Thursday, June 21, 2012

I was subbing for a class the other day and the students had been assigned a presentation on privacy laws. One student talked about bumblebees(?). Another spoke about privacy laws regarding medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. One of the students brought up the point of how husbands are not in the room when their wife (or wives, as many of the students have multiple) are giving birth. I pointed out that this was one of the differences in Saudi and North American custom. The guys conceded that yes, it is good, for the man to be with his wife when she is in the hospital, but then he should leave the room when the baby is coming out. "No real man would stay in the room during that moment. It is (lots of grossed out facial gestures here) not good and would cause problems in the marriage later on."

To each his own, okay. If you think your wife is disgusting when she's giving birth to the football-sized demon that you implanted within her, well I suppose you are entitled to your opinion. And of course it's very cultural. They think dogs are disgusting, too. 

This is probably one of the more difficult aspects of my job, though. If things like this come up, I have to bite my tongue and change the subject to something less controversial. I actually don't mind these kinds of conversations and am inclined to use them as a teaching opportunity, but particularly in my position I can't toe any lines, since I'm the one who's supposed to be setting the standard. One of my tasks is to go through and check Facebook pages to make sure no one's posted a photo of themselves in shorts, or has written anything even mildly open to debate. I'm the one with the final say on curriculum and have to go through and approve any material that might be shown in class. And the guidelines are extremely strict, as in if you're showing a photo of a husband and wife, they better not be holding hands or even touching for that matter. An aversion to hand-holding isn't something I can identify with but I have no particular aversion to Saudi squeamishness as far as it goes. Then I have other moments where a student explains to me the birth of a girl:

"No one says anything and a baby is good, but when a girl is born we all are disappointed. Everyone wishes for a boy and knows that a girl is a disappointment."

Change of subject. That's really all I can do.

I hope hope hope that when these men say these things, they are referring to "we" as men. I mean come on, that's kind of a butthole thing to consider only men as being worthy of having an opinion, but can you imagine if women feel that way too? If the cultural norm is so engrained that even they believe that their value and the value of a daughter is so much less than that of a man? 

I genuinely like the students I've taught, which is why it's so squirmy when you hear things like this. They're usually quite friendly and kind and I don't expect these sorts of things. A few students do demonstrate their disrespect, but it's not as blatant as "I won't be able to love my wife if I see her in a natural state of messiness while giving birth," and more along the lines of inappropriate compliments directed towards the teacher. The other day the students had to write job interviews and one of the questions posed was "What is your greatest achievement?" Muhammed answered that it was seeing me in class, "Your face is like the moon." This guys is probably in his fifties and we're lucky if we make it five consecutive minutes in class without him saying something like that. He just doesn't have any respect for me in my profession and thinks that because a woman is in front of him he can say these sorts of inappropriate things. The man has four wives and earlier in the class he mentioned his greatest career aspiration was to work in the lingerie department. 

Normally I'm fully on board with the idea that it's not for me to judge a culture's norms. I am certain that if I were raised in Saudi Arabia, I would have a very different understanding of the world, and likewise if they were raised over here. I'm not certain where it becomes overly permissive, though, when students speak so disrespectfully of their wives and women in general. When I sub and mention that I don't have scheduled class because I have a supervisory role, they don't understand it; that's not a job for a woman. 

I guess maybe that has to be my stand-off to their comments since I can't say anything else. So far, at least, these comments have been in the minority, but the way the other students in the class sort of clam up when someone mentions his disdain for women makes me think many of them feel this way at least to a certain extent. It's saddening because mostly they're very good to me and the other teachers - all women, all foreign - and I hope that this doesn't change when they walk away from English class. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

This blog started out  as a way to recount my adventures abroad, but I've been finding over the last months that I'm beginning to hit the abroad limit in Cozumel - where it stops being living abroad and turns into living, and where my inner ramblings and potential blog material shifts from the weird shit I see on the street to the crazy stuff of life.  For those of you who've been listening to my chaos recently I think you will agree they can both be equally challenging and outside my comfort-level, but different nonetheless, and alas, this one lacks motion sickness.

Right now I'm three weeks out from flying back to Minnesota and four weeks out from flying to Cape Town for my African Extravaganza, so I'm not entirely motionless, but in the meantime I've decided I will write to my global audience of four about da sitch down here. I hesitated awhile hence the lack of posts these past weeks because, like I said, my material is changing and it's about to get realz. But it's my blog, damnit, and I miss writing, and since you're here you may as well listen to all my personal bullshit.

The basics are Mono, Manchas, work, and I've been feeling a bit unhappy with it lately. Not those things, but I'm not altogether inspired by Cozumel and there's not too much for me to do here in terms of classes or general involvement with the outside world. I work in home so while I do appreciate the community that offers - everyone's in touch via skype and our work Facebook accounts, and I spend a lot of time talking to the other managers - they are, of course, living in different parts of the world and not people I could hang out with in the off-hours like I might if I had a job here.

I've cut ties with the other teachers at SEA just because there were on-going issues throughout my six months at the school and I never really felt that they were altogether very trustworthy people. Well, feelings combined with evidence which is over and I won't get into now. 

So that's left me feeling a bit isolated and unfortunately at this point there's not much that can be done considering that I'm leaving soon and then will be moving to Pachuca for three months after the Africa trip. Pachuca is good news, I am excited to get off the island and see another part of Mexico for awhile. But about a week ago Mono told me it would be difficult to bring Manchas with since I won't be here to watch her when he has to move, and he'll be living on base for stretches of three to four days at a time leaving poor baby Manchis home alone. So we needed to find another plan and this is when I burst into tears and sobbed, "B-b-bu-but she's my only frieeeend!" Like that.

I've just been feeling extremely isolated because normally I have a big community of expats that I'm friends with and I don't have that at all here. The island has a number of older, retired expats who I don't interact with because.. I don't ever see them anyway but I know they exist because when I take Manchas on walks through the nice neighborhoods I see lots of gringos and overhear English being spoken from their canopied balconies above. I'm not a part of that community at all because of age and life stage and money. Then on the other hand unlike them I'm more in-line with the local community because of income and language (most people who retire here, from what I've heard and the few I've met, don't speak Spanish), and then of course with Mono and the network he brings along with him. I'm still foreign though, and even though Mono is a link it's not like I'm making friends with his General. Mono and I are also similar I think in that we normally are content to socialize in small numbers, and this was especially true when we were both working outside the home and I had an extremely social job - always in front of big groups of people teaching class after class. Now though, I'm craving doing things with bigger groups whereas he's still pretty good as is.

So there's been this issue going on and my general malaise with the island and missing family and friends in other countries, and it's been a struggle trying to make this all fit into a functional package. Realistically at this point it doesn't make sense for Mono to leave Mexico because he's got a good job and is ascending and needs to have more experience before being competitive for a job in the U.S., for example. I pitched the idea of moving to Chicago to him but he said the Mexican Air Force uses older plane models and he couldn't work yet for a commercial airline in the States. I also pitched to him the idea that I still want to go back and get my Masters - this time in the subject that I'm more interested in versus for the opportunity to live and teach in Madrid like I did last year. I think that's kind of the conclusion that we've arrived at for the fall of 2013, but it wasn't without lots of tears and frustrations because it will mean going abroad again for two years.

I think we have some difficulties ahead mostly because I still have a lot of things on my list that I want to do and that don't mesh very well with living permanently from now on in Mexico. I had no intention of staying in Mexico long-term when I moved here in July and of course you can't predict what will happen but you can steer things in a certain direction to the extent that you wish, and one of those things that at this point I do want to steer towards is grad school. I think of grad school as a respectable end to a (formal) academic career and after all the goddamn time I spent studying my ass off in grade school to get into a good university, and then doing the same there, I feel like it's a shame not to complete it with a Masters. Personally, for me, because it's something I would miss not doing.

So that's I guess a version of some dirty laundry I should be keeping to myself. Also it's mildly related to feelings so I'm kind of disgusted with myself right now.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

I've been seriously neglecting this thing over the last few weeks for no good reason besides laziness and various other useless excuses. It's just been so HOT here lately. Summer has officially hit and our once cool and refreshing apartment has turned into a scene from every post-Thanksgiving meal you've ever experienced - minus the feasting, but copious amounts of lounging around and concentrated breathing in and out to force yourself through the discomfort. This breathing technique is also due to a cold I've had which makes nasal respiration impossible and I mean come on, what's a girl to do? 

So those are my excuses and I'm sure you all appreciate hearing about what ails me so you're welcome.  

I had the week off from work and start back up tomorrow night, but get this, I'm taking on three kids classes a day at SEA starting next week. I have several reasons for doing this, none of which outweigh the fact that it's going to be hell to have to interact with Matthew again. It's already begun with his harassment via email over the last few days, but I'm only doing it for two months. The reason for that is....

I'm going to AFRICA! I fly to Cape Town I think like the 11th of July and will be spending the next month and a half camping and traveling in a bus mothafu**a to Nairobi. 

This is my route at the right, doesn't it look cutems? Can you imagine how carsick I'm going to get? I'll probably start hating life right around Malawi and may god have mercy on the soul of my seat neighbors. Here's a thought that I haven't wanted to delve too deeply into: what exactly is the the bathroom situation going to be?

Anyway tickets to Cape Town are worth more than I value my life so after putting a serious dent in my savings I decided to take Matthew up on his offer to teach the munchkins. Or as he referred to them in his emails, "the little shits." As in, "why do you want to teach 10 and 11 year olds and not the little shits?" I guess that example isn't really necessary because I imagine you got the gist with the first quote, but just in case you didn't, it's "shits" he's calling them. "Shits." This man has a child. Granted, the boy's living off in China or some such with his mother, but still.

Moving on.  

The reason Matthew needs me to teach is that Julieta and James are leaving. It sort of worked out like this: the two Js decided they were going to leave and found jobs in Vietnam. They were going to tell him today that they were leaving (and then split this weekend because he knows where they live and believe me, he would come by to harass them at their home). BUT before that could happen he fired them last week and told them they had one week left. Perfectly okay because it's the same date they had in mind to leave and now they didn't have to feel bad about slinking away, but also insulting because you're an a-hole Matthew. He was probably thinking about doing this some time before because he's already got a replacement teacher from New Zealand. 

Enough about that, this school makes me crazy and inclined to bitch and moan about all the nastiness but ya, suficiente. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

After about a month and a half in, I feel really lucky with my new job online. I'm discovering a previously unknown thirst for power and am thrilled every time my supervisors put me in charge of bossing someone else around. Most of my communication is with a woman named Rosemarie, who lives in Canada, but I also talk regularly with another supervisor from Canada, and a variety of teachers who at any given time need my discipline.


I teach when I'm needed, but I also end up doing lots of other projects for the company. Yesterday I wrote an outline and handout for a marketing presentation taking place in Dubai this coming week, along with brainstorming 30 English slogans. As my supervisor offered as an example when explaining the project: "You know, like 'Learn English blah blah blah.'" Yeah boss, no problem. And then I frantically start googling ideas on how not to sound like a douche bag. Mostly ineffective.

The other day I had to sub for a class and when I turned on the video, a student from another class I'd taught greeted me. "Hello teacher, are you ready to be the fifth woman?" Haha, I just laughed and privately thought whatdahellisdis until later realizing that I believe he currently has four wives. Four percent, incidentally, of his camel count.

That was also the class where we're chatting away and I see in the background of my camera (visible to all), a sleepy man body shuffling in the room behind me, as it made its way to the couch in nothing but a pair of boxers. I tried really really hard to keep my composure, especially after noticing the stricken looks on the face of my students, but mostly just succeeded in letting out intermittent snorts as I tried oh so hard not to laugh. It was one of those "we'll try to act as if this never happened" moments. I tried it at least, but I'm somewhat apprehensive of what they chose for their topic of conversation during mid-class tea break. Happens.

Now I'm all alone (with Manchas) in my little old apartment because both the boys are off on separate trips to Mexico City for work. This is going to be the weekend of reckoning for Mono. He's been studying an ungodly amount of hours for the last little while for this exam, which only passes about five people in the country. My contribution to exam preparation was having him take my mouse apart when it stopped working a few days ago. Electronics and stuff.

Aside from all these things (nothing) which have kept me busy recently, I also joined a gym. It's been nice to get my butt moving but my knees already hurt so running's out and I get irrationally pissed at the dog when I take her for walks and she pulls. Manchas has turned into a chubster, even the vet says so. And do you know whyyy? I give the girl treats, sure, but someone who doesn't like to admit to affection for the dear pup has been feeding her mini-versions of his own meals, in addition to the regular kibble. A taco here, a sandwich there, something else that's vaguely meaty looking. I don't know. One time I came into the kitchen and Manchas was munching away happily with her paunch hanging out while Mono swiftly hid a bag of mini garlic crisps behind his back. Do you believe this? Manchas still has the spindly legs of her street-rat past, but now it's topped by a body resembling an over-fed seal. On TOP of all this, she's got a FuNgUs. Ewww... I had to leave her alone at the vet for two hours while they gave her a special bath and it was the longest two hours of my incredible four month relationship with the love of my doggie-hearted soul (aka Get A Life).

At the airport a couple weeks back the security man pulled me aside to check my bag for suspicious items. Unzip and the first thing he pulls out is an 8-inch bone wrapped in cellophane. I've actually discovered this is a great idea, though: packing a dog bone and a candle (had one of those too in a paper lunch bag a la boozehound style) is an excellent way to indicate your love of mood lighting and soft furry creatures. And if you ask me those are both respectable qualities not normally associated with airplane hijackers. Point being I got through that inspection right quick.

It ended up being the smallest flight I'd evvvver been on. The plane was normal domestic size but how many passengers???? FIVE. The crew was super nice (super nice? really? that's the phrase you want to go with Megan?) to us and even offered us the first-class French Toast breakfast even though the flight didn't even include a meal. I skipped it and instead put my sunglasses on and closed my eyes in an attempt at conveying anti-social sleepiness, but now I kind of regret it since let's be real, I ain't never gonna be no first-class cake eater again.

Anyway that's all for now.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Manchas' pretty manicure. This is an old picture and for awhile we matched but now she's gone back to hot pink and I've turned to blue.

The pup and I are just having a quiet girl's-night in. Me with my book and her destroying the dried flesh of some poor fool animal that's been killed and salted and rolled up into a bone shape for the sake of puppies everywhere. I had a really great vegetarian dog treat thing going on with her, but then the grocery store ran out of stock or something and she's converted to blood, guts, and horseshoes.

Speaking of which, happy belated St. Patrick's Day. I wore a green shirt on accident, but it's not really celebrated here, anyway. My primary acknowledgement of the day was to go on Facebook and silently criticize all the P-day posters. Like, oh my god, this beer's green. I've never seen that before in my life.

Last year I met some guys from Ireland at a Cuban bar in Madrid (pinche globalization!). I realized it was my first time meeting a genuine Irish person and not just some person sloshing a Guiness and acting cheeky. (--> I don't know exactly what this word means, but it seems to have Irish connotations). Anyway I thought that they were lying and I got a little annoyed with them. "Your accent's horrible, you don't even sound Irish." Huff and scorn. They were though, and I learned a lesson:

I'm a douchebag.

I moved on from it and now only criticize Irish impersonators on anonymous online social networks. I don't know why I have a problem with this.

. . .

Anyway, that was before. Time has passed and it's 4 in the morning. I've been awake against my will since 1215am, so I'm doing the next best thing to sleep - sipping Diet Coke and playing online solitaire. My interview for Greece is in three and a half hours, so I'm glad I'll be well-rested and alive. As I write Manchas is making particularly cute faces next to me, probably in an attempt to make up for the puddle of wizz she left outside the bathroom door. I can't clean it up because the mop's out back. Normally in these occasions I'd wake Mono up to go get it for me, but he's at the base and there are bugs out there that I'm not prepared to deal with. In any case the place is already a mess, with three of Mono's shoes scattered on the floor. I leave them there after I smash bugs beneath them, and then Mono throws the bastards away when he gets home. It's a system.

I have a one week vacation for some Saudi holiday I don't know about but I'm sure it would be in good taste to look into. Put that on the to-do. Our last day of work I subbed for a class and one of the students told me he has five wives. I'm really not sure if this was true and I had a wild-eyed look in my eyes (I could see it in the video screen) for a moment while I pondered whether to laugh at his joke or simply nod politely. Evidently I thought the spooked horse expression was an appropriate balance of both.

In elementary school I remember a book series about horses called the Saddle Club. If you bought a book, inside you'd get a little card that said you were a member. There were also lots of other horse books not in the series, and horses were always an option on folder covers and notebook designs and whatnot. I always thought there was something very weird about that particular subject as an obsession among girls my age (9?). Why horses? Why now, when you have so much going for you, are you choosing to identify yourself as a "horse girl"? You do realize you live in the suburbs, right? I think I thought horse girls were out of touch with reality. This is New Brighton, woman, horses are of another era! I might have also been sad that the horse girls didn't let me into their club since I didn't have a card from the book.

Life is a very sad thing.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Already three days into the job and still going strong on my positive attitude because as we all know I'm not one to complain about my job.

My supervisor Rosemarie emailed me last week to arrange a time to chat and she told me that the company had decided to make a new position called Senior Control Room Coordinator, and they were picking ME to fill the role. Initially I was going to be a regular teacher with two two-hour classes per night. Now I don't have any fixed class at all, but I'm the all-purpose sub when there's a technical problem or a teacher falls asleep during her break (this happens). For the times where no fill-in teacher is needed, I'm helping develop materials for the other teachers, helping with marketing stuff, etc. I am also now a soon-to-be-published author for the staff newsletter coming out next month. I like it because I get to meet a bunch of different students - so far I've taught five different classes in the last three days, and I also like looking for lesson ideas since there's so much good English language stuff out there on the internet and I lack the genius and creativity to think of things myself.

In some ways it is quite a different batch of students to be working with, but I'm also surprised at how alike they are to any student I've ever taught. Here's a picture - not my student but a typical Riyadh man. All my students so far have been men, and I'm expecting that's all I'll ever get. Saudi Arabia is among the most lucrative countries in the world in terms of teaching ESL, but it seems to be generally agreed in the business that a teaching position there is for the money rather than the experience or the fun of living in Riyadh. Quite oppressive and isolating, particularly if you are a foreign woman, and I'm not sure that speaking Arabic would really improve matters.

Anyway I knew this going into my first lesson and I was interested in how it would manifest in terms of classroom dynamics and the fact that they'ed be taking lessons from a younger foreign female. Well it's been great! I've had not problem students, they've all been engaged and eager to learn. Lots of laughing that goes on in class and students are very respectful - thanking me repeatedly throughout class and at the end for my help, and just generally having very good attitudes. Some things are unique - yesterday our lesson was on theater, art, and music. I asked one student about his favorite art form, and he told me he disliked art. I don't know what Islam has to say about performing arts, but I know that there visual art isn't supposed to represent anything real - if I'm not mistaken it's to protect against idolatry. That's why Islamic art has all those gorgeous and intricate squiggles but nary a stick figure in sight. Like this one to the left, for example. Another cool thing about that: the blurry picture you see below is from I can't remember which mosque in Istanbul, and that little kid was violating sacred rules and doing carpet yoga while the rest of us walked around being reverent. Anyway I learned that the carpet in a mosque (or at least in this one?) has a certain design for prayer. It's all flowers and whatnot squigs, but the form of the flower mimics the form of the body when Muslims kneel to pray. The knees rest on the leaves of the flower, for example, and the head at bloom. This way they can also space people out evenly and avoid feet-in-face-of-person-behind-you, since you can't wear shoes in a mosque. Well played, Islam.

Point being this guy said he didn't like art and then he got a shifty-eyed look on his face so I thought it better not to press and went instead with the seemingly innocuous, "Okay, so you don't like art, but do you have a favorite color?" He told me white. Or sometimes black.

They weren't all anti-art, though. One of them even told me I could call him Elvis Presley since there were two Mohameds in the classroom and it got confusing. His classmate Abdulleh also apparently was a big fan of film, as he lamented the fact that there's not movie theater in Riyadh. "But teacher, I have a big screen. I invite you to my house to watch a movie." After that Elvis started calling me Mrs. Abdulleh. It was funny though and not like "Hello, I'm scary and you are my bride." Just funny and the kind of dumb shit that you hear in any culture, but for some reason I didn't expect to find among this group.

Who da dumshit now?

I'm still also working out my zombie kinks with the job. The new position they gave me has the same hours as all the administrative people, so 8am to 3pm Riyadh time meaning 11PM TO 6AM COZUMEL TIME. This morning I finished work and was NOT TIRED aka I was in a good part of my book, so while the boys were leaving for working I was firing up the kindle (get it?) and changing out of my work uniform consisting of long-sleeved professional black blouse or blazer and boxer shorts - hot pink or leopard print depending on my mood (hahaha, yeah right, totes depends on recent laundry habits). Anyway after an hour or so witmybook I finally napped for two hours which is worrisome since I feel like I might die right now.

Anyway, Manchas is doing wellI'msureyoucare. This morning I walked and saw a little neighbor doggie that is nothing but skin and bones and I saw him when he was just a wee baby a couple months ago and the cutest thing in the world except Manchas. I asked Mono if we could have a second dog and he said no so I went and put on some make-up and asked again but he still thought I was ugly. Right now he's four hours away on bus so I'm sure that when he gets back he will be so happy to see his wonderful girlfriend that he won't even notice that it's not just me and Manchas licking his face. Anyway we voted and Manchas agrees with me.