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On my last day in the UAE I was feeling pretty good about everything. I’d been able to say goodbye or “see you soon” to all of my close friends and had some time to relax and enjoy the last few moments. I was not looking forward to the 25 hour journey that I would embark on the following morning, but I went to bed with confidence and excitement for the future.

I left my hotel room exactly when I wanted to and drove through the nearly deserted town of Al Ain, toward the foggy Al Ain-Dubai road. I successfully made it to the airport and that is exactly when the morning went a little crazy. But, before I get into that, I have to say that I am so, so grateful that I survived the two years without a single traffic accident. Getting into an accident was my number one fear before I arrived in the UAE and for the entire two years I was thankful every time I made it to my destination in one piece. So, to arrive at the airport and finally return the car to the rental agency was a huge relief.

And that, is where the morning drama began. Generally when I take my rental car to Dubai International airport I meet the agency rep at the Terminal 1 parking area. So I drove there on Friday morning, took my ticket and entered the parking area. While I waited for the agent I cleaned out the car and dumped some old CDs, papers, etc in the trash nearby.

The rep called me and through our conversation I realized that he was in the Terminal 3 area and that I would need to drive over there. As I was leaving the parking area I realized that I didn’t have the parking ticket with me. I then quickly realized that I must have thrown it away while cleaning the car out! The agent in the ticket booth was not having it. I told him I’d lost the ticket and asked what the fine was. He said it was 150 dirhams, about $40 USD, so I started to hand him some cash. I then remembered that I might want the cash for the airport and the other parking area, so I handed him my card instead. He then proceeded to take FOREVER to charge me. Insisting that I go back to the parking area and look for the ticket. I had to ask him two different times to just charge me the money and let me go. Finally after about five minutes he did process the charge.

So, I quickly got myself to Terminal 3 and found the rep, returned my car and got on my way. Terminal 3 is a very efficient area and with nearly every single ticketing counter open I was not in line for very long. I got my boarding pass and both my bags were within the weight limit, so off I went to passport control.

At passport control the officer questioned me about why my residence visa didn’t have a sticker on it. I explained to him that it was cancelled a few weeks ago and they stamped it. He said, “yes, yes, but it is not canceled, it is still in the computer”. I didn’t really know what to say, so I just stood there and stared at him. He then spoke with the officer next to him and I gathered from their conversation that the other officer was telling him not to worry about it. But he was still worried and would’t let it (or me) go. I explained to him that I would be leaving and I would not be back for a very long time, so it wasn’t a big deal. But he wasn’t convinced. Eventually, after inputing my information into the other officer’s computer, he stamped my passport and I was on my way. Thankfully, as that could have gotten very tricky.

After walking around the Terminal 3 area trying to find some water and snacks, I headed toward my gate. I had my ticket and passport checked two times (which is normal for an Emirates flight) and headed toward the gate area. I noticed that there was another agent checking passports and tickets, again, and that his line was a little backed up. I saw to my left, two other agents with no one in line, so I headed in that direction. I handed the agent my passport and boarding pass and he promptly took my boarding pass and asked me to have a seat. Huh? Was my reaction, then I realized that I was now in a special “random” screening area. I had just inadvertently nominated myself for a more stringent security check! I couldn’t help but think that after all this, the flight was going to be a piece of cake!

I eventually did make it onto the plane and just a little over 24 hours after I had departed the Hilton Hotel in Al Ain, I was standing in the Eugene Airport giving my Mom a hug! And, despite the crazy morning, my flights and everything else went very smoothly.

I was greeted upon arriving to my parents house by my family and one of my favorite meals, pork ribs and corn on the cob. And, my favorite Rosy Cheeks wine from Sweet Cheeks winery. Saturday was spent hanging out with my Mom and sister. Today we braved some very black skies and headed to another favorite place of mine, Mt. Pisgah for a hike. It was a very fun morning even though we had to run the last few meters of the trail to get out of the rain and lightning!

The hiking crew at the top of Mt. Pisgah.

The hiking crew at the top of Mt. Pisgah.

Relaxing at the top.

Relaxing at the top.

Final Days

Just under two years ago, I stepped out of the Abu Dhabi International Airport into the hottest most humid weather I had ever experienced, and it was 1am. In a few days I’ll be headed to the Dubai International Airport and ending my time here in the United Arab Emirates and the weather doesn’t seem nearly as bad as I remembered.

I am living in a hotel in Al Ain (as I sold everything and moved out of my flat last Sunday) and doing my best to enjoy my last days here. It is currently the holy month of Ramadan which means shortened work hours and no eating or drinking in public. Which, mirrors my exact situation when I first came here. I think it is very fitting that I will be leaving the same conditions to which I arrived, makes it feel like things have gone full circle.

I have been spending quality time with my friends here. Including this past weekend when I met up with my friend Krista (who will be teaching in China next year) and another woman in Abu Dhabi to enjoy the Afternoon High Tea at the Emirates Palace hotel. The tea was a great experience, lovely atmosphere and delicious food. And in true Emirates Palace fashion, most of the items served for tea were dusted in 24K gold leaf!IMG_0465 IMG_0462

Packing up two year’s worth of stuff (and selling/giving away the rest) was not very fun. I had way more stuff than I thought! I am excited to go home, but I am happy that I have these amazing memories, wonderful friends, lots of photographs and a few little things to remember my time here. Now, onto the next adventure!

100.

Wow! This is my 100th post. I am actually surprised I have written that many posts. I guess that just means I have had a lot of adventures! I thought of doing a “100 things I’ll miss about the UAE” or something, but I realized that I wouldn’t want to have to read that and therefore neither would you!

Instead I will share this bundle of joy with you! This is Rosie, the new addition to the Mutch family. She was born on 20 July and this was taken the following day. She is so cute! And I think she is smiling!

Me & Rosie

Me & Rosie

Okay, now that you’ve seen that cuteness, let me tell you what I’ve been up to. Aside from working, playing and selling my stuff, I have been organizing my documents for the move to Costa Rica. If you have been following the blog, then you know that I had to get documents authenticated before I came to the UAE in order to secure my visa. Well, I have to do the same in order to get my work visa for Costa Rica. It has been an interesting (and not yet complete) process, which I will tell you about in case you want to join me working in Costa Rica. If you are curious about the UAE process you can read about it here and here.

First things first. Document authentication is a great way for governments to make money! From what I have experienced, I think I might want to figure out a way to get in on the business. Anyway, for now I will just be handing over my hard earned cash in return for stamps on my documents.

Costa Rica and the United States are both part of the Hague Convention regarding document authentication, which is GREAT. Basically this means that documents that are properly authenticated in their country of origin (in my case the US) are legal for use in the other without any additional steps. This is a huge relief and saves a lot of money! From the US I need to have my birth certificate and a police clearance authenticated for use in Costa Rica. Because both police clearance and birth certificate came from Oregon, they simply needed to be verified by the Secretary of State of Oregon’s office. And this can be done by mail! This step was very easy, especially easy for me because my secretary in Oregon (aka my Mom) did most of the work for me.

Now, the difficult part was the one document I need from the UAE. The UAE is not part of the Hauge Convention and there is no Costa Rica Embassy here, so things are a little bit tricky. From the UAE I needed a police clearance as well and somehow I needed to get it authenticated for use in Costa Rica. Countless emails and phone calls and I finally figured out how to do it, I think. Here is the process:

  1. Request police clearance from Abu Dhabi Police sector. Wait three weeks for text message to confirm completion, that never comes.
  2. Check on-line now that website is working again and see that it was completed three weeks ago.
  3. Go to Al Ain Police directorate to get completed police clearance ($15 USD), printed in Arabic (20 minutes).
  4. Pay $27 to have the clearance printed in English (30 seconds).
  5. Take clearances to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (across the street) to find out they close at 2pm.
  6. Return another day, pay $43 to get the English document stamped and signed (two minutes).
  7. Take the English document to the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi (hour and 15 minute drive each way). (In order to get the US Department of State to authenticate for use in Costa Rica the US Embassy has to verify the stamp and signature of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs). US Embassy verification, $50 and about five minutes.

And now I am at the final step, which will wait until I return to the US in a few weeks. That step is to send the English version stamped and signed by all the proper authorities in the UAE and pray that it is all correct so the US Secretary of State can authenticate it. If that all goes well then I’ll have it complete and ready for Costa Rica. If not, then you can bet I’ll be telling you about it.

 

 

The End is Near

My time is the UAE is coming to an end, I have just about 30 days remaining. I am doing my best to enjoy the end, but that has become more difficult as it is generally 110-115 degrees every day! Never-the-less I have found some things to keep me occupied. I have been to baby showers, a ball and a great brunch weekend. As well as just catching up with friends.

In late April I joined a group of friends to attend the ANZAC Day Ball hosted here in Al Ain. For those of you who don’t know, ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. The day is meant to remember not only the first major Australia and New Zealand casualties of WWI, but also the service of all the men and women in the Australian and New Zealand armed forces, it is in this way similar to Veteran’s Day in the United States. So in order to honor those Australians and New Zealanders here in the UAE who have served/are serving, we got together for some nice food, speeches and of course, dancing. It was a fun night with great friends.

Rachel and I at the ANZAC Ball.

Rachel and I at the ANZAC Ball.

ANZAC Ball

ANZAC Ball, having a great time!

A few weeks later we had a baby shower for Rachel (see above pics). Two amazing ladies did most of the planning and preparation and I did my best to help by chauffeuring the mom-to-be to the event. It was hands down the best baby shower I have ever been to. There were some wonderful activities (such as each guest contributing one or two pages to an ABC Book by drawing a picture and writing a word that represents the picture and signing a card for the baby for future birthdays) and the games were very creative. The decorations were perfect, check out this beautiful (and very tasty) cake.IMG_5728

A few weeks ago my friend Natasha and I did a 5K fun run called Glow and Go. The race was held at night and we wore as much neon as we could manage. The race started off like an actual road race, but after a bit went off-road and into the dark. It wound back into the facility at Wadi Adventure where we then had to wade through the white water channels and finished with a jump into the surf pool and a swim back to shore. It was hot out, so I don’t think anyone minded being in the water that much. I know I was sure glad I didn’t really have to run a 5K, because I am not sure I actually could!

Natasha and I getting ready to run.

Natasha and I getting ready to run.

The start to June was excellent. Students stopped coming to school, giving me plenty of time to read and plan for next year’s courses! But before they could finish up the year, they  had to give “how to presentations.” Most students taught us how to make a recipe, style your hair or do origami. But, one aspiring veterinarian taught us how to trim your cat’s claws. Yes, she brought her cat to school. 10338816_660359797112_1521661552068643679_n

A student made this Dubai skyline with my name painting for me so I wouldn't forget the UAE.

A student made this Dubai skyline with my name painting for me so I wouldn’t forget the UAE.

And the first weekend of June meant a surprise birthday brunch in Dubai as well as an overnight at the Westin. I am considering this to be my last big extravagance in the UAE and I really wanted to have a great time. Rachel’s husband Dave will be turning 50 next month, but since many of us will be gone and they will have a newborn, she decided to surprise him with an early birthday at the Westin’s Bubbalicious brunch. The brunch is, of course, amazing (I went for the first time last year, read about it here). But really the company was what made it great. I really am going to miss these awesome friends when I leave.

Ready for brunch!

Ready for brunch!

Where I spent Saturday morning, the Westin Dubai's pools.

Where I spent Saturday morning, the Westin Dubai’s pools.

Back to “ojalá”

When I started this blog I wanted to choose a title that represented the journey I was taking from my teaching job in Woodburn, Oregon to a new job in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. I chose the title “From ojalá to insha’Allah” as I felt it best represented the cultural transition I was making. The two words, in Spanish and Arabic respectively, mean essentially the same thing, “God willing”. For me the two words now mean so much more. But, as the title of this posts indicates, I am soon going to be returning to ojalá.

When the 2013-14 school year began I knew it was going to be my final one in the UAE, I just didn’t know what I would be doing next. Throughout fall term I looked for other international teaching positions however, the more I looked the more I was drawn toward returning to the United States. I stopped looking for international jobs and started contacting everyone I knew in Oregon looking for a way to get my foot in the door. Then, I went to Germany for winter break and was reminded, again, how fun it would be to stay overseas a little while longer.

In January I went back to looking for international positions, particularly in Munich (which if you follow this blog, makes perfect sense), and also in Oregon. I came across a few jobs that I thought really fit my teaching goals and my personality, but I was still pretty sure I wanted to return to Oregon.

In March I was contacted by two potential employers and I had Skype interviews with each of them on two consecutive days. One was an Oregon job (a candidate pool, which I was accepted into), the other an international job. I left for spring vacation in Europe with a job offer from the international school in my pocket.  When I arrived in Germany I was pretty certain I still really wanted to return to Oregon.

After many conversations with my amazing friends while in Spain, with my Mom and most importantly with the faculty of the international school I decided that the offer was just too good to pass up.

I am excited to announce that I will be returning to the world of “ojalá” as I have accepted a teaching position with United World College Costa Rica. You can find out more about the school on their website. It is a very unique school and I feel very lucky to call myself their new History Teacher. I am beyond excited to get back into teaching history, to travel to new places and to (fingers crossed) become fluent in Spanish! I just hope I can learn the curriculum in time! I have a lot of studying to do.

I want to say a special thanks to those who helped me process all my “pros & cons”. Thank you Mom & Ken, Elise, Liz & Aaron, Heather and Julia your advice and insights were overwhelming helpful.

Map courtesy of CostaRicaResorts.com

Map courtesy of CostaRicaResorts.com

 

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

When planning the second part of my spring break, I mentioned to Liz that I might want to go to Salzburg, and wondered if she would like to join me. She said yes and added that we could book a room in the Sound of Music house. She was joking, but when I discovered that this is something you could actually do I booked it immediately.  That sealed the deal for me, Salzburg was going to be part of my spring break!

Before we headed off to Salzburg, I did some touring around Munich while my hosts worked. I love how easy it is to get around major European cities. Bus, train, tram, etc, they are all simple to use and frequent. One of the days I took my iPod and my Rick Steves Munich podcast and set off for a three hour walking tour of central Munich. Most of the sights and information I already knew from my previous visits, but I did see some new things. I really like those podcasts, I have now used Rick Steves audio guides in three countries. Here are some photos from my stroll.

The view from St. Peter's Church.

The view from St. Peter’s Church.

Maypole in the Viktualienmarkt.

Maypole in the Viktualienmarkt.

Amazing interior of the tiny Asamkirche.

Amazing interior of the tiny Asamkirche.

Display at the Bavarian State Ballet. Loved the shoe colors.

Display at the Bavarian State Ballet. Loved the shoe colors.

A few days later we set off for Salzburg, the weather report was looking grim and I was sort of starting to regret wanting to go. But, I layered up and we toughed it out. Luckily, it didn’t rain on us until the end of the day.

Our first stop was the castle (aka Hohensalzburg Fortress), to learn a bit about Salzburg’s history and take in the great views of the city from the fortress on the hill.

The fortress on the hill.

The fortress on the hill.

Looking back to where I took the previous picture.

Looking back to where I took the previous picture.

After touring the castle we headed for the catacombs, which were very interesting. They are very old and are used for religious retreat, and despite being a tourist spot are still used for hermitage.

See the windows on the hillside? Those are the catacombs.

See the windows on the hillside? Those are the catacombs.

Me and Liz

Me and Liz

After the catacombs we wanted to rest our feet and have a snack. Liz directed me to what is thought to be Europe’s oldest restaurant. I was intrigued by this, but figured it would be out of our price range. But, luckily, we could get apple strudel for a decent price. And when in Austria, one must have apple strudel and why not have it at a restaurant where Constantine is believed to have dined?

St. Peter Stiftskeller since 803 CE.

St. Peter Stiftskeller since 803 CE.

With a little food in our bellies we headed for our first (and only) The Sound of Music film stop, the Mirabel Gardens. This is the garden where Maria and the children sang “Do, Re, Mi” in the film. It was gorgeous, lots of beautiful flowers in bloom.

Mirabel gardens (the steps in the background are where Maria hit the high notes.)

Mirabel gardens (the steps in the background are where Maria hit the high notes).

Such a lovely display!

Such a lovely display!

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As the rain started to come down, we decided to head to our hotel. Now remember, we were staying the night in the actual Von Trapp family home, not the one in the movie (I think that one was a studio set). Off we went on the train, to step back into a bit of history.

I do love the film The Sound of Music (up until the arrival of the Nazis), but I’m by no means a die-hard fan. For me, staying in Villa Trapp (the name of the house now) was more about staying somewhere with meaning rather than just some hotel in town. Granted, many places in Europe have storied pasts, but I like the idea of staying where I have a bit of a connection. Even if that connection is to a grossly inaccurate film made in America.

Villa Trapp.

Villa Trapp.

Entering the historic home. ;-)

Entering the historic home. ;-)

Recognize those stairs?

Recognize those stairs?

Our room. I loved the dormer window!

Our room. I loved the dormer window!

Spring has sprung

It is officially spring, today is the two year anniversary of my blog and I am in the final trimester of my final year teaching in the UAE. I am looking forward to what may come in the next few months, but now is a time for reminiscing. Reminiscing about the two fabulous weeks I spent in Europe! Again, I returned to Germany to see my long-time friends Liz and Aaron and to see my new friends I’ve made on my last couple of visits. But this trip included two side trips, Spain and Austria!

Week one started out with a perfect opportunity to wear the dirndl I bought on my last trip, Starkbierfest (click for more information). Starkbier is a strong beer that is brewed during Lent and is celebrated with drinking, dancing and signing in the beer hall. So we put on our dirndls, recruited some friends and headed off to the beer hall.

Dancing on the benches!

Dancing on the benches! (Liz, Erin and me)

Had to borrow some steins for this picture (no starkbier drinkers here)!

Had to borrow some steins for this picture (no starkbier drinkers here)! (Liz, Eva and me)

It was so much fun! Dancing on the benches, signing classic American party songs (think YMCA and other such tunes) and being entertained by the people who had drank a bit too much starkbier.

The next day we were on our way to Spain. When I was in Germany last December I attended a phenomenal dinner party at the Yoder’s (friends of Aaron and Liz) and was invited to join a girls trip to Spain during the spring. Lucky for me, the trip they had planned fit into the time frame of my spring break. Heather was an amazing host at her home in Salobrena, Spain (she also has a blog Heather Yoder Writes). Not only was the home gorgeous and the host gracious the views were spectacular.

Salobrena, Spain

Salobrena, Spain

The beach in Salobrena.

The beach in Salobrena.

Love the Spanish bars!

Love the Spanish bars!

Tortialla, croquettas and wine, some of my favorite things!

Tortialla, croquettas and wine, some of my favorite things!

Granada

Granada

Touring the Alhambra.

Touring the Alhambra. (Liz, me and Julia)

Great views at the Alhambra.

Great views at the Alhambra.

We had a lot of fun relaxing around the pool, in the hot tub and touring Granada. We also had a visit to the Alhambra which is in Granada. It was a relaxing, fun and delicious five days in Spain. Oh how I love Spanish cuisine!!

And that was just the first week!

 

No such thing as too much tennis!

The last three weekends have been busy, but very fun. They included tennis, lots of it, and my first ever mile swim in the ocean. The fun began on February 14, also known as Oregon’s birthday, with the Lumineers concert in Dubai. It was a very good show! I had no idea they played so many different instruments. They had tiny keyboards, accordions, xylophones and so much more. They were wonderful. If you have the chance to see them, you must.

The following day I headed to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Center for the first day of women’s qualifications. I specifically went to see Flavia Penetta and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who were of course playing the first and last matches, respectively.

Flavia is a solid player and made it to the quarter-finals where I got to watch her again, unfortunately she was beat by Venus Williams.ARS_2593 ARS_2610

Bethanie Mattek-Sands is easy to identify with her “rock star” persona. You won’t see many people on the tour with purple hair. (By the way, if anyone knows where I can get some tops like Bethanie’s, I would really love to know!)ARS_2681

I returned the following weekend to watch some more tennis. This time catching both Williams sisters, Caroline Wozniaki and a few others. There were some amazing matches.

Venus played beautifully, she went on to win the tournament. IMG_5560

I was lucky to be sitting close enough to hear Serena scold a line judge for not calling a ball out, when it so very clearly was. IMG_5577

The women’s matches were great! I have a new favorite player on the tour as well, Alize Cornet–keep your eyes out for her, tennis fans!

The following weekend (also known as weekend #3) saw the men in action. I was excited to be able to see both Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Roger Federer play.

Tsonga has some great ball handling skills, I was lucky to catch this shot as he was bouncing the ball on the rim of his racket.ARS_2968

Federer was flawless, played a classic game of tennis. He was just too good, and went on to win the tournament. ARS_3159 ARS_3160

To cap off these three amazing weekends, I participated in the Mina Mile. You may recall, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, that I did this race in the fall. But due to a conflict I was only able to swim the 800m and 400m races. This past weekend however, I skipped the shorter two races and only swam the 1600m. I set my goal time as 35min. But, when I saw everyone was wearing wet suits and I decided to wear long sleeves too, I thought I may not make that time. But I did! 34min 19sec was my official time. It was a good race.photo-19

It’s the little things

This job has challenged me in many ways, but one of the things that has been hardest for me is not being able to connect with my students. First, you have the language barrier. Then there is the school culture. Students come to school just before school starts and leave as soon as school ends. There aren’t after school activities or other things for teachers and students to be involved in together.

Last year, this really affected me. I felt like I couldn’t get to know my students they way I did at home and I believed that hindered my ability to teach to the whole student. This year, things are a bit easier, because I have grade 10 students and they seem to love everything about me, except when I try and make them do school work and because I’m a year wiser. 

I am writing this because, recently I have had two wonderful experiences with my students outside the classroom that have helped renew my faith in this job. On Sundays and Thursdays I have supervision duty on the playground (just a big courtyard) and my grade 12 students have been bringing a soccer ball to school and we’ve played a few times. It has been wonderful! They are hilarious and playing soccer in skirts and sandals on cement tiles isn’t easy!

And this evening, I met up with three of my grade 10 students at the park near our school. They are making a commercial for our Media and Society unit and wanted my help (they needed someone to record the commercial). It was so fun to help them, to see their creativity, their shyness and their teamwork. 

These are the moments that keep me going, that help me to remember why I love working with young adults. 

Not a Mirage

Things are not always what they seem to be, and  yesterday I visited a new place in Al Ain that might confuse many people. Just outside the city there is a lake, or you might call it a collection of pools. Either way it is a body of water, seemingly, in the middle of the desert. If you happened to be riding a camel through the desert in the middle of August and came upon these pools you might not believe your eyes. But this, my dear camel riding friend, is no mirage. It is real water. I wouldn’t, however, drink it if I were you.

These pools are made of treated sewage from the nearby water treatment facility. None-the-less, it is a great place to visit, see some nature and enjoy the outdoors. There are shelters set up for picnics, access for 4-wheeling adventure and lots of birds. Apparently, people do fish here as well, though I didn’t see anyone yesterday. The lake has many names, Zakher Lake, Zakher Pools, Tilapia Lake, but despite the many names and the “keep away” signs, people still seemed to have no problem finding it. Here are some of the pictures I took yesterday.

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