It's been an interesting past few weeks. For as much as things have varied on a day to day basis, things hadn't really changed much since the beginning of the school year. Chaos and uncertainty still reigned supreme, but after a few fortunate bits of turmoil things started looking up.
We've been relatively fortunate in having most of the new teachers arrive without too much incident, but once they've arrived they’ve experienced a standard Saudi welcome. Their living situation has changed from living in a hotel in the Pakistani quarter of Khobar to a semi-decent compound just down the road from mine. It’s not pretty but it’s substantially better than the alternative of staying in their hotel. Still, most aren't happy and they are more than willing to let everyone know about it. In the Boys’ School most of the teachers are fine with their situation, with the noticeable exception of our Dear Leader, the Californian, who feels as though his position of authority deems him worthy of Royal treatment. The women in the Girls’ Section have been far worse, partially because of ignorance, but mostly because of the amazingly catty attitude many of them maintain. Unsurprisingly, they haven’t had the best time making friends.
The state of the schools has also exacerbated things a bit. Classrooms have been constantly reassigned, teachers have been moved between grade levels in an attempt to suit their teaching desires rather than their qualifications, and the daily schedule for both teachers and students was changed daily for sixteen consecutive days. A large number of assistants were hired on the Girls’ side to help cope with the influx of new students, 100 in all, over the past two weeks, but they were largely left to supervise students in empty classrooms while teachers had temporary prep periods. Understandably, morale levels have been quite low.
Lacking a number of qualified staff members to fill roles such as translators, IT technicians, and administrative assistants, our Dear Leader went on a hiring spree. Partly because all the roles were filled with close friends of other employees without checking to see if they were actually qualified, and partly because our Dear Leader is incredibly naïve, each new staff member lasted less than a week, with most of them quitting halfway through the day. Having returned right to where we started, our Dear Leader declared a hiring freeze (the authority of which he lacks entirely) to give him a chance to ‘draw up a battle plan.’ Several other locally hired employees grew tired of their ever increasing workloads and resigned from their positions, leaving even more gaps. It had gotten to a point that several Western teachers had started talking about their desire to leave, but seeing as their passports are being held by the company while their Iqamas and visas are sorted out, they don’t have much choice but to wait things out.
The week before last, during the middle of much of this chaos, our Dear Leader had a crisis of sorts. He informed us in an impromptu staff meeting (called during the middle of classes) that a man with a knife had broken into his wife’s bedroom while she was sleeping the night before. She still lives in Thailand, and fearing for her health, he was to fly out as soon as possible to be with her. He ended up waiting two days before he could leave, and wasn’t really shaken up about it, which led most of the other administrators and our Vice President to wonder if was actually telling the truth. He was supposed to attend a meeting in Riyadh the next day, but because of his ‘dire situation and severe anxiety’ he made the decision not to attend. I was then chosen by the VP to fill in for him in Riyadh, as well as assume the role of temporary Principal. Upon hearing about this decision he quickly tried to convince the VP that he wasn’t as distraught as he appeared and that I wasn’t necessarily the best choice as his replacement. The VP wasn’t very impressed with his sudden change in demeanor and ignored him.
Our Dear Leader.
I spent a long day in Riyadh attending a conference about accreditation, then met the VP for a session to help in deciding the direction the school as it expands throughout Saudi. He also gave me a letter of authority and a directive to ‘fix the problem that pale man has made.’ I returned from Riyadh and did my best to set things straight. Upon his return last week our Dear Leader was quite upset with everything I had accomplished, but he was left entirely impotent in his ability to change anything. I held a small meeting with him, the Principle of the Girls’ School, and Latifah, the Academic Supervisor, to get them on track with everything that was happening in Riyadh. It was determined that I would be promoted to help get everything sorted out between schools, much to our Dear Leaders dismay, but he had no choice but to agree with the decision. I am now responsible for a large portion of my Principal’s job, with the specific authority to tell him what to do when it comes to anything relating to academics or accreditation. He’s pissed. I’m pretty content.
In some ways I’m not particularily happy about having more responsibility, but I’ve managed to accomplish more in the last four days than most of the administrative staff, especially our Dear Leader, have done in the past two months. I still teach fourth grade, but consistent schedules and clear directions have made it relatively easy going.
Outside of school, life is easy. Some of the new teachers have come out of their shells and paid us a visit at the Compound for drinks and a swim, and they seem to finding that life in the Kingdom isn’t as bad as it may seem. I’ve been relaxing under sun by the sea as summer slowly changes into winter, trying to soak up as much of the heat as possible before it slips into the cool 80s every day.
Such is life in Saudi.