Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Praying for Rain

On Friday the heavens opened and there was a major downpour. Much like England and the snow, Saudi Arabia is not at all prepared for rain. There's no drainage on the roads so even a short sharp shower can create a problem. The sports centre had water pouring in through various holes in the ceiling, creating big puddles on the indoor football court. We had to wade through a river in the road to get back home (luckily I was wearing flip flops, but the old abaya got a soaking). Our school driver lives in a room by the outer door of our apartment block, and he was in serious danger of being flooded. It seems the idiots (I mean people, cough cough) who built this place thought it would be OK to make it on a slope, with no drains, leading down to the drivers room. Poor George was trying to push the water away before it came over the threshold.
So anyway, on Saturday we had a small miracle befall us, in that school was cancelled! Hurrah for King Abdullah who declared that all schools be closed. Sweet! The only annoying part was that we didn't find out until half 11 at night, by which time I was already in bed, rather than up partying.
On Saturday, much to my disappointment, there was hardly any rain. I had a great day watching films, making a map and generally bumming around. In the evening we waited up way too late hoping and wishing for that happy text message saying we would be off again on Sunday. But it never came (sob), which meant not only did we have to go to school the next day, but we were also really tired from excitedly waiting into the night.
Sunday morning was the first time in my life I've ever been angry at a clear blue sky. Damn you sun! Ever since then the clouds have been playing with my emotions, gathering and looking ominous, then disappearing beyond trace. And the weather forecast is just as bad, predicting thunder storms and then failing to deliver. What's the point in even predicting anything if you're as wrong as thunderstorms to 'actually no it's really hot and pleasant.' Hmpf.

My students were all really excited when they came back to school on Sunday. They were full of stories of picnics and swimming in the rain. Weirdos.


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Getting Ready to say 'Farewell Little Monsters'

The title of this post might be a bit premature as we still have 4 official weeks left until the kids leave, but actually they won't turn up for the last two so I feel now that the end is nigh. I have to say I'm already feeling a bit sad about it. In Korea I only ever got to know the kids for 10 days at the most, so its been a new experience for me teaching 26 students for a whole year. As you might remember, at the beginning I absolutely despised the boys here. They were so undisciplined and rude that it was horrendous. But through a slow and steady drip of kindness, humour, rewards and a LOT of smack down, I now have lovely students who listen to me, enjoy my classes and crack me the hell up.
One of the turning points in me realising I might learn to love these boys was when one of them was sick in the class and another pointed at the pile of puke and said (insert Arab accent) 'teacher, corn flakes!'
A recent spelling word was 'moist,' which I explained by saying it meant 'a little bit wet.' The students looked confused so I elaborated by adding that it's like the wet stuff on your head after you play football.
So now, every time they come in from break, they show me foreheads and sometimes even arm pits, and say 'teacher, I have moist!' It just makes me laugh every time.

The girls class have been a constant throughout the year. Screechy, needy, full of endless stories, but also sweet and easily amused. This week they cut out and coloured planets and I set them homework to write about the solar system, to present to the class the next day.
One girl, aged eight, stood up and began to attempt to read a large passage of information beginning thus:

The solar system consists of the sun and its planetary system of eight planets, their moons and other non-stellar objects. It formed 4.6 billion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a giant molecular cloud.

It went on for another 100 words or so; you gotta love the old copy and paste from the internet.

Another girl presented this picture with pride:

Well done on the research

She told the class how each of the planets were feeling. The Earth is feeling sleepy, Neptune is feeling dancing, Uranus is feeling funny. 
I stopped her halfway with a subtle 'Thank you Yara, that's great,' but she responded with 'teacher, I not finish.' Then she carried on until she'd read everything on the page. 

Sometimes this job is too funny. There are moments where I want to kill someone and overall it's been a real roller coaster, but that's mainly due to the staff and the company.
One thing's for sure,  when I leave I'll really miss the little monsters that have made this place worth coming to.  

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Loving the Dull Times

I've been thinking lately about the idea of "looking forward to things." When I was about seven years old I remember being freaked out when I realised that all things come to an end, no matter how long you look forward to them beforehand. For example, I would be excited for months about going away on holiday in the summer, and then all of a sudden it would come and go and I'd be like, Oh, it's over. I think sometimes the act of looking forward to something can eclipse the thing itself- if you get overly excited you're at risk of disappointment when the event arrives. There's also the age old problem of "time flies when you're having fun."
I guess this is on my mind because of the way my life is here. Sure, we're lucky to be able to afford lots of holidays, but it's tiring spending all the time in between just looking forward to them. And then inevitably they're gone in a flash. That's just the way it goes. Also I think being a teacher makes you see your life in blocks. Getting through that lesson, or that day, or that semester. Looking forward to Wednesday (that's Friday to you) and feeling a sense of dread when Friday night comes (the Sunday night blues). And it's weird because I don't even dislike my job, it's almost just an automatic reaction to 'going back to school.'

A quote from Catch 22 on the subject:

"Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it's to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?"

In a place where I constantly live for the holidays, I like to try and savour the boring/ down-right awful moments. I don't like to wish things away, and am also aware that in a few weeks I'll leave this place forever and hopefully will look back with some fond memories(?!)

My plan is this: to savour and secretly enjoy every moment, whilst tricking my brain into believing I'm not enjoying them. Also to not think too much about holidays but to let them creep up on me. Then I'll have a slow and fun life! Ha! 

Anyway, enough rubbish. Here's my holiday video. It's my second attempt at movie making, and I think it's a little better than the last one.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Make Someone Else Do It

Last Tuesday we took the kids on a trip. We were told of this two days before, and given an Arabic consent form to hand out. I was informed neither of what time we were going or where in fact we were going. I was simply told we're going on a trip. But such is the Saudi way.
We went to a activity centre in a mall, where the kids went into different areas to paint, cook and play. It was actually really good and there were staff running each activity, which made it easier on us. My class of boys went around with two others classes, which meant there were quite a lot of kids.

Look at my boys so good colouring in their pots
I noticed immediately that it was only the three western teachers accompanying the students to the activities. At the second station (cooking) we began to wonder where are those other teachers?
Then I looked out the window....

Can you see what I saw?
That's right! All the other staff-and I mean ALL the other staff- were sitting around drinking coffee and eating pizza. We went to see why and to see if someone else wanted to help the kids for a while. We were met with a crowd of stubborn and quite angry women who were unwilling to help out, based on the fact they'd been told the staff had it under control. But three classes of these boys with two adults simply isn't a good ratio. They needed us and it was probably just the company policy to say they didn't need help. In my opinion it was a bit dangerous to leave the boys unsupervised as they enjoy to run and kick and hit a lot. Being told they 'didn't have to work' however,  provided the perfect excuse for my colleagues to sit on their bums and do nothing.  
When we pushed the fact that someone else needed to go and help, the Saudis just started shouting at an Egyptian assistant, telling her she needed to go. Pass the blame, pass the responsibility.

As if this wasn't enough to prove the absolute laziness that exists here, I then witnessed this:

Guess what?
One of the Saudi women had brought her toddler along for the trip. As well as sitting on her butt the entire time talking to her friends, she actually got the maids to look after her child!

In the last week there's been a bit of panic at work regarding illegal workers. Illegal working is a massive problem here mainly for Pakistani, Indian and Egyptian women who come here with their spouses and then want to seek employment. It's generally cheaper for the employers to take them on illegally, rather than applying to change their visas, and so this is what happens. Not to mention that they then have no rights, which suits the companies fine. Last week there were rumours that police were coming into schools and checking papers, and that illegal workers were being thrown into prison or deported. As you can imagine, the seven women who come under the 'illegal worker' bracket at my school, were pretty freaked out and all stayed at home for a couple of days until things blew over.
The Saudis on the other hand appeared pretty smug about the whole thing. They seem to think foreigners are 'taking all the jobs.' The fact is that people from Asian countries such as India and the Philippines who work here do a lot of the menial jobs and are paid almost as slaves. Try 80 pounds a month for a full time job.
I'm so tired of the racism here. It's like they don't even see these people as real people. And the joke is, a lot of the people who come over here to work are actually Muslims and they are still treated like inferior beings.
I find myself fantasising about all the immigrants leaving overnight. Because I'm absolutely sure that the following day Saudi Arabia would grind to a very abrupt halt.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Away to Cyprus in the Crisis

We've just come back from nine days on holiday in Cyprus. It was so nice to do normal things- to go to a bar, to be treated like real person by men and to not wear an abaya. I was a bit of a rebel and didn't even wear my abaya to the airport this time. I took the plunge because as soon as you get on the plane you take it off anyway and then are stuck having to carry it around for the rest of the holiday. I just had to ignore all the staring at the airport and pretend I wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary. But I have to say I wouldn't do it without my 'bodyguard' Lee there.

We stayed with our parents near Larnaca in a lovely apartment. It was so much more comfortable than staying in a hotel and it meant going out for a meal could be a treat rather than a necessity. The weather was warmer than expected, and we even had a few days lounging by the pool. The water was f-f-freezing, but we had to swim in it after forcing the letting agents to fill it up! Their arguments of  'no one swims in Cyprus in March' were met with protests by us of "We will- we're British!"

A pretty picture of the storm we had on the first day

It was a bit weird being on holiday in a country that was in the midst of a financial mega crisis. Trust us to choose to go there at exactly that time! Most bars and restaurants were quiet and there was more drowning of sorrows going on than partying. We met people who didn't know if they would ever see their savings again. We were also told by the bowling alley down the road that they might not be open the following week, depending on what happened. Everything was pretty tense. As far as I know it's worked out OK in the end, but being there in the middle of it was pretty strange.

A holiday with my Dad always means a trip into history and Cyprus definitely has a story to tell. The island is still divided, with the north occupied by the Turkish. It reminded me a little of North/South Korea although thankfully less extreme. There's a fence dividing the two parts, a no-mans-land, and soldiers patrolling each side. We drove to an area where you can get a good view of the 'ghost city' of Famagusta, which has been uninhabited since the Turkish invasion in the summer of 1974. Just before the Turks attacked, the Greek-Cypriot residents of the city fled to nearby areas. The freaky thing about Famagusta is that people thought they would be able to return to their homes after a week, but actually they're still waiting to this day. From afar, the city looks eerie and quiet, almost like you can feel how empty it is. I would love to have walked around it but you can't get anywhere near it without risking being shot.
The ghost town

We also spent some time shopping and eating in Aiya Napa and Larnaca. Aiya Napa has a nice harbour and beach, and Larnaca a lovely promenade.

So that's it really. It was a great holiday with good food, good weather and good company. In fact I wish I was still there!
I'm going to attempt to make another mini-movie at some point, so watch this space...