The Power of Three

I have three categories of student - men, children, and a teenage girl.

The men get themselves to the classroom in time for the lesson - ie. anything from 15 minutes early to 45 minutes late - and leave with a bundle of notes which they never look at again.

The children are dropped off by their fathers, and picked up again 90 minutes later. Like children everywhere, almost all have no interest in sitting in a classroom - especially as they spent all morning sitting in a state-run classroom.

The fathers are also like most fathers everywhere, in that they're pushy, opinionated, and want the teacher to focus exclusively on their beloved offspring, for extra time, at half the standard rate. Whether said offspring like it or not.

There are boys and girls among the children, and they spontaneously segregate themselves into opposite sides of the room, never communicating, and pretending the other side doesn't exist. The girls know more, the boys talk more.

Then there's one girl of fifteen. And although she goes to school, she's not allowed to come to our school. Why? Because hormones. Whose hormones, I'm not sure, but it's definitely because hormones.

Boys of sixteen, no problem - because...well, because boy hormones. Boys of sixteen mixing with boys of ten, no problem. But for a teenage girl, I have to be driven to her home, sit and talk for an hour with father in the next room, and then he drives me back.

Plenty of parents want me to teach their young children in their homes, but official school policy is to always refuse. Why? Because security.

Security of who, and against what, is not exactly clear. But as an excuse, this one's useful.

No Problem

The mark of a stable life is an empty blog.

The mark of a happy life is a boring blog.

So, sorry to be empty and boring. There'll be a crisis along soon, I'm sure. My problems at the moment are:

* The shower in the hotel room is a bit rubbish.

* My job involves trying to explain complicated ideas about grammar to people raised with different complicated ideas about a different grammar...while disguising it as games and puzzles about vocabulary.

* The printer has broken down - and for some reason, a lack of printed handouts make students feel like it's not a proper lesson.

* My urine has turned orange. Too much pepsi-cola?

* Everything stops five times a day, every day, for half an hour. Including one at 5am. Except for Fridays, when the afternoon hiatus lasts four hours.

The shops shut, businesses go on hold, and the mosque across the road starts playing acapella singing over the tannoy.

When the wind is just right, I get two different tannoys at five in the morning.

Not that people spend the whole time praying. Most do a one minute prayer, then sit in their homes watching TV, find a place outside with some shade and chat, have a rest at work...or drive around.

It doesn't mean they're less devout, just less inclined to make a public show of it.

Anyway, for three periods of my working day, I get locked in - or out - of the building.

* There's no time for blogging.

A Grand Day Out

A day of being a tourist.
There are two kinds of road. Those which connect one part of a city to another, and those which connect cities. They're made of the same stuff, probably by the same people, and they're painted with the same lines signifying pretty much the same laws. But they feel completely different. Intra-city roads are a convenience. Inter-city roads...are what make a lot of the cities possible.
What colour is the desert? I always imagined it as yellow - on the grounds that the sand on the beach is yellow, or maybe brown. But no - The Sahara is red.
Camels. Smaller than I expected. More like ponies than horses. But the musky-dust smell, the somehow snooty aura of vague curiosity, and the body designed by a committee...all there.

Even in the middle of the desert, there are places provided for you to lie down, relax, and maybe smoke some shisha. Arabs know about downtime.

The castle of the ancient town of Qareer. 'Ancient' here means 'about 200 years old'. Saudi in it's unified form is maybe 60 years old, and it's gone from nomadic with pockets or agrarian a place where everyone has a smartphone, owns Adidas casuals and drinks Pepsi, in less than a lifetime. Old things look older than they are.

Castles are where kings live, right? Not this one. This is a place for the citizens to gather and be protected from an invading army. The doors are three feet high, so people can crawl into the small rooms - but soldiers can't charge in. There are holes in the walls to shoot arrows through, but only room for say a cramped hundred people and a fortnight's supply of food.
The remains of Qareer, and the modern town.

Inside a larger castle. Grander, more ornate, and with historical stories attached.
Around the back, a sheep and goat farm.

This is the beach. That's what they call it. An artificial oasis, specifically built for families to visit, bring a rug, and sit on it with a little picnic, looking out across the water.

We had a rug, some fizzy drinks from the 'Supermarket' (service station) and time to take in the view.
Every tourist attraction has a museum, every historical site has buried artifacts, and every civilisation needs things to put other things in.
Another thing most civilisations seem to develop - bread. Even those which have rice or other carbyhydrate staples. The Arabic word for bread is "Khoobz", and the word for carbohydrate is...Karbohidrat. The same as the German. But if you want bread, you need crops...and grinding stones.
"The Gun is Good."
Every time there's a new king, there's a new king's face to go on the money. And on every available billboard. No 'dead presidents' here. Which means a lot of notes and a few billboards are out of date - though you can still spend the money.
What I said about old things? Video cassette recorders had their own glass box. As did medium wave radios. We sometimes say of old technology that it belongs in a museum. Here, it actually does.
These phones are so old they're not actually mp3 players in disguise.
Poetry and mathematics may have been developed to a high level here, but taxidermy...
...less so.

Where there is a site of historical interest, there is a museum. And where there's a museum, there's a gift shop. And where there's a gift shop, there's toxic levels of kitsch.

Roughly translated, "Allah is mother and father", so my guide informed me. Pink is a very happy colour, and it's only the lapsed protestant in me which associates religious devotional decoration with being dour.

Yes, it's a giant coffee pot and cup. And no, it's not to advertise a chain of coffee shops, or a hotel, or even a brand of coffee. It's public art, and I think we could all use more of it.