From Nizwa to Abu Dhabi- January - February 2011.
We left Nizwa at the end of January to begin work in Abu Dhabi. A decision we consider was well made after the isolation the contract in Oman created for us.
Here we are in Abu Dhabi, back working for Cognition as an Advisor in an Abu Dhabi school. After the isolation we experienced in Oman, both professionally and managerially, it was a relief to be back among friends as well as being assured that the office would respond to requests promptly and efficiently without having to go through several silos and umpteen request forms to get a response.
The school I’m working in is in central Abu Dhabi, close to where we’re living..... walkable now but perhaps not so easily come summer. The Principal and administration are on the ball and very keen to see the school improve although being transferred from a MoE school to the PPP system two weeks before the end of the first trimester and only getting the advisory team five weeks ago was a considerable jolt for the staff as they had to change their curriculum and delivery models overnight with little time for preparation.
I spent the first three weeks simply reading through the curriculum documents and the assessment models that are required to assess what the teachers were expected to cope with. So how they coped without seeing or reading the material I’m not too sure.
Fortunately I found the curriculum statements familiar as they are modelled on the Queensland & NSW curricula that were developed about the same time as the NZ one was that underpinned the NCEA from 1990-2010. The assessment methodology is very similar to that we’ve been using in NZ and developing in Qatar so, for me, getting on top of the material has been relatively quick. For the teachers, however, it is a different matter.
For some there is a vague understanding coming from their conversations with colleagues in other schools already on the scheme while for others, the majority, there is a sense of confusion and frustration as they have few immediate resources to use to develop units of work from or, for that matter, any idea about assessment methodology apart from short answer tests that give a numerical mark.
The teachers with a vague understanding of the curriculum and assessment processes are confident that they have it together and are absolutely right so I am going to have to start right from the basics and step them through the theory, with some practical exercises to get them aware of the demands, before we can really get into the process of proper unit and lesson planning complete with annual and trimester plans that link into a school syllabus and then back into the curriculum.
Difficult when the expectation is that they should be able to sprint before they pass the toddling stage!!!!
I’m pleased with progress on other fronts at work as we have begun planning to redevelop the school library and to set up an English Club to get the boys involved in improving their skills in English. The response to each of these has been great with buy in from the Administration which will mean we will have support when we need it.
The turmoil in the Arab states, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain,Yemen, and now, Oman has not affected us directly in the UAE but has certainly made our decision to quit the contract in Nizwa a wise one as I think the tensions and worries that the isolation of the contract gave would have been exacerbated as time went on.
The news out of Oman has been confined to brief reports on the TV news and paragraphs in the papers. The following, from our friend, Donald, in Sohar, gives an idea of the events across the border.
All seems quiet now. It is like a Friday, with little traffic, the schools shut, the shops shut, the training center empty of all trainees and the cleaner has disappeared. I sit here in front of my computer wondering what to do. Should I prepare for a possible Intermediate English Language session tomorrow, where I will probably find myself sitting in an empty classroom, or should I take this opportunity to finish cataloguing the books in our library? Or should I for the moment just record my observations and feelings about the events of the last few days?
Last night, against the embassy advice notice, I drove past the Globe Roundabout, the epicentre of the protests in Sohar, to find roadblocks manned by unarmed youths who politely waved me on so I drove past the burnt out remains of Lulu, noticing that all the shops around the blackened hypermarket, seemed to be untouched, though now locked up. From conversations with Omani friends I have been given to understand that Lulu was targeted because it is owned by an unpopular minister. I drove on and passed Sohar palace, surprised to see it appeared to be unguarded at least from an outside view. Whether it has soldiers on guard on the inside I could not see through the partially opened main gate. The absence of guards here I think indicates that opposition is not towards the Sultan himself but rather to ministers and some of the policies.
It is not only around the palace that there are no signs of police or army. I haven't seen a policeman or police-car for two days. The main police station was torched, as was the home of the wali, the governor of the area, and the office of the ministry of manpower. At the present time Sohar appears to be a town without any obvious government control, it is almost as if they had lost interest in what is happening here. In the absence of the authorities it is surprising that there hasn't been more trouble, which shows, I believe, that the looters of Lulu were opportunistic rather than seasoned criminals. However, the boarded up shops,even the little laundry I use, may be an indication that their owners are afraid of more trouble. Some garages are closed and I wouldn't be surprised if we were soon facing a petrol shortage, so no unnecessary driving. I got a full tank the night before last, fearing that we might have problems here. Yesterday morning I also transferred the bulk of my money back to the UK; I hadn't made any transfers for six months because I believed that my money was almost safer here that in an almost bankrupt British bank.
Who knows what today will bring. The British ambassador is supposed to be coming to Sohar this evening and we have been invited to meet him at the Sohar Beach Hotel. I will go along out of interest, apart from anything else it may be an opportunity to meet other expats and here about their experiences. Last night I had a chat with Indian neighbours in my building and we were just saying how quiet it appeared to be then when there was a small burst of firing. Again this morning we had some very short bursts which appeared to come from the area of the Globe. My Omani colleague, who has just arrived in the office, tells me that local people have formed committees of public safety to prevent further looting. She said last night, the looters tried to burn down some schools, but were chased away my members of these local vigilantees, perhaps that was the cause of the firing I heard when chatting to the neighbours. Her opinion is that the looters come from outside Sohar. She believes they have been chased away, but is afraid they may be back. I have also received three Arabic texts which claim that the troubles have been caused by Emirates and according to my colleague they claim some have been captured and confessed. She thinks that this is just another example of people trying to cause more trouble.
The ambassador rode into town last night or rather he hitched a ride in a helicopter with the army general who was coming to command the troops, over 1,500 of them, who are now I believe encamped somewhere between here and Sohar port. The ambassador told us that the army was taking over the powers of the police, who many felt had been discredited over the last few days. A small section of the resident British community turned up to meet his excellency and his vice consul at the Sohar Beach Hotel and hear what the embassy can, can't, will and won't do for us. Much of what he told us we already knew, because of course we have been here at ground zero. One common thread that united all of us, embassy staff and Sohar residents, was surprise that this could happen in Oman and in Sohar in particular. Though there was some apprehension expressed by some residents, all reported that they had not been threatened in any way and that their Omani colleagues and friends had provided help and reassurance where needed. There was some disquiet at the number of rumours flying round and this was heightened by the lack of information from official sources, especially the local TV and radio. Some rumours that were quickly discounted were that the Sohar Crown Plaza was on fire and that the border had been closed. Our lack of Arabic language skills, including my own, was painfully exposed when no one reported being able to read the many Arabic text messages that have been floating round, but some reported that Arabic speaking friends had told them that some were from the authorities and some from people accusing Emiratis of fomenting the trouble. My colleague in the office told me of these and she discounted them saying that it was people trying to create more trouble.
Though people were naturally worried no one said that they had started packing their bags, but one person said that the French, on the advice of their embassy, had already left town, and that the Dutch had been advised to stay indoors. The British issued no such edicts but advised that we should keep a low profile and avoid public areas, though as some residents pointed out that this was hard to do when the Globe roundabout was occupied as this was the main communication highway between the coastal area and the country to the landward side of the highway. The embassy pointed out that in the worst possible scenario, which they were confident would not happen, they had plans to evacuate people and that any British person would be accepted together with spouses, and children of any nationality. Having only a cat to care for I wondered about her, but felt it was probably not wise to bring this up.
On reaching home I sent out a text message to all my Wednesday language course teachers telling them that it was business as usual. This morning 7 out of 18 turned up, all ladies; the three gents were no shows.
While we cope with the political turmoil in the Middle East we are also torn as we listen to the news coming from New Zealand, especially Christchurch, where Jocelyn and Caroline have been coping with the after effects of the two earthquakes that have devastated the city.
Thankfully, Jocelyn & Caroline and all our friends in Christchurch have survived the quakes with little more than broken crockery and windows and repairable damage to their homes which is a personal relief to us. On the other hand the fatalities and the ruin of the CBD with its historic buildings are events that will remain as horrors for a long, long time.
The pictures of the old Christchurch Teachers Colleges, once turned into up-market apartments, reduced to rubble and the destruction of the Cathedral and other iconic buildings are stark reminders of the power the earth can exert on our efforts to show that we have been here.
The text messages from home telling of quakes in Wellington that we’ve received from Rebecca at all hours of the night keep us alert to the ever present knowledge that New Zealand sits along the fault lines of the Pacific rim and that the events of Christchurch could be repeated elsewhere in the country.
It is, however, disappointing to read that the present government is preparing to use the earthquake as an excuse to sell state assets and to slash the social support mechanisms that have been built up over the years. To consider such actions when the country needs the assurance that the support will be there is, to me, unthinkable and unacceptable but, then, when the PM declares that the best other way to raise money to rebuild the economy is to ask Oprah Winfrey & Letterman to run appeals on US TV one is driven to wonder at the quality of leadership New Zealand has elected????