Arid Letters

The Diary of an English Teacher in Arabia


Ennui To This

Yesterday, I began journaling because I felt incredibly bored.  By the time I was finished, I realized that I wasn’t bored anymore and had no reason to be.  Writing is funny like that. 


Well – they warned me.  The other teachers talk a lot about the boredom.  They say it’s unavoidable.  I shrugged this off.  After all, momma always said, “Only boring people get bored,” right?  I thought, sure, maybe there are less opportunities to socialize here, not so much busyness as I’m used to, but that’s o.k., I had been craving less busyness in my life.  I remember specifically saying, not too long ago, back in the States, “Gosh, I really, really wish I could feel bored, just once.”

Well, I’ve found boredom, and honestly, it’s kind of sucky.

I don’t have internet or TV hooked up in my apartment yet, which is probably a good thing.  Just because I’m bored doesn’t mean I need to tune in to something mindless.

Here’s the list of activities I have available: read, write, study Arabic, revise some documents for work, exercise, cook, nap, or have a bath.  Yeah – I consider having a bath an activity.  What of it?  Actually, I only have a shower in my apartment, so this last option is kind of out the window.

The thing is, I’m tired of reading and studying Arabic, since that’s all I’ve been doing since 7.30 this morning.  It’s almost four in the afternoon now.  I arrived in Qassim with one week of classes left in the semester, so although I have to come to the office every day, I don’t exactly have anything to do.  So I’ve been spending my days reading and studying, which is great.  However, by this time in the afternoon, my brain is tired, and I’m ready for some recreation.

A bus leaves from the compound to take people shopping from four to six in the evening.  The last two days (my first days in Qassim), I went out with the shopping group.  I stocked up on groceries for my apartment (I had ostrich for supper the first night, and camel liver last night), and I took in the sights, such as they are.  Malls are one of the main recreational outlets in Saudi Arabia.  However, these shopping trips were already starting to feel boring, so I decided to stay home this afternoon and check out the gym on our compound.  Good plan – until I found out that from four to six the gym is reserved for ladies only.  You go girls.  I’ll just, y’know… not go… until later.

So.  I’m going to put on some music.  And cook my supper now so I can eat it right when I’m done working out later.  As soon as I finish exercising, I want to quickly eat, shower, and go to bed.  I’ve been going to bed very early, then waking up around four in the morning.  Don’t ask me why I wake up so early.  Maybe I’m hoping I’ll find something to do.

This was the supper I ended up making for myself.  The rest of the roast ostrich, along with roast carrots, cauliflower, onion, and fried green tomatoes.  Moussy Classic non-alcoholic malt bevarage from Sweden.  The cool part?  This meal cost me like three bucks.  And music is always free, this is what I was listening to: .  Props to Devanshu Narang for being one great DJ.  My friends may be far away, but they still keep me going.  



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Yesterday I experienced my first sandstorm.  If I had to use one word to describe a sandstorm, it would be… “disgusting,” really.  In a rain storm, there’s this feeling of freshness in the air, a certain alive-ness that gets up into your head via the nose and stays there as long as the grass is wet.  None of that with a sandstorm – just wind trying to rip your face apart, starting with the corners of your eyes, forcing this subliminal dustiness up into your sinuses and between your teeth.  It makes your fingers slippery and coats your throat.  I put on sunglasses to give my eyes some protection from the sand.  The added shade made it almost impossible to see through the already murky dusk. 

The air actually becomes colored – like, not just the atmosphere up in the sky, but the air right in front of your face is no longer clear.  Everything takes on a brownish-orange tinge – it put me in the kind of mood that aborts imagination and precludes joy.  When I was a kid, I remember running outside in a fierce rain storm, with fat drops hurtling down so furiously that they stung my face.  I ran around our garden and laughed maniacally, sent into ecstasy by the rain.  That would never happen in a sandstorm. 

I wonder if it’s the sand, or the lack of moisture, that makes people be like they are here.  I met my fellow teachers yesterday.  My office mate is a very pleasant Canadian, about my age, who has been here for a couple years.  The rest of the teachers, I regret saying, do not seem to be very enjoyable to be around.  I can get along with them on a personal level, but it seems that everyone who has been here for more than a year or two carries a chip on their shoulder towards Arabs and Arab culture.  They stick the place out for a paycheck, but the loneliness of compound living and the austerity of sharia law seem to wear people down quickly.  Many of them would kill the boredom with a drink, but of course there’s nothing like that for hundreds of miles.  All the pretty girls have bags on their head.  And all the rock’n’roll must be listened to at the volume of a whisper – it’s like lights out at church camp, here in KSA.  

It seems like it’s par for the course for teachers to become bitter and reactionary here.  I’m determined not to adopt these attitudes myself.  But as the sandstorm took my breath away and dried out my eyeballs, I began to understand why it might be difficult to remain cheerful.  This is a severe place. 


Beat in Buraydah

Today I flew from Riyadh to Buraydah, Al-Qassim. I’m writing this as I struggle to stay awake. I was supposed to fly here two days ago. The flight was leaving at six, so the driver was to pick me up at 3.30 am. He overslept, so the flight had to be rescheduled. It was all handled very casually, in the relaxed Saudi manner. The idea of oversleeping and missing a flight makes me frantic, but he just gave me a simple apology and assured me they would reschedule sometime. Airfare is very cheap here – about $30-$50 for the flight I was taking, so paying for another ticket was no big loss to the company.

Even the way they informed me I was going to fly out was very casual, almost unprofessionally relaxed to my Western way of thinking. I had been getting somewhat anxious to leave Riyadh and get to work – after all, I had been in the hotel or almost two weeks with no word about when or where I would start teaching. Then, one afternoon, the driver called up to my hotel room. He was in the lobby, and had a ticket for me. That was it – no email from the dean of the university, no official notice from the company, no word about what lay on the other end, just a driver telling me he would see me at 3.30 the next morning to shuffle me off towards my next destination.

Then, he overslept. To be fair, I also overslept a little bit. I woke up around four o’clock, and I was frantic. I rushed to throw on clothes and ran down to the lobby to call the driver, certain he had showed up, not seen me, and abandoned me – probably to crumble away forever in this seedy hotel. I called him and called again – no answer. Finally, at 5.30, half an hour before my plane was supposed to leave, he called back. “Simeon, I am sorry, but I didn’t hear my alarms. We will have to reschedule your flight.”

It was beginning to feel like I would never get out of Riyadh. Then, last night, without any warning, he called again. “We have a flight for you. Tomorrow morning. I’ll be there to pick you up at 3.30.” Great. Take two.

I elected to stay up all night because I didn’t want to risk oversleeping again. Now, I’m regretting that decision. The flight was supposed to leave at 6, but didn’t end up leaving until about 7.30. I arrived here in Buraydah a little before 8.30 am, with just shy of 2 ½ hours worth of neck-kinks and half-restful sleep in an airplane seat. Imagine my absolute delight when I was taken, not to my compound to unpack and rest, but directly to the university to meet my supervisors and begin my week of “orientation,” which consists of following other teachers around.

Everyone here is very kind, and the university campus is a clean, pleasant environment. Despite the novelty, I’m too exhausted to take much in, and I’m plowing through rounds of tea, Pepsi, and coffee as fast as I can. My eyes are still open – but barely. However, I’m happy to be here, and I know that I only have to stay awake a couple more hours. I’m not always going to be this tired. But as long as I’m in Saudi Arabia, I’ll certainly always be relaxed.

In this map, the city I’m in is labeled “Qassim.”