My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.

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Ghosts of Ghayathi

The shortest, but the most bitter of memories

The shortest, but the most bitter of memories

August 30, 2014

Dear Readers,

I am just flying through the alphabet.  I am writing with the the letter “G” in mind, as I write my way through the A to Z Challenge.  I’d like to thank the host of this challenge, blogger Frizztext for creating this space, reading my blog posts, and leaving encouraging comments.  Thank you.

This past week has been very cathartic for me, dear Readers.  Not only has this challenge allowed me to sharpen my skills as a writer, it has also enabled me to extricate some of my ghosts that were in dire need of removal.

Al Ruwais was not the first place I lived when I moved to the UAE, nor was it the last; it was merely the longest.  The town of Ghayathi has the dubious distinction of being my last place of residence before I unceremoniously flew home to the U.S.  It is also the place that holds the most bitter of memories for me.  I find that rather strange, dear Readers, given that I had only maintained my address in Ghayathi for a little over two weeks before departing forever, my adopted country.

Whereas Ruwais had been a family orientated town, sans any females after sunset, Ghayathi was a town that seems to have been built to house the male workers who worked the oil fields. And since the fields were worked 24 hours a day, at least six days a week, the town never slept. There was a constant buzz of activity along the main strip of town.

In and of itself, this constant ebb and flow did not bother me. No, what bothered me was the fact that rarely, if ever at all, were there females milling about. Forget loitering, I rarely, if ever, saw a female so much as go to the supermarket. All I ever saw were men.

There were men at the market doing the shopping, there were men at Etisalat paying the internet and cable bills. There were men at the Western Union sending money back home, and there were men at the mosques, five times a day for daily prayers. But where were all the women? Surely, there had to be women residing in Ghayathi, right? Right?

Seriously, there were no women sitting at the cafes, chatting and having a cup of tea. There were no women, gathered in twos and threes, playing with their children at the park. And certainly there were no women walking through the various little shops situated in and around the town square, such as it was. So what gives? Had I truly traveled 7,000 miles around the world, only to discover the world’s only all-male town? I hardly think so. So what is really going on?

I’ll tell you what’s really going on, dear Readers, the women are cloistered.  There are women who live in Ghayathi, of course, they just live behind the veil, and then some.  Peace.  Rather, it’s an uneasy peace, ~v.





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Fat and Phat


Fat or Phat?

Fat or Phat?

August 29, 2014

Dear Readers,

Although I have already posted my letter “F” in the A to Z Challenge, I began with the following post.  I thought it unwise to just get rid of it…so here is a little post for the letter “F”.

Although some women might find wearing an abaya restrictive, I found it quite the opposite. I have never been a clothes-horse. Nay, not me. Deciding which blouse to wear with which skirt has always caused me much consternation. Too frilly, too flirty, too frumpy, too….ahh forget it! Who’s got time? And why is it that when I do decide what I’m going to wear, I’m too worn out?

And riddle me this: Why is it that on some days I feel fat in what yesterday made me feel “hot”? Or why on some days do I feel “phat” in what yesterday made me feel like a hot mess? So knowing what I was going to wear everyday gave me time in the morning to work on my writing.  There was only one problem, tell me, does this abaya make my butt look big? Peace, ~v.



The veil was ubiquitous.  However, females were not.

The veil was ubiquitous. However, females were not.

August 29, 2014

Dear Readers,

Here is my sixth post for the A to Z Challenge.  Introducing, the letter “F“.

On the surface, it appears as though females living in the UAE, more specifically, females living in Al Ruwais, Abu Dhabi, UAE are revered by society at large.  However, one only has to run afoul of any number of seemingly innocuous people in society and a female can quickly go from revered to despised and sometimes, worse.

Having only lived in certain areas of the Middle East, I can only give you, dear Readers, a very narrow perspective.  Additionally, it is my perspective, no one else.

First, more than one local explained to me why females cover themselves, almost completely, when in public and sometimes even in the privacy of their own home.  And yes, it has its’ roots in modesty.  Although I think it putrid to ask a female to cover up so that the males in society won’t be tempted sexually, that is not for me to say.  Most little girls I came across, ages 5 to about 11, couldn’t wait to grow up and wear the abaya and the shayla.  These were symbols of becoming a woman.  They want to emulate their mothers, just as most little girls around the world want to.

Here was the falsehood I continued to run into: even covered from head to toe, modesty was seldom present.  While it is true that wearing non-revealing clothing thwarts some unwanted glances, designer shoes, brightly colored nails, both fingers and toes, and make-up that includes professionally done eyeliner does not.  In fact, it was the accessories that always attracted my attention.  My conclusion:  females will attract males; males will be attracted to females regardless of the laws.

Next, having sons as young as 8, 9, and 10 having more freedom than their mothers must be a bitter pill to swallow.  Enough said on that subject.


Another observation was that females were rarely ever free to be themselves, even in their own homes.  Homes where I lived were constructed with doors ready to cut off access to any and all rooms of the house.  For example, a kitchen would have a door that could be shut so that no one could peer in.  I used to think that females were able to shed their abayas and shaylas once they were in the privacy of their own homes.  However, I was wrong.  If a man, other than the husband, son or close relative was inside the home, females still had to keep covered and keep all access doors closed.  To me, this seems the antithesis of respect.

Finally, to a say that this culture is patrimonial is to discredit the puppet masters – the mothers. Mothers arrange and re-arrange and pull the strings of their offspring’s’ future like so much child’s play that it breaks my heart.  It is my belief that mothers play such an integral part in their children’s future because sadly, they had very little say in their own. Their own mothers had power over every aspect of their lives so now it seems, as though they seek to even the score, so to speak. Daughters have little recourse save begging and/or disobeying and dishonor, either of which is a travesty. And sons have even less options. It is the Oedipal Complex to the 10th power. The only feminine wiles at work are from mother to son. Women have no control over their husbands, so their power rests in the control of their sons. And whoa to the son who dares to contradict his mother, for he is surely going to hell.

Females 3

I write merely my observations, dear Readers, and if that loses me the respect and/or friendship of those I still seek to communicate with, well, so be it.  I fell in love with the people, the place, the culture, and the customs.  That will not change.  I only wish they had fallen in love with me.  Peace, ~v.

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Of Eggshells and Embassies

August 28, 2014

Dear Readers,

As I continue to write my way through the A to Z Challenge, I find myself staring down the letter “E”.  Now the letter “E” seems a harmless, almost benign little letter, doesn’t he?  Ahh, but don’t let looks deceive, dear Readers.  This is an evil little letter!

How did you like that opening, dear Readers?  Kinda dramatic?  Well, that’s me, kinda dramatic.  And not that it’s a bad thing.  However, dramatic behavior is never acceptable in the Middle East when it comes from a woman.

I went to teach in the Middle East under full disclosure…or so I had been told.  I believed myself to be well-versed in the ways of the culture and before I left the U.S., I learned through orientation what society expected of me.  Thus, I covered up when in public, I was respectful and non-argumentative, I never raised my voice, I didn’t show the bottoms of my feet, I only touched food with my right hand (even though I am left handed), I always politely accepted when offered food and/or coffee, I behaved appropriately in public, I taught the girls that they should listen to their parents, and I never said anything that could even be remotely misinterpreted.  I followed all of the dictates that had been mandated at my orientation.  Yet, I walked around on eggshells, afraid I would break some unwritten rule.

In the end, it seems that I broke quite a few undisclosed rules.  For example, in my post “Things They Never Told Me“, I write about not being accepted because of some real or perceived misstep I had publicly displayed.  Then again, it really wasn’t perceived, because as I note in “The Luxury of Freedom“, something as innocent as laughter can even lead down a dicey path.  In fact, it did.

Walking on eggshells was never my forte, I’m more the bull in the china shop type.  And it’s a darn good thing I know this abut myself, otherwise I would have never had the American Embassy on my speed dial.  Believe me, dear Readers, not only did that number come in handy, I was forced to not only use the phone number, but to seek refuge at the embassy, as well.  You can read that story here; it reads like Midnight Express, only without the drugs and without the intrigue.

And so, dear Readers, my time in Al Ruwais, Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates drew to a close.  I went from walking on eggshells, to walking into the embassy; from flying in on Etihad, to flying out on Emirates.  It’s meeting the man of your dreams, then meeting his beautiful wife.  It’s ironic.  But that, dear Readers, is a story for another letter.  Peace, ~v.

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Danat دانات

This is a picture of the Danat from their website...I did not take this picture...

This is a picture of the Danat from their website…I did not take this picture…

August 27, 2014

Dear Readers,

I am up to the letter “D” in the A to Z Challenge.  Thank you frizztext at the blog Flickr.  Visit his blog here if get a chance, dear Readers.

Of all the places I called home while living in Al Ruwais, I was most impressed with Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort.  The five star resort is located just outside the town of Al Ruwais and right on the beautiful Arabian Gulf.  As you can see by the picture from the website, it was a beautiful view.  Most advertised hotels and/or resorts I have booked, have looked considerably better on the advertisement…but that was not the case for the Danat.

This is the site that greeted me when I came "home" from my first day teaching.  What a welcome home.

This is the site that greeted me when I came “home” from my first day teaching. I did take this picture!










Simply looking out my window relaxed me.  And after I was living in my own apartment, I would often go to the Danat to have a nice meal, sit by the water and relax, I even smoked hookah (not on a regular basis, but just to say I did it).  It was by far and away, one of my favorite spots in all of Abu Dhabi.  So when my sister and best friend, Mercedes, came to visit me, I of course, took her to the Danat.

Now for your viewing pleasure, dear Readers, I give you the star of tonight’s post:

And that’s a wrap, dear Readers.  Until next time, Peace, ~v.

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From the Clothing Drive to the Corniche

August 26, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “C”.  Today is the third post in the A to Z Challenge hosted by the blog Flickr.  I am playing catch-up; the challenge began July 8 and a new letter is introduced once a week on Tuesday.  I will be posting at least once a day until I can catch-up.  Should you want to read posts “A” or “B”, just click on the letter and I’ll take you there.

In the meantime, I did not intend to have a running theme throughout my alphabet challenge, however, it seems as though that is where I am headed.  So dear Readers, sit back, kick your shoes off, read, and enjoy.


One of the activities I helped coordinate with one of my classes while teaching at Amrah Bint was a clothing drive.  I’ll let the pictures tell the story.


Corniche Road in Abu Dhabi boasts 8 kilometers of well-manicured waterfront.  It is different from the beaches in the U.S. in that there are few locals.  Although, there is a family area, separate from the public area and away from the prying eyes of the tourists.



Well dear Readers, I am beginning to reach conclusions about my time in the Middle East.  Simply writing these three posts (A, B, C) has helped tremendously in my quest to debrief and decompress.  I am not quite ready to write about my conclusions at this point.  However, once I have  concrete conclusions, you, dear Readers, will be the first to know.  Peace, ~v.



Barang the Bus Driver

August 25, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “B”.  The blog Flickr is hosting an A to Z Challenge in which bloggers create blog posts based on each of the 26 letters of the alphabet.  The posts begin every Tuesday and began on July 8th.  I just started the challenge so I am a little behind…but I’ll catch up.  Yesterday I posted my interpretation of the letter “A” – Al Ruwais, Abu Dhabi.  Today, the letter “B”.

When I arrived in Al Ruwais to begin teaching, there was certainly a language barrier, not between my students and me, but between most of the adults at the school and in the community.  One such adult was Barang, my bus driver.

My bus driver, Mr. Barang, was a wonderful man from Pakistan.  Although he was certainly under no obligation to do so, Mr. Barang had agreed to pick me up from the hotel I was staying at and drive me to school, and then pick me up from school and drive me back to my hotel.  I was not allowed to drive until I had received my resident visa. I was living at least 24 kilometers (approx. 15 miles) from my school and public transportation was not an option, as there was none.

Mr. Barang was a local school bus driver for the primary grades.  However, he to pick me up every morning before his route began and take me to school.  At the end of the day, he would come and pick me up after he dropped off his charges and deliver me safely back home.  There was however, one teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy, little problem:  At the time, I spoke only about 4 or 5 phrases of Arabic, and Mr. Barang spoke only about 4 or 5 phrases of English (maybe more).

On the  way to and from school, we tried to converse, you know small talk.  We managed to find out each other’s ages (me 48, him 47).  I discovered he had a 23 year old son that either is a doctor, or was studying to become a doctor.  For his part, Mr. Barang was able to understand that I had 4 children.  However, he could only seem to remember where one of them lives (Kuwait).  Additionally, I was able to put together that Mr. Barang believed that believes bus drivers in America made considerable more money than he did.

I often had to try and suppress a grin when Mr. Barang would speak to me, for no other reason than he did what I believe most people do when trying to communicate with someone who does not speak their language: THEY YELL!  Here was a typical conversation:

“I’m sorry, Mr. B. I don’t understand.”

And then came the day in which I had to travel to a town approximately 145 kilometers (90 miles) away. Mr. Barang was to be my driver.  The afternoon before we were to go, we tried to communicate to one another what time and where he should pick me up, how long I would need to be gone, and when and where he should drop me off.  We were getting nowhere.  Frustrated at our lack of abilities to effectively communicate these important details to one another, we both simple huffed in exasperation and sat in silence for the 20 or so minutes it took to drive me home.

Upon arrival at my hotel, I slowly rose from my seat as Mr. Barang slowly turned to face me. We smiled weakly at one another.  Here is how the conversation went:

“Maafi mushkillah, Mr. Barang.” (No problem)
“Na am, shokran.” (Yes, thank you)
“Na am, Insha’Allah” (Yes, God willing)
“Shokran, Mr. Barang. Shokran.”

We did it!  We had communicated with each other.

That, dear Readers, was the first of many conversations in which I spoke Arabic.  Now, looking back, I can see that most everyone I came in contact with did their level best to communicate with me in my own language, English.  While I was desperately trying to learn Arabic so that I could communicate in theirs.  Now that’s the kind of communication problem I can really dig!  Peace, ~v.