Dubai’s school of hard knocks
Its been a transition for Miss Sparky moving to Dubai. As her first year as an international student draws to a close, we thought it was time for some reflection on the experience. So at dinner the other night we asked her some of the highlights of the year. Expecting stories about culture, friends, and new experiences we were somewhat surprised when she started talking about sports days and music. What followed was a slightly disturbing and yet hilariously funny account of Dubai’s school of hard knocks!
She starts with tales of dodge-ball. I remember this game from when I was at school. There were ball throwers and ball dodgers. The object was to try and make it across a set area without getting tapped by a ball. Rules were always strict – no balls above the waist, nothing too hard, no hitting people when they were down and referee’s decision is final.
Dodge-ball Dubai style is, by all accounts, something more akin to what you would have found in the 30s and 40s in boys boarding schools in England.
Miss Sparky explained that the teacher sets the rules out straight up, which is that there’s basically no rules. Then he promptly heads over to the side of the hall to chat up the art teacher. You could see the boys eyes light up as they run to grab balls to be the throwers, while most of the girls and less speedy boys are left to be the dodgers.
Then, it is on for young and old. She describes kids getting whacked on all parts of the body from all sides – multiple balls at a time. One kid stops to bend over and pick up a ball and is promptly attacked by 4 different balls from different kids aiming straight at his butt. There is the kid who got hit in the head and had to retire with a lump. And of course, the kid who got hit in the face – he went up to the teacher and dared to interrupt his stream of pick-up lines and witty anecdotes, only to be told to “harden up and get back out there”.
She paints a picture of pure carnage. Kids limping off the court, rubbing their heads in bewilderment, some in tears others cackling with joy at the free-for-all. And yet, no-one complained. They had an absolute ball and kept on going back for more. She was laughing so hard telling the story she could barely get through it. It got me thinking about how this game would have gone down in Australia.
Well, for a start, it probably wouldn’t have happened in case of any liability issues. If it did happen, there would have been so many rules, the kids probably would have ended up standing and rolling blow up rubber balls at each other. And if someone tripped on one while walking past at safety speed, the game would have been stopped and everyone sent back to class while the kid went to the nurse for immediate risk mitigation first aid.
Now I’m no advocate of violent games or unrooly children, but it was kind of refreshing to know that she got some exposure to being toughened up a bit as I know this will serve her well – especially if she ever wants to work in the Dubai workplace let me tell you!
The next story was an even funnier tale about music class. In my experience, music teachers have always been some of the most tortured souls among the teaching fraternity. I rate them right up there with the art and French teachers in terms of how much respect they get from students.
So we were expecting a story somewhat similar to dodge-ball, where the students were clearly in charge and loving being crazy, only this time with musical instruments.
However, it appears that this music teacher was no wallflower. Perhaps he snapped one day after years of being tortured by students with no inclination to learn music and decided he wasn’t going to take it anymore? I’m not sure. But the tale was entertaining nonetheless.
So enormous Mister Heru calls the children in and is apparently trying to put together a little orchestra, as kids are grouped into instruments and asked to play part of the tune together. Then, he goes around and listens to each group before allowing them to then play the song together as one big group. As he goes around and listens to each group, he gives each individual one go at getting it right. If you get it wrong, you forfeit your instrument and head to the mat for the rest of the lesson. She describes him going around the room and at each spot, the kids play and he barks at them to get on the mat.
The space on the mat gets less and less each group as he sends more kids to sit out the lesson. We ask Miss Sparky how she fared and were told “I didn’t even get to finish my part of the song and he sent me to the mat”. We hear of brave little Max who dared approach big Mister Heru to ask for a go on the xylophone. He barks “Nope – you’ll just get it wrong! Go sit on the mat!”
We ask her why she thinks he would be like that and, express concern that no-one is really getting a go. “how long did you have to learn it?” “shouldn’t he be a little more encouraging and inclusive?” “What happened to trying your best?” She answers, very matter of factly “Well, we were supposed to learn all term and this was the last performance. No one learnt it – we really did suck mum!”
I wanted to high-five Mister Heru. What a champion. None of this “mister nice guy”, “everyone gets a go”, “committment and discipline are things you learn” nonsense. “You didn’t do it? Just get out!”
And as I mentioned, this kind of training is crucial for these kids if they intend on working here in Dubai, as the workplace has many similarities to the playground.
I was in a meeting the other day and we were talking about changing the role of a group of employees quite significantly. I mentioned that we should probably look at their conditions, look at negotiations, HR all that kind of thing. I was conscious that the room went quiet. Everyone looked at me like I had two heads. “What do we need to do that for?” a lone voice pipes up. “This is Dubai – just tell them they have to do it or they can get out.” The adult version of dodge-ball!
Little do they realise, but Mister Heru and Mr PE teacher are teaching these kids life lessons they won’t learn anywhere else. They are probably better preparing these kids for real life than any approach of cuddling, canoodling and wrapping them in cotton wool possibly can! I like to think that Miss Sparky will leave with Dubai’s school of hard knocks a lot stronger than she otherwise may have turned out. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the next year has to bring.
Anyway, we’re off to play a family game of dodge-ball now.. I reckon Little Chubs will have us all cowering in a corner begging for mercy by the end!
Have a great weekend