Arid Letters

The Diary of an English Teacher in Arabia


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Falcons and Scorpions RFCs (who happen to live in Riyadh) Perform Respectably in Dubai

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Well it’s taken me a whole week to write up a summary of the Dubai 7s, probably because that whole time was spent catching up on sleep, getting students final grades together, and getting more sleep. Really, did we sleep at all in Dubai? I, for one, don’t think I did.

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Unfortunately, I don’t have any pics for the folks back home of myself playing rugby this weekend. I didn’t make the starting line-up for the Falcons, but the Yenbo, KSA team needed some extra players, so I had the privilege to play with six Saudi dudes. As is often the case when playing with Saudis, their athleticism and heart was through the roof, however they literally had no idea where to be or what to do with the ball. Let’s put it this way, any team where I’m the one with the most experience is a team in trouble. So we didn’t win any games, but we did have a lot of fun, and I got to watch Riyadh play from the sidelines.

Excuse me. Due to some political reorganization within the KSA rugby hierarchy, our teams weren’t allowed to call ourselves “Riyadh”. So we were simply the Falcons (my team) and the Scorpions (the over-35 team).

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Taff Williams does a scary impression of the chubby bubbles girl.

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The Scorpion big boys power through a ruck as David Faughnan lines up for the next play.

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While the Scorpions are ostensibly an over-35 team, it might be more accurate to label them a “circa fifty” team. Let’s put it this way. Usually when you’re on the sidelines in a rugby game, you’ll hear people cheer things like “Faster faster!” “Get in position!” “Oh what a hit!”, etc. While I was on the sidelines watching the Scorpions, the most common cheer was something along the lines of “Get up! Get on your feet! KEEP MOVING!”

Teasing aside, the Scorpions made a respectable showing considering they had not had many chances to play together this season. Ultimately the pesky Serco Seniles defeated us in the Plate Semi-Final, but overall the fellows outscored their opponents 41-34, and if their fitness level catches up with their talent, the other teams in the region better look out.

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The 2014 Falcons team for Dubai 7s, coached by Simon Hill and Dave Clarke.

The Falcons started the weekend slow, but by the end of the tournament they looked marvelous. They kicked off Thursday with a couple tough losses to Kuwait and Sharjah, but I suspect this may be partly due to the chance to play less inter-club matches than big teams from somewhere like the UAE are able to do. Likewise, with a relatively small club, injuries are a serious concern, so we try to avoid a ton of contact in practice. But once the guys got loosened up, they started to look quite tough, beating up on the Arabian Knights 43-0. Friday and Saturday they looked good as well, winning through until the ultimately losing the Plate Final to the Dubai Exiles. I hope that all the guys left the field with heads held high. If that same team gets to play and practice together for a year, they’ll return to Dubai next year with a serious chance at taking home some hardware.

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Nick Sparks steals the ball after Yuji Satoh creams the opposition. Feargal Nolan is prepared to support.

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Yuji Satoh uses his quickness as Dennis Parreidt follows in support.

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Sparks passes out to the Falcons back line.

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Scorpions scrum down with great form.

Of course, if there’s one place a guy can be self serving, it better be his blog, so I’ll take this platform to state my intent to make the team next year. My fitness isn’t quite up to where it ought to be, and my skill and rugby instincts will probably never quite be up to the level of guys who have been learning the sport since the age when I’d only ever heard of American football, baseball, and basketball. But my goal for the next year is improve to the point where I can be at least considered for a spot playing in Dubai.  The opportunity to practice with the team has been so good for me. Through my involvement, I’ve snapped out of the fatty malaise that plagued my first few months in KSA. I’ve made a few mistakes that have taught me some tough personal lessons, but ultimately I’ve become part of a stellar community and made some great friends. For a while, I wasn’t sure if this would be my last year in Saudi Arabia. But a few big things coming into my life this fall have helped me decide that I’ll be here again next year. And one of those elements is the Falcons RFC.

– photo credits to George Thomas and Simon Hill


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Trash

Riyadh is the clean city

Riyadh is the clean city.

Riyadh is the clean city. Also silhouette men wear dresses. You can tell it’s not a silhouette woman wearing a dress because it’s outside doing things.

My students didn't get the memo about the clean city thing.

My students didn’t get the memo about the clean city thing.

Riyadh tap water tastes better or worse depending on the day. Everyone says I’m crazy for drinking it. Even my liver flukes wish I would buy some Dasani once in a while. Actually think there’s some left in that bottle in the drinking fountain. Maybe I can just drink that.

My flaccid succulent.

My flaccid succulent.

This is what a cactus looks like if it’s actually been left outside all summer without any water in Riyadh. It didn’t make it, but think I have a cutting that pulled through. Will let you know. This isn’t relevant to anything. Now it’s just another piece of trash. … Pulled that back together innit.


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Najdcore

So far my Saudi home base has been the Riyadh area, smack in the center of KSA- actually pretty much in the middle of the entire Arabian peninsula. From ancient times, this central region has been called the Najd. You can think of this region as sort of similar to the American Midwest – the “Heartland”. While Middle America features cattle, corn fields, semi-trucks, and religious fundamentalists, Middle Arabia features camels, date palms, caravans*, and religious fundamentalists. Najd has never been the most populated area of Arabia. For centuries, human settlement existed sporadically in the form of nomadic Bedouins or insular small towns huddled around a source of potable water like so many prairie homesteaders crowding around a pot belly stove. Despite it’s sparse population, Najd birthed Wahhabism, an Islamic denomination which swept Arabia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Arabic historian Fouad Ibrahim describes a region composed of religious minorities from which the Salafists emerged the “dominant minority”. Today, Saudi-Wahhabism is a defining political/social force with influence well beyond Saudi borders.

* modern caravans also use semis, but have solar power, so you can live in them too

Think of the example how folk music and flannel shirts influence the American scene from LA to NYC. Modern Najd has kind of done the same thing, exporting back country traditions to more worldy metropolii. For perspective, imagine if over the last century USA had moved our population center to Montana. What was once the home of sparsely scattered ranchers and wild individualists blossoms into the seat of our government and culture. Folks from Miami are headed to Bismark because it’s a little closer to the action. Despite this rapid expansion, the region keeps it’s  staunch conservatism and insular communities. In a matter of decades, the social hub of the country emerges from a place no one had ever heard of.

Al-Namrood is a Saudi black metal band that you’ve probably never heard of. Most Saudis have never heard of them either. Worldwide, NOBODY has ever even seen them. That’s because, despite having released five albums in a career spanning almost a decade, Al-Namrood has never had the chance to play a concert. Of course divergent opinions and the sub-cultures which foster them are kept to a brutally strict minimum here.

I’ve written before about all my students giving identical answers, like they all live exactly the same life on the weekends. This is a positive here, not a negative. We might generalize that Eastern cultures are more collective compared to Western individualism, and Arabia is no exception. This is the country where a Saudi friend rebuked me for suggesting that we screen print a thobe. It’s just not done. Amazingly, this culture has preserved a formal dialect unchanged for a millennium and a half. You might feel the same way about your language if you were convinced that it was the pure, uncorrupted, uncorruptible dialect that God used to send down his final revelation. (King James Version only Christians literally can’t even.) And within this society, somewhere, three dudes are recording black metal and mailing it off to Canada, C/O Shaytan Records, their record label.  

Secrecy is necessary as apostasy charges are a very real possibility. “Apostasy” as the definition goes in this neck of the Najd is a renunciation of one’s religious/political allegiance. In KSA atheism is literally the same thing as terrorism, and the penalty is death. While I’m poorly qualified to speculate on the rulings of Wahabbi jurisprudence, it seems a safe guess Al-Namrood would be marked slightly apostasy flavored should the issue ever come up. The band’s lyrics are full of pre-Islamic polytheism and appropriated holy war imagery and so on. At least, this is what the internet says re A-N lyrics, to be fair it all sounds like Arabic black metal to me.The band’s name honors King Nimrod, a legendary rebel against the Almighty, in some tales responsible for the tower of Babel, in others he’s the king who went to war against Abraham, or founded the evil city of Ninevah, or received instruction in the dark arts from Noah’s fourth son (my favorite). These dudes are making music that could literally* result in a guy with a sword and another guy with a basket for catching detached items, all on the accusation of thrashing against the Lord. So metal.

I’m using “literally” millenially i.e. figuratively. Statistics for executions in KSA are difficult to trust. Islamic leaders point out that decapitation is not Koranic, calling it “an old Nejdi tradition having nothing to do with Islam”. so in the case of apostasy the government usually sticks to several years of imprisonment receiving monthly lashings.  Continue reading


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Saudi Aromaha

In the months before I left for Saudi Arabia, and during my recent vacation back home, I’ve picked up one common sentiment from a majority of strangers or acquaintances when they first learn I’m working in KSA. Questions like “Aren’t you worried?”; comments like “Stay safe over there”.  These words reveal a general anxiety about the idea of living or working in Arabia. Granted, maybe people are more inclined to xenophobia in my region of America than some other places. Middle America is a conservative bastion, which carries some unfortunate side-effects, such as a propensity for using terms like “towel head” or ignorance of the geographic fact that the place where I work is separated from regions of conflict by thousands of miles and multiple socio-/political borders. I suspect this confusion has roots in conflating “radical Islam” and “conservative Islam”. This generalization is about as accurate as lumping together Branch Davidians and the Amish.  But more about that in my next post.

You’ve probably picked up by now that I’m not in the least bit worried about getting my head cut off or anything like that. The only time I’ve feared for my life is when I’m riding in an unlicensed taxi cruising 160 km/hr (~95 mph) in the “fifth lane” (actually the inside shoulder of the freeway)

The hard shoulder, or "Saudi fifth lane".

The hard shoulder, or “Saudi fifth lane”

while the driver is searching YouTube so he can show me a specific dabka dance from his home region (this one).

All things considered, my life here is kind of boring. (About as boring as dabka to be honest. Seriously I come from a country where my grandma can still swing her partner and dosey doe at a square dance.  USA is home of the Charleston, b-boys, and Party Rock Shuffle.  In the context of these Western dance traditions, dabka seems catatonic and castrated, like some Dziga Vertov b-role of a Walking Dead clog troup.)  Whether or not Arabic dance styles are exciting (and some of them certainly must be – I mean, belly dancing, right?) my life here is not terribly (exciting, that is).  I spend my free time watching movies and getting angry at people on the internet.  On the weekends, I go to KFC, usually alone.  I try to wake up early so I can get in a jog before work.  I’ve finished eight books and five one-thousand-piece puzzles in a month and a half.  I definitely spend zero time hiding from MERS or dodging terrorists.  In terms of mundanity, I might as well be in Omaha, Nebraska.

The comparison between Riyadh and an insular, quasi-rural-but-still-metro environment like Omaha holds up in more ways than one. For example, let me tell you about my weekend. This weekend, I went down to Al Kharj with my friend Memo.

Memo and I

Memo and I

Kharj is where I worked last year, about one hour south of my current location in Riyadh. Guess what crazy desert adventures Memo and I had this weekend. Did we wrestle camels in the midst of a sandstorm? Nope. Throw sheikh-sized fistfuls of Bedouin gold at a harem of houris with everything veiled except their intentions?  Negative. Did I dodge stray RPGs from militant laillaha mouth breathers? Wrong again. What we did is Memo and I set up a chicken coup.

Actually it was a pigeon coup.  And actually we didn’t so much set it up as just go and pick up a handful of Pakistani day-laborers from the designated Paki day-laborer chill spot, and they set up the pigeon coup.

Some Paki day laborers chilling at the designated pick-up-Paki-day-laborer spot.

Some Paki day laborers chilling at the designated pick-up-Paki-day-laborer spot

(The similarities between Pakis in KSA and Mexicans in USA are numerous and will have to get more focus in another article, but for now just see I told you about that Saudi is like Omaha thing).

So my summer in USA was spent kind of hanging out with family and yknow mucking out my grandpa’s rabbit shed,

Grandpa Brubacher is definitely not cuddling this bunny.  He's doing some sort of farmer evaluation before either butchering it or keeping it alive only so he can eat its babies.

Grandpa Brubacher is definitely not cuddling this bunny. He’s doing some sort of farmer evaluation before either butchering it or keeping it alive only so he can eat its babies.

or spreading garden waste in the pen for my brother’s laying hens.

This chicken is so stupid why is it in the chicken feeder.  Chickens are so dumb that ending their life and consuming their flesh or stealing their unborn fetuses for the same purpose would me make me happy even if they weren't delicious.

This chicken is so stupid why is it in the chicken feeder. Chickens are so dumb that ending their life and consuming their flesh or stealing their unborn fetuses for the same purpose would me make me happy even if they weren’t delicious.

Upon return to Saudi, I’ve apparently just gone from one hobby poultry species to another. Life is kind of the same everywhere.

It’s not the first time that I’ve had this feeling: a sense like I’ve found my way into exactly the same kind of place that I came from. I first experienced it last year, on a massive dairy farm outside of Al Kharj.

If you're eating a Danon yogurt product anywhere in the Middle East, chances are it came from here - the Al Safi dairy.

If you’re eating a Danon yogurt product anywhere in the Middle East, chances are it came from here – the Al Safi dairy.

Often on weekends, I’d head out to this factory farm where I taught business English, and avail myself of their gym and pool facilities. One Friday night, as I was floating in the pool, laughing with my Arabic dairy farmer friends, and I thought of my grandfathers (both retired dairymen), uncle (still milking), and father (who worked as a dairy farmer when I was young).  I realized that I must be destined to spend my life in the immediate vicinity of folks who know their way around cow tits. I’m so blessed.

Moses once promised the children of Israel to “bring them up to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3). Coming from the Midwest I always knew he was referring to my neck of the woods.  My family is from the dairy capitol of America. The last place I lived, I got to to help establish a population of honey bees.

miss you guyzzz buzzz thankz for teaching me how to magic

miss you guyzzz buzzz thankz for teaching me how to magic

I was sad to leave behind the American Heartland, rich in nature and resources, but I was interested to discover what my “new life” in Saudi Arabia would be like. How could I guess that I’d spend my weekends hanging out on dairy farms and becoming a connoisseur of Middle Eastern honey. There are many shops here which sell nothing but honey and honey-related products.

Honey store in Riyadh.

Honey store in Riyadh

I love to visit and sample honey from Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, and of course every corner of Saudi Arabia, from Jazan to Tabuk. When I leave, I’ve always got a kilo or two of whichever strikes my fantasy. It costs maybe fifty riyal, or right around ten dollars, and I always push the shop keeper until he throws in a free portion of bee pollen.

Kilo of Paki gold and some bonus pollen

Kilo of Paki gold and some bonus pollen

Read this article in two ways. 1) Read that people and places are the same all around the world. At the risk of sounding like a Reading Rainbow platitude,

Go anywhere.  (On Starship Enterprise)  Be anything.  (If you can fund it on Kickstarter)

Go anywhere. (On Starship Enterprise). Be anything. (If you can fund it on Kickstarter).

I want you never to forget that from every corner of the planet, no matter the climate or culture, humans are all kind of the same and all want the same things. 2) Read that wherever I go, me, personally, I’m always drawn in a somehow magnetically inevitable fashion to the things that have defined my entire life. Let me tell you a couple stories to illustrate this:

Last year, a Saudi acquaintance invited me to his house for dinner. After dinner, he invited me to drive out to the desert with him and look at the stars. As we sat together, chatting and sipping coffee, he began to get, shall we say, very hands-y. “Hands-y” as in he was touching me a lot, with the clear hope of touching me more. Let me be clear that he wasn’t really molesting so much as just hitting on me.  I was never in any danger, but I’d never been in quite such a situation and felt more than a bit awkward, as I’m sure you can imagine.  This guy was my only way to get a ride back in from the desert, so I was kind of at his mercy.  In the US it would be as simple as “sorry not interested homie”, but I wasn’t (and still am not) sure what the local etiquette is in such a situation.  At just this very moment, a desert dog came trotting past us, maybe fifteen yards away. I leaped to my feet and whistled at her. She seemed quite well trained and responded agreeably to my gestured commands. She came, lay down, and believe me that hound proceeded to get a very vigorous belly rub. I was of course overjoyed, as I love dogs, so I freely gave her sweet puppy kisses on her desert dog nose and scratched her dusty belly as she whimpered and grunted in pleasure. This interaction had an added benefit: my amorous companion would now come nowhere near me, as Muslims of course have a strict taboo against dogs. I’m still confused about which taboos Saudis are comfortable flaunting and which they respect, but I definitely know that I love dogs, and even though dogs aren’t loved in KSA, I found one at just the right time. Or maybe she found me. Anyways, I’m always with the dogs.

More recently, I spent the weekend at Memo’s. I woke up early on Friday morning (jum’ah weekly holy day for Muslims, the same as Sunday in the west). I ate a bowl of oatmeal with honey and bee pollen, then I went outside to lay in the grass. That’s right, Memo loves grass, and keeps a pretty respectable lawn flourishing inside the walls of his courtyard. (All the houses are walled in. So it’s not exactly like Omaha I guess. The thick walls and barred windows are maybe more like, say, Kansas City convenience stores.)

As I inhaled those universally sweet sweet grass fumes, I wondered whether I should pass my day reading or binge watching 80’s post-apocalypse flics on YouTube. Then it hit me. Right now, the place I’m in is Saudi Arabia, but I’ve always been in the same place.


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We’re All Gonna’ Make It

To be honest, I didn’t think I would like teaching. If anyone doesn’t know, I was homeschooled, and this contributes to a certain discomfort in classrooms that began the moment I entered university. (Well, actually it began the moment I started attending public high school in the middle of junior year, but that’s a needless detail. So why did I add it? Why am I not deleting it? Because it’s MY BLOG, NOW STOP ASKING QUESTIONS.)

When I started tutoring ESL students in South Dakota, I was similarly indisposed to the classroom setting. I like passing on knowledge, sure, and I like helping people. But I just don’t like being in school – no matter whether I’m sitting at a desk or standing in front of a white board. I get fidgety. My thoughts jump all over the place. I don’t like people. I want to go outside. This is my brain on drugs…. Whoops, wait, no, I mean “This is my brain on school”. Anyways.

When I signed up to teach in Saudi Arabia, I did it as a means to an end. I knew that I wanted to travel. The money is good. Arabia and Islamic culture have fascinated me for awhile. So, “Sure”, I thought, “I’ll be a teacher, if it gets me there”. But, to my joy, I’m finding out that – money and adventures aside – I just like teaching!

Here’s why:

1) I like young people.
Did I really just say “young people”? Does that make me an “old people”? Well, no. I’m not much older than a lot of the “kids” I teach. But I like youth culture, with all its new ideas and questions and subversiveness and occasional angst, and teaching is a great way to keep myself right in the middle of it.

2) I like farming. “What? I thought he was teaching?” Here’s what I mean. I like cultivating things. I like checking in on them every day, feeding and watering them, watching them grow, and eventually eating them. O.k., so I haven’t eaten any students yet, but I do have some nice vegetables sprouting on my roof. You get my point.

3) It feels good to organize ideas.
My mom doesn’t believe in ADD. I do. I’ve been diagnosed with it by two separate people with licenses to evaluate and label things like this. I’m not saying I need drugs for it (although, to be honest, drugs make things a lot easier), but what I AM saying is that, sometimes I feel really frazzled and disorganized. This is stressful. It’s unpleasant. So when I have to sit down (because it’s my job to do this after all), and plan out a lesson, write out a conversation using a certain set of vocabulary, tie it in to some simple grammar, and neatly package it in the context of a pop culture reference, I feel good. Things come into focus. I calm down. I chug a bunch of green tea, do some pushups, and I make a plan – a lesson plan, a game plan, a life plan, I’m not sure. But it’s good for me.

4) I like simplicity.
This ties in to my last point. Let me tell you a bit more about the students I teach. Most of my classes are what my school calls “Foundation” and “Level 1” students. This means they have a very small handful of vocabulary (most of which they got from TV), they can introduce themselves, and that’s it. They’ve invariably received a PITIFUL grammar education, so as I teach conversation and pronunciation (which is my job), I also try to work in some simple grammar lessons. “We say ‘my’ and ‘your’. What are these? ‘Possessive pronouns’. A possessive pronoun is an adjective. What’s an adjective?” Etc. I like this. I repeat and repeat these things to the same students, because nobody else is doing it as far as I can tell (except for David), and it takes them a while to catch on. And I’ve found a sort of zen in the simple repetitive nature of teaching English grammar. Keep it coming baby.

5) I like sharing knowledge.
This world has the potential to be a scary place. Governments and systems and habits continue to cause a lot of problems. In the face of all the scientific, medical, and social progress we’ve made, places like Saudi Arabia (not to mention the US) have a long way to go before we can feel like we’ve “made it”. But I believe, like any teacher must, that we’re all going to make it. So while I help students learn a language, I also get a chance to help them learn to think, to learn manners, to experience a bigger culture than their own. This country has a terrible problem with idiotic driving and rampant littering. As my readers are probably aware, there are much larger issues with gender roles and freedom of expression which it is not my place to address in this blog. But if I can help a handful of folks evolve into slightly more enlightened people, I will feel like I’ve done a good job.

THAT is why I like teaching.


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Where In The World Is Simeon Brown?

Go ahead, just start off by listening to this.  You know you want to.
*
Now that we’ve pondered the musical question, “Where in the world is
Carmen Sandiego?” perhaps I can more adequately answer the question,
“Where in the world is Simeon Brown?”
*
The short answer is – Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia.  It’s a really nice
place (no offence to Sheldon, Iowa – the original “Really nice place.”)
I’ve been here since the end of May, so going on three months now.
Al Kharj is a “farming community” – or it was at one point.  It is
still the home of some of the largest dairies in the world.  (The Al
Safi dairy, located southwest of Al  Kharj, is one of the primary
suppliers for Danon products).
*
Al Kharj is a city of roughly half a million people.  It is a cheap
place to live.  Food is cheap everywhere in Saudi Arabia, since the
government subsidizes costs, but transportation and housing are also
only a half or a third of what they cost in a larger cities like
Riyadh, Dammam, or Jeddah (granted – even these costs are considerably
lower then what I’m used to paying in the USA).
*
Al Kharj is a city full of friendly people.  In my short time here,
I’ve made many friends – Saudi, Egyptian, Yemeni, Syrian, etc.  Do not
believe the negative messages touted by Western media; Arabs are
friendly, generous people.  I feel safer on the streets of Al Kharj
then I would on the streets of a major metropolitan area like
Minneapolis or Chicago (well, I feel safer from crime, although the
insane driving here is another story altogether…).  Since I’ve been
here, friends have invited me into their homes for meals, they’ve
taken me shopping, and have guided me on tours through their farms
and, um, camel ranches? I guess? I’m not sure what you call a herd of
camels in the middle of the desert.  But, yeah, they showed me that
too.  Good friends.
*
Al Kharj is only an hour drive south of Riyadh (less if you hire a
crazy driver and tell him you want to get there fast – I only made
that mistake once).  This is nice, because I can enjoy the benefits of
a smaller city during the work week, but still easily bump up to
Riyadh on the weekend if I’m so inclined.  My city is also just a few
hours to the west of Dammam and the Persian Gulf, and a few hours to
the north of the “Empty Quarter”, a picturesque area of clean, red
sand and rolling sand dunes, which I have still yet to tour.
*
Al Kharj used to be located on top of one of the largest natural
aquifers in the country.  Unfortunately, a booming population has
mostly drained this supply, and now the city’s water comes largely
from desalinated sea water, like the rest of the country.  However,
the presence of this aquifer was enough to establish the city as one
of the major farming communities in Saudi Arabia, as I mentioned
above.
*
Speaking of water, one of the things that living in Saudi Arabia has
taught me is how truly precious water is.  Growing up in middle
America, I kind of took water for granted, with our cheap, delicious
supplies of fresh lake and river water supplying every city.  Of
course, it’s a different story here in the desert.  One doesn’t have
to look far to be reminded what a struggle it has been to build a
civilization here.  I plead with my fellow westerners – never forget how precious water is.  With many scientists warning of climate change in different incarnations, it’s never too early to start practicing smarter conservation practices.  I pretend that I’m on a mission to Mars when I use water now – using the smallest amount possible for washing dishes, showering, etc.  I’m not
perfect, but I’m getting better at it.
*
Salaam!  More coming soon! Simeon.


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Lizard Noodlin

Back in Iowa they used to do something like this with Flathead Catfish called noodlin.  Here in Saudi they go noodlin for the local desert lizard, called the “thub.”  Here’s how it works:

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Step 1: Get a bunch of water. You’re going to need this for later.

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Step 2: Try to stay awake on your trip out to the desert. We had to wake up really early to beat the heat. We probably still didn’t beat the heat. It’s always hot.

Step 3: Find a lizard hole and start dumping water in there. If the lizard is home, it will believe it's raining and, if you're very quiet, will stick it's head out.

Step 3: Find a lizard hole and start dumping water in there. If the lizard is home, it will believe it’s raining and, if you’re very quiet, will stick it’s head out.

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Step 4: When the lizard pokes its head out, grab said lizard by the face. This part might be tough. The little buggers are really stuck in there. And sometimes they bite.

lizard

Step 5: Repeat until everybody’s got a lizard. These are the two that David and I are eating for supper tonight.

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Step 6: Try to stay out of the sun while you’re hunting. It gets pretty hot out there, and the Saudis told us it would make us crazy if we didn’t cover our heads.

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RE: “Don’t let the heat get to you.” Is it just me or does lizzy look like she’s into it?


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Sandy Singles

IMG_2018

IMG_2019Image David and a couple Saudi friends are standing outside the Kingdom Tower, because it was families only that night – NO SINGLE DUDES ALLOWED!!! Because single dudes are just trouble….

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I wish I could think of an explanation for this shoe/sandal graveyard. But I can’t.

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How bout them melons?

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I really, really, really hate sandstorms. But I kind of enjoy the feeling like I’m about to throw a Molotov cocktail.

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Food is so cheap here. When I get the gumption, I cook dinners fit for kings. This is my crab and roasted eggplant from the other night.

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Amanda thought you couldn’t be “hot” in a niqab. Pssshhh. Whatever. Girl I’m fabulous.

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Saudis Do Get How To Dress

I’m writing this post to ameliorate the response that I received from yesterday’s post. I fear it sounded overly judgmental or critical. That wasn’t my intent. I simply wanted to point out things that are different here – things that don’t seem logical through the filter of my own perception, coming from the west. Yesterday’s post was one post full of things that don’t happen here, but please remember that every other post I have written details the many wonderful things that do happen here. In addition, I find myself in the regrettable but unavoidable position of needing to draw some generalities. Unavoidable, because I’m trying to paint a picture for friends and family at home of what things are like here. I make an effort to work strictly from personal anecdotes, but at some point, I have to make statements such as “Saudis are like this.” Not all Saudis, everywhere, all the time. It’s just a general impression I’m receiving as someone new to this country. I will try to avoid generalities from this point in. However, after yesterday’s post about things Saudis don’t get, here is today’s post about just a few of the things that Saudis do.

Saudis get how to dress. I haven’t seen one distastefully clothed person since I’ve been here. This county doesn’t have the equivalent of that lady at Walmart in sweatpants, with “Princess”
bedazzled across a stained, baggy shirt. You just don’t see things like that here. Even the lower classes wear tasteful button downs and slacks. Because Saudis get how to dress.

Saudis get how to have a good time. Once I got settled in Al Kharj, I haven’t had one occasion to feel bored. Trips to the desert, having coffee, playing soccer, going to the mall, going out to eat, seeing farms, going to museums and galleries… You get the point. Once I got settled in and met some local people, I have not had a single occasion to feel bored. Sometimes, on the weekends, I’ve actually wished I could have a little more time to myself. The best part is that Saudis know how to have a dance party without alcohol. Saudis get how to have a good time.

Saudis get good food. Oh me, oh my… Have I been barefoot since I got here? Because the food is consistently rocking my socks off. Kabobs, shwarmas, kabsa, delicious pastries, with all of it washed down by top notch tea and coffee – I’m havingh to do a lot of exercise to keep the weight off. One month in and I’ve been successful so far, but the food here is very carb heavy. Every dish comes with a pile of rice or flatbread, often both. But I think the food is still healthier here then in America. The meat is usually lean, chicken or lamb, and the dishes contain a lot of whole foods, especially fresh vegetables. Despite the desert climate, Saudis grow many vegetables with the use of greenhouses. The city I’m in, Al Kharj, is an agricultural center, and we have a produce market with tons of cheap veggies just a few blocks from our apartment. The food is always absent of preservatives and other chemicals, unlike in America. A burger from McDonalds just tastes like, well, a burger – almost a little bland, really, compared to the MSG and sodium laced stuff in America. And the food is here is so cheap. I can get top notch shwarma or a filling dish of curry for 6 or 7 riyals – less then two US dollars.

Saudis get progress. Hear me out here. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble – myself included – so I’m going to stay away from specifics. But there are two elements in this country – the system, imposed by a well-meaning but archaic hierarchy. The other element is popular opinion. From the many talks I’ve had with students, it seems clear that popular a opinion is yearning for change. For obvious reasons, I can’t say much more. Maybe this picture can say what I can’t. 20130527-214544.jpg Saudis get change.

Saudis get how to shop. Malls are one of the primary recreational outlets here. And they’re more then just a place to buy goods. They’re cultural centers and places to socialize. This building is Riyadh is home to one top notch mall – it is also the tallest building in the Kingdom at 99 stories. Saudis definitely know how to shop.
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Saudis get generosity. In other posts, I’ve talked about people giving rides to strangers, and about people never being to busy for another person. I’ve been literally overwhelmed by Saudi generosity – as I mentioned, by the end of last weekend, I was actually craving some time to myself. But we just had too many friends that wanted to entertain us, show us around, give us a good time. Because Saudis get generosity.

Oh one more thing. Saudis DEFINITELY get WWE. And how about Brock Lesner defeating Triple H?! Go South Dakota!

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Saudis Don’t Get Ketchup

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Saudis don’t get ketchup. I cannot tell you how many non-ketchup-worthy foods I have received with ketchup packets included. We’re talking pizza, pasta, kabsa (a broiled chicken and rice dish), or shawarma (a kind of roast chicken and veggie burrito). These are things that just don’t go with ketchup, but still the restaurant includes ketchup packets with the take-out. But, when I order french fries, guess how many ketchup packets I get. One. One ketchup packet for a whole order of fries. Saudis don’t get ketchup.

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Saudis don’t get bathrooms. First off, this is the 21st century. This country has smart phones, Hummers, and MTV. So why is there any excuse for so many toilets like this? I shared the absence of shower curtains yesterday, and the inherent disregard for water on the bathroom floor. But seriously, can you believe it is common to walk into bathroom stalls that look like this? Men here don’t think about the ricochet from their bidet. However, I DO think about it, and it’s the reason I only poop at home. Because Saudis don’t get bathrooms.

Saudis don’t get timeliness. This goes both by the hour and by the day. In my personal experience, if I’m told that we will meet at 8 a.m., it means we’ll meet at 9.30 a.m. If I’m told that we’ll meet at 9.30 a.m., it means we’ll maybe meet in the morning, maybe in the evening. For a country of people that checks into prayer times like clockwork, five times a day, they don’t seem to think about the time very often. Maybe the frequent breaks for prayer undermine the workplace efficiency. Something certainly does, because Saudis must work the slowest of any people on the planet. I have been told for weeks now that someone will locate my passport and update my visa… “Tomorrow.” Tomorrow still has not come. Because Saudis don’t get timeliness.

Saudis don’t get rules of the road. I have been in cross-walks, half-way across the street, and had drivers SPEED UP as they approach me, then they yell at me to get out of the road. The other night, I crossed the street, in a cross-walk, in front of a truck that was at a standstill, waiting to turn. I locked eyes with the driver as I walked in front of him. When I was almost past his bumper, he slammed on the gas, forcing me to jump out of the way. I was also forced to call him some names that he probably didn’t understand, although it made me feel better. More then once, I have seen drivers turn into one way traffic, heading the opposite direction, and drive up the side of the street against the flow. More then once, I have seen kids about age ten or eleven driving. Maybe that’s why Saudis don’t get the rules of the road.

Saudis don’t get waiting in lines. Everyone will gently elbow each other around a counter, waiving their cash at the checkout man, trying to get served first. It seemed really rude to me at first. But now, I’m getting used to it, and I notice a lot of times it seems like I get served first, presumably because I’m white or well-dressed. It still seems unfair to me, but there’s nothing I can do about the fact that Saudis don’t get waiting in line.

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Saudis don’t get trash cans. Seriously, the litter is piling up in this country at an astounding rate. The attitude is that, if they don’t throw their trash on the ground, the street sweepers wouldn’t have anything to do. From the looks of things, I think the street sweepers could use some help. But this help will never come, because Saudis don’t get trash cans.

However, as I’ve shared in other posts, Saudis do get generosity, good food, a healthy attitude of relaxation, and many other wonderful attitudes that make this a great place to live. Forgive this one post. I’m not really complaining, I just don’t understand what Saudis don’t get about ketchup.