School is back in session, today began the second week with students. My classes this year have been good so far. My new classroom management techniques seem to be working to everyone’s advantage. Also, the simple fact that I know about how my school functions has made the start of this year easier than last. Experience pays off!
I am almost always surprised by the things I encounter here in the UAE, and this weekend was no exception. I have recruited my friend Samina to join me on a trip to India in the near future. We booked our important travel arrangements and investigated how to get a tourist visa. Turns out it isn’t as easy as I would like. I love it when the US has agreements that allow me to purchase my visa (or get it for free) at the point of entry. India, however, does not offer this for US or UK citizens (Samina is from the UK). So after diligently filling out the on-line visa application we headed to the Indian Social Centre here in Al Ain to have our applications processed.
We’d been told that the Indian Social Centre is a little difficult to find, so we were prepared. Armed with a map and a general understanding of where the centre is, we set off. A few minutes after we found the neighborhood we ran into a dead end. There was a man in the garden of the villa at the end of this dead end, so Samina called him over. She quickly established that he spoke Urdu (which she also speaks) and was able to give us some direction. Following that we set off again, quickly discovering that we needed better directions. We found another man to speak to (gratefully, he too spoke Urdu–thank goodness I had Samina with me!), who gave us proper directions.
These proper directions, required us to drive down a dirt road, where we encountered another vehicle. The driver of the vehicle quickly determined that we were lost (before we even got close to his car) and got out to help us. However, when his passengers (two Emirati women) saw that we were two young females, they sternly told him to get back into the car. The women (and the driver), helped us in a mix of English, Arabic and Urdu. They were very friendly and sweet, and those two women were clearly concerned about protecting us young ladies from a man–even if it was their trusted driver.
When we arrived at the Social Centre we discovered it to be closed! “No problem,” said an employee. “Come back tomorrow, 8am, they will be here.” Then he showed us exactly where to go, when we came back the next day. So, Samina and I decided to go get some henna since we weren’t going to be spending the afternoon applying for our visas.
The henna experience is interesting. The art is done very quickly, but then needs hours to dry. We were entertained by four young Emirati girls, who just couldn’t help themselves. Once the ice was broken, it was non-stop chatter. Two of the girls spoke English very well, and their two cousins were giving a great effort with their more limited English. It was very entertaining. When Samina and I left the salon, the girls followed us up the stairs and gave us hugs! They were too cute!
The following day we went back to the Indian Social Centre, arriving just before 9am. We had been good travelers, researched what we would need to apply and even brought letters of support from the company our travel is booked through. However, we were quickly informed that we didn’t have everything that we needed. We needed a copy of our airline reservation as well as our UAE residence visa. So, we drove back to my place and organized all the documents and returned to the centre around 11:30am. The process was then very quick, and I even received a text message today telling me that my application had been received and I could track it online. This was the second most expensive visa I’ve purchased $84 ($165 for Samina!), China was more expensive. I know, though that it will be worth it! Now, lets just hope we get our visas (and passports) back in time for our trip!