Friday, January 29, 2016

Learning about Islam

Bahrain accumlulates a lot of litter. It's so sad. There are no public rubbish bins anywhere, which is half the problem. I am taking up the challenge of trying to gather the rubbish on the beach outside my house and other nearby places. There is a gorgeous route around the Amwaj Islands that I have been jogging. It goes over 4 different bridges and all the buildings you pass are so gorgeous. Amwaj is so small that it's only about 5km to do a loop around it.

I was talking to the teacher support I work alongside in my class, and we were talking about sports. I mentioned how I played football, and she explained that she always wanted to play but over here it's considered a boys sport traditionally and it would have been frowned upon for her to do so. I found that really sad, and it had never even crossed my mind that some cultures attach a gender to certain sports. I also witnessed a woman praying silently in the staffroom, which was new to me but pretty cool I thought. I had assumed that they would pray solely in prayer rooms, mosques, or the privacy of their own homes, but apparently Muslims pray anywhere and everywhere! Five times a day, a prayer call can be heard all over the country and that signals a new portion in the day in which to take 5-7 minutes out of the day to pray a set prayer for Allah. The first few times I heard it (in supermarkets, out walking, in my bedroom etc) I was a little confused and amazed that it was broadcast everywhere, but now I'm used to it.

Typing my Arabic name
I downloaded an Arabic keyboard on my phone and it is super cool dawg. The thing is, just as I'm learning their alphabet in order, the keyboard is NOT in order (similar to the QWERTY keyboard) so that's tricky.

Nestled between the prestigious private school and a number of fancy restaurants, there is a slum, where some of the poorest here live. It is so tragic, and I must say that the placement of the slum is bizarre. It's on an empty little lot beside the back entrance of the school.

At the end of the week, our class teacher had to sort things with her passport, so me and the other teaching assistant were left in charge of 26 five and six year olds for two days. Neither of us have teacher training, but it was lots of fun, and we managed. I ran an art activity and read the kids a book - things the class teacher would normally do. 

I visited the great mosque after school on Thursday, a great way to end the week. They give free tours to the public every day except Friday (their holy day). It was so fascinating to see inside such a prestigious mosque. I got to witness the afternoon prayer taking place, and the tour guide gave us some wonderful insight into her Islamic culture and tradition. I learnt that the name "Allah", which nowadays only really refers to the Muslim God, originally meant the one true God in Hebrew - and the original biblical text referred to God as Allah. I also learnt about how and why Muslims pray at five distinctive times during the day and that they believe Jesus was one of many prophets sent from God, but they do not believe in the trinity. The inside of the mosque is not decorated with any pictures or paintings of prophets or interpretations of God, because they believe no one has ever seen God, he is beyond our perception and imagination - which is a powerful idea. I see many similarities between Islam and Christianity (though there are obvious differences too) and I learnt that Muslims believe that all religions believe in the same God - and the differences between them are just human error. I also found out that 85% of Muslims are not Arabs - which definitely surprised me. I am so glad to have had this opportunity to learn more about Islam - and the tour guide invited us back for the celebratory Eid in July, after the fasting month of Ramadan. 
Traditional abiya and headscarf
A very excited Abby, with Annabelle and Marlene at the Great Mosque

Thanks for the read, and I hope all is well back home! Also, stay tuned for my vlog about the mosque.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Playground Romance

Since starting work, I've been going to bed so early. Because I have to get up at 6am every weekday morning, I have been going to bed consistently between 8-8.30pm every night, which I hadn't been doing since I was about 10 years old. It's kind of therapeutic in some weird way. Even then, I find myself almost dozing off on the car ride home at 2.30pm! What can I say? Kids take it out of you! On that note, the last few weeks have been particularly eventful. One kid wet himself two times, apparently because he was scared of one of the kids in his class who was milling around the bathroom, so he didn't go. Another kid (who I suspect may have some undiagnosed ADHD or something similar) attacked me a few times, resulting in me picking him up and holding hands together to prevent him from ripping my hair out, while he growled at me (?). On a happier, and more adorable note, two fairly withdrawn and stand-offish kids became "boyfriend and girlfriend" and they have not stopped holding hands and hugging each other in the last few days. Oh my goodness, me and the other TA have been fan-girling over the cuteness overload. (Might I add, this is the same boy who wet his pants - he's basically a lady-killer. He kept smiling at her and then looking smugly at me, like "are you jealous?")

Meanwhile, I've thrown myself head first into learning Arabic, by a combination of attending Arabic class with the students, and independent learning both online and with printed worksheets. YouTube has a plethora of resources - and the ones aimed at kids are honestly the best. The Arabic teacher starts every lesson with this song and oh my goodness it's so catchy, it's basically my anthem.

I seriously have to go to bed 8:09pm. Goodnight!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Creepy Dudes and Censorship

It's been exactly one week since I arrived on Bahrain soil (sand) and while there are many wonderful things about this country and the opportunities I have had, there are also some injustices I am only just discovering. I thought everyone had heard enough of my gloating posts about all the cool things I get to do for a little while (even though the good most certainly out-weighs the bad) and I wanted to share some of the things that have surprised me about Bahraini culture.

Firstly, driving over here is ridiculous - not to mention dangerous. Nobody bothers to indicate, and if they do, you know the driver is most certainly an expat. On one afternoon drive back from work I saw one car get so impatient with the after school traffic that they drove to the edge of the road, between the space where the road side ends and the barrier begins, and they just drove down the side until they got to the front of the traffic. Let me just I clarify: they were not even driving in an actual lane! Speeding is fairly normal, car crashes are common, and when I walk down most main roads I feel like I am walking beside a motorway. When I was walking to the Marina market this afternoon, in the space of five minutes, two cars beeped at me, and one car SLOWED DOWN while the driver tried to coax me to get into his car for a "lift". Another thing which shocked me was the lack of regard for pedestrians: while they have pedestrian crossings, they might as well not be there because nobody stops for people waiting. This will surely take a lot of getting used to...

Secondly, once I arrived at the Marina market, I walked around the stalls, listening to the music blasting through the speakers, when Macklemore's Same Love comes on. Or so I thought it was... It turned out to be a remix which completely destroyed the original song's premise: advocating for LGBT rights and in particular, gay marriage in the US (the song was written a few years before gay marriage was legalised there). The remix began with the song's chorus sung by a male (instead of a female):

And I can't change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can't change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
My love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm (x4)

As you can imagine, while that didn't surprise me, it did upset me a bit - it's such a brilliant song and the remix didn't make logical sense at all... what can't a heterosexual male change about his relationship? Being straight? There are close to zero love songs about LGBT relationships thus far, so why spoil a perfectly wonderful one? Why not just avoid playing it...?

Anyway, besides those cultural differences that are challenging for me, I'm having a wonderful time and am looking forward to the week ahead. I hope this post wasn't a downer, but I want to record all aspects of life here in my blog, not just the wonderful stuff.

The Lagoon - 15 minute walk from my home
Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"I Change Nappies Full-Time"

These last few days have been lots of fun + exhausting + a big learning curve. I started my job as a teaching assistant two days ago, and already I have gained so much respect for teachers and the work they put in both during class and after hours. (That's not to say I didn't respect them prior though.) Particularly my first day, I felt absolutely knackered by the end of it. I am currently working in a Foundation class of 26 five and six year olds alongside a teacher, another teaching assistant and a teacher support. The difference between the assistant and support role is that the latter helps a specific child with learning difficulties and the former helps more generally with all of the children. The students are honestly so gorgeous, though their occasional misbehaviour and general volume can be at times, frustrating. My role so far has consisted of helping students with their worksheets, doing one-on-one reading tests, going to specialist classes with them like languages, music and P.E., and more menial tasks like marking, putting things in folders, photocopying, laminating, etc. While it is an international school I am working at and students and staff come from all over the world, my class mainly has students from middle eastern countries. About four of the 26 come from other parts such as Germany, China, South Africa and New Zealand, but most students home countries are relatively nearby. The trickiest thing for me so far has been remembering all their names (particularly as most are not western names their pronunciations are unfamiliar to me), but I am slowly getting there.

The craziest thing I heard, when I was talking to another teacher in the staff room about Kindergarten, was that one staff member is employed as a full-time nappy changer - a.k.a the sole purpose of their job is to change soiled nappies, 5 hours a day. I secretly found this both hilarious and depressing at the same time. What kind of person goes for that kind of job? And what would that look like on a CV? In what other job could you ever transfer those skills????

Full-Time Nappy Changer, 2013-2016
3 years experience with urine and faeces, talcum powder usage, 
and keeping squirmy toddlers still for 30 seconds at a time.

To their credit though, there are 33 Kindergarteners enrolled at the school and I suppose it is too much to ask the KG teachers to teach and maintain clean nappies for the kids. ANYWAY, enough about that. I can't believe I wrote a paragraph of waffle on this subject.

Besides that, I bought myself a (VERY beautiful) acoustic guitar for 42BD, which is around 170NZD. Out of curiosity, I looked up how much the same model would cost me in New Zealand, and it turns out I've saved about $110 by buying it here. (Now the task will just be getting in back safely when I return home!)

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Arabic Lunches are a Good Time

I had a great day today out with cousin Laura and baby Emily at City Centre mall. After some difficulty locating a vegan-friendly place to eat, we found an Arabic restaurant to have lunch at, and I ordered a spinach pide (Middle Eastern flatbread) off the breakfast menu. Shortly afterwards, we went to pick up Harrison from school and I got a bit of a briefing of the role I'll be filling. For the first few weeks I will be a teaching assistant in Harry's Foundation class (his dream come true) as extra help is needed there temporarily. Following this, I will be assisting in Music class, and also helping to start up a choir(s). I am extremely excited about that particular opportunity - I even brought over some of my old Cantala repertoire to illegally photocopy! I have been told next week there is a Science trip and I'll be coming along to supervise, so that should be fun.

I am already slightly jealous of the opportunities these students get from the very beginning of their education - they have specialist teachers for Music, Art, Languages and P.E. so they get a really good grounding of these subjects from age five upwards. From what I understand, all of these subjects (along with the more standard subjects such as English, Maths, Science) are compulsory, and students choose out of either French or Arabic to learn as a second language. In particular, I am jealous of the music programme the kids are exposed to - in comparison, I didn't to start my music education until high school, and now it's a passion I wish I could have begun pursuing earlier.

Back-tracking a few days, I finished editing my travel vlog! Take a look if you're interested, it's nice and short. And I'm in it, so what could be better?

Until next time!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

"Toto, I Have a Feeling We're Not in Wellington Anymore."

Sorry for the lame Wizard of Oz reference but I legitimately feel like Dorothy right now. I arrived in Bahrain about 8 hours ago and since then it has been a haze of unpacking, acclimatising, grocery shopping, and soaking everything in. It's not like I have never been here before - I visited Bahrain with my family in April 2014 - but everything feels significantly different. This feels more permanent than that holiday (because it is).

It's a strange time when you go to the checkout to pay for your groceries and the cashier cannot speak English and has to call an English-speaking co-worker to help you instead. It also made me feel very disturbed to see individually glad-wrapped fruit in the produce section.

The whole colour scheme here is beige, grey, white. Sand, dirt, sand, dirt. Everything has an Arabic translation. Road signs, packaged foods, and tv programmes. As it is winter over here, the 20C temperature is rather underwhelming in comparison to the blistering heat I experienced when I was here in April.

Yet another bizarre adjustment I will have to make is the work week. Over here, you start work on Sunday and work through until Thursday. Essentially, Friday and Saturday is the middle-eastern weekend. (It's Thursday, Thursday, gotta get down on Thursday doesn't quite have the same oomph, does it?) I have tomorrow off, to get over the jet-lag, and then I have a 6am start on Monday morning. I'm so excited!

P.S. They have the best dates I have ever tasted here. And a lot of weird yet delicious fruit.

Friday, January 8, 2016

A Scottish Child and a Tofu Breakfast

Howdy y'all, so I'm now at Dubai International Airport, eagerly awaiting my third and final flight which will take me to Bahrain. This one should be fairly easy, it's only 1 hour. My Sydney to Dubai flight however, was a gruelling 14 hours long. To my great delight, I was seated next to an adorable kid, maybe 9 or 10 years old, with a thick Scottish accent (I think). The first thing I remember her saying, somewhat exasperated was "I can't believe they don't provide you with a hairbrush!" Early on in the flight she accidentally fell asleep on me so that was kind of a great ice breaker I suppose. All the while, her father (I assume?) was trying to wake her up and saying, you can't lie on the lady. I assured him that I really didn't mind. Towards the end of the flight I was helping her with Four Pics One Word on her iPad. On my other side, I was seated next to a weedy middle aged man who someone assumed was my father. When we eventually began a conversation I discovered that he was a New Zealander too, and he studied at Victoria University.

What else happened? Oh yeah, the tofu breakfast. Unexpected, but satisfactory. Tasted like it sounds. The dude I was sitting next to had the closest aisle seat, and unfortunately, he was asleep for about 3/4 of the flight (or so it would seem). This proved to be horrific when I needed to get up out of my seat for the toilet. I somehow managed to climb over his legs without disturbing him, on three separate occasions.

Apologies for the painfully boring updates so far. Excitement to come, I promise.

Boarding now for Bahrain, gotta run!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Goodbye New Zealand, Hello New Adventures

Ugh, how do I choose a title for this post that isn't ridiculously cheesy and embarrassing? Anyway, I just arrived in Sydney and am currently sitting at my gate for the Dubai flight, with 2 and a half hours to spare before boarding commences. At this point the whole concept of my moving overseas still feels unreal! I honestly just feel like I'm taking a brief holiday alone and will be back in 2 weeks or something.

I've had next to no trouble navigating through Customs and immigration etc. However, Dubai airport is massive in comparison to Sydney, so we'll see how that fares. So far, I feel really calm and relaxed about all the travel ahead. And do I spy a massage chair to my right? Yes, yes I do. A fine way to waste my Australian money, since I'm not hungry or thirsty, nor aching for any kangaroo magnets or other souvenirs.

 Lol, on the plane I was beside a middle-aged French couple and I kept trying to eavesdrop on their conversation...besides that, I watched a Louis Theroux documentary about transgender kids, He Named Me Malala, and listened to Britten's Violin Concerto, movement 2. How cultured, (and how idiotic) do I sound right now? Well, what else do I even talk about? Not much has happened yet. It's so weird thinking that I won't see Mum, Dad, Erin or Sops for a while. At this point I'm not sure how long it will be, but I think the fam will come over and visit me sometime this year, which will be cute.

Me being cute at gate 57
Until next time...
Abby owt.