Search the Site
Tag Archives: compound
I’m pleased to report that I arrived safely into Ha’il on Tuesday, the 28th of August. The trip was about 220 miles (from Sakaka), made in a pick-up truck packed with all my furniture. It took about four hours in total, and the truck didn’t have any air-conditioning, so needless to say it wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys through the scorching Saudi desert! As you can imagine, I’ve been quite busy settling in since my arrival, unpacking all my stuff and installing my furniture into my new apartment, which is situated on the compound provided for the teachers.
The very next day after arriving, I started work! Still with the same company, Al-Khaleej Training & Education, I’m now positioned at the University of Ha’il, teaching English to students of the university’s Preparatory Year. My first day at the university was pretty busy. I was given a quick tour of the campus and introduced to the head of the English department and then the Dean of the Preparatory Year. Before long I was assigned to help invigilate the placement exams, which were held in a huge auditorium, and then helped with the marking.
Actual teaching began on Sunday, the 2nd of September and it’s been going very well so far. The students here are much the same as those I taught at Al-Jouf University, so there haven’t been any real surprises. I have been very impressed, however, with the relatively high level of organisation here (for Saudi Arabia, that is!). For example, there is a clear support structure in place, so that you know who your first port of call is in case of any questions or concerns. There are also various committees in place, such as the Exam Committee, Social Committee and even a Welcoming Committee, whose chairman introduced himself to me and was extremely helpful. Later, a meeting was held for all new teachers, during which we had the opportunity to ask more about the system and procedures here.
At the moment I have about 30 students in each of my two classes. Because this is the Preparatory Year, most students are aged 19, and once they pass the Preparatory Year, which includes Maths and Study Skills in addition to English Language, they then go on to specialise in their various fields. Medicine, for example, is taught largely in English and utilizes English textbooks, so a good command of the language is essential. It’s always a little scary when you ask Preparatory Year students what they want to be and they answer; “I am want be doctor in future”. I just hope I never have to make a trip to the hospital!
The teaching hours are quite comfortable; each teacher has four 50-minute classes a day. Mine begin at 8:00am, with a two-hour break for lunch, then finish at 2:00pm, at which point I’m free to go home! Our company provides a bus to and from the compound, which is only 20 minutes door to door. So we don’t have to leave the compound in the mornings until 7:30am and then get back at around 2:30pm – not bad at all, really!
After living and working in Sakaka for a year, it’s impossible not to compare it to Ha’il, which is significantly larger. The compound is not as isolated as the one in Sakaka, but is still on the outskirts of the city. Within about 20 minutes, by bus or taxi, you can reach the centre of Ha’il, where there are all kinds of shops, restaurants and malls. So far I have seen McDonald’s, Subway, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Domino’s Pizza, Baskin Robbins, an Indian place called “Spiceland”, as well as Arab fast-food places, such as “Harfy”, “Kudu” and “Marky”. Like in Riyadh, when you order a Big Mac at a McDonald’s here, they ask you if you want the beef Big Mac or the chicken one! Granted I’ve been out of the real world for sometime now, so they might have chicken Big Macs in the US and UK, too, but I’ve never seen them! Do they have chicken Big Macs in the US and UK now? Be sure to leave a comment if you’ve tried it before! Here they also have the large supermarket chain, Panda, including a couple Hyper-Pandas, which rival the likes of Walmart in the US! These humungous stores have pretty much everything – and not just Middle Eastern products, but also British and American.
The compound is also much larger than the one in Sakaka, with about 100 apartments of various kinds and sizes. Most are single-occupancy, like mine, but there are also some designed for those teachers with families. In the middle is even a playground for kids, which is like a giant sandbox! So both male and female teachers live on the compound, and since it’s surrounded by high walls, women can walk freely about without having to wear the abaya or niqaab. At the same time, however, there are both Muslims and non-Muslims living here, so there is also a small mosque on the compound.
There is plenty of space to walk around and get some exercise; in fact, I brought my bike with me all the way from Sakaka with the rest of my stuff, so I’ve been enjoying riding about the place. There’s not a lot of grass on the compound, but there are plenty of trees and small bushes surrounding a lot of the housing, some with colourful blossoms, which add some welcome colour to the otherwise rocky landscape. There is some wildlife, too; cats, of course! You see them everywhere on the compound!
Although the compound has not one, but two swimming pools, both are empty! There is no sign of anyone planning to fill them, which is a real shame, especially with this heat. There’s also a huge building that was recently built to house a gym, but again, this has been left empty. Apparently, the workers rushed the job and the building has been deemed structurally unsound and unfit for use. It’s hard though to know if this is not simply an excuse to avoid having to fork out for some gym equipment and pay for pool maintenance. In much the same (disheartening) spirit, there is an outdoor tennis court and basketball court, both of which are in complete disrepair and have clearly been neglected for some time. Several teachers have their own car; so some go into town to use a gym instead. The sports clubs in town have swimming pools and even Jacuzzis and saunas. I heard from one teacher that his membership costs about 300 Saudi Riyals a month ($75), which I suppose is not too bad, as long as you make full use of your membership.
There is, however, a small “recreational room”. It’s a very simple space, which residents use for various things. Last night, in fact, we had a pot-luck social there, which was quite successful – and people seemed to like my chicken Korma with rice! Sometimes they host a “movie-night” there, using a projector and speakers to give it the feel of a cinema. Even the inside walls are decorated with movie posters. There is also an old ping-pong table and a small library of books – of all kinds – which are freely available for residents to borrow. In the past there have also been Arabic classes and even dance classes offered there, but how the space is used is all dependent on the residents that year and what they are interested in.
One thing I particularly love about the compound is the striking scenery! Engulfing the compound on three sides and overlooking the housing are these tall, boulder-rock hills. Almost as if brooding, these dark hills quietly watch on as they jut upwards, silhouetted against the clear skies. When I first saw them, they seemed unreal, like something out of a Hollywood film set or the constructed landscape of a Disney park. So, however much the compound may look like a prison from the outside, with its high walls and copious security, there is a lot to be said for the beauty that can be seen from within its walls. I have included some photos in the previous post below. Enjoy!
It’s official – I have been assigned a position at the university project in Ha’il and will be moving this Tuesday (28th August). I will be teaching at the University of Ha’il, where their academic year is about to begin. I have organised for a van to take me and my things, including all of my furniture. I couldn’t well leave behind my nice hardwood desk, lazyboi chair and grandfather clock, could I? It’s going to be a bit of a mission because this stuff is heavy, but it’ll definitely be worth the effort.
I will be staying, at least initially, at the compound provided for the teachers by the company. I have no idea what the compound is like and how it compares to the one in Sakaka – hopefully it’s nice and large, with a swimming pool, like the compound in Tabuk, but I’m not getting my hopes up! In any case, I’ll have the option again to move into town and get my own apartment. So we’ll see what happens – I shall keep you updated on the move!
The company I am currently working for, Al-Khaleej Training & Education, has a number of teaching projects across Saudi Arabia, including one in the north-westerly city of Tabuk. Myself and nine other teachers thought we would pay Tabuk a visit and see what life was like over there. The trip took about four hours by taxi, which included various stops along the way to use the bathroom, get snacks and also take some photos – like a group shot in front of some camels we noticed at one petrol station!
We took two taxis in total, driven by Saudis, who – entirely unprompted – decided to request the local police to accompany us for the journey. There was nothing wrong, they simply wanted to give us the best service possible, which in their minds meant treating us like celebrities or diplomats! So for the whole way there and the whole way back we had a police escort! One car in front and one behind – with their red and blue lights beaming – and all of us going at ridiculous speeds, sometimes with only a few feet between us! As designated Arabic interpreter for the trip, it was part of my job to repeatedly remind the crazy Saudi drivers to slow down!
Finally, having arrived in one piece (alhamdulilah!), the teachers in Tabuk were extremely welcoming, letting us stay with them for the weekend at their compound – and boy is it a nice place! The contrast between the compound in Tabuk and what we have in Sakaka is astounding! Not only did they have a central social area, which included a bar, pool table, lounge area, cafeteria, two saunas and a large communal swimming pool with two jacuzzis, they also had a tennis court and fully equipped gym! All of this within a nicely kept, clean and secure compound, with trees and small flower gardens dotted about.
It was a lot of fun meeting the other teachers, relaxing by the pool and swapping stories. We played some pool volleyball – Sakaka vs. Tabuk! I can’t remember exactly who won in the end… but let’s just say Sakaka! Our guests also put on plenty of food and drink for us, including some very nice pizza from Little Caesars! We played charades and other group games and later even did some dancing!
Before leaving Tabuk, we had to stop at McDonald’s, seeing as that is one more thing Sakaka doesn’t have! It was so good! At one point I had even considered biking it all the way to Tabuk just for a Big Mac – I figured it would only take me 26 hours to get there from Sakaka! So you can imagine I especially enjoyed that part of the trip, before we headed back to our small little town in Al-Jouf.
It’s been a week now since I arrived in Al-Jouf (on the 9th of September). Since then I’ve been very busy moving into the compound and getting settled in, as well as meeting all of the other teachers and being introduced to work at the university.
After arriving into Al-Jouf Airport at about midnight, I was greeted at baggage claim by the manager of the residential compound, who was extremely welcoming. We arrived at the compound, which wasn’t too far away, and he gave me a very quick tour of my new home. As if in a hurry, he said goodbye, but not before telling me that I needed to be on the bus outside at 7:10am, ready to go to work! So I finally went to bed at about 1:00am and had to wake up at 6:30am! Fortunately, I wasn’t expected to teach that day, as this past week has simply been preparation for the start of the new academic year, which begins tomorrow.
On my first day at the university, the campus was full of students, who had come to take the placement test. I was assigned to go round each classroom and hand out the test papers. So within five minutes of arriving, I was already running around, up and down stairs, with a heavy box in my arms full of papers, and sweating from the heat! It was a great way, however, of meeting all of the teachers and seeing all of the different classrooms and computer labs. Then in the afternoon we were busy marking the tests.
The compound bus takes us to work every morning at 7:10am and then brings us back after work. Apart from the occasional teachers’ meeting, we haven’t really been working this week and it’s been very chilled out. It’s mostly been sitting in the office, chatting and surfing the internet, or going for long lunch breaks to one of the local Pakistani or Turkish restaurants. The food over here is great – and ridiculously cheap too. You can have a huge sit down meal and drink for about three dollars. Many of the other teachers, who’ve been here a lot longer, have said that it’s so cheap here that it’s actually difficult to spend money and you can save a lot each month. That works out pretty well – as my plan for the moment is to save up for a Masters one day, which I’m thinking of doing in a year or two’s time.
So tomorrow we start teaching! We were given copies of the books just a few days ago and have been looking through them, as well as testing out the software that comes with them. Every teacher is issued a laptop, which is nice – so now I have both a PC and Mac – best of both worlds!
We were also given a timetable of our teaching hours. Just about everyone will be teaching three classes a day, 1 hour and 45 minutes each. Apparently, however, that number is likely to drop as new teachers arrive, so we might end up teaching only two classes a day. What’s more, according to the payroll, the 1 hour and 45 minutes is rounded up to two hours and anything more than 25 hours contact time a week is paid as overtime. So essentially, everyone is getting paid more than usual until we are given fewer teaching hours. It’s a win-win situation!
There are teachers from all over place here – native English speakers from Canada, the US, England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa and “bilingual” Arabic-English speakers from Syria, Sudan, Jordan and other countries. I was told by the management in Riyadh that the company aims to have about 80% native speakers and 20% bilingual. Some of the native speakers, however, like myself do know Arabic, so it’s become a bit of an issue as to whether or not it’s ok to use Arabic in the class if you’re not a “bilingual” speaker (i.e. if you’re not Arab). I was told not even to let students realise that I understood Arabic! In theory the company’s policy for native English speakers is zero Arabic in the class, but in practice many of them use it. Some teachers, who have never formally studied Arabic, wish they knew more so that they could help out their students more. As for me, I will be able to understand what my students are saying, whether they know it or not! So we’ll just have to see what happens!