Riyadh Calling

John M. Williams writes about his experiences as an ESL teacher in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

A Look at a “Dangerous Friendship”

May 6, 2014 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

unnamedA couple of years ago at a showing of “Sing Your Song,” a documentary that highlights Harry Belafonte’s role in pursuits for human and civil rights, I met Ben Kamin, a scholar who has written much about the social struggles of those times. I just finished reading, with delight, his latest book, “Dangerous Friendship.”

The book puts the spotlight on Stanley Levison, a little known figure in the civil rights movement, who fully dedicated his life to helping Martin Luther King.

Regarding this man, Clarence Jones, another prominent aide to Martin, says “I am extremely upset, and I get angry, 24/7, and have been for many years about the glaring omission of the name and history of Stanley Levison in the civil rights chronicle.”

Read the full article → 2 comments

Riyadh Calling … Last Call, Adios Arabia

July 23, 2012 by John M. Williams
Thumbnail image for Riyadh Calling … Last Call, Adios Arabia

My time here is rapidly drawing to a close. Thank God. Don’t get me wrong, the people are nice, the money’s been good, and at 65, hell, it’s just good to work at all. I hope I’ve stayed long enough, but even if I haven’t, I gotta get out of here.

Why do I need to leave?

More than any other reason it is because I’m starting to lose my patience. Things I could shrug off before are becoming too tiresome to let go by. I’m starting to tell administrators things they’re not interested in hearing. In class, I started straying further and further off the prescribed and only acceptable path. My ability to pretend I’m happy as a clam in company and school meetings is deteriorating. I’m just too tired of the bullshit.

Read the full article → 8 comments

Riyadh Calling: Sharing some not always serious observations about the pressure to conform in contemporary Saudi Arabian society

October 31, 2011 by John M. Williams
Thumbnail image for Riyadh Calling: Sharing some not always serious observations about the pressure to conform in contemporary Saudi Arabian society

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – I think most Americans have little idea of the climatic conditions here in Saudi Arabia. We, with the exception of those who have experience in small desert towns, have nothing with which to compare this environment in Riyadh. It is stark, barren, bright, superheated, and dry to the nth degree. It is unforgiving, mean, murderous, virtually without plants, animals, water or shade. Somehow, Saudi Arabs have managed to adapt to and survive in this ultra-difficult setting for, I’m guessing, 5,000 years. It seems fair to say that’s worth a tip of the hat.

Read the full article → 14 comments

Riyadh Calling: A little history from Wikipedia and some comments by this author

August 12, 2011 by John M. Williams
Thumbnail image for Riyadh Calling: A little history from Wikipedia and some comments by this author

Saudi Arabia is a young country, being a little bit less than eighty years old. The ruling family (tribe – tribal affiliations are still reflected in the family names of Saudis), in the person of the first king, Abdulaziz Al-Saud, consolidated its power only in 1932. Oil was discovered soon after that and the accumulation of wealth which continues until today began, but as recently as 1960 most of Saudis were desert nomads. That heritage remains part of the identity of many of my students. They harken back to those days and proudly call themselves Bedouins, much as young men who grow up in the western states of America sometimes consider themselves to be cowboys. The grandparents of many of my students actually lived that life.

Read the full article → 3 comments

Christmas in Riyadh

December 23, 2010 by John M. Williams
Thumbnail image for Christmas in Riyadh

Dear All, On December 23rd, it’s Christmas in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Damn year is just about over. New year, renewed contract or new contract, new job or back to fixing houses and part time teaching and hoping I’ll be able to get the brakes done soon. When is that payment due? Oh hell. Funniest place. […]

Read the full article → 4 comments

Riyadh Calling: Summing Up Six Months As an ESL Teacher

June 30, 2010 by John M. Williams
Thumbnail image for Riyadh Calling: Summing Up Six Months As an ESL Teacher

by John M. Williams / June 30, 2010
Section 1: Last re Working Here

I have achieved some goals and failed to achieve others during my six months in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as an English teacher.

The most significant failure is in not being retained at the school where I taught for most of this past six months. It was my goal upon arrival to do well, and to work through a year at this one school. It even seemed possible to me that I might advance to a supervisory or administrative position as the year progressed.

As it is, I have become toxic, radioactive, a leper; not only removed from class overnight, but denied any contact at with students, to the extent that I was not even allowed to grade final exam writing papers.

Read the full article → 20 comments

Riyadh Calling … Working Here

May 14, 2010 by John M. Williams
Thumbnail image for Riyadh Calling … Working Here

by John M Williams / Special to the OB Rag / May 14, 2010

Let me set the stage. The school I work in is a remedial college designed as a feeder for King Saud University (KSU). My school is called the Preparatory Year Program (PYP). Students take courses in English, physics, chemistry, biology, math, IT and a group of business related subjects.

The organization is a little complex, but let me try. At the top is King Abdullah. Then comes the Ministry of Education. Next is KSU. KSU contracted with a Saudi company named Obekan. Obekan hired Bell, a United Kingdom-based English language teaching charitable trust associated with Cambridge University. Bell recruited teachers, created the administrative structure, and runs the school on a day to day basis. The role of Bell is rather like that of a middle manager; they have very little real power, but are the face of the organization to teachers and students.

Read the full article → 27 comments

Riyadh Calling … #3

March 20, 2010 by John M. Williams

by John Williams

So far, I’ve commented on Saudi society with the intent of relating how different it is from the US. I haven’t intended to be critical. It hasn’t been my intent to elevate one system over the other. I haven’t wanted to choose. Now, though, I want to say some things about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) that I think are positive.

First, these people walk the walk when it comes to the question of hospitality. For example, as I’ve said, I live in a hotel. One afternoon, I was near the entrance having a smoke when a youthful Saudi man was also in the lobby (you are allowed to smoke inside of buildings here), pacing, apparently deeply in thought. At a point, his route brought him close enough to me for me to remark, “You seem to be thinking very seriously about something.”

Read the full article → 4 comments

Riyadh Calling …

March 2, 2010 by John M. Williams

by John Williams

I’m now nearing three months in Saudi Arabia. Much of what I’ve already said remains unchanged.

However, I have learned that the characteristic black outer garment the women here wear is called an abaya, not a burka. I’ve also learned that is only worn when a woman wishes to go out in public. It isn’t worn around the house. Further, it is rather like your mom saying, “Don’t forget your jacket!” Except, of course, in this case the women are not told by their mothers, “Don’t forget your abaya!”, but by their culture.

Additionally, I’ve also learned that how much face a woman shows in public is decided by her husband. Some are allowed to (or is it directed to, I don’t know), show their entire face, quite nun like; others show just the eyes; and others show nothing of their faces at all, black from head to toe.

I’ve also learned that thobes, the characteristic attire for men, can be purchased in subtle pinstripes as well as in solid colors.

Read the full article → 5 comments

Riyadh Diaries …

February 5, 2010 by John M. Williams

by John Williams

Burkas: Just like Ford’s Model T, you can get a burka in any color you like as long as you like black. Men’s attire ranges from white, through grays, to black, plus shades of brown. None of this traditional attire is patterned; all solid colors.

Lefthandedness: Though statistics would say a certain percentage of people will be lefthanded, I haven’t met a single one here. And, if you extend your left hand to a Saudi or touch them with your’s, they will either draw back or, at the very least, wince.

Saudis don’t complain about their culture or society: In six weeks, I have not spoken to a Saudi female.

Read the full article → 7 comments

Initial Thoughts on Being in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

January 21, 2010 by John M. Williams
Thumbnail image for Initial Thoughts on Being in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

by John Williams

Having now been in Saudi Arabia for only thirty-eight days, I have had time to develop no more than a newcomer’s perspective on this significant Gulf Region country. This is my first experience in a kingdom other than Disney’s magic one. While I can hardly help but consider the political basis of this state to be archaic, I am able to recognize that it is but one of the many systems extant on the planet today, and I can also recognize that whether it is the best or worst system currently in existence or is the best system that possibly could be developed are issues I am neither prepared nor qualified to determine, though I could, if pressed, express an opinion thereon.

If pressed, I would have to say it is unlikely that this system is the best possible system which could be created, but then to the limit of my understanding, no system is, and, further this one seems to work for its citizens. Saudis I meet spend no time complaining about their government, culture, or society.

Read the full article → 12 comments