Tag Archives: teachers

Random Life in Khobar

Life catches up to everyone.  We all get into the same monotonous pattern day after day.  It seems that life here in Saudi can become even more monotonous than even in the U.S.

I have been driving now for over a month.  Driving is not as bad as what people make it out to be. Sure, the drivers here are more careless than in the rule filled US, but as long as you balance your defensive/offensive driving, you’ll be fine.

There are roundabouts here, which I though I would hate.  Actually, I am not sure why more US cities do not have roundabouts.  They keep the flow of traffic moving rather nicely.  I guess it is our rebellion from England despite the fact that we had been an independent nation for over 100 years after cars were invented.

I have been playing in a basketball league at Aramco.  Aramco is the company that controls the oil here in Saudi Arabia.  Way back when the first dug here, they brought in US and other western engineers to run their oil business.  They built this enormous compound (about 12,000 people) that is heavily guarded.  They have actual grass, even a very nice grass golf course on their compound.  There are schools, grocery stores, government building, office building, parks, softball fields, gymnasiums, and plenty of swimming pools there.

You have to know someone to get onto Aramco.  You drive to the gate, tell them why you are there, then go to another parking lot and gate and check in with your drivers license, Iqama (green card), and car registration card.  People riding with you only have to present their Iqama or passport.  The guard then calls the number of the person who you know at Aramco.  This person has to be at their home number (no cell phones).  The guy lets then prints up all names of people wanting in ALWAYS misspelling the names.  It is actually quite funny.

You pass through the gate and drive where you need to go.  I have been going for a basketball league and once per week for Ultimate Frisbee.  I will also go in the Spring for softball.  It keeps my week pretty busy.

Jamie is in Kenya for the week.  I am hoping that she will blog about it when she returns.

We are still playing Settlers of Catan every Friday and sometimes through the week.  A new game introduced by a friend was Dominion, a strategy card game which has caught on.  Darts has also been a hot game to play.

This week, I was finally able to put up some picture frames around the house.  What is funny about that is that there are not any actual pictures in them.  We’ll get to that later when I have time to go print some.  We have a color printer, but I worry about the quality when I print them.

I have been pulling some long days by going in early and then tutoring right after school.  Tutoring is something that many people do here.  It is usually for just 1 hour for how many ever days you want.  I do 4 days per week, which is quite a bit, but the money is outstanding. Jamie and live off my tutoring money alone.  It was a pleasant surprise that we were able to do that.

Finally received a bank account and my ATM card.  I now have my check direct deposited so I do not have to go sit at that evil Saudi Hollandi bank any more.  I now sit at a probably just as evil Sabb bank for any banking needs. Banks usually on have about 2 tellers and only one of them will actually do any work.  You have to get a number and wait for the 1 teller to go through all of the people.  I have not been in a bank for less than 45 minutes. This is just to cash a check.  Crazy.

School here is as busy as anywhere.  The school offers a ton of things for the kids to do.  This week, it was Book Fair.  Nice selection as the student order the books, then they bring them in from Bahrain.  Only takes about 2 weeks from what they tell me.  I ordered a Dr. Seuss book I had never heard of called Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?  I also ordered those Brain Quest trivia questions and an Italian cookbook.

All for now.  I’ll try and talk Jamie into posting sometime about her Habitat for Humanity Kenya trip.  Interestingly, she is sleeping in the Southern Hemisphere and working in the Northern Hemisphere.  I think yesterday she went on a Safari – cool!

I’ll try and take pictures in the next couple of weeks.  It won’t be much to look at, but it might give you an idea of where we live.

Getting Griffey into the Kingdom

Getting Griffey into Saudi Arabia took the customs official here about 15 seconds to look at the paperwork.  That was the easy part.  The hard part came the previous 12 days.  So, how do you get a dog into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the United States in 12 days?  Here is how I did it…

I first had to obtain an import permit from the Saudi end of things allowing Griffey into the country.  To do this, I went to a local vet here, who I paid to get this permit for me.  I’m not sure it can even be done without the services of a vet.

Secondly, I had to get my school government relations department to write a letter stating that it was OK for the vet to pick up the import permit for me.  This had to be done on the school letterhead and signed by the head of the GR department.  I also had to sign the letter.

Third, Griffey went to the vet to get a clean bill of health and obtain a vaccination record as well as a international health certificate.  I also needed a regular health certificate to send back to the vet in Saudi Arabia so he could finalize the health certificate.  The vet also ended up writing a “Guard Dog Letter” stating that he was in fact used for personal protection purposes.  This is funny for anyone who has ever met Griffey. Saudi Arabia will only allow certain dogs into the country, and even then they have to be for guard dog, hunting, or seeing eye purposes.

Fourth, after obtaining the international health certificate, it needs to be signed and stamped by the following agencies: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), United States State Department, and finally the Saudi Arabian consulate in Washington DC.

Here is the hard part.  Airlines only honor an international health certificate for 10 days while countries and other agencies will honor it for 30.  If you can get it stamped by all those agencies in 10 days before your flight date, you are good to go.  Unfortunately, Tennessee does not have all of those agencies in their backyard, so it took me getting creative on how to get them all signed within 10 days.

The USDA stamp can be done in 3 business days counting mailing it up to Nashville and back.  The US State Department takes up to 15 business days while the Saudi consulate… well, that is a whole other story as the “sometimes close down for someone’s birthday” as was told to me.

Here is how I did it.  Dad and I drove to Nashville on the same day when Griffey went to the vet and got his international health certificate by the vet.  We took it to the USDA and got it stamped and FedEx it overnight to the Shady Springs Animal Kennel in Baltimore, Maryland, where we had paid a guy to serve as a courier for us.  The next 3 days, he took it to the State Department and the Saudi consulate and had it mailed back to me overnight.

It all came back on the morning of our flight in time.  Griffey was then checked into live cargo on our plane and rode the whole way.  I next saw him on the side of the baggage claim in the Dammam airport nearly 17 hours later.

If you want the costs for such a process, I can get it for you.  I can also give you the names and numbers and addresses of the specific people who helped me out.  It did cost considerably less than getting him in and out of China, so that is a plus.

Griffey is safe and sound here and enjoying the compound life.

NESA Leasdership Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal

By default, I was able to take a trip to Kathmandu for a leadership conference. Middle school teachers were asked if anyone wanted to go to the conference. No one responded, so we were asked again. Finally, after a 3rd attempt by administration, I submitted a slight interest in attending. I knew I would be busy, but thought it would be a good experience.

The school provides some money for professional development funds, but Jamie and I had hoped to use that money on tuition. However, trip to Nepal sounds pretty appealing at this point, and I think it’ll be a good experience for me.

A van picked us up from our villa at 3:00 am and we took a 35 minute flight to Doha, Qatar. After a 2 hour layover, we were on our way to Kathmandu, Nepal. Upon landing, it was a pretty quick line through customs, the hassle of dealing with dozens of guys asking you if you need a taxi, and then a ride through the crazy streets of Kathmandu to our hotel, Radisson, near the center of the city.

We dropped our bags off and headed out immediately downtown to meet our superintendent at a nice little restaurant called Fire and Ice, complete with cold beverages and a great pizza. A fairly long day, but we walked back to our hotel where I completely crashed.

Today was the first full day of sessions for the conference, but our hotel was about a 20 minute ride to the Hyatt, which was a bit of a hassle, but something we dealt with.

Each day of the conference, we basically had a morning speaker followed by 2 – 2 hour sessions. The first and second day of the conference dealt with grading and grade reporting, while the last 2 days focused on instruction. They served us a marvelous buffet lunch each day with some Nepalese and Indian dishes. NESA brought in some pretty big names in the educational research community with Jay McTighe, Charlotte Danielson, Thomas Guskey, and Art Costa all leading sessions and making keynote addresses.

After the conference each day, we usually went out to see some of the sites of Kathmandu. We didn’t have a ton of daylight hours, but enough to go to a few places.

The first day, we walked from the Hyatt to the Baudu Stupa, a Buddhist stupa, and quite extraordinary. There were locals and tourist walking around clockwise and spinning the prayer wheels. Around the stupa was a variety of shops where you could buy all sorts of souvenirs if you so desired.

Dinner that night was catered by our conference at the Hyatt with a variety of finger foods and free drinks. Great conversation and times were held by all.

One the 2nd day after the conference, a colleague and I went to Pasupati, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. We were not allowed to go into the temple, but were able to visit and witness the live cremation of bodies. Funeral pyres were built of wood and the bodies were wrapped in white cloth and burned in 7 different pyres, historically representing the 7 levels of the caste system. The ashes and any remaining body parts were then thrown into the river along with flowers and other items the family offered. The river, the Bagmati, flows into the sacred Ganges River, so it is considered sacred in Nepal.

We went back to Thamel to do some shopping along with dinner at a place called Roadhouse, which had some pretty tasty pork. My shopping included Northface coats, singing bowls – READ HERE, prayer wheels – READ HERE, baby yak shawls, and pashmina scarves.

After the conference on the 3rd day, NESA took us to Bakhtapur, a town about a 45 minute bus ride from Kathmandu. The city greeted us as we participated in pretty much a “parade.” I called it the “parade of white people” as the locals lined the streets and watched us walk by. We wound through the old streets of the city before finally ending in a city square where a dinner was prepared for us as we watch some local costumed dancing. We were also able to see a “living goddess” take her reign. This young girl is raised from birth to become a living goddess when she reaches a certain age and serves until she reaches puberty.

On our 4th and last night after the conference, a few of the guys ended up in Thamel once again and hung out downtown, walked the streets, and shopped for our wives before finally meeting up with the whole school to eat at Everest Steakhouse, where they prepared some delicious filet mignon for us all. I turned in early that night and packed up because we were leaving early then next morning.

Kathmandu and Nepal is definitely a place I’ll go back, especially with Jamie or even other family members. Next time, I would like to do some sort of flyover of Mt. Everest or particularly a hiking trek into the countryside toward Everest.

Nice people despite such a poor, hectic, and quite dirty town. A huge contrast from Saudi Arabia, and as I type this, I am making my descent on the plane back into Saudi.

Car Shopping in the Kingdom

I obtained my Saudi Arabia drivers license the other day. The school arranged all of the paper work, but I had to go to the hospital to obtain a blood type test and an eye test. It was simple enough, but all of the things at the hospital are sort of ala carte. You pay for each procedure at different desks. Somewhat frustrating but I’ll look by it.

Later, a friend took me to some dealerships to start my search for a new car. Since I’ll be the only one driving it, Jamie has pretty much left it to me. I think we’ll go for a small SUV and probably buy new. Our school gives us a 2 year no interest loan and simply deducts the amount from our account each month. Nice and most everyone takes advantage of that deal.

We go into a few new car showrooms, Hyundia, Jeep, Chevy, and walked around looking for my perfect car. Unfortunately, like everything else in Saudi, it seems the workers could care less if you ever purchase a car from them and didn’t even stand up or look our way when we entered. Imagine going into any dealership in the US and being ignored? Strange…

My car search continues, and I’ll be in full purchase mode when I return from Nepal.

First Holiday in Saudi Arabia

Since we couldn’t go anywhere, it wasn’t much of a holiday, but we still enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. Jamie and I took this week to buy some things needed for our villa including some much needed kitchen items as well as a not so much needed rather than wanted new TV and surround sound system. I’m happy with both the kitchen items and the audio/video equipment.

Not many people on the compound left for this break since it was so close to the beginning of the year, so there were lots of compound activities. At times, it seemed as though we were bombarded with requests of things to do, place to go, etc. The compound next door to us is an old BAE compound complete with its own restaurant and beverage facility. We are invited over there occasionally to partake in the fish and chips and frosty beverages, which is a nice outing because it is not like you can go “out” here in Saudi.

Other activities this week have included rides to town and stores. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you do not have a car, you have to rely on either a) the compound bus which only goes at certain times during the week b) a taxi which is fine but can get pricey or c) a neighbor who offers or you simply ask. Fortunately, we have been paired with a buddy couple who have been very generous, but everyone has been very nice to give us lifts when needed. With the end of Ramadan a few days ago, the stores are now on regular schedule. By regular schedule, I mean they open at what we would call normal hours, but remember, they still close for prayer times, which are becoming closer and closer together as the days become shorter. This can be hectic when scheduling your shopping times.

There of course have been a couple of poker nights and yoga classes and I went to the driving range in the desert again, but Jamie and I have both enjoyed learning how to play Settlers of Catan, a simulation board game which can be very addicting. It is a big hit here on the compound and a few people even have the expansion packs. A bit nerdy, but very fun.

The weather has been cooling down, especially in the morning. This morning was the first one where I actually ran outside. A loop in our compound is .23 miles, so a little over 4 times around becomes a mile. It gets a bit monotonous running around, but not as bad as running on a treadmill, plus I can vary my speeds easier. A few people play tennis and basketball and we have some decent courts here, so I’m looking forward to playing soon as the temperature cools even more.

Jamie and I have worked on our dissertations a little bit this week, although not as much as what we should have. I am right in the middle of Chapter 4 (of 5), while Jamie is rewriting her Chapters 1 – 3.

Our big news this week was the great flight deal we received for Christmas break, so we’ll be coming home. We haven’t made it home for Christmas since moving overseas, so we are excited and I believe our families are too.

Have a great weekend, but it’ll be the start of the week for us!

TAIW – Thank Allah It’s Wednesday

Ironically, the have the restaurant here… T.G.I.F, but it doesn’t really true here as you have your first workday on Saturday. We’ve changed it around as TAIW.

We’ve had a busy week here with school in full blown session, lots of compound activities, and trying to rest in the process.

Let me first say that we are still really enjoying living here. The temperature, or at least the humidity, has dropped off a little bit and going outside at least becomes bearable. Our villa is coming together nicely as we purchase small items to fill it out. We purchased a new printer that can print some photos, so we’ll be adding some photos and frames around the villa to make it look a little homier.

Last weekend, we were hosted by our friends next door to a delicious pancake breakfast. We then had some brunch of scones and other Kiwi snacks with some other friends a few villas down. This seems to be the thing to do with the newbies here, and Jamie and I have already discussed having a good southern meal for our compound friends some day.

Our kitchen is coming together nicely as we purchase small items to help us in there. We still haven’t purchase dishes. We received 4 plates, forks, spoons, etc when we arrived, but it is getting old washing the same 4 things over and over again. Our trip to IKEA last weekend came up empty on something we liked, so we’ll try another home store somewhere. There are only a dozen in the city, so it shouldn’t be too hard.

Tamimi’s, which is like Safeway back home, drives to our compound to take us to the store. Jamie and I have used this before and it might be something we do often from now on. It is very convenient. There is also a compound bus that leaves 3 days per week and takes us pretty much wherever we need to go. This is also a great option to get us out of the compound so we can shop. Of course, all of these procedures will change once we get a vehicle, but it is nice to know we have the option.

On Monday night, we went to the compound next door for “night out.” The compound next to us is the BAE (British Aerospace) compound. BAE is HUGE around here and employs probably hundreds of people. They are actually building a super compound outside the city, so Las Dunas will be vacant. We are hoping we can move in there as the facilities are nicer. They have a “pub” inside their compound, so we were able to go over there for some drinks as well as take home some. Good food of fish and chips were delivered and we overall had a wonderful time with our co-workers and new friends. Since Saudi has really no nightlife, this is just another example of the type of activities one can do here. It isn’t much, but it is fun.

Tuesday nights are poker nights here on the compound and apparently have been for years. I participate and really enjoy it. When the weather cools, people also play bocche, tennis, and of course more of the pool. I have done OK at poker, but there is always room for improvement. A group of ladies went for yoga on another compound, but Jamie didn’t participate.

Wednesday night, we had a pot luck meal for the newbies on the compound. There is actually a small compound committee that organizes these events and I believe they organized Thanksgiving meals, Christmas dinners, and other holiday festivities for those who want to participate. It was a good showing last night and we enjoyed it. Great food. Props to the single male who made the pizza spaghetti!

Since everything comes to life during Ramadan at night, I was driven around by a nice family to purchase some necessary items like a vacuum cleaner, surge protectors, and other things necessary for our villa. We have a shipment still coming in from China that will round out our belongings, but so far so good here.

Hope everyone enjoys there weekend.

Tuesdays are poker nights here on the compound.

Golfing

A new colleague and neighbor of mine found a driving range and desert golf course about 30 minute drive outside the city.  He had been previously and was telling me about it, so I just had to go.

As you will see from the picture, it really does seem as though it is out in the middle of the desert.  Well… it is.  There are some sort of warehouses around where we were and plenty of electrical lines, but for the most part, it was all sand, sand, sand.

My first impression was of the quite funny sign that told all ladies to make sure they had “male protection.”  Women can play out there with no problem and even do not have to wear an abaya, but do have to wear long sleeves and pants.  No one was playing today, but my friend tells me that women do play out there.  The South Koreans who live in Saudi love to play golf.

We arrived and as you can see from the pictures, it is a small 2 shack operation, but with a solid cover for driving range balls, a small putting “brown,” and even some mats thrown down so you can hit on the range.  The yardage is marked accordingly.  There is actually 18 holes on that course complete with rules and everything.  Apparently, you purchase your own little square piece of artificial turf, drive the ball down the lightly packed fairway, and then try and your ball on the finely packed “brown” (green).  Walking only.

We only hit about 50 balls each, but we will definitely go back when the weather cools down.  Not a bad rate to play either, and it will certainly be an experience.

Welcome to the Kingdom!