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."**

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mexican Food!!!

I found it!  After months of looking, going stir crazy for some beans and rice and corn tortilla's, I was victorious!  Well actually two of my awesome students drove me there, but thats just details.  I'm American and therefore, I found it! (Just Kidding)

 In Al-Khobar you have two Mexican options.

#1 is the Taco Bell that is currently under construction, I am so excited about this place its ridiculous.  It's almost done, so if your reading this in the states, by the time you get your Visa and airfare, it'll be ready.  Just thinking of all those mexi-melts, 7 layer burritos, cheesy fiesta potatos, taco supreme's and churros or cinna twists waiting for me gets my mouth watering.  Then again if your reading this from the the states, you probably think that Taco Bell is shit food, and you wouldn't dare to call it Mexican.  Well let me assure you that after 5 1/2 months in the land of sand and sun, you'll shove people in to traffic to get to some Taco Bell! AND if history repeats itself, your food will be well constructed, delicious and hot.  It seems that workers (even fast food workers) here in the KSA, can read the idiot proof directions.  American fastfood and quasi fastfood like Chili's and Applebee's is a hell of a lot better here, than it is in the states.  The first time I ate at Applebee's, I was in steak and salad heaven! I figured it was just me, figured I'd been away awhile, but nope, it's held true many times over, the food is actually prepared correctly here.  Probably because the waiters and cooks here consider it a decent job, at least they're not picking up trash.  American kids are too lazy and spoiled, they think that working fastfood and restaurants is beneath them.  Not here, here its a good job, and the expat Filipino's and Indians and Bengali's do the work well.

#2 Is a little place called "La Fonda Mexican Texas Restaurant"...yeah...almost on the name, not quite, but almost.  This is where we went.  Pretty good little place, great atmosphere, set up like a typical Mexican restaurant in the US.

The Bad:  Menu's were in binders, tortilla chips weren't fresh and were thick as can be, salsa was too sweet, service kinda sucked although it was friendly.  They were out of beer.  No Pacifico, no Dos Equis, No Corona, No Tecate even!  (yuk!).  No Margaritas that I noted, not even fake ones.  Not cheap, not expensive, but not cheap.  three drinks, two appetizers and one meal was SR 130.

The Good:  Mexican Food!  Need I say more?  Food was actually pretty good, not quite perfect, but very passable.

The Ugly:  Faint sewage smell as you walked in, but then again that's just Saudi, plumbing is kinda sketchy...

Food Taste:  3/5

Food Portion Size: 4/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 2/5 Payment problem, guy tried to run my credit card twice and we argued about it for 5 minutes. 

"Mexican-ness": 2/5

Overall Rating: 3/5  Definitely worth checking out, nothing to write a blog post about though...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A hard day's night

Kids...that was a long day.  After successfully picking up Instructor #1 from the airport at zero dark thirty this morning, we got him checked into his hotel and got some rest.  An hour before they were scheduled to teach, instructor #2 landed.

After a few minor setbacks we got the class started.  It went well, people were happy, everybody attended...It went well.  that is until testing time.  At testing time the two instructors put all 12 students through the written test.  No cheaters were found, although I did find a student that looked over at a friend for a translation which I quickly stopped.

Grading time is when it started to go bad, as only the first two students who turned in the test passed.  2 of 12 Rounded up equals...17%...are you F-ing kidding me? A 17% pass rate, 83% failure rate?  5 students did qualify for retests, so if they learn to read and comprehend written English overnight, or manage to guess a lot better tomorrow, we might be able to bump that score up to a 42% pass rate for day one! 

I feel horrible.  The organization that produces the materials and writes the exams is a little different here than it is in the US.  In the US we really don't want people failing these classes.  We want people to go through remediation, and be taught again and again until they get it right, but we don't want them failing.  The Regional Faculty here though wants them to fail if they don't do well enough.  I can't change that, and I'm not allowed to complain about it (you can bet your ass I'll complain about it when I get out of here though)  I personally disagree with them for the most part, this IS about saving lives...its also about building people up.  I have met very few men or women who managed to do this in the real world the first time without serious hesitation and or error, at least not in the field.  Maybe, and I stress maybe in a clean and well lit hospital with 2 doctors and 5 other nurses but not in a dark cold ditch or cluttered apartment.

Then again today showed me something I haven't seen in many of my students before...Humility, yes humility as in the state of being humbled.  Many of them have been telling me for weeks how easy this will be, how they have read through the book and will do well.  Today taught them them wishful thinking may not be enough.  Still I feel bad, really, I do.  The look on one face in particular damn near killed me.  This student has a smile for me every morning, a wave if I'm farther away, has never been rude, demanding or disrespectful.   Today after learning he had failed completely, that smile was gone.

Long before I was an educator, I was a plain old street medic.  Long before I was that, I was a plain old firefighter, long before that I was a plain old Infantry Marine.  In all three of those fields I excelled.  In all 3 of those fields, mistakes get people killed.  Misunderstandings aren't allowed, and the difficult subjects are beaten into your head by ruthless instructors and the dangers of the actual job.  I've been trying to impart this to my students, but its hard...mainly because they don't totally understand me.  Some do, and some do better than others, but some just don't.

All of this makes me realize that the sad and discouraged looks on those faces don't belong to me.  They belong to you, you the pandering parent before me, you the weak educator before me, you the weak administrator before me, you the weak system before me that allowed them to cheat, beg, borrow and steal their way to "success" since they were children.  YOU failed these told them it was all going to be OK.  You lied.  Now I have to clean up your mess.  Now I have to teach English, teach Mathematics, teach Ethics...while I try and teach them how to save lives.  Looks like I also have to try and reach completely across cultures and be a big brother as well, teaching them that failure is just a part of life, not the end of it.  Oh well, I think I can handle that for a little while...maybe.  But not for you, for them.  For YOU?  all I have left to say is Fuck YOU!  You have done these students a great disservice.  You stole their money, you stole and wasted their time, you stole their dignity.

Today's long faces and dashed hopes belong to YOU, not me or the other two instructors. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Student Notices

Since you guys are reading the blog these days (20 views, 26 views, 12 views so far in the last three days).  I thought I might as well just use it to post some announcements. 

Don't forget that the Deans Breakfast is tomorrow morning at 8:00.  That's right, the Deans Breakfast for students is tomorrow at 8 am.  This will be a great time for you to relax and converse with staff and students as the semester winds down. 

Remember that we will still be having lectures next week, in fact Saturdays lecture will be held upstairs in my classroom with Dr. A and Mr. G in attendance and I will be doing some of the primary lecturing.  It seems that we are getting into some topics that really combine lecture and lab together.

American Heart Association BLS training will still be held on Apr 24th and 25th

Remember that although the semester is winding down, it is not over yet.  Now in this respect, you are no different than students the world over, as summer approaches you get more excitable and it is harder to concentrate.  I understand this, but it does not change the way things have to happen.   I still have things to teach, and there is still information that you need to know.  Some of it because it will be on the test, some of it because it will be used in life.  Either way you look at it, it ain't over yet. 

To my students that went to Bahrain this weekend for your dates...yes I'm still P.O.'d at you.  Telling me Wednesday afternoon that you were excitable because you had dates in Bahrain to go drinking and dancing was a very cruel thing to do.   Yes I still intend to make your life miserable tomorrow morning!  (see that's called sarcasm for the sake of humor, did you pick up on it?  Or did you miss it completely?)

Oh and just to prove that I'm not mad at you guys about summer, my favorite pastime this weekend has been watching the Simple Plan feat. Sean Paul video for "Summer Paradise" on you tube.  Believe me, I understand the desire for summer to be here!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Read The Textbook!

Well aren't I just the belle of the ball!?  It would seem I have new found popularity in the blog world.  My blog had 20 views yesterday...all from Saudia.  I would take a guess that what that means is that one of my students while reading another blog, discovered my blog.  A few views and a few text messages later, I had 20 new visitors. 

First of all, good for you!  Reading some of the EMS blogs out there, especially the ones I read can give you a real insight into the world of EMS.  Kelly Grayson, Peter Canning, and some others can give you an insight into a lifetime of experience. 

Second of all, be careful what you read.  Even the best of you don't totally understand the English language.  It is very different from Arabic even in its structure, and is rife with concepts such as hyperbole, sarcasm, humor and others I can't remember from school.  In this sense, the textbook is much safer as it avoids these types of things. 

Thirdly, I love you guys, I really do.  meeting and getting to know some of you has been a fantastic experience.  But you penchant for cutting corners will get you or someone else in trouble one of these days.  If you really want to read something good about EMS, read the textbook!!!!!  We'll get to blogs and articles and advanced concepts later on.  Right now, just make sure you read and re-read the entire chapter the day before the lecture so that you may better understand the concepts provided. 

Remember, I have a ton of respect for you guys, not everybody can speak, read and be educated in a second language.  You're doing great things, keep doing great things.

and one last thing...READ THE DAMN TEXTBOOK!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Another day come and gone...

Well folks, as of yesterday its officially been 5 months since I woke up, shook off the feelings of doubt, threw the suitcases in the back of my brother in laws truck and headed for the airport.  What felt like 4 days later I landed in Riyadh, but it was actually only Nov. 12th.  Started work at 10 am Nov. 13th and have been going ever since. 

Last night I celebrated my 5 month anniversary not by drinking, or partying but by going and doing some field research as an SRCA volunteer on my first night shift.  As I explained to the guys, I was brought here to do a job, regardless of how many times my job description has changed, and regardless of how many times somebody  has told me "no you are instructor, I be here many year, you just teach".  I was recruited and hired and paid to do a job.  Which was the all too simple task of improve the quality of EMS education in the Kingdom, and ensure that the graduates of this program would be able to hold their own with their American counterparts.  Although I keep it a little more secretive these days, I'm still following that original mission statement.  Part of improving things involves analyzing existing systems, issues and challenges.  So for me, field research means getting out on an ambulance or on an ALS truck and seeing what these guys really do for a living and what these students need to be able to do. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Tale of Two Saudi's...

Man 1, February 2012:

I went to lunch one day not long ago, nothing special, just a fast food pasta lunch.  After I ordered my food, a middle aged Saudi man in Thobe approached me and said in a surprised tone "you're American?"  "sure am" I said. He invited us to sit with him for lunch and I discovered that his name was Emad and he had done his undergrad and masters work in engineering at USC.  He was now a partner in an architecture firm and we enjoyed a great lunch of laughs and conversation.  We talked about everything from his family to my family, his country to my country, California and the left coast Vs. the midwest.  We talked about what he loved about Saudi and what he loved about the US and how his daughters spoke perfect English and would most certainly go to college in the states (USC he hoped).  We discussed the problems the Kingdom has with corruption, and as he termed it the "ridiculous idea of Saudiazation"...He discussed how his company wasn't as competitive because they had to employ a "bunch of lazy idiots", pay them decent salary's and that they couldn't even be trusted to supervise a job site...what with them "sleeping in their air conditioned cars all day or texting...they aren't even qualified to be the boss".  Instead they had to be placed in redundant positions with an expat worker making less money doing the real job, while the Saudi held the title.  He didn't like the idea at all, and I don't blame him, I'm not crazy about it either.  We had a great lunch, he wished me a pleasant stay in the Kingdom, thanked me for my efforts in teaching, wished me the greatest success at the "uphill battle" I faced with Saudi students.  At our final parting he gave me his card, invited me to a dinner, and also told me to call him if I ever needed anything.

Man 2, April 2012:

About every other day or so, I stop at the Krispy Kreme on the way to school.  I get just about the same thing every time and its usually waiting for me by the time I get to the counter.  The Young Philippine cashier, knows exactly how I take my coffee, and that I usually want one powdered strawberry filled jelly doughnut to go with it.   He always has a smile, and always has my coffee at least started when I arrive at the counter.  Today though, he had a look of a different type.  Some kind of mix of rage, stress and fear.  As it turns out, I'm sure those were exactly the emotion he was feeling.  It seems he had a bit of a morning rush.  Two cars in the drive thru, both wanting immediate service and a lobby full of customers apparently had him running around like a chicken with his head cut off.  He handled it fine until a young Saudi boy, about 15 began screaming at him and calling him an animal.  He tried to ignore the boy, so the boy pushed his way through the crowd, walked behind the counter shoved this man out of the way and with his hands began grabbing doughnuts.   The cashier attempted to stop him and the boy began screaming and fighting and calling the man a host of "pleasant things". The boy demanded the manager and continued to taunt the cashier.  As "ordered" the cashier called the manager, and soon a young Arab man (Egyptian I believe) and his even younger assistant came trudging sorrowfully out of the back.  They addressed the young Saudi boy with respect and asked him how they could help.  The boy who was now sitting down and now had his feet on the table didn't bother to look up at the manager, just continued to text and speak in a combination of broken English and Arabic about the "animals that touch his food" and how this "is my countries"[sic] .  The manager did his best to appease the boy who along with his older companion sat and smoked and ate stolen doughnuts.  I did my best to calm the cashier and took my morning meal with me as I headed for the door.  I wanted nothing more than to grab this scrawny little brat by his neck and throw him through the window, or maybe stop and tell him that I was an important American and I would add his name to the terrorist watch list.  In the end though I settled for my best you're a real piece of #$%^ look and walked out as the manager continued taking the abuse and trying to calm him down.  The last look I saw on the cashiers face was the one wondering how he was going to feed his family after he got fired, possibly jailed and deported for stopping the "little prince" from stealing doughnuts. 


Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I've spent some time running around the world.  Been quite a few places, but have never tried to "go native" before.  It's a bit different than I thought it would be.  It first of all involves a good deal of loneliness and isolation.  It also involves cultural differences that can just blow your mind.

My kids always had a bunch of friends that weren't originally from the US, over the years they came and went, hung out, BBQ'd, slept on the couch, helped do yard work with me, went to baseball games, swam in the pool, went to the fourth of July carnival, you know all that good "Americana" stuff people take for granted.  And in all actuality our family probably provided a decent cross section of America for them to see, successful, unsuccessful, educated, less educated, drunken, sober, happy, loving, fighting, angry, you know just a family really.

Over the years they just kinda accidentally picked up the collective nickname "the foreigns".  Its just a family joke, kind of an inside thing, no big deal.  Looking at it from this perspective though, I'm really glad the kids did this.  Not because it necessarily opened them up to new things, but because it hopefully opened up the US to their friends and helped them acclimate a little bit.  I can't imagine for instance what a Chinese girl with Chinese parents goes through if she grows up in the states.  She lives in one world by day, and a totally different one by night.  It must be trying at times...(that is the deliberate understatement of the year, or at least the month).  I say this from experience now.  You see I could grow a beard, wear a thobe, put on sandals and convert to Islam and I would still ALWAYS be a foreigner here.  I could marry a Saudi after doing all of the things mentioned above, and our kids would always be foreigners.  She would always be the woman who married the American...This is a weird feeling.  I suddenly wonder what it was really like for all the foreign kids and people in our city...We thought hosting the festival of nations once a year was pretty damn generous on our part.

I think that because we're a land of foreigners it is a bit better in America for foreigners than it is here, but I'll really have to wait until I get home to check. I know that my "foreignness" here has caused more than a few faux pas on my part.  It also causes ignorant people to shout out their windows at me, it causes mothers to grab their children and hold them close in panic, it causes men to eye me with an unbridled and clear dislike.  It ensures that my weekends are pretty much spent in my apartment by myself, and makes my workdays empty before and after work hours.  It also causes some of my students to put all of their trust and hope in me, that somehow, I the foreigner, might get some things figured out or improved (no pressure).

I had really hoped to get out and see a lot more than I have, and I've already gotten out a lot more than some of the American folks here.  Its hard.  A lot harder than it looks.  I am literally struck dumb by the fact that wherever I go here, no matter what I do, I am "the foreigner".  It's a lonely and discomforting feeling.  I think when I go home, I'll see if I can't change that for someone else.