Friday, 30 August 2013

Bedouin Tents & Camp Fires

Come, settle down with a good brew, curl up somewhere comfy, grab a blanket and enjoy my next adventure…

Sitting out under Arabian clear skies, twinkling stars, a bright moon and some unusual critters in evening temperatures of 32 degrees (and above) around the most beautiful camp fire I had ever seen with special friends, was truly a delight. I had never camped before in my life, so to camp in the middle of nowhere with complete strangers – human, reptile and animal (insects abound) – was a bit scary. This was another one of those amazing experiences and learning curves for me, Mrs T.

Circumstances had brought us together, all teachers in a foreign land, and now, as a close group of friends, we set off in a convoy of four wheel drives, in high spirits, across barren arid terrain that quickly became barer and more desolate as we left the city behind us and ventured deeper and deeper into the golden desert. Camels, sand dunes and dusty roads were all we could see for miles, both left and right, for the entirety of our road trip. It was long, but not winding, a straight and dusty highway that stretched ahead forever and disappeared over the horizon and way beyond leading us into an adventure like we had never experienced before. Fifty or so miles into the heart of the desert and weaving through vivid tangerine wind sculptured, massive dunes, the size of mountains, we finally arrived at the stately and prestigious Arabian stud ranch which was to be our home and camp for the next few days and where we were to participate in a traditional Bedouin camp under the clear starry starry desert night skies.

Our kindly and generous hosts had already set up the extremely striking Arabian camp; three large cream hexagonal tents strategically and perfectly placed in an arc around a black ash pit where we would eventually build our own camp fire. The smell was potent; a distinctive blend of dust, sand, soot and Arabian horse manure filled the air. Wood had to be gathered in the desert dusk for the fire so several of the group volunteered to head off in search of as much parched branches and scrub as they could muster. Much was found and proudly dragged back to camp and a huge fire was started which we all instantly moved close to and sat around to warm ourselves. The desert gets cold in the evenings. The fire was comforting, warm and atmospheric and lively chatter, laughter and sipping filled the air. Rapidly, ornate and beautifully woven blankets, robes and pashmina's were rummaged and shared out to each and every one of us. It felt luxurious and rich to be ensconced in such fabrics and traditions. Our hosts supplied a large ornate filigree engraved silver teapot full of water, which was hung on a stake over the vast fire to boil. While waiting for it to boil, we all busied ourselves with unpacking and settling into camp by filling our tents with our belongings and supplies. There was one hexagonal tent per family group and I had one all to myself.

We all settled back around the fire and sated ourselves with delicious food and drink. The atmosphere, like nothing I had experienced before, was oozing from under regal blankets and pashminas as we relished each other’s conversation and company. Under the clear Arabian starry skies laughter echoed, chatter could be heard; Arabian music trickled softly in the background while the cicadas clicked their night music and the stallions whinnied from sandy paddocks nearby. Spiders and critters scurried beneath our feet, the odd desert wren tweeted its song and an Arabian owl twit ta wooed as the night moved in. The whole atmosphere and scene was amazing and had the essence of a storybook. Life long friendships were being forged and memories made during this trip.

The exquisite filigree teapot whistled its readiness and the hot sweet weak Arabian night cap was offered to all in petite clear delicately engraved glass mugs which was a welcome finale after our dinner of meats, Halloumi, salads, breads and humus. Content, happy and relaxed, seated around the fire we all settled down to share our life experiences; what a way to experience camping for the first time. As the sun disappeared behind the mountainous dunes, changing the colours of landscape as it retired, each one of us, as if taking turns, began to respectfully retreat to our most elaborate tents for some well-earned rest.

My Bedouin tent was beautiful and glamorous; extravagantly furnished with exotic Persian cushions along each wall of my hexagonal Arabian bedroom. The fabric were elaborate and complex; the colours rich and the fabrics expensive. Persian carpets covered the sandy floor and burgundy silks draped the inner walls tied back perfectly with gold tasseled rope. Seductive reds, purples and gold formed heady hallucinations and thoughts of the harems, belly dancers and camel trains in times gone by. When I closed your eyes I could imagine the traditional Bedouin men and women’s past lifestyles. The desert smells and sounds added to the atmosphere. When ready to retire I was shown how, traditionally, to push several of the exquisite heavy cushions together along one wall to make my bed. At the rear of the tent was a cream voile fabric screen for me to use as a changing space giving added privacy and creating a dressing room.

I had been very apprehensive about this trip but there was no need; it was amazing. I experienced, as authentically as possible the Bedouin way of life over that weekend. It was so enjoyable we repeated it many times during my time in Arabia. I slept well and rose at dawn to see the sun come up over the dunes and to the smell of bacon and eggs cooking on the grand fire. The days were relaxing, playing traditional games, watching Arabian Stallions manoeuvre through the dunes and sharing our lives around the fire pit in between cooking and preparing hot tea.

On this occasion no PG Tips were required or appropriate, weak sweet Arabian tea in beautifully engraved glass mugs was the order of the weekend and Mrs Teacup was quite content, happy and satisfied. Nothing could have been better in our Bedouin camp or added to the atmosphere. Sometimes tea needs to be different for different occasions in different parts of the world for different reasons. This was definitely one of those occasions and reasons.

Thursday, 22 August 2013


Well as I said previously, my Prince was a special little boy. He was a delight to teach and have the pleasure of in my classroom. Getting to know him and his family was extraordinary and a blessing and I entered a world I could only dream of being part of prior to our meeting. But I have to tell you I have worked with many very special children who have made a difference in my life and career and changed my view of the landscape. I have been in education over 30 years in one way or another. I have experienced many situations and challenges in four continents of the world. Making a difference has always been important and I have not always been popular in the adult and professional worlds because of this but have always had the child’s interests and well-being foremost in my mind’s eye. Being unpopular has never really bothered me so long as I have always carried out my work for the benefit of each child and their particular learning and individual needs. When caring for children you cannot always be popular!

Let me share a story of another special child I was lucky enough to get to know…
Whilst working in the US of A I had the pleasure of working with Sophia within a children’s day nursery setting. She came into my life as an 18 month old and it was obvious from very early on in our “getting to know each other” that she was a very bright little bundle of joy.
Sophia walked at 10 months and talked at 14 months; no baby speech, just full adult sentences in perfect Queen’s English. Her parents were astonished. She constantly talked and asked questions most of which were extremely difficult to answer.  She would ask “where God came from” and “where did the first chicken’s egg came from” as well as wanting to know how everything worked and explanations for many big long adult words.
Sophia spent the majority of her time with her nose in a book. Before she could actually read she had memorised many stories and could recite them to you and correct you if you got the story wrong or cheekily missed a page! As she grew she became obsessed with the encyclopaedia, dictionary and atlas and would spend many hours of the day sitting in the bottom of the wardrobe soaking up information from such books and reciting her findings to her poor exhausted mother. These books, she would later tell me, answered her questions at a time when other didn’t seem able to!

Sophia needed to be stimulated twenty four hours a day and when bored she would secretly find her own entertainment and this would generally mean she was up to no good. She was so inquisitive that she tried to shave her face to “see what it felt like”, put tissue paper up her nose and had to have her sinuses flushed, cleaned her ear with a cotton bud and perforated her ear drum and at 6 years old ran away from school. It was a blessing when she was finally old enough to answer her own questions by researching on the internet and using Wikipedia. Sophia had, what we call in the trade, hypersensitivities and loved textures and sounds. She was also sensitive to world issues and could become very distressed with world issues like war and poverty and watching the television news was often extremely distressing for her.
Now before you judge her mother, parents and family, can I just stress that they were ordinary; middle class very normal and a respectable family who oozed common sense (just like you and I). They were kind and caring, loved this little girl implicitly and always tried to do their best. Nevertheless, they found their parenting job exhausting and challenging? In fact at times they thought they were bad parents when they found attempting to constantly meet Sophia's needs difficult. Yes, her mum and dad appeared both bright but, they shared with me one day, they had never shown traits and characteristics shown in this little person. Keeping up with this child was very challenging. Constantly stretching and enriching her insatiable appetite for knowledge was a really tricky balancing act.
At two years Sophia was registered at the day nursery I was teaching in 3 days a week and this went someway in helping to stimulate her (and exhaust her) but more importantly gave her mother time to recharge her batteries and also get some of the very important family household jobs completed. A summer baby she was always the youngest in her year but this never made a scrap of difference or held her back. She was always way ahead of her peers and years. At six years old after battling, not only with the child but the establishment too, she was diagnosed by an educational psychologist as gifted and on the 99th percentile and working as a twelve year old for communication and language, reading, writing and spelling. The world was such an interesting place to Sophia.
Sophia found it hard to make friends and always gravitated towards adult company where she could hold an in depth conversation about the world around her and they could generally make an attempt to answer her difficult questions. Sophia was very pedantic and a perfectionist, a hard worker and needed to always achieve highly. She was extrovert and full of life and a pleasure to be around. She was interesting and I found her to be a delight to have in my class. I thrived on teaching and working with her and watching her develop into a very competent and bright young girl.
After a day with Sophia and retiring to the staff room, for my well-earned break, a strong, often sweet cuppa PG Tips was a necessary, and much welcomed, refreshment and “pick me up”!
Tea for Mrs Teacup was never very far away!

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...

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Mrs Teacup in Arabia

Hello, Mrs Teacup here. Yes, its me, I'm back. Wanted to share a fascinating part of my life with you. I said before, I am Mrs Teacup. English, very very English. A teacher and a very English one. Fully qualified. Working with early years, little ones, preschool, sometimes reception, sometimes gifted children, sometimes children with special needs. Love what I do, passionate about education. Worked all over the world. Four continents. Well, three prior to this trip. A blonde pale face curvy western woman venturing into the closed enchallons of the Arabic world. A world where I would always be conspicuous and never be integrated.

In Arabia they called my class kindergarten. Thirty, four year olds, primarily Arabic speaking Arabic with English as an additional language; yes, not even as a second  language, was one the challenges I was yet to face. I had come to teach the British Curriculum in an International School, but communication with these little people was going to be my biggest obstacle. Just my accent and name was a problem. Although as time went on I was staggered to learn that the Arabic families fought and protested to be in my class, all due to my very English accent. Nothing to do with my ability as a teacher.

It was a spur of the moment decision to work and teach overseas. It was Google and the TES who assisted and gave me the confidence. On a bright and sunny Monday morning with nothing better to do, Mrs T surfed the net looking for the next exciting interlude in her life. I had no idea where I would end up but nothing could prepare me for the teaching assignment ahead. With the daughter grown and enjoying a life of her own, what was I going to do next. Within one month of application Mrs Teacup, PG Tips and all, I arrived at one of the largest airports in the world, DBX, to begin one of the most challenging chapters of my life.

Surrounded by dishdashes and the male species, Mrs T made her way to the overseas immigration entry desk. Scared alone vulnerable and lost, entry papers in hand, this conspicuous very English and western lady made her way through the very scary male dominated immigration of Dubai, DBX, largest airport in world and begin a fascinating journey, into the bowels of Arabia. An interlude never to be forgotten and never to be taken for granted. Nothing could have prepared me for what lie ahead.

So...... many hours later and after intense interrogation, I stepped out from the air conditioned flamboyant blingey airport terminal building into a dusty humid wall of heat and sweat. I had never felt heat like it anywhere else in the world and it hit you like a sledgehammer. One large suitcase in tow, I was ushered by a gesticulating man and taken alone (just me and the Arabic speaking driver) by a crappy uncomfortable rickety school bus in forty degree humidity, with no air conditioning, two hours directly north of Dubai to a small rural village, close to the Omani border in the middle of the night. This was to be my education; I was to become alone and lonely in a very different world.

To be continued.....

Friday, 9 August 2013

A Good Old English Cuppa Tea

I am English. Very very English. Some would say old fashioned. I would just say my mum brought me up well. And I like English tea, anywhere in the world. If I am scared I can't buy them in other continents, my PG Tips go with me most places. For me PG Tips are the best. I like my tea strong and to look like a cuppa proppa tea.

I share both my grandmothers genes in tea drinking as, like my maternal grandmother, I like my teas strong and, like my paternal, I often only drink the top half of the cuppa. It tastes the best. The cuppa has to be hot, piping hot and the first sip or mouthful is like paradise.

As I mature (yes mature) I realise I have been fortunate to travel a lot and I have been too some extremely challenging parts of the world and had to make a life for myself. You see, also, I am a very English teacher and have been able to help in four continents, as far as I can remember.

And as you have now probably began to consider, a good cuppa English tea has been like my comforter; like home.

In Arabia there was no PG Tips just sweet mild weak mint tea served in tiny weeny elaborately engraved glass miniature mugs. Beautifully presented but just not a comparison to the good old English cuppa. I did become accustomed to it in the end and quite liked it but, oh to arrive in the good old blighty and have a English cuppa made for you, in the elegant rose patterned Royal Doulton fine bone china mug of home.

In the US of A, what they call tea is available easily but I required three T-bags to begin to remotely acquire a good tasting mug of tea. The bags, individually wrapped, need to stew for many minutes to begin to search for any colour to the milky water. And the US of A water is not boiling hot, what is that all about??

In Africa it was worst still, no tea available much of the time. And when it was available, served with the same US of A weak T-bag and with NO milk. BUT the water was hot, so could not complain.

Europe, one would think would be close to home. One would imagine you could get a reasonable cuppa in Europe. But, no! Weak, no milk and then when you ask for milk, you get frothy boiling hot milk. PG Tips go with me, whether it be vacation or business. A small sandwich bag crammed full of the said bags tucked into my hand baggage and another in my suitcase. I ask for boiling water and "cold" milk and then launch my lovely bag into the chunky over sized mug and close my eyes and dream of afternoon tea, with cake, in my mothers or grandmothers living room, and, yes.....I can get away with thinking all is well with life and with my good old English cuppa.