It’s my Gournal. Like a Journal, but with a hard G.

In my normal daily routine I have quite a bit of free time. More often than not, it ends up being spent trying to accomplish simple tasks that would normally take 20 or 30 minutes back in the States, but because of the skewed sense of normalcy here, these little things, like simple errands or grocery shopping, take several hours. I’ve learned to maximize my free time, but after I finish my work day, exercise, make dinner, run errands, and study for university courses, I’m left with less than I usually anticipate. Extra things like writing for this blog use up whatever’s left most days, and the rest is wasted on laziness or the occasional hangover. One thing I try to make time for most days, regardless of how tight my schedule might be, is writing in a journal.

In the last two or three years of studying to become an elementary school teacher, every onsite classroom experience I participated in required some sort of reflective journaling. Throughout my student teaching I kept a record of my experiences, which, besides going back and forth between a running log of all my failures and the ridiculous things I found my ‘urban’ students saying and doing, served as a way to work through the difficulties I was facing. Thinking back on it, it didn’t do much, and reading through them is much more of a lesson in self deprecation and humility than anything else. I ended up learning more about what not to do in a classroom through just about every firsthand experience imaginable in less than perfect schools with less than perfect students than I probably should have. It made me a bit arrogant about my abilities as a novice teacher, and, naively, it led me into situations that could easily be described as ‘over my head.’


Blue Ribbons, Black Abayas

Yesterday, in the usual spur of the moment fashion, I had the opportunity to tag along with a few friends to the annual Cultural Heritage Festival, known as Janadriyah, just outside Riyadh.

I had heard about this festival through various means, mostly my students’ parents and through the English language ‘newspapers’ that are available here. I didn’t think much of it, but Girl mentioned that she was going with the Paki and a few of his coworkers and there was room for one more in the car, so I decided it might be worth it to see what Saudi ‘culture’ has to offer.


It Sounds the Same in Every Language

This past weekend, for lack of anything better to do, I decided to take a short trip up the coast to Kuwait. Sadly, there isn’t all that much to do in Kuwait. Alcohol is banned, basically making it a smaller, dustier Saudi, but they have some semblance of political and religious freedom (the Vatican has a strong relationship with the Emir) and, more importantly, it’s another stamp in my passport.  

I was joined by two friends, both of whom accompanied me to Dubai over New Years, and although it started later than I anticipated due to a late night birthday dinner and the ensuing hangovers, it got off to a good start. The road to Kuwait is a multilane highway that skirts the Gulf Coast without ever actually getting near enough to see it. It passes through several large industrial oil processing areas, a few small oases, and a surprising amount of livestock ‘grazing areas.’ There really isn’t a better way to describe them than ‘grazing area’ because they aren’t really fields, but there is enough small shrubbery to support roaming herds of goats and camels. Some parts of the highway have fences to keep the livestock at bay. Most do not.

I tried to get closer but apparently camels can be quite mean


You've been in Their Shoes...

One nice thing about living in this part of the world is the general sense of hospitality most expats have towards anyone else experiencing the same ridiculous day to day life. It helps to have someone to share common experiences, and for the most part people are glad to be able to help someone like themselves who seems to be in need. Most everyone at some point or another found themselves in a similar situation when they first arrived, so it’s only natural to continue the cycle.

This past weekend I was invited to a dinner by the Brit. I was joined by the Brit’s wife, one of his close friends, a Welshman, and a menagerie of other expats that included Americans, French Canadians, and, the ever present bearers of libations, Scots. The majority of the guests worked for Aramco, the Saudi oil monopoly, which has a bit of a reputation for producing snobs. Aside from having to listen to a few overzealous American paramedics who dominated conversation with their relatively racist views on Saudis and their poorly formed understanding of Islam, everything went wonderfully, and I was asked to join a few people the next day for a beach barbecue.

Aramco is a bit of an enigma. It’s very well known and through various direct and indirect means provides a significant amount of work (and money) for both Saudis and expats. The main compound occupies a huge parcel of land situated at the edge of Dhahran, and has every modern convenience that a typical western expat would want, many of which are prohibited such as cinemas, and they even let women drive (or so I’ve heard). It’s basically its own little isolated country, sealed off from the prying eyes and repressive hands of the mainstream Saudi public. There are several other Aramco compounds, none of which I know much about, because for as well known as it is, it’s impossible to get into without a contact who works directly for the company. Seeing as I work for a Saudi owned international school with zero ties to the oil industry, I don’t have many Aramcon acquaintances.

Thankfully, the Brit does, so I joined him, his wife, their baby, and the Welshman for an afternoon at the beach. We were given guest passes by a Scottish veterinarian, and after a half hour drive from the Brit’s apartment we reached the edge of the Aramco Yacht Club, which is nestled along a beautiful stretch of white sand beach in Half Moon Bay along side Prince Mohammed’s palatial estate .

Not what I was expecting for a beach in Saudi


Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

Another week has come to pass filled with distractions (some worse than others), and once again I’m trying to catch up on posting. Aside from dealing with a hectic return to work after a break that might have been a bit too long for most students, I ran into a situation with my car, literally (more on that later), and I also started an online university course that ended up being considerably more challenging than I anticipated. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping my plate fully loaded, but I can’t say that it’s all that negative.

Some mornings aren't all that bad at the Boys' School.