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The Big One

Aaaaaaand I'm OFF! I'm about to spend the next 9 months working in Saudi Arabia with Evon, my partner. After that, we're going to take the money and run. Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America, Central America, the list goes on, everywhere and anywhere we decide to go. I can't wait to see what happens!

Diary Entries

Monday, 28 February 2011

Location: Saudi Arabia

Here's the scoop with Bahrain. Nothing’s really happening there at the moment, and nothing really has been for a while now. The news programs are all just showing old footage of tanks rolling through. That was, like, sooooo two weeks ago. From what I’ve heard from our teachers who went there last weekend, the government has basically ceded Pearl Square to the protesters, there is no police force there anymore (except for traffic cops because everyone parks down the highway for miles to go to the protest), and it's a party atmosphere there. Of the group who went to Bahrain last weekend, a few went to the protest with a Bahraini friend of theirs. One of them (Tim, I think?) had a professional camera and tripod so everyone thought they were journalists and came to talk to them, tell their story, etc. Apparently the people are really hospitable and peaceful and everyone's happy. There hasn't been a clash there in a while, and no one is anticipating anything soon. They don't want trouble, and they won't cause any unless it comes to them first. So basically the media (even here in Saudi) is showing reruns, cherry picking the most sensational "sh*t hit the fan" stuff, and leaving out "but things have calmed right down lately" because that doesn't sell newspapers. On the flip side, though, if change does happen, it might not be to 'our' benefit... It sounds like if the king is ousted the people who wind up in power might well be (or have strong leanings towards being) very fundamentalist. They don't like that Bahrain is 'the Saudi bar/whorehouse' and they don't like that there's a large American naval base there. I don't think the majority of the people care, but from what I've heard a lot of the political figures who are poised to fill the power void would be pretty harsh right wing. That said, it doesn’t look like it’s about to boil over and if things stay calm I think I'll go to Bahrain in the next couple weeks. I'd be really interested to see what it's like, and frankly I'm going crazy here. I'm disillusioned with the job, and I need to break the monotony. A few things are really clicking... Evon and I are doing better than ever, life's fine in that respect, and I'm in the gym 4 times a week minimum, Cathi and I have started boxing (see funny story at the end of the post). But other than that, it's really boring.

Yup, looks like Libya's in trouble... We've been getting a lot of Libya press here. It's pretty much all that's on these days on Aljazeera News, and BBC is pretty similar. There are lots of people sharing their opinions. I found a program called ‘World Have Your Say’ where they ask people to phone/email/text/facebook/tweet to them to share their thoughts on the question of the day, they get people to skype/video call in and participate in debates, and all the while during the debate they have various replies from various people around the world scrolling across the bottom of the screen. It’s pretty interesting, actually, especially when you start looking at trends in what types of responses come from where. The hot topic of the day a couple days ago was ‘should the UN/US get peacekeeping troops in there to defend the unarmed citizens who keep getting machine gunned down all over the place for no apparent reason?’ And the responses were interesting. From what I’ve seen, most people in the Middle East say to stay out of it. They say that the US would only be there for the oil (and that once they get in you can’t get them out again), and that this change/revolution must be formed and powered by the people or else it won’t represent them. A lot of people from the outside, from the US, Canada, Australia, say that they have to send in troops to protect people and stop the massacre. But, as the Middle Eastern replies point out, there are wars all over the place, massacres and dictatorships in lots of countries in Africa, for example, and the US doesn’t do a thing about it because they don’t have oil interests there. So back off, we’re handling it. I wonder how it will all turn out. In the meantime, though, people are getting machine gunned as they leave mosques, and it sounds like Tripoli is a ghost town. Officially, no one has been hurt or killed by government troops. But no one believes that.

As for Saudi... no problems as of yet, but there's a 'Day of Rage' protest planned for Riyadh on March 11th, so we'll see what happens there.
More info:
The king came home early (giving us a day off on Saturday) and proceeded to give a speech basically saying "don't even think of starting anything" (he even finished the speech with a very strong admonishing "NO!") and gave all Saudis three months salary (and government officials a 15% pay hike) in order to calm them down. There's a huge ad campaign going on right now, sticky-sweet TV ads of little girls drawing pictures of the king then kissing the picture reverently (gag), there are posters on buildings and billboards everywhere, all the papers have full page 'posters' you can put on your wall, they're really trying to boost his image here. But I'm not sure if it'll work. A large (and repressed) Shia community, 50% youth unemployment, and no welfare are big issues, and three months bonus salary doesn't help much if you didn't have a salary to begin with. You can't live on handouts, either, if you're unemployed. And who are the unemployed youth going to blame? That's right, the government, who hands out jobs willy nilly to mostly useless people. They’re upset because you can't be entirely useless if you want a job. Even the stupidly rich government (the country took in 600-something billion last year) can't employ people who have no discernable skills and zero work ethic. Now, these guys are in such rough shape because no one in school held them to any standard (it's school's fault!) which was because the teachers are imported labour who would get fired if they ever disciplined a well-connected student (it's the government's fault!) but then again these students never bothered to take the initiative (it's your own damn fault, own up to it!). Who’s finally to blame? It’s a vicious circle. I think it's partly the government's fault, partly their lazy asses who have gotten themselves into this predicament. But either way, they won't take responsibility for it, so I think it wouldn't be too farfetched to think that they're brewing a big protest movement. The thing is, the next guy in line for the throne is more conservative than the current king.

(As a side note, there's a small chance we might get a bonus month's salary as a result of all this. We're not Saudi so we won't get the full three months, but there was some talk of one month, but I'm not going to hold my breath. Mind you, I didn't think we'd get Christmas day off either...)

Funny story: Cathi brought her boxing equipment back on the last vacation, so now instead of showing me footwork and shadow boxing in the gym, we have started meeting out behind the apartments a couple times a week and hitting hand pads and occasionally each other. Evon joined us the last couple times, and it's fun. It's also cool to see how much I've learned since I started; Evon's just starting, so I have a point of comparison. We usually practice on the weekend and once during the week. The other part of this story is that the last building, Cathi’s building, which is the building behind which we usually practice, has a problem with its water pressure. Because it's a little taller than the other buildings the pump isn't strong enough to get the water up into the holding tank on top of the building, which means there's almost no water pressure for the whole building. They promised they would bring someone in to put an additional small pump in the line at the base of the building to give the water an extra boost up. It’s been months, but the guy finally showed up on the weekend while we were sparring. We were in gym clothes, which in my case meant short shorts because my sweats were in the laundry. We were wearing various sweaty t-shirts, wrist wraps, hand pads, boxing gloves, and Evon and I are taking turns wailing on the hand pads which Cathi was holding for us. We were trying our best to ignore the guy and just keep doing our thing, but Cathi said later that he was outright staring. And he hooked up the pump to the wrong electrical circuit, so it only works when the outdoor lighting is on, which is only at night. Poor Agnes now has a pump outside her bedroom window which runs loudly from about 6pm to 6am. I don't know if he would have screwed up anyways, but Cathi maintains that it was my fault. And that's my funny story.

Love to all, I'll get back in the habit of posting, promise.
BTW, Dad, thanks for the snow day photos. But now I wanna go home!!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Location: Saudi Arabia

Well here we are again. Thailand was amazing, and I will write it all up and sort the pictures and then backdate the post so that it’s all in order, but for now let’s concentrate on the last week or so. Today is the first day of class, and it has already gone bad. The alarm clock was set backwards (am=pm) so the alarm didn’t go off this morning. No problem for Evon, he teaches late almost every day (while I always teach early), but I have to be in the van at 6:30. I woke up at 6:31 to the sound of someone starting their motorcycle. Luckily I had laid out my clothes the night before, so I was up and out the door in 2 minutes, yelling back over my shoulder to Evon to change the alarm clock so he wouldn’t be late, too. No breakfast, no shower, hair messy and flat, and already dreading the day to come. We got here and there was the usual disorganization on the guys’ side. On our side, all the girls are in one area and they all have early classes whether it’s English or another subject, so we can easily post the schedule and roster on a bulletin board and count on them to figure it out and arrive in mostly the right classrooms. On the guys’ side, there are different buildings and the students are indifferent, so no one knew what was going on, and it sounds like hundreds of guys were running around campus trying to find Lloy, the head admin guy, in order to get their schedules. He was nowhere to be found. Most guys didn’t have anyone in their classes. Lucky.

The weekly assignments: this is new this term. Now, instead of choosing what we assign, we have three pre-made grades for the week (two assignments and a quiz) which everyone must administer. This is because some people last term were giving full points for no work, or for effort, while others were marking for content. Each assignment isn’t worth much, but it adds up. So now we have pretty much no wiggle room. Mind you, it’s less work for us. Whatever.

I met my class, nice girls but shy, and most of them are fairly low level. Looking at their scores from last term I guess I got the low end of the computer science stream. I’m not looking forward to having to learn a bunch of new names and training a new class, especially because my old class is mostly together still and I had them so well trained already, but this is a chance to see what I can do with the lowest level batch. Challenge accepted! We did some ice breakers and talked about the syllabus and did a ‘what did you like last term/what are you expecting this term’ worksheet. We start proper work this afternoon. Endangered/extinct animals. Why they heck would they include ‘pterodactyl’ in a beginner ESL workbook? That’s just cruel!

And that’s that for today. I’ve spent the last half hour or so setting up my term two files and typing up my new class list, and I have half an hour left until lunch, which is fortunate because I’m getting hungry. But not as hungry as I should be. I was sick last week and didn’t eat much, and I don’t have the hugest appetite. I came back from Thailand with the runs, but last week was all office hours so I didn’t work too hard on getting better. And it’s tax time soon so I’ve been digging through government website stuff. I also had my first, second, and third proper boxing lessons with equipment and everything. Evon joined us yesterday, too, out behind the apartments. It was a lot of fun and my shoulders and back are aching. I’m looking forward to doing it again.

Life here has settled back into a regular routine, but this time I’m not in the greatest spirits. Coming back here, I’m bitter and frustrated, much more so than I was the first time around. I’m less likely to just roll my eyes at Saudi, and more likely to want to kick something. A couple of days ago, some kid on a bicycle followed Cathi and me for a few blocks as we were walking home from the gym, running his mouth (‘hello, how are you…?’ Which is the Saudi equivalent of ‘hey baby wanna f--k?’) and rather than pitying him for his screwed up culture and upbringing I had a really strong desire to just go over and push him off his bicycle. Wanting to push fifteen-year-old kids can’t be healthy. But it’s true, I’m angry here this time. I’m trying to think positive, and I’ve done a decent job of brightening my outlook (I’m no longer truly angry, I’m more just constantly annoyed) but I have a bad feeling that this term is going to suck.

In other news, Karen got engaged over the break to her ex (long story short, as I understand it, he was afraid of commitment until she said “fine be that way” and left for Saudi, at which point he realized that commitment wasn’t such a bad thing, and flew off to meet her in Morocco last break) and now we’re planning a bachelorette party in Bahrain, sometime closer to the end of the contract when all the excitement has died down.

And speaking of the excitement in Bahrain (and Egypt and Tunesia etc) it’s the only thing on the news around here, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting normal life in Saudi. Admittedly I don’t have a lot of contact with people here, but the women at the gym, cab drivers, the students, no one seems fazed or even that interested. It sounds like it hit the fan over the weekend in Bahrain (a couple of our guys went there, found the ex-pat bars full but the local bars and brothels empty) with pro- and anti- king rallies and rubber bullets flying (at the anti-king rallies. No one shot at the people at the pro-king rallies. Wonder why that is?). Last week there was a funeral for one of three or four guys killed at a rally, and more people were killed at his funeral. It’s a Shia’a/Sunni thing over there which has spilled over into a protest against the monarchy, so it’s probably going to be ugly. We don’t know whether it’ll affect Saudi, but judging by how little everyone seems to be paying attention I don’t think it’ll actually spill over here. If it does, though, I have no idea what will happen, and foreigners might not be entirely welcome, partly because of the King and Obama. Here’s the story:

A couple of days before we got back, there was an announcement that the Saudi King had died of a heart attack. Then, three hours later, they announced that he was still alive. Lot of people are apparently blaming the whole thing on Obama because he and Obama had had a heated discussion about Mubarak just before the King’s heart attack. So it’s totally America’s fault, right? We haven’t heard anything since, though, and a couple of us suspect that he might be either dead or a vegetable and they’re keeping it under wraps either until they get everything lined up for the next guy or because there’s so much unrest in the area at the moment that it’s probably not the best time to be switching heads of state. A couple of the guys were saying that if he does end up dying the whole country takes a month of mourning, which we believe translates to a month of paid vacation, but they might tack that month onto the end of our contract. However, our contract has an end date attached to it, so they might not be able to make us stay. Who knows? It sounds like we might be in for some interesting times for one reason or another. I’ll let you know what happens.

Lunch time! Love to all, I’ll send more later.

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Recent Messages

From Lea Bergman
Ashley, I loved the cake protest! Your Mom let me know about your blog, I've read it all now-it's very good. What a challenge to deal with the culture/mores of that country. I have a book called "Gumption & Grit, Women of the Cariboo Chilcotin" -a whole different world, maybe planet! Take care, Lea (a sometimes Chilcotin woman)
Response: Hey Lea! Long time no see. Thanks, and I'll track that book down sometime. I'm starting to get really interested in learning more about being a chick in different settings. It sure adds an extra layer to travelling and encountering a new culture. See you at the lake! (BTW I showed my girls photos of the lake and they just about died... it sure is a lovely place.)
evon got off with 9 other guys eh?
Response: You know it!
From graham
yeah women cant drive here either!

Response: ..... (I'm shaking my head and walking away)
From Sanja
"Sanja-grade lightweight"??? - well, I never! *throws shawl over shoulder and storms off dramatically*

I'm facinated by your Nepal story, part 2 please!!!! :D

Love you too lots. Take good care and keep us facinated.
Response: Read 80's reply below... my friends are funny.
From Graham Serl
that post made me so hungry. im jealous of all your exotic eating. and monkey watching. and temple visiting.

cheto sounds sweet. those are the right kind of people!
Response: Go Monkeys! We'll eat exotic food in Thailand, don't you worry.
From 80
i appreciate your digg at sanja
Response: hahaha see Sanja's reply above.
From Ri
waaait a minute! I just realized you could post back. how blind am i! this is pretty amazing actually... im currently sitting on my bed, remotely connected to my work computer, reading your blog from saudi arabia. the world feels real small right now! did you get my emails from my blackberry? i wanted to see if it actually worked or not! wow. this is all incredible ash. i can hardly wrap my head around it all. hard to imagine you're actually there! cant wait to hear more. i love you lots.
Response: hahaha silly! I'm sitting on my couch plugged into a socket in the MIDDLE of the wall (they're not big on convenient outlet placement here) connected to the world via tenuous stolen internet connection. How's Vancouver? A few of us were playing volleyball and getting sweaty/tanned yesterday and laughing at what the weather would be like in our respective homes. You may have presonal freedom and the right to vote/drive/divorce/manage your own money, but I have sunshine! Ha!
From Nancy
Hey Ash... Thanks for the email with the blog address.... Very exciting time in your lives ...I look forward to piggybacking on your adventures...xo Nance
Response: No prob Nancy, I'll keep the strange stories coming. Where are you going to travel?
From 80
"We’ve watched them transporting bricks, one at a time, from one pile to another for no apparent purpose." "It’s really dirty with dust and construction dirt so they drained it (boo) then refilled it (yay) and are now about to drain it again and refill it again,"

sounds like typical city work to me! same everywhere in the world i guess!
Response: haha well they finally filled it and turned the pump on, and we decided that this was good enough. we jumped in, and since no one kicked us out we figured the pool must be finished. (definite yay)
From Ines
Things seem to be going really well for both of you!! I am very happy about that, but then you are both really positive and outgoing so I knew you'd do well. Can't believe you'll be playing hockey with the boys. And doing yoga with the girls. It doesn't seem like a bad life at all.
I'll email you. Love and kisses Ines
PS love to read your blogs!!
Response: Love and kisses back Ines! We're trying to refill our skype credit to call you and my family at home, but the internet connection is so bad here that it keeps failing. :( we'll keep trying.
From Susan
I haven't had much time to read through everything you've posted... but I'm glad to hear you both are safe and having a god time so far. If you would like to do skype chats I am there!
Hugs and Kisses
Response: Hey Susan, I just added you (or at least I think it was you) on skype. miss you!
From Anya+Agustin
Haha, sounds great! Minus the 49 degree weather...that's not so great! Hope you have a smooth start to your teaching! xoxox
Response: Thanks you two! Hope you also have a smooth start to all the exciting things you're doing over there. Kisses!
From Sanja
Can't get enough of reading this. This is going to sound so ignorant and primitive of me but everything - your aparmtment, the few pictures of the city streets - all looks much more modern than I had expected. The highlight was the contrast between you and the boys. They're in their regular attire (sweats/jeans and t-shirts) and you look like you've stepped into a different time :P
I'm so happy you're doing well and adjusting marvelously. I love you, take care :)
Response: Everything is nicer and more modern than I had anticipated, and I'm not the only one who was really pleasantly surprised by our living situation. They said to come with no expectations and we can't be disappointed, so we did. It's been pretty nice, actually.
From Sanja
I will put down good money for a picture of you in an ayaba!!! :)
You've entered a different world, one I can only begin to imagine, so I insist you gradually move to photographic narrative. Take good care you two. Love lots! xoxo
Response: just posted some. enjoy.
From Laurren
So glad to hear you guys made it safely and you're getting settled! I laughed when you talked about the sand- even in turkey on the third floor, silt type dust/sand seemed to be everywhere... cleaning will be a bitch, but otherwise your place sounds really nice! I'm so happpy for you guys... Ash, I miss you so much you have no idea.... please visit me so we can road trip to montreal and dance sometime in the next two years....but maybe we'll do the Dubai congress together before then, eh?
Keep posting! I am a loyal reader!


p.s- Hey evey- take care of my girl and yourself!
Response: Hey hey babe. Miss you too! I've been doing the turkish pepper and white cheese thing and thinking of you. june 5, I think, is the Dubai congress? we;re done right around then. Maybe we'll be done in time...
From 80taylor
did you skype me? got a call from 000-000-0000 but was in the shower. missed you! me and ria sorted all the boxes we took from you today. fun times :)
Response: Nope, not I. We only got proper, working internet last night.
From Dad
fantastic Ashley! sounds really good so far - smooth travel, nice digs. I've been surfing a bit about Hofuf, which sounds like a very interesting place - old historical buildings, the 'oasis' culture, something like 12 million date palms, a region of caves, etc. you guys will have lots to explore. i look fwd to more updates - off for a ride to squamish now... love!
Response: It's pretty surreal but very fun. 12 million date palms but only about 800,000 people.
From Brad Serl
Hey Guys,
Have a great time in Saudi. Living abroad can be an awesome experience, my rules for doing so (if you care) are:
1) Accept each new thing as an adventure.
2) Just because something is done differently than it is back home, don't assume that it's worse. Wait a bit before deciding that it is so.
3) Always know how to get home.
4) Never give your boss your passport.
5) Try as many kinds of local food as you can. Closely tied into this is:
6) Always keep some pepto-bismol and toilet paper on hand.
Response: Hey Brad, duly noted! And double check mark on the pepto. Never leave home without it!
From Sanja
Bon voyage!!! Make sure that tales of your promiscuous, blonde, pant-boycotting friend echo through all the stict Islamic countries! :D
Response: haha I'll find you a nice husband darling. I'm sure you'll fetch a good price.