It was quite the interesting start to the school year. We started this past week with four straight days of workshops, dividing our free time between meetings and introductions for new staff and sorting out the many unresolved issues from this spring. What started out positive quickly turned into the monotonous chaos that defines working in Saudi.
I was hoping for the best coming into the new year, considering I spent the better part of most workdays setting up the vast majority of unattended business before I left for the summer holiday and had pretty much settled every outstanding issue. I had been in contact with the new principle for the Boys’ School, who I shall call The Californian, and was genuinely excited to have someone else in charge of day to day operations (especially one who was supposedly qualified to do such things). It looked as though everything was fairly well set into place and the first week of school would flow as well as it could given our situation. Per usual, I was greatly disappointed by the end of the week, and, along with just about every other returning teacher, incredibly frustrated with the almost unimaginable amount of ineptitude that has been exhibited by the new members of our administration.
The Californian is a nice enough guy, and he generally means well, but he has a habit of speaking down to people regardless of their position or experience, and has very little if any ability to make a decision by himself. Everything from the schedules to the layout of his office had to be done by consensus with the entire teaching staff, and even then was only ultimately decided by whoever got fed up with the indecisiveness first. His major concern was sorting out his housing situation (he’s choosing to live in a hotel at the moment instead of a compound), making sure the school had the right ‘Feng shui’ so the students were surrounded with positive learning energies, and making sure the school lunch program included healthy alternatives and vegetarian/vegan options (we have no lunch program, and, although he is vegan, vegetarianism is almost entirely unheard of here in the Gulf). These wouldn’t have been all that frustrating if it weren’t for his insistence on making sure that all staff members meet every morning for ‘quick check-ins.’ We sit in a circle and talk about our ‘personal weather’ and whether or not we feel emotionally and professionally ready for the day ahead. As much as I love talking about my feelings with 10 other men first thing in the morning instead of solving urgent and important problems pertaining to the start of school, I would rather not have to listen to an aging overweight self-described hippie inform me how great it is that the oppressive heat helps stave off certain 'incarnations of my personal demons'.
We ended this week with a parent orientation night on Wednesday, bringing my total contribution to 86 hours. The Californian wasn’t actually aware of the orientation until a few hours before it was scheduled to start, but after I briefed him about what was in store he realized how pressing it was. I ran into him in the bathroom a few minutes after parents started to arrive struggling to tie his tie. After letting him know that his polo shirt was inside out, I tried to show him how to tie a basic knot, but in the instance of time ended up tying it for him. I helped him put on his mismatched suit coat, then brought him to the greeting area. I had to continually remind him not to try to shake hands with any woman in an abaya, then handed him over to the Principle of the Girls’ School.
She quickly sent him back to me.
It was a full house.
As the orientation progressed, I provided the overviews for all aspects of the Boys’ School, described our objectives for the upcoming year, and ran the ending question and answer session, none of which I was originally slated to do. Afterwards the Californian pulled me aside to have a ‘decompression session’ (which is "fun because it rhymes"), where he insisted on talking about our feelings on how we thought the orientation went. I was not particularly enthused.
I never thought I’d be saying it, but I found myself wishing the South African was back running the show. He might be an incredibly vulgar old man with terrible hygiene and an overwhelming personality, but at least he knew what was going on half the time. Compared to last year, things will surely be a success, but it’s still a long way from being normal. This coming week will be interesting.
Such is life in Saudi.