Sand in My Shoes

Saudi 4

This is the fourth of five ‘flashback’ posts about my early adventures in TEFL, before I was a member of IATEFL and focused more on writing about the travelling side of my teaching career than classroom practice or mental health research.  It is republished now, along with a desert video, as a partial distraction from the global pandemic going on at the moment and a time when travel was easier. Saudi Arabia, where this flashback comes from, recently closed all its schools and universities, including the one where I worked. This unedited post was originally published here on Thursday, 10 March 2011.

The final post in this series is due to be published next week.


Riyadh (638)

It’s Thursday 10 March 2011.  Tomorrow is the planned ‘day of rage’ in Riyadh.  I am out of the loop on information about where and when to meet for the planned protests.  I will, therefore, probably stay at home all day.  It’s probably a blessing in disguise, because there are inherent risks in getting involved in any illegal action.  Protesting was officially banned a week ago.  Some fear that the Facebook campaign to generate unrest is actually a secret police ploy to entrap likely protestors.  Of course, I have no intention of causing any trouble, but we heard that the female campus staff had been given their passports back just in case and one or two schools within the male campus had checked with staff about ‘exit strategies’.

Saudiwoman reports that Sa’ad Al-Faqih, “an extreme anti-royal who has dedicated his life to hating the Saudi monarchy“, is likely to be blamed.  She goes on, “He has his own satellite channel where the only program is him sitting behind a laptop and lecturing about the evils of the Al Saud family and taking in calls from Saudis who pledge allegiance to him and to his hate. Last time [she] checked his channel he was saying that if you miss a prayer or commit a sin you can redeem yourself to God by spreading Al Faqih’s message!

The past two weeks (3 & 4 of the semester) have been interesting.  Classes have settled down and I have got completely on top of my Level 6 class, the one for which I am most responsible.  My Level 7s have been a bit of a nightmare but I had a breakthrough moment this week when I successfully class-managed the disruptive elements and got some teaching done.  Discussions are the order of the day, except the topics I touch upon – marriage – steer over the boundary rope of appropriacy.  Sex, Politics and Religion remain the key ‘holy trinity’ of topics to avoid… but I feel justified in touching upon each of these without digressing too much.. provided I continue to use my disclaimer that my views are not being represented and that students are not to ask me for my views, either.

The teachers got an extraordinary lecture the other day by a man giving a good impression of a dictator losing control of power; Gadaffi anyone?  I couldn’t possibly divulge any details, although it was certainly de-motivational and ridiculously authoritarian.  My favourite quote concerned the upcoming mid-semester exams.  When invigilating, we are supposed to make sure we have the correct number of virgins (sic) in the class.  A simple mispronunciation of the word ‘version’ caused many a titter around the auditorium.

As for my mental state, I am coping well with all the pressures and last minute changes which occur at work.  The sunshine definitely counts for at least 10 mg of escitalopram, as I predicted it would.  Looking back at my Bedgebury experience in January, it all seems like I was suffering from little more than SAD (seasonally affected disorder) and only operating at 50% – which is not sufficient for my professional needs.  Yesterday, we would asked by the university to go to the National Museum.  The reason was totally unclear so we had to surmise that it was merely a photo opportunity and/or an educational exercise.  But it detracted from other mandatory tasks, like lesson planning and carrying out Self-Learning classes.  We were late back and I had to rush through the lesson, without the usual preparation time. But I performed my duties, while other teachers returned to an empty class with no students to teach.  The museum was actually rather good, but we had too little time there, so it was frustrating and no explanation was given as to why a select bunch (with names copied and pasted from a spreadsheet) had to take part in this ‘mandatory’ trip.

Last Friday, a few of us took a trip to out the proper desert – the red sands north of the city.  I can’t write too much about it because of the nature of the group – the Hash House Harriers – in this conservative country… but I can say that it is a running and social club, which begun in Malaysia in 1938.  It is the kind of thing I wouldn’t normally do… it was good to get out of the city and do some walking in the desert.. plenty of photo opportunities…. but I don’t think the ‘social’ side of it fully appeals to me… it’s fairly cliquey.  By definition, a clique is a subset of individuals in which every person is connected to every other person (see also social network theory).  It can also be considered as an inclusive group of people who share interests, views, purposes, patterns of behavior, or ethnicity.  I remember writing about ‘guanxi’ this time last year, while in Beijing.  This was kind of similar to the group of people I came across at the compound barbeque event in that city, back in April last year.  It’s an ex-pat thing – how to survive in an otherwise barren or repressive landscape. Menorcian cricket club, anyone?? Here is a video, ‘Sand in My Shoes (Riyadh)’, from that trip, which was part one of a ‘Saudi Hash Triology’:

So, my attitude remains positive.  I get a daily buzz from being here.  How I manage to “keep my head” while others around are “losing theirs and blaming it on {the University}’, to quote Kipling, I don’t know.  But I do.  I got paid on 1 March, getting a free ride up to the office to collect my salary in hard currency.  It was a good feeling.  Luke Phillips also moved in with me into 401 on the same day and we paid one months rent up front.  I get 3000 SAR allowance but, by sharing, my room only costs me 1750 SAR, so I can pocket the difference.  The money I save on the Jallal minibus (5 SAR each time) is also a bonus.  Provided we are not asked to leave the country or I do anything that warrants my exportation, and I stay here until the planned leaving date of 27 June, then I should be able to take home around 42,000 SAR (GBP 7,000). Maybe more with holiday paid in-lieu.  Now, that has got to be something to smile about!

Saudi 3

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