All posts by adeyein

About adeyein

I am a teacher and have taught adults and children. I currently teach English as a Second Language. I enjoy teaching and writing. This blog will be a forum for essays, short stories, and poetry I've written. Thanks to Daniel, one of my students, for encouraging me and helping me to set up this blog.

Feliz Ano Nuevo … feliz ano novo

سنة جديدة سعيدة
新年快樂, bonne année, Šťastný Nový Rok, buon anno, 明けましておめでとうございます, 새 해 복,
gelukkige nuwe jaar, mutlu yıllar,สวัสดีปีใหม่,glückliches neues jahr,masaya  bagong taon
Saying this in so many languages reminds me of just how blessed I am to know so many people 
around the world.

All of you have made my life so much richer!  Have a wonderful, healthy, prosperous and happy new year!

What Is Your Christmas Wish?

I love this time of the year. The air is cool and crisp. The leaves on the trees are changing colors. In California, some trees are evergreen and still look as though they are decorating the spring time air. Many of the trees are bare, and resemble crude stick figures that a 4 year old drew and threw on the landscape. There is something about late fall that is enchanting and almost ethereal.

Christmas is almost here. The air is filled with the excitement of children, retailers’ anticipation for lots of business, and a good amount of grown-up stress. In other parts of the country, snow is falling. In northern California, the air can get a bit nippy, but never really, really cold. This year, the rain is falling. Not continuously, but sporadically enough so that only 2 or 3 days at most are passing before the “next big storm” arrives. The rain is a curse and a blessing. Mostly, I think, a blessing.

The signs of Christmas are everywhere. There are obvious signs: lots of homes decorated in glittering lights, stores filling their aisles with gift wrap, tree ornaments, and everything in between, Christmas commercials on TV and radio ad infinitum, radio stations playing only holiday music, and sales circulars dotting retail shelves everywhere. But, there are also the less obvious signs: people starting to hurry about just a bit more, more smiles and warmth enveloping everyone as they go about their business, others randomly giving small gifts away like the car in front of you paying your bridge toll, the donut shop giving you a free extra donut, and a student bringing you a perfect red rose. Almost everyone’s heart seems a little bigger, their spirits a little softer, and their smiles just a bit warmer.

If Christmas wishes could come true, I would wish for the end of hunger, income equality, clean air and water, an abolishment of all of the abusive “isms” (you know, sexism, racism, homophobia – ok this is not exactly an “ism” but it’s close enough – ageism, etc.) For me, Christmas holds a magic and the promise of a new world.

My real Christmas wish? That we continue to plow and plant and plow and plant until that new world does indeed become more than just a wish, and that we never, never give up until that work transforms into a reality.

What is your Christmas wish?

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The Academy, Chapter 4

Unknown to me, I had arrived in Riyadh during a holiday. The streets were fairly empty and I was whisked off from the airport by one of the school drivers, and delivered to my new apartment building.

I did not expect an apartment building. I thought I’d be living in a compound, with a pool, gym, and enclosed walking area. Compounds are typically like large apartment complexes with amenities, or like a small apartment complex with a central pool area much in the style of a Holiday Inn. I was to share an apartment with two women – one from South Africa and one from Walnut Creek, California. I was a little excited that another Californian was there. They were both on vacation when I arrived, so I was free to roam about the apartment as I pleased.

The building was typically sand colored, four levels (including the roof) and a guard stationed outside. There were cameras in the hallway, which I suppose recorded the occasional rule breaker trying to sneak a man inside (this never happened). The apartment was on the second floor, and had three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It also had a large kitchen, with a small 1 or 2 person refrigerator – certainly not a refrigerator built for three adults. In the fan of the bathroom, a group of pigeons had decided to nest, so there was the constant hum of the pigeons, with occasionally fighting over the limited space of an 18” by 18” fan area. Needless to say, I couldn’t really turn on the fan.

Did I mention that the building was directly across the street from a large landfill of dirt and garbage?

Each room, except the kitchen and bathrooms, had its own air conditioning/heating unit.

And I saw several dead, 1-inch+ cockroaches in the kitchen and bathroom.

Or, perhaps I should say COCKROACHES because I had never see such large cockroaches; they looked like something out of a horror film. I did not realize that cockroaches could grow to look like small animals.

But, at least they were dead.

My two absent roommates had left a bag of garbage hanging on the kitchen door, which had not yet started to smell, but would very soon. They’d also left a very full refrigerator and cabinets. I had to scope out a couple (and only a couple) of empty cabinets, and rearrange things for a little space in the fridge.

My furnished bedroom seemed pretty comfortable, so I settled in, did a little unpacking, and tried to relax in my new home.

Fortunately, my body had adjusted to Middle Eastern time while in Turkey, so I slept – of course with the air conditioning on because even though it was mid-October, temperatures dipped down to a cool 85 degrees or so at night. And, unless I wanted to wake up drenched in sweat from the heat combined with my own hot flashes, I had to turn on the air conditioning.

Because it was Eid, I would not actually report for work for a few days, and I had plenty of shopping to do before I reported for work.

Welcome to Riyadh!

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Such a View to behold!

The Academy, Chapter 3

My next 30 days in Istanbul were a whirlwind and roller coaster ride of uncertainty.  I wasn’t certain if I would be going on to Riyadh, or if I would be going home.  And, if I went to Riyadh, when would I go?  Was my employer serious?  Was my employer real?  Was this just a fluke, or were people being routinely stranded a standard practice?

Part of me felt that I would definitely be going to Riyadh, but when?  That was the real question.

The academy put me up in a questionable, but mostly clean, hotel.  I was able to communicate with some of the hotel staff at the front desk, and one of the housekeepers made a sincere, and consistent effort to communicate with me.  It was difficult trying to communicate, particularly since I had not planned on an extended stay in Istanbul.  I soon discovered that the Turkish people speak only, mostly … Turkish.  Some speak a little Arabic.  Almost none speak English.  My prior game playing of Charades suddenly became very relevant.

I emailed the Academy almost on a daily basis.  When would I get my new visa?  When was I leaving Istanbul?  When was I arriving in Riyadh?  According to the Academy, they had to deal with red tape in securing a new visa for me, so my wait would be at least one week.

One week turned into two weeks, and I finally got a visa package from the Academy.  But, there was a catch: I had to go to visa processing station in Istanbul, and then to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to complete the process.  How do I get to the consulate and exactly where is it located?  Well, the hotel staff “helped” me with that one.  I had to make a total of three trips to the consulate via taxi, the metro, and a short walk.  Each day the taxi from my hotel to the metro was a different price.  Of course, that was with the “help” of the hotel staff who only saw an American, and all Americans have money … right?

With a lot of sweat, prayer, good luck and a hamburger with the fries included inside the hamburger bun, I made it to the Saudi consulate and got my visa processed.  It had been almost 30 days, and I had seen more of Turkey than I’d never imagined I’d see.

My youngest daughter put it in better perspective for me.  She pointed out that I didn’t know anyone who had lived in Istanbul for a month.  Now I did.

I was on my way to Riyadh, and to work.

The Academy, Chapter 2

I left San Francisco International on September 18, 2013, excited and thrilled to finally be on my way to Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. My flight would be a long one, with a layover in Toronto, and another longer layover in Istanbul. My layover in Toronto was about 4 hours, and my layover in Istanbul would be 10 or 12 hours. I would first be flying on Air Canada, which I had flown on before and found them to be excellent.

For the second leg, I would be flying on Turkish Airlines, which I had never flown on, but which had a great reputation. This stretched my travel time to almost two days, but hey, I could live with that. After all, I was going on an adventure of a lifetime! I considered trying to do a little bit of sightseeing in Istanbul, but decided against it since I knew nothing about getting around in Istanbul, and did not speak one word of Turkish.

I arrived at the Toronto airport without incident. I decided to relax, do some reading, and get a little to eat.

When boarding time came, I lined up with the other passengers, and presented my boarding pass and passport to the Turkish Airlines agent. Two of the agents peered curiously at my passport. “It looks like your Visa has expired.” I replied that that could not be possible, because it was my understanding that the Visa would not begin to run until I actually arrived in Saudi Arabia. They peered at my passport again, exchanged unreadable looks with each other, and one of them said, “I believe you’re right. I believe it’s the way you said it.” Of course I was right, so I huffed a bit, took back my passport, picked up my carry-on bag, and boarded the plane.

The flight was really long – more than 12 hours, but the airline had almost all of the comforts of home. A large variety of movies, plug-ins for my iPhone, iPod and notebook computer, music and best of all, regular tasty meals. The seats were roomy and the flight attendants were responsive and accommodating. This was indeed the way to fly!

The airlines in the USA could take a lesson from Turkish Airlines and do a much better job with making passengers happy.

Our arrival in Istanbul was timely and I stepped into one of the busiest airports I have ever been in! I had never seen so many people speaking so many different languages and going in so many different directions. I had many, many hours to kill so I found a spot to stretch my legs and decided to take a nap.

I napped for about an hour or two, but still had many more hours to wait. So, I got something to eat, fished out my Kindle and started reading. After a couple of hours reading, I decided to find the gate where I would board for Riyadh. I searched for what seemed like an eternity until I found the gate. Even though there were still several hours to wait, the gate area was already filling up with women cloaked in abayas and hijabs, and men dressed in thobes, with lots of little children running around in the area, squealing and chattering in Arabic. I knew I was at the right gate. I settled down in a comfortable area, but felt a little out of place in my uncovered Western garb, so I nervously searched around for someone who was dressed a little like me. When I saw a woman and man in casual, Western vacation garb, I breathed a sign of relief, sat back, and took another nap.

The boarding call woke me up. People were lining up for the flight to Riyadh. I jumped up, untangled myself from my bags and, heart pounding and sweat dripping off my face, I hurriedly hopped into the line for Riyadh.

The Turkish Airline agent had a very rigid, authoritative air, and he examined everyone’s passport closely and carefully. Occasionally, he would bark at a passenger in Arabic or Turkish, and that person would leave the line, disappear for 15 or 20 minutes, get back in line and board the plane. For no apparent reason, I got more nervous and sweatier the closer I got to the front of the line. In tiny lengthy steps, I eventually reached the agent. He took my passport, peered at it closely, and began to count some mystery number on his fingers. He counted again, looked at my passport and Visa again, and told me to have a seat.

I went and sat down, convinced that everyone around me could hear my heartbeat. The agent disappeared and appeared again in about 5 minutes. He walked over to me and said, “I’m sorry Miss, you cannot board the fight to Riyadh. Your Visa has expired.” I looked at him not quite understanding what he meant. “Miss, you cannot board the flight to Riyadh. Your Visa has expired.” He handed my passport back to me and walked away. I got up and followed him. “That’s not possible, I’m due to be picked up from the airport in a few hours. I have to get on the plane.” The agent turned and looked at me curiously. He called one of the Westerners I’d spied earlier, a man, over to us. They spoke to each other in, I think, Turkish. The Turkish Westerner turned to me and said, “Miss, your Visa has expired. You cannot board the plane. If the agent allows you on board, they will immediately deport you back to America when you arrive in Riyadh.”

What?!! I think I said or thought “what” or said and thought “what.” Have you ever crumbled? I had never crumbled in my life. But, at that moment, in that airport, in front of all of those people, I crumbled into tears and from tears to hysterics and from hysterics to hopeless hysterics, as the information sank in. The Turkish agent and Westerner didn’t quite know what to do. I was led by the agent into a back room. It was a busy Turkish Airline break room and hub.

Another man came over to me:
“D o-y o u-u n d e r s t a n d?” Y o u-c a n n o t-b o a r d-t h e-f l I g h t-t o-R I y a d h.” I was sobbing, nodding my head yes and no. I was lost. I was confused. This had to be a nightmare. This couldn’t possibly be real. I was in a dream, a time warp. I would wake up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and all would be well.

Various Turkish Airline agents gave me water, and cool towels. Through a haze, I heard them tell me that they would put me up in a hotel for the night, and the next morning I could contact my Saudi employer, go to the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, and get everything straightened out.

Little did I know that I would spend the next 30 days in Istanbul getting things straightened out.

Ataturk Airport
Ataturk Airport

The Academy, Chapter 1

Working in Saudi Arabia was a dream come true. I would be going to live in a different culture, different language, different environment. And, my housing would be paid for, my medical and dental, transportation would be provided, and I would even get a bonus at the end of my first year! I had never had a job with so many benefits. The icing on the cake would be a tax free salary. Could it possibly get any better? My employer offered to pay for my airline ticket, to Saudi Arabia and back, and I would get a month’s vacation pay after 11 months of work.

Before I left in 2013, I did some research on my employer on the internet. I found some positive things, and some negative things. I looked at the compound I’d be living in, an all female compound with a gym, pool and comfortable living quarters. I would be sharing with, possibly, two other teachers, but I was okay with that. After all, my housing would be free and sharing didn’t sound too complicated. Never mind that I had never had a roommate who wasn’t my family member, husband or child.

The company seemed to be comparable to others. I could possibly be working a straight shift, or a split shift. The split shift being 8-12 noon and 4-8 p.m. The straight shift being 8 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. With my American mind, I assumed that I would be getting lunch and/or dinner breaks, regular work breaks and at least 10 sick leave days every year – after all, that’s what I got in the U.S. – why would Saudi Arabia be any different?

All in all, there was no way I’d ever get these kinds of benefits in the good ol’ USA. I was ready to go.

I packed up my condo, sold my car, and went through the long and painful process of getting an employment visa for Saudi Arabia. I had to get medical clearances, lab tests (they are specifically looking for +HIV to weed those candidates out), a police report, transcripts, a verified degree, and of course, I should already have had my passport in hand.

I did everything, sent my documents to the Washington D.C. Saudi embassy through a visa processing office, and … success! I got my 90 day employment visa to work in the Kingdom!

My Saudi employer was notified, and I waited for my airline ticket. I waited from mid-June to July. I waited from July through Ramadan. I waited until after Ramadan in July and August until September. I quit my teaching job, I quit my tutoring job, and I waited. Of course, I was sending emails to my employer every two or three days: When am I coming? They said: As soon as possible. When am I coming? Oh, choose a date after Ramadan. When am I coming? As soon as our company settles down after the personnel shake up. When am I coming???
waiting

I got my ticket in mid-September, 2013. At this point, I had a somewhat muted reaction. After all, I’d been waiting for more than two months, and had begun to have some creepy, sneaky doubts that I’d might not be going to the Kingdom at all. But, as it turns out, I would be going. So I repacked my suitcases, kissed my children, friends and family members goodbye, and went to San Francisco International to take off for Riyadh. My adventure was about to begin.

Feelings …

I went on my last visa run to Bahrain, and I am feeling a little wistful that I will probably never see this country again. And as my time in the Middle East draws to a close, I do have some observations.

The architecture here is incredible. I wonder why we don’t have the spiraling and magnificent buildings like this in the USA. The beautiful colors, the different geometric combinations, the splendor of these buildings is just amazing. They are breathtakingly beautiful, and dot the skylines throughout what I’ve seen of the Middle East.

Heavily dotting the malls, stores and restaurants are children. The children are everywhere. I have never seen so many children in so many different places at so many different times. They are running through the airports unchecked, skating and skateboarding in the aisles at the supermarkets and malls, screaming at the top of their lungs in restaurants at 11:00 p.m. and running all over everyone. Not one, I kid you not, ever said to me “please”, “excuse me”, or I’m sorry.” I didn’t get it when I first arrived, and I still don’t get it. They take “be fruitful and multiply” very literally. Of course, their version is probably a bit different in the Quran, but the result is truly the same.

Arabic people are without a doubt physically beautiful. The men are the best looking I’ve ever encountered, and the women are just simply gorgeous. I have felt attracted to more men in the past year than I have in the USA in the past 15 years. Of course, dating is non-existent in Saudi Arabia. You are either married or single. Divorced women are kind of half counted.

And on that note, the sexism here is very real and pervasive. Believe it or not, it’s not always a bad thing. In long lines, I’m waited on first, given seats, and generally not allowed to lift anything over 5 pounds. The security guard in my building has shooed cats away from my door and killed creatures in my apartment that I was too squeamish to even consider killing. On the other hand, I can’t drive in the Kingdom, men have at times jumped in front of me in lines, and I have been asked to leave fast food places because they are men only. When that happened, and they heard my accent, I got profuse apologies.

I’ve learned that American women are different. Not better, but different. We have a confident air that is almost unmistakable. It’s not arrogant or demanding, just a confident aura, and a swagger that is unlike any other. At times, it can seem aggressive, especially when compared to the way Arabic women carry themselves. But I can always pick out an American woman, even in a hijab.

Arabic people are friendly and helpful. They have a love/hate relationship with Americans. I have found that it is mostly love, and sometimes the love is mingled with envy. I have had more than one Saudi, men and women, express a wish to be in America, or hold an American passport, which they see as the land of the free. Of course there are also the haters. But fortunately, they are few and far between.

My students have been wonderful. They are a wide age range, from 12-45, and they usually have a true love for learning. Some of the women I have taught are very conservative and believe that things should
remain as they are for women here. Some are in the process of what I call an inner “unveiling” and they are shedding the old beliefs and adopting new and more modern perspectives on women’s rights. I have met women who told me that their mother married at 10 years old, and 35 year old women who are not yet married, and are not remotely interested in getting married.

Of course my most amazing experience has been living without racism hanging over, under and around me. I am ambiguous. I am Arabic, Sudanese, or Egyptian, until I speak. Then I am simply American. Not a Black American, African American or Afro-American. Just an American. My experience here has been reminiscent of my childhood, where I grew up in a segregated town, and knew nothing of racism. I knew nothing of prejudice, bigotry or hatred between human beings based on skin color. I did not “know” that until much later, and my experience here has re-taught me that there is no difference in people based on their race. My belief that racism is a trumped-up, diseased social paradigm has been reinforced. The knowledge that it is truly a mental illness has been reinforced.

The Saudis have a similar construct of course. Their social construct is based on nationality and gender. If your father is Saudi, then you are Saudi. If your father is Iraqi, that’s what you are. Skin color, however, never enters into the equation. This is also not a religious construct, but a cultural one. My hope is that they will banish this, just as they have lived without the sickness of racism. They are in the process of moving away from the sickness of sexism, but they have a long way to go. My optimism is based on the fact that they have started the journey.

All in all, my experience here has been an education for me, and I never want to stop learning.

Abu Dhabi Skyscrapers
An Abu Dhabi Skyline

Luxury Theater in Bahrain
I saw “The Expendables 3” here!

The Saudis Really Do Know How To Party

A belated Eid Mubarak to everyone! Ramadan was officially over at about midnight on July 27, and Eid Al Fitr (the feast of the breaking of the fast) started on July 28. The celebrations for Eid typically last for three days, so for three days there were feasts, festivities and fireworks. Gifts were exchanged, usually in the form of Riyals (cash), new clothes were bought and worn, the poor received an abundance of money, gifts and food, and the Malls were emptier. Many of the stores in the Mall were closed, but not most of them, as is usually the case on Christmas in the west. For those that were open, they were offering huge discounts – 50-70% off – which is a lot like the first few days after Christmas.

On Eid, I even got a couple of gifts from my employer, which happily surprised me. And a few times, I received gifts of food from strangers while out and about. The spirit of giving and a time for that giving seems to exist all over the world.

Because of the Eid holiday, I have been at home for the past five days. I have done mostly a lot of nothing, which we should all do occasionally. Some of the teachers left the country “on holiday” and some, like me, stayed and enjoyed the calmly festive environment of Riyadh. But, back to work on Sunday!

I hope that everyone had a joyful and blessed Eid.

Eid Fireworks

Eid Fireworks 2

There is Christmas in Saudi Arabia …

and it is early Saturday evening, about 6:15 p.m. I walk into Carrefours’ Supermarket to do my weekly shopping. Along the way, I noticed that many shops and stores are shuttered and closed. I didn’t think too much of it; after all, it is Ramadan, and people have odd hours this time of year. So, I grab a shopping cart in the supermarket and proceed to leisurely shop. But, something is wrong. There are no children running and screaming up and down the aisles, no husbands and wives slowly picking out food, and the produce area is like a ghost town. In fact, the entire store is like a ghost town. It feels a little creepy, but I continue my shopping. “Halas.” A guard is staring at me scowling. Again he barks “halas.” He speaks no English. I speak no Arabic. I just nod, okay, okay, and continue shopping. Another employee approaches me: “The store is closing, you have to get in line and checkout.” What! I just started shopping. “Well, come back at 9:00 p.m. when we reopen.” I sneakily try to grab a few more items, until the guard catches up with me. “Halas.” Which means, “enough” or “go” or “finished,” depending on the underlying message. So, I reluctantly get in line, and resolve to finish my shopping another day. Ah, Ramadan.

We’re about at the halfway mark, and the going for me gets tougher. The department stores have huge discount sales, and people are still fasting – at least in the daytime. The real day begins after the evening prayer. At that time, people wake up for prayer, and prepare the evening feast. Students have told me that people eat, and shop, until 2 or 3 a.m. After shopping, they say the morning prayer and sleep most of the day.

How is this like Christmas? There is a general air of good will, and happiness. People are giving food, clothing and money to strangers. There are lights and lanterns hung in conspicuous doorways around the city. In the evening, people shop til they drop. And, at the end of Ramadan, which this year is July 27th, the next day is the first day of Eid al Fitr. On Eid, everyone dresses up in new clothes, eat and eat and eat, and exchange gifts. After Eid, which last for three days, there are numerous weddings, and many people go away on vacation.

How is it not like Christmas? There are no Ramadan trees, and no Santa Claus. There is daytime fasting. And it is hot. When I wake up, it is hot. When I go to bed, it is hot. The temperatures are reaching an average of 111 degrees F almost everyday. Thank goodness air conditioning is plentiful.

So there is Christmas in Saudi Arabia: Ramadan Mubarak!

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A little Ramadan decoration

Abu Dhabi Here I Am

I just recently got back from another Visa run in Abu Dhabi, and fell in love with the city all over again. The humidity was so high that my glasses would steam up when I walked outside, but the people there are so pleasant and the city vibe is so mellow, that I want to go for another visit. And, even though no taxi drivers propositioned me this time around, a tall, attractive Bosnian actually thought I was going to go home with him for a little one night stand! (Do people actually still do that!!!). I said goodbye to the 70s some time ago.

littlewritersway

I recently went to Abu Dhabi on a “visa run.” I had to renew my Saudi visa before it expired, and the company sent me to Abu Dhabi for a few days to do so. It was good to get away. I slept late, and felt grateful to be able to shed the abaya and hijab.

Abu Dhabi is a beautiful city. It is on an island sitting in the Persian Gulf, and is surrounded by many smaller islands. The water is a beautiful sapphire blue, and there are parks, beaches, and lots of green. The city has a decidely Western feel to it. And, were it not for the proliferation of thobes and abayas, I could easily imagine being back in San Francisco. The weather changes from warm to an evening cool and the city is brightly lit at night – like a perpetual Christmastime. And women are driving!…

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