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Jimmy's Journals (continued)

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Jimmy's Journals (continued)

Post by Kitkat on Tue 27 Jan 2015, 17:14

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

5.10 am

I press on the alarm clock - the face lights up - twenty five to two? … or ten past five?…  the faint amplified whine suggests it’s morning. Al Fajr, the dawn call to prayer, the first human intervention into my dreamful night, blares faint from a far-off rooftop. Another distant call joins out of time, a parody of Frere Jaques.
First footsteps on the stairs are the quiet faithful. Soon from neighbouring mosque, gentler acoustic choral chants swell, overlap, subside, fade. Not unpleasant, echoes the Gregorian. I lie listening as curtainsquare lightens till light thread may be distinguished from dark, colours emerge, consciousness, relief: no work today… And a faint click from the alarm clock not going off at 5:30 confirms today is a sick day. An approaching roar and rattle: the first of the big diesel flatbeds to arrive at the building site next door. Clonk of planks.

6:15 am

The routine of these weeks prompts me to rise, shuffle slipshod to the bathroom.

Vent acrid antibiotic… whiff like that… must’ve wasted lotsa baddies in my pharynx?...

Top up with the little ticker pops… from the ticker pop box … Tuesday’s children, full of woe…

On with the kettle… out with the oranges, 3 Pakistani flatheads, satsumas?... slice and fisticrush into the big bowl juice-and-seeds-and-pulp,  crushedskin into the bin… juicy fingerskin better than Nivea… pour into the teastrainer over the small bowl… morning orange juice… aaah… to sip as the French sip their chocolat… scald the teapot, the little steel one like the Irish Forte’s cafés used to serve… spoon of Red Label, spoon of Twining’s English Breakfast… teaspoon stir and let it draw for 5 minutes… out with the bread from the freezerbag in the overhead cupboard… carve a coupla thick slices on the breadboard… whole wheat and oatmeal soda-bread with sultanas… out with the butter, Al-Marai (Irish) unsalted, softened overnight, the Goody peanut butter, the Bonne Maman apricot preserve… feet up in the armchair under the window, with a nice pot of tea and bread and jam….

Yerra, sure I’ve woked in Paradise.

7.10 am

Don’t want to spoil the taste. Saw-dee ARAMCO FM’s restrained classical music on the tranny suits the mood. Piano sonata, muted horn, somebody’s violin concerto. Next door’s builders are hammering in earnest, the day’s work gathering pace, aluminium clangs echoing from the corridor are the security camera guys installing their cables.

Wendel is the first to arrive out front. Wendel Maunula, Finnish American, defender of the American way, the altruism of the Marshall Plan, the NITI tie policy: you don’t wear the tie, get half pay; you talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk. I gotta tellya, my friend.  Grew up on a Minnesota farm. Their father would drive the pick-up around town on a market day, looking for the cheapest gallon of gas. Wendel takes in the street, ready for the day.

Kieran’s next. Kieran Cody, quiet spoken Kilkenny man. Did his time on the secondary school circuit in England. Tied to a mortgage, and a Polish ex. Can’t afford to rock the boat. They confer in confidence. Eyes scanning the door for the next comer.

Ismet Bajramovich, Croatian American. He’ll give you an earful for the twenty minutes your seated next to him on the way to the Training Centre. Highly educated, multilingual, well informed, entertaining conspiracy theorist, complainer. Remembers Sarajevo, where his grandma was killed. Get him started on United States foreign policy, or IILSA housing policy. Better still, hook him up with Wendel.

We enjoyed two visa trips to Bahrain together. Sami’s last down. Sami, youngest and most recent arrival. Somali-Londoner, Kingsbury raised. Rubs the sleep from his eyes. Kindly Ibrahim tells the bus driver to wait for him, while others say leave him lets go we’re late.

The buses have left bearing their cargo of teachers to NITI. Passing traffic’s increasing.  My sitting room window looks onto a back street thoroughfare, a shortcut around the big Khalidiya traffic light junction queues, outlet for drive-thru customers from the side alleys of the row of lesser fast food chain joints out front: Hungry Bunny, Kudu, Herfy’s (McDonald’s presides on the prime corner site by the lights)…
Snuffles… Time for some drugs…and a tissue…put the kettle on. Traffic buzzing by at shorter and shorter intervals

8:45 am

Indicative: I’m wiping the dust off the lenses of my reading glasses as I sit down to type this. The settlings of last night. I remember from Explorations, our Inter Cert poetry book:

“When men were all asleep the snow came flying
In large, white flakes, falling on the city brown…”

Here, it’s the dust that comes flying, and settling and sifting. Even the Hasawi complain about their dusty town. And it’s a double whammy: the NITI training centre is located to the southwest out of town, exposed to the wind that sweeps off the hills; and our apartment is exposed on two sides to unwalled, treeless open spaces. We’ve had a few dust-storms these past two months (it’s the season). You eat dust when you go out to the shop. And it follows you in off the street, through the always open street door, sits in shallow drifts along the big corridor (an Indian man comes once a week to clean the corridor) clang boom scrape bang, next day the dust has reclaimed the floor. And the air.

Ash to ashes
Dust to dust
If God don’t get you
The Devil must.

And the wicked wind sweeps the fine devil dust through the 2-inch gap under my door and the dust fans out through the sitting room to clothe every surface. It blows across the floor to sift into the farthest corners. It collects in the pretend-velvet upholstery of the two sofas and the armchairs. It layers the walls, the cushions, laptop, curtains, cartons, carpet. It rises in clouds when disturbed.

And it gets up my nose.

Last month, after I’d been here three weeks, when I spent the weekend with my new Libman brush & dustpan combo, mop and bucket and DAC disinfectant. I swept, mopped, wiped, rinsed bedroom, bathroom and kitchen in that order. I mopped the floor, beat the carpet in the sitting room out front.

And my nose thanked me.

But then I decided the less I disturbed the dust-traps in the sitting room the better. When I discovered the strength of the wind under my door, and the gaps between the AC and its hole in the wall I realized this was only a temporary respite. Short of throwing out all the seating, sealing the ACs and door, I couldn’t make this sitting room dust-free. I offered to have them take away that stuff (and the TV with it); they thought I was bonkers.

These are cut-price cowboys. They don’t do apartment improvements. They do profit. Sami, the recent arrival from London, has no hot water. Sami’s depressed. Canadian Joe had a flooded bathroom. He’s gone. Then there was the South African whose drain came up in his kitchen. He left two weeks ago.
So I left it at that. My dusty fate.


Jesus came to my rescue last night. Jesus and Mohammed.

I’d been feeling poorly since the weekend, and yesterday I’d struggled through my teaching, especially when facing the troublesome afternoon group who can rarely bring themselves to listen, even on a good day. I’d developed a rasping cough.

For days my throat had felt dry, as if it was being attacked by some pungent, acrid chemical, ammonia or carbon monoxide; on occasion in the sitting room I’d smelt what I’d suspected was burning plastic that had got in from the street through the cracks around the AC.  And once I’d woken at night gagging on what had felt like fumes from a combustion engine exhaust. I even went snooping round outside looking for the source of these fumes, maybe a generator or a rubbish tip?

Now I was losing my voice, coughing yellow gobbets, my head aching, and one eyeball throbbing.

So at 3:45 on the way out when I met Shaf I asked what’s the procedure when you get sick, where’s that clinic we’re supposed to use? He referred me to Muawia, the go-to man for housing, company ties, salary advances, bank transfers, and medical matters – lives somewhere in our block. It was either track him down or try to sleep it off. Then downstairs one of the South Africans told me he’d been recently to that clinic and advised against it, said he was going to another, better place at seven, after prayer, offered to show me the place.

At seven fifteen, the South African knocked. Mohammed was coming too, Mohammed the New York Kosovan. The clinic was two or three kilometres away, near the hotel they’d been billeted in before being moved to our current apartments. On the way, Isa and Mohammed told me their clinic stories. Muawia sent them to the IILSA approved clinic. For a start, he receptionist had been unwelcoming, a fat unfriendly Egyptian woman. Then, the doctor had called both patients in together, wouldn’t examine them up close, prescribed antibiotics and sent them away. Isa reckons he was scared of contact with AIDS or Ebola, or perhaps had issues about Westerners.  

Isa is mixed race Cape coloured, Indian grandparent(s). Mohammed’s Albanian/American. He was given a sick note for the day he’d just worked but not for the next day. They think sick notes might be on offer at a price (the Egyptian way?). Isa reckons this clinic was awarded the contract with IILSA because they would be more amenable than other clinics, and cheaper, i.e. not dish out sick notes willy-nilly. Teachers have to pay cash for consultations, treatment and prescribed drugs. And the company reimburses the teacher on production of receipts – if the clinic is approved by the company.

I’d heard previously from Doc Jackson, our other raconteur New Yorker, about his visit to the approved clinic, and he’d had a poor impression. Good for band aids, he’d said. But when he mentioned Type 2 Diabetes, they said sorry Doc.

Also, I was about to use my IILSA “C Class” medical insurance card which I’d just been issued with a couple of weeks ago, and wasn’t sure what it was good for. So I took Isa’s advice and went with him to the other clinic.

Bright, clean, colourful facilities, welcoming, friendly female Saudi receptionists (though masked, of course – but the eyes were friendly, you know what I mean?), Filipina staff. I was kept waiting only a short time before being examined by a Kashmiri doctor, and diagnosed with infection of the pharynx, likely cause: dust, likely aggravated by: teaching Listening & Speaking to Saudis who shout a lot and listen little.

Prescribed: antibiotics, syrup, antipyretic. Sent to: emergency room, laid down, given antibiotic allergy test, drip, injection, smiles and expert attention by three Filipina nurses. A bearded mutawa came in with a sick child – even he smiled. They asked me if I wanted the curtain drawn. I said no: I wanted to see them! Issued: surgical mask and sick note for next working day. On leaving the clinic I already felt better – in spirit.  Jesus and Mohammed had waited outside for me and loaned me the money I needed to pay the pharmacy. The whole lot had come to SR.260, almost fifty pounds.

The boys dropped me home, told me where to find Muawia. It was after 9 pm when we got home. They’d spent almost two hours ferrying me to the clinic, hanging around, and accompanying me home. Jesus and Mohammed (Isa knows the Irish for Jesus is Iosa). You couldn’t go wrong, could you?

I put on my surgical mask before I knocked and found him in his room, #311, consulting with Naim, the Yemeni driver – two key men in this organization. Muawia was sympathetic but not pleased to be presented with these receipts; he asked why I hadn’t gone to him. I avoided eye contact, mumbled something about the Egyptian place appearing unwelcoming, then just said limply I was sick… and retreated. Don’t know if I’ll get reimbursed, but now I don’t care: I’m glad I didn’t go to the Egyptians! On the way down, I stuck my head in to Shaf’s room, #309, that 60s R&B song playing over and over in my head.

“Doin’ my time, doin’ my time, doin’ my time
In Cell 309.
Boom, boom, booom.

Shaf came to the door with a cigarette in his gob, about to light up. Shaf’s Pakistani-Yorkshire, from Leeds. Academic Co-ordinator. Runs the show at the Training Centre, while Muawia runs everything else. I told him I had the handover info for tomorrow’s classes on the top of my head for the cover teacher, could make a note for him right there. No, he said, waved me away, gesturing at the cigarette. Send me an email. OK.

Shaf’s probably glad I won’t be in tomorrow.
Him, and me too.

2:40 pm

Low grade hum-mumble intrudes. My gaff is beside the entrance to a four storey apartment block. My door opens onto a high ceilinged echoing corridor of possibly 16 doors. And my sitting room window looks onto a narrow terrace where residents and visitors arrive and leave from.

I look out to see the big chargehand from the site next door leaning on a car, mumbling through his red and white ghutra worn Pakistani style wrapped his round head, throat and jaw, leaving a space for the face like a ski-helmet. He’s been jawboning monotone Urdu for the last twenty minutes, possibly longer; most of the time I don’t notice, I get used to it – until I become conscious of the white noise – then it irritates. It’s where folks choose to jaw on their phones, on the terrace outside my sitting room window.

And I see on the other side of the road another neighbor also with a telephone in his ear ; he wears his head-kerchief Bengali style knotted at the back of the head. He’s the pot-bellied little man who escorts the Saudi girls from the building opposite when they exit their apartment building  similar to ours, to board their big bus in the morning while we’re waiting for our smaller ones. We reckon they’re Saudi cos they’re veiled and blacked up, teachers maybe, or students – there’s King Faisal University not far across the way. Our man guards the doorway as the girls exit, directing the operation military style with his telephone; we feign indifference while watching for the flash of the ankle as the bagged girls board their bus. I've been watching him today. Sometimes he radios the drivers to come out of the little corner office (through a separate door) to drive the bus away, telephones pick-ups from cars, so that the passenger to be picked up can walk quickly from the building and be whooshed away without being exposed to yahoos loitering in the street. And he carries the key to lock the women’s door again once they’ve entered.

I was deep into my biography of Winston Churchill about nine the other night when it dawned on me that I’d been re-reading every sentence, aloud, and getting more and more annoyed with myself cos I wasn’t making sense of what I’d just read. Like an eejit. Then it dawned on me. Some shithead was under my window shouting  - and had been for at least twenty minutes – I looked out to see an Indian pacing back and forth, cellphone in gob, talking loudly and gesticulating. I went out and asked him if he had a room upstairs; he said he had, so I pointed out my room to him, and my book, and the time, and urged him to return to it to finish his phone call upstairs. Now. Thank you.

Have I become a cantankerous old man?

It gets to you sometimes. The noise. And the dust. But then I tell myself “It’s pay day soon”. The bank account will be replenished, there’ll be funds to fire off into cyberspace, and I’ll have chalked off another month.

15:40 pm

The boys will be arriving home soon after another trying day down on the farm. Meanwhile, the high engine revs, whirring gears, clanks and shouts from the street out front tell me the concrete mixer and crane truck is pumping liquid concrete. Worth getting dressed and going out to have a look at.

In fact, I see it’s two trucks, and they’re pumping up the high tubes about 200 feet along an extension arm and down into the foundation casings along the edge of the site next door. And the crane truck is right across the road – blocking access for the buses. Won’t they be pleased? And it’s a nice sunny day, with no dust out there.

I’ve enjoyed my day off. Even forgot I’m sick. Better take some drugs first. But first, you have to eat. Yoghurt, chopped apple, sultanas and honey.  Aren’t I lucky to have my own fridge?

Related threads:

Pakistan:  A Traveller's Journal

A day in Kuwait

Jimmy's Algerian Journal

Hitch-Hiking USA
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Re: Jimmy's Journals (continued)

Post by Jamboree on Fri 30 Jan 2015, 04:31

The erudite rover's return!  Good to see. :thumb:  Always an enjoyable read.
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Re: Jimmy's Journals (continued)

Post by Kitkat on Fri 27 Mar 2015, 21:50

Jamboree wrote:The erudite rover's return!  Good to see. :thumb:  Always an enjoyable read.

Well, I'm actually hoping there won't be too much more reading from that particular destination - having just read an article published in January this year in the local newspaper of the very place that my brother is working - as a teacher.  The article is dated January this year (my brother started work there in December - must be round about the time that that particular incident happened - just one of many!).  I have put the news story inside the spoiler:

HOFUF, Ahsa — Condemning the attack against one of the teachers Ahsa governorate recently, Minister of Education Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said his ministry will take all necessary measures to protect its teachers, Al-Hayat daily reported.
Prince Khaled telephone the teacher, who was stabbed by the uncle of a student last Thursday, to express his support. The ministry will follow up the case with police and the court, he said.
The assailant was arrested a few hours after the attack, which left the teacher with a neck wound.
In a statement, the ministry stressed that it will not allow any member of the public to attack a teacher on school premises and will take the necessary measures to protect teachers.
Bassam Al-Abdullah, the teacher who was assaulted, said Prince Khaled's call was a nice gesture that strengthened his determination to continue in the teaching profession.
A day prior to the attack, Al-Abdullah recalled how he separated two students who were fighting. However, one of the students managed to hit the other on the head while the teacher was trying to separate them.
The next day the student's uncle entered the teachers' lounge and asked to speak with Al-Abdullah when all of a sudden he pulled out a knife and stabbed him in the neck. He fled the scene while the teacher was rushed to hospital where he was treated for a deep neck wound.
That - and so much more, in what seems to be everyday news there.
Expat teachers are leaving in their droves - 5 have left since my brother started there.  I think he may have to stick it out until the summer, but am really hoping he will make it sooner.  Tomorrow would not be soon enough, as far as I am concerned.

    Current date/time is Fri 18 Jan 2019, 21:38