Read Me/Disclaimer

Read Me/Disclaimer: This is a non-political/socio-political blog. It's a running tale of my Saudi Arabian adventure, great, good, bad, and ugly. It is uncensored, and I don't really care what you think of it, read it or don't. I don't care. I did not decide to do this as a means to an end, but rather to document the means with which I occupied my time while waiting for my end... All that being said, I'm an American Expat in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The opportunity to help build this system and the salary that accompanied it were to good to pass up.-Geoff

"The views presented here are just the views of some asshole named Geoff, they are not necessarily the views of my employer, my co-workers, my family or anybody else. First hand knowledge and second hand accounts were used to compile the information. These are not scientific facts and figures. These views are not necessarily supported, endorsed or even appreciated by the KSA the USA or any other country for that matter and the author makes absolutely no claim that they are."**

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The day that shall not be named, mentioned or celebrated

Christmas is illegal in Saudi Arabia...this bothers me, it always has.  Last year my boss, an amateur Mutaween himself took the liberty of calling me to remind that Christmas was illegal, that Dec. 25th was a work day and that he did not want to receive any reports of any Christian/Christmas behavior.  Aside from being disgusted by the man, I was also a little "hurt".  Had I really signed away all my rights by coming here, was I truly a "slave" to a nation that could tell me not only when to come and go, prevent me from leaving and confiscate my personal passport (which is actually US Government property) but now I was being told what to think in my own mind and do in my own private thoughts?

My time spent with that boss was pretty tough.  I learned that any more than 3 non Saudi's gathering could be broken up as they might be plotting or praying.  That speaking without being asked when I was in a group of Saudi's was rude (even if I was the subject matter expert).  And that while he stressed academic standards, it only applied to those students without any wasta.  He managed to also "teach" me that Shia Muslims are Iranian spies and have sexual relations with livestock, that Saudi's are superior to all Arabs, but that Arabs are superior to Westerners.  Oh and that the "Persian Gulf" is actually the "Arabian Gulf". 

I barely made it through with that guy, I almost turned in my resignation more than once.  The three other American's while I have my own opinions of them and their decisions individually, left because of this guy.  I almost told him what I really thought about him, and where I thought he might spend his afterlife, I almost called and told the FBI that this guy hates America, Americans, and Christianity yet flies in and out of the US at least a couple times a year...why?  If he hates us so much, that behavior is a little odd don't you think?  In the end though, I just dealt with it.

This year however, my department works under a different structure, that guy is gone (although he still somehow controls my housing allowance), my department head is great, my Campus Dean excellent and very understanding.  This year I was asked if I wanted a visa to go celebrate Christmas.  This year, many students actually said "Merry Christmas".  This year, I felt welcomed and appreciated by my Saudi hosts.  This year, I attended a Riyadh Christmas party thrown by a Saudi Arabian man and his wife, (Don't even think about it Mutt's, this guy's got more wasta than most of you).  This year I celebrated with American's, Saudi's, Canadian's, German's, Brazilians, the Irish, and a few others I can't think of to name.  This was one of the most enjoyable and special holiday seasons I've ever had, I spent it with good friends, ate good food, and had some great conversations.  I spent it reconnecting with old friends and meeting some new.  Above all though, I spent it with a lot of love.

What strikes me as ironic is that, here in a place where Christmas is illegal, I just had my best Christmas ever.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wadjda goes to the movies, but not here...

The 2012 Film Wadja premiers tonight at the Dubai International Film Festival.  The film is the story of a young Saudi girl who wants to ride a bicycle.  This of course isn't really "allowed" here in Saudi and as the story progresses it confronts some of the issues with women, freedom and society here in the Kingdom.  The film was shot in Saudi Arabia, and admittedly is not a harsh judge of the Kingdom.  Despite that though, a movie shot here in the Kingdom, about the Kingdom will not be shown in the Kingdom because cinemas are still banned here even in the 21st century.  I think what drives me nuts about that is that not only is it backwards, but all the same things are watched on TV and downloaded unedited. 

If nothing else imagine the potential revenue source cinemas would be, while at the same time reducing pirating and employing local workers.  The Kingdom could even show only the movies it felt appropriate.  But nope.  No movies...

Here is a link to the IMDB page on the film and a much better write up than I could give you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

13 Months and Fight Club...

13 months ago I got here.  A couple days later I started a blog.  Whatever the blog has become, it started as a record of the things I saw and experienced here.  Partly for my family, partly for me to be able to look back and reflect on when I went home in a year, and also because getting realistic information on Saudi wasn't that easy for me when I tried in the months before coming.  So in the spirit of those things, lets look at this from a "what have I done, how have I changed perspective"...and "why am I still here at 13 months?  Wasn't I already supposed to be home?"

I love the movie Fight Club, always thought it was ahead of its time and that maybe it wasn't bigger than it was because the world wasn't ready for it.

Looking back, I realize that I wasn't ready for it.  I think I always thought it was about-fighting.  Now, I say that a little jokingly.  I'm not an idiot, not a complete idiot at least.  I knew the movie was much deeper than that, and I appreciated it for its depth, its twists and its turns...not just the idea of fighting, but if I'd understood it then, as I understand the concept may have been much different.

"You are not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world."

Does the above quote make any sense to you?  Don't feel bad if it doesn't, it took a while to mean more than a cool sounding bit of monologue to me to.  And depending on how happy you think you are, you might be better off if it continued to mean nothing to you.  What you need to understand though is that being here, being this far from family and the things I thought were important, and learning to live again after it all...these are the things that made it make sense to me.  If you aren't prepared to do that, DO NOT GET ON THAT AIRPLANE!  If you would rather NOT see the truth, would rather not find out that you wasted a good number of years chasing a golden ring you weren't ever going to get...stay home, seriously, stay home and be proud of your decision.  

Once your eyes are open, they're hard to close again.

Learning to start conversations with phrases other than "my wife and I" and learning that not everybody embraces or even has access to the "American Way" of life on credit was a good majority of the change and that could have happened anywhere.  It was an accelerated process here, but it could have happened anywhere away from home and lots of solitude.  

But a lot of it was being here.  Realizing that I knew so little about so much of the world even after traveling quite a bit. Having lots of time to read, meeting people so completely different than me and yet so very similar.  My pitiful attempts to try and fast at Ramadan, seeing the desert and riding a camel with an old bedouin guide who didn't speak any English, learning to look forward to a weekend with friends and some steaks and wine.  Months on my own and having Muslim co-workers and students befriend me, reach out when I was in trouble, sad and lonely...and wanting nothing in return-oh don't get me wrong, more than a few have tried to convert me, but that's another story in and of itself and its not nefarious in any way.**

A lot of it was really living here.  Rather than a compound, I live in an apartment.  I follow the rules of Saudi (for the most part), I don't live around other Americans and see girls at the pool.  I wear long sleeve's and long pants. I walk to work and have learned essential Arabic to get around.  I shop at local stores.  I haggle with cabbies.  

Sometimes I feel like a total outsider here, other times when some new American is staying at the Sheraton down the street, and wanders out to test the waters at "Starbucks". Or when I meet somebody at a party whose never really been "off camp" or "off Compound" and we spend the first 30 minutes of our meeting talking about how I've survived out in "the jungle".  I realize just how much I've blended, how different I am than I was 13 months ago.  I'm still an outsider, but not as outside as I once was.   

Why am I still here then, I'm the last of us.  Four Americans came, one is still here.  Why?  Well first of all don't worry, I'll be home in another 8 months.  Mainly though, I'm still here because I live here.  It's not mine, and I wouldn't want it forever anyway...but for now, its where I live and where I learned to live again.  

I'll go home soon enough, but I don't think it'll be to the same people and the same friends.  Maybe not even to the same job or profession...At 35 I finally learned a lesson that has been eluding me my entire life.  I am not my job, I am not my car and I am certainly not my fucking khaki's.  If you think I'm going to go back to working two dead end jobs to buy shit that I don't need anyway-well, I guess we'll see.  I think when I go back I'll sell or give away a lot of junk, buy a nice motorcycle, get a new tattoo, get an old truck and take my dogs to the river.  My door will always be open to friends, couch always available.  I'm thinking about not even buying a cell phone, but suppose I can't get away with that.  Some will wonder what happened to the ambitious, over worked, stubborn ass they knew.  Some will wonder why I don't move someplace nicer now that I'm single and well funded from Saudi.  Some will assume that I couldn't pay my bills and had to get rid of my nice pretty cars and trucks.  Many will wonder what the point of Saudi was, can't I use it to get an even higher responsibility, higher paid, higher pressure job...Credit companies will weep.  

I think I'll be smiling though.  As imperfect as I am, and as much as I'll probably buy something I don't need, I have finally figured out that I'm not my job, car or khaki's.  That's the cost and the benefit of 13 months away. 

**If you're well liked, people will try and convert you.  Its that simple.  Don't be offended, its a compliment.  Muslims, devout ones especially, who care for you, want you to be saved, they want you to go to they'll eventually broach the topic of accepting Islam.  I just gently and politely say that I'm happy as a Christian and go on.  Not really a whole lot different than all of the real Baptists I know!

Monday, December 3, 2012

I flew 10,000 miles to eat at McDonalds...

People bash fast food but I won't do any such thing.  I try and stay away from it, but it has its time and place.  Sure it's disgusting; saturated fat, stuffed with preservatives and additives, grease and ingredients that were last fresh sometime around the mid twentieth century.  It's also DELICIOUS!  Food isn't an issue when you get to Saudi, pretty much everything is available, and the local fare is familiar to the American pallet.  However, every now and then you want a fast taste of American home, and considering that Saudi's love American fast food...why not head over to Mickey D's!  What shocked me most the first time was the cleanliness of the restaurant, then despite the slight language barrier the friendliness of the cashier and the staff.  Quickly followed by the king of my pleasant surprises when I bit into my beautifully assembled, perfect temperature, better than I'd ever had "Quarter Pounder with Cheese".  That's right the 'ol "Royale with Cheese" of Pulp Fiction fame, the same burger I've been ordering since I was a kid and you guys killed the old McDLT.  I had to come to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to taste it the way it was meant to be, to eat it in a clean restaurant with friendly service.  To really enjoy it!  Over the next few months, I gained a few pounds discovering that it wasn't just McDonalds that was better, but Subway, Taco Bell, and Hardee's too!

This is why, I can't in any way shape or form support an American walkout of fast food workers.  I know you're not all teenagers working after school, but $15 an hour?  Really?  For crappy food and crappy service?  WTF guys...Maybe's its completely different on the East Coast, but in 2012 in the Midwest and the south, it hadn't changed one bit.  The cashier mumbles, the drive thru girls is high as a kite, the order is always wrong, the "manager" is sleeping off a hangover, and two of your shift workers didn't show up due to their incarceration last night.  Therefore, the floors are dirty, everything rushed, and the situation is generally just crap.  Long before I realized I was getting older and ought to start watching what I put into my body, I stopped eating fast food.  I did this because going to the place was disgusting, and everybody working had either taken a ride on my ambulance or was a probation client of my wife's. 

So instead of walking out and throwing a tantrum try this, take a little pride in what you do, whatever it may be.  Take a little pride in yourself.  Work hard and thank your lucky stars, God, The Aliens or the Great Spaghetti Monster that you were born in the USA.  That your version of "starvation" comes with an iPhone and cigarettes.