Location: Saudi Arabia
Here's the scoop with Bahrain. Nothings 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 Ive 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 doesnt look like its 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. Its 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 Ive 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 cant get them out again), and that this change/revolution must be formed and powered by the people or else it wont 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 doesnt do a thing about it because they dont have oil interests there. So back off, were 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: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2011/...
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. Theyre 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!). Whos finally to blame? Its 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, Cathis 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. Its 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!!
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 its all in order, but for now lets 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 didnt 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 wouldnt 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 its 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 didnt 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 isnt worth much, but it adds up. So now we have pretty much no wiggle room. Mind you, its 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. Im 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? Thats just cruel!
And thats that for today. Ive 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 Im getting hungry. But not as hungry as I should be. I was sick last week and didnt eat much, and I dont have the hugest appetite. I came back from Thailand with the runs, but last week was all office hours so I didnt work too hard on getting better. And its tax time soon so Ive 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. Im looking forward to doing it again.
Life here has settled back into a regular routine, but this time Im not in the greatest spirits. Coming back here, Im bitter and frustrated, much more so than I was the first time around. Im 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 cant be healthy. But its true, Im angry here this time. Im trying to think positive, and Ive done a decent job of brightening my outlook (Im no longer truly angry, Im 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 wasnt such a bad thing, and flew off to meet her in Morocco last break) and now were 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) its the only thing on the news around here, but it doesnt seem to be affecting normal life in Saudi. Admittedly I dont 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. Its a Shiaa/Sunni thing over there which has spilled over into a protest against the monarchy, so its probably going to be ugly. We dont know whether itll affect Saudi, but judging by how little everyone seems to be paying attention I dont think itll 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. Heres 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 Kings heart attack. So its totally Americas fault, right? We havent heard anything since, though, and a couple of us suspect that he might be either dead or a vegetable and theyre keeping it under wraps either until they get everything lined up for the next guy or because theres so much unrest in the area at the moment that its 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. Ill let you know what happens.
Lunch time! Love to all, Ill send more later.