Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Saudi Job

(Brian Hartenstein with his Saudi students, August 2012)

All the interviews were done by Skype.  The first at 10 o’clock at night with the recruiter in New Zealand who said I was exactly what they were looking for.  The second was two weeks later at 6 a.m. with the company’s managing director in Bahrain who said he would fast track me for a management position.  The final was the following week, at 11 a.m. with the director of the school who had hiring approval.  He as an American man who had lived in Saudi for 27 years, converted to Islam, and was a millionaire.  Over the next four months he was the only man who never lied or cheated me.  Perhaps that was because, as I found out toward the end, he was totally insane.  For the purpose of this blog I will call him, The Admiral.
(Saudi students at SESP arrive for orientation still wearing traditional white thobe gowns and red checkered shumaghs)

The Admiral said to me at the end of our interview, “You have children, what if one of them gets sick or is in the hospital? The Saudi desert is a long way from Taiwan.”
I said, “Their mother is pretty tough. I trust her.”
Then The Admiral said, “Hartenstein is a Jewish name. You may be threatened. Are you prepared for students to act aggressively toward you?”
I said, “In America I’m Mr. Hartenstein. When I teach abroad, I’m just ‘Teacher Brian.’ Besides, it wouldn’t be the first time.”
Then he said, “The job is in the city of Jizan which is along the Yemen boarder. It’s a desolate, lonely, and potentially violent place. Aren’t you scared?”
I said, “This isn’t the first time I’ve been abroad.”
Finally, The Admiral said, “This is one of the highest paid English jobs in the world. We’re looking for only the best. We had over four-thousand applicants. You’re our first hire.”
(There was complete disorganization during student in-take.  Over five hundred students, each with three or four ways of spelling their Arabic name in English, trying to register to one man, an overworked and frustrated Dijiboutian carrying a clipboard, taking name after name with a pencil)

The next month was spent doing the usual visa requirements.  I was fingerprinted at the police station and had my urine, stool, and blood samples tested for HIV, AIDS, STDs, hypertension, high blood pressure, seizures, and questioned about mental disorders.  I traveled to Taipei twice to secure travel papers and visited several notaries.  I contacted a lawyer, drafted a will, and put my affairs in order.  Finally I boarded a plane through Bangkok to Qatar and to Riyadh and then after a lengthy and dehydrated layover, I finally arrived in the dusty, rubble filled city, of Jizan.
(I soon learned Saudi students openly cheat on everything.  When I say openly, I mean blatantly passing papers, leaning over to copy, and being completely unable to keep their eyes on their own tests.  Trying to police this issue was laughable)

I won’t kid you, my emotions were mixed.  I missed my girls immensely and second guessed myself every minute for leaving them.  Yet on the other hand, this was an adventure.  I suddenly found myself in the deserts of Lawrence and Aladdin. There were camels on the highways and Bedouin riding donkeys into the horizon.  Men kneeling on carpers while rhythmic chants called them to prayer.  Exotic women wrapped in the most flowing black gowns with only their eyes to seduce me.  And the desert itself, the Rub’ al-Khali, beckoning for me to explore.  
(But despite this, those first days, I felt oddly secure and at ease)

I had no idea what would happen next.  I had no idea what to expect.  I only knew that I had arrived, and nothing would ever be the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment