Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Time Slows Down

Time has been slowing down again. I know why this is. It's because for the past five days experience has been unsystematised, unroutinised; liberated from a fixed expectation of how the future will go.

When we work, live at home, travel through our lives in established orbits the future doesn't present itself as an opportunity, or an open adventure. Instead, it's as if the future has already happened. We know our coming days will be near replicas of our past days. This knowledge instills passivity into our minds; it renders the input of phenonema a process somewhat mechanical, repetitive and rigid, and in consequence fast.

So time passes quickly when we're working and doing the predictable, the already performed.

This, I realise, can be seen to contradict the saying: 'time flies you're you're having fun'.

Which just shows that in many things, it depends.

I speak only for myself.

Time went slowly in Kuwait for the first month, then sped up, as a routine became established. Now, since December 19th, in the arms of vivid activity and uncertain adventure it's slowed down again. Which is good. Very good.

That said, I cannot say I had no plan when I arrived in Blighty about what I'd do. I did, but it was provisional and tentative, as I waited on confirmations of details from friends regarding where to meet me at various places and at what times.

After five days on the road, with a lap top bag and a backpack steadily expanding with xmas presents, I've finally arrived at my brother's gorgeous vicarage in Kent for Xmas Eve; though tomorrow Mum and I will drive to Suffolk for the main event. Especially boxing day, when all the family roll up.

Until now I've spent two nights in Greenwich with my sister, one night in St.John's Road with Liz, one night in Northampton with Lee, and a night in Brighton, with Matt in a public school of which he's a housemaster, if that can be believed. Staying there was like going back in time twenty years to when I belonged to a similar kind of boarding house, at The Leys in Cambridge, though only as a day boarder. You know you've grown up when you get invited to stay on the other side of the Housemaster's door.

Quite an adventure then; certainly as good a time as I allowed myself to expect.

Altogether I'm very impressed with my country and the time it's given me. Whatever negative first impressions I had, have faded. To be frank, I'm not looking forward that much to returning to the desert. Though presumably, as is the way with these things, once I'm back I'll shift into an appropriately altered mode fairly easily.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Reflecting on the West in the light of the Crescent Moon

Yesterday, before I left Kuwait for my ten days holiday in England I told myself the change would be dramatic. I knew I’d experience a more extreme cultural shift than anything I’d known before. Possibly becasue of this expectation the change wasn’t as stark as it might have been; but it was still a jolt, a highly interesting one of course, even if in curious ways a depressing one, at least at first.

Maybe it was only the crowds, and that an Underground journey from Heathrow to North Greenwich can never be fun. But I couldn’t help feeling, almost as soon as I left customs and largely as I’d expected that something present and alive in Kuwait, some ambience and atmosphere, something innocent and cohesive and delighting to be alive, was missing somehow here in Blighty.

Maybe I imagined this. Maybe it was my projection. Maybe I was hallucinating. Or maybe not.

Especially, my impressions were of two things. On the one had, the people. So many people and so many of them stoney faced, steely egotists, deracinated from themselves as well as from one another. Even the way they talked to their friends in their insulated bubble-worlds seemed formal and robotic, as if they were communicating across space, one planet to another, rather than side by side, organically, as fellow companions on dry land. Then there was the media. The style of the broadsheet I read, which happened to be ‘The Independent’, was fakely familiar in a way I’ve come to deeply regret about the drift of British culture over the past ten years. This false chumminess between people who lie to and exploit each other everyday is a cloak to mask power dynamics that it would be better, surely, to be honest about. I’m all in favour, of course, of harmony and union between people. But please, can’t we make it real? And if we can’t make it real, can’t we at least protect our minds from this sloppy regime of vapid blandishments? A problem in addition to this was an aggressive assertion of what one might call a crass, pagan triumphalism.

One headline, for example, ‘You are what you wear’ is so unspeakably false. The fact that it can be asserted shamelessly, in an aura of apparent cool, is to me profoundly depressing. Of course one wants to think this fashion slogan was meant ironically. But was it? Even if it was, is it read this way?

Ok, ok, I accept it, I should take my foot off the ‘Your’re turning into an Old Testament religious lunatic’ pedal. Still, I’m amazed that so much of this excrement can be stomached by people who actually have to live here.

That said, I have to make it clear that my fundamental loyalty towards and love of my native Christian culture is deeply felt and non-negotiable. It stands as a background to anything negative or critical I might say about my culture, be that my English and British one, or less locally my European and broader Christian one. Basically, to be blunt, if I criticise my country or civilization it doesn’t mean I want it to die out or, heavens forbid, be overthrown by Islam or any other civilization. Rather it means I’m exercising both the right and the custom, itself germane to and expressive of my culture, of collective self-reflection and self-examination. What might be perceived by those less given to self-examination as a weakness need be no such thing; but rather the glory and efflorescence of a culture that is confident enough in its own axioms and premises to be willing and prepared at times, or even to an extent at all times, to stare into the void to check and make sure its public life, its laws and its practices have been justly and virtuously established and to see whether or not they might require modification or revision.

Similarly, the preparedness to see value and virtue in a foreign culture, such as Islam, or Buddhism, or Judaism, and to consider that in specific ways these cultures may exhibit or express qualities we either have never expressed or which we used to exhibit but no longer do, does not in any way constitute an admission of inferiority to those foreign cultures such as to imply that we, and we alone, are the ones who need to be taking lessons from abroad. If I compliment my friend or even a stranger for a quality about them I love or admire, this does not mean I have given them a position of rank above me in any imagined power hierarchy. So too between civilizations; compliments or expressions of admiration for a foreign culture do not constitute a request to be supplanted by that culture. Unless, of course we really do wish to see the world as a power struggle of all against all, as those who wish to destroy the sovereignty of the subjective will, wish us to believe. That choice, most fundamentally of all, of whether we as individuals wish to stand in a relation of struggle with one another or not, is up to us, and us alone.

Of course a serious problem we now face in the west, especially amongst young people, and much evidence of this can be found in the blogosphere as well as our media, is not that we are unable to reflect critically on ourselves but on the contrary that the extent of our self-criticism has become far, far too deep and too vast. To the extent, indeed, that Western cultural apocalypticism is largely accepted as an indisputably true premise that should inevitably form the framework and essence of everything that is said, or felt or thought about Western culture. Not to buy into and accept that sense of an already arrived at or impending nihilism is considered by many of these home grown, self-appointed priests of doom to be the stance of a fool, a dunce or some manner of idiot (you tell me, insults-all of them devoid of content- are the oxygen of so much of this perspective that there’s quite a colourful range). Any suggestion that things might not actually be totally falling apart, and that there is still much either active or dormant to be celebrated in the west, is too often greeted with smirking sighs and grins of an almost or in fact unreachably smug condescension.

Interestingly, it seems that some of these voices on the blogosphere, consider it inevitable that Islam will take over and conquer Europe at some future stage. Well, unless they're being ‘ironic’ – and I know I’m not always good at reading irony. I’m not sure to what extent these opinions are melancholic or enthusiastic about such an extension of the crescent moon’s dominion. I suppose that in so far as they are expressed by those not themselves converts to Islam, or thinking of converting, that they would be lachrymose, or even to some extent despairing opinions. I’m presuming, or rather hoping in any case, that none of these voices, which see Islam’s extension of the Dar-al Islam into Europe as inevitable, would be Christian in anything other than a purely nominal sense; given that I presume and expect that anyone who actually knows and has experienced the love and glory of Jesus Christ knows that against it Islam has little to offer and cannot compete.

To be frank, I think that if I weren’t a stubborn, somewhat involuntary believer in the Christian God, or at least my version of him/her/it (given that it has often felt like God’s existence was just undeniable), I too would be worried about the future of Europe regarding the ambitions of Islam. There seems little doubt that, peacefully or not, Islam covets Europe and indeed the entire world. Quite why it should want to do this is a question you might like to address to individual Muslims themselves, but that it does do so I think is fairly uncontroversial. Indeed, as it happens I'd actually accept that Islam has a right, in a certain very qualified sense, to want to try to convert the world to its own idiosyncratic and peculiar ways. As long as, of course, we have ourselves the right not to be persuaded of our need to convert to them; and as long as they, naturally, endeavour to exert the efforst of conversion only though the power of argument and open, civilized, kindly discussion.

Anyway, that was a tangent from what had been intended to be a post about my immediate arrival back in Britain, my reverse culture shock, which happened last night. I guess this will have to wait. Meanwhile I’ll be collecting more data for reflection.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Happy Christmas

Dear Friends, and assorted fellow Earthlings, whomsoever you may be, alighting at this portal

Happy Christmas to you all. I hope you have a marvellous time this yuletide.

I also wish you all the very best by way of happiness and good fortune and prosperity for the coming year.

2007 has been a year of changes and for that reason has been somewhat unusual.

It started in the same way my previous five years had, with me living the life of an English Language teacher in Bratislava, Slovakia. I was living in a gorgeous, over-heated flat in central Bratislava with more space than I needed and a very comfortable chair, as well as a plant called Jessica. In January I stopped working for SAP, an enormous German computer company and instead focused on teaching Her Majesty’s tongue more randomly, mainly to bankers. Some banks gave me free coffee when I visited; others did not. I also began working at a High School where I taught English Literature to highly gifted students whom I hope are now doing well with their International Baccalaureates. I’d never worked in a school for children before. I’m not sure I shall ever again. That said, rambling on about Milton and Shakespeare was fun.

But after six years in this relatively obscure Central European country, invariably confused with Slovenia, one now becoming less and less obscure on account of Slovak immigration to Blighty, I really did begin to feel I should bail out, give it a break and go somewhere else. Formerly, when people asked me ‘Why have you stayed here so long. You must really love it!’ I’d change the subject and ask: ‘Why should I leave?'. I needed reasons to leave, not reasons to stay. I didn’t have such reasons. But now in early 2007 all this had changed. I began to feel I’d had enough – at least for now. I still have a business license in Slovakia (suspended for 3 years) so can easily return to the land of sheep’s cheese and unquantifiably majestic feminine beauty, if I want.

Overall my six years in Slovakia were great. Better than the six years that preceded them for sure. A long way better. I worked for seven different companies, including my own, lived in six different properties (properties sounds better than flats) and drank something like 5,000 pints of some of the best beer in the world (I’m guessing). I saw something like 90% of Slovakia’s major towns and villages, walked in the Tatras and explored Slovakia’s caves. My impression of the Slovak people overall is that they are courteous, kind, gentle and entirely unpretentious. I feel very happy that I imposed myself upon them for so long. Already I miss Bratislava and see it as a ‘home’ to which I'll always want to return.

In June I left Slovakia in a rush, planning to come back three weeks later to finish my packing. Eleven weeks later I still wasn’t back. I’d got unexpectedly waylaid in the Balkans. I’d gone to Greece and Albania on a brief trip which I thought might include a detour, maybe to Macedonia, possibly to Bulgaria at a stretch. As it happens I went also to Kosovo, and from Bulgaria down into Turkey, and through Syria all the way to Egypt. It cost a lot of this curious stuff called money we are encouraged to think is important, but it was definitely the best independent travelling experience I’ve ever had.
To read more check out http://www.lookoutsidetime.blogspot.com/ (though I haven’t finished yet).

While I was travelling the future was ‘an open book’ (as the cliché has it). I thought I might wage war on my savings and keep going for three years. But something sensible (though not necessarily wise) counselled caution in my mind. In my search for work I was lucky to be able to do all the humdrum bureaucracy on the road. I didn’t choose Kuwait. Kuwait chose me. I was slated to go to Saudi Arabia, but was wooed by an unsolicited job offer to work in a place less severe.

So here I am, in an entirely different world, back in the lands of Ishmael. It’s certainly different here. Largely speaking its different in all the ways you might suppose, The women are hard to see and there ain’t no booze, there’s lots of oil money and plenty of sand, the presence of religion is all-pervasive and the ‘cold’ winters aren’t cold.

So far I’m having a lot of fun, enjoying the simplicity of it all. Not doing much, it must be said, can bring its own advantages. The absence of stress is great.

On Wednesday I’m back in Britain for ten days, and am looking forward to experiencing reverse culture shock as the forcefield of the Middle East withdraws. It will be interesting to discover what that feels like.

All the best once again for your Christmas time of celebration and best wishes again for 2008.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kuwait - From The Source

Recently in class I set my students a writing assignment in which I asked them to imagine that I was their friend.

Actually, they didn’t seem to object to this premis:).

As my friend their role was to imagine I’d not yet arrived in Kuwait. Quite how I would have become their friends was a major flaw in this whole design. But neither they nor I seemed troubled by this.

What I informed them to do - strong armed tactics being unrequired given their remarkable enthusiasm to do homework - was to write me a letter. In that letter they should include tips and advice about social customs in Kuwait, a country I was soon to settle in and therefore needed some guidance about.

I encouraged them to focus on matters like: how to greet and address people, how people dress, going out and behaviour between the sexes in public, customs when visiting a person’s home and the nature of respect for authority in Kuwait. For further details of my operating framework, please turn to page 76 of Cutting Edge Intermediate level English Language Students book by Sarah Cunningham and Peter Moor.

These are some of the things they wrote, all of which I felt were crafted in a highly satisfactory way, at least for their level of linguistic competency. I’ve corrected their linguistic slips.

I’ve worried about whether I should have published their words, though console myself that I have protected their identity. I didn’t want to ask them if I could publish their words, in case they said no:) I also don’t want them to know about the existence of this blog.

Obviously by editing I’ve hacked up their flow, but only in the way editors customarily do. That’s my excuse. I’m not intending any of the quotes to make any points whatsoever beyond the points they do make, though I’ve added my own reflections at the end of each section.

General Introductory Remarks

“It is my pleasure to write to you a letter regarding some tips as a foreign visitor to my country. Kuwait is famous for its hospitality, and the average visitor will have no difficulty in adapting to our local customs. The following tips are mostly common sense.”

“I’m really delighted to hear that you will visit Kuwait next week, to teach your English lessons. Nowadays the weather is fantastic in Kuwait, especially in November.”

“I will write some tips for a foreign visitor to my country. When you arrive at the airport don’t accept offers from anyone approaching you, whether it’s to help you find your way to the hotel or whether it’s to exchange money.”

Luckily a company employee called Saad collected me at the airport when I arrived. He was really nice and friendly. I was also given some money in advance by the company to tide me over until my first pay day, though there are of course functioning ATM’s here, and you can change Sterling into Kuwaiti Dinars.

Addressing people

“Well, there are a lot of things that are different from a European country. For example, the names, the way you address people. It is polite to use just their first names. In more formal situations you should use the word ‘Abu’ (which means ‘father of’), or ‘Um’, (which means mother of) before the name of their first baby, most commonly the first baby boy of married people.”

“When addressing a Kuwaiti person it’s polite to use first names, while in more formal situations you should use the word ‘Abu’ and the name of his eldest son, for example (Abu Mohammed).”

“It is usual to shake hands when you meet a Kuwaiti man.”

Amongst Kuwait nationals, I’ve only ever met my students, under strange circumstances (a classroom). Most of the non-westerners I interact with are Indians or Bangladeshis and Filipinos. I’ve learnt how to greet and say goodbye in Arabic but, as I say, this knowledge has not really been applicable yet. Kuwaitis, however, are universally polite and warm in the greetings, as far as I’ve experienced them.

The Way People Dress

“Generally people wear the traditional dress of our country, the Dishdasha (male dress) with Qitra (white or red scarf) and Ogal (two layers of black thread that have been folded in a round shape) to cover their head. While the women tend to cover their dresses with the Abaya (a black dress) and Shailah (black or colourful scarf) to cover their heads. But nowadays most young people wear smart, colourful clothes.”

“It’s important to wear traditional clothes. It’s usual for women to wear black dresses and for men to wear white clothes.”

“Kuwaiti people expect you to dress smartly when you go to the shopping malls.”

According to my impressions, while the traditional dress is very widespread, you can see both male and female Kuwaitis wearing western clothes, especially in the malls. Of course I’m not always certain of my ability to identify Kuwaitis in distinction to other nationalities. Kuwaitis are a minority in their own country (30%) so most non-Caucasians are not Kuwaiti and so do not fall under Kuwaiti cultural norms.

Going out

“In public there are things which you will find to be different from your own country. It’s true that it’s not common for a young couple to hold hands. Well, nowadays some of them do; maybe because of the influence of western society. Couples should be careful how they behave as it’s not acceptable for them to kiss in public. It’s not normal to go on dates with a girlfriend, you must be engaged first.”

“It is very important to treat old people with respect…but don’t be surprised if you see men touch their noses in the street. Actually this is the way that the ‘Badu’ (people who used to live in the desert) greet each other, not only the forst time they meet, or if they haven’t seen each other for a long time; but everyday. While for ‘Hadar’ (people who used to live in the town or near the sea) it’s quite normal to shake hands and kiss each other on both cheeks.”

“It’s not okay for couples to hold hands in public.”

“Couples should be careful how they behave. Kuwaiti couples tend not to kiss in public. It is normal to go out late in Kuwait.”

“In general the shopping centers in Kuwait open at 9.00am and close at 10pm. Most young people in Kuwait enjoy their time by going to the cinema.”

I saw my first man touch another male nose with his nose only yesterday,so now I can confirm that this does happen. Maybe I wasn’t looking that closely before. Men seem to feel fine about kissing each other on the cheeks throughout the Middle East. Indeed I myself was kissed (it was more of an ‘air kiss’ as it happens) by a waiter in Palmyra, Syria. Actually it didn’t feel that invasive.

It’s true I have seen no couples publically attached or entagled with one another here, of whatever nationality. I would imagine that western non-muslims might be extended more forebearance in this matter than anyone else, but I really don’t know. I’m not going to bank on that, however, presuming that is that I find someone willing to get attached or entagled up with me at all. In any case, the situation here is far more liberal regarding vice control than it is in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Actually, I never really liked seeing PDAs (public displays of affection) in Europe. I sometimes feel them to be a form ‘egoism-for- two’ inserted into the public world, forcefields of exclusive attachment that none other can penetrate and yet all must be a witness to. They could also, of course make me feel jealous – though not really. But naturally, I celebrate the liberty to be so publically entagled in the west- if one so chooses. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I’d want to see it banned. Why would it?

Respect for authority, notably the Kuwaiti Royal family

“Remember one thing you should know is about the Kuwaiti Royal family. It’s not the same as in England. In England you can say anything about them, but in Kuwait you can’t. You should never say rude things about them as Kuwait people always show respect to them and expect visitors to do the same.”

“It’s not acceptable to say rude things about Royalty or Sheiks.”

As in Syria regarding Bassha Al-Assad, pictures of the Emir are found in many public places, often along side that of the Prime Minister, though they are not as omnnipresent as in Syria. Luckily I wouldn’t consider it my business to be disrespectful to the Emir, and I’m usually pretty respectful anyway towards specific individuals as such.

Food and visiting a Kuwaiti home

“We normally eat together with the family on the floor using our right hand. People tend to serve food in a large dish in the centre. Unless we invite foreign visitors, both men and women, it’s common to see men eating together in the ‘Diwaniya’ (a place where men used to meet in the house) and women eating together in another separate room.”

“Remember it’s important to take your shoes off if you are invited to someone’s house. Most people tend to eat by spoon or fork or with their hands.”

“Remember if you are invited to someone’s house it is important to take your shoes off if they have a carpet. Also nowadays it’s not really acceptable to smoke in people’s houses unless they let you do that.”

“If it happens that you visit a Kuwaiti home, try if someone gives you something to eat or drink to take it with your right hand. And if you finish drinking Arabian coffee remember to shake your right hand while holding the small cup. That’s the sign that you don’t want anymore coffee. Otherwise he will keep giving you more coffee.”

Who knows if I’ll ever get invited to a Kuwaiti’s home. They mentioned the matter of shoes because I had told them of the Slovak custom of always removing shoes in another’s home, often to have them replaced by slippers.

Miscellaneous and Closing remarks

“I wish you happy days in Kuwait.”

“Finally I hope you’ll enjoy living in Kuwait.”

“If you feel that you need to go to the police for a particular reason, reconsider in Kuwait. It’s better to go to your particular embassy rather than dealing with the local police.”

“I hope you enjoy your stay in Kuwait. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.”

The above picture is of Kuwait from my bedroom window, shortly before leaving for work.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Six and a Half Weeks

Six and a half weeks have passed since I arrived in Kuwait. It seems like I’ve been here for much, much longer. Far more seems to have happened than one might suppose should have in such a short period of time. That said, I realize this perception is an illusion created by the great changes I’ve undergone by settling here. After all, if I atomistically break down all the events that have occurred, they don’t actually add up to that much. Certainly not more than one might expect could occur over a 47 day period. The point is that the experience and atmosphere of novelty that has characterized and surrounded these events has made me feel that they’ve happened over a much longer time, when really they haven’t. This will become more apparent six and a half weeks from now if I look back at December 4th from that perspective and find that time has speeded up, back to a more accustomed pace, a pace more in tune with the typical accelerated speed time has when it follows a familiar and settled course.

That said, I may very well be going somewhere exciting for a few days prior to Christmas, very possibly to Ethiopia. That will definitely be novel. As such, for this period, time would slow down again. Yet apart from this break, I can fairly confidently predict that so long as I remain in Kuwait and carry on working as I have for the next seven weeks (something which is extremely likely) the sorts of things which will generally happen to me will follow a pattern replicating what has happened so far. Since I’m still new here and in no sense bored, I’m fine about this as it happens. But what is sure is that the initial buzz that comes with a new country and environment, which slows time down, will probably have faded greatly by then. It’s just as well to know this in advance.

Almost certainly I will continue to do roughly the same kinds of things with my free time (or we shall see). I will go to the gym at the Holiday Inn once or twice an week, spending an hour doing cardiovascular exercise while watching CNN or a film on the screens erected on the machines; and afterwards lingering a while in the Jacuzzi. At this gym, for which I now have a year’s subscription, western women are pleasantly attired and shaped for the eye, and are an added bonus of this ‘western style’ gym. In the local gyms, Kuwaiti or Indian, the sexes are segregated and each sex can only attend on particular days. Being as I am a shy man when it comes to the ‘hunt’ however, I doubt I’ll be finding myself any ‘action’ with these ladies, but I suppose it can’t be ruled out. As I increasingly come to feel irritated about anyway, I do not see why women, if they want such action with a male, can’t be the one to initiate the proceedings. In myself in any case they would be likely to find a positive reception, so fear of rejection should be laid to one side. At the very least it would be nice to be flattered by being approached, or ‘asked out’, as it were and I’d always strive to be gracious in my rejecting if I really couldn’t envisage it. Of course I realize I am thinking wildly out of tune with ‘reality’ and that most people, if not all, will be thinking that ‘it will never happen, men have to do all the leg work’. I know this, I am not naieve. I am just not very comfortable approaching women unless I know they want me to, that’s all. I am referring here by the way specifically to non-Islamic women, of course. I would not dream of approaching an Islamic woman, since I value my life. So let them, the non-Islamic women, approach me if they find me desirable. Otherwise, they should not take my passivity either as an insult, a rejection or a failure to find them both attractive and beautiful…..well, in many cases at least.

I will also go to Church on Sundays, though not always. Not being a Roman Catholic I do not, I trust, have to feel ‘guilty’ or ‘sinful’ if I miss a communion without a good reason. I wonder if this has anything to do with the Anglican rejection of the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Because we Anglicans don’t actually believe bread and wine can literally become a first century Jew, albeit a very wonderful one, at the hands of a Priest performing a ritual, maybe we’re less convinced of the absolute necessity of their regular consumption. The bread and wine, for sure, are less important to us, and so no doubt is the frequency of their use. Or maybe, it’s ok to miss a Communion in Anglicanism simply because we’re less bossy and authoritarian than the Romans. Yeah, I reckon there's a lot of that reason too.

I’ll also no doubt go to the cinema – that perfection of ‘secular religion’. Alone and comfortable in the dark, by cinema through sight and sound, one commues with the infinity of the possible. Identity disengaged, one merges with one’s common humanity; in an event imposing no rigid metaphysic, nevertheless exploring and exploiting the boundaries of the real. God is not found, but stylish escape from the humdrum and the banal is achieved. For awhile. With or without popcorn, depending on your choice.

Maybe I won’t still be going to the diving club meetings, however. I can’t do a training course until February, after all. Nevertheless their socials are good, and one can maybe get to quaff home made nectar, which is nice.

And also of course I’ll still be going to work…..

Changes at work have seen three teachers added, three more Americans. We’ve also a new Director of Studies who’s done much to clarify what was previously some rather chaotic, mysterious arrangements. I’ve got a better desk, with a better internet connection, by which I mean it’s more reliable, though no faster. I’ve also managed to get a seat in the company car!:) so no more bus rides, at least for now. This has also given me an extra ten minutes each morning to have my obligatory shower (I lack a bath) and to iron my shirts and to watch Al-Jazeera through my satellite system which has now sprung to life. The various porn channels I get on it are a real surprise. I’d thought there’d be none of that here. Still, they’re just ultra-soft dial-a-voice ads, so pretty innocuous. Including the porn I’ve got 800 channels in all. Most are in Arabic, usually religious or musical, the Arabs loving to sing in their pop-folksy way. In effect I only watch Al-Jazeera, BBC World and Dubai One. Other than that I watch DVDs on my large silver screen TV, though it annoyingly won’t play many of my DVDs because they’re for the wrong region. For example it won’t play the second series of the Office, alas, which I bought in the UK. Nor a US release of Casino Royale.

My washing machine is a ridiculous top loader which I have to manually operate. I fill it up via a tube with water from the tap. Then I drain it into a hole in the floor, then refill it again to rinse, before moving the soggy clothes into an adjoining spin compartment that rumbles and shakes the machine violently. I wouldn’t mind if it actually did a decent job, but it doesn’t. That the other teachers who arrived before me get proper machines doesn’t really help. Rumours float of us getting better machines but I’m not holding my breath. An internet connection is also supposed to arrive but I’m expecting that it won’t. As it happens I don’t really care about this that much, mainly because I get hours of opportunity to surf the web at work - I still only teach two and a half hours a day after all. It's also pleasant to go to Marina Mall or to caribou coffee to hook up, where the shockingly underpaid yet relentlessly smiling Filipina waitresses are more usually both pretty and charming than not.