When I arrived in Riyadh a few years back, I had little idea of what would befall me. Having never been to the Gulf region before, there was much of a muchness about choosing a particular location - they all seemed the same, and were equally desperate to recruit me. When two teachers dropped out of a PREP Programme at the prestigious King Faisal School Riyadh situated next to the American Embassy in the Diplomatic Quarter, two vacancies arose. With some research I noted that the school was home to much of the ruling elite of the country, with the Bin Ladens and the Al-Sauds being the more obvious benefactors. Yet generally, as is often the case with such dodgy institutes, there was a paucity of information about the place - just a bunch of sour grapes by some sad Tefl twats who either got fired or walked out because they were about to get fired. Aside from that, I knew very little.
The first thing people notice about working in Saudi is how painfully slow the visa process is, not to mention the cost of it. After running around for the best part of two months, however, I was soon on board a flight crossing hour upon hour of gleaming sand, wondering whether I had done the right thing. My main reason for going was because I wanted to get SARS; yes, that’s right - SARS. Not the bird flu kind, but Saudi Arabian Rials … or ‘fluse’ as it’s known locally.
Upon arriving in Riyadh, I was met and taken to a 3-star hotel on the edge of the city. This place doubled as a knocking shop for fat Saudis and Bangladeshi boys, with the room opposite me being the main hub of activity, unfortunately. On my first day at work I was told that there would be a three week induction period before the students arrived, and that I should use that time to get to know my colleagues and the city. That was when the fun really began. Looking back, I regret not noting all this down at the time, as I have told many I could have made millions from revealing the antics that occurred in the first few months. Given the nature of it all, like many observers, I was too stunned to act, and completely unable to overcome the disbelief that occurred on a daily basis.
The job itself did not get off to the best of starts. One teacher resigned on the first day, rather than pander to a bunch of spoilt Saudi brats all year, whereas another teacher, Palestinian, was fired shortly after for allowing a boy to drown in the swimming pool during a poorly supervised sports day. I befriended what few ex-pat teachers there were, not yet aware that this is not always the best thing to do in the Gulf region. My colleagues were a whacky bunch of misfits, all of them mad in their own way, though two of them were clearly beyond anything I have ever come across. I will mention the merely unbalanced characters first, before moving onto the real crackpots.
To be continued