Tag Archives: update

Chennai, India!

Since December 3rd 2014, I have been based in Chennai, India, enjoying the opportunity to spend time visiting my in-laws, while doing some sightseeing and experiencing the country’s diverse culture. I have included a map below with a pin on Chennai.

I’m also using this time to focus on my linguistic skills. As well as having fun trying out the local language (Tamil), I’m also continuing to advance my Arabic through a combination of translation practice, vocabulary learning, and the production of original Arabic materials, including infographics and word maps.

You can view an example of my most recent work here. I look forward to sharing more very soon!

Nigel Naumann in Chennai, India

Map of Chennai, India

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

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!

Life in Al-Jouf

It’s been a week now since I arrived in Al-Jouf (on the 9th of September). Since then I’ve been very busy moving into the compound and getting settled in, as well as meeting all of the other teachers and being introduced to work at the university.

After arriving into Al-Jouf Airport at about midnight, I was greeted at baggage claim by the manager of the residential compound, who was extremely welcoming. We arrived at the compound, which wasn’t too far away, and he gave me a very quick tour of my new home. As if in a hurry, he said goodbye, but not before telling me that I needed to be on the bus outside at 7:10am, ready to go to work! So I finally went to bed at about 1:00am and had to wake up at 6:30am! Fortunately, I wasn’t expected to teach that day, as this past week has simply been preparation for the start of the new academic year, which begins tomorrow.

On my first day at the university, the campus was full of students, who had come to take the placement test. I was assigned to go round each classroom and hand out the test papers. So within five minutes of arriving, I was already running around, up and down stairs, with a heavy box in my arms full of papers, and sweating from the heat! It was a great way, however, of meeting all of the teachers and seeing all of the different classrooms and computer labs. Then in the afternoon we were busy marking the tests.

The compound bus takes us to work every morning at 7:10am and then brings us back after work. Apart from the occasional teachers’ meeting, we haven’t really been working this week and it’s been very chilled out. It’s mostly been sitting in the office, chatting and surfing the internet, or going for long lunch breaks to one of the local Pakistani or Turkish restaurants. The food over here is great – and ridiculously cheap too. You can have a huge sit down meal and drink for about three dollars. Many of the other teachers, who’ve been here a lot longer, have said that it’s so cheap here that it’s actually difficult to spend money and you can save a lot each month. That works out pretty well – as my plan for the moment is to save up for a Masters one day, which I’m thinking of doing in a year or two’s time.

So tomorrow we start teaching! We were given copies of the books just a few days ago and have been looking through them, as well as testing out the software that comes with them. Every teacher is issued a laptop, which is nice – so now I have both a PC and Mac – best of both worlds!

We were also given a timetable of our teaching hours. Just about everyone will be teaching three classes a day, 1 hour and 45 minutes each. Apparently, however, that number is likely to drop as new teachers arrive, so we might end up teaching only two classes a day. What’s more, according to the payroll, the 1 hour and 45 minutes is rounded up to two hours and anything more than 25 hours contact time a week is paid as overtime. So essentially, everyone is getting paid more than usual until we are given fewer teaching hours. It’s a win-win situation!

There are teachers from all over place here – native English speakers from Canada, the US, England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa and “bilingual” Arabic-English speakers from Syria, Sudan, Jordan and other countries. I was told by the management in Riyadh that the company aims to have about 80% native speakers and 20% bilingual. Some of the native speakers, however, like myself do know Arabic, so it’s become a bit of an issue as to whether or not it’s ok to use Arabic in the class if you’re not a “bilingual” speaker (i.e. if you’re not Arab). I was told not even to let students realise that I understood Arabic! In theory the company’s policy for native English speakers is zero Arabic in the class, but in practice many of them use it. Some teachers, who have never formally studied Arabic, wish they knew more so that they could help out their students more. As for me, I will be able to understand what my students are saying, whether they know it or not! So we’ll just have to see what happens!

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

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!

Cardiff, Wales

I’m currently based in Cardiff, Wales!

Flag of Wales

My brother Gordon and his family have kindly let me stay at their place as I wait to move back to the Arab world.

I’m treating this time between jobs as an extended vacation and am enjoying the opportunity to spend time with my family based here in the UK.

It’s been especially great to be able to spend so much time with my little nieces here in Cardiff and to see them grow up so quickly! It’s also been a pleasure to see Gordon at work at St. David’s Lutheran Church and to get to know members of the congregation there. I’ve enjoyed getting involved in some of their church events, including their recent 50th anniversary celebration.

As well as babysitting and relaxing with the family, I’m also spending my time reading and doing some language work. In particular, I’ve been practising my Arabic, but have also begun reading up on Turkish and Urdu, both of which I am very interested in and plan to explore in more depth.

I also enjoy updating my new blog and preparing for my upcoming adventure in Saudi Arabia… click here to learn more!