Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What can we expect?

Unfortunately, I spend most of this blog complaining about the students and general environment of Saudi Arabia which does deserve the ridicule it receives. However, a few episodes yesterday did show perhaps we as teachers are not completely blameless.
Most of the teachers live in a single apartment complex and we trudge off to work together taking a company provided mini-bus. As can be expected people tend to sit in the same place and with the same people from day to day with some slight variations as there are a few seats which are less comfortable the last people on the bus are forced to sit there. Yesterday, a recently hired teacher was apparently unaware that certain other teachers believe they have a birthright to their particular seats. So while there were some lovely seats still available and roughly a quarter of the teachers still waiting to get on the bus this teacher decided to throw a tantrum and complained bitterly that his seat had been stolen, it was his seat, he sits there EVERYDAY! Impressively the new teacher didn't back down and remained in his claimed territory, a victory for egalitarianism then. As those teachers both inside and outside grew impatient and the catcalls for the teacher to sit down he finally gave up on HIS seat and sat elsewhere.
I am not immune to acts of immaturity either as it was a Wednesday (the last day of the work week) I had very little enthusiasm for teaching my final hour so I struck a deal with my students they could leave and I would mark them present as long as they remained quiet in the halls and didn't rat me out to the administration. When I triumphantly returned to my office looking to bask in an extra hour of free time I saw a team leader was already in the office speaking to a colleague I beat a hasty retreat and hid in the bathroom until he had moved along.
Now I am not sure how much of our own personal failings, unseriousness, and general immaturity rubs off on our students. Personally I don't see the connection between my letting students go early and another student thinking it's appropriate to start singing in Arabic while we are doing a reading lesson but perhaps he has just decided to let his inner-child to come more often than I.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Slow Week

Not much happening here, just the routine but last week something a little different happened and got me to thinking. I have never been one to be star struck or to chase down autographs of celebrities and I think I have only seen a couple of rock stars and professional athletes in my life. However, for some reason I have now met and shaken hands with two billionaires.
The first one was in 2007 when I met George Soros who is the patron of Central European University, my alma mater. I did not know much about the man before I studied there and I believed his vision for CEU was a generally positive one. A place where students from all over the world, particularly those coming out of the soviet sphere, could interact and study in an open challenging environment. I later found Mr. Soros has a somewhat controversial past and remains a lightning rod for controversy. He made his fortune in the financial sector and some believe much of his wealth was ill-got. He has recently been attacked by Glen Beck as a liberal puppet-master orchestrating the downfall of the US. I am in no position to comment on any of this, he seemed like a nice old man when I crossed dais and shook his hand.
Last week I was called in to work as our college had some very special VIPs coming to tour the institute. As I am a linchpin of the entire operation it was necessary I attend, or it could be because I am the whitest of the foreign teachers. I like to believe it was the former.
We arrived to find that the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Education, and a special adviser to the king would be coming to inspect our little facility. Also in attendance was the president of a large company which is the largest sponsor of the college, Bakr Bin Laden of the Bin Laden Group. He is Osama's brother and a pretty big deal in Saudi Arabia. One thing that impressed me about him was despite his age, he's quite old, he drove himself to the college. Also, his Mercedes is ridiculously nice. Again because of his brother and the general issues surrounding the politics and religiosity in the Kingdom Bakr is a somewhat controversial figure. I cannot comment on this as I met him for about 3 seconds.
Other than a chance to name drop these episodes made me think of the difficulties of being in a position of power and wealth. Perhaps it's impossible to climb to the top of a particular mountain without bending the rules and stepping on and over others. Or perhaps it's the jealousies of others that cast these shadows on the high and mighty. I remember sitting at a bar once and wealthy man bought a round for everyone at the bar and as soon as he left the knives came out. So when I finally ascend into the upper echelons of power and influence please try to keep your envy in check.