One of the most bizarre stories that I have encountered in the past week is that the INTO have banned the giving of Christmas presents to teachers from pupils.
Not content with landing us with a 17% paycut in the past year, pouring our pensions down the IMF black hole, they are now doing the unthinkable....taking away our yearly supply of smelly soaps and scented candles!!!
According to this article (I know I was squinting at it, trying to read it with one eye, but I'm pretty sure I got it right) parents are presenting their child's teacher with bribery gifts such as cashmere jumpers, champagne, holiday vouchers etc. I have a wide circle of teachery friends and I have yet to encounter one that was the recipient of such a gift.....we wish!!!
I am very grateful for any token that assures me I have not totally wasted my time and energy throughout the year.
I must admit that I sometimes worry, as I open my 18th box of bubble bath that maybe I have a body odour problem and my pupils are trying to subtly tell me something!
Now Abu Dhabi was a different story!
There was a policy in my school that if a teacher received a gift worth more than 200 dirhams (about 50 euro), it had to be handed into the admin staff in the office. I very much doubted that the parent ever got it back from there, so I never handed anything in...oops!
At the end-of-term in my final year, the mother of one of my pupils gave a necklace to myself, the Arabic teacher, the Islamic teacher and the PE teacher. She did the same for a younger daughter's teachers.
Ms Nehaya, the Arabic teacher, came to me, quite distraught.
"Oh, Ms Noeleen. I do not think I can accept this necklace."
"Why not? I don't think its worth more than 200dhs....me not having a clue what it was worth, but I was damed if I was going to see the secretary walking around with MY necklace next week!!
"No that's not the problem. I don't think my God will allow me to accept such a gift."
That's the great thing about being an Irish catholic...
"My God has NO problem with me accepting gifts. Maybe you should convert, if only for a day!"
After a good old giggle I realised that she didn't want me to agree with her, she just needed someone to convince her that she was doing the right thing by keeping the necklace. She came to the right woman for that job!
"Look. Ms Nehaya. If Allah didn't want you to have that necklace, then He wouldn't have put it into that mother's mind to give it to you."
"Oh Ms Noeleen. You are so right. Thank you!"
And she ran off clutching the box tightly to her chest.
The next day I passed her on the corridor as she was bringing her class for prayers to the Mosque. She casually adjusted her veil, to reveal the glitter of gold. Go girl!
The following day I was rushing through Abu Dhabi mall, getting last minute stuff before returning home. As I passed Damas Jeweller's window I espied my necklace on display. There was no price tag so I decided to go in and check. I pushed open the door and almost sank to my knees in luscious carpet.
You know that scene in "Pretty Woman" when the shop staff in the boutique on Rodeo Drive look down their noses at Julia Roberts because she is a hooker.....well I was getting a similar vibe here!
"Can I help you, Madam?"
"Yes, please. Can I see that gold necklace from the window?"
He took it from the display, and placed it lovingly on a velvet cloth on the counter.
"Emm. Very nice. How much is it?"
"It costs 10,000 dirhams Madam."
Quick arithmetic in my head.....2,500 euro!
"Well it is white gold with real diamonds."
I was out that door, into a taxi and back to my apartment like a shot. The reason being...my apartment was full of boxes and crates as I was moving back home and I had no idea where I had put the presents I had gotten from the kids....including that necklace!!!
Phew, I found it!
Every time I wear it I think of Ms. Nehaya. I hope that where ever she is now that she is sparkling under her abaya. I never told her how much it was really worth. She is such a good and moral person she would feel obliged to give it back. Luckily I don't have that many morals!
Back to Ireland.
Last year I was teaching the phrase
"Is maith liom X ach is fearr liom Y."
Translation: I like X but I prefer Y.
So I said
"Is maith liom The X-Factor ach is fearr liom Strictly Come Dancing."
Christmas holidays came and I was opening my presents from the kids. (Ssh. Don't tell the INTO). I opened C's gift to find.... the Strictly Come Dancing annual. I was absolutely thrilled with it, not because of the book, but because it showed that at least one fella listened to me, understood what I said and remembered it!
That was the best gift ever.
Okay, let's be realistic here. Of course it wasn't! The diamond necklace was the best gift ever...but that book was a close-ish second!