This year is now my second Christmas in a row in the Middle East and I could hardly be further from home out here in the remote Saudi desert, on the other side of the world. No snow, just hot, sunny days (I did a bit of sunbathing yesterday in the 80° weather!), no Christmas trees, no carol services… in fact, other than within the compound walls, there’s no sign of Christmas to be found. We’re even scheduled to work as normal this week, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Although we’ve been told there’s a chance we may get the day off for Christmas, knowing the way things work here, I’m not getting my hopes up! At the very least, we’ve been told that our company will be putting on a dinner for us tomorrow night – but even that is still to be confirmed. I’ve learnt that as long as you keep your expectations low here, you’ll not be too disappointed!
Fortunately, we do have a vacation coming up that’s not too far away. In fact, just today I booked my flights to the UK: January 19th – 26th 2012. I will be flying out of Amman, Jordan, since it’s a lot cheaper than going through Riyadh. So most likely I will be sharing a taxi with some of the other teachers here, which will take us up north across the border into Jordan. We’ll have to make sure, of course, that the driver doesn’t take the wrong turn and drive us into Iraq, which is just to the east! I look forward to making the most of my short time back in the UK. I know it will be a welcome change of scenery after almost five months of living in this rather secluded and surreal place! On my list of things to do include: having a bacon sandwich; drinking Lucozade; eating McDonalds and having a Dominoes pizza, not to mention a cold pint… and, if I’m lucky, maybe even a chat with a member of the opposite sex who isn’t wearing a Niqaab! Ya salaam…! And I will of course be making every effort to visit everyone in the process! All of this hinges, however, on our company being able to obtain my Saudi “exit re-entry visa” in time – and once again, you never know with this place… inshallah it will be fine!
Life here isn’t all that bad really – actually it’s very chilled out. There are an interesting bunch of teachers here, from Canada, the US, UK, South Africa, and Sudan, each with their own distinct personality that adds to life on the compound. On the weekends we get together for volleyball in the afternoon, then usually one of the villas hosts some sort of a party in the evening. Recently we’ve started having bonfires on the weekend too, roasting chestnuts and swapping stories, like where people have taught before or which country they would like to travel to next. The stars can be particularly striking out here too. One night, I just happened to be walking outside when I saw a shooting star, very low down, and actually witnessed it break up into several fragments before disappearing. I could hardly believe my eyes!
Around the compound we can often see wild dogs roaming about and looking for food, including some very cute puppies. I would be very tempted to take care of one, if not for the risk of catching some sort of disease. Just the other day I saw a tiny puppy playing by the street next to the university campus. It was so cute I wanted to take it home! It really makes me miss Laddie! There are some cats that live in the compound, but it’s not quite the same – plus, I think I am allergic to cats.
Work is going well. We’re still on three lessons a day – but that is promised to go down to only two a day after our January vacation. It will be determined by how long we have been in Sakaka, so fortunately I have a good chance of getting only two classes a day, since I’m no longer one the of newbies here! Also, the students have their final exams for the semester coming up very soon in January, which means we will get a couple weeks or so of break from teaching even before our vacation starts on the 19th.
In addition to teaching English, I’ve actually started teaching Arabic too! I’m currently tutoring two of the other English teachers, one in beginners-level Arabic and the other in elementary. As well as the added bonus of a bit of extra money, I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience and find that I, too, am learning a lot. It’s really interesting to go back to the basics and see Arabic from the beginner’s point of view again. I’d forgotten what it was like first learning Arabic (over five years ago now!), and it’s given me a fresh perspective on the language. Both my students live in town so I teach my Arabic classes at the university campus straight after work, using one of the English classrooms. It’s nice teaching on the campus, with a whiteboard, projector and speakers for use in the lesson. It means, however, that I don’t get back home until around 7:10pm (and the bus in the morning leaves for work at 7:10am!), so it can be quite a long day. I do that four days a week, taking a taxi back to the compound.
One such journey in the taxi, only three days ago, was rather nerve-wracking to say the least. I needed to pick up some bread on the way back so I asked my driver to stop at the nearest shop. Spotting a store up ahead, he slows down and pulls into a parking spot just in front of the shop. But just as we are coming to a halt – CRASH! – A car rams into the back of us! Fortunately, it didn’t hit too hard and no one got hurt. The driver that hit us got out and actually blamed my taxi driver, then proceeded to examine the damage to the front of his car. To the delight of my driver, his taxi had hardly been damaged (it was already a piece of junk anyway!), but the car that hit us was much worse off, especially since it was new. After some heated discussion, and after the guy that hit us admitted he had no insurance, they just decided to call it even and leave it at that. The thing that really topped it all off, however, was that fact that, when I went up to speak to the guy that rammed us, I noticed that he was in fact… cross-eyed! We had been rear-ended by a crossed-eyed driver! Thanking God that it wasn’t any worse (alhamdulilah!), I just shook my head and sighed; “Sakaka, only in Sakaka!” I think the less time I spend on the roads here in Saudi Arabia the better! That is one of the reasons why I’m very keen to move into town and live within walking distance of the university campus. I’m thinking of doing this sometime after the January vacation, perhaps from the beginning of March. I’ve now officially been in a car accident at least once in each of the Arab countries I have lived in. Let’s hope the pattern changes, because I plan on visiting many more Arab countries in my lifetime!