Tag Archives: travel

Off to Ha’il!

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!

Moving soon…

The company I work for is concluding its contract with Al-Jouf University and so all teachers based in Sakaka, including myself, will be transferred to other projects within Saudi Arabia. The move is set to come at the end of this month, in time to begin elsewhere from September. It’s not certain yet where everyone will be placed. There is a good chance I may be posted in Riyadh, but apparently most of the native English speakers will be transferred to a project based in Ha’il, a city  about 300km south-east of Sakaka. I have marked Ha’il red on the following map:

Saudi Arabia Map Ha'il

I shall be sure to keep you posted on any new developments!

Sakaka, Saudi Arabia

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.

Map of Saudi Arabia

Trip to Tabuk!

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.

Trip to Tabuk (Photos)

Trip to Dawmat Al-Jandal

On Thursday our company put on a trip for us to some local tourist sites in Dawmat Al-Jandal, a small town about 30 minutes East of the compound by bus. A bunch of us went, including some of the bilingual Arabic-English teachers from Sudan – a jovial crowd – that made the bus ride over there a lot of fun! As usual I took the opportunity to practice some of my Arabic, which they got a kick out of. The mother of one of the Sudanese teachers also came on the trip and she insisted on calling me Prince William! I think it must be the thinning hair!

Our first stop was Dawmat Al-Jandal Lake. That’s right – a lake in the middle of the desert! It’s not much of an oasis though, as the lake is rather salty and apparently man-made. There were no boats, it was just a body of water surrounded by rocky dunes, and although there were no birds in sight, along the shore were hundreds of tiny bird footprints dotted on the sand. We went down to have a wade and, stepping into the cool water, I almost lost one of my sandals as my foot sank into the sand at the bottom of the lake.

It was a funny sight to see the female teachers, dressed in their black abayas flapping in the wind, giggling while struggling to climb down the hill to reach the lake. One of the male teachers, a fellow from South Africa, stretched out his arm to help one of them. She happened to be one of the more conservative Muslim teachers, however, and although she was dangerously close to slipping, refused his help, being unwilling to touch the hand of a man! Fortunately she managed to reach the shore without tumbling head first into the water!

After taking plenty of photos we got back on the bus and headed for our next stop; Marid Castle, an ancient sandstone structure preserved in the dry heat of the desert since the third century AD (long before the dawn of Islam in the seventh century). Rather primitive in form (I don’t claim to be an archeologist!), it basically looked like a huge sandcastle made from a giant bucket and spade!

It reminded me of a family holiday in Washington State a few summers back, when we went to the beach on the Pacific Ocean and made a huge sandcastle over a period of days!

After climbing up to the top of the castle, we admired the view all around. Next to the castle we could see the “Umar Ibn Kattab Mosque” amongst a complex of ancient walls and the remains of buildings.

Since most of the time we are either at the university or in the compound, it made a nice change to get out and about and see some of the local sites. I look forward to the next trip!

Be sure to check out my other pictures from the trip… just click here!

Dawmat Al-Jandal (Photos)

Off to Al-Jouf!

After much waiting at the hotel for news, I finally had a meeting with the company yesterday and was told where I am being sent… I’m going to be teaching in Sakaka, Al-Jouf.

It’s a small city in the northern part of Saudi Arabia, close to the borders of Jordan and Iraq. Teachers are housed in a residential complex reserved for expats, which is generally referred to as a ‘compound’ (don’t worry – nothing to do with concentration camps!). In fact, apparently it’s quite luxurious, with a villa for every two teachers, and each villa has its own swimming pool! I’ll be sure to post some photos once I have arrived.

Al-Jouf is a ‘university project’, as opposed to the ‘centre’ in Riyadh, which means I will be teaching university students around 18-21 years old. Apparently the work hours are very good there, with only one shift a day instead of two like at the centre here in Riyadh.

Several other teachers here at the hotel will also be going to Al-Jouf. So we’ll be traveling up together, scheduled to fly on Saturday (although – having seen the organisation here, it could be any day!). The company still hasn’t taken me to have the medical done. One teacher already left for Al-Jouf a couple days ago, before having his medical, so I may end up just having it done over there instead.

Also, during my meeting with the company yesterday, they were very happy to give an advance on the salary, which most teachers request for their first month in the country.

Since my last post, I’ve managed to meet several more teachers, some of which have been working here for up to two years already. It’s been very helpful to hear about their experience working with Al-Khaleej and to get lots of useful advice before setting out for Al-Jouf. It’s encouraging to discover that many of them have decided to continue working in Saudi Arabia and will be renewing their contract with Al-Khaleej. On the whole, it seems as though their experience has been very positive.

Now I just have to see what it’s like for myself!

!ان شاء الله خير

108 Degrees, Swimming… and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts!

So far, things have been pretty chilled out. My arrival date in Saudi Arabia was good timing, as it’s still a holiday here until Monday (normally the working week would begin on Saturday). So until Monday, all I can do is wait and relax at the hotel.

I have already bumped into some of the other teachers working for Al-Khaleej, who are also staying at the hotel. There’s one guy from England, two from Canada, and one Syrian who just arrived a few hours ago. Several other teachers will be arriving over the next week, including four from Sudan, who are arriving later today. So it turns out not all of the English teachers working for Al-Khaleej are native English speakers; some are (near) bilingual in Arabic and English.

I’ve heard that the new academic year begins sometime around the 15th of September, so the company is bringing in as many new teachers as possible before then. There’s still no news as to where I will be going, but I should find out soon, perhaps Monday.

I discovered yesterday that the hotel has a pool, so I’ve been taking full advantage of that! The weather is so hot over here (42° C/108° F today!) that it’s really refreshing to take a swim. It’s interesting to see how there is a giant wall surrounding the pool area, so as to block the view from any surrounding buildings. Also, apparently the hotel tries not to put anyone in the rooms that overlook the pool, especially any female guests. The segregation here is very obvious. At the shawerma place, for example, which is a pretty big restaurant, it was packed full of customers, but there was not a single woman to be found anywhere.

For dinner last night, two of the other teachers and I went out to an Indian restaurant, just a five minute walk down the main road. The food was delicious and they had an open kitchen, so you could watch as your order was being prepared.

In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the huge variety of foods available here – everything from the West to the East that you can think of. They’ve got McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Subway and every kind of national food, from Mexican to Chinese! I even spotted a Krispy Kreme shop!

Today I had dinner with Osama and the new teacher from Syria. This time it was Jordanian, which Osama wanted to introduce to us as he is originally from Amman, Jordan. We ate something called “Al-Mansaf”, which was lamb on yellow rice and bread, over which you poured a watery yoghurt sauce, called “leban”. Along with soup and salad, the portion sizes were immense and none of us could finish all of it!

The hotel where I’m staying has Wi-Fi, so you might be able to catch me online at somepoint. The time difference here is two hours ahead of London. I’ll try to write some more over the next few days. In the meantime, I think I’m off to the pool again…

…Oh and here are a few photos from the hotel – 10 points for spotting the Mountain Dew!

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!