Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Negotiating Meaning with My Students

The discussion somehow turned to Arabic, and I was left wondering what was going on. I finally figured out they were talking about masoob. My students quickly remembered they were in English class and started to explain what masoob was: bread, cream, bananas, and .... something else. They said the word in Arabic, but I didn't quite recognize it at first. Then they discussed it among themselves for a few moments. It was then I recalled the word.... but I didn't let them know!

The students decided to act it out: "what is animal that bzzzzzz?" while using a finger to move in a spiral toward the ceiling.

Me: A bee?
Students: No! Different animal!
Me: Hmmm... A fly?

A student went to the board. "This," he said as he drew a picture.
"That is a flower." I was really interested to see what he came up with next.
As he was finishing filling in the stinger on a crude but recognizable drawing of a bee, "What is this?"
"A stinger."
"Noooo!" His earnest reply made me smile.
"A bee." Noticing there puzzled looks, I continued, "bzzz! It stings you; it swells; and you go to the hospital." The gestures to accompany this were being readily used throughout.
The students smiled. "Bee goes flower ..." one brings his fingers to his lips to mimic eating something thick like noodles, "then goes back home."
I draw a box on the board and try to make it look like a passable hive and write next to it "hive" while saying "hive. A bee's home."

The students try to gesture some other word. It doesn't really come across as much of anything, but I decide to have mercy on them and not play stupid. "A bee makes honey."
"YES!! Honey!!"

The students are ecstatic. They are proud to have finally figured out the word. While it would have taken far less than the 20 minutes it took us if I had used a dictionary, we would not have learned the words 'stinger', 'bee,' 'hive,' and 'make.' And even more importantly they wouldn't have had the opportunity to learn the process of negotiating meaning. This is a skill they will need when they go to Texas and need to talk with some of the other students who may not know a lot of English or any Arabic. Hopefully this is something they have learned from and will retain!

Friday, October 24, 2014

A "Nice" Dinner Out.

As I have been in Saudi Arabia for going on six months, I figured it may be time to go out and have some Saudi food. One of my students suggested I try masoob. He told me it was really good for breakfast, but I wasn't about to go out and attempt to find such a thing early in the morning on my day off!

So last night, a fellow worker and I decided to have this dish for a later dinner. We left the compound around 7pm to start our adventure of discovery. Trying to find the area in which the restaurant was located proved to be a little more difficult that first imagined. Being the progressive, modern, and technologically individuals we are, listening to the GPS on his phone seemed to be the way to go. It turned out to be a little less than reliable, though. Apparently the streets are too close together for the GPS to really be able to tell if you are on the correct one. Ultimately we ended up going in a huge circle before finally getting to the area of town we needed to be.

After arriving we entered the rather small restaurant. Upon entering one is faced with the cashier to the left and a long counter to the right, similar to some kabob places I have visited in the past. If you look past the cashier, there is a hole in the wall that leads to a room with seats. We took a seat and waited for someone to come take our order.

Everything was in Arabic (imagine that! A place in Saudi where the menu is only in Arabic... the shock one must be going through hearing this.), so I was at the mercy of my coworker whose Arabic is quite good. We went through varied masoob choices and decide on one with cream, honey, and cheese. It almost had a Waffle House feel to it both in sitting and the multi-ways in which the masoob is served (think hash-brown styles).

When the food came out, I was a little skeptical about it being enough. It was a small dish, and resembled a slightly thicker form of oatmeal. It is made with crushed bananas which one can definitely taste. With the honey, this is quite a sweet treat, that is also quite filling. The oatmeal looking stuff is apparently flat bread that has been ground up with the bananas!

We started eating after 8pm. I finished mine, but just barely (and I hadn't eaten all day at that point)! The following day, I still felt full until about mid-afternoon! This would be a great breakfast food for one who likes something hearty that will keep them full throughout the morning. I like the sweetness provided by the honey, the richness provided by the cream, but I wouldn't recommend the cheese. It wasn't bad, it just didn't seem to compliment the rest of the dish.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ending a Vacation

Someone once made the observation that vacations were bad things because you either spend them in places that are worse than where you work making them something to not really look forward to, or you go somewhere great and end up coming back and being overly depressed by the job you have had to return to. I find neither of these extremes to be the norm, nor would I find them to be good reasons to forgo vacations even if they were. I must admit, though, that I am not looking forward to the work that faces me when I am finally blessed with no longer having to sit and wait.

I have just finished a short, two-week vacation. I flew from Saudi Arabia to Michigan looking forward to meeting up with friends and family. The first week was spent with my brother. I didn't do much other than sit around and talk and watch dvds. Not very productive, but just what a vacation is for! Besides, I did a little studying as well. In addition, I was able to meet up with a friend whom I hadn't seen in at least 5 years along with her children. The discussion was interesting, even if a bit disjointed and derailed by constant interruptions interjections by the kids.

Sometime during this, I took a test on which I didn't score as well as I would have liked; it was better than nothing, though! This disappointment was deflected by getting to meet up with friends I hadn't seen in a while. We had a good lunch of cheeseburgers and fries along with a side of great conversation.

Immediately following this nourishing of  body and soul, I drove the over 400 miles to see yet another friend and find rest on her couch. We were able to catch up during the day and enjoy the two youngsters when they returned from their daily romp in the school system. Watching Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Honey I Shrunk Ourselves with a 6 year old is an interesting experience. As is learning about her and her 5 year old sister's take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Go green!!

I then had my mandatory meet up with APO! The friends I have made within Alpha Phi Omega are wonderful, and I cherish them greatly. Unfortunately, I see them rarely and for too short of time. Far too soon I was off to Wisconsin where I was to visit another friend from university and take a three hour test the following day. Of course, I didn't sleep that night, so my test may or may not have gone so well, not that I mind so much either way. Right after sleepily taking that 3 hour exam, I was on the road yet again. This time I had to drive over 8 hours back to my brother's apartment where I would stay for the night. I arrived around 9pm. This was the perfect time as it gave me plenty of time to figure out what to pack, what to pack it in, and then how to pack it before heading off to bed so that I would be able to get up around 4am to get to the airport in time for my flight in the morning. It seems to have worked out fine as I am now typing this at the Minneapolis airport where I am waiting the 5.5 hours for my flight to Amsterdam to board. My vacation is not yet over, but I must say it has been busy, stressful, and full of good things! The ending is like a strawberry covered in dark chocolate: rich, sweet, bitter with a dash of satisfaction in knowing that moderation is the key to enjoyment. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Eggman!

There he was, in perfect form, staring up at me with his bright, orange face, confident that his mucous-fiber would hold. Of course, he was right! If not for location, this would have been a great site for those who yearn for that perfect, sunny-side up energy provider.

After admiring it for a couple of minutes, I attempted to clean up the mess I had inadvertently caused by severely underestimating gravity's control over my everyday life.  This cleanup process turned out to be a bit more difficult than I had first imagined. At first I tried using a flat device to scoop it up with. This ended in the disastrous splitting of the skin holding in the orange blood that now came flowing out. This signaled the necessity of one of the napkins I had collected (I have yet to purchase paper towels which may move up on my list of things to buy). It took two or three of them, and it was a little more difficult to pick up the gel-like substance that was left, but I did finally manage. In the future, I will remember that a pan is a much better location in which to cook eggs than the floor will ever be!

On a high note, this does mean that I have been eating, and it has been mostly at home. It may not be quite as healthy as I would like, but I am working on changing that. It is a step in the right direction for me! 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Iqama Received! Mall experience ....

After all the stories about how it would take two or three weeks to process, I was really surprised to have received my passport and iqama yesterday! I guess it is good to do such things during Ramadan. Who knew? Now I can leave the country and be able to come back! If I had the money I would use a few vacation days and return to the US for a bit, just to see how things were going.

Last night was Thursday; the day that I had designated as the day to go shopping for the following week. Apparently we westerners need to eat even during vacation! So, true to our word, my coworker and I headed to the Mall of Dhahran. I really don't like malls to begin with, and going at 10pm is not really an improvement. Actually we went at 8pm and finally returned about 11:30pm!

My friend and I visited a couple of stores and then stopped off at the food court. He then had to go to another store, and I, being tired, decided to go straight to the grocery store and meet up with him there. Unfortunately, I am a little more directionally challenged than I first thought. After walking around the mall for what seemed like an eternity, I exited the mall in order to find the nearest entrance from the outside. I couldn't see it and decided that it was much too hot to be walking around outside. I approached the very next entrance and attempted to enter. The guard put up his hand and hit me in the chest while exclaiming "where is your family?!"

I didn't realize that there were family only entrances to the mall itself, and I am not so sure that this was actually the case. Judging from the way he acted, and the way he said what he did, it seemed like it was personal. I think he looked at me, didn't like what he saw, and used it as an excuse to keep me out. Chalk one up for the security guard!

As soon as I get some actual sleep, I am sure this will all blow over :)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reflections on the Process in Obtaining a Saudi Iqama (Residency Permit)

As I sit here during my Ramadan break with my brain seeping out my ears, I have plenty of time to reflect on the process I have recently been required to go through. It was a long, grueling process in which one endures great mental games and physical invasion in order to make sure one is "qualified" to live in the Kingdom.

A little overly dramatic? Obviously. However, one needs a little drama in life to keep things interesting, and it is much better to have it on paper than to have to deal with it in the "real world." It could also be a product of the coffee I have been drinking today, but I will throw that by the wayside for now.

The process all started with a word from my supervisor informing me that I would be going to Bahrain just before the start of Ramadan in order to get the required physical. (I had been through this whole process previously while in the states, but as that was for a visa for a different company, it apparently didn't count.) So, me and a colleague took the two-ish hour, 300SAR taxi ride from al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia to Manama, Bahrain. We were put up at the Holiday Inn Express for 3 days.

The physical took half a day; most of it waiting. We were required to do a chest x-ray, get our blood drawn, and have our blood pressure taken (along with height and weight). I think there were other things we were supposed to do but didn't. The blood draw was the worst. The one who attempted to take my blood at first, didn't seem to know what she was doing. For the first time, someone had a difficult time finding a vein. After two attempts, she went to get the more experienced worker (I think I may have caused some nervousness in her, and she was grateful to be rid of me). He had little trouble, and the process was soon over. 

Then it was time to go back to the hotel for the day to wait. The following day we went to a visa processing office. We arrived around 10am and finally left around 5ish. It was a long day of waiting. All that was to be done here was to get fingerprints taken and have our passports taken to be sent to get the visa. It was time was wait again... The following evening, our passports were delivered. 

We stayed the final night and returned to Saudi Arabia the next morning. We waited a couple of days to get over some sort of bug that I am sure we picked up at the hospital in Bahrain. Then it was off to yet another hospital for yet another physical! Another chest x-ray, a stool sample, and more blood!

This blood draw went easier. Interestingly enough, this time the person typed it while I was there.
      "What is your blood type?"
     "Who told you that?"
     "It is A- negative. If this is true, we are the same. I will check the microscopics later."

So, either my blood type has changed; or the doctors in China, the doctor in the US, and the doctors at the DoD were all wrong. Or, more likely, this typing was wrong. Did she not know what she was doing? Perhaps she was flirting with me... it could happen! I have no idea if it was corrected or not, but this makes me very uncomfortable with the possibility of having to be treated here in Saudi. 

Then we had to send the passports to Riyadh where they will be taken to the embassy and processed for the iqama. I have no idea how long this will take, though I was told that it would take about two weeks. So I sit here waiting and hoping... 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Journey to Saudi Arabia (MBS - AMS)

I finally received my passport with my Saudi visa on Tuesday, subbed on Wednesday, and went to the airport on Thursday to begin my long journey into the unknown! My first stop was, of course, the airport. MBS is a small airport (though still considered international, and I have not yet looked to closely as to what rules apply to such a designation), so TSA precheck is a bit modified (still have to take out laptop and liquids, but don't have to remove shoes), but as I was the only one going through at the time, I wasn't overly concerned about inconveniencing anyone with my having to open two bags to get the necessary items.

The flight to Detroit was extremely short and uneventful; we even arrived early! I was grateful for the little additional time as I wasn't sure where I was going to have to go to catch my other plane, and I had been instructed to recheck in and get a boarding pass in Detroit for the leg to Amsterdam. It turned out to be just one or two gates down in the other section of the terminal. When I arrived at the gate and gave them my name, the agent responded "oh, Rice. I just finished processing your upgrade! Here is your ticket. Go spend some time in the lounge to wait for boarding, which should be in about a half an hour." I took him up on the suggestion and went to the lounge to breath and relax a little.... and take in the news that I had actually been upgraded to business class on an international flight!

The flight itself was comfortable. I had a very good multi-course meal, watched some movies, and may have even dozed off a time or two for a couple of minutes. I will write more on the flight itself later so as not to add to the length of this writing.

I arrived in Amsterdam and went in search of a transfer agent so I could obtain my final boarding pass. A sign pointed me to Transfer Desk 4 as I would be flying on a KLM flight. There were a number of blue self-check in machines, counters on the other side of them, and a desk where one would enter the area of the counter. I approached the desk where I was told that I needed to use a machine. I attempted to use the machine, and all was going well until it asked me a question! The flags of confusion and delusion had been raised!  The computer obviously didn't like me, so it informed me that I would need to speak to an agent. I very much preferred this anyway, so I took that as a win for me, at first! I approached the desk again. As the agent was dealing with others at the time, I used the machine to the right of the desk to obtain a number. The agent, a little miffed at my obvious provinciality, took the number and told me to just wait a minute. I sheepishly waited for her to finish and call me forward.

She took my passport, and looked me up on her computer. She asked how much luggage I had checked with a bit of shock seeping through her voice. I told her two, and she related her surprise. "It says here that you have checked six, and that you owe 800 Euro." We shared a bit of a chuckle as she attempted to change it, and when she had to call over a supervisor because it wasn't letting her do it. It looked like the computer was having the last laugh on this one after all! We did eventually get it taken care of, and I went off in search of the KLM Crown lounge to wait for the 4 hours for my next flight.