Showing posts from 2009

Mid-Term and Holiday!

The mid-term is tomorrow. The students are excited and so am I. After the mid-term, I get two weeks off. Ash is still waiting on her visa from Portugal, so we will kick around Jeddah and Taif for the time. Who knows, her visa may even arrive and she'll be off before the holiday is done. If so, it is good there is is a separate terminal for Hajj travelers and regular travelers.

Hajj season is here, and that's the reason for the holiday. I have two weeks off, and can go back and forth to Jeddah if I like. Of course, the road to Jeddah will be crowded as it goes right by Makkah on the way. I had to do it once last year on my motorcycle, waiting nearly an hour and working through the stopped traffic to reach the turn off. I'm not looking forward to going to Jeddah in the coming weeks. Maybe if we leave early, early in the morning we will be okay.


The semester is finally underway. This is shaping up to be the best year yet at the Academy, at least from my point of view. I am challenged in that I'm working with the students with the least amount of English. After having upper groups all last year, my teacher language has been to high level and too fast, so this should get me back to ground on teaching basics. The group itself is smaller, only ten students. I'm hoping that two others, held back for failing last year, might be returned to their current year group. I doubt it, and honestly it wouldn't be better for them, but it would make things easier for me.

In other news, the labs have been frustrating. I somehow assigned an unknown password to the students' Moodle logins. Making for wasted class sessions and a great of frustration on the part of teachers, all of which is my fault. I'm fixing today, but not a great kick-off to Moodle. Additionally, our updated typing software hastily installed last month, does…

Almost Begun

The new semester has begun, at least for my online classes. I've been having problems with registration exacerbated by my internet connections - yes, I have two - becoming terrible at the same time. Fortunately, school has not started here yet as Ramadan is almost upon us and NOTHING gets done in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan.

The large amounts of nothing getting done are a worry at my school. We are down to four front line teachers, and one admin that can teach some classes in a pinch. We will have eight odd students this fall, which is down from 120 or students last term. We are supposed to be staffed with ten teachers, and supposedly have four "in the pipeline". Given the delays, I will be surprised if we see even two teachers in time for the term to start. Okay, I'll be surprised if we see them before October.

While 20+ students in an ESL class may be normal in a public school in the States, it's unusual here. We are supposed to have an upper limit of twelve - …

The Next Podcast

I'm beginning to research the next podcast. I have various articles from the Arab News about black magic, sorcerers and the Committee for the Prevention of Vice. Now to weave these into an interesting narrative.

If you have specific questions to ask, please e-mail them as text or audio and I'll work them into the show.

Thanks for listening to the first show!

Finished - Halfway

I've finished the certificate portion of the masters program. I have to say, I'm really happy about that, and really happy about the work I've done so far. I only need four more courses for the masters, so should finish by spring. It's been a personal goal for a long, long time to have a masters degree.

The funny thing is, finishing this one, I want to try and do others - philosophy, digital libraries, humanities.It's unreal in a way to find myself contemplating doing all three in some kind of sequence.

In other news, if I didn't have other plans, an ESL job I'd love to do:

Pavlodar, Kazakhstan


About two weeks ago we went to Makkah, (or Mecca if you are used to the traditional spelling). Ash and Ammi did Umrah while I did the driving. As I find driving in Saudi cities stressful I did not do Umrah myself. A note for those not familiar, Umrah is the "Lesser Pilgrimage", compared to Hajj, the "Greater Pilgrimage" that most educated people in the West have heard of before.

Anyway, we arrived shortly after night fall. After getting settled in the ladies went off to do Umrah and I found a spot to view the Qaaba and wait. While there I was able to get a few pictures.

The spot I picked was popular with visitors. Many people stopped to take pictures. Other people would slide past the rail to join the inner walkway on the upper level. At one point a girl stopped and spoke with me in English. From Iran, she was surprised to meet a Westerner at the Qaaba. The benefits of pilgrimage - to open your mind to greater possibilities!

The evening was well spent. I was nice to b…

A Beginning

A video lead-in to the podcast of Beyond Samarkand.

Questions About Life in Saudi?

I'm taking a course on making various media - video, podcasts and so on. For my final project I'm doing a podcast about life in Saudi Arabia. How to get a job here, what conditions are like, what to expect and so on.

I'd like have a segment that directly addresses questions. Better would be if I had recordings of the questions, so the podcast isn't just me talking away. I'm asking you, yes you, to record a question as an MP3 and send it to me.

If you own a laptop computer, you have the means to record yourself. Likely if you dig around, you already have the software to do so as well. If you don't have any software, or don't like what you have, you can download Audacity and get recording. We've been using this to make tests for the past year at my school.

Audacity can be downloaded here:

Please play with it and send me something. It would help make my final project really stand out.

Colors of Saudi Arabia

Looking out my back window the predominate color is green. This is surprising, as I live in At Taif, Saudi Arabia, and the country is pure desert. But, my gardener keeps a small plot of grass, a vegetable garden and banana trees, yes, banana trees, growing. And I must say having my own oasis helps me keep my sanity.

The colors of Saudi Arabia are not the first thing to come to mind when you think of coming here. But soon after you arrive you are overwhelmed by them. Women, shrouded in their black abbayas you expect. Or you should if you have done any kind of research before coming. Saudi men in their white thobes are everywhere as well. More colorful are the expatriate workers – Bengalis with their dark skin and brightly colored shirts, Pakistanis in shalwars of light earth tones, and Sudanese with their green head wraps and grey, or green or brown working clothes.

One place you see the same color is Mekkah. The hajji men are in white towels. One around their shoulders, the other wrappe…

Sushi Yoshi!

Sushi Yoshi!
Originally uploaded by Kevin.Haroun This has been a lifesaver - sushi! The restaurant is on the corniche and only ten minutes from the Jeddah compound. Having a place to go and eat good food makes a huge difference in living here.

Riding Lesson

Riding Lesson
Originally uploaded by Kevin.Haroun We finally got boots and jodhpurs for Ash and went riding. Only to find out that women aren't allowed to ride until the new arena is finished. The local "Committee" members came and told the trainer that if he trained any more women they would kill him. Yes, really. It's sad how much damage the last 100 years, and oil wealth, has done to Islam.

Wrapping Up the Women's Class

I taught the womens' class for about five weeks, three evenings a week. It was very challenging and at times very rewarding as a teacher. Some of the challenging parts included:

- video failure
- audio failure
- students opting to reschedule

I sat in a different room from the students, so at a minimum audio was required to interact with them. Invariably settings on the microphone and speaker would cause problems. I would be too loud, then I would have an echo, then I couldn't be heard and so on. Other times, the video wouldn't work. This wasn't as much of a problem as you might expect. I couldn't see them anyway, and them seeing me wasn't that necessary. I did use a whiteboard part of the time, but it was seldom required for class.

Not being able to see my students is VERY frustrating as a language teacher. I'm used to a lot of non-verbal feedback, that I then use to encourage verbal feedback. As a result, I wasn't getting visual feedback, and they would …

Prepping for the Women's Class

Well, the first session went well enough, but the Berlitz director was overloading me with classes. So last month I taught the men's section. That went well enough. I found it very frustrating though. They would attend one week, or one session, and not the next. The students were not correctly leveled - some were very advanced, others needed to build their confidence and their abilities. Not an ideal teaching situation, but typical of language schools.

The upside of delaying the women's class is I'm better prepared. I know the book better and I got fired up to turn it into a "blended learning" type class. That is, I made a website with Moodle and such ( Since I'm teaching them remotely, this also got me excited to resume my masters program.

My plan now is to run one four week session of the women's toefl prep, take a month off to revise it, then run it again if there is interest. Around that time, I'll the next class …

Teaching Remotely

I had my first experience teaching remotely last night. I had a video camera and a mike, while my students were in another room with a mike. It was frustrating not to be able to see my students. I found myself hamming it up for the camera at times. Being more expressive than I might have been otherwise.

The students were Saudi women ages 20 to 27, at least for the ones that mentioned their age in their self-introduction. Most had big ambitions for the use of their English. Doctors, computer science, or hotel management. All big clears. The younger student just wanting to take the TOEFL and see what that will open up for her. Neat group. I'll working with them for a month or so.

Anyway, fun night of teaching. Hopefully the course will go well.

Getting Back to Work

It's the end of February and time to start getting back to work. Ash left for Pakistan for a short trip, that looked like it would become a long trip, and now thankfully is back to the short trip. She should be back next weekend.

It was good having her out here and living together, but we were both in a kind of holiday mode. While she was away we used the chance to talk about what we should be doing and how to stay on target for our goals. Not work related, but how we want to be living our lives. It was a good chat.

That helped me remember things I should be doing. Like writing. Tomorrow I resuming doing morning pages. Three pages a day long hand. I usually get up early and read the news. The news can wait. I'll write, then look at the news, then head out the door. I also need to get back on a regular exercise plan. That's been difficult, and was impossible for me with the schedule we had going after Ash got here.

Work has some good news. We are looking at our Moodle deploy…


January and I'm finally posting again. Many transitions the past few months. Biggest is that Ash graduated and is living here in Taif. Getting used to married life is, of course, an adventure. Since Ash can't work here, I get to come home to lunch ready for me and my charming wife either there to great me or in the kitchen. There's downsides as well - kitchen being rearranged, sharing the computer and so on. Oh, the travails!

I recently "rediscovered" the website They do micro loans. I had looked around at what they were about months ago, but finally went back and put some money down on hoping people out. One of the duties as a Muslim is to give charity. I've decided to do it through the medium of this organization. Mainly because they give me a neat GUI that makes it feel like a web toy and not just money going out of my bank account, ah, the wonders of the web never cease!