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It’s time for a KitKat.

Hi wonderful people. I haven’t posted for a little bit, mostly because I’ve been hibernating in my apartment, but more because I’ve been an absolute misery the last week or so, so I thought I would return to normal pleasantness before I bombard this blog with posts of distress and madness. Gosh, I am so homesick. I am so homesick that I almost feel a physical pain in my stomach – usually at around 8.25am. The other day I was feeling so low and my four year old darling of a brother sent a voice note on Whatsapp saying “We miss you so much” and I just wailed. I’m sort of in a place where I genuinely feel like I have reached the end of my tether. I’ve been laughing at all of the absurdities that comes with working and living in Saudi Arabia, because that’s really all you can do, but now I’m crying. No, screaming!

And it’s mostly the university that bleeds my soul dry, not necessarily the country. Like I have mentioned many many times before, there’s a lot I can and am willing to deal with and accept and most of the time I’ll just take it all with a pinch of salt, but the university is just wow. I’ve never in my life been in an environment that is so micro-managed. It’s suffocating. But here is what really grinds my gears. As I’m sure you’re aware, the working life in Saudi Arabia is worlds apart from the UK or any Western country for that matter. It is very, very, relaxed, meeting times are just a mere guideline and “come at 9am” could mean anything between “come sometime before noon” and “you can come at 9 but I probably won’t see you till about 1pm”. Nothing gets done when it’s supposed to be done and the response to almost everything is ‘inshallah’. If you are not Muslim and you do not care for this word, it will make you eventually rip your hair out. But that’s not what gets to me, that I can handle, that I can learn to love if I bloody have to.

What really stings is that despite the management at the university being almost entirely Western, they still somehow uphold these Saudi ways. Like, I can accept this kind of ridiculous behavior from Saudi’s who are completely and totally accustomed to this lack of professionalism but seriously? You’ve just come from the UK or USA, you know how you’re supposed to act, why are you adapting to this bizarre situation? And to act as though as it’s completely normal too. It’s scary. At least acknowledge that these new ways in the workplace and odd and inefficient, don’t act as though it’s normal. It’s incredibly frustrating.

That’s a lot of what makes it so miserable. That, and the intense micromanagement. It always feels like the staff are under such intense scrutiny all the damn time. It makes me feel like a teenager, always worried that I’m going to get called to the headteacher’s office. It just takes all the fun out of teaching too, because you’re always so paranoid about attendance and grades and messing something up because apparently even breathing is a sin here. It really stresses me out. Funnily enough though, you hardly get told anything, what with the rules changing more often than I change clothes. You only know how not to do something until you royally fuck something up. That’s how I learned and that’s how it was when I started. I wasn’t trained or prepped or anything like that and I had to teach myself the rules and customs of the university because nobody else was going to.

The last couple of weeks have just been very dreary. The days are dragging on, work is getting intense and I’m just getting more tired. Maybe when this week is out things will look brighter. It also doesn’t help that my thighs and bum are in so much pain from yesterdays workout so even sitting down isn’t relaxing anymore. Ah!

Anyway, I’m really trying hard to not spiral into negativity and to just take each day as it comes because I know what I’m like. Once I get it into my head that I don’t want to be here, there’s no going back. I’m not usually this miserable, I’m just missing home and missing my friends and family. I realized that it’s so easy to feel alone here. Saudi Arabia is a shining example of the feeling of being surrounded by so many people but feeling incredibly lonely. I’m trying to shake off that feeling but it’s hard. I need another holiday. I think I may need holidays every two months. It’s only fair.

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Reality check: I am NOT invincible.

It feels weird writing on this blog in my living room when only a few days ago I was enjoying a two week long booze filled escapade in London (which I am very much paying for now). Back to the grind I guess! Having spent a bit of time in London doing the things that I do best, I’ve been smacked with a massive reality check. The first is that despite all of my efforts to convince myself so, I am not invincible. I am not above the law, I can quite easily be in danger, I can be hurt and I’m not an exception. That was VERY tough for me to realise. The second is that no matter how much I might get used to the normal ways of England, I’ve just got to change my attitude like a light switch whenever I come back here. Or I might die. Literally.

Yesterday I thought it was a grand idea to get a cab home at 5am. It was sort of like an uber service, which you would think to be legit. Sigh. I guess any car you call at 5am here is going to be on the dark side of legitimate. Anyway, the driver wasn’t the one who I called. Any normal person would probably get out of the car upon realising this, but no not me. You see, I was yet to have my realisation that I am not invincible. Anyway, the driver, a young and rather sleezy looking Saudi man was making painful conversation with me; I think he was trying to be charming, I don’t know. I ignored his ridiculous attempts at flattery or flirtation. So anyway, I gave him a wrong turn by mistake, and when I corrected him, these words actually happened:

Driver: *laughs* “oh, you don’t know the way to your house?”

Me: “I do”

Driver: “Well I know the way to my house, how’s that?”

Me: *dying inside* “No, my house would be fine, thanks”

Driver: “Do you smoke hashish?”

Me: “No.”

Driver: “Do you drink alcohol?”

Me: “No.”

Driver: “I have hashish and alcohol at my house, all of my friends are there, I’ll take you”

Me: *crying and dying inside* “Oh, no thanks. Just take me home please”

Driver: “No.”

Me: *heart palpitations*

Driver: “How are you looking like that and just going home?”

Me: “I don’t speak Arabic”

Driver: “But you’re speaking Arabic now, what do you mean?”

Me: “What’s wrong with you?”

Driver: “You. You’re killing me”

Yeah. Yeah. That’s what was up. Anyway, this guy actually started driving in a different direction to a place where I can only assume was going to end badly for me. “I have hashish and alcohol come to my house all my boys are there”?! He might as well have said: “A bunch of my sexually oppressed horny friends who haven’t had female interaction in so long are all at my house drinking and smoking hash, come so that we can physically and sexually abuse you because you know, oppressive country.”

Proper soz if I didn’t jump at the chance to get gang raped by horrible smelly horny boys. At this point, I genuinely felt fear. In this country, none of the girls that I know ever get into cabs alone, even when they’re licensed. Everyone is always weary of travelling late and it’s avoided at all costs. For some reason, I seemed to have missed it because since I came here six months ago, I’ve been getting taxi’s alone all the time, licensed or unlicensed. I get into taxi’s late at night alone regularly. Granted, I’ve had some dodgy experiences and met a few weirdo’s and everyone keeps telling me to stop but I’ve never actually felt scared or too uncomfortable. This time was different though. For the first time, I genuinely felt unsafe and in danger, and I didn’t really know what to do. He had actually said ‘no’ when I politely requested that he just take me home and started driving off somewhere else. For a moment I thought, shit. My mind literally was like: ‘Shit, this isn’t good. Okay, this is interesting. Oh good, he’s driving off to an unknown location. Okay this is not ideal. Oh fuck. Faaaaack. Yeah, I’m going to die tonight.’

I even asked him to stop the car. I didn’t know what I had planned to do once out of the car, but at that moment, anything was better than play time with suppressed sex-deprived drunken boys. Eventually he drove back to an area I recognised so I told him that that was where I lived, so he could let me out now. Thank god he didn’t actually drive to my house because when he stopped the car he was like “Oooh, so this is where you live huh?” Ugh, for god sake, get out!!

I was just so relieved at this point, I asked him how much it was going to cost. I just wanted to dash the money in his face but then I realised that I only had a 500 riyal note (around 90pounds) SOZ, not about that life. Anyway, he wouldn’t let me pay! I asked him a few times, how much, how much, and this sad man actually allowed these poetic words to exit his mouth: “the only payment I needed tonight was seeing you”. Alright mate. I’m not going to beg you to take my money. And off I trotted, having narrowly escaped gang rapeage or murder. This probably sounds ridiculous and dramatic and exaggerated but a man in London asking you if you want to go back to his place for a spliff and a drink is just a typical Friday night (for some..), here it is literally the equivalent of “I’m going to rape you. And then my friends will rape you”. It’s fucking terrifying. The worst thing is that if (god forbid) something like that were to happen to you, there is literally nothing that you could do about it. Never mind during it, you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if you tried to report it after. In fact, you’d probably get charged for adultery and be whipped. And if you had the audacity to accuse a Saudi national of raping you, you’d just get into more trouble; Saudi’s are quite literally above the law here and Saudi men rule alongside God. That’s what makes these situations so terrifying, it’s the fact that if something happened, there’d be nothing you could do about it, literally nothing.

So there is the story that led to realisation number one: I am not invincible. How sad is that? In all seriousness though, that was the first time since I’ve been there that I’ve genuinely felt scared and unsafe. Six months in and I’ve finally learned my lesson. Do not get into random taxi’s alone and definitely don’t do that at 5am. Sigh. Being back in London for a while seriously messed me up, I came back having gotten used to basic human rights. So audacious of me.

It’s a bit of a painful realisation to be honest, I quite enjoyed walking around telling myself that I was immune to the ridiculousness of this place. Oh well, I’ve got my game face on now and I am READY. Should I start carrying a pistol around with me? Joke. Imagine me bringing out a pistol from underneath my abaya. Ha!