I beg your pardon, this is my Secret Garden

Normal life has resumed here in the land of endless sun, and for as dramatically as the situation at work has changed in the last few days, everything is just about the same.

I had a fantastic break from Saudi over the holiday travelling and exploring in and around Muscat, Oman. I was joined by my parents, who were able to experience all the wonders of the Arab world while still enjoying most of the conveniences of the West (toilets sometimes being one of them).

 Qur'm Beach


Back in a few...

This weekend marks the end of the first semester, meaning I've made it halfway through my first year here in the Kingdom. I plan on doing a little celebrating during my holiday in Muscat, so posting will be light for the next week (not that I've managed to be all that consistent with posting anyway).

A big thanks to those who've been following all my misadventures and giving me words of support, and to those of you who visit to remind yourself how glad you are not to be in my shoes, well, I guess you're welcome. Either way, thanks for checking in on me. 

I'm sure there'll be more to come. 

Minnesota Nice

One of the more surprising and unintended aspects of moving to the Kingdom has been the change in attitude I’ve found myself noticing recently. The culture and people here have a particularly good knack of testing one’s limits. At first you don’t realize how much it happens because everything is new and exciting and ridiculous, and you’re left with little time to think about what’s happening. After a while you realize the full extent of how meticulous everything is when it comes to making sure that even the most trivial of activities involves agonizing frustration.

The serenity is misleading.


Slowly but Surely

Yesterday marked the start of the first full week of school of in the New Year. We’ll hit the halfway point in a few weeks, and it’s interesting to consider how much things have changed (but really stayed exactly the same) since the beginning of September.

A few weeks ago I moved into a new classroom just across the hallway from my old one. The decision to move came in small part from not being able to fit enough desks in my room, but the bigger factor was the overly pungent residue that had accumulated near the door and under desks from students improperly cleaning themselves in the bathroom. The custodian wouldn’t clean the floor if he had to mop around the desks as it required too much work on his part, so there were several instances where I cleaned the bigger stains by hand with sanitary napkins. After a week of teaching in a room literally covered with sewage, I gave up and moved to a new room. I held long bathroom training sessions when we first moved, and I continue to heavily monitor bathroom breaks to ensure my new room stays relatively clean. Since then I’ve been relatively free from having to get down on my hands and knees to wipe my students’ shit off the floor. Incidentally, the water shipments to the school have been relatively infrequent over the past month, meaning that toilets don’t flush, the hoses students use to clean themselves don’t work, and students can’t wash their hands. Some days are much worse than others.

When the sewer system backs up it drains directly into the street just outside 
the main student entrance. This happens several times each week.


Enough with Half-Empty. Here's to Half-Full.

After realizing I would eventually obtain my car, I started gathering information about different road trips I could take. Gas is cheaper than water here, literally, so the only major constraints to travel are time and perseverance. From the Tri-City area almost every country bordering Saudi is within a day’s drive. Roads are fairly good by western standards, although they tend to be filled with random annoyances, and the weather is perfect for travelling during the winter months. I asked around the compound and was eventually recommended several potential road trips by the Scots who hang around the pool. I was contemplating using the New Year’s Holiday break to drive somewhere, and thankfully my car was ready just in time.

One of the teachers at the Girls’ School suggested that a few of us spend New Year’s in Dubai, and after coaxing some information from the boys at the pool, we made it our official destination for the long weekend. After sorting out my paperwork on the Causeway to Bahrain I packed, and early the next morning myself and the other American Girls’ teacher headed out for the Emirati Border. We were joined by her Pakistani ‘boyfriend’ a few days later, as he had to work over the weekend. He flew into Dubai, but rode with us for the ride home.


Small Changes; Big Differences.

The Holiday Season has come to pass here in the Kingdom, and it was a surprising bit of fun given that nobody here actually celebrates it. It was an interesting experience in a society where no one recognizes that anything is happening. The holiday season crept up quickly, and being surrounded by palm trees and barren desert meant the atmosphere wasn't quite as conducive to holiday cheer as other places.

Christmas is technically banned here, and in some areas there were the annual reports of red and white decorations and other holiday novelties like candy canes being confiscated from stores. I spent my Christmas Eve working but I was lucky to run into a Pakistani Friend of mine and he was nice enough to order myself and a few others a traditional Pakistani dinner. Christmas day I worked during the morning, then spent the afternoon lounging by the pool. A large group of Western teachers and their significant others gathered at a villa in our compound for a large dinner later that night, and after a few too many bottles of specially made hard cider, we had a gift exchange. It was an all around good time aside from the looming dread of having to work the next morning. Thankfully, a few glasses of cider and some well placed excuses meant myself and the Brit (who happens to be a Muslim of Palestinian descent but was easily the most excited about Christmas) convinced our Principle to give us the day off. It might not have been the most traditional Christmas dinner, but, given the friendly atmosphere and jovial spirits, it was a nice break from the ridiculousness that is life here.

Merry Christmas.