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!
I’m currently living in Sakaka, where I’ve been based since September 9th, 2011, working as an English teacher at Al-Jouf University. My first four months here I stayed at the compound provided for the teachers by our company, Al-Khaleej Education & Training. It’s located about 25-30 minutes away by bus from the city centre and although comfortable, the compound’s isolation was not ideal, especially when wanting to practise my Arabic with locals. So I decided to move and since February 2012 I have been living in my own apartment downtown, close to the university campus and city centre. You can read more about moving into my new place here.
I’m set to move again soon, however, as our company’s contract with Al-Jouf University has expired and all employees are being transferred to other projects within Saudi Arabia.
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!