What KSA Has Taught Me…..Part 2

In the West, people tend to be in hurry to do things.  In a hurry to get to work, school, etc.  If you come to Saudi Arabia, you will need to learn to slow down and just relax.  Things are not as fast paced as they are in other parts of the world.  And when I say other parts of the world, I mean America.  I know that we’re the only ones who seem to be in a hurry all the time.  It’s an adjustment and it was one I had to make.  It didn’t come without a few growing pains though.

It started with getting the job in the first place.  I had signed an initial offer and I was supposed to receive the actual contract after that.  It would be sent by DHL.  Even with international service, the longest it should take is about five working days.  But these five days turned into about three weeks.  I called and when I finally got through, the man in HR told me, “Yeah, your contract’s right here.  I was waiting for you to say it was okay to send it.”  Being that I wanted the job, I didn’t say what I was actually thinking which was something like, “When I signed the initial offer, didn’t that mean you were supposed to send it, dimwit?”  He was apparently suffering from hunger pains which caused him to be unable to think or act.

So, I got to KSA with my same “in a hurry” attitude.  But actually being here has taught me to chill, relax, chillax.  Am I too old to say things like that?  Maybe.  But please don’t tell anyone.  People who know me, really know me, will tell you that generally my demeanor is calm.  I don’t get angry quickly, though I do have little to no tolerance for stupidity.  But I am a typical American.  I believe in being on time and following schedules.  I believe in efficiency.  If I have an appointment, I won’t eat or do anything else just to make sure that I’m not late.  I would get really upset if I couldn’t make it to any sort of appointment on time.  Needless to say, my first semester at YUC was, well, a learning experience.

Whenever it was time for class, I’d head out in a mad rush as so many Americans would.  My mom told us that, “If you have an appointment at 8 o’clock, you be there at 7:30.”  Of course I didn’t go to class a half hour early but, I did want to be there before my students were.  There was just one problem.  The students!  Here I am practically running and they’re walking down the hall like they’re strolling down the beach on a beautiful spring day.  I was new so I didn’t want them to see my “crazy” side but I was screaming in my head.  I’d be shouting to myself, “Get out of the way!” And I was always perplexed by the fact that they couldn’t “sense” that I was trying to get by.  Nope, they were in their own world.  Not worried about a thing.  I kept wondering why they were so relaxed.  And I know I shouldn’t say this but I wondered what they were smoking to make them oh so mellow.  Was it something in the air?  Perhaps the gases coming from the refineries gave everyone a contact high and it calmed everyone down.  I don’t know.  I always got, get the sense of, “Just ride the waves, dude.  Ride the waves.”

Their laid-back attitude caused me to think, a little anyway.  Teachers complain all the time about any number of things.  In fact, we complain so much it seems to be part of the job.  Our office was more like the Dr Phil show.  This one has problems with her students.  That one has problems with her schedule.  Blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda.  With that I remembered one student telling me, “Miss, مشي حالك.”  And that was some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.  I learned to ride the waves and slow down when going to class.  I don’t run, especially since we moved to the new campus.  S3ee between admin and faculty building A requires walking, strolling in fact.  I also stopped expecting things to arrive or be done on time.  On time is a “state of mind” if you will.  All I ever got out of being in a hurry was, tired.  It didn’t change anything.

Now, when new teachers come to the department, I let them know how things are.  The first thing I say is, “Forget about wherever you were before.  This is KSA and they have their own way of doing things.  Learn from them, you’ll be the better for it.”

So they’ve got it right.  What’s the rush?  Live and love your life.  Make the most of it.  What will be will be whether you’re walking or running.  So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Thank you students of YUC for showing me “the way.”

What KSA Has Taught Me….Part 1

If you’re living your life right, you learn from your experiences and are taught a few lessons.  And, for me living in KSA has taught me a number of things.  I won’t talk about all of them now or you’ll be reading for days.  But one of the big ones is bravery, in a chicken sort of way.  That’s right, in a chicken sort of way.  I can tell you that I have always been a chicken, even as an adult.  Not something to be proud of yet I’m not ashamed.  It was only in the last two years that I’d turn the lights off at night.  I used to leave the TV on a Qur’an channel making sure it was loud enough to be heard in my bedroom as well as by anyone walking by at night.  I’d lock my bedroom door at night, as if no one could get it open.  After all, if they managed to get inside the apartment, wouldn’t they be able to get into my room?  That being the case, maybe even “chicken” is an understatement.   So how did KSA bring about this new found bravery?

Let’s see, where should I begin? Since it’s been mentioned by more than one person in the past week, I guess I should mention my new found ability to kill things, geckos in particular.  And trust me it was a long, dark road getting to this point.  At first I didn’t think anything of them.  I’m from a northern state and we don’t have geckos or lizards of any kind unless you buy them in a pet store.  I still can’t figure out why anyone would want one for a pet.  Anyway, I used to see them on the balcony and I was always afraid one would come inside.  So, on the advice of a friend, I boiled some water.  She said if I threw the hot water on it, it would be stunned and then I could kill it.  Well, I decided to try it one day.  I boiled water in one of those little Arabic coffee pots, the little red ones you find everywhere.  I boiled the water and went out onto the balcony.  I attempted to throw the water.  And, to my dismay the water hit everything but that nasty gecko.  Oh and the pot flew with the water.  Not quite part of the plan.  In the end I was only holding the handle.  Oops.  That didn’t work out I guess.  And just to show how chicken I was, I left the pot out there.  I didn’t even bother trying to get it.  It was the last time I would try to kill a gecko for a while.

Over time, I tried to work up the courage to kill one.  I wasn’t ready to give up.  I saw one in my apartment and knew I didn’t have time to boil water.  Besides, the last time I didn’t do so well with that anyway.  I grabbed a broom and started swinging.  I hit everything but the gecko.  Kinda like the water incident =).  I ended up with several dents in the walls and a gecko that got away.  I’m sure he was laughing at me the whole time, that devil! So I gave up, again, until last summer.

I was teaching at YUC and had been using the same room for all of my classes.  It was cool and the projector worked.  And if you know anything about our experience in the last building, having both of those things in the same room was not a guarantee.  Anyway, one day I was teaching and I saw a gecko on the back wall.  The students noticed that I was distracted and turned to look.  I watched its every move.  That thing stayed in the room for several days.  But when he made his way to my area at the front of the class, I knew I had to do something.  I tried to psych myself up saying, “You have to do it.  Don’t be a chicken.”  Of course, I still was.  So, thinking about my friend’s advice, I thought I’d try again with water.  But I decided to take a different approach.  I filled my water gun with water.  I thought, “I’ll shoot it with the water gun, it’ll fall off and I’ll smack it with my shoe.”  So I went to the room.  Students were sitting outside and of course they thought I was crazy walking around with a water gun.  I shared my plan with them and one brave soul stayed inside with me.  I sprayed and sprayed and that industrial strength thing wouldn’t fall off the wall.  So, my student offered to keep shooting it with the water gun.  She kept shooting it and it fell to the ground. Yay! Of course I screamed, but that’s beside the point.  I took my shoe and I hit that SOB with every bit of strength I had in me.  For as hard as I hit, I think I have some unresolved anger issues.  I screamed again but I also jumped with joy.  It was an embarrassing display and somehow I wasn’t at all embarrassed.

One of my students, and she knows who she is, was traumatized by the event. She called me a murderer.  She said that soon I wouldn’t be able to stop.  I didn’t mind.  I was so proud of myself.  I called my family to let them know.  They laughed at me, but again I didn’t mind.  I went on to kill several geckos after that, even posted my fail proof method for killing geckos on Facebook.  How does this make me brave?  I used to use half a can of bug spray to kill a single bug.  If there were a big bug in a room I’d close the door and wait for it to die several days later before going in again.  So, to kill a gecko was a huge deal.   I’ve come a long way.

I almost feel like a big girl now and I owe it all to living in KSA.

Neighbors…..Serenity Now!

In Arabic they say…

اختار الجار قبل الدار

My loose translation, which doesn’t sound as nice is, “Choose your neighbor before your house.”  Why would they say that?  Prior to my time here in Saudi Arabia, I don’t think I ever really thought about it.  I lived in my parents’ house until I went away for college. If I had annoying neighbors then, I assumed it was because they were young and didn’t know any better.  I know that my parents must have thought of such things when buying our house but as a spoiled, but nice, girl growing up I never thought of all the reasons why they chose the neighborhood they did.

Well, enter my new apartment.  I live on the second floor.  There’s a family below me and there was a family above me.  Before I moved in, I thought that being between two families would be a good idea.  And who asked me to think?  Thinking sometimes leads to the wrong idea or conclusion, as in my case.  I had seen the kids from downstairs, and they seemed normal.  And you know how the saying goes, things aren’t always what they seem.  Who knew that such sweet, innocent looking kids would turn out to be my nemesis?  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I do believe that they are Satan’s offspring.  Maybe that sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.  They screamed at the top of their lungs, apparently in an attempt to see who could scream the loudest before their voice boxes exploded.  Unfortunately, the contest is ongoing and they still scream though it is a little less than before.  Their other favorite past time was banging on walls.  What makes it really fun is that they usually start at night.  Maybe I was wrong.  They’re more active at night.  Hmm, could it be that they are in fact, vampires?  It remains a mystery.  Anyway, one day it was so bad that I decided to go speak to their mother.  Lucky me she speaks neither English nor Arabic.  I knocked on the door and asked her again to be sure, “You don’t speak any English?”  She shook her head and I proceeded to complain about those demons they call children.  My arms were flailing right and left, up and down in a futile attempt to tell her to do something about her kids.  When I think about how ridiculous I must have looked, I can laugh about it.  But only a little.  As if that wasn’t enough, the neighbors upstairs had a baby who literally seemed to spend his/her every waking hour crying.  I thought to myself, “They’re lucky they’re here or I’d report them to Children’s Services.”  The husband downstairs apologized to me on more than one occasion, and I believe he was sincere.  But you know what, buddy?  Your apologies don’t mean crap when I still have to listen to your psychotic children day in and day out.  Do I sound a little angry?  I’ve done my best to remain calm even as I wish I could throw them off the balcony.  But don’t worry, I would never do anything like that.  But in the movie I’m going to write, I will. You know what’s funny?  He actually asked me to teach them English.  As if.  He’d send them to me and never see them again.

My neighbor downstairs finally came to me with good news a few weeks back.  He said the family upstairs would be leaving and that would cut down on the noise because his kids wouldn’t have anyone to bother.  So I kept telling myself to be patient.  They’d be gone soon.  Things were looking up until…

Someone opened a karaoke bar upstairs.  And I probably wouldn’t have noticed except I could hear singing, loud and bad singing.  The first time I let it go even though they were singing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World.”  That’s right, “Heal the World.”  The next time I heard them, it was Barry Manilow.  I asked, “Dear God, what did I do to deserve this?”  They went on an on singing, “Do you lo me like I lo you?”  WTH?  I finally decided to pay them a visit.  I went upstairs, knocked on the door three times and waited.  No answer.  Of course.  How could they hear me when it was karaoke night in Yanbu?  I went back to my place and wrote a note.  I slipped it under the door and I can tell that they did read it because it has gotten better. Thank God!!!

So beware of psychotic children and karaoke-loving maniacs.

Ah, just another adventure, here in KSA.

Saudi Generosity

If you’ve ever had Arab friends, you know that Arab generosity and hospitality is unmatched.  I’ve known or had Arab friends for many years, but my time in Saudi Arabia has shown me not only the generosity and hospitality that is so embedded in Arab culture but that there really are kindhearted people who will help a person in need, even if it’s not a family member or someone they know.

When I came here six years ago I remember going downtown on the bus provided by our employer so that we could do some shopping.  There was a grocery store in the area where I live but downtown you can buy from the fruit and veggie market where you get a lot more for your money.  The idiot I was with at the time insisted on going to the fish market.  I hate fish by the way and he bought a lot.  We were late, thanks to his insisting on buying so much fish at once because the Red Sea was running out of fish.  But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that the bus ended up leaving without us.  Walking back toward the main market, a car stopped and asked if we needed a ride.  We got in with no fears.  It wasn’t like being in America where at times you may be afraid to get in the car with someone you do know.  Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point.  Either way, he took us all the way back to the Royal Commission area which can be a 20-30 minute ride depending on where you are coming from in the city.  He asked nothing and refused to accept any payment.  Where can you find people like that?

Something else I will always remember is spending Ramadan, the month of fasting, here.  During the month of Ramadan, everyone tries to be more generous.  How can a people who are already generous be more generous?  During this blessed month there’s the usual like feeding others, donating your time and money.  But try traveling during Ramadan.  I should point out that you are not required to fast when traveling and must make up the days you missed after Ramadan and before the next one.  But for shorter trips like from Yanbu to Medinah which is a two hour drive at most, many feel that there is no need to break the fast.  So, you get on the highway and you hope that you’ll be able to make it to your destination before maghreb (sunset).  But in reality, there will be times when you simply cannot.  What if you don’t have anything to break your fast with in the car?  It has happened in the past, and I’m pretty sure it will continue to do so.  Well, along the way you can find people who pass out water, dates, yoghurt and other things to travelers.  There’s even one area I remember on the way to Medinah where these men set up a place for people to stop and pray as well.  It warms my heart every time I see something like this.  They do it seeking blessings from Allah and it is just wonderful.

One other exceptional event took place two years ago when my mother came to visit me.  She spent a month here in the magic kingdom.  Unfortunately because of when she arrived, I wasn’t able to do much with or for her.  The semester had started so I didn’t have a lot of options for going places either.  My students, per my instructions, each wrote her a paragraph about Saudi Arabia.  It was sweet how they told her about places she should go.  They didn’t know that she wasn’t Muslim so some of the advice was not quite for her but she liked it anyway.  She took every last one of those paragraphs with her when she returned.  And even though she didn’t see much or experience much, when she left and returned to the states all she could talk about was how nice my friends were to her.  They invited her for dinner and she got a taste of some traditional dishes as well as Arab hospitality.  She was treated so well that she asked, “Now who’s going to do this for me when I go back?”  I tried to convince her to stay longer, telling her that it wouldn’t happen and she could only experience it here.  Well, obviously that didn’t work because she decided to go back home, but she did say she’d like to come back.

Those are just a few of many stories.  But today, I experienced something so unexpected that it literally brought tears to my eyes.  Even as I’m writing this I can feel my eyes welling up again.  So here it is.  Those who know me know that I’ve been struggling with some personal problems for the past year.  And being in a foreign country with no family makes the struggle that much more difficult.  Sure people have tried to say words of encouragement, but in all honesty I believe it has been impossible for them to relate.  Due to these changes in my life, I was forced to move out of my apartment.  But, being that I’m a woman trying to do this on my own, to say it’s been hard would be the biggest understatement of the year.  I started this venture four months ago and I’m still not done.  Yesterday, I spent two hours in the old place while a driver and two other workers emptied a lot of, excuse my French, crap out of the place.  It was hot and I really felt for them as they worked.  Even after that, there is still much work to be done.  I needed and need more boxes.  The place needs to be cleaned.  So many things.  So I started asking around about where I could get some boxes.  I asked wherever I could. Honestly, only a few people responded and two of those few were people I don’t really know.  One individual asked what size I needed and how many.  So I explained what I was looking for.  To my surprise, this amazing person, who I’ve never met by the way, offered to send a driver with some boxes as well as workers if I needed them to move things.  I sat and I cried for a bit.  I experienced a whole range of emotions at that moment. I was surprised, overjoyed, touched.  I will never forget this.  And I wish there were more people like this in the world.

Kindness and generosity still exist today and they can be found right here in KSA.

Buying Medication in KSA

Today I took a trip to the pharmacy and a few things came to mind.  For one I have to go to a pharmacy to get any and all things medicine.  Sure we have pharmacies in America but you can also find a pharmacy in all grocery stores.  You can also get non-prescription drugs in a grocery store.  But here, even if all I want is aspirin, I can only get it from a pharmacy.  I suppose it’s a business at the end of the day and they don’t want to share business with grocery stores. But for me, it’s a pain in the neck to make so many stops to get things done in a day.

The next thing I noticed, which isn’t new, is that I can buy anything I want from the pharmacy without a prescription.  It’s good for me and a for a lot of people.  In America, you have to have a doctor’s visit to get the prescription to begin with.  And let’s face it, even if you have insurance chances are you still have a co-pay so there’s no such thing as a free office visit.  A couple months back, I needed an antibiotic for a sinus infection.  No need to see the doctor.  I walked in the pharmacy and told the pharmacist the name of the medicine I wanted.  And he gave it to me, no questions asked.  I remember thinking, “This is awesome.”  I don’t have to waste my time waiting for a physician to ask me a bunch of questions and write me a prescription.  It’s great, but it can be scary as well.  Imagine someone asking for medication without knowing the risks and just being able to buy it like candy.  I’ve never heard of any problems like that, but it is a possibility.  I went to the pharmacy again today and said I needed xy drug because I was having adverse effects from a similar drug.  “You can use this instead,” he said.  Well, okay.  I paid for it and left.

Just a day in the life of someone living in KSA.

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