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!

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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)