A Day in a Saudi Classroom

Assignment 4: Narration (Revision 11/30/15)

“Phones off! Phones in bags! Bags up front!”

‘Phone’ was a word that never needed translation, as these items were affixed to my students palms since Day 1. I’ve never seen such an addiction to social networking in my life, as they type pages of texts to their friends two classes over.

“But Teachuh…” starts the chorus of begging. “Teachuh, dictionary..” says Kahloud, as she points at her only lifeline.

“That must be a very long word you’re typing. I’ll be your dictionary.” She smiles at the sarcasm. In all honesty, it would save me a lot  of hassle if they solely used their phone dictionaries. I never quite understood how every semester I’d end up with high-level books for low-level students. Today’s vocabulary lesson was no exception.

“So, girls, how was your weekend?” I predict the responses to be about shopping and sleeping. Yet, I hope for more.

“I go shopping with my sister” says Hanan. “Sleeping… just”, says Noura.

I then look to my favorite (Yes, I have favorites..). Knowing that she’ll give me a unique response, I repeat the question. “How was your weekend, Sumayah?”

“I do nothing. But today, I see my teacher last semester, and she give me a beer!”

With raised brows, I’m sure that I heard her wrong. You can’t even bring vanilla extract into this country due to its alcohol content. Let alone, a beer!

“Umm, she gave you a what?” I casually ask.

“A beer”, Sumayah says nonchalantly.

Eyes to the sky, I’m searching for all of the words I’ve heard misused over these past two years.

“Can you spell it?”

“B-E-A-R” and then she looks at me like I’m the crazy one for not knowing what a bear is. Of course, I can’t explain the difference between bear and beer. The latter was an “Avoid” topic on the Culture Sensitivity List. So instead we spend 5 minutes doing word repetition, by saying everything we know about bears. They will not leave my class saying that Ms. Ashley taught them about beer.

We then start class with a reading about a man with 13 jobs, one of them being an “Undertaker”. This is a new word that takes every bit of effort, from drawing graves to acting out a funeral. After my performance at the front of the classroom, I get baffled stares. Then suddenly my one 40+-year-old, Amani, proudly shouts out.. “Ahhh, Teacher… Undertaker, like WWE!!” The class must not have seen the slight shaking of my head and lack of confirmation, as they erupted in “Ahhhs” and “ohhhs” of instant understanding.

At the bottom of my lesson plan is a space for notes.

Tomorrow: Phone Dictionaries

 

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Devil is in the Details

Assignment 2 (Revision: 11/15/15): Direct Observation

DSCN3645

This is not my flat, btw (lol). But is along my scenic route.

Before I leave the serenity of my heated flat at 6:30 am, Saturday morning, and rush out into the crisp desert air of Saudi Arabia, I say a prayer.  Not to get me through the seemingly endless workday, or a prayer to keep the attention of SMS addicted students, but a prayer that I safely make it through the unpredictable 15-minute adventure to the university.

Jumping into the dirt-speckled taxi, I’m greeted by my old driver, Uncle Ahmed. “Good Morning, Zahrah!” .. My name is Ashley. However, Uncle Ahmed insists that a name must hold a meaning, and “from an ash tree” wasn’t good enough.

“You moat (dead)?!”, he asks. I apologize for my lateness. I wipe out a circle of condensation from the window to peer out. Uncle Ahmed uses his sleeve on the windshield and rolls down his window to see from a different angle. We teach him about the defrost button and he instantly lights up in amazement of this new invention.

We first pass a playground that holds abandoned balls, bottles, and bags from yesterday’s attendants. The cement football/soccer courts sit on the grounds of an old mosque, making it a temporary babysitter during prayer calls. We come to a median at an unnamed street, which would require a right turn, followed by a U-Turn. However, we always make the left onto possible oncoming traffic, until the break in the median. The motels along this street are identical, besides the unique designs of gated windows that encase its inhabitants. Guarding the door, one of the cleaners is occupying a set of airport benches.  Adjacent, a dusty old couch decorates the motel’s outdoor seating area.

We are now approaching what we call “the road of death”, a road left unnamed by city planners. We see our first hazard at the corner construction site, where foreign workers lift a spin saw to the 3rd story of the structure, by tying the handle to a rope. Piles of debris stretch carelessly out into the street.

Facing another mosque, we turn right. It’s pretty much a straight shot from here. The challenge is to navigate an unmarked road of perhaps 3-lanes, unpronounced speed bumps that we brace for by memory, and the absence of signals at crossings. Unbothered, the driver of a sputtering moped speeds past us, using a tightly wrapped scarf as his helmet. Our 65-year old driver slowly makes his way down the street, in comparison to the 20-somethings and occasional 14-year-old driving his mother to the store. Recycled, round trash receptacles line the road. Most of the trash misses the bin by mere inches, while one is used to contain a fire for the chilled workers.

A row of lively, green palm trees peek out from the stone fortress of a private villa. In contrast, outside its walls, it neighbors large piles of dusty rubble and stray cats.  Meanwhile, within the taxi, there’s a burst of conversation between my British co-workers “Oh, I hope my students don’t ____”, “Oh My Allah! Did you just see that ______?”, “Just 4 more weeks, ladies, until we _______”. I spend less time chiming in, and mentally prepare for the dreaded road ahead; the 4-way, 3-ish lane intersection without stoplights. Most of us have learned of common courtesy in driving school of how to execute this in a 1-lane, turn-taking, setting. However, patience is not applied here. We are now sitting in the center of a myriad of angry drivers, who clearly voice themselves with their horns and gestures that are universally understood. My driver gives back the same look and yells a stream of Arabic. One full year in Saudi and the extent of my Arabic is knowing how to say, “You crazy, mentally ill person” with fluidity.

Uncle Ahmed’s horn gets him through the traffic, and I can convince my heart to stop racing. The rest of the scenery helps, as everything else is predictable. We will always pass the smaller men’s only shops with unrushed patrons taking in their Arabic tea and breakfast foul. The cluster of pre-teen boys dressed in their crisp white thobes and checkered scarves always pick up a Pepsi from the local gas station on the way to school. And I delight in seeing rare English, as we pass the golden arches of Mickey D’s and a pharmacy, simply titled “Pharmacy”.

We have one more intersection, but thankfully this one comes with a traffic light. The very second it turns green, starts the blaring of every car horn, including ours. After the driver to our right, makes a left-hand turn, we’re in the clear. We make our final turn onto the backroads of the school, passing Arabic graffiti and a pink villa that stands out among the brown city. We hop out the taxi to join the dozens of veiled women in long, black abayas. A student greets me at the door. She smiles with stunning eyes and lavish accessories. I’m pretty sure it’s Ghada.

Things NOT to say in a Riyadh university

I was just given my Culture Sensitivity List for this semester’s class…

Basically, if you’re considering teaching in Riyadh, prepare to get creative!

Here are the topics you must either avoid, or proceed with caution:

1) Adopted children and children conceived out of wedlock

2) Alcoholic drinks and intoxicating drinks

3) Birthdays

4) Blended family concepts (e.g. a step-brother/ step-sister living together)

5) Boyfriends or girlfriends

6) Celebrities: actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, etc.

7) Christmas

8) Concerts

9) Dating

10) Dramas

11) Drinking alcohol

12) Drugs and drug abuse

13) Devil and demons

14) Euthanasia

15) Eating pork

16) Fashion

17) Film-making

–turning page–

18) HIV or AIDS

19) Holidays outside the two Islamic holidays

20) Homosexuality

21) Love stories, being in love, falling in love, love at first sight, soulmates

22) Magic, magicians

23) Mental situations, mental diseases, etc.

24) Mixed gender situations (men and women working together, socializing, etc.)

25) Movies: only when talking about a particular movie or when the word movies is used to refer to the cinema

26) Moving out (not living with the family in the same house) at the age of 18

27) Music, musical instruments

28) Neuroticism

29) Partner relationships (unmarried couples)

30) People not dressed properly, e.g. wearing shorts (men or women)

31) Plastic surgeries, physical appearance changes

32) Political topics, elections, etc

33) Professional dancing and dancers

34) Psychologists or psychiatrists

35) Religion

36) Sculpture (human/animal faces)

37) Singing

38) Sexually transmitted diseases

39) Spirits and witchcraft

40) Social networking

41) Superpowers or superheroes

42) Superstitions: beliefs not based on facts/scientific knowledge (crossing fingers for good luck, the number 13, walking under ladders)

43) Theatre

44) TV shows or programs that discuss inappropriate themes like music, dancing, (American Idol, So you think you can dance, etc)

45) Tobacco and smoking

46) Women driving

**Scratching my lesson plan, before today’s class**