I’ve been meaning to write a New Year’s message for some time but wondering how to couch it. Now that the end of 2011 has arrived I’m happy to be able to write on a decidedly upbeat note. Just recently, our immediate family was all together, well not exactly at Christmas, a week before, but it felt exactly like Christmas. The timing was due to the fact that Bobbi was planning to spend Christmas with her mom in Houston, and Gulya and Gwenny were heading for Uzbekistan to be with HER mom in Samarkand at Christmas. Dusty was heading to Kazakhstan for skiing and to give a best man’s speech at a friend’s wedding, and Glenn was going back to Doha to resume his work teaching at Christmas. I am doing the same in Abu Dhabi, teaching Christmas day at the Navy College.
I finally got that job in October, barely two months ago. Bobbi and I have since moved into a new apartment provided by HCT, Higher Colleges of Technology, my new employer http://hct.ac.ae. My professional life is getting back on track. I have actually been working two jobs, one with New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) here in Abu Dhabi, teaching research-paper writing, and experimenting with digital techniques in doing that. I’ve carried those techniques over into work in my new job teaching Academic Composition at the Naval College, and I’ve proposed to use this as my subject at a plenary I’ve been invited to give in Morocco in February: http://learning2gether.posterous.com/learner-centred-do-it-yourself-learning-manag. I’ll be revisiting that topic at conferences in Dubai and Sharjah in March and April. My work with http://learning2gether.posterous.com has got me two presentations accepted, one at the annual TESOL Conference in Philadelphia, and the other at the TESOL Arabia conference here in Dubai, UAE. To top it off, I’m due to submit in a few weeks a revision of an article a colleague and I have been working on to Writing & Pedagogy for inclusion in an upcoming issue. I’m sure I’ll make that deadline now that I’m down to just one job.
So I’ve ended the year with apartment, family happy and intact, and job and career back on an upward turn. In the current world economy that’s no mean feat. People with any kind of job are the lucky ones these days. But earlier this year things were not looking so rosy.
It started when Dusty and I returned from a winter ski trip to Austria and Beirut, where we’d gone to help Dusty get over a problem he was having at the time. On return, Jan 10, I was told I had an appointment with the director of my department at Petroleum Institute where I’d been working the past eight years. Three of us were called in, actually, and told the department was being downsized, and we all were given 5 months to prepare for departure from PI.
From that point onwards a lot of my creative energy which had been going into many worthwhile projects, notably http://www.pimoodle.org/course/view.php?id=69 showcasing work just completed at the PI itself, was sapped in filling out job applications, which I did pretty assiduously for a while until I noticed that most were resulting in rejections because the upper age limit for hiring in UAE is a policy in flux, and I was passing the 60-year mark as that upper age limit is only slowly being changed to 65. In many places, not just the UAE, I found that perception manifested in hiring policy.
I had better luck at the TESOL convention in New Orleans where I got several strong leads, but each fizzled until I finally got invited to an interview in Oregon, the only posting in the United States that I had applied for. I have many dear friends and colleagues there, I appreciate very much their encouragement and support, and would like to have joined them. But when that rejection came in mid-August, this was a low point in a tumultuous year.
The big problem was that my termination date at the PI was on July 10 and I was only allowed to keep our apartment where we’d lived since 1997 for one month afterwards. It was only through a kind person at PI who intervened on my behalf with the parent company ADNOC that Bobbi and I were allowed to keep our apartment until its lease terminated at the end of September. So at the time of my trip to Oregon we had only just worked out that we’d have a place to stay in Abu Dhabi for the following month, and then of course there were the questions of our visas and Bobbi’s school commitments the coming year, not to mention mine, and the logistics I won’t bore you with of staying on in a country where you need a residence visa to rent and to arrange lots of the minutiae of existence in the UAE, like your telephone, health insurance, it goes on and on. Quite a lot was in flux and much time was consumed looking at flats we could barely afford and plotting ways to get visas through a friend’s company or through starting my own consulting company in the RAK free zone. Meanwhile we had to leave and re-enter the country each month in order to renew our tourist visas, which I managed through traveling to conferences where I’d inquire about work (one in Istanbul, another in India http://www.vancestevens.com/papers/index.html#2011-06-17). Bobbi and I also crossed the border on frequent diving trips to Oman; e.g. http://vancesdiveblogs.blogspot.com/2011/09/bobbi-and-vance-fun-diving-at.html and http://vancesdiveblogs.blogspot.com/2011/10/diving-in-damaniyite-islands-with.html (not that bad a life, really; this must be one reason we wanted to stay here).
By the end of August things were looking bleak, we were wondering if we should just pack up and leave for Houston, but then a friend told me that at NYIT they were short of teachers for the semster starting soon and it would be easy to get on as an adjunct part-time writing teacher. I easily got that job and accepted for low pay and no benefits mainly to keep my hand in my profession. On September 11, the same day I started teaching at NYIT, I finally got an interview at HCT (CERT) for a teaching job at the Naval College. Meanwhile I had just started teaching an online course through TESOL for the month of September http://goodbyegutenberg.pbworks.com.
So I was quite busy early in September but at about mid-month things started spiraling even more out of whack. The new job had still not materialized in time for Bobbi and I to move smoothly from one place to another. Instead we had to prepare to vacate the 4 bedroom flat where we’d accumulated a lot of junk in 13 years and arrange to have it collected and stored. Plus we had to find temporary accommodation and move what we’d need into that by the end of the month and then vacate our flat.
Fortunately we were rescued by a very dear friend whose business had rented properties near the airport for his employees and had one or two flats vacant. He handed us the key to one of them and at least we had a place to move what we couldn’t live without into while the rest went into storage in Sharjah. It was a big relief when the movers finally left us a vacant flat (it took them two days to wrap and box all its contents). Bobbi and I had a last weekend in our old flat at the end of September, with nothing there but our computers, a mat to sleep on, and a live Internet connection. Up to then there had been much disruption in our personal and professional lives but at least our virtual connections were being maintained.
When we left the flat and handed over the key, we knew we were entering a period where Internet would be hard to come by for a while. Fortunately my online class ended Oct 2 and was not much affected. We thought we would have Internet in our new location but the provider was never able to connect Internet there because the flat we were in had been illegally subdivided and it was impossible to specify the location from the photocopied first page of the rental agreement provided me, so we were living under the radar in a nether world as non-residents in the UAE. For that month we scrounged for Internet at Costa Coffee and at my office at NYIT, the best thing (apart from my students) about my part-time job, which was fortunately available to me at any time, I just had to go there. Meanwhile I was told I had got the job at HCT, but there was further delay in starting the job awaiting outcome of security clearance. Finally, I was able to assume the job mid-October, working at the Naval College during the day, and teaching writing at NYIT two nights a week, in order to preserve my commitment to the students in that class.
Having just passed through ten months of uncertainty and unpredictability, and then a month of restricted Internet, my priorities had shifted away from blogging, reflection, etc into where all the time I used to grab for my muse was going into working hard from 7 to 1:30 each morning (they start early at the Naval College), often going by HCT for meetings and visa processing after that, and two nights a week staying on to teach my classes, plus having to do all the admin, marking, and preparation in two teaching jobs. As a result, this posting is the first time I have blogged since leaving my old apartment at the end of September. I had two book chapters due in mid-October and 1st of December, but both fell by the wayside as I had no time for serious reflective writing. To make matters worse, the UAE authorities needed my passport at a time when I was due to fly to Manilla to give a talk at a GLoCALL conference in late October, and I had to bow out of that as well.
Our trials were still not over. It was not until November that HCT was able to provide us housing in the city, and mid-month before we were able to get the moving company to bring our boxes from storage. Now we had a 2-bedroom apartment choked full of boxes shipped in from a 4-bedroom one. It took us weeks to get around to opening enough of the boxes and shifting enough furniture that we could clear some space for ourselves to move comfortably around our flat. It was at this time I was so exhausted that I found out only the night before that I had been designated lead marshal in a half marathon being run next day, only no one had notified me beforehand, so I missed that as well. Crunch time came mid-December when we were barely able to clear the second bedroom in order to welcome our dear son and his wife and daughter to stay with us and take the photo that you see at the top of this posting.
So Bobbi and I will be pleased to see the end of 2011, but having survived it, if we’ve not exactly landed on our feet this time, we’ve at least dusted off and kept on truckin’. And we are very much looking forward to moving on in the coming year. Bobbi can continue with her work with children, where she is assuming greater responsibility, and I was made teacher coordinator in my new position, where my skills in educational technology are being put to good use in finding ways to engage Naval Cadets who come to class carrying laptops but were using them to sometimes ignore teachers with books and handouts. I’m trying to get them using Google Docs in the academic composition class I’m teaching. So far it’s working, slowly but surely.
Bobbi and I are too resilient and persevering to complain about these things, but I mean here first of all to THANK the many people who have helped us through this, because by and large this was an experience where we found out who our best friends are, so thank YOU. Secondly, to those to whom I had made commitments but was unable to meet them, I’d like to explain what happened, partially by way of apology, and partly to get it off my chest because I finally met a wall I could uncharacteristically not scramble over. And finally, to those friends to whom I have not had time to write all year, I’d like to let you know (at this traditional time for such things) that we are fine and overcoming our temporary setback, and that we feel we are back on an upward spiral, positive outlook restored.
And to all, a happy holiday season and end of year and all the best for the next one.