Sunday I was promised a full class. I didn’t get it, but the ten kids who showed up were pretty good. A couple of our kids had breakdowns, but that’s to be expected. The moms and nannies wouldn’t leave. About half of them stayed the whole day, which lasted all of two and a half hours. Yes, the first day of school ran from 8:30 to 10. In fact, for the first week the kids went home at 10. Rumor has it that they go home at 10 all next week. WooHoo. During that time I got around to most of the kids and really started to bond with Leelas whose mother said two very interesting things. One, she mentioned that her professor’s name is the same as mine meaning she not only goes to college, but it’s in English because I don’t have an Arabic name by any stretch. And two, that Leelas’ father isn’t in the home. Not sure exactly what that means, but she is raising children by herself for some reason in a culture where a woman without a man is a non-entity. After the kids left, we lingered around wondering what to do until Dr. Shamsha (our principal) said we could go home. On the way out, Jamila and I were met by Sterette (my boss) who told us that ADEC wanted the KG2 classes to have English teachers before KG1 classes so I had to move and I wouldn’t know where until morning. Leah and I looked for Susan and Lakeysha, but couldn’t find them and assumed they went home. We couldn’t raise our regular cab guy so we started walking – in the noonday sun – in the middle of a neighborhood – where there were no cabs. It took about fifteen minutes of walking, but a cab did finally stop for us.
We arrived back at the hotel at one and I decided to head to the pool. I had a bite to eat in my room and hit the pool about two. On the way out I ran into Cindy on her way in and then Susan who had stumbled into the teacher’s afternoon tea party after school and had to rub that in. On the way back in, I bumped into Cindy again. She had forgotten her laptop power cable at school and wanted to know if I’d like to ride down with her so she could look for it and stop at Bawadi Mall so she could get another power cord that she could just leave at school. She wanted someone to go with her because we’ve been warned not to be at school alone with the security guard which is just good sense anyway. I had something to return at Bawadi so off we went and didn’t return to the hotel until almost nine. I swore that the next night I would stay in, rest and not spend any money. (You do see where this is going, right?)
Monday, Sterette assigned Susan to room 6, Leah to room 7 and then she turned to me. “You are going to be in room 8, but there’s no class yet and there’s no Arabic teacher and we don’t know which room it is because it’s a brand new class. I gave this to you because I figured you’d be able to handle it.” No pressure. So I spent an hour rearranging the furniture they way I liked and then I went to Jamila’s class to see if I could help her. I ended up having to be door guard because Abdulla kept trying to make a break for it and trying to keep Leelas calm because her mother hadn’t stayed and she kept veering into tears. Poor kid was freezing too. I think it was fear, but when we let out to play before going to the buses, she stuck with me until her mom showed up to get her.
After school, I went down to the lobby because I didn’t want to be holed up in my room all night and they hadn’t cleaned yet. In the lobby, Cindy found me and just as she was saying, “I need to find Natalie and make sure she’s okay” Natalie showed up and told us she was going home. Apparently that morning, Natalie had been verbally attacked by Amy, the other teacher from our group who is at her school. They teach about an hour away in Al Yahar and Natalie had arranged with Amy to ride with her to school. Well, the previous night they had been talking about going somewhere together after school when Natalie reminded Amy that Amy needed to send her son on a border run. At that point, Natalie was under the impression that everything was fine. At 8:30 that night, Amy sent Natalie a text message saying the carpooling arrangement wasn’t going to work and she would take her in the next day, but not after that. Then she turned off her phone and didn’t answer her room phone so Natalie couldn’t find out what was wrong. That morning Natalie met Amy in front of the hotel and asked why. Amy blew up in front of her young son and six other teachers saying that Natalie had been rude to her son and was a horrible person and on and on. Cindy said the tirade stunned her into silence, so it must have been really bad. It got worse when they got to school because Amy spun everything to make Natalie look like a maniac and Natalie decided she couldn’t work with someone like that. ADEC was called in to mediate. I don’t know either of these women all too well, but Amy is in her early 30’s and always struck me as a little weird while Natalie is in her early 60’s and is consistently pleasant. We sat vigil in the lobby waiting for ADEC’s response for three hours, gathering people until there were about ten of us sitting in the coffee shop trying to find a way around Natalie leaving. When ADEC called, they told her she had a choice of working it out with Amy, working at the school next door which would necessitate riding with Amy or spending $36 in a cab each way or resigning. She chose to resign and went to compose her resignation email. Cindy texted Gavin, who is our local rep, as she was an eyewitness. Cassandra texted as a character witness for Natalie. The rest of us waited. Gavin called Cassandra, talked to her for a few minutes and told her to have Natalie call before she resigned. Within thirty minutes Natalie was back downstairs with a new school assignment and definitely not going home. Even better, she’s at a school in town with another friend. Then Cindy decided we needed to go shopping to celebrate. She’s a bad influence that Cindy, but we found a place called Welcome Trader where I found my leopard print abaya. (WooHoo!)
Tuesday morning Sterette walked up to me and said, “I’m sorry to do this to you.” I swear, I’m going to start hiding from her. They decided last night that Miriam really needed a co-teacher as she was going to be going out on maternity leave, oh, any second and Susan had been her co-teacher before she was moved. So Susan was going back and I was going into Susan’s KG2 class. Three different classes in three days. Afra, my new co-teacher, swears this will be the last one, but I responded Inshalla and she laughed. I had a good time with the kids. I read them a story and sang Five Little Monkeys for them. Before school Zayed (the boy in Jamilla’s class who pulled his headdress over his eyes the first day) wouldn’t go near the classroom. I did my best collie impersonation, but it didn’t work so I left him alone to see if he was more scared of me than class. Jamilla found me later and asked if I knew where he was. Together we hunted him down and she tried to drag him to class, but he planted his little feet. At that point I’d had it and run out of time (and I was a little afraid of her yanking on his arm like that) so I picked all 70-80 pounds of stubborn little boy and carried him across the play area to her class. He played dead so at least I didn’t have to fight him. Then it took both of us to shove him through the door. After school, committed to not going out, I stayed in my room, washed some laundry and ordered room service.
Wednesday I hadn’t slept much so I wasn’t in the greatest frame of mind. I kept waking up all night panicked that I had to change classes again. I didn’t, but I was still a little off my game. Afra did most of the teaching, all two and half hours there were. We did write their names on half sheets of paper, Arabic on one side and English on the other, and had them copy them. Saeed is going to be a standout student. He wrote is name eight times in each language. He’s going to be my new Wayne. Personable, cute, and way smart. Makhde is very serious, but he’s got no concept of print. All he did was scribble. But he’s a very sweet, obedient kid so I’m thinking he’s my new Ellie. And there’s Kalifa (one of two Kalifas in the class.) He’s the new Amy. You talk to him and it just doesn’t connect. Getting him to scribble was difficult. Afra warned me the first day that there was something not right about him. The other kids all seem to have the concept of print if nothing else. Afra showed me through all her supplies and told me I was welcome to use anything I wanted. Oh and Abdulla’s sister is in my new class. So he’s trying to stay with her and there I am trying to get him to go to Jamilla’s class. Abdulla was with us all through assembly, but Jamilla came to get him after we went to the classroom. After the kids left we all gathered in the teacher’s lounge to chat until the staff meeting started. The meeting was mostly conducted in Arabic, but only lasted abut an hour.
Wednesday night we had a meeting of all the licensed teachers with one of the bigwigs of ADEC. He wanted to give out keys that night, but he had 600+ people getting keys that night so they decided instead to have us sign our leases and leave numbers so they could call us. They’re going to give us our housing allowance and pay us PDQ too which means I’m suddenly going to have a lot of money. And I was just battening down the hatches to be in the hotel for months.
Thursday I got to have the same class again. Knock wood, I think it’s going to stick this time. The decided to plan out how we’re going to do morning assemblies – with all the kids present. It took nearly an hour. The play area where we were all gathered got hot and the kids were fidgety. Explain to me why we always have to do these things with the kids there? We know about how much room they’re going to take up. Let’s just pace it out the night before or while we’re waiting for buses in the morning. Something so we’re not standing around in the heat trying to keep small children under control. Flaky Kalifa wouldn’t stop hitting the other boys, so I ended up sitting in the floor holding him in my lap until he settled down. After that we went back to the class and I had the kids most of the day. I had put up Afra’s color stuff with the names not on them so the kids got to yell a lot while we figured out what went where. Then we got out their personal whiteboards and practiced drawing straight lines and circles in preparation for learning to write. When we started to clean up for snack things fell apart. The kids were still hyper from the whole assembly debacle and wouldn’t line up nicely to wash up. So I made them all sit down until they calmed down and one at a time, as they caught on, they got to line up. A few of them figured it out pretty fast, but some of the others were not so quick and Afra got fed up with them and reamed them out. I know she was telling them to listen to me and to stand quietly in line, but I can understand why the kids couldn’t settle down. I’ve got to sound like the teacher from Peanuts to them and they’re four. It took nearly 45 minutes to get the kids washed up and sitting at the tables for snack which ended up being fine because snack was late. They bring it around in baskets and the kids buy what they want. Croissants with butter, cheese or black olive paste and fruit juice, strawberry or chocolate milk. Every. Day. Then it was time to go home. Some of the kids hadn’t even finished their snack. Saeed’s mother was picking him up, so he hung out with me until she came. The fact that he could communicate that to me really says a lot about how smart he is. That and the fact that he’s got a Shaun the Sheep thermos. Afra also told me I could bring in my camera and take pictures of the kids. At the end of the year we’re going to put them on CD for the parents.
We hung out in the teacher’s lounge and Leah talked to the school nurse in French. I was proud of myself for being able to follow the conversation. Sterette had figured out that the wireless internet is up and got us online. So now I can access the internet at school. The Arabic teachers all vanished by 11:30. We left at 12:30. I was at the pool by 1:30. Cindy was already there. She got home at noon and was at the pool by the time we left school. We then lounged at the pool for hours. They had drinks, I had a banana split and we all congratulated ourselves on how hard we worked .
The weather has really mellowed. When I get up in the morning it’s still a little gray and cool. In the evening, I usually open the patio door to let in some fresh air. Right now it’s not quite ten, I’ve got the patio door open so the sheers are floating in the breeze and I’m listening to Moxy Fruvous’ “Sahara” in the Sahara.
And next week will be better.