Tag Archives: flight

Merry Christmas from Sakaka!

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!

Merry Christmas!

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Here’s the update you’ve all been waiting for… I’ve finally arrived in Saudi Arabia! It’s been a very long day of traveling and needless to say I’m pretty exhausted. Although it’s already approaching 2:00am local time (midnight in London) and I’m shattered, I decided I’d stay up a bit longer and update my blog to let all of you know I have arrived safely. Even though I have only just arrived, I’ve already had some very interesting experiences, and I’m sure they will be the first of many more to come.

Starting in Cardiff, my journey took three flights in total, first to Amsterdam, then to Dammam (in Saudi Arabia), and finally to Riyadh. To and from Amsterdam I was on Royal Dutch Airlines and then Saudi Arabian Airlines to Riyadh. There was a very noticeable difference between the airlines. There was, of course, no alcohol on the Saudi Arabian Airlines flight. Moreover, however, I noticed the air hostess assisted in seating each passenger so as to segregate single men from the women. In the row of three adjacent to me, for example, a male passenger was asked to move from the window to the aisle in order to allow a woman to sit by the window, with her husband acting as a buffer between her and the male passenger.

The next remarkable thing was when the overhead TVs played the usual safety video and then – a prayer for the safety of the flight! Can you imagine something like that on an airline in America? The video explained that this particular prayer was said to have been used by Mohammed when embarking on a journey. The equivalent would be if, on United Airlines for instance, they presented the safety video and then… “And now a prayer to Jesus for a safe flight…” Pretty hard to imagine, but clearly over here this sort of thing is taken for granted.

I was pleased not to have encountered any issues getting through immigration. It was just a twenty-minute wait or so. Then, before stamping my passport and letting me on through, they scanned my fingerprints and also took a photo for their records.

I then picked up my luggage from the baggage claim. On Royal Dutch Airlines I was only allowed one check-in bag, weighing no more than 23kg (50.5 lb). I just barely made it under the limit, that is, after removing all of my books and carrying them in a separate plastic bag! There was no problem, however, in carrying these on the plane in addition to my laptop bag.

Next was the meet and greet and thankfully a member of staff from Al-Khaleej was waiting there for me as promised, holding up a sign with my name on it – just like in the movies. After a prompt “assalumu alaykum!” (peace be upon you) and an enthusiastic shaking of hands, he introduced himself; “Hello, I am Osama…”

He was of course very welcoming and I was not surprised at all to receive such warm hospitality, which Arabs are particularly known for, and which I have experienced many times across the Arab World. So far, coming back to the Arab World hasn’t been too much of a culture shock; rather, it feels like I’ve returned to my home away from home! I look forward to getting more settled in over the coming months. I still don’t know where I will be based more permanently, but will apparently find out on Monday, when I am meeting up with another member of staff from Al-Khaleej who is involved in the placement process.

In the meantime, I’ve been told that I will likely be based in Riyadh at least until Monday. With it being Eid (at the end of Ramadan), things are rather slow at the moment. On the plus side, it means I will have some time to chill out here at the hotel for a while and also get to know some of the other new arrivals who are coming in this week. Apparently there are already a few other teachers here in the hotel. I’ll have to look out for them tomorrow – I have a feeling they will be pretty easy to spot!

It’s a pretty decent hotel – with large rooms and much needed air-conditioning (albeit very loud). Yes – as expected, it’s very very hot over here! So much so, in fact, that at some restaurants where they have outdoor seating, there is piping overhead that sprays a mist of water over the guests to keep them (relatively) cool. After checking into the hotel, Osama took me to one such place, called “House of Shawerma”, where we picked up a couple chicken shawermas (wraps made with cuttings from the giant turning meats you see at kebab shops). I was very hungry – I just hope eating shawerma on an empty stomach doesn’t prove to be a bad choice! I also picked up some water and soft drinks for the fridge in my hotel room. As I write this, there is a 2 ¼ litre bottle of Mountain Dew by my bedside – am I in heaven?

I will keep you updated as things progress over the next week!

Flight Date on the Calendar!

My flight to Saudi Arabia has finally been confirmed… for the 1st of September. So, with the start of a new month comes the beginning of a new adventure! In exactly one week, I shall be landing in the sandy kingdom… arriving in Dammam, then catching a short flight to Riyadh.

I’ve been informed that a member of staff  from Al-Khaleej will be there for the meet and greet, and will take me to my hotel – all expenses paid. I expect I’ll be in Riyadh a couple days or so, while things are sorted out and arrangements are made for me to move to a more permanent location. As of yet, I still don’t know which city I will be based in, but I should find out within the next week, if not the next few days.

While in Riyadh, one of the things I will be doing is having another medical, even though I already had one a couple months ago for the visa application. Apparently it’s mandatory, either for working in Saudi Arabia or for obtaining a residency permit (“Iqaama”) – or both. I stumbled upon some details about the medical in a blog I’ve been reading written by another expat, who has been working for Al-Khaleej for over 6 months now. He said the medical not only requires a blood and urine sample, but also a stool sample! So I can’t say I’m looking forward to that!

I’ve also heard some very positive things about Al-Khaleej and, in particular, about getting its employees paid and on time. In fact, I read that the company begins the salary-month right from the first week we’re in the country, even if we haven’t started teaching. It’s nice to know a little bit about what I’m getting myself into and so far everything seems very positive.

I shall be sure to keep you updated on where exactly I am heading after Riyadh. Watch this space!

Entering Istanbul (Photos)