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."**

Monday, December 2, 2013

Achieving "understanding"

Understanding is an interesting thing, I've found in most, if not all aspects of my life that "understanding" is a relative term, it comes in stages and its a fluid term-always changing depending on the perspective of the one trying to understand. I've never understood my employers almost violently negative reaction to me attempting to learn Arabic, in fact I've always imagined that it had something to do with negotiations. If I spoke Arabic fluently, I would be in a much better position from which to negotiate. However, they've always simply said that there is no reason for me to do it. That English is the language of education and its the language that I should always use in my classroom. I finally believe them.

I graded some exams last night, a group of students from level 5 which is the beginning of the advanced levels and subjects. I knew during the exams that there were going to be a few major problems, I knew today when I entered the grades that I'd better write an accompanying report. And I knew that I was going to have to defend my grades with a few upset students.

Less than an hour after turning in the grades for the second exam, I found myself confronted (nicely) by two students. Both wanted extra marks, one wanted a re-test, the other just wanted me to increase his grade by 30-40%. I refused both requests and took both students to the Department Head. The first who wanted to re-test soon accepted the refusal and left the office. The other however continued to argue that this was Saudi Arabia, that it was an Arabic country and that he should be taught and tested in Arabic. His explanation for his poor performance on the test was that he doesn't speak English, doesn't understand English and can't read English. Therefore, he couldn't be expected to do well on the test because he didn't know anything.

Needless to say, we almost found this funny. Here we have a student telling us that he's never read the book, doesn't know how to read the book and hasn't understood any of the classes he's taken in the past two and a half years...and that this is why he should pass! It was funny, for a few seconds at least. I suggested that he could happily take his complaint to the College Council. He then turned it around, or thought he did and said that myself and two of our Filipino instructors should not be teaching, because we don't speak Arabic. It was explained to him that Arabic should not be used in the classroom, even to help students understand the material because if it is, it is a violation of the rules of the Ministry of Higher Education...Hearing that, and not one to be held back by his own lack of ability, the student then proceeded to call out and name the instructors that had tried to help him by explaining something in Arabic...

Now, I finally understand why they didn't want me learning Arabic



Thursday, August 29, 2013

US military intervention in Syria (AKA stupid idea #809723-76)



I’m going to go on the record now and say that this “Syria thing” is a bad idea. Despite my sometimes contrary view to US policy, I love my country. And for us to get involved, in the way were looking at getting involved, is a real bad idea. 

Now first let’s clarify, the United States isn’t the only nation whose government thinks that military intervention is a good idea. France, Germany and the UK also feel that a military strike and appropriately severe punishment of the Syrian government’s actions are warranted. However, because we have the vastly larger military resources, everybody wants us to lead it. And while it is true that we have those resources, we don’t necessarily have the money, unless we want to bank on the contracts for rebuilding Syria later bolstering our economy (hello KBR and DynCorp). However, cost is hardly the only reason we shouldn’t be involved in a military fashion. 

#1: This has been going on for two and half years…for two and a half years, innocent civilians have been caught in the crossfire, targeted from government helicopters, shot, blown up and reportedly tortured. Two and a half years of killing, two and a half years of people around the Middle East saying that if the west didn’t get involved, we were complicit and for two and a half years we ignored it. Suddenly, dubious video surfaces showing what appear to be casualties of chemical warfare, and now it’s a crime against humanity? What was it before-a day at Disneyland? All war is ugly, all war is a crime against humanity, all war causes generations of loss to the men and women and children involved and to the nations fighting. All war causes soldiers to “get dead”, families to be shattered, and children to lose parents. And lately, if not as far back as the beginning of warfare, all war causes some opportunistic organizations to get rich. I don't see the huge difference between conventional war and the use of chemical weapons, chemicals are painful and horrible to watch...but so are explosions. Maybe wars should be fought in the most brutal way possible, scores of dead should line the streets, prisoners ought not to be taken, and anybody in the kill zone should be killed. Buildings reduced to gravel, infrastructure destroyed, the smoke seen from thousands of miles away. I'm talking "scorched earth". Armies deployed until the fighting is over. Maybe if we as humans fought this way, the people so anxious to go to war might not be so damn excited about it next time.

#2: The Governments of some western nations want to initiate military action, but in recent polls the citizens of both the UK and the US are showing no desire to do any such thing . Some polls show support for military intervention at only 9-25%. The governments of all western nations, regardless of their specific system of government are in place to represent the will of the people. 25% is clearly not the will of the people.

#3: Who did what exactly? And do we have any proof of it? Bashar Al-Assad looks like a mad scientist or evil genius from a cartoon…but is he? Was he really stupid enough to use chemical weapons on his own people? Knowing that the world was watching, knowing that the use of such weapons would be crossing lines and therefore almost surely provoke a response? Or was it a set-up? Was it staged? And if so, who staged it? Point being that unless that information is secret (and it may well be), we don't have the answers.

#4: The rebel/opposition groups are splintered a minimum of three ways. At least one of those groups has serious ties to Al-Qaeda and doesn’tlike the US, the west, or Israel and wants to install a strict Islamist state in Syria. Not a secular government, not a democratic government, but rather a fundamentalist/extremist government…are we sure we want to help them to that end?

#5: What’s the plan? What exactly are we going to strike? Civilians still live in Damascus. Reporters are still reporting from Damascus, what are we going to hit? What’s the strategic plan here…we have said before that we have no intentions of installing a new regime, that job lies with the Syrian people, so what’s the plan, fight the war for the guys who want stuff to change, turn the tide in their favor and then watch as they massacre the Government side? Does anybody think that Assad will just leave, and the opposition groups will unite and hold elections next year? That those who supported the Government won’t be slaughtered en-masse?  Has anybody looked at Iraq lately? How’s that going?

So what should we do? Continue ignoring the death?

I propose that instead of a strike, we take a three pronged approach. First of all, deal with casualties. The ICRC is overwhelmed. We have the resources to bolster them medically, logistically and administratively. We have the resources to evacuate and treat the most injured. And we have four warships of the coast with air support that are prepared to blow anybody who thinks about stopping us with a hostile act, all the way back to the stone-age...maybe even prehistory. Second, It's time to help out Turkey and Lebanon with Refugees, entire families have been displaced, lives have been destroyed, all belongings have been lost. We can spread out the rest of those refugees between intervention countries. Nobody with serious criminal history, nobody with political ties or military ties to either side. Just the families stuck in a refugee camp where they've been for the past 2 years. And I know, especially after Boston, nobody in the states is all that happy with the whole idea of a refugee, so lets be real about it, take off our politically correct suit for a minute and just tell them how it is. (i.e.: "The goal in the US is at least partial assimilation, you have to learn the language, you have to contribute and we don't care where you came from but you have to follow the laws or face immediate deportation") Between Middle Eastern states, Asian states, European states, African states, and North and South American states (all of which have voiced concern and condemnation), there is plenty of room. 5 year refugee status would allow the area to stabilize, all the idiots to kill themselves off, and not further create a 5 year gap in the lives of refugees in the camps. Thirdly, its time to shame Russia, China and Iran (who has slightly changed its tone in the last 24 hours) . They've done more than just stand by, they've blocked everything at the UN, even peacekeepers. Launching missiles is a pretty drastic step, so before its done, I think President Obama, PM David Cameron, and President Hollande (to name a few) ought to stand on a stage, even three different stages and just plain as day say "Hey President Putin and president XI Jinping, this blood is on your hands, your ally has committed atrocities, and its 100% attributable to you, your donations and your political support". Its time, they've blocked the UN at every turn, its time to hold them publicly accountable for the blood on their hands.

I think that if we take a serious look, we'd find that a preponderance of the evidence shows a lack of US understanding when it comes to Middle East affairs. We don't know the culture, we don't know the tribes, the language has many dialects, and the religion is as complex as anything we've ever dealt with. I believe it foolhardy at best, to enter a region like that, at our level of understanding with a gun, yet having no will to use it to the bitter end. Small attacks will anger both sides, regime change will cause further instability, and both sides are friends of terrorist organizations. We have no place in this conflict, except in a humanitarian sense. Mark my words, an attack is a mistake and will lead to the further loss of American lives. I truly hope that the president seeks congressional approval, and that congress sends him packing.

So you've read what amounts to my opinion, or maybe you just skimmed it. As always, know that it's just my opinion, and "opinions are like..."well you know how that saying goes. 

 If you want to help, both of these organizations could always use it.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Vacation 2013

I always like to take a moment and think about where I've been. Apparently from a couple of PM's I've gotten, so do the readers of this blog. So without further ado, here it is vacation 2013!


Look! I drew you a map! However, It's not very helpful is it...OK, so here's the breakdown

I checked out of work, headed for the airport and:

Boarded a flight in Damamm KSA to Amsterdam
Left Amsterdam for Detroit
Left Detroit for St. Louis

A week later I:
Boarded a flight from St. Louis to Seattle,
got in a chauffeured Escalade and went to the North Cascades Learning Institute where for the next week I learned and practiced expedition and remote medicine. with Remote Medical International
I headed back to St. Louis from Seattle,
got in my truck and headed to New Orleans, I stayed in the "Big Easy" for 3 days and had a great time.
Back on the road I headed to Central Florida, my mother lives here and I spent a great couple of weeks with her. While there we headed down to Everglades City, Florida and took air-boat tours, saw Alligators, Manatee's and the awesomeness that is the everglades.
Then I hopped on a flight from Orlando to Toronto, with a quick stop in filth-a-delphia,
We drove through Algonquin Provincial Park to Ottowa had a great couple of days in Ottawa and then headed back to Toronto where I boarded a flight for Orlando, once again stopping in "filthy", where I had a couple of beers and a "real Philly cheese-steak" (which apparently either has been greatly improved upon since leaving Philly, or was very poorly made) . Got up the next morning and headed back to St. Louis through Alabama.
3 days later, I boarded a flight to Amsterdam where I had a 7 hour layover that allowed me to explore the city a little bit and then finally boarded another plane back to Dammam, KSA.

So all in all, I drove through 8 US states (Washington, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida) and visited 3 countries (US, Netherlands, Canada) on two different continents (North America and Europe) and I've now driven up and down both coasts of Florida...Pretty cool stuff. It might have gone fast, but I'd say I had a pretty productive vacation. Training, food, drink, friends, family, dogs...Dammit, I'm ready for another vacation!


Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam



Amsterdam

Florida (off the I-10)

Florida Everglades

Florida Everglades

Alligator in the Everglades

Florida Everglades

Florida Everglades

Northern Washington State

Everglades

Everglades

Alligator in the Everglades



Algonquin Provincial Park (right after I got my 1st Moose!)

New Orleans





Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm baaacccckk! and I'm re-purposing...

OK, first of all I'm back in Saudi Arabia. Second of all, I'll tell you all about vacation soon and thirdly although possibly most importantly, I'm officially re-purposing the blog. The blog is now (although it has been for some time anyway) about me: the stuff I see, the things I think, the pictures I take, the experiences I have. And yes...I know its been that way for a while anyway, but it was still mainly supposed to be about Saudi and my experiences here with teaching and learning. However, that purpose originated with a married father of two, coming to the big scary Middle East to make some money and get some crazy experience for a year or two at the most. As I start my third contract year with the College, happily divorced and seriously involved with a wonderful woman who doesn't want my money, I felt it appropriate to go ahead and just admit that I might be staying a bit longer than originally intended.

So, I had a choice, start 3 different blogs to talk about 3 different topics including my transition from complete rookie photographer to decent amateur or just re-purpose this blog. And anyway, I like the title of this blog...titles this good don't come around all that often!

Stick around you might just like what you read, share me with friends! Pass me around the office, tell your co-workers that you know some crazy American who is teaching Paramedics in Saudi and he writes like a crazy man. I mean after all I'm pretty darn likeable-except when I'm not, and for those of you who love my rants (you know who you are ;-) ) I've got some great "rants" left in me! See the basic updates below, we'll chat about them later.

Update #1: I'm back in Grad School. Leaving halfway through once wasn't good enough for me... I've been admitted to The George Washington University School of Public Health. I'll be attending via live video at all manner of weird times of the evening and night, and spending some time there during the summer.

Update #2: My favorite students are finally level 7...the guys who helped me adjust and got me through the tough times are on their final leg...at the end of this year, they'll move on to their internship and some of the best friends I have we'll be pretty much out of touch. (Maybe I'll just fail my favorites to keep 'em around an extra year!)

Update #3:  Saudization is going full steam ahead still, I'll try and hang around awhile, but I've seen a few Westerners re-tasked and some even laid off. I've been warned not to fuss, fight, argue or make waves...this worries me. If students discover this the lowest grade I'll be able to give out will be a 70%! This is also one of the reasons that I've decided to go back to grad school-I need to remain competitive in a changing market. 

Update #4: The Middle East is getting "interesting", Egypt is on the brink again, Syria is in the middle of full out civil war (although some sources say it's just terrorists attacking the government), Bahrain is still a little "conflict-y" Iran has a new president, and US policy towards Pakistan is changing...which hopefully will be good for relations, but does nothing to address the fact that their Government is either completely inept or has no desire to bring killers and bomb makers to justice themselves. Libya is still a mess, Yemen is a bigger mess, and sources seem to believe that all of the arrests around the area have failed to bring down any AQAP member higher ranking than a foot soldier. All of this stuff bothers me just a tad, mainly because of where I'm from, not who I am, what I think or what I look like. (A neighbor of mine was friends with an Englishman who was shot and dragged down the street in 2009.) It's a constant reminder that things aren't always what they appear to be, and no matter how comfortable you get...you really "aren't in Kansas anymore". (Hey I thought using that cliche was better than saying "not in your own hood anymore".) Point being, I'm safe, but keep me in your thoughts and prayers (for those that pray) anyway. I'm a long way from home, in a very different place, and remember it's not "Saudi's" or "Arabs" that I have to worry about, it's that one "nut-bag", under the influence of another "nut-bag" and those "nut-bags" come in all different shapes, sizes, genders and nationalities. They don't wear AQAP team jerseys and from what I've read historically, you figure out who they are right about the time they kill you or take you hostage. So, long story short, remember me, remember that I'm trying to make some money and do good things, not just make money...
check out this "nutbag"


See ya soon!



Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Half-way there...damn me it's almost over!

I don't know why it always gets like this on vacation...first of all it takes some time to get your "home legs" (see "sea legs"). Once you've acclimated to home though, the trip almost gets worse! It's a funny thing, and a funny contradiction, I don't feel like a prisoner most of the year, in fact I really kind of like where I'm at and what I'm doing. I like where life, fate and God have taken me. I don't hate Saudi Arabia at all, I don't even dislike it...but it sure isn't the west. I must say, and I'd be lying by omission if i didn't, that I love traveling, and I love new things and my Saudi hosts really are great...but considering that you can do as you like here, pray as you like here and live as you like, going back to a restrictive country is...well...sort of counter-intuitive. My second night home I went to a 4th of July carnival, I didn't much enjoy it, but that's beside the point. In attendance at the carnival were Christians, Muslims, Hindu's and I'm sure Atheists. There might very well have been a satanist or two lurking around. American's, Brit's, African's, Indian's, Pakistani's and even a few Saudi engineering students. Nobody cared, everybody just had fun, nobody confronted the people who were together and unmarried, nobody told any of the women to cover their hair. Everybody just kinda lived and let live.

Soon after I got back I headed out to Washington state and headed about 3 hours north of Seattle, up near the Canadian border to attend some remote/austere environment medical training. I'll have more to say about that later, but the following pictures are from that week of training.

Tomorrow morning I'm headed to the "Big Easy", better in my opinion than the "Big Apple", laid back with a Caribbean feel. at this time tomorrow, I'll be knee deep in Zydeco music, seafood and fixings by the pound cooked in what some people call a "low country boil". Might even have some frozen daiquiris while I sit around listening to the friendly banter of the "who-dat" nation discussing the upcoming season. I'm having a great and well needed break, but I can't help but remember that vacation is half-over...damn! Time to get moving and get some miles under me, lots to see and do before I head back to the land of sun and fun.

Sunrise (filtered through paint shop, but only minimally so)

Sundown (filtered through paint shop)

Learning to make thermal wraps to protect patients

Deciding how to tackle the terrain

The proper way to carry a stokes basket in remote areas

I discovered this little waterfall on an early morning hike

Early morning on the lake (run through paint shop)

Suture Class (pig lab)

Learning how to deal with Acute Mountain Sickness and HAPE/HACE

Our group

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The trip so far...in pictures!

So as I mentioned earlier, apparently you can "go home again". However, there are some facets that you need to be aware of. #1: Your friends are still your friends, but your acquaintances are gone. You weren't around to nurture those acquaintance-ships, so naturally they faded away. #2: You're on vacation, everybody else is living their life...don't expect to do much on a Monday-Thursday unless you visit people at their place of business. #3: Keep busy, and store up memories, experiences and images for your next year away. For your viewing pleasure, here are some of those images!


Rainstorm as photographed from my front porch!

Old friend of mine at the Fire Department

My old ARFF Truck, I love this monster!
My old ARFF Truck, I love this monster!


Breakfast!

Lunch!

Look at all that BBQ sauce and beer! (MO' Hick BBQ, Cuba Missouri)
Love this place!

SLU campus, St. Louis MO

SLU campus, St. Louis MO

Old St. Louis Architecture

St. Louis University has a beautiful downtown campus, the city views are awesome and the architecture breathtaking. It has the distinction of being the first University West of the Mississippi River, and also the First US University with a campus in Europe.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Flights home

As we taxied to the runway my heart rate finally slowed. I'd been an anxious wreck for the past 6 hours and was beginning to drive myself nuts. Had I packed everything, had I forgotten anything, did I lock the door of my apartment, what was waiting for me at "home", now that Saudi is kinda my "home" more or less, would the plane break down like it did last year, when the hell was my salary going to be deposited, you know the normal stuff!  It seemed to take forever to get through security, waiting for the flight to board was torture, and now, after almost 11 months of working and waiting, we were finally taxiing.

The flight crew was friendly, the pilot sounded fresh and soon we were racing down the runway, 20 minutes later I was enjoying a Heineken as we made our way into the night sky. 6 hours later, we touched down in Amsterdam without incident. 2 hours later I boarded my plane for Detroit which would eventually connect me with St. Louis. My son picked me up at the airport, we got stuck in 4th of July traffic and had a long ride home, but I didn't care. Just seeing the green and smelling the clean, cool air on the way made everything OK.

Apparently, you can go home again. I'm happy to be here.

Academic Year 2013-I'm calling it

In medicine, when a person that we've been working on has died, or has failed to respond to our attempts to revive them, the person in charge makes the statement "I'm calling it", or "I'm calling the code". This signifies to the team members that all resuscitation efforts are about to be ceased, and that if they have any objections-now is the time to voice them. I myself have "called it" many times. And I'm now, officially calling the 2012-2013 academic work year. Stick a fork in it, it's done. Time of death 00:25 July 3rd, 2013.

Actually its really been done for a while, students finished on June 5th, most staff were done with all their paperwork by June 15th, (I was done June 5th) but due to the silliness of things here, nobody could leave until July 2nd...I got the closest flight I could.

It's been a good year, a tough year, a year of big change for me both academically and personally and its over. 20 months in the Kingdom, two academic contracts completed, travel to Egypt, Bahrain and Oman completed. I'm ready to be back in the States. However, a few things have changed, and one in particular that blog readers might be interested in.

Contract: Renewed...this was a source of up and down, back and forth speculation for many months. We finally settled on something that was mutually agreeable. I took a slight cut (something you should never do), and agreed to a two year term and in exchange secured a multiple exit and re-entry visa in my contract, guaranteed, in writing, within two weeks of requesting it. However, the funny part is they never sent it...so I never signed it, so under Saudi Labor Law, the old contract holds...at my old rate of pay, and my old housing allowance. No visa comes with it, but I'm fine with the old salary and the old term. I'm also not exactly being recruited, however I am getting "looked at kindly" by a few other "better" organizations in the Kingdom...So for those of you who like to read, or follow my exploits, or just enjoy my occasional rants, looks like I'll be around a bit longer!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"You Cowardly Americans"

The title is in reference to a comment I read today on a "Salon" article, I don't usually delve this deep into politics here, I have other outlets for that, but I think the significance of the comment bears repeating.

The last time I remember things going right in my country was 2007, I was well employed, well paid, well financed and was buying like crazy. I owned a house and 3 large vehicles, I had everything I needed and more. I had almost everything I wanted. When all hell started breaking loose with the housing bubble, financial scandals and the like, things just rapidly began to...to suck. Mistakes that many of us made suddenly came to light, myself fully included in that. Many of us who considered ourselves "Conservatives" or "Republicans" took an honest look in the mirror and hung our heads in shame. We knew what we'd done, we'd borrowed on margin, overspent, bet on luck and our luck had run out. Sure there was a scandal or two out there, but if we hadn't been stupid with our money, nothing would have ever touched us...at least that's what we told ourselves. Part of the "Conservative" self image comes with a little thing we like to call "personal responsibility", and instead of practicing it, we'd partied our stupid asses off like drunken frat boys on a Vegas vacation. Pools, hot-tubs, oversize houses, golf club memberships, iPod's, iPhones, iPad's, student loans, cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles...you name it, we had it. Our kids didn't work, and we didn't worry about it...there was always money on "the card". I've recently begun to look at that a little differently...the personal responsibility is still there, but it's just that, personal. Personally, I should have had the foresight and the wherewithal to take a look around me and realize just how many people had their hands in my wallet while smiling to my face. But as long as the money didn't run out, I didn't worry about it. Nowadays however, I worry enough for both of us.

I ended up running away screaming from the Republicans (fat old elephants), but stopped short of running into the open arms of the Democrats (braying asses), I looked in the Libertarian (might as well be an anarchist) window for a minute, but that window is something akin to a smoky stained glass design of a hundred splinters. I finally settled on "independent" whatever the hell that means. I think I'm half humanist, half democratic socialist, half I don't know what (Yes, I'm aware that makes me an improper fraction :-) ). So now that my rose colored glasses have been knocked from my face and have shattered on the ground lets take a look at the 2000's with clearer eyesight. Stop me if you've heard this one:

  • Enron Scandal
  • Arthur Anderson
  • WorldCom (Now Verizon!) Collapse and Scandal
  • Iraq War (revealed in 2012-13 to be based on complete falsehoods and deliberately doctored information)
  • Abu Garib Scandal
  • Blackwater
  • Halliburton
  • Countrywide Scandal (The real beginning of the housing bust) (Oh and you know who had a 0% Countywide loan? Retired US Senator and one time Presidential hopeful Chris Dodd!)
  • WAMU collapse and "Golden Parachute" discussion starter!
  • Taylor Bean and Whittaker Collapse and raid by the FBI (Who up until last week was negatively affecting my credit report)
  • Bernie Madoff
  • Bailouts
  • Lehman Brothers
  • BP Gulf Horizon
  • Illegal Home Foreclosures, yes Illegal and inappropriate even, some actually based on race and race alone!
  • Benghazi
  • Cairo 
  • IRS wrongfully targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny
  • NSA potentially illegal surveillance
  • And today, the thing that started me thinking... 6 Bank of America employees give depositions that they were paid to foreclose on homes, given bonuses to lie to customers, and illegally and inappropriately deny loan modifications link
Hmm...who did I forget...Oh yeah, THESE GUYS!
  • John Edwards
  • Mark Sanford
  • Rod Blagojevich
  • Elliott Spitzer
  • Gary Condit
  • Scooter Libby
  • Mark Foley
  • Jack Abramoff
  • Tom Delay
  • Bernie Kerik
  • Randy Cunningham
All of these events and all of these people have done something either inappropriate or illegal either to you or in your name...in my name...in the name of Freedom and the United States of America! Very few of them are in prison, very few are poor, none are homeless. Here's my problem with that. I actually like my Country, I kinda served her once or twice and I don't think I should have to stand for this crap. However, we never really noticed stuff as long as we had money to burn, and now it seems a little too late to put the proverbial cat back in the bag. Now when you complain, the Usurpers of the system tell you that they're the Americans, and that you, well your just a discontent, a troublemaker, a commie, unpatriotic,  liberal idiot, hippie dreamer, tree hugging slack jawed faggot. The people who stole money from you, took bribes, employed illegal aliens, threw your neighbors out of their homes, passed laws they couldn't follow themselves, killed civilians, illegally monitored you in the name of "National Security" lied to you, lied again, and then lied about the lie. They're calling themselves the real Americans, and unfortunately, were all too damn stupid to notice.

So to that I say 'Merica! Fuck Yeah!

The comment that I paraphrased in the title comes from a commenter on the "Salon" piece about BofA. He states something to the effect that he finds it ironic that the US calls the French cowards, and yet the rest of the world looks at us that way. He ties it in to the demands for "heads to roll, guillotine style" in the BofA scandal. He doesn't tie it in to the wars we fight or the things we do, but rather what gets done to us and in our name, the things we allow. He goes on to say that our Government hasn't said "let them eat cake", but has instead put on a grin and said "yes, yes, you can have it all!" and then turned around, laughing all the way back to their McMansion's while they rob us blind (and I imagine us standing their like a pitiful version of a 21st century Oliver Twist played by Justin Bieber)....then he throws in some "stupid American's" and some LOL's and I suddenly find my hands trembling, and I'm practically blind with rage...but not at the author of the comment.

I don't have any political activist friends, probably a good thing, I don't much care for burn out hipsters or people in "cooky" red hats. My friends are doctors, paramedics, nurses, firefighters, cops, accountants, soldiers, sailors, business owners, professors and the like. They aren't going to like this, not one bit. It's going to feel hostile to them, its going to feel like an attack on their way of life and its not. Rather, its a criticism of the tolerance that we've built up to being screwed over. We fight amongst ourselves for the scraps from the table and look to each other as the problem, maybe were just too stupid to look up. Whatever the cause, try and remember, the more scandals break, the more stupid comments Jeb Bush makes, and the more Sarah Palin comes in and out of the spotlight, the more racial and sexual tension they can stir up, the less anybody focuses on the problem at hand. Were being robbed, spied on, thrown out and laughed at...and were fighting for the privilege, fighting for the idea that right around the corner is our magic ticket to the top. I call "Bullshit" 

I hope the NSA enjoyed reading this, I'll be home on the 3rd of July guys, flying through Detroit and desiring nothing more than a cold beer in my own back yard. I'm not crazy, I'm not a terrorist, I haven't been "radicalized", this isn't a "manifesto", I pay my taxes, live my life, do my job. I've served, my friends and family have served and some of them didn't come home. I have all the right in the world to question the crap being pulled to "keep me safe" and wonder why there are men getting rich driving companies into the ground, why my elected officials abuse perks, take bribes, and why the majority of the people stealing on a million dollar scale are doing less prison time than a kid who robs the 7-11.

*I support a coalition of action against #NSA surveillance. Join me – ask US Congress to stop the NSA's alleged actions: stopwatching.us
* The web is meant to be open and free. Join me in asking US Congress to stop #NSA surveillance: stopwatching.us



Monday, May 13, 2013

Driving in Saudi Part 2 - Crashing

I left home this morning at 8:00 am sharp, I entered the highway at about 8:05. 4 minutes later at 8:09, I was sitting in the middle of the Highway, perpendicular to traffic in a smashed car. 

I headed for work like I do every day, nothing special at all. I entered the freeway and began to try and make my way two lanes to the left, I got as far as the middle and found my progress blocked by one of the large Pakistani style decorative trucks directly in front of me, those trucks are big, colorful and nothing you want to be behind. They are old, slow and its impossible to see past them with their size and the clouds of black smoke that they cough out as they chug down the road. My progress leftward was also blocked by a nice newer looking white BMW. As we moved down the road, the BMW moved in behind me, I assumed, to exit the highway at the upcoming exit, but whatever the cause, it was good news for me! I hit my signal, saw a white Camry in the lane behind where the BMW had come from, and moved into the lane. The next thing I heard was the squeal of tires with locked up breaks, my rear-view showed the flashing head lights of the Camry inches off of my bumper. Apparently this was why the BMW had moved! The Camry had obviously been wanting to get past the BMW, and now was on my bumper, lights flashing away, horn blaring constantly. I accelerated as much as the little car would allow me, quickly getting up to 110 kph. I made it to the front of the large truck and began to move into the right lane. Before I could get over, the Camry made a fast move around me, pulled in front of me by a few feet. And then locked up his breaks, causing his tires to leave marks and white smoke to come from his wheel wells. I locked up my breaks and tried to swerve around him, I didn't succeed. The car went into a full spin as I tried to correct my over-steer, I found myself spinning around the highway, saw the wall, saw the airbag deflating and felt the car lurch to a stop. I sat there stunned, both arms locked out straight, hands on the wheel, waiting for the next impact. But it never came. The clock on the dashboard was glowing 8:09. The radio was now playing the news obnoxiously loud. My cigarette had disappeared. I opened the drivers door and stepped out into my whole new reality.

The white Camry with the dark tint windows was gone. 

Traffic was as usual heavy, now with a small Hyundai (even smaller than normal) blocking the middle lane, it slowed to a crawl. I called my boss and then my mechanic, I made it to the other side of the car and began to direct traffic to opposite sides of the car. Many men stopped and asked if I was OK, I said "aiwa shukran", they said "Alhamdulilah" and drove on. The police arrived about 5 minutes later. They were great, very friendly. They took a minute to survey the scene, make some notes and then we pushed the car off to the side of the road. One of the traffic officers ran over to a construction site nearby and promptly returned with 4 workers, a wheelbarrow full of dirt and brooms to try and cover the oil that had spread into a 4 qt. puddle. I handed over my license and the Car registration. My Mechanic arrived, surveyed the damage, smiled and said "no problem", "no worry". He gave me a ride to work, and went to the police station to finish the paperwork and pick up the report.

I'm not really at fault, but then again it was technically a one car accident, I'm not in any trouble, but I might be on the hook for the totaled car, I don't know yet. My boss and co-workers have told me never mind the cost, it's the cost of walking away from a Road Traffic Accident on the highway in Saudi Arabia with my life. I wish I'd had the wherewithal to take a picture of the mess, you'll just have to imagine a small car with no front end and all of its engine fluids on the highway.  A frustrated and flustered American standing next to it. 

P.S. If anybody can identify the driver of the white Toyota Camry, with the dark windows and no other distinguishing marks, driven by an unknown person of unknown nationality...let me know. :)


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saudi Paramedics

As most of my readers know, I'm an American Expat, here in the Kingdom to train Paramedics. My students are all Saudi, and the first group are preparing to graduate and move onto their internships.

For the most part, were going to be turning lose a great group of guys (and girls, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms, for a whole 'nother blog post). They will begin their internship year in September, check in with us monthly, and be given some pretty intensive on the job training. At the end of the year, they will take their exam with the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties. Upon passing they will be licensed as Paramedics, designated as Specialists and will be the people who respond to your emergency, (God forbid you have one!).

What I wanted to tell you about though, was the great bunch of Saudi Paramedics I've met lately, yes that's right they already exist. Lets break them down and see what they're made of.

Skills: 1st rate, every one of them that I've seen, have first rate skills. Just as good, if not better than any American paramedic.

Language: High quality Arabic and English, fully able to understand and communicate in the two most commonly used languages in the Kingdom.

Years of training: 4-6 years, yes that's right, 4-6 years! They have knowledge sets closer to that of a PA than a Paramedic. Many were initially educated here in the Kingdom and then sent to the US for further training. They've trained at Eastern Kentucky University http://emc.eku.edu/emc-bs-paramedicscience-option University of Maryland Baltimore County http://ehs.umbc.edu/  and others.

Certifications: NREMT-P/NRP, PHTLS, American Heart Association BLS, ACLS, PALS Many also carry the CCEMT-P though I've yet to see one with the elusive and exclusive FP-C, or CC-P. However they also carry multiple optional certs that are industry appropriate.

Where they work: This is where it gets a little funny, if you want to see Saudi Paramedics with the above resumes, chances are you'll have to be dying or very seriously injured. They work on Helicopters with the SRCA and its contract helicopter services (Alpha Star and PHI). They work for the National Guard Hospital, and the Security Forces Hospital. Pretty much, they work exclusively for the government.

In summary, the Saudi Paramedics I've had the pleasure of meeting over the past month have been first rate providers that can take care of a loved one of mine any day. I'm hoping, that the program I've been working with is going to give the Kingdom a lot more of them to go around!


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tieing up loose ends...

I spent my evenings this past week doing things a little differently. Most of them were spent either grading papers, or touching up resumes. Nothing has changed at work, I'm still looking at heading out for good in the first days of July. That involves some problems, and for the first time in a long time it involves confronting one of them.

I confronted that problem tonight. I did something I've been told to do by every single family member and friend for the past 8-10 months. I acted in my own best interest. 

If you've read any of this blog, you know why I came here, you know what I've done and know what has happened. What you didn't know was that I've been neglecting some of my own issues at home in an attempt to make things easier...or rather keep everything friendly...or better yet and most truthfully, put off dealing with the things I needed to deal with. Now, those of you young people, or non deep thinkers or just plain idiots think that what I mean is that I didn't want to deal with the divorce. That maybe I'm still in Love with her. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was there, in the Lawyers office after an 8 hour drive, Hot, tired and not really in a great mood.  I disagreed, told her she was making a mistake and signed the papers anyway. Then I went out for dinner with her and her boyfriend (shut up...I KNOW...that was stupid). Then I got pissed off and left...briefly considered shooting them (but only in the butt with an air rifle (repetitively) from a raised and concealed position)...The next morning, after a sleepless night in a roach motel, I met her for a good, American, very non-Saudi breakfast and then headed for New Orleans. There I spent a drunken week with a great friend going between Bourbon street, The Garden District and a tattoo parlor...after all that...TRUST ME folks, I dealt with the damn divorce, and my feelings for her are about as romantic as getting kicked in the face repetitively. 

That brings me to my real point. I dealt with the divorce, I never dealt with the ramifications of it. Do you have any idea what it's like to sort out 9 years of memories? The human mind is phenomenal for its ability to look back on a situation and show you only the good. What's been hanging around my head, that I didn't deal with until today was that it was over. Not the romance mind you, but all the other stuff. All the good memories, all the firsts, the backyard BBQ's, all the relatives, the Christmas mornings, the Sleepwear that was literally the farthest thing from sexy but the closest thing to adorably cute. The first night we brought the puppy home or the time when my 100 lbs Black lab was so small that she walked from my shoulder to my other shoulder by climbing over my head. The football games, the baseball games, the hockey games and the long bar nights after them. We used to spend weekends doing DIY projects, having champagne brunches, driving random places and exploring.

When you get divorced, you lose all of that...I forgot to deal with it.

Today, I dealt with it. I didn't really want to, but I had to. For reasons I won't explain here, I was at a crossroads...either fail, and I DO mean FAIL, by my own hand, or face reality and make a smart decision. With the help of some very special people, I chose the latter. I expected to feel lighter, having made the right decision, having decided not to become a Martyr, I expected relief. I didn't get it, I only felt sadness. I miss my dogs, I miss my backyard and my decks (the crappy one I built first and the good one I built second). I miss our friends and family, I miss hanging Christmas lights. 

I miss some things that are in the past, and that's OK, because today for the first time, I realized and recognized that I miss the past and that no matter what I do, it will always-already-be-over. That realization opens up a door, it opens up a door to a future. Recognizing my old life is over, gives me a chance at a new life, not just a new romance, but a new life. A new life just as full of action and excitement, moments and eventually memories. With any luck, it'll be here in the Kingdom for another couple years (In'shAllah). I'm not done here. 

Wherever my future takes place though, I'm finally free to look forward and not back...That's a good thing.


* I also started my diving re-cert, if I'm leaving I want to Dive the Red Sea before I go...If not, well I love to dive and somehow haven't been in the water for 10 years.

** A note about divorce if you have to get one, men or women, take my advice: Surround yourself with your family and good friends, hire a lawyer because you're far too vulnerable to make good decisions for yourself, and hash it all out at once. It's going to damn near kill you, but its a good thing.

Friday, March 15, 2013

16 months and thoughts of home

This post is probably premature. For that reason, I'd been putting it off until I made some decisions. Premature or not, I'm going to publish it, because for any thinking of coming to Saudi, I want you to have a better understanding of what its like to be here.  Its a day by day experience.

I realized the other day that I hit my 16 month anniversary here in the land of sun and fun. I was going to take a picture, it was a pretty good day, I was in a suit, my hair had recently been cut and my beard was trimmed. However, towards the end of the day I just got busy and lost interest. I had other things on my mind.

There is a sickness here in Saudi. Its grounded in greed and pride. Hire the right people to do something and replace them with cheap people when its done. Maintenance, in any form, is not a concept in this society  Explaining my situation to other expats brought up many stories of similar experiences that either they or people they know have had. Their advice was pretty much the same across the board. Smile, pack up and say goodbye. Since I've been silent on this topic in the past, let me back-up and explain a bit.

I was brought here with 3 others to help stand this program up. I was brought to advise, support and work tirelessly to build a real Paramedic program. I was told during my interview that I would be here for a year if the program failed, 3-5 years if it succeeded. I was told that I would support all of the campuses. I was told that I should be training these students to pass US standard testing and we should be working towards CoAEMSP accreditation, and that while the vast majority of our students would never go to the US, those that did should be indistinguishable from their American paramedic brethren. Most of that, never happened. Instead, power struggles and poor attitudes ended up leaving us in a much more hands on teaching role. We simply became instructors. I was sent to the Damamm campus to take over the training role, and help the struggling campus. I did exactly that. 15 months later, I'm the only American left, all the rest have given up and quit. Here in Damamm we have a new department, a department that I had an integral role in creating. The bleak walls are now covered with medical information, classes start on time and end on time, tests are administered appropriately.  Students don't cheat as much, students wear uniforms and take pride in what they've done and what they're doing. They train hard and for the most part do well. These things are not solely because of my presence, but to believe I didn't have a large role in the transition is naive.

Naivety is rampant though. It seems someone I've never met in Administration has taken a look at the numbers and decided he could replace me with 3 Filipino's (their words, not mine). I thought this was just a segue into negotiations, but apparently not. Apparently, I'm being replaced with nurses from the Philippines.

The program is good, the students are already in, who needs the expensive Amriki right? Well, my students for one. Apparently, a few of my students have come up with an idea to go to Riyadh and tell them just how much I do here, and how hard I've been working. I don't say it enough, so let me say it now. I am amazed by what these students can do. I am humbled by the way they treat me and speechless that they think this highly of me.

I'll say more about it in the coming weeks, no matter what happens. But I'm not ready to go just yet-for a lot of reasons. The program isn't ready yet, there is still a lot to do, and I'm a part of that. Maybe the most important reason I'm still needed is that I don't lie like other expats do. When someone gives me a stupid idea, I let them know its stupid. When I'm asked my opinion, I give it. In the case of some of my wonderful co-workers, they give the answer that is asked for-it's complicated, but it boils down to a sense of what we are doing here. I came to build something, they came to work. We both get paid and money is important, but my primary mission is to build what I was told to build, they're primary mission is to work.

Whatever happens, I have a couple of months till I'm headed home. Maybe for good, maybe just for vacation. If I leave, it means the last person who has ever worked on an ambulance, will have left the college and the education of Paramedics will be trusted to those whose experience and expertise is limited to the hospital.  With no disrespect meant to my co-workers, who are all great...No more paramedics, sucks for my students and myself alike.

Friday, March 8, 2013

What did he just say?

Friday is the holy day in Saudi Arabia, the weekend begins Wednesday evening and ends when we all go back to work on Saturday morning. This varies throughout the region, but here in Saudi, its locked in. Thursday activities are limited, Friday activities are almost non-existent until after Isha Prayer. I thought I would hate this, but actually I've kinda grown accustomed to it...in fact I kinda enjoy the down time. The call to Prayer is now something I normally sleep through on the weekends, for the first couple of months it sent me straight out of bed in a hurry and made it thoroughly impossible to be late or to sleep in. Today, like a few recent Fridays though, I didn't sleep in.

I didn't sleep in because today there was a sermon being preached...at least that's what it sounded like to me. I mean no disrespect when I say that. I do however question what was being said...I don't speak Arabic but I do often find myself able to understand it a bit, but coming through a loudspeaker and being spoken as quickly and as angrily as it was today and has been in the past few months...well needless to say I didn't get any of it.

My question and my point today is just what the heck was being said? Opinions vary, but they seem to be in the majority camp that the only thing that should be happening, especially on a Friday is prayer. I've asked just about all of my friends here if this is a normal occurrence and they all seem to be saying that "for the most part, no". Now, Arabic is one of those languages that intensifies in volume and pitch with speed and passion, so it's hard to say if the Imam was angry...but he sure sounded angry. So what was he angry about?

That question, is one that I'd like to have answered, but it seems to not be one that anyone wants to answer for a foreigner. So I'm left to my imagination...was he maligning the state of the Syrian Conflict, The Bahrani Conflict? The arrests made in Qassim recently? Was he preaching against the recent AQAP Youtube Video reaching out for women to start calling for Jihad. Or was he preaching for the unification of Islam, the bonding of Sunni and Shia together...Or was he doing the opposite of all or one of those things...I don't know, but it sure is curious.