Monday, December 27, 2010

Um, Merry Christmas?

So here we are, two days after Christmas, and it's hard to remember a)that it is and has been the Christmas season and b)that in other parts of the world it's winter time, and, you know, cold. The weather here is lovely, which is one of the only positives I can come up with at the moment.

We are losing staff left and right at school, which is hard, so we're all taking more and more classes. People are also sick a lot, so we're covering extra classes for them as well. The disaster continues, and we're not looking forward to the end result of everything. Finals are coming up though and then we have a vacation, which is also very exciting. I think that I'm going to end up staying in-country again, and will try to do more traveling around Saudi.

I've had some very interesting discussions with my girls these last few days that have ranged from whether school uniforms should be required to whether it's better to be single or married. We had a raging debate today about which came first, the chicken or the egg. It was quite funny, actually. I wish that they were as passionate about grammar as they were about their discussion. We've also had some interesting talks about Islam, and their attitudes towards Shi'as (negative) as well as the ins and outs of the marriage process in Saudi (complicated). Every day's an education on both sides, that's for sure.

Christmas has been interesting, with attitudes ranging from open to very very closed. Some seem to completely refuse to acknowledge it or take part in any sort of celebration because, "If we celebrate, it means we believe, and we don't believe." That's a whole debate in and of itself. Others of my students and fellow teachers were saying Merry Christmas and were very conscientious of the holidays. Huh. Shwaya-shwaya, I guess. Anyways, Happy Holidays to my people everywhere!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Do they know it's Christmas?

Please notice that Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is not on this list.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


What a week! It's been midterm time, and wowee zowee what a mess. We got the wrong exam for my level, so there were lots of frantic phone calls and grading and giving another exam and more grading. Needless to say, my girls did significantly better taking a test on material they had seen before than on stuff that was completely new to them! I was so worried yesterday when I gave them the new exam that they would do even worse than on the first one! But they came through just fine, and I was never so proud! It's funny, because I have a new co-teacher, so she's usually taught in the pm, while I have the am. Now we do half and half to cut down on our planning, but we still refer to each group as "my girls" and "your girls". So as I was cross grading the exams, I was looking to see how my girls compared to hers. She won for the top grade, but I think overall mine did better, so I'm quite pleased!! :)

Anyways, all of this combined with some outside stressors made for quite a week. I've never been so happy to see the weekend as I am here. I can't believe we were on vacation just a couple weeks ago! I need another one!

Last weekend we enjoyed the hospitality of a friend and went to a Christmas party. It was like a little slice of home, which was really cool. And I got to play a piano!!! :) We also went traipsing through the desert again, and enjoyed some Christmas carols and meeting new and special people. It's always an adventure! Oh oh oh, I saw my first scorpion! I hope to God it'll be my last one too. It was kind of see through and green and alien-looking. Yikes! To go for the hike, we gather in one area of the city, and then people with cars who are heading out for the hike pick people up who need rides. My last driver was about an 80 year old German who loved to chat. He was super interesting though, having built many of the desalinization plants here inside the Kingdom.

This weekend should be fun, though I must confess, I am planning on sleeping in tomorrow!! Oh boy, I can't wait! As I was turning off my alarm at 6am this morning, I just lay there and thought about how much I dislike getting up that early. The sun wasn't even up! Lame. Then I thought, oh boy...another 8 months of this. Then I thought about how much I admire people in the public school system who get up that early and then teach ALL DAY. Wow. I don't think I could do it.

The pictures are from when I was in Al-Khobar, on the east coast of the peninsula. Yup, I've touched all sides of the Arabian peninsula. Check that one off the bucket list. :) Bahrain is in the haze behind me. It's as close to the outside world as I'm going to get for a while!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vacation Time!

Well, I have been vacationing with a vengence! We started break on Thursday, and found out soon after that King Abdullah extended the break to the 27th! This is most pleasing, though it throws our academic schedule off quite a bit. But I'm determined to not worry about it, and to just enjoy the extra 5 days of vacation.

Yesterday we got back from a camp in the desert. It was super SUPER cool. We got out of Riyadh to this nature preserve type area, complete with big red dunes. We got to dune board and see a falconing demonstration. That was really cool. There was also a huge feast and lots of delicious things to drink, including warm milk with ginger and sugar. It sounds weird, but it was incredibly delicious. We were with some of the Saudi guys from the company, other teachers and our hosts. We were allowed to play around in our regular clothes, because the abaya would've been impractical, and it was cool enough that we were fully covered anyways. But I think I scandalized some of the Saudis by instigating a soccer game, as well as being the first one who wanted to try everything new. Oh well. I enjoyed myself immensely.

I took a gazillion pictures, because the desert is just so ridiculously photogenic. See fb for full visuals.

We still haven't pulled together the rest of our trip, cause it's hard to get the group to make a collective decision. Now that we have a few extra days, we'll try to get moving next week. Today is Eid, so we'll probably lay low, and then we have another trip around Riyadh in a couple days, which will be cool.

I'm enjoying lazing around and watching movies and catching up on sleep. We're going to be changing books after the break, so it's hard to do any advanced planning since I only have one of the four books necessary. It also seems like there will be lots of staff changes, as we're losing people left and right. Let me just say the pregnancy is an epidemic around here...Anyways, I'm determined to enjoy doing nothing for a while, before heading back to work in a week and a half. :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Eid al-Halaweaat

Well well well well well. Since the last blog post, things have improved somewhat on the administrative end. Not hugely, but enough to take the edge of things, at least for today. Getting paid--especially on time--does wonders for one's motivation.

My girls threw my co-teacher and I a party that was celebrating finishing a quiz, and the first day of November etc. etc. The fact that it fell the day after Halloween was entirely coincidental. We called it Eid al-Halaweaat, which means the holiday of sweets. They went crazy with cake and cupcakes and candies and doughnuts. They really are a ton of fun. We ate and studied, but it was really funny because the unit we were starting was titled Socializing. So when I said, alright ladies, we really have to get to work, they said,"But Teacher, we're practicing! We're socializing!!" It's hard to argue with such logic. :)

This past weekend was a lot of fun, because I got to go poke around the old city some more, and I saw the gold market. That was incredible! I've never seen so much gold in one place in all my life. I also got to see the camel market which was super cool. It was just camels of every color as far as the eye could see. It's right on the edge of Riyadh, but the city just stops so you feel like you're pretty well out in the desert.

Anyway, things are going better. There's still quite a bit of room for improvement, but we're making our way. I have to get serious about planning for my vacation time! I love vacations! :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saudi-Not for the faint of heart

So I've now been here for just over a month. A what a month it's been. I've made some fun friends and work with some very cool people. I've had some fun tromping around Riyadh, and some not so much fun being told I'm not allowed to eat in a restaurant because it's men only.

But all of this has been overshadowed by the huge frustration that is my working environment. The administrative aspect of my job is an unqualified disaster, and makes the day to day job a struggle. I come home most days absolutely gobsmacked by the inefficiency, lack of communication and apparent disregard for the well being of the students. This makes getting anything done challenging; I am still teaching without any basic resources other than a whiteboard and marker. My girls STILL don't have textbooks, because they have been changed now for the eighth time or so. I now am theoretically supposed to teach them two textbooks worth of material in the next two weeks. Now, I don't care if you're Superman--you cannot teach or absorb that much language in two weeks. Oh, and I don't have the textbooks either to start even trying to formulate a plan. And so I plan to do my own thing and hope for the best. If they can't be bothered to give me resources, then I can't be bothered to kill myself planning to stick to a syllabus that doesn't exist.

The girls themselves are really fun, and they make the administrative struggle worth it. For the most part they do really want to learn, though I have a few girls who couldn't care less. Homework seems like it's kind of a foreign concept, and they don't see any problem with copying each other, which is something we have to work on. They also have zero critical thinking skills, which we are now trying to develop. We started talking about argumentative essays this last week, and by then end of the week, my girls asked me, "Teacher, you really like to argue, don't you?" I think it's just not done here. But if I'm supposed to be preparing them to operate in the global community, then by golly they need to learn how to make a logical argument!

I usually end my advanced class with 10 minutes or so of free discussion. I try ask them questions about Saudi Arabia, and they love to educate Teacher about how things are done here. I've learned all sorts of really cool things, about camping in the desert, camel farms, Jenadryah festival (the big cultural celebration in late winter), and engagement customs. It's great, because they are so proud of being Saudi, and it really gets them all talking. They all want to teach Teacher!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Blackberry Nation

Well, I guess I'm now a real teacher! I started in the classroom last Saturday, and have taught taught taught! Well, maybe not that much. Usually only about 45 minutes a day, because everything is in massive states of confusion. Right now, I'm teaching without books, without a schedule, and with a super mixed-level class. That's made for rather interesting going, but so far no disasters (please, God, let there not be any disasters!!).

The girls are really sweet, and overall like to participate. They call me "Teacher" which freaks me out a little bit, but I'm getting used to it. Yesterday, as soon as I walked into the room, they said "Please teacher, no grammar today. Our brains are tired!" So they only got a little bit of grammar, and a lot of homonyms. With the other class I taught, we just did icebreakers (because it was my first day with them). There were lots of Yemenis, which was surprising. I asked them about Saudi, and they ALL wanted to talk, which was wonderful! It was great speaking practice for them!

They have lots of practice talking, because these girls are GLUED to their Blackberries. They have them on lanyards and wear them as necklaces. This, I think, will be one of my biggest struggles as a teacher. The fight against the texting in class! In other news, I got my skirt/dress to wear to school, after being told I couldn't wear pants. I actually really like the dress, even though it's hot pink and has blue pomegranates on it. :)

Today I took a field trip to downtown Riyadh. We went into the Faysaliyya and Mamluka towers, and got to look out over the whole city. It was pretty cool, cause you can see quite far. Then we walked around a little bit. I went into a record 3 malls today. That's a lot of mall time.

The other big excitement is that a) we got new couches today, and they're really uncomfortable (yes, this counts as excitement) and b) I met other teachers!!! We'd felt a little sequestered in the hotel, but now we've made contact! Hooray! Tomorrow will be filled with lesson planing, and hopefully another field trip. We have a vacation (!) in just about a month and a half, so I have to start plotting where I want to go. The adventures never cease for Jenny of Arabia.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chill Time

So, here I am in my hotel room, doing my chill thing. There have been some crossed wires and logistical glitches which have culminated in me not having to work today. Or yesterday. Nice! Well, actually, I feel like there will be lots and lots of non-teaching time, though I'm going to be in my "office" setting from 7am to 6pm. That's rough. So I'm going to enjoy my lounge time here.

Hmmm, well, I got to see some of Riyadh yesterday as I was going to the University and back. As aforementioned it is not a tall city, the traffic is atrocious and everything is very brown. Cairo was brown, but in a different way. It was kinda fake desert, cause the Nile ran through it. This is real desert. We have a mall right across the street, which is nice cause there's a big Wal-Mart type store (called Carrefour) in it, so we can get groceries and other stuff. My roommate and I snuck in just before the final prayer time of the day, but didn't quite make it out before they closed the store for prayers. So we wandered around for a while and of course ended up buying more than we had originally intended. One of my first purchases was lotion, because it is SO dry, I could just wither up like a little plant without water (which, speaking of water, is not drinkable). So far my exercise option seems like doing laps in the mall, though I'm definitely planning on asking about a gym.

I'm glad I got my abaya in Bosnia, cause its definitely a necessary clothing item. I've gotten some funny looks because mine is a little short, so I might have to get one that's a little longer. I think I'm going to have to invest in some long skirts, because it seems that pants are frowned on in the teaching setting, but I'll have to see.

The facilities at the university yesterday were very modern and up to date. The girls all seemed so young though! I felt like I'd walked into a high school instead of a university. It doesn't help that I'm a giant among women here. Most of the women I've passed here come to about my shoulder, or maybe my chin if they're tall. Ooof. So maybe I'll teach tomorrow, and maybe not until Saturday. We'll see how this all pans out. :)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sun and Sand, Part I

And I have arrived! We got into Saudi very early this morning (why do I not enter Gulf states during the day?!), and are now ensconced in the hotel. Flying in, the city just kind of appeared out of the desert as a grid of blue and purple halogen lights. It's quite flat, and rather dusty as one might expect.

This morning was filled with an unexpectedly early wake-up knock on the door and trip to the company office to fill out some paperwork, and then lunch at the mall which is right next door to the hotel which I will be calling home for a while.

As far as first impressions go, there seems to be lots of construction and development going on here, especially in terms of high rises. The city seems to be pretty low to the ground, which I think is a concession to the heat. There is, of course, not much green, but the palm trees help to break up the desert-scape.

I'm going off to teach tomorrow, so we'll see how the first day of "classes" go. :S I think I'm going to go study grammar now...

Saturday, September 25, 2010


So near, and yet so far. I'm off to Saudi tomorrow, but first I have to mail this stupid box. The post office informed me today that they only mail boxes that weight under 2kg, and that mine was over so I should go to Maoiruisoiursou (sp?!) office on Monday. Well, that might be a problem, I said, as I'm leaving the country tomorrow. Lame. So now in addition to the rest of my crap, I get to haul a box to the airport as well. No, no I'm not bitter or anything. It didn't help that it was pouring down rain the whole time...

Okay, rant done. I'm consoling myself with some exceptionally delicious baked chips. Lays, you should export this flavor to the States.

I've been in Greece now for two weeks. That's longer than I've stayed anywhere in a long time. And I'm getting antsy. I know that as soon as I start to work I'm going to look back and think, those were the days, but now...I need a purpose. I feel like I should've been doing something with all of this free time.

Well, I'm going to do some strategic repacking now to allow for a stress-free morning tomorrow!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Oh woe is me. I'm still in Greece. Sigh. Yes, the visa process to go to Saudi has taken rather longer than anticipated. But I now have my visa, and am just waiting for plane tickets, then off I go! The semester officially begins on Saturday (remember, ME Saturday and Sunday is Thursday and Friday), so we all will be cutting it rather close. In the meantime, I must content myself with more ruins and baklava.

So I guess I left off on our train trip to Athens. Well, it departed Thessaloniki at 11pm, and we thought it was only supposed to take 4 hours. We also didn't understand why one lady at the train station said all trains were full, and another lady sold us tickets. We were triumphant, but that was only until about 10:50pm, when some guy told us that we were in his seat. And we asked, where are out seats? And he said, you don't have seats. And we were like, oh. No wonder the one lady said all seats were sold.

So we sat on the floor of the car by the bathroom with about a dozen of our closest friends. Apparently they sell tickets until there is just no more space left anywhere. At one point, some dude came barreling back, and started to smoke and make a rumpus. Then, he reached over and started stroking Lauren's leg. Oh, that did not go over well with either of us. But we got no back up help from the Greeks, who conveniently all decided to try to sleep at the same time. Lame. Then, the guy next to us turned out to be Moroccan, which meant of course that he wanted to speak to us. I need to stop being so friendly. At around 2am, he informs me that I am very beautiful, and he thinks his parents would love me. I was like, I am so not in the mood to be propositioned right now. An hour later, when we thought we were supposed to be arriving in Athens, we were informed that actually we were only about half way there, and had another three hours to go. Sitting on the floor. Oh, dear. Well, it was an adventure. Thank GOD our hotel was only a short walk from the train station.

Then for a few days we did all the Athens sights, and then went to Santorini for a couple days. It was very lovely, and the ferry ride was half the fun. We frolicked around on the black sand beach, and then took a bus to on of the towns to try to get the iconic shot of Santorini. We didn't do too bad for ourselves. We came back last Saturday, and Lauren left me on Sunday.

Since then I've been just bouncing around Athens, loathe to get too far away in case I finally got my stuff, which I did on Tuesday. Yesterday I went to the Embassy, and today I'm just trying to combobulate myself to get ready to go. I'm ready to be getting back to work. If I were still traveling, that would be one thing, but I'm pretty much done with all of this sitting around business. :)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Greece, Greece, Greeeeeeece, Greece lightning! Hahaha. So we’ve been here for a few days now, and boy what an adventure it’s been! It all started when we tried to leave Macedonia. Oh, Macedonia, thou art both lovely and cheap. Until you try to leave. We were in Ohrid, which seemed like a relatively big town. But then you try to go to Greece, and it all goes to smash.

Let me just say right now that the Greeks, while generally lovely people, are collectively troublemakers. They don’t like the Bulgarians, despise the Macedonians (which involves excluding them from the EU and not converting their currency ANYWHERE in Athens. More on that later.), and generally loathe the Turks. Seriously, Greece? Seriously? This makes some basic things difficult. Like traveling.

Anyways, our poor hostel man in Macedonia was super patient with us, and spent forever and a day trying to help us figure our business out. We eventually settled on taking a bus to Skopje, and from there bussing to Thessaloniki. What we did was something entirely different. We missed the bus to Skopje, which meant we would’ve missed the train. This was a result of the Macedonian bus lady not accepting Euros, which was ludicrous because everyone else in the country LOVED Euros. Whatever. So we missed the bus, and ended up taking a bus to the next big town down called Bitola. Once there, they informed us that the next train was leaving at 3am. It was then 3pm, and we were like, we ain’t hangin’ round here for 12 hours. So the train man, who spoke very little English, called his son to help translate and I ended up trying to make new travel plans with the help of this random dude who was calling all of his taxi driver friends. That did not work out so well, but we got some info and proceeded to take a taxi to Greece.

This began our transportation issues with Greece. The taxi man stopped by his house on the way out of town because he needed to take the taxi sign off his car. Apparently, it's tough to get through the border in a taxi. Who knew? He threw the sign thingy into his yard. Special. Then off we went, zoom zoom zoom, and into Greece. We did not have any problems at the border, but it seemed like our driver was buddy buddy with some of the guards. He also spoke pretty good German, which was handy cause Lauren was able to communicate.

We then hopped on a train with these two uproariously hilarious English guys. Oh my God, they were hilarious, mostly because they were telling us about the exploits of university rugby players as they were scrap-booking. Priceless. When we finally arrived in Thessaloniki, we managed to figure out the bus system and arrived at the hostel, only to find out that we had booked for the wrong night. And for the male dorm, no less. Whoops! They managed to squeeze us in, though they were completely full. Lauren and I shared a bunk, because we ended up taking the spot of someone who hadn't shown up.

Thessaloniki itself is an interesting city. It's not particularly pretty, but it has ruins scattered around liberally, which I very much enjoyed. We felt like we covered the city pretty well in one day, and that included the epic struggle for train tickets. That is a story for another post.

When I started this post, we'd only been here for a few days. We've now been here for just about a week, and Lauren today abandoned me to go start her job in Kiev, Ukraine. I'm still waiting on my visa, so I'll be in Athens for a few days, anyways. I'll continue the epicness that was our train trip, as well as our time in Athens and Santorini another time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

It's good to be brown

Here we are in lovely Ohrid, Macedonia. We arrived at about 5 am after leaving Kotor at about 8pm yesterday evening. We were happy to leave, because we sort of ran out of things to do in Montenegro. But it was beautiful and relaxing, so those were two pluses. We crashed for a few hours upon arrival, and then were up to go to Sveti Naum, which is the spiritual heart of Macedonia with a Serbian couple who were staying in the same guesthouse. It was a beautiful drive, and the monastery and its grounds were lovely, as they are situated right on the lake. It also abuts the border with Albania, which we drove through last night (but they didn't give us a stamp! :( )

I stopped at one of the many vendors that lines the road out of the monastery, and the man started speaking to us in Macedonian. Lauren and I were clearly speaking English, but he kept on in Macedonian. Finally he asked me a question, and I just stared at him and was like, "I don't understand." He looked surprised and said, "English?!" "Yes!", we said. "I thought you were Macedonian. Maybe Macedonian who lived in America." Me: "Do we look Macedonian?" Man pointing to Lauren, "That one, no. You...maybe, yes. Yes you look Macedonian. Usually I can tell Americans a kilometer down the road, but you could be Macedonian." I was pleased, and got a good deal. :)

When we came back to Ohrid, our taxi man drove us to the top of the hill for no extra charge (which was awesome of him!) and we poked around the old city, which is also a UNESCO site. There was a fortress to conquer, and another self-guided church tour which lead to a great church/ruins pointed out to us by the taxi man. He had the knowledge. There was more wandering and lake time, and sampling the local street food, which was very delicious.

Our biggest quandary now is where to go from here. Straight to Greece, or back through Albania? It seems that it is hard to get in and out of the country, and that their public transportation system is a little, um, spotty. But Greece is so expensive! We'll see where the buses are running tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Passport stamps and words of wisdom

We are now ensconced in Montenegro for a couple days, after spending the night the Herzegovina part of Bosnia. It was cool, but we were ready to get a move on. And boy did we move on! Our bus went from Mostar to Dubrovnik, Croatia before heading down the coast here to Montenegro. So there were passport stamps everywhere! Our evening felt very European, as we sat in a plaza drinking a beer and watching soccer while there were soccer chants and church bells in the background! :)

The people of Bosnia were interesting, because they were very blunt. If they didn't like something, they did not hold back. It was rather startling, but we kind of got used to it. What was really interesting though was the willingness of people to say what was wrong with the country and express their dissatisfaction with the way of life in Bosnia. Our hostel guy in Sarajevo told us about how the government couldn't care less about the people, and that he hadn't had a job since the war ended (15 years ago), so he started the hostel. It seems to be working well for him. Our second hostel guy told us how he couldn't wait to leave Bosnia for good and go get Dutch citizenship. It was interesting how one guy wanted to stay and help rebuild his country while the younger one wanted nothing more than to get out. It was also interesting that the older guy said that a lot of the rebuilding that has been done has been to religious structures. He said that it's time for people to stop praying to God for a job and money in a newly rebuild spiritual place, and time to start building factories and things that will be people work and reasons to go give thanks. I thought it was very practical of him,, and put the Bosnian mindset in perspective.

Anyways, the countyside here (as I've said), is just love lovey and the coastline especially is phenomenal. I can see why Croatia is quickly becoming a destination hotspot. I'm glad that we fled the tourists, though Kotor still has more than its fair share. The town is one of the few left in the area that still has the old wall/fortress compound intact, and it's a UNESCO world heritage site. We're off to the beach tomorrow!!

My abaya has been procured, and I am now outfitted and ready to go for Saudi. It's coming up quickly, but Lauren and I still have to see Macedonia, Albania and Greece before our time's up! Yay adventures!!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Travels and Travails

I'm sitting in my hostel in lovely Sarajevo, enjoying the night breeze and grapes fresh off the balcony. Bosnia has been love at first mountain, and boy have there been a lot of mountains! The best word to describe the countryside is bucolic (or maybe idyllic), as it has been lush and spacious, dotted with red roofed cottages and the occasional herd or flock.

Sarajevo itself is incredibly beautiful, taking up a valley floor and surrounded by Lord of the Rings-esque mountains (which of course Lauren and I felt compelled to conquer). The city is lovely, and its people rather quirky. The ravages of war are still apparent in the pock-marked pavement and buildings--they have filled in some of the shell marks with red paint and call them the roses of Sarajevo, which stand in stark contrast to the real roses which beautify the city.

It is not an uncommon sight to see men and women dressed in the height of fashion sharing a cobblestone street with women in abayas and men with long beards. The call to prayer here is very melodic, and shares air time with the church bells. Oh Sarajevo. :)

Serbia was very different, with a very widely varying landscape. There were mountains and craggy cliffs just over the border with Bulgaria which gave way to flat plains filled with corn fields and streets lined with wheelbarrows full of watermelons. Belgrade showed its communist roots very blatantly, and there was a pervasive air of poverty and oppression. I think that probably had lots to do with the rather oppressive blocs of grey, crumbling apartment buildings. On the plus side, we had a self-guided Orthodox church tour which was lovely, and the food was both cheap and delicious!

The hardest part of Belgrade was getting from the bus station to the hostel. I ended up walking there, bag and baggage. It wasn't too bad (once I pulled myself together and did it), but neither was it the most pleasant experience ever. I'm going to have shoulders of steel by the end of this trip, that's all I'm saying.

Lauren and I have had a splendid time catching up and travelling around. Our next stop with be Mostar, Bosnia and then off to Kodor, Montenegro. We'll figure things out from there. The hardest thing so far has been trying to convert Serbian Dinars into anything else. The Serbs are still very much loathed in this part of the world (they obviously didn't make themselves any friends), so people aren't willing to change money.

Yay adventures! I've gone abaya shopping, and have procured an appropriate scarf/under-bonnet, and will try to get the robe tomorrow in preparation for Saudi travels. Woot!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

All good things must end

So I'm down to my finals week. Final weekend in Bulgaria, final lesson, final days of school, final trips, final social events. :( It's been really fun. I think that Bulgaria would definitely not be to some people's tastes, but I've really enjoyed it.

Dining out has been fun here. There have been some fantastic translations, like "soup of globule" (?!) and "nervous meatballs" (we've actually seen that one a couple times) and "chilly peppers". But we're grateful when there are English menus. Also, the Bulgarians either seem to come in a fun size (which is to say very small and slim) or absolutely massive. It's a little disconcerting.

Today we took a little trip to Rila monastery in the southern part of Bulgaria. It was lovely, and we couldn't have asked for better weather. The scenery was stunning, cause the monastery is set up in the Rhodope mountains and the architecture is really cool. We enjoyed wandering around as seeing the Orthodox priests in their black and beards wandering around (it's still a functioning monastery).

This past week involved going to a soccer game and some quality wandering time. The soccer game was outstanding, not so much for the actual play but for the ambience. It was fantastic! There was lots of singing and chanting and yelling and booing. It was pretty cool.

So now I'm just wrapping up the course. One last lesson tomorrow and I am pretty well finished. For those who don't know, I will be going to Saudi Arabia to teach at a university for a year. I'll be heading there next month, no I haven't lost my mind, and yes I'm very VERY excited. More adventures!!!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A little more surreality

So, I only have a week and a half left here in Bulgaria before I'm off to new and different places. I really like Bulgaria. The people are super nice, and Sofia especially is a city of layers. It's kind of run-down appearance is exceptionally deceiving. For every graffitied, crumbly building, there is a lovely old style house and a delicious restaurant. The streets are abandoned by about 10pm on a Friday night, but there are big get-togethers deep in the public parks where there are improvised bars and stage and dance floors. And have I mentioned how much I love how cheap Bulgaria is? It's fantastic! I can easily get dinner and a beer for about 7 leva, which is about $5. :)

This past week in class things calmed down a little bit. It's the eye of the hurricane though, because this next week is going to be CRAZY busy. I teach three times and have a couple essays due. But overall, things are progressing, including the job search. Details will be forthcoming...

This morning I experienced for the first time the British classic beans on toast. Who would've thunk I would have to go to Bulgaria to try it? I'm not sure how I feel about it. Beans for breakfast? I mean, I guess I had ful in Egypt for breakfast, but I tried to avoid it as much as possible. Verdict? I'm glad I tried it, but I think I'll leave it to the Brits. Give me some yogurt and fruit any time!

So, as time is dwindling here in Bulgaria, plans are slowly shaping up for a two week tour of the Balkans before shipping out for parts unknown. It looks like Lauren and I are going to try to hit up about seven countries in a couple weeks!! And there will be passport stamps! :) These things make be very very happy.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


So, I'm officially into week two of the program. Holy crap. Things have gotten super intense super fast. I just didn't know!! I taught three times last week, which was interesting, but this next week I only have one assessed lesson, which is nice.

This weekend was lazy, but also crazy. We went out on Friday night to hit the town. :) Then yesterday we saw a movie at the mall. It was so funny, hanging around the mall eating McDonalds. Sometimes I really don't feel like I'm in Bulgaria! Today was work work work. Man.

And then sometimes definitely do feel like I'm in a foreign land. Like when I got on the tram late one evening this week, and it didn't follow it's route. I was like, hmmmm, this doesn't look familiar. Like, at all. Turns out it was going to wherever the trams live at night, cause they were closed. This only became semi-clear to me after pretty much everyone had gotten off the tram after a particularly long announcement which I neither understood nor paid attention to. So I went to the driver and pointed to a map, and asked if we were going there. He started speaking very quickly in Bulgarian, and the only word I understood was taxi. So I said, okay, into a taxi I go. Thank goodness the taxi driver spoke English. When I told him where we were going, he just looked at me and said, "Ohhhhhhh. That's a bad part of town." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "Because that's where all the gypsies live." That's the second time we've been told that, but honestly, we've had zero trouble (knock on wood), and our neighborhood doesn't seem particularly sketchy.

The pictures were taken from my window and our balcony. Behold, Gypsy Town!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Next stop, Folk Festival

Yesterday was SO COOL!! We (myself, the other American and two Brits) went to a festival that happens only once every five years. It was up in the mountains to the east of Sofia, and it was incredible. There were few English speaking tourists, just lots and lots of people in their traditional dress, cool dancing, and hogs on a spit. :) Delicious.

We hopped on a bus to the town of Koprivshtitsa in the morning, and went on a slow bus ride through the beautiful countryside. We then walked into the town and had some lunch, then headed up the mountain to the festival. We thought it was relatively small at first, but then wandered along a path, and the festival just kept going and going and going! We eventually dubbed it "Folk Idol" because there was a judging booth at each stage. We were loathe to leave, but we had to come back to do our work for classes. *Sigh*. But we were so glad to have gone.

I taught my first class on Friday, and it went well overall. It wasn't too scary once I got up there and actually started teaching, so hopefully the more I do it the less nerve wracking it will be. I've slipped back into all of my bad habits from school, like severe procrastination and constantly munching. Hmmm. That has to stop. I teach again on Tuesday, so I have a lesson plan to do. :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

CELTA, and grammar,and teaching, oh my God!!!

So I've just finished my second complete day in Bulgaria, which was also my second day of class. I have to teach my first lesson tomorrow, which is a little...ummmm...sudden. But, it has to be done. This is what I signed up for! We met our students today, and they're super nice, although I think some of them are a little not impressed with me because of my age. I am by far the baby of the group. There are 11 teachers-in-training, 2 Brits, 2 Americans (including myself), a Russian, and the rest are Bulgarians. Everyone is very nice, but we have some seriously crazy characters. The last 24 hours have been a bit surreal, just in the experiences, conversations and encounters, but I'm just trying to go with it. :)

Sofia is pretty grey and decrepit, and very short and flat, which gives it a very small-town feel. Not very many people speak English, but most everyone is very friendly. No, let me qualify that. Most people of my generation (that is to say, those who didn't live very long or at all under the Soviets) speak at least a little English, and are quite friendly once you engage them. But people kind of seem to keep to themselves here.

We've had some serious rain coming through and lost power briefly today, but now it's pretty clear. This weekend a bunch of us are trying to go to a folk festival no one's heard of that apparently only happens once every five years. I'll report back. :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


And I have made it to Sofia. Hooray! After a lovely day of wandering around yesterday, making my way to the Asian side of Istanbul via water taxi and back over to the old city, I hopped on a bus to Bulgaria. The bus itself was very nice, and very crowded. I wasn't a fan of the smoking on the bus, but what can you do? All was well until we got to the border. I had heard stories of the Bulgarian border, but I didn't know. I just didn't know.

I guess all things considered, it wasn't as bad as it could've been. There was lots of get off the bus, get on the bus, get off the bus. Get your passport stamped and walk through across the border to the inbetween land. Get your luggage off the bus. Have it scanned. Get back on the bus. Drive for 100 yards to the duty free shop between borders. Get back on the bus. Cross the the Bulgarian side. Get off the bus. Walk through/get passport stamped. Wait around in the excruciating heat. And continue to wait. And wait some more. Then we were on our way.

The Bulgarian countryside is very beautiful and green. There are fields and fields of sunflowers, and villages with red roofs. I spoke at length with a Bulgarian guy on the bus, and he gave me the lowdown of everything from the sights we were seeing, to world politics, to the Greeks and Gypsies (which he does not like). It was very amusing/informative. There was a guy at the train station to meet me, and after I snuck into the bathroom (you had to pay, and I don't have any levas), we were on our way to my surprisingly plush accomodations. My flatmate is a lunatic British gal who I hope I get along with. I think we lead two very different lifestyles, let me just put it like that.

Sofia is kinda grey and very crumbly, but it has character, which is good. There seem to be lots of open parks, which I'm a fan of. There's a tram stop just out the door, and tomorrow will be day one of classes! It's back to school time...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I was clean, and then I wasn't clean

So, I will be providing a few more updates here in these first few days, just because I have a little bit more time. So on, ummmm (caluculating days), Friday afternoon, I wandered around which was fun. You heard about that. Then I crashed a didn't wake up until ten to two pm Saturday afternoon. My British roommates apparently called me the sleeping girl. But they are nice. More on them later. So when I finally hauled my lazy, sweaty self out of bed, I struck off for more wanderings. I crosses a bride (the Ulikipani, as best as I can tell), and headed north along the main coast-following road. I'm not sure exactly what all I saw, but it was pretty and I liked it. There were lots of religious buildings. Hmmm. And of course I picked yesterday to traipse around in my little sundress, and wandered into one of the more conservative parts of town. Whoops. But no one really seemed to mind that much.

Then I came back and had dinner with another roommate, which was interesting. Then I joined up with the Brits and one of their acquaintances and another random Italian guy to go club hopping. I was, of course wide awake, cause I'd woken up late and it still kind of felt like four pm to me, so I was up for it. We had fun, though there was lots of reggae involved, which is not so much my speed. Came back and crashed, then was up (not too early) this morning to make a pilgrimage to a Turkish bath.

For those who followed my travels around the Middle East, you will, of course, have heard my hamam stories from Yemen and Morocco. This hamam, was very nice, but comes in a close second to the hamam in Morocco, and was still light years ahead of the Yemeni hamam. Its exterior was newer, but then there was the traditional raised marble slab under the sky-lighted dome. I felt a little like a sacrificial lamb, being all scrubbed up for the slaughter. But I got over it, and relaxed and it was very lovely. I think it came in second to Morocco, because it was much more crowded, and much more well lit. This took away from the being-reborn sensation that we had in Marrakesh. The scrubbing was also not quite so thorough as Morocco, but I liked the bubble part. :) On the plus side, the marble slab prevented sitting downstream of other people's sloughed-off skin and nastiness and was lovely and warm to lie on. So, as I said, it came in a VERY close second.

Anyways, the second we stepped outside, all clean benefits were immediately gone, and it was back to being sweaty and gritty. We headed over to the Topoki Palace, which was very lovely and had a GREAT view. There was also lots of Byzantine bling on display, which made me question why it wasn't a little better guarded. Then off I went to see the Hagia Sofiya and the Blue Mosque. They were lovely, though I didn't get to go in the Hagia Sofiya because it was closing time. Then I took the tram back to my side of town, wandered to the hostel and had dinner with/taught backgammon to a girl from New Zealand. And now here I am.

Tomorrow's quest is to buy the elusive bus ticket to Sofia, and walk to Asia. I think this is manageable. I got all the pictures off the camera, but they are being really slow to load. (Weak internet connection.) I'll try again tomorrow.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Oh, Istanbul

Oh Istanbul, now you’ve done it. I’ve been here for about seven hours, and I think it’s love.
But I digress. I was going to do the travel debrief, and go from there. I moved out of the apartment yesterday morning without too much trouble. Aunt Susie had to come rescue me AGAIN, because I have accumulated a crapload of stuff in the last four years. This was after she and Uncle Manny already had taken me out to a SPECTACULAR last-real-meal-on-American-soil dinner on Wed. night. Shout outs to Co Co Sala. It’s very delicious, and I’m glad I didn’t know about it until two days ago, or I would’ve gone broke. Chocolate bar, anyone?
Anyways, then I hopped on the bus to Dulles (it took a very long time), and checked-in with the grumpy United man. He informed me my big suitcase was 14 lbs. too fat. Upon inquiring how much it would be to just pay for the extra weight, he said $200. And I said very quickly that I would do some rearranging. So 13.5 lbs later, I am hauling two extremely heavy backpacks. Then, I got to my gate with a comfortable 20 minutes to spare, and I watched a huge storm roll in. Needless to say, that scrapped all immediate departure plans, so we sat the storm out. It was only about an hour delay. Then we boarded, and proceeded to sit for another hour as they repacked the bags (they’d taken them off because of the storm?!), and fueled us up. We departed two hours late, made up some time, and promptly lost it again when we had a missed approach on the landing into Chicago cause the plane in front of us decided it didn’t want to take off on time. This whole flying thing takes timing and coordination people!! But in the end it didn’t matter because I had a six hour lay over reduced to four hours. 
So I talked to the parents and then moseyed with my backpacks across the world to the other side of O’Hare and hung out with all the Arabs about to go back to the ME before getting on one of the nicest planes I’ve ever been on. Rock on, Turkish Airways. There was lots of food, and plush seating, and an empty seat next to me, and the cool personalized screen thingies. I watched Invictus, which was a good movie, by the way. It got better after I figured out to set the language to English. The first six minutes were a little rough, but they got straightened out.
Arrival was fine—no problems with getting a visa or anything. It was a smooth process. Getting my newly skinny bag was a little more nerve wracking cause it took awhile. Then I hopped on a bus to the downtown area, and some nice people helped point me in the right direction, which was very cool. Turkey, unlike Morocco, seems to believe in street sign (which I am a HUGE fan of), but they don’t really exist in the middle of a huge square, which is where I got off the bus. I was like, okay, enie-meanie-miney-moe, there are only about a dozen different ways I can go. Hmmm. But I made it without too much of a problem. It cracks me up though (this is an Egypt thing too), that when I was hauling my backpacks, I got the “foreigner” treatment. But as soon as I was back to sandals and a purse, I’m just part of the scenery. Hooray for being brown!!!
This afternoon, I wandered around some just to get the lay of the land. Istanbul is very beautiful. It looks like East and West ran at each other full tilt and ran smack into the other. There are all the red roofs of Eastern Europe with the bright bright colors of Scandinavia and the trees and grass of northern Europe mixed with the skyline of towering minarets and domes of the Middle East. I was expecting it to be a little more like Cairo, which is to say kinda brown and dusty. But it is stunning how this city just kind of rolls over the hills and takes no notice of the ocean parting it in thirds. The red roofs, bright colored buildings, blue ocean and green trees crammed everywhere they can grow (and some places they theoretically shouldn’t) combine to make Istanbul a city of rare beauty. But moreover, the people (so far) have been friendly and helpful without some of the obnoxious pestering of Egypt. I have only had one guy ask if he could take me out for tea so he could “practice his English” and another ask—in all seriousness—for a kiss. Ah, well, at least they weren’t immediately asking me to marry them as in—hem hem hem—some other places I know and love.
Istanbul is kind of like Alexandria, and yet so different. I don’t know. So far the language hasn’t been an issue. I had the most delicious dinner (after some debate of where to go, cause there are kebob places EVERYWHERE), which consisted of a spinakopita-like substance (that is to say there was pastry, spinach and cheese involved. The pastry was like a cross between puff-pastry and a flour tortilla), konafa (which was EXQUISITE!!! The Turks go a little less heavy on the sugar syrup, and instead of putting cream in the middle which is not my preferred method, they put pistachio ice cream on top. It was unbelievably good) and am now about to crash before I go adventuring tomorrow. I’m glad I packed my flashlight though, because the wash room, which is large enough for a sink, toiled and butt, does not have a functioning light. Awkward! I feel a little more justified in some of my bizarre packing choices.
So that’s the first installment. Pictures with be forthcoming!