. The word Sharia is very controversial in the West. It is also fairly misunderstood. While the punishment of certain crimes can be a paralyzing thought to an American, it does mean a high level of safety for certain situations, specifically in the UAE… Leaving doors unlocked, allowing our son out of sight and having little to no regard for petty theft, are all now an everyday reality. Also, our son has an understanding of Islam that isn’t tainted by the media.
For him, a Muslim is an everyday person, just as we are. As are Pakistanis, Indians, Africans (from every country), Filipinos, Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians, etc… Our diverse group of friends has enriched our lives in ways we could have never imagined. Islam espouses the belief that one should realize and appreciate all blessings by and within the heart. Sometimes all that takes are some Saturday morning errands in which you outwardly and inwardly reflect on all the people willing to help make those errands much easier.