Arid Letters

The Diary of an English Teacher in Arabia


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So I’m back in Riyadh, turns out I won’t be teaching in Qassim after all. The company that hired me has switched all my information around with another employee named “Simon.” So when I finally interviewed with the Dean of the university last week, we found out he was expecting someone else (with a Masters’ degree) and I was promptly sent back to Riyadh.


There are positives and negatives in this situation. The positive side is that I can stay relaxed – I’ll eventually start teaching somewhere – there’s no doubt of that. And I’ve been getting paid since my plane landed. So in typical Saudi fashion, I am just supposed to relax and let the situation work itself out… “inshallah.”


“Inshallah”… It’s always “inshallah” here, or “God willing.” While I appreciate the relaxed attitude, sometimes I really wish someone would tell me “For sure” instead of “inshallah.” Sometimes I want to grab people by the shoulders, shake them, and say “Get out of here with your ‘inshallah!’ How about ‘inshyourself’ for once!?” But I don’t.


This isn’t just a problem in Arabia, although I’ve noticed it here more. But people do this in the States too. They have this idea that some force outside themselves – luck, God, the government, whatever – is going to determine the outcome of their life. This becomes a big problem if people use it as an excuse for not taking their destiny into their own hands.


Seriously, Saudis take “lackadaisical” to a whole new level though. It’s not an all bad, or all good, thing. It’s just the way it is here. Sometimes it’s really pleasant to work in such low-pressure situations. But other times, it can be ridiculous. Like when a multi-million dollar company with a skyscraper office in downtown Riyadh can’t keep their employees straight because they apparently only looked at our first names.


Here’s another example: last week, I was sharing an office with another teacher. It was the last week of the semester, and every day students would stream in, asking for him to drop some absences from their record so they were eligible to pass. Let me put this in perspective: Saudi students get paid a considerable monthly stipend as long as their butt has the minimum requirement of contact with a chair in the classroom. They are getting paid, as long as they have less then twenty-six absences in a semester. You read that right, as long as they skip less then a month of class they should pass and receive their money. And these kids were still coming in, begging for reprieve, because they had skipped thirty or more classes. I was certainly no honor role student, and I skipped my share of class, but this blew my mind. Needless to say, the “Protestant work ethic” isn’t a major factor here.


Their are many elements I love about working in this relaxed culture, but currently I’m drowning my frustrations in a second pot of green tea. My employer doesn’t know who I am, and already gave the position where I was supposed to go, on the east coast, to the other guy. I’ve been in this county almost a month, living in hotel rooms, and there’s no end in sight. They have misplaced my contract in someone else’s file and every time I ask them to find it they say, “We’ll get it tomorrow, inshallah.”


And this is all… A blessing. I’ve gotta look at it that way. It’s all good baby. Just a chance for me to breath deeply and meet more new friends in more new places.


Maybe soon I’ll stop being such an American. After all, their are other things to do besides work.


Author: Simeon Brown

Love walking barefoot on hot asphalt, love skateboarding, dislike foods that come in boxes. Amateur creative writer, professional cool hunter, pianist. Favorite part time job ever? Mortician's assistant. Favorite visual artist? Louis Wain.

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