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, 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 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 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.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The "Do's" and "Don'ts" of Saudi

Saudi Gazette has today run an opinion piece about the "Big Do's and Don'ts in Saudi Arabia".

On my first read of this piece, I thought that the author, a Saudi Academic had done a pretty good job of covering the basic aspects of Saudi Culture and some of the better ways to approach topics you had questions about. However, as I thought about it, and gave it a second look, I realized that pretty much his opinion of the do's and "don'ts" was  a little bit skewed. It seems that in the authors eyes, the "do's" are to visit and work in Saudi Arabia with an open mind, and to ask questions about select topics i.e. Islam from the perspective of one who wants to learn rather than one who wants to judge. The Don'ts however, were a much larger section: Don't ask about multiple wives, women driving, Israel, etc...

On my third read of the piece, I realized that this was basically a piece that said "Welcome to Saudi Arabia, if you want to convert welcome, otherwise stay out of the kitchen for the time that your here."

Here's my problem...this guy is way out of touch with his own populace. Forget the fact that he basically just gave a nationalist speech in the 21st century, forget the fact that he seems to be one of the people that harbors the opinion that expats such as myself are here not because of our expertise but strictly because the Kingdom was kind enough to hire us...forget all of that. This "Saudi Academic" lumps his entire Kingdom's population into one group. He ignores the most basic differences such as Gender, Religious sect, Tribe, Wealth and Social Status and whats worse he completely ignores the fact that some Saudi's might feel differently than other Saudi's. Apparently in this man's mind, despite being educated in Major Saudi Universities, the UK, the United States, Germany, Japan, etc. Despite reading books, watching television, and watching world news. Despite the millennial generation being the first one in Saudi History that HAS to work, and despite a growing class of impoverished Saudi's...Apparently despite all of that, Saudi Arabians have emerged with a single collectivist brain and uniform thoughts. Therefore this man can write an "Us vs. Them" article lumping all Saudi's into one group and the rest of the world into another.

A gross ignorance to or misunderstanding of ones own changing culture is dangerous. If any threat to Saudi Arabia exists, this is where it will come from. It will not come from outside, Iran will not start a war, The US and our "Rock n' Roll" and "Loose Women" won't bring you down. Failing to understand the situation facing the millennial generation, and failing to see how they are changing and take steps to understand their concerns, to listen to their voices...that will be where your problem begins. Or maybe "began" is a better way to describe it.