Monday, 22 September 2008


We have found a game that is just great - it is called Jenga. Maths teachers provide reasons for the damn thing falling over! Accounts people try and calculate their way to winning! Primary school teachers think they are back in the classroom! Architects find the structures you can build amazing! Princesses get precious about who is going to win! VW drivers think they can take all the risks they can't on the road! Security people just don't play! Grandmas laugh! The rellies from Qld are simply bemused and befuddled! World travellers have played it in exotic places! .........and we have passed many an hilarious evening having lots of fun with it................

Rain in Al Ain..........rarely

It is not often we see rain in Al Ain! A few weeks ago - yes time has slipped by - we had an afternoon storm that bought heaps of rain and wind. Our street became awash with water that took about 3 days to evaporate. The children in the street only see real rain (not just a light shower) maybe once or twice a year so they were outside running around in it and standing with their arms in the air trying to drink it. Reminds me of kids I met from the Outback who came to Sydney to see rain for the first time (years ago now!) Here are some photos of an Al Ain Rain storm..........from our bedroom window!

Anywhere else these pictures would be common place!

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Monday, 8 September 2008

My work in Al Ain – A reality check?

A recent anonymous comment on an early blog post “My work in Al Ain” has made me think a little about the work we do and the story that Cheryl and I present here on our blog.

Given my background knowledge about the PPP project initiated by ADEC and carried out by some international private operators, I have found your account too beautiful to be true. There is a lot of unsaid regarding power conflict among all the involved parties, teachers` resistence to change, students` misbehaviour and you name it.
Implementing school reform is not as easy as your blog suggests especially in Sultan Bin Zayed School.

A later comment by the same anonymous person seeks to engage me in discussion about the changes and other philosophical points. So:

Maybe it’s just our inherent positive nature that makes it sound “too beautiful”. This blog is simply our story. It is not, and was never meant to be a forum for debate or philosophical discussion, an incentive for others to follow our footsteps, or a justification of what we do (or what others do) and we have no intention of allowing it to be diverted into such. If others wish to debate this, then let them create their own forum and not invade our story. I say again – this is just our story of our time in the UAE. We could be here, or we could be in Italy, Vanuatu, Africa or Bulgaria, we’d still be writing it. Yes, part of the story relates to the work Cheryl and I do. Most of it relates to other events – call them adventures if you like, we do. We write it for us, our friends and family. If others read it then that is one of the many byproducts of our new communication age and the internet. If they have questions, we’re happy to respond, and have done so on many occasions – just not via the blog.

That said, I do want to make a few things clear. Nowhere have I said that this work of educational reform that the leaders of this country have required be embarked on is easy. All change is difficult – for the change bringer and for those having to change. Resistance is an inherent and very necessary part of the process. It stems from fear of the unknown, need to maintain power relationships, job insecurity, and many other perfectly valid causes. No matter who or where you are, when someone challenges your practices , this can be extremely threatening. We all find it difficult to move out of our comfort zone; more so when job security is seen to be at risk.

In fact I would expect and hope that all members of the education system here, at all levels, do offer resistance, but with good intent and conscience. And we, the de-facto agents of that change, have a duty to listen to those we are working with. For with that resistance, we learn important lessons not only about how we can best support people, but about all those things that need to be preserved. Without this, the result would be a clone of some western education system that would be superficial, culturally inappropriate, and ultimately unsustainable.

And yes, with their eye constantly on the results of their students in the various indicators /exams etc, teachers will be torn between implementing the new teaching practices and calming down the unmotivated disruptive students. Part of our job is to help them manage this and to understand that it isn’t a choice between the two. Good teaching creates good learners and good classrooms. Not easy - no matter if you’re in the developing world or the developed world – East or West.

And that is all I have to say on that in this blog.

Dear Anonymous,

if you want to further this discussion, then step out from behind the mask and create your own forum, & if it piques my interest, I’ll contribute and even possibly put a link to it.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Ramadan and fasting explained

This article has been circulated at the University. I don't know who the author is but the information is clear and well written. For people who have never expereinced Ramadan it provides some good insights:

"Ramadan is a special month of the year for over one billion Muslims throughout the world. It is a time for inner reflection, devotion to God, and self-control. Muslims think of it as a kind of tune-up for their spiritual lives. The third "pillar" or religious obligation of Islam, fasting has many special benefits. Among these, the most important is that it is a means of learning self-control. Due to the lack of preoccupation with the satisfaction of bodily appetites during the daylight hours of fasting, a measure of ascendancy is given to one's spiritual nature, which becomes a means of coming closer to God. Ramadan is also a time of intensive worship, reading of the Quran, giving charity, purifying one's behavior, and doing good deeds. As a secondary goal, fasting is a way of experiencing hunger and developing sympathy for the less fortunate and learning thankfulness and appreciation for all of God's bounties. Fasting is also beneficial to the health and provides a break in the cycle of rigid habits or overindulgence.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim Lunar calendar. The Month of Ramadan is also when it is believed the Holy Quran "was sent down from heaven, guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, and a means of Salvation". It is during this month that Muslims fast. It is called the Fast of Ramadan and lasts the entire month. Ramadan is a time when Muslims concentrate on their faith and spend less time on the concerns of their everyday lives. It is a time of worship and contemplation During the Fast of Ramadan strict restraints are placed on the daily lives of Muslims. They are not allowed to eat or drink during the daylight hours. Smoking and sexual relations are also forbidden during fasting. At the end of the day the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar. The fast is resumed the next morning.The good that is acquired through the fast can be destroyed by - the telling of a lie, slander, denouncing someone behind his back, a false oath, greed or covetousness. These are considered offensive at all times, but are most offensive during the Fast of Ramadan. Thus one of the objectives of this month for a Muslim is to purify himself / herself from ill characteristics that are within one. A spiritual cleansing through a physical action.

During Ramadan, it is common for Muslims to go to the Masjid (Mosque) and spend several hours praying and studying the Quran. In addition to the five daily prayers, during Ramadan Muslims recite a special prayer called the Taraweeh prayer (Night Prayer). The length of this prayer is usually 2-3 times as long as the daily prayers. Some Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.
In the last ten nights of this month, Muslims search for a special night called Laylat-al-Qadr (the Night of Power). It is believed that on this night Muhammad first received the revelation of the Holy Quran. And according to the Quran, this is when God determines the course of the world for the following year. When the fast ends (the first day of the month of Shawwal) it is celebrated as a "holiday" called Id-al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast Breaking). Friends and family gather to pray in congregation. Meals are prepared and family and friends have a joyous day.


Ramadan is important for Muslims because it is believed to be the month in which the first verses of the Holy Qur’an (the divine scripture) were revealed by Allah (God) to Prophet Muhammad (570-632 C.E.). From time to time, Muhammad used to go out from Makkah, where he was born and where he worked as a caravan trader, to reflect and meditate in solitude. Like Abraham before him, he had never accepted his people’s worship of many gods, and felt a need to withdraw to a quiet place to reflect on the One God. One night, while contemplating in a cave near Makkah, he heard a voice call out, telling him to “Read!” Muhammad protested that he was unable to read. The voice insisted again, and then a third time, and Muhammad found himself reciting the first verses of the Qur’an: “Read, in the name of thy Lord, Who created—Created man, out of a clot (embryo). Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, He Who taught the use of the pen—Taught man that which he knew not. Nay, but man doth transgress all bounds, In that he looketh upon himself as self-sufficient. Verily, to thy Lord is the return (of all).” (ch.96: 1-8)
The voice was that of the angel Gabriel, and he confirmed that Muhammad was selected for an important and challenging mission—he was to call people to monotheism and righteousness.

Muslims consider the Qur’an to be God’s speech recorded in the Arabic language, and transmitted to humanity through Muhammad, who is considered the last of the prophets. This tradition of God-chosen prophets or messengers is believed to include such figures as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. Muslims believe that over a period of twenty-three years, various verses and chapters of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad through Gabriel. The Qur’an is comprised of 114 chapters of varying length, with titles such as “Abraham,” “The Pilgrimage,” “Mary,” and “Repentance.”

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day. This means not consuming food and drink, including water, during the daylight hours. For married adults, it also includes refraining from marital relations during the hours of fasting (i.e. the daylight hours). In the Arabic language, fasting is known as sawm. Muslims arise early in the morning during Ramadan to have a pre-dawn breakfast meal, known as suhoor. At the end of the day, the fast is completed by taking the iftar meal, which usually includes dates, fresh fruits, appetizers, beverages and dinner. Later in the evening, Muslims attend special nightly prayers (called tarawih) at their local mosque. Each night during Ramadan, approximately 1/30th of the Qur’an is recited in the tarawih prayers, so that the entire scripture is recited in the course of the 29 or 30 days of the month.

For Muslims, fasting has a number of benefits:
1. It helps one to feel compassion for those who are less fortunate and underprivileged, since each day Muslims feel greater appreciation for what they have as a result of feeling hunger and thirst.
2. It allows one to build a sense of self-control and will-power, which can be beneficial throughout life in dealing with temptations and peer-pressure. Through fasting, Muslims learn to control their natural urges such as hunger and thirst, and thus are able to better resist temptations for things which are not necessary, such as drugs or other unhealthy or harmful substances and behaviors.
3. It offers a time for Muslims to “purify” their bodies as well as their souls, by developing a greater sense of humility, spirituality and community. Ramadan is a very spiritual time for Muslims, and often they invite each other to one another’s homes to break the fast and pray together. A greater sense of generosity and forgiveness is also characteristic of this time. As with other duties in Islam, fasting becomes obligatory (i.e. one becomes accountable) after the age of puberty.

After the end of Ramadan, a very festive and joyous holiday is celebrated by Muslims, known as Eid al-Fitr [eed ul fit-ur], the Festival of Breaking the Fast. On the day of the Eid, Muslims attend special congregational prayers in the morning, wearing their nicest clothes and perfumes. After the completion of prayers and a special sermon, Muslims rise to greet and hug one another, saying “Eid Mubarak,” which means “Holiday Blessings.” Later on, Muslim families visit each other’s homes, and have special meals together. Children are often rewarded with gifts, money, and sweets.

Just thought you might be interested. For us it means quieter and shorter working days. Yes we do observe the fast during the times we are at work, though we might take a short drink of water. If drinking at work we will make sure that it is done discreetly as we do not wish to offend anyone who is fasting. The shops are open at different times which means you can't just pop out for a coffee or have lunch, but it is a small inconvenience in the greater scheme of things really.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

New people in Al Ain

Ron’s company, the School Improvement Partnership (SIP), has invited about 80 new teachers to join their project teams in Al Ain. This is both a huge amount of growth for the company, which is cementing its reputation for school reform, and a very welcome influx of new people to meet and get to know.

The last few weeks Ron has been involved in induction for the new guys and we both did a bit of meeting and greeting and helping people to settle into the community here and find their way around. Of course when you have people with similar backgrounds and aspirations it is easy to assume you are probably going to get along with them and form some new friendships and that is exactly what is happening.

The Contract Director who is a Kiwi has satisfactorily stripped the NZ Education system of many of its promising teachers; Nerissa has been working on the Victorian Education system; Ron has some chums from NSW and Vanuatu and the word is out that still more people are needed. So if you are a well qualified and experienced teacher looking for a great team to work with in the Middle East we reckon you couldn’t do better than working for SIP.

Now that the company advertisement is finished – tongue in cheek – I should get on with talking about what we have been up to. It is a month since we arrived back and we are well and truly into the swing of things with work and social life. No pics for this article as we haven’t done anything specific where you would want to rush off with the camera and snap it. However we have been for a couple of shopping trips to Dubai and Moraig and I took a business trip to Abu Dhabi.

The first trip to Dubai was with the new faculty for the university to take them to IKEA so they could purchase bits and pieces for their apartments. Well that was a very nice working day which included a lovely lunch in the Anise restaurant at the new Intercontinental overlooking the Dubai Marina. The second was with one of the SIP team, Geoff, and we visited the Madinat for a lovely Persian dinner.

Moraig has commenced working at the university in the HR Department as a consultant. It is a short term project, which suits Moraig very well as she has some other plans up her sleeve that will become obvious in time (they involve her moving on which is not good news to me!) However for now I have a buddy working close by and we get together now and then to chew the fat!

Ron is down today with the ubiquitous ‘Al Ain Bug’ which seems to have been doing the circuit for about 3 months now – diarrohea, headaches, disorientation and dehydration! It is a debilitating little virus but fortunately doesn’t hang about for too long. I had 3 days down with it last week.

The most interesting thing that is happening right now is Ramadan and my next blog entry will provide some information concerning Ramadan.