How to manage the tea party

Sitting in the blacked-out nail parlor (Ladies only), I was having my foot massaged while the manicurist worked on my fingernails when the foot person leaned forward and said, "Miss Molly, she says you must have been very beautiful when you were young." Looking to my right I saw a woman veiled and covered by her abaya and while I thought her shoulders were shaking, I could not tell. Welcome to Abu Dhabi, to your life as an ex-pat English teacher, to the strangest introduction to your own cultural issues, to your need to control things that can't be controlled, to your limited world view to the fact that like it or not you have eaten the mushroom and can't make anyone take that mouse out of the teapot.

I have been here 11 days. The temperature has maintained around 107 and I still wake up at 3am. I have attended 3 long academic meetings where issues are discussed that I am supposedly now in charge of resolving although I have no idea why anyone believes I can do so. Many of these meetings involve acronyms I don't recognize and sometimes people telling each other things in Arabic I don't understand.  I am being cc ed on e-mails that are dealing with committees, books and I have an "acting" title of curriculum manager. I am a literacy expert while curriculum reminds me of math which I never, ever managed beyond Algebra 1 when I was excused to go to the library because the teacher grew weary of my idiotic questions.

Yesterday, the other ex-pat teachers sat in the middle of the English Department watching a video of a show called "Mistresses" which is an American remake of a British soap opera. I put together a short list of medical terms for the senior girls because that's what I do, I work. Even when I don't have a clue as to what my job description really involves, I try to be useful. I was the child who set the table, cleared the table, did the dishes, made the coffee. The experienced teachers are kind, completely negative but when I ask them why they remain in the UAE they defend the place as "lovely for families."

Currently, I am in an apartment hotel which means when I go downstairs three very sweet men rush forward to open the door and I hear a chorus of "Good Morning, Miss Mary." People only use their first names here and while I was christened Mary Ellen as an innocent baby, I have never been called that in my life and Mary isn't my name in any case. But there you are. I have two televisions, two bathrooms and a huge living room. The pool is always hot and the gym lets you play solitaire while you sweat on the machine. It's too expensive but I needed to land for a month and I can walk to work. However, it's two blocks and while I have bought an umbrella, I arrive covered in sweat and the 50 degree air conditioning feels like entering an ice box. But someone does my dishes and the massive towels are replaced daily. I took a bath and the drain in the floor let all the water flood so I used my lovely towels to sop that up. It all makes sense. Ask that tea soaked dormouse or a taxi driver just don't forget there are no addresses.


  1. I think the doormen's chorus of "Good Morning, Miss Mary" is lovely. It seems like every day, bit by bit, you're getting adjusted. My very best wishes to you.


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