Online Again

Upon our arrival our kids were transitioning to Gem’s American Academy in person school. The school is beautiful, and the staff is friendly, as well as helpful! The teachers work hard to connect with the kids, and some have a bit of a language barrier if you are an American English-speaking student.

Transitioning to a school out of the country can have its challenges, but when you add Covid on top of it all transitioning becomes even more complicated. Teachers and staff are tested every two weeks and the students were tested upon entry to school. The society at large moves freely to the mall and restaurants with masks and social distancing. At restaurants once you are seated at your table, your mask can be removed. The staff and kids then filter into a school that have more strict guidelines to adhere to, as well as enforce.

At Gems this week, a teacher or staff person has tested positive and all students were moved to online distance learning from home for 14 days. The school itself is new and highly technical already so the transition seemed easier than what I have witnessed in the states. The teachers are more organized and well versed in interaction with their students online at home. Every student was already required to have a laptop and was operating paperless in person at school. Teachers were utilizing the superior technology they were already amazingly comfortable with to bring to online platforms.

Tuition is exceedingly high but is often partially paid or completely paid by the employer here in the UAE. We have six kids, and some have or are currently enrolled in college back in the states. The Gems tuition feels like college tuition. But I must say for the quality of what my kids are receiving as compared to public education, it also feels well worth it.

I am a strong supporter of public education, but our teachers have not been able to keep up with technology in many of our classrooms. Part of the problem is simply the technology is not available for schools struggling to stay funded by the community and keep enrollments up for federal funding. The other issue is training. How can you train and use technology confidently if it isn’t available to practice and use regularly? Covid has forced the issue, at least it did in our little rural community.

As a parent, it becomes a real difficult decision to keep with what feels like a sinking ship by having our kids in public education and on top of that in a rural school that experiences even more difficulty. The technology gap is just too large now to be ignored. Adaption is key! These kids in rural schools are getting caught in the middle; especially for those who are forced because of financial issues to stay in a less technologically equipped system. Outdated technology is not the answer and does little for the rural kids having to compete in the real world with kids who have more advanced technology available and updated consistently.

For expat families, I consider the education a reason to be here. Your kids will have an advantage above the majority of publicly educated kids in the US and even around the world. Education is no longer a memory game for college and testing, it has become a race into teaching your kids how to work and be productive in a technologically advanced world. The world will not wait for your public-school kids to catch up! Education is another example of the UAE doing things right!

May I help you, Madam?

When you come from a small rural farm community it can be very limiting in a world view. It takes some getting used to being called Madame or Mam by someone ready to serve you in any way they can. Yet these service workers are highly dependent upon your employment.

In this case to maintain this villa with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a separate maid’s quarters that also includes another bathroom; we are employing many service workers. We have a walled off courtyard with exotic trees and a water feature (some from our little town would call a wading pool). The windows are floor to ceiling and the buildings are much taller than normal with vaulted ceilings everywhere.

With all of this, we are employing a maid, a gardener, window washers, and a water feature worker (technically a pool boy). Many send money back to their families who are still living in the poor countries of their origin. Some have sad stories that make you realize; this is a much better life for them than we could possibly even understand.

My small rural village can be heard saying, “must be nice to have your lifestyle,” but it is an overly simplistic view on their part. These workers are highly dependent upon our employment, with that the workers can have visas, health care, and a place to live. Often the living arrangements are in the city where the workers are bused in from dorm like facilities where they share living space with many other workers. They seem thankful for the accommodations.

From an employer’s perspective it is difficult to manage the language barrier at times. I often feel like I am communicating with Emelia Bedelia and must be careful in the directions I give. I also feel like its hard to let others do work that I have done in the past and am very capable of doing myself. Also, having a service worker around your home regularly takes some getting used to. What an American may not realize, is that these service workers are highly dependent upon our employment and it is simplistic to make judgements about utilizing them. Maybe it would help to think of Downton Abbey if the show is familiar.

I have heard tales of cruel employers and often it is difficult to navigate for the workers to kind employers; but most of the American Expats have an appreciation for human dignity. Unfortunately, there are the desperate women service workers who try to exploit lonely working men who have their families in the states. But I think these relationships are highly transactional and the service women looking for a better life, hide when they must. It is no longer illegal for a woman (even a service worker) to live with a man that she is not married to. Cohabitation is quite common and many stay under the radar as it is difficult to discern if the service worker is a maid or a live in hoping for a better life.

All and all, the UAE has the best conceivable laws for service workers. Many want to come work here in the UAE. I also have witnessed the government trying to improve how they handle this type of necessary labor. Our country could glean many lessons in addressing the labor that so many of our own citizens do not want to do. Service workers are protected from exploitation by the stringent border control that operates to account for them, as well as insure legal employment.

This is a vastly different culture than most American’s are used to. Like anything, it takes an adjustment to appreciate the culture and find a place in it that feels comfortable. Learning new ways to navigate a life in a different country can offer a kind of larger understanding of people in the world around us. I highly recommend becoming an Expat!

Our Favorite Way to Travel Locally

Careem has become our favorite way to get around the UAE. First download the app to your phone from the Google Play Store. You should already have the app preinstalled on your phone. Apps are the preferred way to navigate UAE expat life.

Our family likes Careem because you can earn free rides, the cars are nicer and cleaner than your average taxi, and are heavily managed by their app. Not only can you follow the progress of your trip on the app itself, but you can enter your destination and even change it mid travel. This solves a lot of confusion about your destination that can occur with a language barrier of any given driver.

At pick up, your driver looks for you which is nice. A tip as well as a rating can be given after your trip. All financial exchanges occur by card. During Covid, it is prudent to have as little exchange as possible.

Another nice thing is that your driver can communicate with you directly to clear up any confusion that may be associated with the booked trip. Also, free-wifi is available. Long trips can be used to keep working or communicating with friends and family. The ride is incredibly smooth in the upscale cars.

Enjoy your travel!

This time, I didn’t get sick from the Plane

I always get sick from flying, at least it felt like that pre-Covid! However, it has been a week and I am almost afraid to say this out loud. But I did not get sick from the plane!

As much as I hate face masks, I do like all the careful cleaning going on EVERYWHERE! I think I actually feel safer from the nasty little germs that usually plague us this time of year. I tried to comply with all the guidelines despite my personal beliefs and research about the guideline’s effectiveness.

I am sure at some point I will get Covid and probably should get Covid naturally. I trust evolution and I work hard to be healthy with a healthy immune system as a benefit.

If I do get sick, I plan to do what I always do with a flu. Stay home, get plenty of rest and fluids. In the meantime, I am living life without fear of every possible thing around me. I choose to live one moment at a time like I always have, hopefully soon it will be without a mandated mask!

Restaurants and Covid

The UAE is like most of the US in that restaurants are hungry for business. The shut down hit the hotel and restaurant industry hard. Take out (or take away as it is referred to in UAE), as well as delivery has been the go-to for most of us. Our family uses Zomato (Picture from Zomato) and Deliveroo most often.

Just like the states it is accepted behavior to wear masks to enter the establishment. Once at the table masks can be removed to enjoy the items served. In some parts of the US, there are maximum allowances of people per table. The UAE is no different and sets guidelines at eight per table. Often sanitizing wipes and or liquid sanitizers are offered at the table. Restrooms are serviced and cleaned well.

Restaurants offer a bit of normalcy for many of us who felt isolated in our homes with only our screens to socialize with others. As a tourist, restaurants and hotels are necessary to travel. The more open, inviting, and accommodating the establishment, the better the experience.

Live music is beginning to make a comeback in the UAE with some restrictions. It may take some time to revive, but live music is a much-missed part of the dining or clubbing experience. Collectively, many of us have learned to appreciate the ability to enjoy hospitality in public and long for those freedoms to return completely unrestricted by Covid. All in all, most Americans will feel comfortable as well as familiar with the new Covid etiquette of dining out in Dubai.

Covid on the Beach

After flying into Dubai, our family is required to quarantine for two weeks before going to our Villa in Abu Dhabi. This is the case even with a negative PCR test that allowed us to get on our flight to enter the UAE. By choosing this option we do not have to wear a tracking device that would keep us confined to our Villa for two weeks.

We have chosen the vacation responsibly option with social distancing and masking in Dubai. An Air BNB was acquired by Jumeriah Beach for the two-week quarantine period. So far this has been a welcome reprieve from the conditions in Washington State in the United States.

Tourists can enjoy the beach without masks. Amazingly, the social distancing is an advantage as families are not fighting for space on a crowded beach. Restaurants and fun tourists’ attractions are open.

The UAE was already an exceptionally clean country. Attendants were at the ready to tidy up, clean and sanitize bathrooms and public places the second one vacated a table or bathroom stall. It was always very impressive to me that so many workers in this country are employed just for sanitation purposes of public space even before Covid. The good news is they have upped their game, if that could have even been possible.

Dubai is open for tourism and they are doing it responsibly! So, come enjoy Dubai as a tourist or to wait out a quarantine. The weather is great this time of year and the water is warm and inviting! The cuisine is the best in the world and your kids can even count on their American standby’s being delivered right to their door.

Our family for one is thankful to begin living an even better version of normal life with the care given towards cleanliness and hygiene! Dubai is waiting for your family!

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