I ran in the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon with 3 other teammates. We didn’t win. However, I was the proud winner of a 3rd place trophy in my age division for a 10K run through the desert. And if anyone tells you there were only 3 people in my division...well, that just can’t be proven. I'm sure there were at least over 200! ;)
10K night run on The Palm Standing in front of The Atlantis
Halas: The first handout I gave my students in the UAE was more an information gathering exercise. I wanted to see if I had a class of apathetic, non-willing, entitled kids. Imagine my surprise when one student yelled, “Halas, teacher,” then another, “Halas, teacher,” and another, “Halas, teacher.” And once the first one stood coming towards me, waving the finished sheet in his hand and yelling, “Halas, teacher,” they all followed until I was standing in front of the class with 22 boys eagerly waving their finished work in front of me. “Halas” I learned, means “Finished.” And imagine my thrill that these boys were so excited and eager to please. I never thought I would have to set classroom rules so I wasn’t bombarded with students so enthusiastic to finish an assignment. It was refreshing. They loved to finish their work, they loved to show the teacher they finished their work, and even though they complained every time I gave them work (they are teenagers), they would eagerly attack an assignment and fill with pride when they produced it for grading.
Habibi: which means my beloved, or sweetheart. For several days, I witnessed my vice principal hug and touch and fondly address the boys in my class as "habibi." When I learned what it meant, I shuddered. This man would surely be arrested and thrown in jail for such a display. Isn’t it sad that this exact behavior would find an American administrator or teacher without a job? Teaching in America I remember several occasions of freezing up in an awkward stance when a student would innocently reach out to give me a hug. It was always an internal war; I wanted these kids to know that I did care for them, but I didn’t want to potentially lose my job. Even though as a woman, I was not allowed to hug the boys (haram), the vice principal extended an old-fashioned relationship with his habibis.
Haram: This is another term that I learned from my students. Haram in Arabic simply means “Forbidden.” The boys were quick to point out if another student was acting in a haram way. “Teacher, haram, teacher, haram,” they would announce and point to whatever boy was committing the forbidden action. Investigating these accusations would usually lead me to seeing an Instagram picture on their iPad of a girl. Of course, pornography is blocked from computers in the UAE, so the girl would be fully clothed, but the fact that a boy was looking at a girl was haram. Ah, if only my American students had been so innocent. One day, Faisal was called out by the Principal and the whole class started laughing. When I asked, what was going on, they all exclaimed, “Teacher, haram, haram.” Turns out Faisal had over 20 pictures of girls (again, fully clothed) on his Ipad that he had saved from Instagram. His father was called in, he was dismissed for the day (parents take care of the discipline at home), and when he returned, I never saw haram on his computer again!
I see this in grocery stores in the States now; food that is labeled as halal. I realize for some, it produces a negative connotation. I never saw this sign in the UAE, but learned that all food in a Muslim country is halal. Although halal references anything that is permissible according to Islamic law, its most common reference is to food. Food that is halal must be killed and prepared in a specific way. In the most basic understanding, an animal may not be tortured and it must be clean; including clean of hormones. I’m not sure why every animal in the world that is slaughtered for food is not halal. Animals that are “not halal” may be left to die in a slow and bleeding manner while lying in their own feces. The meat in our local stores is not halal, the hamburgers at McDonalds in the States is not halal—just an observation. While I did not really notice a difference while I ate halal for three years, I notice it now. The other night at dinner, I was sure something was wrong with the meat. I asked several times, “Is anyone else’s meat bad?” They just kept saying, no, and saying, it was fine. To me, it was disgusting and I could not even finish it. I do not know if it is from eating halal for so long or from eating grain-fed meat in Paraguay, but something is definitely different about the meat here.
A beautiful sunset in Hatta. Located about an hour from Dubai, Hatta is a perfect reprieve from the hot, humidity of the coastal cities. The Hatta Fort hotel http://hattafort.com/ is an active playground with tennis, a ropes course, ping pong, billiards, man-sized chess board, camels and beautiful pools with waterfalls. Definitely worth getting out of the city for a weekend!