Archive | September, 2013

Arrested! Or, Lost in the Hypermarket, or These are a few of my favorite Thinks, or, A SIGN WOULD BE NICE!

30 Sep

Music, The Clash “Lost in the Supermarket”, Radiohead “Paranoid Android”, Michael Franti & Spearhead “Oh My God”, John Mayer “In Repair”, Tool “Lipan Conjuring”, Coldplay “Don’t Panic”, Colin Hay “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You”, The Roots “Proceed”, Michael Frnati & Spearhead “Pray for Grace”, The Roots “The Lighthouse”, A Perfect Circle “The Stranger”, Julie Andrews “These are a few of my favorite things” (Kidding, you know I don’t do show tunes).

Hi! I’m back! I’ve been very busy. Our School Improvement Plan has to be reformatted, edited, and a new Vision must be written…like you care…I’ve been busy. However, I’m here now, so, let’s talk.

My plan was to highlight the ordinary things we take for granted, and note how they’re different here, in The Dhabi! (Remember, when “The Dhabi” goes international and you hear that little shrimp Ryan Seacrest say it, you’ll know, you heard it here, first! The Dhabi! Yeah!–oh, by the way, Seacrest’s radio show plays on local radio here; some things are inescapable…death, taxes, and Ryan Seacrest!)

In my expose’ on the ordinary things in Abu Dhabi (meaning Many Gazelles—of which I haven’t seen one!), you will learn some strange things…so please enjoy.

The idea was to make the Abu Dhabi (the capital) an oasis, while making the roadways and neighborhoods blend with nature. So you have bridges on super highways like this.


Beautiful work, right? No doubt done by the ten thousand busloads of non-Emiratis that block my way to school every morning. Let’s just say, certain groups of people should now be allowed to drive. If you’ve ever driven in Michigan, you get me. They’re all here. Highways are lined in 4 lanes, but drive in 6. Most cars have scrapes on the sides.

Here’s what I see every morning


Sorry for the blur, I was shaking with excitement that traffic was clear. (Check the reflection on the hood of my bad ass whip, THE LANCER!)


This is my school! Cool, huh? More like a compound. All the schools are surrounded by 12-18 foot walls…not a bad idea, really. Also, just inside that gate is the security guard post. Once inside, I seek out the elixir of all educators…coffee. However, it’s a bit different here! Here’s how I get it, every morning, without a word, perfectly mixed, and with a smile.


Yes, coffee, tea, water, juice…He’s kinda shy, so I had to trick him.

Here’s some of the boys…


the little one in the distance to the right of frame with his head cocked is like Uncle Hector from Breaking Bad; he doesn’t say much, but when his bell rings, there’s trouble. They can wear those kandooras to school or each class is color-coded, as well. By the way, “Baniyas” the town where I work, is loosely translated to “countryside”, so the fact that these boys still have shoes on is a minor miracle…thank you very much! Wanna see a country-style home here? I don’t know why I ask, of course you do.



Ummm, yeah! Those are modest country houses. If you work for the Army or Police, you get a house and a car. If you graduate from high school, you get a stipend of about $100,000 to build a house. If your family has money—which, it does—you finance another half a mill to build a palace. However, the money, like the oil, won’t last forever…which is why we’re here.

How about more kids? Here’s tabor (tuh-boor, roll that r! Do it!), kinda like Reveille. We meet every morning and the whole school assembles for some half-hearted exercising, the singing of the national anthem, and prayer…did I mention it’s like 90 degrees at 7:30am?


Notice, picture taken from the shade…as if it matters… “Mistah Lee, why you so wet?” Read the note to self, that sarcasm and wit are not really appreciated here… “I’m kinda hot, Shokran.” Wow, that pic is bad…maybe it’s the heat. Did I mention…

Here’s a sign of the struggle we face. Tell me what’s wrong with this assignment?


Um, yeah..this 5th grader is hunched on the ground, booted from class, in utter brain clench…NO idea what to do. Let’s remember he’s an English learner. It’s hard to make out, but the words to find at the bottom are in lower case, the words in puzzle…all caps. Kid is totally lost. Once we worked through that, Ali Hassan Omar Ahmed Rababa Alsayed was really happy. (Not his real name, but close—almost everyone in the family is honored in a name here.)


So, I punch out…yes, EVERYONE punches in/out…and, after a day of that, here’s me.


Frazzled…so, back to normal things not so normal…an outlet


individual switch for each one. Cool! 220, lick it, I dare you!

Ping Pong, we have….


Ping Pong Premier League Championship with Ping Pong Arena and spectators…I’ve never’s at the mall…

Homework…I have lots of it


My home office, 31st floor, by the pool…Just so you don’t think it’s all fun and games, I found the only self serve laundromat in a city of 1.7 million….


Actually, you put your clothes in and he’s so busy, he doesn’t wait for you if you should happen into the nearby Sheraton for a beer to put you stuff in the dryer. Did I mention he’s the only one? Why? The Emiratis do dry cleaning, or pick up and delivery, and everyone else does their own.

Speaking of the Sheraton, Happy hour.


EIGHT hours…really? Is that necessary?

Here’s a bank waiting room. Not different, except that when they need to deliver mail, they call your mobile, and then come find you…seriously…creepy.


So, the customer service guy let me keep this pic, but warned me strongly against another.

Here’s the house of a lucky young lady who’s getting married…she didn’t pick him, daddy did, so the party is huge…


There are no birthday celebrations for Emiratis, due to religious beliefs, so the wedding is rather stellar. I have two daughters…let’s go with birthdays. (Of which, my baby turns 16 this Thursday. To say it’s not hard to see and hug her is an understatement for which there is no superlative and I have nothing clever. I just love her so much…so, so much. Happy Birthday, my beautiful, brilliant girl! I love you everyday, with every breath, forever!)

Ok…gimme a second to recover.

So, fountains! There are many of them…here’s one


Gas station…except they’re all full service, and gas is about $2.10 a gallon, which would explain why the V8 Four wheel drives here rule the road….and the supercars.


Ever pump gas in full pants, shirt, and hat in 106 degree weather, and hope you get tipped? Stay in school kids, study hard.

Oh, guess what!? I found shoes!


Not funny. Guess who found guys to play basketball with and has no shoes for it? Yeah, me! Back to the Gepetto to get some shoes made, I guess.

So, the supermarket…the LULU HYPERMARKET! If ever there was a name for what this place is, HYPERMARKET is perfect. It is NEVER slow. Some people in an extreme hurry, some just wandering around in the air conditioning. Whole families of short people stopping right in front of you to gaze at candy bar displays. “They’re candy bars! Walk!”…kidding, you know me…never a word.

So, I started snapping pictures to show you how this place makes Walmart, no Sam’s Club/Costco (whatev!), look like a 7/11…and suddenly while jamming out and nodding my head to the music, I get tapped on the shoulder by a security guard.

“Uh, sorry, was I singing?”




“Ummmm, I don’t understand.”

“No pictures here!”, then he points to the huge sign above my head. A sign I’ve walked under a dozen times since I’ve been here. No pictures in the super-, uh, hypermarket. It turns out the ones I got were lame anyway. It’s huge, just believe it. It’s a hypermarket.

Here are the scissors in the school section


(10-inch blades…$9.53) Pray that the kid who buys these breaks his wrist hoisting them into his backpack in the morning, or maybe the nanny will…sorry, educator humor can be dark.

One cool thing at the hypermarket is the live pasta guy—so much better than dead pasta guy! He makes it to order right in front of you. So, I did four miles on the treadmill and tortured my hamstrings with kettle bell squats, so I thought I’d ruin it all with this…


Fed me for two days,….for $6, hey, it’s veggie? Nice!

From the “Oh, a sign would be nice” category. There’s a beautiful health club here. Weights, cardio, sauna, steam, jacuzzi, etc. However, it would be NICE to post that the sauna and steam room preferred dress is shorts…yeah, learned that the embarrassing way. No pic, ’nuff said.

Now, for the visually stimulated…hotel “Arabic appetizer plate”


And, of course, for the slow of wit…hey, it’s an Equal Opportunity Blog!


Doin’ Z.A. Butt! (You know you just sang that song in your head…and yes, “sang” is correct as there is no helping verb—you people, yeesh!)

So, I posted a quote on Facebook earlier in the week, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”. Change? We need it. Growth, it’s the same thing. If we act as if we know everything, we can never change and grow. If I had acted the master about this opportunity and not trusted the universe to take care of me, I would have never done it. The old Lee would have said it was a bad idea and spent a lot of time trying to convince you why I was right. I wasn’t. It took me a long time to learn that there is no valuable experience in life that doesn’t require a little fear and discomfort. I’ve had plenty of both since embarking on this journey, but it pales in comparison to the growth I am experiencing. Today, I sat in a room full of Arabic educators looking to me to help fix their issues when they don’t believe they can be fixed. I was comfortable in saying, “I don’t have that answer, yet. I only know that we’ll try and we’ll learn from that. If it works, we move on. If not, we try again.” Their response; a scattered, thoughtful chorus, “Insha’Allah!”…then, silence. Translation… “God willing.” Isn’t that the way? I am touched. Everyday.

I love and miss you,


❤ TMD, my child.


The Ground floor is the 1st floor, and the 2nd floor is the 3rd floor.*

24 Sep

Music: Ben Harper “In the Lord’s Arms”, The Roots feat Dice Raw “Lighthouse”, Franti & Spearhead “Feelin’ Free”, Beastie Boys “Namaste”, ZZ Top “Jesus Just Left Chicago”, A Perfect Circle “The Noose”, Taking Back Sunday “New American Classic”, Miles Davis “Flamenco Sketches”, Smashing Pumpkins “Mayonnaise”, The Shins “New Slang”, Cody ChestnuTT “Til I Met Thee” 

You know the old saying about you how you never know how many friends you have until your funeral? You ever heard that one? Me neither, I think I just made it up (Poetic License. Google it!). No funerals this week, but I did have a birthday—the means to an end, I suppose. As I posted on Facebook, I was preparing for a pretty lonely and ordinary day; which I though would suit me fine. Then an interesting series of events occurred. Facebook started blowing up…wait…here’s my post…

Lee Dabagia Jr.

4 hours ago near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Ok, to be quite honest, I was quite down yesterday. I’m in a new place (um, 7312.8 miles from home), I know no one, and it was my birthday. I spent the day at work (which is SO cray to the cray!), then came home (hotel) and ate a huge bowl (um, paper bowl) of veggie ramen type stuff…not, a common birthday meal (especially when in a fancy hotel). Settling in with Season 4 of Breaking Bad…the birthday wishes from FB started rolling in…crap, I’m seriously about to cry right now. THEN, the hotel sends me a gourmet-freakin’ chocolate cake. I post that and even more wishes roll in. I am pretty choosy, as you might understand, about whom I “friend” with on here. The last year hasn’t been my easiest and for those who believed in me, I am deeply touched. As one friend said to me last October, “..Lee, God brings you to it, so He (She, It, They, if you wish) can get you through it…” This last year has taught me so many things, I am grateful to you, my friends, and the Universe, for my good fortune. All of your wishes helped fill a serious void yesterday. I will ride this wave for a while if you don’t mind. Thank you, my friends, my family, my strength. “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make”. It does pay off. Send out your love, give it to the world, you will get it back when you need it most…like I did, yesterday.  — feeling loved.


Ugh, I’m welling up again…yeesh! THEN, yes, there’s more Ginsu lovers, THAT post blew up and still is as I write. So much love being sent my way from all over the globe; and some from new acquaintances here in The Dhabi! (No one calls it that, but I’m thinking about branding…The Dhabi! I like it!)

Anyway, I can’t take any more crying over my tea, so I just ordered a bottle of Scotch…kidding.

Honestly, I am so blessed by all of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Truthfully, my heart has been pretty low and hole-y for a while, and you did much work to raise me up and get me close to whole—y.

We are loved. Everyday, in ways we may not consider, and may take for granted. Share your love. Please.

Back to Food! So, you saw my cake! Here was my birthday dinner!


Scary right? Even scarier…did you know there’s a folding fork at the bottom of those noodle bowls? I didn’t! I gagged when my mini-hotel spoon found something rigid under the scalding water. Then I saw jagged points sticking out from within the noodles. What could it be? Trash from the Tsunami? Is Ramen made near nuclear plants in Japan? Is it a bird skull? Cat bones? Hey, I’m alone, I have some time to wander…and wonder. To my utter amazement and NO recollection from college, it’s a folding fork, partially sagging from melting in the water, but functional…genius! Those Singapore-ians…(Malaysians, probably, right? It’s a Republic…not important).

So, here’s me after my first day of work with the kids


A little frazzled, and sweaty…did I mention it’s hot…and, yeah, the hair…sweat out the gel, dry, pull it out, sweat, and dry again…Yeah, that’s how you achieve “the look”. Hot for ONE-FOUR! You’ll want it! (Oh, and the nose…here, not so big! Love my Arab peoples!)

Wait, before I go on, check this out.


It’s a translator…They hand them out at meetings for Admin, though you better know English here, or it’s tough to get around.

Wanna see my office? Sure you do!


Here are some pics of Al Bawadi Model School…all boys (920 or so), grades 1-6. To say recess is loud and totally unsafe is to say the first moonwalk was cool, but no big deal. (Not the Michael Jackson kind, the Louie Armstrong kind—I know it’s Neil, just checking your level of reading commitment).

More pics


That’s the playground. Notice no swing set, slide, jungle gym, anything? Yeah, me too. This school is what they consider an inner city school here. When I tell people where I work, they touch their hearts and bow to me. They say they’ll pray for me…I’ve heard that before, and I never buy it. Kids are kids. They want to succeed, they want to be happy, they want to be loved, and they want to be a part of something they can be proud of…not too much to ask, I say.

Here’s some hallway shots.




They look pretty clean because there is a crack staff of about 20 custodians that clean up after these boys like mothers. At morning break, the courtyard and halls look like that film of Woodstock after the rain. These boys throw EVERYTHING on the ground. Don’t doubt me to yourself! I hear you. Yes, everything…wrappers, food, juice, milk, water bottles…everything.


Yeah, I don’t get this either. South Park is not allowed here, so I’m not sure why Mr. and Mrs. Hankey get a mural…wait, I think they’re bees, yeah bees…eating soup…Still…what?

So some of you are asking, “Why are you there?…Um, you’re not on vacation?…Who’s Abdul Bobby?…What’s Sati babi?…Is that a real place?” Actually, just the first one. This is why we’re here…


Actually, that’s not oil seeping out of the wall, but it was like that once. That’s why we’re here. The oil will dry up and the leaders of the country want an educated population to capitalize on the wealth and make this place prosper for generations to come. Guess how you do that? Go ahead…I’ll wait. How does a nation guarantee a livelihood and prosperous future? You know what it does? We did it in the 1850s…invest in your youth, invest in schools.

The UAE knew that western educators spend a lot of time and money researching and implementing best practices, so they hire them to come here to teach. During my final interview I asked the panel what the state of schools is like now. They said, “…imagine the United States methodology in the 50s; that’s where we’re at…” Sounds ok, if you have kids from the ’50s sitting in front of you, respecting you, school, authority, and the like. However, that’s not here. Emiratis make up only 15% of the work force here—the rest don’t have to work, and certainly wouldn’t stoop to teach (PLEASE get the sarcasm there).

Praising hard work and middle class values means nothing to these kids. They are just like our kids. Electronic overdose, quick money is cool money, short attention span, little respect for authority (South Park fans can say it here), and they’re bored. However, they are so damn cute in their kandoras; they all look like Toto from Cinema Paradiso…WHAT!? You’ve never seen it? See it, NOW! A beautiful film.

Anyway, that’s why we’re here. This country has boomed so quickly, and they’re very proud of it. Not too proud to ask for help, though. Pretty smart, I think. They want their kids to be engineers, entrepreneurs, educators, and an fourth e word that’s cool.

So, I’ve had a FULL few days of Principalling…tomorrow we cram on the School Improvement Plan per the evaluation from an accreditation team that visited last year. No sweat, I’ve been through it a few times before. Only this one reads from right to left, and I haven’t the slightest idea what it says. No problem…what’s best for kids…always the question.

Speaking of slight differences…here’s a couple.



That’s Mall Fast food…tabouleh, mixed kebabs with eggplant, onion, and tomato, and a Kiwi/Apple jiuce smoothy kinda thing. About 11 dollars.

and another one to kill that appetite



Yes, that’s acceptable attire at a Principals meeting here. My clunky monsters, and his sandal -less feet.

That’s all for now.

Again, I am deeply touched by all of the comments and wishes I’ve received over the last few days. I’ve always believed that if you give of yourself freely and lovingly it will come back to you. During some dark days, I started to doubt that. This week you all returned that love to me tenfold. I am not alone, but it took this time alone to understand that…how about we close with a poem? Shall we? Take a deep breath (DO IT! NOW!)…in through the nose, and blow out…a poem, called “Loneliness”, by…me..

Loneliness is a teacher,

And a Judge.

A hard-boiled detective,

Who’s holding a grudge.

He sees you in the mirror

And offers no clues;

He gives you hidden truths,

And ALL the bad news.

If you look away

To try and avoid the pain;

He stubbornly insists

That to resist is in vain.

And when you look into his eyes

To search the inward sea

Waves of thought will pound you;

Face them now, to be free.

You see, Loneliness likes your fear,

And the reluctance in your face.

So stare back defiant,

And please grant yourself grace.

Loneliness is a teacher

Of the toughest kind;

He stands you in front of your self,

And says, “Take charge of your mind!”

Thanks for reading me…love,


*Title–good advice for not getting lost in a city-size mall

Work, eat, play, meet the Lama!

20 Sep

September 18 & 19, 2013


Music–Mastodon “Oblivion”, 30 Seconds to Mars “Hunter”, The Mars Volta “Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt”, Rush “Working Man”, Tacking Back Sunday “Little Devotional”, Michael Franti & Spearhead “Let It Go”

Hi! Welcome back. I’ve had two busy days and I feel like we’ve been apart forever. I’m in a bit of a rush, so I might be light on the style and heavy on pictures. Last time I talked about the hotel I’m living in. Here is a common site around the hotel…


Again, I spoke with my supervisor and she told me to get comfortable. Here’s a cool thing about the reform going on here. My supervisor, and about 6 others were the OG’s brought in here 6 years ago to help the Emirati people establish a world class educational system. So, her Visa ID number is under 100, meaning she was one of the first people to be hired and accepted into the culture to help them along. My visa number is around 406,000. Yes, that’s the kind of growth the UAE has experienced in the last SIX years. About 25,000 of those ID numbers are educators…and we are treated very graciously and afforded discounts on almost everything. When I went to HQ to meet with my boss, she told me she’d get me coffee and disappeared for a few seconds. I felt guilty, thinking, “…did I really just ask MY boss to get me coffee?…oh, well, I guess I deserve that…” Then, a guy in a server-type uniform shows up to take my order. Yes, they have a beverage service at HQ sponsored by the government. This is what arrived…


We met for about three hours and I got the crash course…my head was spinning and I was starving, so I took a cab to yet another mega mall for a light snack and some reading…


Yeah, that’s some FUUUUNNNN reading. Not surprising, the policies here are very similar to ours except for a few things. The culture here is of a private and very respectful nature. You are encouraged to keep ALL of your personal business to yourself. Don’t ask about family, about vacations, about sick Aunt Mildred, or anything of a personal nature. Yes, gossip exists, and from what I can tell it became a problem as the Westerners started arriving. So, we are repeatedly told, mind your business, and only yours. There is a Facebook page for teachers over here and one guy went on a rage about his position. About a day later, the post and all of the comments disappeared, and a polite reminder was circulated. People here are very polite. Manners are extremely important, and raging in an open forum is disrespectful and not too brave. That’s my perception of the perception. Make sense?

Anyway, after a long day of reading policy, talking curriculum, and learning customs and decorum it was time to eat. Enter Alhan Restaurant! Lebanese food, customs, and nightlife. Amazing…here was our dinner that night…


Needless to say, the food was excellent. (No worries, dad, your and Sito’s kibbeh nayeh is better—one hint though..sauteed pine nuts on top! Yum!). For the uninitiated, yes, that’s raw meat! SO good. The fatiyah was in thin bred rather than rolled dough. The plate to the right is lamb and chicken.  Two of us ate all that, plus hummus and a raw veggie tray and homemade black citrus tea and coffee for about $60. Remember, there’s no alcohol served here so more room for food! (That’s right, no alcohol. If you go to the tourist and hotel restaurants you can get alcohol, but you’ll pay for it! Scotch on the rocks, about $11, and it’s a weak pour, and it’s very smoky and the food is…blah)

The next day I spent finishing my medicals. That was rough on the ego. I’m in good health, and everything went fine until the exam. The doctor (Egyptian or Jordanian, I believe) was very polite and very thorough. She asked many questions from behind her partially veiled face, including this dagger.

“Sir, can you explain to me why you are almost obese?”

“…ummmm, what?”

“Obese, Mr. Lee, you are almost obese. You are. You exercise 3-4 times a week, yet your numbers say you are obese.”

“Did you say obese?” (In my head, “Ouch, lady, can you say it just one more time?”)

“Yes, you are a large man.”

Now, here’s where patience and understanding can save your ass. This woman was about two feet shorter than me and about the same weight, if not heavier. Breathe, Lee, breathe. This place has no love for smart-asses or quick wit.

“Everything looks really good, but you are almost obese. Can you tell me why? Would you say it is because you are more muscular than most?” Now, she just had my shirt off and probed me. Discomfort was setting in… “…yes, I am muscular…” I muttered. “I have big legs…”

“Ok, Mr. Lee. Very good. You do not look like a Principal. That is a good thing. Just keep showing that smile, and the kids will love you.” That was strange.

I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how I’m going to commute to work. Rental cars are expensive, and I still haven’t figured it out. For dinner, another principal and I ate in his room. You know those roasted chickens you get at the grocery store? They have those here, as well…in about 7 flavors…for about $4. So, we split that with some fresh cucumber, and an olive salad (You know how olives at home say “from the Middle East”?  The olives here don’t have to say “from here”, because they are–cool!). Total dinner cost for two grown men (one, who is apparently obese), about $8—all fresh. I can dig that.

Dessert! Now that’s a different story…wanna see? Yes, you do!


All of that with coffee, tea, lively conversation and about 4 hours of live entertainment, and varying degrees of talent at the dabke (google it) for about $60. Very cool…


There’s the entertainment and a slight glimpse of the melting pot that is this society. Although, I’m not sure melting pot is the right term. All cultures mix here, but are encouraged to hold on to their identities. Acclimation is not required. Respect for differences is. I like that. I’d give more pics of people, but again, they are private and I can’t be the pic snapping, light flashing guy.

Two more treats before I go…


If you know me you know I don’t eat candy, but I couldn’t pass it up. In fact, I wanted to show you the actual candy bar, but it would have never lasted in the 20 second walk outside (choco-soup—did I mention it’s hot?), and it was REALLY good! It’s a white Twix, use your imagination.

Also, I have the distinct honor of meeting this guy..



Yes, the Lama, big hitter, the Lama. I went to tip him and he said, “No tip, but on your death bed…” You better know the rest! If you don’t, Shame on you! See Caddyshack NOW! (The behemoth on the left is me…after very little sleep and too much double apple shisha.  I tried to drop it out, but hey, it’s honest. By the way, that’s about the size ratio to every service person I meet here.)

Off to secure a vehicle and look for permanent housing. Enjoy your day, my friends. Thank you for your support on the blog, it makes me feel a bit closer to home. Honestly, I do miss home, but the present is here, and to not focus on what’s in front of us is a betrayal of our life’s journey.

Have a wonderful day!



Fancy vs functional-views, blues, bucs, and bidets

17 Sep

September 16 & 17, 2013 

Music– 30 Seconds to Mars “From Yesterday”, The Roots “One Time”, Smashing Pumpkins “Mayonnaise”, The Beatles “Golden Slumbers”

 Hi! So, the last two days have been eventful! On Monday, I was informed at 3, that I had to pack up and move at 4. Yes, pack an apartment (no furniture, thankfully) to move into a sky-rise super fancy hotel. Sounds great, right!? Well, it’s a “be careful what you wish for” situation. Truthfully, I’ve been holding off on this blog because I really have no reason to complain, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I am now living (temporarily) at the Grand Millennium Al Wahda. It is everything the name suggests! Magnificent. Look!


That’s the view of the sunset from the rooftop open air pool on the 31st floor. There are bar stools in the pool (if you want a $9 dollar beer—can’t afford it right now), and a VERY attentive staff with towels who are CONSTANTLY squeegeeing the deck. (Yes, it’s a word—yeesh!) The room is beautiful and the staff is beyond polite. It’s listed as a 5-star hotel and I believe it—the bathroom has a bidet…with it’s own soap dish, and separate towel ring. You don’t get a pic of that. If you’re confused, google it.

The hotel is connected to the Al Wahda Mall, the biggest mall…ever! I wrote about it last week. However, today I found a store that answered my Abu Dhabi dreams! A shoe store that carried size 13! The salesman (from Bangladesh) smiled and said, “Why, of course sir, of course we have size 48!” I almost hugged the little guy, but when I showed my excitement and moved near to embrace him he cowered like Dracula at sunrise. (Vampires aren’t real–bloodsuckers are.)

Now, let’s not get crazy, they didn’t have my first choice, or my second, but I’m persistent, patient, and resilient. I will not be discouraged in my quest for casual brown shoes. Wanna see ’em? (Interesting, you just said “yes” in your brain—a few of you, out loud! Thanks for playing.) Here they are!


Yes, they’re Timberlands! I’m hip…right? Super-comfy and a little more dressy than I was looking for, but this new hotel requires it (no Birks allowed in the restaurants and bars), and I can wear them to school…when I finally get there, that is.

Speaking of, I’ll be at the Al Bawadi Model school for boys. It’s a mixed use school, which does not mean co-ed in this case, it means, there are two buildings; one elementary, one middle. I have both. I met one of my teachers today. He’s from Ireland and his name is Nile. He’s way too cute to post. I can’t have you stalking the poor guy. Al Bawadi school is in Baniyas East, which is about 20-30 minutes outside the city. The location allows me the choice of living in the city or between the city and Baniyas where I can get much more for my dollar in terms of living space. Sorta like being closer to Chicago, working in Chesterton, and paying Michigan City prices…hey, that’s kinda cool!

Speaking of living spaces, wanna see my former hotel? I’ll post a few pics so you don’t get too jealous. It was truly a one bedroom/1.5 bath with a full kitchen, washer/dryer (in ONE machine—crazy!), master bedroom and built-ins.

View upon walking in door. Half bath and couches.


 Living room and dining table…entry hallway from above pic is right of frame.



Kitchen… 😦 Miss my kitchen…note the washer/dryer combo…cool!





Master bedroom (huge built-ins not shown) Room is in state of panic packing…



Master Bath



No bidet, but really, can’t you do without one? Really? 

Farewell, LouLou Asfar Hotel Apartments. The drawback there was location. It was a serious trek in the hot, wet, wool blanket heat at night to find a restaurant, or groceries, or shopping. At the Grand Millennium, it’s all here…at my fingertips, and a few footsteps.

So, here’s my honest feeling. I’m here to live and work. My old hotel felt like living. I was shopping for food, doing laundry, ironing, and the breakfast buffet was modest, but we all knew each other there. Also, I had a bunch of food in my ‘fridge (which is a word NO ONE knows here), and only a mini-bar ‘fridge here. (Major mistake—I had a frozen steak from the old place. I read that the hotel service staffs are usually Indian (Hindu) and make very little money. You guessed it, I offered the guy who cleans my room the steak. He was so gracious he didn’t even call me on my ignorance. About 30 minutes later, I blushed and called myself an idiot…silly American)

The new place is so fancy I couldn’t figure out how to turn the room on. You just wave the card key in front of the door, then you slide it into the wall and the room powers on. Then, everything is powered by this…


Very cool, right!? Here’s the drawback. Everything around a five-star hotel is geared for people who stay at five-star hotels. I am not people who stay at five-star hotels. Sure, I know how to blend in, but I don’t have that kind of scratch. When the driver pulled up on moving day, we were behind a Bentley, a Porsche Cayenne S, and a Maybach…I said, “THAT is a nice car!” He said, “You no want that…it’s sheet!” That’s an argument I’m not interested in…needless to say, I let it go. (On a side note, the breakfast buffet here is like an All-Star episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Fanciest Breakfasts from EVERYWHERE in the World. Yes, it’s that good!)

One big draw to this place is the blues bar in the basement (Porter’s). It’s an Irish pub run by an Irish guy who loves the blues. Every pic is of Chicago blues greats…all the blues posters and “original” performance pics you’ve seen in every blues bar are in this place. The house band is English and about a third of its sets are blues. Call me a snob, but it ain’t the same thing we see in Chicago. It’s a very sterile, touristy, blues versions of very popular songs…perfect for the mixed expat crowd. The other issue is it’s basement bar and, holy yellow hat-wearing bears in the forest is it smoky! Wow! After an hour, my eyes were dry and creaky. Apparently, the rest of the world missed the memo…smoking is bad for you.

Anyway, back to work. I should be in my school next week. The middle school assignment is exciting because the reform movement here has not reached the high schools. So, I’ll be helping faculty implement the curriculum, and introducing new pedagogy…very cool! I love spending time in the classroom, and the only way to monitor and evaluate the change is to be out there in the schools with the teachers and students. That’s exactly what every administrator wants! I feel lucky for this opportunity, and I have many of you to thank for your guidance and advice. 

I sat with the teachers tonight as they received their contracts. One young teacher got her assignment in Al Ain, a metropolitan area about 90 minutes from here. She immediately started crying. She’s never been here. She’s never been there. How does she know she won’t absolutely love it? Expectations are dangerous things. You can set them, but getting emotional about an outcome you have no control over can lead to a pattern of disappointment. If you try to control your adventure, then you’re not having an adventure. Travel the road and adapt to its obstacles, don’t try to be the master of it; you’ll never enjoy the journey. Needless to say, I reserved this opinion. I don’t think she wanted to hear it. Frankly, it isn’t a lesson easily learned and if you don’t want to hear it, you won’t. I didn’t, for a long time. 

I’ve always wanted to feel like I’m changing the world. I believe this work is just that. This year, the Abu Dhabi schools have record enrollment. That’s a good problem. The people see what is happening, and they’re bringing they’re children to it. Exciting, isn’t it!

Say it with me…Abu Dhabi Al Bawadi! Abu Dhabi Al Bawadi! C’mon, even the cool kids…Abu Dhabi Al Bawadi!

Life. Live. Love. Lee

Patience is a virtue; so are small feet, apparently!?

15 Sep

Saturday September 14 and Sunday the 15th, 2013

Music today– “Groove Holmes” by the Beastie Boys, “Hand in Glove” by the Smiths, and “What I Be” by Michael Franti & Spearhead, and “Soil to the Sun” by Cage the Elephant.

Sorry, I messed up the dates during my travel. My first day here was the 10th, not the 11th

As if any of that matters…boy, our desire to be right can really be distracting, huh? 

I met some other educators today, which is always interesting. Regardless of the setting, the issues are usually similar. For me, it is, how do we make the system the most effective for the students? Of course, “the system” means you and me, whatever our capacity as a human might be.  We ALL have a responsibility to education…even if your kids are out of school. Schools make our families, our communities, our cities, our world…so support them, actively.  More on that later.

So I set out on day 2 (cue the dramatic music) “IN SEARCH OF…” size 13 or 14 shoes. I checked every shoe store in another mega mall, which is redundant, because everything is mega here. I even went to a place called “Shoe Citi”! Well, the mayor took one look at me when I said, “…size 48” and he banished me! In fact, even the Brit trying on shoes looked at me like I was out to smash Tokyo! Can I guy get a pair of brown casual shoes anywhere in this place? Not this guy, yet…I’ll hit Zappos up once I get a permanent address.

Speaking of shoes, here’s something I must get accustomed to…


That’s desert on my shoes…and in the spirit of full disclosure, my big feet wear big shoes and, at times, I kick myself in the ankles. After a day in my suit in the sun, I’m starting to really appreciate the dish-dasha, the traditional white robe-like garb the men wear here. From what I can ascertain through research, they wear only underclothes under it,and it’s WAY cooler than a suit. Here’s me, back in action, before the sweat…


Do not attempt to adjust your screen, it’s blurry…and yes, I still have some bags to unpack (sorry, poor pun). It is strange to start the work week on Sunday. (It’s also strange to reckon with how hard it is to post a pic of one’s self. If you really look at the underlying fear, you’ll have a heck of a conversation with yourself.)

After heading to ADEC Headquarters, we learned that we will not be allowed in the schools until the full health screening is completed, and we go through a full orientation. I’m almost finished with my screening, except for the whole “…in the cup, sir” thing. Not stage fright, technical difficulties…not on my part, by the way. Hopefully, on Wednesday it will all be completed. So God is teaching me patience…in work, and in shoe shopping. Thank you!  Here’s HQ….


Note the Porsche Panamera in front (on the right). Around here, they’re like Pintos in the 70’s–ahem, with all due respect, I’ll take one. Here’s another view…


The BMW 7-series…like an AMC Pacer…kinda…yeah, I’ll take one of those, too. 

Anyhow, I’ll be assigned right here in Abu Dhabi City in a mixed-use school, which means Co-ed…kinda. Same school, but they can’t share bathrooms, or eating tables, or recreational areas. Some of the schools have a bathroom in the classroom, but boys and girls can never use the same bathroom, so among the challenges for a principal is how to organize that issue. One more pic from HQ…


This is an indoor water feature…kinda cool. About 20 feet long and 10 feet high.

Last night I had dinner at a “tourist” restaurant with educators from England, Ireland, New Zealand, Atlanta, and Houston. A few of us are here for the first time. Others have been doing this for years. Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to talk to people in the profession and understand that we all face similar problems. It looks like our problem here will be to obtain and analyze an honest assessment of what’s happening, then begin to ease in the reform. We walked and talked in the hot, wet, wool blanket, night air about how to speak honestly to parents, how to empower teachers, and how to engage students. Honestly, that’s typical conversation for educators (and rather boring for everyone else), but it was our first time together and we’re in the polite stage. Real conversations come with time…is that good or bad? Tawk amongst yah-selves. Why must we wait to jump right in when you meet someone new?

On our walk along the Arabian Sea we wanted to put our feet in the water. The beaches are attended to throughout the night for various reasons. The workers are very helpful and we learned we couldn’t go to any beach. Some beaches are family beaches and only for people with children. There were 7 of us and we hardly looked like the Brady Bunch.  Of course, there are separate beaches for women and men, as well. Here’s a pic from the beach…


 The water is bathwater warm and the beach is pristine…and man made, so no rocks or large waves.

Two more interesting pics, and I’ll leave you alone.

I watched this sport on TV this morning….


 That’s camel sprint racing. They look like freakish greyhounds and the little thing on their backs is a remote control operated by the “jockeys” in the cars in the background. Interesting. The camels get to about 40 miles an hour, and frankly, the cars look like their in way more danger than the animals.


For about $4,500 you can buy this tub and chill. Delivery extra…this is not the deluxe model. Others had multiple pop up screens, extra massagers, and a coffee maker…kidding, most have servants for that…not kidding. Saw this in the mall—there was a whole showroom. For some reason, not one salesman approached me. Was it the khaki cargoes and Rage Against the Machine T?… Yeah, people go to the mall to buy this.

So, I messed up the schedule by not posting last night and including today, but we’ll all get over it. (I’m 9 hours ahead, btw.) I may be moving apartments as my bosses discovered we weren’t in executive suites and thought that wrong. How do you play that one humble? Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to showing you my school and my new place. Keep the comments coming and feel free to ask questions.

I miss and love you, thank you all!


My freakishly large feet made me eat too much!

13 Sep

So, the jet lag caught up with me. I slept until noon today. I guess I needed it. 

I decided to visit Al Wahda Mall , and it’s equally large extension. I have to tell you, if you’re gonna build it here, it better be big…and your feet better be small…more later.


You KNOW I don’t do shopping well. My favorite part of any store is the lounge section or the parking lot. All I needed was some socks and some casual walking shoes (Oh, and Breaking Bad season 3—yeah, yeah I’m way behind). In fact, I only brought my work/dress shoes, a pair of running shoes, and my STILL uncomfortable, but totally necessary Birkenstocks!

 So, the mall is quite large. I had a plan to cover it efficiently…then, I got lost. Hard to admit, but true. There are about 40 shoe stores and it comprises 2.3 million square meters—you do the math, not my strong suit. I hit all 40 of those darn shoe stores, including Payless, yes Payless! In the middle of that that search, I came across this sign…


Yes, there’s a Prayer Room for men. Out of respect, I didn’t take a picture of the room, itself. I am not a tourist, I am a resident and I have a deep respect their way of life. My dry sense of humor imagines this room in America filled with guys like me praying they find what they need quickly, or that their significant others don’t spend the farm. I was praying I find some shoes quickly.

I arrived at the Mall at around 1. When I left this is what I saw…New York busy!



Yeah, it was about 7:30. You also know I don’t mind walking. I’ll walk 8-10 miles, no problem, but the mall is different, and in Birkenstocks it’s barely tolerable. So, as I grew weary in my search for a simple pair of shoes, I stopped at one of the three, yes three, Gloria Jean’s Coffees shop. This shop had this view…


It was about 5pm and 100 degrees out and what looked like the national U19 UAE Soccer team at practice at Al Nahyan Stadium. Pretty Cool…I bet they have comfy shoes.

After a long sit and some serious caffeine, I decided to try the remaining 15 stores. Look, I’m not picky, but I was running into a serious problem. In European sizes I wear a 47 or 48. That’s a 13 to you and me. When I told the salespeople that, I got a look like was in a nuclear accident or I stepped out of a fairy tale. Here is the only pairs of shoes available…


Guess who owns a pair of cobalt blue slip on casual shoes? NOT ME, no way! The only other 13s among the 2.3 million square meters of stores was a pair of moccasin/boat shoes at Payless. Pass!

Shopping trip not a total fail. I have socks for the cold tile and Breaking Bad season 3 so I don’t have to cry my way through another 90’s movie like I am Sam or Fast and the Furious (1).

All that walking lead to a major feast when I returned home. I’ll let the pics do the talking…


Greek Salad w/ Feta and the strongest drink coke. Then…


Fatouch and tabouleh (back left to right). Front plate, clockwise from 6, Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, grape leaves, and labneh. Came with a stack of warm Syrian flatbread. Then…


Grilled chicken with Za’atar…some call it sumac. Those other things are negligible. Did I eat it all? I tried…here’s the damage…


…oh, and Turkish coffee…which is why I’m still awake!…and Breaking Bad.


Love the quote at the bottom. Even better, it’s quoted to Walk Kelly, rather than Walt Kelly.

One more pic before I go…


During the day, those buildings look like pineapples. You can see the diamond pattern despite the 90 mile an hour taxi ride…weeeeee! The creepy hand thing is just luck and a reflection. What? Open the window? Ever seen those jet heaters on a football sideline in January? Put your face in front of one, then ask me why I don’t open the window.

Food for thought (for you, I’m stuffed!)…I have met people from about 10 different countries. All of them speak English. How many of them can I speak to in their language? None. (Except for the Canadians and the Irish, well barely)  We should do better on a global level. There is an amazing culture here that seems scary until you get here. Everyone is friendly and accommodating…even the government workers. Why? The language barrier is down, and communication occurs. Interesting, no?

Have a great day!




Ahhh, the international language…technology

13 Sep

September 13, 20

(Subtitle;Looking at the work through a child’s eyes.)

Musical choices for your reading pleasure, Tim Chaisson “The Healing”, Michael Franti “I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like), and Grover Washington Jr. w/ Bill Withers “Just the Two of Us”

Sorry to my hopelessly romantic friends (of which many of you are), and to my audiophile friends, neither love nor music is the international language any more. No, TECHNOLOGY is.

Today, I had my “official health screening” and obtained my UAE ID (picture ID will be posted when I get it—yeah, think your driver’s license is bad, just wait, I have you beat!).

Originally, our group of educators were shuttled to a special place for our health screening; fingerprints, eye scan, blood and urine test, physician’s exam, and chest X-ray. However, after waiting an hour and a half, I learned my new Arabic phrase…SYSTEM DOWN. Guess how you say it in Arabic…go ahead (no google translate allowed). OK, time’s up. In Arabic it’s, “System Down”. In fact in the other 12 languages present in the waiting room, it’s also “System Down”. Once the official said that, the collective, multicultural groan made it obvious that we all got it.

(One quick digression, after memorizing both posters in the waiting room it occurred to me the blond model in the inset picture of the policy poster examining the vial of blood was Katherine Heigel. Yes, it’s a screen capture from Grey’s Anatomy—too funny.)

So, from there we were shuttled to the Abu Dhabi Identity Authority, where apparently everyone else across the world goes for the same tests. Upon escaping from the 90 degree 8:30am heat, we were put in queues, male and female—everything is separated. More later. I received my number (521). Upon entering the males only waiting room, I saw they were serving number 351…uh, yeah, 351. The task is to have an exam, get blood taken, and have a chest x-ray. Imagine how long that might take.

Luckily, we only waited about an hour. Here’s why. After checking in once my number was called with a woman totally covered except for her eyes, I was escorted behind the frosted glass. (Crazy, we had to exchange money and she was VERY careful not to make any skin to skin or eye contact while doing business. Not surprising. Then, after the check-in, she small-talked me for a second and giggled at me. I was very confused. I think she was making fun of my discomfort.)

Once behind the glass, there were a dozen teeny tiny offices; 6 with physicians and 6 with vampires, kidding, blood taker-guys. Outside each door the security guys had us stacked 3 deep and were running a very efficient process. No doors on any of the offices. My Physician was a roly poly, very kind Egyptian from Florida, yes, Tallahassee, Florida. A hillbilly Egyptian. Cool. He said “Indeee-annna, huh?” I confirmed, he told me about himself, made about 30 rapid fire clicks on his computer and I was finished. I never even sat down; no questions, no tongue depresser, no turn your head and cough awkwardness. Nice!

Next, to the bloodletter. This guy has three private messages going on his facebook on his computer and is taking my blood with one hand; alcohol swipe, load the needle, pull the plunge, cap the vial, label the vial, label my paperwork…all with one hand while talking to me about my name and why I was there, and IM-ing a facebook friend. Think you multi-task? This guy is your idol! He sees about 200 people a day. That’s all he does.

Then on to x-ray. We are stuffed, in groups of three, into phone booth size changing rooms and told to take our shirts off. Mind you, some of the people there are just arriving via plane, boat, bus, or across the desert car trek. Needless to say, that changing room needs more ventilation. You know how when you go into a gas station that serves Chesterfried chicken, you smell like it for a few hours. Yeah, like that.

One by one we are lead into one of three x-ray rooms. You hand over your health card, and the radiologist stands you in front of the machine so it is snug under your nose. SO many people have been through here that the paint and plastic protective coating on the machine has been worn away. I’m no germophobe, but I was NOT touching it. This poor guy does over 200 x-rays a day and he looks well. So, hit the tanning bed ladies, the human body is amazing!

At this point it’s about 1pm and none of us have eaten; and the urine test is up next, but we’re WAY behind schedule because “SYSTEM DOWN”, still. So, we’re waiting on the shuttle…about 22 of us, midday sun, and the AC is trying, but it isn’t happening.

Funny how strangers bond when forced together. At first, in the early waiting room the men and women were separated by an aisle. The female side was very chatty and warm. They all seemed to know each other and were talking away. The male side; quite different. Cold, quiet, physical boundaries, sighs of contempt that seemed to say, “If I were in charge, this would be fixed”, and God forbid, any male makes eye contact with another. Once trapped on the bus together, we almost all bonded. Small talk, but be proud of us men, we actually spoke to each other. No grunting, speaking…big boys play nice.

What is that? How are men and women so different that a group of female strangers from across the world can engage in conversation, yet the same demographic of males sits in cold silence. When I finally spoke to the two men in front of me (“May I borrow that pen, please?”), they both looked at me like I broke the “Never look down at the next urinal” rule. They were pleasant, but totally thrown off guard. They looked at each other, fully comprehended what I said, then looked at one another as if to say, “You talk to the crazy guy, not me.” Eventually, I got the pen. Rather than bore you with voluminous rumination, I’ll let you contemplate.

We are all here, together, not apart. We all want the same when you break it down. We all want to feel loved and to love. Why do we let so much get in our way? You’ve seen the free hugs videos on YouTube. Why do they touch us so much? Why must kindness be featured, rather than a regular player? Be open. Ask yourself. Be the change. Love.


A couple of quick things before I go…on my night time walk under the desert moon and hot, wet, wool blanket of air, I realized that not too long ago this was a desert…sand, lots of sand. This pic brought that home…



There are many of these reminders. A VERY optimistic landscaper setting watering lines in the fine sand. That’s the desert creeping under the city. The mega-city built on top of a desert. Anything is possible, and yes, that’s a Subway sign in the middle of that blue sign. Strangely, and right on par with Subway’s marketing plan, the store lets off that exact same sickly, doughy smell that you all know.

Also on my walk, I noticed the park benches are closer together here. Facing each other, not facing a landscape or space, each other. In fact, if you sit on one, you could almost put your feet on the other—if you’re of average height. I’d like to think they are placed that way to foster discussion. I wanted to take a picture for you, but they were all full. Tonight is Thursday, the last day of the work week, and the benches are full of men with coffee and cigarettes wrapped in passionate conversation. About what? I have NO idea. Also interesting is that between one end of the benches is a large ashtray. This could be a more practical reason for their close proximity, but I’m writing here, and I prefer the romantic notion of people communicating and not being afraid to speak within another’s space. Quite different from the waiting room experience.

Disclaimer. The next time you see a baby, watch her eyes. They are so hyper-focused on everything that she can focus on nothing. Everything is new, everything is amazing. Wonder rules the rationale. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m new here and while certain things are universal; everything is different, and fascinating. So, I am reserving some observations and qualifying others. I am yet a visitor, and soon will be a resident.

Good night, I hear the 4:30am call to prayer. Wow, lost track of time. Glad tomorrow is the weekend.