TITLE: Ferry rap
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Living in the United Arab Emirates is a great experience. Life is very pleasant and relatively stress-free. Wages for teachers are much higher than in Australia and the cost of living is much lower. However, as an expat you do miss your own country, especially when your children are there, and I often wished I could unite Australia and the UAE into one place. My world was split into two – two parts that would never meet. Wouldn’t it be great to have the best of both countries and not have to travel from one to the other? Of course, this was a dream that could never come true, but one day I came very close.
In the UAE I was employed at a college to teach English to Emirati students who were studying Business, Engineering or IT. Every year, we came back to the Gold Coast in Australia from the UAE for our long summer holiday. It was a blessing to have 8 or sometimes even 9 weeks off and spend this time with our kids. However, the restless person I am, after 4 to 5 weeks I knew I would be looking for something to do and so when I was asked by Griffith University in Brisbane if I wanted to teach on some tour groups for 4 weeks, I gladly accepted. This would also help with the high cost of the holidays. The tour group or study group were a hundred Emirati boys from the military high school in Al Ain but they came from all over the country: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. They traveled to a different country every year for a month of study and recreation, all expenses paid for by their government.
The boys were full of life and in holiday mode. They were keen to see Australia but not so keen to be in a classroom learning English. Luckily, I was given the highest level group and connected with them quickly by telling them I had worked in the UAE for the last 5 years. And so we talked and talked and I was able to fit in teaching them some new language. Other teachers were not so lucky. Some of them had just come off their TESOL course and were inexperienced; others were only used to well-disciplined Asian students and were unable to get a grip on their classes. Their students would be speaking Arabic all day and were hard to get focused. I spent a fair bit of my time helping them understand how Emirati students tick and how to teach them. Two of the teachers decided to leave but the others slowly got used to it.
As part of the course there were quite a few outings, some of which were during the day and the teachers would accompany them. We went to a theme park on the Gold Coast, the science museum in Brisbane and my favourite, Moreton Island, one of the biggest sand islands an hour and a half off the coast by ferry. We arrived at the ferry terminal while it was still quite fresh. Mid-winter in Queensland can be quite cold at night and in the early morning. We had two large buses full of students and I noticed there were some other buses with Australian high school kids also waiting to go on the ferry. Once embarked, I decided to go up on the top deck and sit in the sun to warm up a little. There were young students everywhere and it struck me that whether they were Australian or Emirati, they appeared similar in the way they were dressed,. They also had the same kind of mobile phones and iPods. Even their hairstyles and facial expressions seemed the same. I was thinking how close together my two worlds were here. I could see them both in front of my eyes and yet they were not mingling. How could I get these students from two different parts of the world make contact with each other? They had so much in common and yet they were ignoring each other, it seemed. Was there anything I could do to force them to make contact? I was sure that both groups would appreciate it and learn something as a result. I had no idea what. While I was still thinking about it, I heard noise coming from the lower deck. There were voices and in amongst it I could distinguish some rap music. I decided to ignore it at first but when it got louder and it sounded like more people got involved, I got up and walked over to the railing. On the lower deck was the car park. There were our buses and lots of cars and, to my amazement, in the middle of it all, was a group of fifteen Emirati and Australian students listening to rap music. They had formed a circle and one would step in the middle and do a 10 to 20 second dance move. He would then step back and another would take over. The end of every dance was accompanied by applause. This in turn attracted more youngsters and even girls started to join in. One after another showed their best moves while music was changed continuously and people were now cramped in between all the parked cars. I recognised some of my students. The whole group then decided to pack up and move to a lower deck where there was more space. I looked around to remind myself where we were. The dancing continued and it all seemed so unreal drifting on this massive ferry in the middle of the blue sea. I struck me again how music and dancing can bring people from such varied places together. Leaders from different countries should make time to dance and sing before every diplomatic meeting, I thought. Would the world be a different place?
Walking back to the bus to leave the ferry, I overheard some of the Australian students:
“Those guys were cool.”
“Yeah. Where were they from?”
“Dubai and some other places around there.”
We were loaded onto four-wheel drive buses and driven around the island. The bus driver was a talented story teller and the history of the island came alive. Even the students regularly laughed about the bus driver’s jokes. One of the stops was in the middle of the bush where an Aboriginal dancer taught us a local dance with the use of clap sticks. The boys sat down listening politely for a while and then tried the dance. However, they were keen to show the Aboriginal dancer how they dance in the UAE. They found some sticks for guns and started throwing them in the air as high as possible and catching them while dancing around. I looked around again and being here in the so familiar Australian bush and seeing the so familiar Emirati students, I realised my two worlds had come together as closely as they ever would.
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