Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Las Vegas of the Middle East

Of all the cities I've seen, Dubai is the shiniest. It screams "Look at me! I'm the ____-est!! I have lots of blinking lights!" The buildings are a mishmash of styles and imaginations, like if a crayon skyline came to life, rising out a the desert, completely disregarding its context. 
It was a fun weekend, and my host family was nice enough to invite along some of the YES girls to come with us. As a group of twelve people (my host family, the YES girls, my host aunt and miscellaneous cousins) we were about the size of a "normal" Omani family.  
The first place we went was the Old Souq, and what I found most interesting there was this sketch-looking alleyway. 
Well, not exactly the alley, but the neat little museum that we found at its end, buried inside the maze of Arabizi nick knacks that is Dubai's Old Souq.
It was devoted to a famous old Emirati poet, whose house had been converted into the museum. I honestly didn't spend much time reading his poetry (it was in Arabic) but the house was huge and fun to explore. 
This photo reminds Hannah that museums for dead poets aren't exactly Dubai's biggest draw, and that she probably ought to touch on those things as well.
We also did the customary Dubai-y type activities like mall-ing
And they were sufficiently ginormous, not that any of my photos capture that.
And fountain-ogling 
 (Photos that don't suck are courtesy of my host dad)
And giving out valentines to random strangers. Since we went over Valentine's Day weekend, and the city has enough foreigners that we didn't think anyone would be horribly offended, we decided to spend the day giving out cards to lonely-looking-turned-confused-looking people. 
A very nice weekend.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Is Justin Beiber Muslim? And other important questions

As an gap-year student, my school here had basically no clue what to do with me. I spent the first couple months auditing a bunch of classes that, while interesting (Economics is equal parts wonderful and terrifying; it lures you in with liberal-arts-friendly human behavioral patterns and then BAM. Math.), were basically a review for a test I wasn't going to ever take. So I asked a bunch of people if I could instead read books with kids all day, and they said, sure, we have no idea what you're supposed to be doing here anyway. 

The guys pictured pictured below I've been working with the longest. They're known as the 'scholars' because they come from the interior, living and studying at the school on a scholarship.This means that they're wicked smart but not used to learning in all-English, so they get extra ESL classes to bridge the gap.
 I spend most of my time asking them what they think of a book, prodding out full sentences and proper grammar. Right now we're reading about the first expeditions to reach the South Pole; it includes such hi-lights as "the dogs were our good friends, and now they are our good food" and disgruntled Englishmen writing letters to their mothers about how disgruntled they are. Riveting stuff. But their commentary makes it entertaining.

In third grade we do lots of writing exercises, they're learning cursive now, a skill whose purpose in 2013 I somewhat question; there's also many new adjectives to be had and the weird rules of English spelling. And they never fail to give me a full report on "Miss, I saw you in the car park" or "Miss, you were in Al Fair the other day," and anywhere else they saw me, so ya know, my heart melts.  
In first and second grades it's a lot of controlled chaos and the breaking up of arguments over Justin Beiber's religion, it's one of many hotly debated topics. It's interesting to note how much more Arabic is spoken among the kids in these classes, since about half of the students are just beginning to learn English. I'm happy to report that my Arabic has officially graduated to first-grade level, as I can understand their arguments just fine. Here are some of them, chasing bubbles, because when you're in 1st grade, you get to do that in class. 
It's fantastic experience in the realm of figuring-out-what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up. And it's more fun than Economics. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

RC44: perspectives from someone who wasn't supposed to be there

At first I was mad at this guy for ruining my shot, but then I decided that he just makes it look that much more official
Some of you may know that I've recently taken up sailing lessons, it's all a part of my plan to travel the world crewing rich people's sailboats, a plan just as  viable as the one involving hitchhiking to North Dakota and becoming a 1950s diner waitress. It's gonna happen.  

There's not much else exciting to say about that and I have no pictures because every time we go out there's a 50/50 chance I'll capsize, odds to which I don't care to trust my ipod. I apologize for completely mangling that last sentence in an attempt to not end it in a preposition. What I do have something to say about is the sight I walked out into after my lesson this past week. The outside of the nice-but-normal-looking-sailing-place had been transformed into fancy-pants-private-yacht-club-event-thing. 
Historically, Omanis have been sailors, the character of Sinbad is said to have originated from here, and ancient Oman built some pretty badass boats. So in modern times, The Sultan and Omanis have decided that sailing is like their thing. There's been a huge push to revitalize interest in it, for students to learn how to sail (which is why I have the opportunity to take lessons in the first place) and for Omanis to become more competitive worldwide as sailors. And thus, fancy-pants international sailing competitions happen here to try to attract more attention for the sport. 
It reminded me of the VIP section at Merriweather, when the concerts decide to get all classy (lol, okay try). Like any good event there were white cabana tents housing bite-sized hors d'oeuvres, ample numbers of tanned people in polos, and a short woman running around with a clipboard yelling at people to do their jobs. Every event staff has one. (Hi Lisa! Please let me work at Stand 6 this summer!) 

I idled around for a bit, only moderately fitting in among the white-linen clad racing crews and their entourages, making a mental note to one day worm my way into a sailing crew entourage. After ogling the boats and team Italia for a bit, I decided I should probably not make my ride wait any longer and wandered out of the elite-world-within-an-elite-world. I guess I'll never know who won.