I has been over a month since I’ve written an entry (I’ve been in the KSA for 2 and a half months now), so it’s about time I update you!
Let me start with my teaching experiences. For the first 3 weeks I did nothing but observe and meet new teachers which allowed me to find my place and settle into the University. The first week was revision week for the girls (study time); the following week we had a holiday ( 1 week vacation); and the third week was exams. Finally, after a month I began teaching! I took over and started Unit 4 (taught up until unit 7) with a co-teacher, Comelite (South African who also lives on our compound). We split our class in half so that she taught reading and writing for two hours, and I taught listening and speaking for two hours. Our girls major in English Translation and Linguistics, so I was blessed to have them. Not only did I only have a class of 30 –some teachers have a class of 50—but they are advanced, attentive and dedicated to learning (most of them). They very much welcomed me with open arms and we immediately bonded. Comelite is also a pleasure to work with because she lets me do my own thing as a new teacher—no pressure. I feel like I can develop my craft without being scrutinized or watched. Teaching is a breeze for the most part; it’s like I’ve been here for months. Now that I’m teaching and doing what I love, I feel that I can finally call Tabuk my second home, and really settle in. I’ve formed my routine—my purpose here.
The girls are quite juvenile. It doesn’t have a university feel at all—more of a high school really. They are fairly immature and lazy, and even though they are polite in a gentle, innocent sort of way, they lack many of the manners that I think westerners have. These girls have been secluded for so long that when they arrive at school they view it as more of a social networking tool than as a means of developing their minds and growing as young women. Most of my students don’t actually have any real desire to work after college, and if they do work it is of Allah’s doing, not their own (this is what they say to me). The students are paid by the government to go to school here, so this is their job. By the time they finish school, 75% of them will be married with a baby on the way, and will become housewives. Even though I know that most of the students I teach will do nothing with what I teach them, it’s still fun and exciting for me. I enjoy interacting and learning with them, and I hope that my passion and enthusiasm will in some ways stick with them as they move on from the PYP (preparatory year program).
As we wrapped up the semester, my students threw Comelite and I a party! We had cake, sweets, breads, and grape leaves filled with rice (I can’t remember the Arabic name for them). They also bought us both a bouquet of flowers, and an English copy of the Quran. We sang, danced, and talked about our cultures and traditions. It was a great way to end the year and wish them the best of luck in the future.
Outside of school, I have quickly acquired more friends from other compounds. I have spent a lot of time getting to know Craig, Christine and baby Jon on the British compound—they have been an absolute blessing. I love having them around and spending time with them in Tabuk. I have also met more people on the American compound, and have had dinner their several times. The men host dinner parties once a month and I was lucky enough to have been invited—they know how to cook!!! They also offered to order me some American products (food) that they are able to get shipped from the states, such as blue cheese so I can make my Buffalo Chicken Wing dip! We also had a birthday party for Izzi which was a lot of fun but ended a bit messy (too much to drink). Since my last entry I have been to two new places: Sharma Beach where I snorkeled in the Red Sea, and Aqaba, Jordan which was amazing!!! Just about every weekend I am busy on other compounds or traveling to somewhere new. I’m really making the most of my time here. Aqaba was brilliant! The coastline, night clubs, restaurants, and the people were all fantastic. From the rooftop bar we could see the city of Eilak in Israel, Egypt, and downtown Aqaba. REAL ALCOHOL!!! No more of the fake poison that is brewed on the compounds…I’m saving my drinking for when we leave the country (unless of course it’s a special occasion)! We didn’t do any shopping, but we did go dry driving in the Red Sea, and enjoyed the sights. It was such a freeing feeling to be able to walk around without an abaya, and have restaurants to choose from so close by. The people were all so friendly and helpful! We met several Americans who were visiting for the weekend as well—some from Amman, and a few marines from a small town up the coast. We exchanged contact info with the men staying in Amman, and hopefully we will visit them next month so we will have a place to crash and good people to hang out with! We also had real Sushi and Italian food!!! It was so good…In Tabuk there aren’t a whole lot of choices…just Arabic food — although I did have breakfast at a Pakistani restaurant with Nermine (another teacher at the university) which was deliciously satisfying. I’ll be sure to go back to Romeros every time we go to Aqaba! I couldn’t have been happier with my stay. Greg, Sally and I had a wonderful time, and hopefully we will return again soon!
This coming weekend we start our diving training. In two weeks I will be a certified diver (Inshalah)!!!! I also had my first experience at a Saudi hospital…it actually wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating…I was quite scared to go alone, so Sally came with me. I fell down the stairs at night school –Oh yes, I started teaching at a night school for extra money, although they don’t pay right away. Everyone says it takes a few months to get paid after you finish the 8 week contract— The hospital was clean and modern. Almost all the workers were Philippine or of some other ethnicity besides Saudi. I got an x-ray of my ankle to make sure nothing was seriously damaged (I was hurting pretty bad), and they gave me a ton of medicine for the pain. 3 Boxes of pain killers….I’m only using the one box…the other 2 are just unnecessary. Thankfully everything was fine and nothing was broken or seriously injured. The muscle was just swollen from the ankle twisting, and I’m sure all the exercising with Sally (our new diet and workout plan) put stress on it throughout the week. I have to take an easy on it so I won’t jump right back into my gym routine—just swim (although I danced in Aqaba and it actually seemed to help it).
What a month!!! Things have really blossomed here in Tabuk, and the more time I spend with my new found friends and travel the better it gets here. Sally and I have grown closer this past month, and we want to go to Korea to teach together. We might also go to Africa for the summer vacation, or perhaps I’ll take her to the States with me… money is an issue right now because Al Khaleej hasn’t made it clear if they will issue us our plane tickets as promised. We haven’t been here that long, so they are saying that I shouldn’t receive a ticket yet, but in my contract it states that at the end of my contract I should be given my ticket, and the end of the academic year is the end of my contract. In a few weeks the academic year will end, and my contract will be up despite the fact that I have only been here a few months… I should find out this week what will be given to me which will determine my summer plans.
Right now I’m really focusing on my health. Weight loss and building muscle is a priority – I’ve gained 8 lbs since I came here!!! The food is so sweet and fattening, and we sit around at work all day and eat (the women are always bringing in food), and even during the week the only exercise we get takes place at the gym. I’m also making a point to try to be more conscience of saving money so Sally and I can travel like we want. Ambitious, I know, but we will do it! I’m hoping to go to Dubai (UAE) for my birthday!
I’ll upload more pics as soon as I can…I’m at at work now… Greg has a much better camera than I do, so I’m waiting to steal some of his pictures!!! Oh we also have 2 new people on the compound, so I’m no longer the newbie!!! Laticea from America, and Steven from South Africa! The more the merrier here.
I will honestly try to not go an entire month without writing again, but if I’m not writing then that means I’m busy having fun and making memories! The Middle East really is something special and worth exploring. The desert is beautiful with all of the rock formations, mountains and the sea in the background. It’s full of culture and history. The people are friendly and the food is delicious. I wish I could bring my friends and family to show them that I’m not in a war-zone and that even though the cultural norms are different, at the end of the day we are all human, and that will always bring us together. I feel more relaxed than I’ve felt in years… there is no stress here… no pressure. There are things here that may make you feel as if you are oppressed (the clothes, censorship, inability to drive, and utter lack of choices), but the simplistic, idiotic way of life here is mentally and emotionally freeing (at least for me). In many ways you can’t take work seriously because it’s backwards and illogical; the compound life style is very much like a resort type of setting—no bills; and the ease of travel makes the entire experience seem exciting and new, even when your days and weeks in the KSA become redundant.
Looking forward to diving this weekend! Off to plan and get ready for night school….talk to you all soon!