Friday, 16 August 2013

My Arabian Prince

And so I continue...

Yes, that's right, I was blessed to have a Prince in my class. Four years old, small, petite, shy and unassuming. A delightful little boy. Dressed in his miniature khandoura or dishdash (slang for khandoura) he unassumingly appeared at my classroom door each morning along with his nanny or governess. At first I had no idea; he was just a welcome member of my class like all the other little people I looked after. It went round as gossip at first, colleagues highlighting the fact that in my class was a Prince. My teaching colleagues were a little envious, as those who had worked in the UAE a long time suggested I would be lucky enough to be spoilt by extravagant expensive gifts. Being new I was not so sure about this and also for me it was not important anyway; I was here to do a job, and a big job at that. I had come to the UAE to try to make a difference and leave a little something behind if I could.

My Prince was a bright boy, a very kind and a humble little boy but sadly quite a loner. He played and learned well but generally alone, but he was a very happy little boy. I never once met his mother or father. He was delivered and collected from my classroom door each day by his nanny, an Ethiopian. Over time we became great friends and she told me my Prince generally lived with her in private women's quarters at the Palace. He only spent time with his parents at their request but life was happy in the women's quarters in the Palace. All the women supported each other and got along. He was besotted with this wonderful caring woman who had worked for the Sheikh for eight years and she was wonderful with him. They obviously had a very close and deep relationship and she was like a second mother to him.

My Ethiopian nanny and good friend confidentially told me a great deal about Palace life. She explained that all the nannys lived in one area of the Palace and that my Prince spent time with his siblings and cousins; it was difficult to mix outside the Royal family. On the odd occasion when a "commoner" friend was made and trusted, they would be invited to the Palace and collected by chauffeur driven limousine. I had this luxury several times; I became a trusted confidante and it was an honour.

My nanny was a beautiful person, inside and out, dressed in her abaya and scarf, she would appear at my classroom door twice a day with gifts of homemade local food, homemade Arabic cakes, even a packed lunch for me or beautiful material for me to have clothing made, jewellery or perfume. Funnily enough, one of my daily gifts was pale weak very sweet Arabic tea (no PG Tips in sight) but I became quite accustomed to this delicacy and even sweet weak tea brings back fond memories linked to my dear friend and my time in UAE. What she did for me physically and emotionally during my time in Arabia was overwhelming and extremely generous. I was very homesick but my dear friend made my time more bearable.

I was the envy of a few of my team and it was amusing. The trust between us was very evident and I respected the need to remain confidential. Nanny and I became very close and I know she was very fond of me, as I was of her. My Britishness appealed to her and my confidentiality training sat well with her role as nanny and part of the Palace and Royal protocol. Her trust in me was deep and I was not about to break it. We became great friends and because of this I was welcomed into Palace life in a teeny weeny way. We were both saddened when my contract came to an end and I was leaving to return to the UK but there was such a deep emotional bond that we knew we would never forget each other and I never have.

Becoming good friends with any Arabic woman was difficult and in fact rarely happened. It was obviously much harder to break into the enclaves of the Royal family and Palace. Colleagues tried to get close to me to enable themselves to be part of what I was experiencing, I had to be careful. On occasions I went to the Palace in secret. Arabic women and mothers attending the school were not encouraged to become close to Western women. When, and if, we started to become close, often this would stop once a male in the family became aware.

The small rural town or village I was living in was extremely old fashioned old school Arabia and not remotely close to the life seen by Westerners in Dubai. Rules applied and it was best you abided. Challenging but fascinating and I will enlighten you with more on the village and life in another chapter at a later date.

Over time I had invites to many functions at the Palace, afternoon tea, a play date and then a guest at a Royal Wedding. A Princess was to be married and I was invited and could bring a female friend. I was to be welcomed into a world only one could ever dream of being party to. A very private world. A women only world. It was the most fascinating experience and I was very privileged.

More to follow...

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