Monday, June 27, 2005

Simmering onward

The summer simmers on, each day hotter and more humid than the last. We don't live from day to day. We overcome each day. I keep myself pre-occupied with resentments and hope. Construction workers shout and hammer away next to this flat we are trying to leave. We are having a problem. The Rose of Tehran finds a decent flat for us at a reasonable price, but when the owners or the building guards find out there is an American in tow, the price rises or the apartment isn't available (unless we grease the hand of the sleazy Egyptian building guard with a whole lotta backsheesh).

Saturday, June 25, 2005


We are upgrading our living space. The Rose of Tehran and I have decided on the two bedroom, two balcony overlooking Fourth Ring Road. The choice was hers because I will be mostly living in the UAE soon.

The first break is 3 November -20 November (a little over two weeks give or take a few days for packing, travel, coming back a few days early to unpack, settle in). The mid-year break between semesters is 15 January through 8 February again, about two weeks, etc. The spring break is 7 April through 15 April. Summer break is 15 June through 1 Septemeber--about two and a half months or 70 something days.

The plan for the future is simple enough. save a lot of money, pay a few bills, buy a home in a developing country with either a view of mountains or the ocean or both.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Why I Still Owe A Few Friends Money

It has been two years now since a googlie-mooglie situation sent me to the magic kingdom to work a military job that would have by now made me financially secure provided I didn't spend most of my holidays flying around the world in search of gold medal felatrixes.

There is "Student Type A" who could take eight good weeks out of my life because I would obsess on measures, counter-measures and counter-counter measures (good cop/bad cop/indifferent cop) to deal with this inhumane behavioural type which seemed at times to be so reprehensible and loathesome that it could turn my profession as well as life in the Kingdom into complete gloom and hopelessness. Adding fuel to the fire, often other students aped the misbehaving one so that the entire class would become completely ungovernable. Your reputation for being unable to deal with the Type A brat spreads quickly. Then again, I can recall "Student Type B": a gentleman and a gentle man, soft-spoken, eager to learn, respectful of others, honest, what you might call "good people"--AND a credit to his faith and creed.

Learn to cope with Type A without having your tyres slashed or life threatened, without losing sleep or without becoming a full blown sid-aholic and you might complete a contract. Now, my worst experiences fall under classroom management, and again, I am making generalisations based on my experience.

For example: Coming to class on time. I recall nearly every class, every hour of every day having a few who wandered in five to ten minutes late. If there was a warrant officer, a major or colonel in charge (OIC) who looked after his teaching staff, then the student would shoulder the blame; however, this sometimes created backlash when dealing with students who come from a culture where their manhood, their fathers' and grandfathers' manhood all require acts of vengeance and retaliation if shame is brought upon the surnames or tribal names.

Dismissing class early: Some warrant officers or sergeants apparently have one military occupational specialty which is to guarantee that a class is not dismissed until the bell rings--not one second before.

Student Apathy The incidents in which the teacher, not the student, may be faulted weren't limited to a student not showing up on time or leaving early. A teacher can make a dismissal hit list if his students do not bring pencils or books to class or if his students keep nodding off in class despite a teacher's best efforts to keep the student conscious, if his students get out of their seats and go a'wandering aimlessly, clueslessly around the classroom or if students leave the room to 'ava slash (usually to 'ava smoke), or if the students converse openly and loudly during a lesson (again despite repeated warnings). . .all classroom management issues of this nature more often than not become the teacher's responsibility.

Now consider this: when a teacher is under pressure to complete a certain number of units before a test and the time needed to teach is wasted making feable attempts to manage the classroom, you are in a lose/lose situation. Take a stab at guessing who is to blame if a class doesn't achieve satisfactory marks on a test. I hope this gives you a somewhat clearer picture of teaching military in the Gulf and especially in the Kingdom.

I no longer think about rambling and a gambling from shit hole to shit hole in search of a gold medalist felatrix. Gold medal felatrixes are trained not rented.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Kill All the Language Teachers

The reality of an English teaching military contract in Saudi Arabia is this: Secondary to the materials, the classroom discipline, the salary, compound life etc is remembering first and foremost that you are in an environment where officers, warrant officers and NCOs running the schools are often true believers; they believe they are not only training and disciplining a language school's student body, they believe they are training soldiers who happen to be temporarily assigned to a language school and who are each and every one a soldier for Allah and King.

The reality is that while in the west soldiers are trained to fight for their buddies, defend their flag and uphold the virtues of their country, in the Khaleej and especially in KSA, these grunts are being trained to fight for Islam in one guise or another. Some may see that this includes defending the monarchy; others may feel just the opposite. The latter may be more intersted in learning how to shoot straight than the former. For the past year and a half or so, there have been Saudis security forces fighting Saudis who may have previously been trained by the security forces; there is an honest to goodness shoot-to-kill low intensity civil conflict happening now. There are also (by some estimates) about 1,000 Saudis, many of whom I am sure were trained by the military, in Iraq trying to take out American and British soldiers. Trying to maintain a form of discipline, a common esprit de corpse within the ranks must be a catch 22 for some of the brass running the language schools.

I imagine that the maximum effective range of their respect for men--non-Muslims at that, who have chosen to become teachers that is doing women's work--is zero. Perhaps a few years ago, the mission of the ground, sea and air forces was to fend off those rascally Yehudis or an Iraqi invasion. The mission has changed. Teachers planning on going should know this: you either learn to kowtow to the brass, and know your place in the food chain where students are concerned, indulge your employeers with a little bowing and scraping or look for other work.

I specifically refer to military teaching jobs and how in the last 18 months or so a palpable schism must surely be resulting in some morale problems for Saudi brass. The mission has changed, but who knows what that mission is anymore. The pressure must surely be on the top brass and as with any military organisation, the excrement rolls downhill.

At the bottom of that hill, just beneath privates and new recruits are foreign instructors from the west. I will be moving back across the causeway in the fall and will teach in a government tertiary institution. Personally I will give any military posting in KSA a wide berth at this moment. In May, when King Fahd was taken to a Riyadh hospital, the country went on alert, all military leaves were cancelled, martial law seemed imminent.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Go Government

Going with a government institution as the second and only other party involved is your best bet anywhere in the Gulf at this time. A baby boom has come of age and is in dire need of training and education. This has created a soft spot in the market for private education and private training alternatives. For example, many young people--mostly men of course--have joined the military as a last resort for work (sound familiar?). Teaching them English can be lucrative, especially in the Kingdom but most Ministry of Defence teaching jobs use private contractors to supply a teaching staff and these contractors can be ruthless when it comes anything remotely related to their bottom lines. Taking specific days for holidays or even having a legitimate sick day costs the contractor money and is severely frowned upon. Many private institutions and universities have sprung up from Kuwait through Oman and apparently this is now happening in KSA. Usually they are very loosely affiliated with credible schools in the US, UK or Australia yet providing a credible education is second to acquiring customers/students, and when education is second that generally means teachers come second, i.e. a teacher who pushes a student to learn might be pushing away a customer in a competitive market where students are much harder to recruit than are language teachers. A few private schools and a few third party contractors might be ok, but in my opinion they would be exceptions to the rule. Government institutions are far less concerned with raking in money (well, in fact, they provide free education to those who qualify), and therefore they are more concerned with separating the wheat from the chaffe in order to produce capable, qualified future members of a workforce. If a good teacher is out sick one day, the government schools may even wish you to get well soon whereas a private contractor might demand that you to drag yourself in to punch the clock (you are slacking off and costing them money) or face termination.

Often on a privately contracted job, the training institution will give students some time off, for example, maybe they leave early on Wednesdays or don't come in at all; often they leave for weeks at a time between terms or during the hottest summer months. Basically school's out.

In the government sector, when students aren't around, this more often than not means teachers don't have to come to work and can travel provided there is no grunt work (grades to be turned in, curriculum to be developed, textbooks to be sorted out, committees to be met, etc).

A private contractor, on the other hand, gets paid for every warm body that shows up and signs in daily work to be done or not. Sometimes they are paid for your weekends as well so you might not be permitted an exit visa or in extreme cases a travel visa within the country! This means that a teacher must show up, sign in, be present and accounted for even if there is nothing to do.

Perhaps the teacher spends days or even weeks signing in at 6:45 AM then spends the day playing free cell or Trivial Pursuit (furtively) until 3 or 4, Saturday through Wednesday. tick toc tick toc. Most private contracts offer about 30 days off per annum and especially in Saudi Arabia these thirty days are pretty much eaten up during Eid Al Fitr and Hadj.

If classes are not scheduled for three to four weeks in the summer and if there isn't a major Islamic holiday that summer, the teacher is confined to work and compound life--it is hard not to feel imprisoned and not in control of your own life. Even weekend passes can be denied. If one is fed up, running off isn't an option. In KSA, passports are pulled and they sit in some vault in some contractor's office while you either chew on resentments or deal with the situation. Having said all that, private contractors tend to pay higher salaries albiet they tend to save money by offering sub-standard accommodations.

One can't help but get a sense that perhaps the contractors earn a few extra riyals, dinars or dirhams by encouraging people to leave as soon as it is possible and not come back because they would retain staff easily by making a few generous tweaks to their strict rules and obsession with controlling as much of their employees' lives as possible.