Sunday, January 30, 2011

Assume Nothing

Another lesson my college professors let me find out the hard way was to never --ever--assume that students know something. I learned this, like most teachers, during my first year of teaching in an urban middle school in the States. One would think that by the time they've been in school for 7 years, kids would know that spouting off expletives at an inappropriate volume would be grounds for detention. One would be mistaken.

You might think that kids would know not to just get up and wander around the room in the middle of a lesson, test, or general presentation. Nope. They have to be directly instructed not to do so. Manners are very subjective, and you have to teach kids what is and isn't appropriate in your classroom.

I've forgotten this lesson. You would think with this being my fifth year of teaching I'd have things like this committed to memory. Nope. I didn't realize how badly I've regressed until this morning when I was proctoring an exam.

Here's how a test has generally gone this year, and it's baffled me ever since I arrived:
  • Student has a question, so she blurts it out, despite being told to raise her hand and wait to be acknowledged.
  • Student finishes her test before classmates and proceeds to pass notes--in full view of the teacher-- to students nearby that are still working on their tests.
  • Two students finish their tests before classmates and commence a conversation in normal vocal tones--not even trying to whisper. I'm usually standing directly next to the students when they start their conversation.
  • One student miraculously raises her hand, waits to be acknowledged and even whispers her question so ask to avoid being a distraction. But her classmate one desk away hears the answer, misinterprets it and begins to freak out thinking she's done something wrong. "Eysh? Eysh?" (what?! What?!) she asks her classmate--not me--in Arabic.

Because until I arrived, it has been acceptable. The concept of respecting the testing atmosphere is completely foreign to my students and, apparently, my colleagues.

It's school policy that the exams be proctored by one Arabic teacher and one English teacher. This made for an awkward couple hours because the girls weren't sure to whom to direct their questions--the exam was in Arabic, so I was obviously no help, but they didn't want to be rude and just ignore me all together. The Arabic teacher took over at the beginning of the exam period and gave all the instructions in Arabic and the exam period started--before all the girls had arrived.

As a result, girls trickled in and had to be given the directions bit by bit.

I had closed the door at the beginning of the testing period, but the Arabic teacher reopened it so she could stand in the doorway and talk to any of the other Adults that passed by. Phones were ringing, doors were slamming, and laughter trickled into the room as the girls desperately tried to focus on the task at hand.

Then about a quarter through the testing period, the girls' Math teacher came in (at least I'm assuming it was their Math teacher) to clarify instructions and answer questions...I think. All of this was in Arabic, so I was pretty much a lame duck who stood in the corner and nodded her head at random times.

After she interrupted the testing mojo, the girls' floodgates opened. They would randomly call out, "Abla," (teacher) and spew out a question, even though the Abla was across the room. And the Abla would answer....FROM ACROSS THE ROOM!

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what culture shock in an international classroom looks like. I had no idea that behavior like this is totally acceptable, but as I stood there pondering this during the exam, I realized this really is a cultural thing.

These girls are so used to noise and distraction that what I consider to be interruptions during a test are not interruptions at all. A one-child Arabic home is extremely extremely rare, so these girls deal with 2, 3, 4, 5 or more siblings running around all the time. The students and Arabic teachers are constantly surrounded by noise, and it appears they have learned to tune it all out.

I assumed that when I told the girls that they needed to stay quiet after finishing their test that "quiet" meant the same thing to everyone in the room. To my girls, quiet starts at 150 decibels, so they assumed they were following directions.

Vicariously yours,

Friday, January 28, 2011

Climate Change, Shmlimate Change

Students are the same all around the world. No matter how dedicated they are, every one wants an unexpected day off now and then. Saudi students seem to have perfected the art of finding a reason not to do work.

Lately, the weather has been the scapegoat. While North America is getting battered by snowstorm after snowstorm, the Middle East gets rain. We've had a total of 3--count 'em--THREE days of rain over the past couple weeks. This is a very exciting reality for the students, and on the first day of straight downpour, the girls took it as a cue to go out dancing in the rain Gene Kelly style. This, of course, resulted in girls with sore throats and a heavy case of the chills asking for an extra free period so they could cope with their wet skirts and frizzy hair.

"But teacher, we're so cold! We can't concentrate in class!"

"Wah. You should have thought of that before you spent your entire recess puddle jumping and rolling around in the rain."

On the second go-round with the weather, we were preparing for exams. The veteran teachers were telling me not to expect to have first period because so many students would be late. Even though we were expecting it, a few of the teachers still took a firm stance when the girls came crawling into the cluster asking for extra time to prepare for their tests.

"But teacher, it was raining today," one of them pleaded with a colleague. I, of course, was eavesdropping.

"Yes, and it rains every year around this time. You're a teenager, rain is not a new thing."

"But teacher, please! It's not our fault. Our drivers, they don't know how to drive in weather like this. They don't know what to do about the rain."

"Really? Has global warming changed things in Indonesia that much? Doesn't India still get a monsoon season? Didn't the Philippines get a lot more rain over the past 10 years than Saudi Arabia? How long has your family employed this poor driver that he's forgotten what his home country is like?!"

I loved it! The drivers are always to blame for half the girls' problems, and for once we were able to fire back with a response the girls couldn't refute.

Vicariously yours,

Meanwhile, I got a pedicure

Protests in Egypt spilled out into the cities surrounding Cairo.

Students led rallies in Sana'a, Yemen.

Tunisia's foreign minister walked off the job today.

Mourners were car-bombed in a Shi'a section of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, I got a pedicure and enjoyed a long afternoon nap in Saudi Arabia.

Anyone looking at the headlines for the Middle East today would think the whole region has gone crazy. Life here must be so stressful and unpredictable. It's very bizarre to me that today was very much like a typical Saturday at home: girl time at the salon, dinner with the husband, a good book, some shopping.

I don't say this to be flippant about the atrocities that are happening in Iraq right now, nor to down-play the revolutions that have broken out in the past week. Things in some parts of the Middle East are certainly tumultuous right now. I just thought it was funny that while talking to friends back home, one of them asked how we are doing "with all the stuff going on in that part of the world." It struck me that many people in the West assume that if unrest is affecting one area, the whole region has gone to pot.

We're doing fine. Saudi Arabia is chugging along as normal--perhaps with a few extra leaders who happen to be taking refuge in one of the many royal palaces, but normal nonetheless.

Vicariously yours,

Stuff Arabs like #8: Double Parking/Parking however the heck you want

Given the way Arabs drive, it should be no surprise that they have a similar devil-may-care attitude to how they park their cars. Just like on the streets, anything goes. It seems the rule of thumb in the Arab world is "if a car can fit in it, it's a parking space."

Take any parking lot in the Middle East: You might ask yourself, "Is this a diagonal space, or a perpendicular one?" The answer is yes. It is whatever you want it to be, you're in the Arab world.

For example: On a trip to Bahrain with a friend and her driver, the driver had to crawl over the passenger seat to get to the driver side because the car next to us had parked so crookedly. We could get into the back seat easily, but the driver-side door wasn't even allowed 3 inches. Yeah, the car next to us was THAT badly parked.

Couldn't take this photo from the right angle because there were 2 Saudi guys sitting in the SUV, but he's got one of his wheels completely up on the sidewalk because his car was too big for the non-parking spot.

Can't find a space directly in front of the store you want to visit? No problem! Chances are there's a sidewalk in front of the store that's wiiide open. Parking lot full? No big deal, just double park. If the poor schmuck you're parked behind returns before you finish your shopping/meal, they can just wait... Or drive up on the sidewalk past pedestrians to get to the street.

No need to worry about police ticketing you, they're the guys double-parked a few spaces down from you.

Vicariously yours,

Monday, January 24, 2011

in which i find two things interesting...

My students consistently amaze me. On Sundays (the Tuesday equivalent) I have 7th grade and then 10th grade for the last two periods of the day. One of my 7th graders was having a particularly rough day, and I had asked him to speak to me after class (cliché, I know). The bell rang and the student waited for me by the door while I talked to some of my students who are insisting that they should get a 100% just for their effort ["Yes, I realize you spelled your name correctly, but I can't give you extra points for that."] In the mean time, another student who seems to believe that his purpose on this Earth is to make other people's lives a living hell decided it would be a good time to mess with him. This resulted in a fight and all sorts of ridiculous shenanigans. Keep in mind this is a teacher's nightmare...fight between 7th graders + class change + 10th graders milling about with the middle schoolers = disaster waiting to happen.

Surprisingly, a brawl did not break out...but what did happen is what surprised me. One of the 10th graders checked on the 7th grader. Not related. Just...checked to make sure he was okay. Wow. I found out later that the 7th grader is cousins with his friend, but still. It always interests me how loyal these guys are to their respective groups. I honestly haven't seen anything like this in the States. They really are totally invested in each other's lives and in a mostly positive way (as far as I've seen). This doesn't ignore the fact that they still give the other groups crap in a way that is like a much more animated nerds vs. jocks thing in the US. But hey, I'll take it.

On a lighter note, I learned today that there are three different ways to say "passing gas" in Arabic. And yes, of course, two of the three describe the type you're experiencing. "Taq'a" is a loud one with no or little smell. "Faswa" is a SBD (silent, but deadly). The name for passing gas in general is not without hilarity as it is "atlaq alreeh" which literally translated means "fire the gas"...that's in out of a canon. Here endeth the lesson.

You're welcome.

Vicariously yours,

Bye Teacher

I am a middle-school degree holding teacher. Yes, I have a Bachelors degree in middle school. I spent four years studying that painfully awkward period of development and I love LOVE teaching those silly, klutzy, gawky kids!

One thing my professors didn't teach me: always have individual dry erase boards and extra markers in your classroom, cause middle schoolers. love. writing on dry erase boards.

Middle schoolers in the Middle East--especially my seventh-graders-- are no exception. Every time I turn around one of them is on my dry erase board. At home I thwarted this nuisance by giving each kid a small board of her own to write on and letting them go to town. Unfortunately I didn't bring those boards across the ocean with me, so my classroom board falls victim to the occasional random "Hi" or "Sara was here."

Well today after the final bell rang, I was finishing up with a couple students and I saw one of my angels approach the board, needing a fix. She started to write a goodbye message on the board, but it went like this:

Bye Ms.

[erase the Ms.]

Bye Mrs.

[erase the Mrs.]

Bye Miss

[erase the Miss]

Bye Ms. Ek

[erase Ek]

Bye Ms. Eck

[erase Eck whispers to classmate standing nearby and asks how to spell my last name. Gets shrugged shoulders in response. Keep in mind there is a giant "get to know your teacher" poster with my name plastered all over it approximately 10 feet away from both of them]

Bye Ms. Ec

[erases Ec]

Bye Teacher!

"Bye Teacher!" she called as she high-tailed it out the door.

Maybe this is only funny to me and my fellow middle school loving colleagues, but I just had to share.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, January 23, 2011

in which i stop whining and get a life.

Please forgive my long absence on the blog, but I've been pretty miserable here for a little while. I thought it would be better for me to not blog rather than overload the blog with a bunch of really ridiculously sad panda-esque things. But I'm back.

Sad panda is sad.

I won't bog us down by going into why I was so miserable too much. That's really not important. As a teacher, long stretches without a break are difficult enough, but it's a lot harder far aways from home. But ultimately, I was doing a lot of nothing and wishing I was somewhere else. As you can imagine, that's not exactly uplifting.

As I often do when I'm grumpy and homesick, I called (skyped, gchatted, whatever) my sister. I am blessed with two siblings that happen to be my best friends and life is more difficult not being able to get in touch with them whenever I want...but ANYWHO...I began Whinestock '11 and was really getting into the pitypalooza I was throwing. My sister, of course, was having none of it:
"I just can't do anything like what I did at home!"
" need to find something new to do then."
Curse you and your demon logic, woman!

After Whinestock '11 got rained out by tropical storm Sister, I proceeded to think about what I had been doing this whole time. A few things came to mind...primarily eating, sleeping, watching TV, and playing video games. I realized that not only was I boring myself to death, but I had almost no energy and didn't sleep very well...which translated to having no patience at school...which translated to bad teaching days...which made me grumpy and perpetuated the cycle. So it was time to make some changes...

Before I look like this guy...(Bahahaha at this)

So I cut some stuff out of my diet (or at least I'm keeping them to a minimum) and I'm actually doing something active every day for an hour. I'm also reading a little bit everyday. I'm pretty impressed at how well I'm keeping up on all this stuff. I normally set up a goal for like 2 days and then quit. But it's been (one week since you looked at me...) about 10 days and I'm still going strong. I have more energy at school, I feel better in general, and I am actually getting stuff done that I want to do. I still have time to watch TV and play video games, but I make sure it's not the only thing I do.

So who cares? Well, this is something that I realize about myself everytime I move somewhere strange and new. I have to hate it first. It was that way in Kuwait. It was that way in Georgia. It is that way in KSA. But the reason is because I'm so focused backwards. I think about home and only home, and never really put myself where I am. I keep thinking this is a temporary thing. I mean sure we're not gonna live in Saudi forever, but we're here now. This is where we live and this is what we're doing for at least two years.

In the end, I was miserable here because I didn't have a life. I sat around and wished I was back in Nashville, which only made me sad and grumpy. I realized today that a life was really what I needed. Now that I've got one, I can stop whining and actually enjoy myself. So pass the shawarma and let's do this thang.

Vicariously yours,

Don't Be That Girl

The hubbins and I went to the mall this afternoon. We went with the intention of stopping by Sephora and the HyperPanda (it's a supermarket) so I could get some essentials. But of course, when we got there, the stores weren't open because of prayers, so we window shopped.

It's sale time in Saudi Arabia! Every store has window displays taunting customers through the doors with promises of "further reductions" and "up to 70% off." Seventy-percent!? That's almost 100! We couldn't resist. We took the long route to Sephora, and stopped in a few stores.

The Mister has been longing for a plain hoodie for a while now, so we stopped in a sports store and luckily found one on sale. We got in line behind two Americans at the register. I was immediately struck by the fact that the woman was not covered at all, was wearing a v-neck shirt, and capri jeans (I mean, really. Capri jeans?). She didn't have an abaya on, and the glare she shot those of us standing behind her dared us to say something about it. Pretty bold, lady. If you're going to flaunt it in Saudi Arabia, you should expect a few sidelong glances.

On the counter was a kettleball that I guessed she was trying to buy for a friend. She was arguing with the cashier who was trying to say that the price of the exercise equipment was SAR 24 (less than $7), but she was insisting that her friend had seen it on sale for SAR 18 on Wednesday. She was indignant that the man was forcing her to pay all of $2 extra for a kettleball that would have cost her no less than $40 at home.

She got on the phone with her friend (I presumed) and preceded to talk very loudly about the cashier (who spoke very good English) and how rude he was being. Her friend was just as shocked to hear about the price hike as she was.

"I KNOW it doesn't cost 24 Riyals but he's not listening and is making me pay 24," she yelled--no exaggeration--into her phone.

Lady, I don't know who you are, but you are giving the rest of us a bad name. Cover up, shut up and pay the "inflated" price for your lame workout equipment already!


Vicariously yours,

Friday, January 21, 2011

the Ritz Carlton Bahrain

I went to Bahrain yesterday to get some logistics of the upcoming TARA conference worked out and enjoy a little time sans-abaya. After almost 5 hours of TARA planning, Sandra and I were more than ready for a movie. We wandered around a mall for a bit and went to see Life as We Know It (unedited, I think!).

After the movie, unwilling to go back to the Kingdom yet, we decided to try to find the Ritz Carlton and have a glass of wine. You see, they do have alcohol in Bahrain, but you have to go to a hotel or a bar to find it. We had heard from some local colleagues that Trader Vic's in the Ritz Carlton was a great place for a glass of wine, so we thought we'd give it a shot.

After a good half an hour/45 minutes of being lost trying to find the hotel, we finally arrived. The hotel is amazing! The whole ambiance is so opulent and fancy. We wandered around the lobby and looked at some of the gift shops, clothing shops, wedding shops, and spa. Eventually we found a security guard (the place was crawling with security guards!) and asked where Trader Vic's was. He directed us back across the lobby to the other side of the hotel and said we would find the restaurant "on the right."

We went across the lobby to the other side of the hotel and found a Lebanese restaurant and an Indian restaurant on the left, a French buffet and an American restaurant on the right, and what can only be described as a smoking parlor at the end of the hall. No Trader Vic's.

So we headed back toward the lobby and asked the hostess at the French restaurant where we could find Trader Vic's.

"Are you staying at the hotel ma'am?


"Ok, you just go back out to the lobby, turn right and stay straight."

It wasn't until we were in the middle of our first glass of wine that we realized she had told us to leave the hotel. Turning right in the lobby and staying straight would take us out the front door. She could have just told us that Trader Vic's was only for hotel guests, but we didn't get the hint with this set of politely rude directions.

Of course, we hadn't realized the was telling us to get the heck out. So we went right in the lobby and bypassed the front door, only to find the hotel prayer room and administrative offices next to the elevators. Luckily a hotel staff member saw the quizzical looks on our faces and took pity on us. He escorted us back toward the French restaurant, but stopped just before at a set of sliding glass doors that didn't slide open. I saw a little sign that said something along the lines of "Use your hotel key to open doors."

You'd think we'd get the hint then, but we didn't! Our escort called over a security guard who kindly used his key card and led us to the beautifully lit path that took us to Trader Vic's. By now we'd figured out that this place was just for hotel guests, but we decided that we'd come this far, we might as well have a glass of wine to celebrate.

The restaurant is amazing. The atmosphere is so hip and romantic. The bar overlooks a lagoon that leads to the sea. There were candles and house music and couches. It was very upscale and trendy. I could see why they wouldn't want rif-raff coming in from the street to soil their snob appeal.

The service was awful--we had to hunt down a waitress to get us a menu, then hunt her down again to take our order, then hunt her down again to ask for the bill--but the food was great and you just couldn't beat the view. At one point I commented to Sandra that this was the most romantic date I'd had in a long time!

I will definitely make the Ritz Carlton a romantic staycation for me and the Mister before we leave Saudi. Maybe then they'll treat us like Ritzy society people.

Vicariously yours,

The Royal Saudi treatment.

Well, folks. It finally happened. We've been living here for 4 months, and I've finally had a real Saudi meal with a real Saudi in a real Saudi house. After school on Wednesday, another colleague and I had the immense pleasure of going to the home of our English cluster secretary and having lunch.

We arrived at her house in a suburb of Dammam, and we were immediately greeted with the smell of burned incense and yummy food. I later found out that we had entered through the formal entrance. The entrance that men use when her family is entertaining mixed company. Her mother had decorated the house and the parlor was so Saudi, and so wonderful!

I don't know if it's because timber is hard to come by or if it's just the cheaper building material, but houses in Saudi are made almost completely out of concrete. Even the crown molding is concrete, but in our secretary's house, the molding had been painted to look like wood, and it was totally believable! There were big lounging sofas and comfy chairs and the whole room just felt so warm and rich.

What I didn't realize was while we were enjoying Arabic coffee and dates, her mom was putting lunch on the table. A door was opened and a beautifully set table was in front of us! We had a Saudi dish that sounded like it as called "MacGrueber," but of course it wasn't. Now that I'm trying to remember the correct Arabic pronunciation of the word, all I can remember is "MacGrueber." Anyway, the word means "upside down" in Arabic because to make the dish, you layer rice, eggplant, potatoes, and chicken and when everything is ready, you turn the pot upside down and there you go!

Yes, all of this was made by her mother.

It was so great! We had a fantastic meal together learning about each other's cultures. Our secretary is such a dynamic woman and she was a fantastic host. We had a wonderful meal, got to meet some of her family, and she even packed a doggie bag for the Mister because he was jealous to be missing out on the authentic Saudi goodness!

A few things I learned about Saudi culture:
  • While enjoying Arabic coffee with guests, the hostess is to fill the cups from right to left.
  • If a guest finishes her coffee and wants more, she shakes the empty cup to indicate the hostess should refill. This is not considered to be rude, contrary to the custom in the US when a restaurant patron shakes the ice in his empty glass and mutters his frustration about the service under his breath.
  • There is no welcome wagon in Saudi. If a new family moves in to a neighborhood, the neighbors do not introduce themselves with covered dishes and helpful hints on where to get your groceries. Instead, the patriarch of the family meets other heads-of-households at the nearby mosque and then invites families over for a meal at his house. When I asked what would happen if I just knocked on the door of our Saudi neighbors to introduce ourselves, our secretary told us that I would be suspected of being a thief or some sort of crazy woman.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Open mouth, insert foot

I was definitely a novelty to my students in the first weeks of school. They were naturally curious about me and my life. After they finished asking me if I knew Hannah Montana, they all wanted to know, "Teacher, do all Americans think Saudis are terrorists?" Islamic extremism is certainly the stereotype du jour, and the girls seem to all want to know if the world has fallen for it or not. One my girls actually asked me, "Teacher, before you came here, did you think the whole country was full of terrorists?"

Really? Give me some credit, kid. Would I relocate myself to a country that was full of terrorists?!

Anyway, the other day, my 8th grade girls turned in a written report for a major grade. (You know I'm a Middle School teacher because I love my 8th grade class and will be really sad when they turn into high schoolers. I have a fun rapport with this class and we have a good time picking on each other.) Today they really wanted their graded reports back, but I wasn't finished grading them and it's my personal policy to hand out all graded materials once the whole class's grades are ready.

Well, today they were especially silly and while I was waiting for half of my class to show up (they were late from computer class...again), the girls that were actually on time were begging for their grades.

"Ok, we'll make this a democracy," one of them said.

"This'll be interesting," I muttered under my breath.

"We'll give you a choice. We can sing and yell and scream loud enough to make your ears bleed, OR you can give us our grades."

Before you get the impression that I have a class full of brats, please remember that I'm talking about 8th graders here and understand that she was totally joking. It was very clear that she was just being silly with this "democratic" approach.

I was writing something on the board as she was talking so after her ultimatum was declared, I put the cap back on my marker and said, "I'm sorry. I don't negotiate with terrorists."

Seven pre-teen faces all stared back at me, slack jawed. Slowly the smiles cracked and they burst into laughter right about the time I realized how poor my choice of words was.

We all had a good laugh about it. They loved how red my face got, and no one took any offense.

Thankfully, they were so busy laughing at my gaff that they forgot to keep up the campaign for their grades! Mwahaha!

Vicariously yours,

Two Awesome Things Happened today:

1. It rained today. Like really rained.

2. This headline

Vicariously yours,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

in which I [edited for content]

As always, it was a long day at work. I had a lot of things to do and as we get closer and closer to break the students lose more and more of their minds. So currently I'm enjoying a night of hanging out with the Lady and the official pastime of the Kingdom: watching television. Tonight, it's Dances With Wolves, which is pretty awesome because I really like that movie. So I'm actually feeling really good. But then I noticed the editing.

You're probably aware that TV here is edited for content. But it's REALLY edited. A lot...but also in a really strange way. In the States you can expect to have the scandalous parts of movies know: sex, violence, language, etc. But here it's a little more sporadic.

Some examples: Kisses are edited out. Any kissing. Even the closed mouth peck on the cheek is no longer a part of the movie. This makes some movies difficult to follow. If you were watching a romantic comedy be ready to miss the dramatic kiss at the end with a jump from the "lean in" to the "lean out"...and if Matthew McConaughey was saying anything sweet or important in the middle of that, well, you're out of luck.

aaaaaaaand cut. No touching!

What about pillow talk? Take a Bond movie for instance. Sometimes 007 is developing the plot to [insert foxy Bond girl here] whilst lounging in a hotel room in Monte Carlo. Welp, I hope you weren't interested in the back story of the villain, cause it's gone.

At the same time, violence they're okay with. Language too. Kill Bill, Vol. 1 was on the other day and wow...I had totally forgotten how many limbs are removed. Then there were the F-bombs being dropped during Lucky Number Sleven. But then again, sometimes they replace the swearing with something else. Kind of like the Hot Funk version of Hot Fuzz. It's pretty funny to see which times they decide to edit or follows no pattern.

And then there's the act breaks. Normally it goes like this...rising action, big reveal and then as we're all going whoa! they go to commercial. Here...its like that...but then they skip where the break should of gone...go on for another minute or two when we see the character after the big reveal and she's going to get a cab and then...commercial!? What? This happens a lot. While watching Dances With Wolves, there is the big buffalo hunt scene. Now I would cut it somewhere before or after the hunt...but no. Right in the MIDDLE! Why would you do that!?

I mean, I don't really mind the editing, but I just wish it was consistent. Ah well...such is [edited] in the Middle [edited].

Vicariously yours,

Copy and Paste

I think I was an anthropologist in a former life. I find other cultures so fascinating. Even though it can be infuriating sometimes, coming to know the quirks of Saudi culture is by far my favorite part of living here.

I'm loving learning the language almost as much as I'm enjoying learning about the people. I'm sad that we only have Arabic class once a week, but I'm so glad that our cluster secretary humors me every Wednesday and gives me another lesson after my last class is dismissed. If I didn't know better, I'd think she enjoys sharing her language with me. Being the nerd that I am, I enjoy occasionally helping her with English words.

Today, however, she just might have updated my English dictionary a bit.

She was showing me pictures of her siblings and other family members. Her brothers and sisters all resemble her so much, I would say they are carbon copies of each other.

She showed me how outdated that phrase--"carbon copy"--is.

"They are a copy and paste of me," she said with a smile.

Times have changed, and I'm afraid I've been left behind with some of the cool lingo.

Vicariously yours,

A day in the life...

4:45 am - my alarm clock goes off. If I'm behaving myself, I'll get up and work out. I'm not usually behaving myself, so this is usually when I hit the snooze button and turn over.

5:06 am - The call to Fajr prayer starts.

5:30 am - I'm in the shower.

5:36ish am - The recitation of the prayers begins from the mosque a block away. This mosque is usually the last in the neighborhood to start. I amuse myself by imagining the imam rushing out of bed each morning and running to the mosque to get everyone started. In my imagination, he's as much of a morning person as I'm not.

5:45 am - The Mister's alarm clock goes off.

6:00 am - I'm out of the shower and continuing to get ready for work.

6:10 am - The Mister finally gets out of bed. Ideally we're walking out the door in 5 minutes.

6:21 am - We're walking out the door.

6:41 am - We've survived the commute to work once again and I'm clocking in to work. The mister and I have said goodbye in the parking lot. No hugs. No kisses. Just wishes of "Have a good day" and we're on the way to the separate doors of our two schools in the same building.

As I dodge my way through elementary girls hula hooping in the primary section of the school (hula hoop is so in right now with the 6-10 crowd), I have to stop and wait for the crowds to part. Slowly. Conversations and camaraderie are very important here, and people can't be bothered to be conscious of others around them. The children here are no exception. I often get the stink eye when I say, "Excuse me" and ask the girls to get out of the way. How dare I interrupt her very important conversation square in the middle of the hallway?!

7:00 am - The doors to the hallway leading to the high school clusters are opened the girls pour into the corridors. The decibels climb dramatically.

7:15 am - The warning bell sounds. The girls continue their conversations.

7:20 am - The final bell rings, signaling the beginning of the first period. The girls are still talking in the hallway. One or two begin to enter the cluster. Exasperated sighs leak from the teachers' chests.

My class schedules are bizarre, to put it lightly. On Saturdays I have all 3 of my sections in 80 minute blocks. I only have 2 forty minute periods free. My lightest days are Monday and Tuesday when I only have 2 of my 3 sections and I only teach for a total of 2 hours. I love Mondays and Tuesdays. I am able to get so much planning done and even sneak a few quick glances at Facebook.

A real annoyance is the fact that there are not enough classrooms for each teacher to have one of her own. So while I'm not teaching, another woman is using my room for her class. When she's in my room, I'm occupying her desk. When she finishes, I get booted off her desk and back into my room.

10:08 am - Recess. There's no real lunch schedule, so we just set the girls loose for 30 minutes. The canteen is open and the girls are urged to go outside to each and run off some energy. Following these instructions often proves to be optional. It depends on which teacher is on duty during recess.

12:47 pm - Prayer break. The girls that are eligible head to the lockers, get their abayas and then go to the large assembly room where prayers are conducted. If a girl is on her period, she is unclean and therefore cannot perform the prayers. These girls roam the halls, finish homework and generally hang out.

2:27 pm - The final bell rings and a mass exodus begins. The students generally take their time getting their bags and heading to their drivers because most of them have brothers in the boys school who don't get out for another 13 minutes. Others run out quickly to catch the chartered bus that takes them home to the suburbs.

The teachers high-tail it out of the school like it's on fire! I've seriously never seen a school clear out as fast as this one does after dismissal! When I asked my colleagues why none of the teachers stay late to get work finished, I was told that the non-Saudi women aren't allowed to hire family drivers, so if they don't get out to their hired taxis in time, the driver will leave them stranded at school. I'm not sure what the Saudi women's excuse is.

2:40 pm - The Mister's last bell rings. I've usually settled into a conversation with the last stragglers in the English department and often miss his call when he's heading out to the car.

2:51 am - The call to the Asr prayer begins. Everything closes, so any hope of stopping for an after school snack is dashed.

3:00 pm - I finally clock out for the day and head out to the car.

After school, we generally take a nap, work out if we're feeling motivated, or have various classes and meetings. My former colleagues in Nashville will be interested to know that I meet in a PLC every Monday afternoon. On Tuesdays we have Arabic class, and most Wednesdays are TARA meetings.

Overall, our work week is very busy. And that's a day in the life of an international teacher in Saudi Arabia.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, January 16, 2011

So, this happened.

Sometimes we have days that are so normal and un-Saudi, it's hard to tell if we're still in a foreign country or not. Today was one of those days.

Upon returning from school, I opened a Christmas/Birthday gift from my sister.

It's pretty awesome and you're totally jealous, I know. It was made by this guy who has a shop on Etsy.

Then I took a nap while the hubbins played video games and watched TV. Pretty typical.

I woke up when the Mister arrived back from the grocery store. He'd gone out while I was sleeping to get ingredients for tonight's dinner.

...ok, that's not so typical, but still pretty awesome.

While he cooked, I got a great extended preview of this show:

It is exactly what you think it is.

Then I decided it should probably start with at least one of my New Year's resolutions.

Moral of the story: I'm fat.

Then I cancelled out any calories I might have burned with the yummy mac n' cheese and chicken fried steak that the hubs made for us!

So good, but soo bad! Yummy yum!

I think I'll round out the night with a little lesson planning, perhaps a movie curled up on the couch with the mister, or maybe an early bed time.

If I didn't know better, I'd think I was at home.

Vicariously yours,

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stuff Arabs Like #7: Hot Drinks

I guess this should come as no surprise. Most non-American cultures enjoy a good cup of tea more than many things in life. And now, thanks to Starbucks' sky-rocketing popularity, people in the States are starting to understand the yummy goodness of a warm belly.

I guess the Arab's love of hot tea is a little striking because IT'S FREAKING HOT OVER HERE! I realize that at the moment I'm in the dead of winter and it's really cold in Saudi Arabia--70 degrees F right night with a low of 68 over night, we might turn on the heater. But the hot months most certainly out pace the cold months and when it's hot, it's really. freaking. hot. It's not like Arabs stop drinking hot tea or coffee in the hot months, oh no! They keep on truckin'.

Now I know the locals will tell you that drinking hot tea when you're already hot will actually cool you down faster because it'll cause your body to sweat, thereby bringing down your body temperature when you catch one of those oh-so-common desert breezes. To that I say get a fan because it's already darn hot and you're sweating like a racehorse that just finished a lap around the sun. Get a fan. Turn on the fan. And sip an icy cold beverage. Ten bucks says you'll cool down a lot faster!

Temperature aside, I am totally down with the hot tea because of the flavor. I don't know what they do differently than I do, but Arabic tea is so much better than anything I've put in my mouth elsewhere (get your minds out of the gutter!). I've been told it's the tea leaves, combined with a special ingredient that apparently only has an Arabic name, so of course I can't find it in any store because no one understands what I'm saying!

And the coffee! Oh heavens the coffee! Silk Road scmilk road, give the Arabs some java and they'll forget they ever heard of China's favorite export. There are more Turkish coffee making implements in our teacher's lounge than there are teachers at any given moment.

Seriously. These things are all over the staff kitchen.

It takes so much effort to make, but I can see why Arabs enjoy the drink. While you're waiting for the beans to roast and then the drink to perk, you've got plenty of time to lounge on cushions and enjoy each other's company.

It doesn't matter where you are, you will find an Arab drinking a hot drink of some sort during any season, at any hour.

Vicariously yours,

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hessa nafella

I have a colleague who moved here from Canada in October. She's a single female. I know, before I moved here, I had no idea it as possible to live in the Kingdom as a single female and not go crazy. But she is really flourishing. The fact that she's a great teacher and can adapt to her surroundings like a chameleon certainly doesn't hurt.

Anyway, because she can't go anywhere without a chaperon, she organized an extra curricular field trip for her Senior students to a town about 2 hours south of where we are. It was a town she wanted to see, and a town not many of the girls had been to, so it was a win-win. I tagged along, and so did our English cluster secretary that I love so much and another English cluster colleague. We had so much fun! I had no idea that so much history was so close to where we're living, and I learned a lot about the history of Saudi Arabia. Plus I got to hang out with a group of fantastic women and, thanks to our cluster secretary, I learned a lot more Arabic words!

Here are some photos from the day:

A great example of Arab hospitality: the mother of one of the girls made sandwiches for everyone! These were some sort of pink bread with filafel inside. YUM!!

Our first stop was the Ibrahim Castle in Al-Ahsa. It was really a fort, and it was where the first King Saud launch is efforts to unify the tribes and create Saudi Arabia. This is the outside of the mosque that's in the fort.

The fort was beautifully restored. The ceilings were palm tree trunks!

This was our guide at the fort. He was a nice Saudi man who didn't speak much English, so one of the girls had to translate his schpeal on the history of the fort. As we were leaving he said to me, "I thought you were Arab! You looked at me like you knew what I was saying!" Yess! Good listening etiquette win!

The mosque at the fort. The fort is 500 years old, and I believe the mosque was built at the same time as the fort. It was really beautiful.

Then we went to the Al-Mulla house in the "Old Kout" part of town. I had to get a picture of the sign!

This is the bed where the first King Saud slept the night before he pushed the Turks out of Al-Ahsa.

A secret room in the Al-Mulla house where the men hid their rifles in case of a sneak attack.

After a stop at the first school built in Al-Ahsa (photos on FB), we went to the Jawatha Mosque. It was built in 648 AD (7 AH). It was the second mosque in the world where the Friday prayers were performed. I wasn't exactly sure of the significance of this, but the girls told me that it is a big deal.

Then we went to a pottery place. It was such an odd, house-turned-maze-turned-storefront. This picture was taken after I wandered my way through a few "stores" that looked like houses. I went out the back door, and this is what I was greeted with!

Then we went to a dairy farm. For a lot of the girls, this was their first time being on a farm, and for some of them the first time seeing cows up close. The farm had this genius observation room where we could oversee the milking process instead of having to be on the ground in the stink. (the reason their abayas look so dirty is because we had just come from a park in the mountains where we went into these great canyons. Almost all of my pictures were of the girls, so that's why there aren't any posted here)

Our view.

The girls got to touch a cow for the first time.

Then we went to the farm's bottling factory. Because Sandra and I didn't wear the hijab, we had to wear the hair nets. We were tempted to use them as our hijab for the rest of the trip.

It was a really great time. The girls kept saying how grateful they were to have gotten the chance to go on this trip, but I think the grown-ups enjoyed even more than the kids.

Vicariously yours,

A day of hilarious one-liners

I've had a busy weekend, so I haven't had a lot of time to do blogging. That excuse combined with the fact that I can't quite formulate a way to tell you all about the fun day I had on Wednesday without sounding disjointed and un-hilarious are the reasons for the silence on the ol' blog the past couple days.

So I will attempt to tell you about my Wednesday as best I can.

I am serving on a committee that plans an annual conference for literacy teachers in the Middle East. It has been dubbed "the #1 reading conference in the region." ...mostly because it's the only reading conference in the region, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, the meeting for the TARA committee was in Aramco this week, so I hitched a ride with my colleague and her driver and we headed to the camp. I really enjoy her driver because he's such a kind soul and I think he enjoys carting us around because we treat him more like an equal rather than "the help."

As we were entering the Aramco camp, he was talking about how Aramco "is having very strict" rules. "You can have no going too fast, always stopping at lights, and most important is the no talking on the mobile. That is very bad." We chuckled to ourselves at these "very strict" rules that are just considered "good driving habits" at home.

We registered at the Visitors Gate and followed another TARA committee member to our meeting location. At one point, we had to turn left without the assistance of a traffic light or stop sign. Normally in Saudi Arabia this means a driver guns it across and hopes the other cars stop in time, but we were in Aramco. Our driver came to a rolling stop and inched his way very slowly into the oncoming traffic. Thankfully they were slowing because they were approaching the gate through which we'd just passed, but it was still a little scary because our driver didn't have the right-of-way.

My colleague and I whimpered in the back seat and our driver reassured us by saying, "In Aramco we don't driving rough." I laughed at the fact that for him, not driving rough meant to slowly break the laws of driving.

Despite the fact that we were following a TARA committee member who has lived and worked on the Aramco camp for over 25 years, we got lost trying to find the house where Wednesday night's meeting was being held. While most of our driver's passengers would get mad at him over a situation he could not control, my colleague and I thought it was hilarious. We twisted and turned on the back roads of the camp, back-tracking when we reached dead-ends or circling back and going against traffic when we got to the wrong intersection. While we were hooting with laughter in the back seat, our driver was trying to figure out why this woman who was supposed to be acquainted with the camp was so lost.

"I think she is having many years," he said. At first I thought he was expressing his confusion at her lack of familiarity with her own neighborhood. Then he said, "She is almost having sixty-years, I think."

That only made me laugh harder! "What, are you trying to say she's lost because she's too old to drive?!" I asked between snorts.

"No! No, ma'am!" our driver laughed. "No, I am having almost 60 years in 20 years time."

Nice save.

We eventually made it to our meeting, and after a couple hours our driver was back to take us home. We also gave one of the guys on the committee a lift home, but mine was the first house on the route. As we approached my street, I asked our newest passenger if he knew the name of the mosque that's a block away from my house. I was hoping he would know so I could use it as a landmark when giving people directions. Our driver slowed down so we could all strain our necks to see if there was a sign with the name of the mosque on it.

"I think it is called 'mosque,'" our driver said sincerely.

The back seat exploded with laughter.

Vicariously yours,