Friday, October 7, 2011

Arriving in Saudi Arabia

The plane was a bit late in landing at Riyadh. At immigration control I stood in a queue of about 50 people for about an hour with absolutely no movement. Then a military type in a colonel’s uniform who had been strutting around the entrance hall all night barking instructions waved me to a much shorter queue. The immigration control is by far the most slapgat I have seen. The officials slouch in their chairs sleepily, then wander off to go chat with their buddies in the next cubicle, let their cigarette smoke drift into your face and very obviously discuss you in Arabic with their buddies.

I got out of the airport at about 4am and was met by Mohammed (there are many Mohammeds here) who took me to my accommodation. It had 4 bedrooms, 3 of which had 2 beds. On a few of the beds there was a sheet & pillow slip set – 1 sheet and 1 pillow slip. The sheet was about the same length as the mattress so tucking it in was out of the question. Also, the edges weren’t hemmed so they were unraveling. Both bathrooms and toilets were encrusted with dirt, as was the kitchen. The rubbish bin in the kitchen I threw out with the rubbish as it stank like week-old road kill.

The next day Mohammed took me shopping – luckily it was a “singles” day so we were permitted into the mall to do shopping. "Hyper Panda" in Riyadh is very large and modern and you can get about anything there. On “family” days no singles are admitted to the malls. The temperature in Riyadh is about 40 during the day dropping right down to about 30 at night. Happily aircons abound, including one in each bedroom.

The school is an impressive building – very modern and clean. The academy itself is very bound by rules and everybody is called “mister” – Mr Gregory, Mr Mohammed, Mr Achmed… The whiteboards in the lecture rooms are smartboards – electronic and computer controlled. The different coloured pens are actually dummies and you can even write with your finger if you like. You can also scroll up & down, save sheets and recall them, and the textbooks are also on the computer. Very impressive.

Everyday at 12pm and 6pm is prayer time. The devout gather in the lobby and face Mecca and the prayers are piped through the PA system for about 20 minutes. All the shops and malls also close for the duration of prayer time.

The first few days I had a couple of “remedial” classes to teach - these are students who missed classes and need to catch up. Then on Monday evening at about 20h30 Mr Ayman told me that I would be flying to Al Bahah in the morning and the driver would pick me up at 5h30. Also, 4 other guys would be sleeping at my place that night and flying with me in the morning. I stayed awake till 12am and when no one had arrived I went to sleep. Just after 1 I got a phone call – the first guy was waiting outside. I helped him carry his stuff up 2 flights of stairs and after half an hour went back to sleep. An hour later the next traveler arrived (these are all Egyptian English teachers and had travelled about 500km in a cab to get to Riyadh).

When my alarm went off at 5 I wasn’t feeling too chirpy. Anyway, we got to the airport and after some discussions with airport officials regarding baggage weight we took off for Al Baha. Al Baha airport is small – 1 runway and the plane has to make a U-turn to get to the terminal.

We were picked up and taken to the university, which is very large, with lots of construction going on and in the middle of nowhere. We were introduced to herds of people and then left to our own devices for the better part of an hour. Then Mr Reda told us that he wanted us to start teaching immediately. This was not a popular idea with us. We were all dressed in casual clothes, needed a shower and were knackered from lack of sleep. He kept on at us and I asked him if he’d like me to unpack my suitcase is the sandy parking lot to find my suit and wrinkled shirts. Eventually he gave up and sent us home.

Home is like a double block of flats – one block for married couples and the other for singles. I share with an American (Tim) who is health conscious and very into cleanliness (for which I am grateful - the place was spotless). The other is Sam, a young English guy. The flat has an entrance hall, lounge with flat screen TV and couches and chairs, kitchen with a gas cooker and fridge and there is also a washing machine. My room also has a “sun room” which eventually I intend to make “nice”.

The shower head is broken and Sam had rigged something with a wire hanger. The first time I showered the whole thing fell down which distressed Sam when he went to shower the next morning. Also, the toilet leaks if you don’t close the tap and the remains of a previous explosive movement seemed to be embedded in the porcelain. So yesterday I used a brand new hanger and made a more stable arrangement for the shower (I also put in a request to get it fixed), fixed the toilet and bought a toilet brush to clean the toilet.

We are also over the road from a mosque and just before 5 in the morning the first call to prayer rattles the windows. This is followed up with further mournful chanting at about 5h20 for a further 20 minutes. No danger of oversleeping here…

Downstairs we have a large recreational area with Wi-Fi, a pool table and a table tennis table. All that's missing is the fridge stocked with Amstels.

The university (men only) is about an hour away from our accommodation and a bus collects us at about 6h30 and brings us back again about 17h00. There are about 100 TEFL teachers on contract at the university and they are recruiting more. There is a very large contingent of Egyptian teachers. A bus is also available to take us into town (about 10km away) for shopping twice a week… singles and families on different days obviously.

The first day was chaos. Nobody knew what classes they were teaching, no teacher’s guides available, students wandering around aimlessly… I was told to go to lecture room 2123 and start teaching. When I asked for copies of the relevant books, what level the students were at, pens for the whiteboard and directions to the lecture room I was told to just go there and start teaching! So after wandering around for 15 minutes I found the lecture room and my students and gave a class. There was no white board to write on as the room was equipped with a smart board which was not yet functional. So instead I had to write stuff on sheets of paper and hold them up for the students to see. Loads of fun. I believe the smartboards will soon be functional. I can’t wait - I can’t teach without a board!

Anyway the next day I was given my office and tomorrow I get given a laptop – for school and personal use!

There’s a few South Africans here –a good bunch of guys. It’s nice to have compatriots to talk to. There are places worth visiting around here but transport is a challenge at the moment – unlike Chachapoyas nothing is in walking distance here, but I will sort something out. We are in a “mountainous” area (Peruvians would laugh at that description) and there are forests and mountain passes that are worth a visit.

We will get to them.