Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Fitting back in

It's funny really, to call somewhere so alien 'home,' but there it is: I'm back home. It was nice to return to our flat and to put up the new pictures we've bought, although due to carelessness on my part we're now the proud owners of a Bob Marley poster (instead of the serene beach scene I thought I picked up). Bit late for me to be entering a stoner/hippy/student faze, but I suppose it adds a certain charm to the pool room.
In coming back I had hopes and dreams of doing all sorts of motivated things- you know me- like writing and speaking Arabic etc, and especially with our private lessons being cancelled this week I thought I'd have loads of time. But actually I've just slept most of the afternoons away so far, and now I'm wondering how on earth I'll ever find the space in my life for the eight hours a week tutoring, let alone anything else.
School is comfortingly chaotic. There've been a lot of changes, some good and some bad, meaning the school is just going in a crab-like sideways motion in terms of any improvement. It's starting to be quite amazing how there can be so many staff but so little organisation. My boys class have gone back to their jungle child punch up ways this week, as they're being left unsupervised way too often. The only difference now (for me) is that they listen (to me), but apart from that the school has reverted back to a place not dissimilar to when I first arrived.
On the bright side however, they've finally deemed it necessary (due to my constant whining) to put pencils and crayons in each classroom. Hurrah for progress! And they've also given us some books with space for writing and drawing, where the kids can actually take pride in their work rather than just working on a piece of paper then loosing it. 
Big things are happening here I tell you, big things.

This is what the classrooms are like sometimes.
I often call the kids monkeys, to the point where one girl
wrote on her new book today Name: Yara monkey.

One thing I keep reminding myself is that it's only 8 weeks till the next holiday! And I've already done three days...


Monday, 21 January 2013

Flying Visit

I am currently in the middle of our nine day holiday in England, and I'm loving it. If it wasn't for the fact that it's f-f-freezing here then I'd be more than happy to stay forever.
We travelled first by Saudi Air from Riyadh to Dammam, which in case you're not familiar with Middle Eastern geography, meant we were still in Saudi Arabia, and therefore couldn't drink either on the plane or whilst waiting for our connection. Argh! The waiting was slow and painful but somehow I survived.
I particularly enjoyed take off from Riyadh- instead of doing the usual safety procedure routine, there was the following announcement: And now you will hear a prayer that the prophet Muhammed used to say before travelling.
OK, of course a prayer can be nice, but 1) Muhammad travelled mainly on camels so I imagine wasn't in much danger of crashing into the sea; 2) Isn't the safety procedure the very thing 'God' has given us as a means of staying safe, so shouldn't we use it?
It's the whole Inshallah thing again. Inshallah means roughly 'God willing.' The Saudis use and misuse it to excess, often as an excuse to do nothing about a problem. If God wants it to be so, it will be. But of course the major flaw here is that you still have to be proactive in order for things to happen!
Did you ever hear that joke about the guy who's drowning?
A lifeboat comes up to him but he refuses help, saying 'God will save me.'
This happens a second, then third time.
The man dies and goes to heaven where he meets God.
He asks, "Why didn't you save me?"
God replies, "I sent three lifeboats to rescue you, what more did you want?!!"

For me this applies to all aspects of life, even without God added into the equation. People can miss opportunities to do things they want to do, because the opportunities don't look how they thought they would.

I did, however, feel like maybe we needed a prayer whilst having the wings of the plane de-iced at Amsterdam airport. Not something nervous flyers would want to see!

Quite a fun job?
The view over England was so beautiful. It always is, above the clouds, and the joke is that I can't remember the last time I flew into England without there being clouds, sigh.

I've spent the last few days in a frenzy of spending time with friends and family, drinking too much (hooray!) and watching the beautiful snow fall. Although I really am an 'enjoy the snow from the safety and warmth of inside' kinda gal, because the reality of the outside is mainly a lot of grey slush.

The view from my bedroom

And now the question I'm asking is.... will we actually be able to get back to Saudi Arabia on Friday??


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Boys see girls, girls see boys

This week, in a major lapse of concentration due to being over tired and it being half six in the morning, I left for work (and indeed arrived at work without even noticing) without my abaya on. This created an uproar: the women I work with were shocked/amazed/astounded and amused by how I could possibly have managed to do such a thing. As one of my friends put it, I've "been here for a while now so should be used to it." I guess she doesn't understand that it would take a bit more than three months for me to be 'used to' wearing an abaya. Sure, I've become accustomed to it in some ways: I don't trip on it quite as much as I did before, and thanks to a generous friend I am the proud owner of one that does up down the front, which is much more comfortable. It allows me to undo the top button when I'm too hot, or subtly take off my jumper underneath if I feel like I'm gonna die. Which reminds me of another story actually. The other day I was shopping alone in Mothercare and it was seriously boiling, so I decided to do my trick and take off my hoody. Well, it's fair to say it could've gone better. I took one arm out, then the other, then got stuck because the hood was sticking out over the top of my abaya and I couldn't reach to pull the whole thing up over my head. So in the end, after attracting significant attention from the male shop assistants, I had to wiggle and wriggle until I could pull the blasted thing out from underneath me. Needless to say, I left the shop in a hurry after that, much more hot and flustered than I had been at the beginning.
Anyway, on with my 'I forgot my abaya' story. So after giving the women at work great amusement, I then had to brave going to get on a bus to go to a meeting. The schools have these screens at the entrances, to stop men prying I suppose. We were all standing around talking and I happened to look out past the screen to find I was on show for all the world to see, and there were at least two men in parked cars staring at me. Makes you feel like a stripper in one of those 1 euro peepshows in Amsterdam, (minus the payment, dammit!)
After school I had to walk the two minutes home through the back roads. You'd think that a long black skirt, long sleeved black top and headscarf would be enough to ward off unwanted attention, but no such luck. We were actually followed by a car with three young men in it, who whistled and shouted at us for the majority of the way.
My conclusion to this episode is that the rules here are creating men who just simply aren't capable of being around non abaya-clad women, and should, in fact, stay in Saudi Arabia forever.

Another entertaining thing that happened recently was when we all went to a meeting at another school. Actually, I wasn't invited to the meeting as it was going to be conducted in Arabic (well done school, how thoroughly 'international' of you) but I stowed away anyway in a bus full of Arabic women, thus realising first hand a major perk of a burka- blending in.
When we got to our destination the bus driver didn't know where to park, so we drove around a bit in circles. Lee was waiting for me, and so I pointed him out to my colleagues. And, I kid you not, it was like I'd been transported to a fan club tour bus full of teenagers at a One Direction concert or something. There was screaming and screeching and cries of 'very handsome!' gallore.
It would seem, therefore, that just like the men here, the women also can't cope with the excitement. 

Click this link to read about another case of someone using the burka for a great escape. Amazing.


Monday, 7 January 2013

Make a Decision!

Usually the new year is a time for feeling refreshed and ready for new challenges. But right now I feel tired and over it and totally ready for my holiday in two weeks time. I'm going home for a week, which feels like the most exciting thing EVER!
At school we're in a bit of a pickle due to two things: being pulled in different directions by varying levels of management, and not making decisions early enough, or sticking to any decisions made. So we have a situation where there are some kids at school, most kids not, and staff being asked to 'teach' a program that we haven't planned for, with no books.
But hey, I'm getting pretty used to the disorganisation and am finding the key to sanity is to not expect anything until it actually happens and, more importantly, to just laugh at the mess.

On the new year theme, I read a blog the other day about goals and getting into new habits etc. Always keen to develop good habits (still need to work on not picking my nose!), I tried to take in some of the advice. One thing that definitely applies to me is making quick decisions. I am classically indecisive- a fact I often blame on being a Gemini- and can usually argue with equal vigour why I should do one thing, or another. The blog says that you shouldn't worry about making a bad decision but go for what you feel is right. It also says most decisions can be reversed, or if not, you'll get over it, so don't worry so much. Just the simple act of making a decision is a very good idea if you want to get anything done.
Another important way in which to be more productive, is apparently to pick one thing to do, and do it. Sounds simple and logical, but I have a really hard time with this notion. I've always liked to have lots of 'projects' on the go, and I've noticed particularly recently that I have developed a very short attention span. Of course if I just focused on Arabic for example, then it follows that I'd be very good at it within a few months. But then what about my story, and my 'exercise plan' and my blog? Not to mention practising my juggling skills and cross stitch and making bracelets and all the other little things I want to do. I admire people who're focused, but I've always preferred a bit of everything, which perhaps accounts for why I'm never that successful at anything!!!
Speaking of new projects, I've ordered two musical instruments (small enough for travel) which I'm going to bring back with me in January.

My new Ukulele.

An Ocarina! I have no idea how to play it but it looks like fun.
There is no way I could possibly pick one thing to do. For now I think I'll try to 'keep my fingers in lots of pies' and see how it goes. But if you have any ideas on how I can focus on one thing, whilst getting to do lots of other things too, a.k.a having my cake and eating it, then let me know!