Friday, January 27, 2012

Mo' Studnets, Mo' Problems

So I have moved to Jeddah from Riyadh and it's been about a little over a month. Jeddah is much nicer then Riyadh, a little more relaxed, great weather, nice restaurants, the sea, all good. Of course moving to a new city meant moving to a new school. I went from the Preparatory Year at one of the Kingdom's top universities to a recently created public-private technical college. The college was created like most things with the best of intentions; to give middle and lower class Saudis the chance to learn a trade that could provide them gainful employment in the petro-chemical or construction industry. All to the good. Being the optimistic type that I am I assumed these young Saudi men would relish the chance to study hard and get themselves a good job. Not only is the college free they are all paid a stipend to attend this institution of higher learning.

Unfortunately, I have been rather disappointed with the quality of the students. I was lucky enough to be given the evening shift working from 3-10 each evening. All the students that study in the evening have something in common, they all failed their courses in the first semester, they are the repeaters. They get to take the first three levels of English a second time. You might imagine that doing the EXACT same course with the EXACT same books would be fairly easy. This is what I imagined unfortunately, I was mistaken the language remains indecipherable to this crack group of young minds. Now some of the problem may lie in the fact that while I have 28 students on my roster I have never seen more than 22 at any one time and that was on an exam day. I have an overall attendance rate in my class of around 24%, this makes learning the language rather difficult as, if one is not in the classroom one has difficulty doing the required work. And those that do deign to come for one or two hours a day they are a true cast of characters. One of my favourites is a rather large young Saudi with a big ol' Afro, he like to wear his sunglasses during the lesson and forgetting his book in the car is also one of his favourite activities. Last week he came to the third period (he missed the first two because he was busy), and he complained that he didn't understand the exercise, I tried to explain that we had gone through the explanations over the first two hours that he had missed. This really flummoxed him and he showed such great resolve that when his phone rang he decided it was a good time to answer the phone and carry on a short conversation. The tenacity of my group is impressive. Another gem that decides to come occasionally also enjoys wearing his sunglasses at night, and believes that the answers to all his English problems can be found in his Blackberry. The look of shock on his face when he hears that he has failed every single quiz and exam is quite priceless, and the sincerity in his voice when he asks me to maybe help him, aka give him extra marks, is rather stunning. In this group clods, dolts, and malcontents there are some really good kids who do try their best and it seems to me language just isn't there thing. I have 1 student out of 28 passing the course but who knows maybe for the rest the third time will be the charm. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

White's Alright

For the second time in my life I am a visible minority. It is a bizarre feeling to be obviously foreign, to be obviously alien. Lucky for me my complexion is of the paler variety and for whatever reason these societies love whitey. I really started thinking about this recently and realized how truly strange it is to be given respect, or beneficial treatment based solely on the colour of my skin. I can't really complain I'm not sure if it's racism when I get to jump the queue. At the gym I frequent here in Jeddah there is a Pakistani janitor/maintenance man whose face completely lights up when he sees me. It's as if we are long lost brothers suddenly reunited, the immensity of his smile frightens me I can not imagine the sight of a stranger bringing me such joy. I am somewhat overwhelmed  by the attention and this sort of reaction is a fairly regular occurrence. The Filipinos who do all the work in this country always pay just a bit more attention to me and are just a bit more courteous to me than the those of the non-Caucasian variety.
This preference for white people is not confined to the Arab world I had very similar experiences in South Korea. On my first day of work as I was taking the elevator up to the school I was joined by a middle-aged man who looked at me and said, "You so handsome...ahhh you so handsome" (in a ridiculously offensive Korean accent), "You teacher here, I very happy." I would frequent a chicken restaurant there primarily because their menu had pictures and there was a cute little Korean girl who worked there. One night the owner came out and greeted me again I was informed that I was handsome and he was very appreciative of my business and that the meal was on him. Now of course I am a fairly handsome devil but these occurrences did not happen just to me other pale skinned people got the same treatment this pro-racism is apparently endemic. I heard similar stories from people who have traveled around Africa.
All of this just does my head in. White people have basically spent the past 500 years raping and pillaging the coloured lands around the world. Apparently the constant pounding of our chest telling all who would listen that we are the best in the world and I guess everyone else just sort of agreed. It's a mad, mad world I guess I'm just glad I'm living in it with the right pigmentation.