Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

Ha’il Compound Apartment (Photos)

Hiking in Ha’il (Photos)

The Compound in Ha’il (Photos)

Me at work in Sakaka! (Photos)

Video of Sakaka from a Rooftop

A video taken from the rooftop of the PYP (Preparatory Year Program) building at Al-Jouf University, Sakaka, Saudi Arabia.

Downtown Sakaka (Photos)

A Guide To Graffiti in Sakaka!

Graffiti is, of course, a common sight in the West, but what about graffiti in the Middle East? Have you ever wondered what locals in Saudi Arabia feel compelled to spray paint on their walls? Here is just a sample of the kinds of things you’ll find written. These were taken from Sakaka, a small and relatively more conservative city in northern Saudi Arabia, where I have been living for the past 8 and a half months. Click on a thumbnail to open a slideshow of the graffiti with my notes included. I hope you find them interesting!


Al-Jouf University Graduation Day

As members of staff and faculty, we were invited to attend Al-Jouf University’s graduation ceremony on the 15th of May, 2012. We were representing the university’s Preparatory Year Program (السنة التحضرية). Since our students are all in their first year, none of them were actually graduating, but some of our students were participating in the ceremony as members of Al-Jouf University Boy Scouts. Here is a video of the Scouts practising their routine:

The ceremony was held at the new university campus, located near Al-Jouf airport. The brand new campus is still a massive construction project, which looks more like a small city in the making than a university it’s so huge!

In attendance at the ceremony were all the bigwigs, including the university president, the deans and even a guest appearance from the prince of Al-Jouf himself! Both the president and the amir gave speeches congratulating the graduates.

After the ceremony had finished and the crowds of students made their way outside we managed to get a rare sample of a traditional Saudi dance, called the “Daha” (الدحة), which some students broke into spontaneously in their celebration. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get a video of the dance, but here is an example of a typical “Daha”:

Here are some photos from the evening, which include several of my colleagues and fellow teachers. Click on a thumbnail to open the slideshow.

You might be in Sakaka if…

Sakaka, Saudi Arabia – a surreal place, to say the least! It never ceases to amaze me and there is never a lack of strange things to see, out here in what feels like the middle of nowhere, lightyears away from the real world!

Here are just a handful of the bizarre things that I have experienced during my stay here in this desert city.

So, you might be in Sakaka if…

  • You’re at the shops and because you’re a foreigner wearing jeans you start to get Saudi locals asking you how much stuff is.
  • You see a car joining the queue in a drive-thru lane at a fast-food restaurant and the driver proceeds to get out of his car, walk into the restaurant and make his order. He gets back in his car, waits, and picks up his order when he finally reaches the drive-thru window.
  • You see a car zooming towards the traffic lights when they’re red, breaks screeching, then, skidding as it makes a right turn at the lights, it suddenly makes a U-turn, then another right turn, thus bypassing the red light entirely!
  • You see four more cars do the exact same thing, one after the other!
  • You can’t see any taxis anywhere.
  • Gas is cheaper than water.
  • You witness a car accident or the aftermath of one at least once a week!
  • You walk down the main street of the city and stop to take a closer look at a seemingly empty plot of land between two shops, and suddenly realise that it’s a graveyard and those rocks dotted about in the sand are unmarked graves.
  • While walking to a local restaurant for your lunch break you stumble across an empty bullet shell in the middle of the street.
  • You walk into a bathroom and find a guy with his foot in the sink, giving it a good wash as he turns and says, “Salaam!”
  • There is no toilet paper in any public toilets.
  • When you use the bathroom (and have brought your own toilet paper) you’re not allowed to put the toilet paper down the toilet.
  • You notice someone has thrown away some pita bread… in the bathroom cubicle’s trash can (…were they eating it in there??).
  • You see a pack of wild dogs and a vicious dog-fight during your morning commute to work.
  • Coca Cola and Pepsi are the same price. In fact, all pop is the same price, even the cheap cola-copies.
  • The only Western restaurant you can find is Pizza Hut and the food there is at least two or three times more expensive than any other place in town, but is still cheaper than Pizza Hut in England.
  • The local currency doesn’t make use of any coins – just paper.
  • There is no half-Riyal, but a can of Coke is 1.5 Saudi Riyals. So, you either buy two cans or pay 2 Riyals for one can and get a free pack of chewing gum!
  • You go into a shop and ask for something very specific and the shopkeeper informs you that although they don’t have it right now, it just so happens (by some miraculous coincidence!) that they are expecting it tomorrow. You come back the next day and, surprise surprise, they say come back tomorrow. It never arrives.
  • You suddenly realise that you have not seen a single woman anywhere at all for days!

If you’re reading this and you, too, are lucky enough to be living in Sakaka – leave a comment with some of your own experiences for the list!

New Apartment!

Hi all! It’s been a while since my last post and a lot has happened! I’ve since moved into town and now have my own place! I’ve been here now since the beginning of February. I love having an apartment all to myself, especially one so close to work. I also bought a bike, which cuts my commute to work down to only about 7 minutes and is a refreshing bit of exercise in the morning before teaching! It’s nice to be able to wake up a bit later too; on the compound I would have to catch the bus at 7:10am for a 25 minute ride to work, but now, living in town, I sometimes don’t even wake up until 7:30am!

I’ve really enjoyed furnishing my new apartment and creating my own comfortable space, where I can both relax and study. Fortunately where I live happens to be near several large furniture stores, which has come in handy. For the first couple weeks or so after moving in I cycled down almost everyday to these stores. Exploring, hunting for furniture and haggling quickly became my new hobby as I finished work on my living room/study space. Here are some photos of the whole process…

My new hardwood desk! Sponsored by Apple, of course...!

My very comfortable reading (and TV!) chair.

A brand new carpet in "study room red" as I like to think of it!

A partition matching the wood theme to make the corner a bit more interesting.

My very own grandfather clock! A great addition to the room!

My TV and books cabinet.

My TV and books cabinet re-modeled with 5.1 surround-sound speakers, which I use with both the TV and my iPad!

The feeling of independence living in town is tremendous. Before I would have to work around the compound schedule. The compound bus would take 25 minutes to get into town and then only stay for an hour before rushing us back home. Now I can go into town whenever I like and for however long I want! Sometimes I just jump on my bike and go exploring for the evening, discovering new shops and restaurants and bumping into interesting characters. The whole city is bustling from about 8:30pm onwards, after the final evening prayer. Streets are packed, horns honking, shops open till midnight at least and both men and women can be seen going about their business. The other day I discovered a great little Indian restaurant, just a 3 minute bike ride up the road. Food over here is so cheap. It costs only 12 Saudi Riyal for a meal at the Indian place  – really for all you can eat. That’s only about 2 British Pounds, not bad at all!

So, as you can probably tell – I am enjoying my new place! I figured there was no point in half-measures when it came to furnishing my apartment as I knew I would be here for a good while longer. For the time being my plan is to renew my contract with Al-Khaleej in September, but I will renew it on a monthly basis instead of another full year,  continuing on until at least the end of November. In this way I can make myself available for work elsewhere starting January 2013, as well as make myself free to come home this Christmas. I haven’t been home for Christmas in two years after all!  Before that of course is this coming summer, when I look forward to coming home for my sister’s wedding in June! It’s gonna be a lot of fun – can’t wait!