October 20, 2005

Saudi part3

From Sandy:

Tis Wednesday, Sept 7, 2005. I am nearly finished with my first week at Dar Al-Hekma. Yesterday and today have included all kinds of orientation programs. Iíve been here for a week.

The driving here is absolutely wild. There were two accidents on the way to work the first day. We drive to school in a largish bus. Though there isnít as much beeping as in Italy, the driving is wilder, though there are very few motorcycles or motorskooters. I bet the riders donít live very long if they try. The roads are quite wide Ė sometimes 6 or 8 lanes (sort of) heading in one direction. Most of them do not have lane dividers marked and even if they do, the guys drive in two lanes, sometimes. And the Saudi men wear head garb which interferes with their peripheral vision. I understand some of them starch their head scarves which makes this even worse. The accident I saw was when one car sidewiped another on an entrance ramp. (Or even just driving down the road.

The creation of a driving range on the Dar Al-Hekma College campus grounds was discussed this week. Apparently there are efforts to let women drive. That would double the driving population which is a scary thought and to be honest, Iím just as glad to let Mr. Bin drive since I have no idea where I am going.

The Warming House (next to Gordyís) in Cloquet has fake electric palm trees. Think thatís weird? Try orange plastic palm trees in front of a restaurant in Jeddah where the real thing is only 50 feet away.

Or, comically, the three barricades which are set like a slolam course between two machine gun nests on the frontage road in front of the compound, have ďplease come backĒ written on the reverse side when you leave.

Now that Iíve been here a week, the machine gunners (there are three of them) wave at us on the way by. That must be a hot boring job. Last night one of them was sleeping in his nest (the furthest one away from the entrances.

The college is beautiful. White granite floors with granite in-lay. The school is laying ground for the new Saudi Arabia Ė it is very exciting. Here the term Dean applies to the head of the school (like the Chancellor at UMD). Vice Deans are like Deans at UMD.

The food is incredible. A wide variety of food from all over the world. Being hospitable is very important in this society. It is very quiet. I have only heard one siren the whole time Iíve been here and this is a huge city.

Construction is all over the place and the huge private dwellings are like palaces. Jeddah has sculptures all over town. I wanted to take pictures of these to share, but I am told there is a book on the sculptures of Jeddah in the art supply store on campus Ė it hasnít opened up yet. So, Iíll get the book.

Havenít seen the Red Sea yet. Itís out there somewhere. Iíve been too tired to go anywhere other than a few shopping centers. The food stores are quite interesting. There are all kinds of fruits I have never seen before. I wouldnít know how to eat them, but they sure are beautiful. I think I told you that. Beggars hand out in the parking lots of the grocery stores. It is very hard to deal with. I am a soft touchÖ I must avoid some of this, especially now that I see in one store there is an old man who has a raft of children working for him begging.

The Phillipinos and Bangladeshis here are at the bottom of the food chain. They are paid very little and do all the menial tasks. This is a very clean country. People are constantly sweeping, dusting and hauling out garbage. The cooking and cleaning staff at DAH are all Phillipino. Some of the cooks are Somali, a group, I am told is even further down the pecking order. But everyone is very nice to everyone else. There is no meanest shown the service workers, but obviously they make very little a month. I am told it probably about 7% of what I make. Food is relatively cheap, unless on is looking at the pay of the service people. Service workers at DAH also get two free meals a day, which helps them I am sure.

It took most of the week, but I finally have a computer and a telephone with a dial tone. The extension number was changed to 271, so I had to revise syllabi to reflect that. Put them in the copy center for reproduction. That, however, didnít happen. Neither did the class list. So I meet my first class Saturday morning without being as prepared as I like to be. You know how that freaks me out. So, by late afternoon I was fit to be tied and madder than I have been in years. Lisa, you would be hosing me down.

But, I am home, ate dinner with another faculty member and am more calmed downÖ My CD player works, Eva Cassidy is singing.

The ants are mostly dead thanks to this stuff called Pif Paf. Probably as toxic as the water in New Orleans (sick jokeÖ) I heard the click-click-click sound of mating lizards this morning, so I have horny lizards in here somewhere. But they are small. They donít bite. The gecko for geiko.

The school is going through major growing pains, particularly in the GD department. Enrollment is through the roof, there is a teacher shortage, lab and classroom shortage. Sound familiar?

Tomorrow will be another day. I miss you all, but am still glad I am here. I knew it would be a challenge. And culture shock is not what I thought culture shock is. Big surprise, eh?

I am getting quite good at putting on my scarf and whenever there are men around on the upper floors of the college they announce it on the loud speaker so we have to put on our abayas and the scarves. The Saudi women consider the male presence as an intrusion and we call laugh about it. I was surprised at the reaction of some of the older womenÖ thinking they would be ďafraidĒ of the men. Boy, was I wrong.

There is simply etiquette and men & women are quite separate here. And if you think Saudi women are cowed, you are very wrong. When they want the bus to go, they order it to go, which is probably why they didnít hold the early bus for me todayÖ..

Today was tough, but considering Iíve spent the last week in a foreign country as a definite foreigner, with lots to learn, I think it has been good.

More later.

at October 20, 2005 9:18 AM