Thursday, June 26, 2008

It was number 3

Yes, the unlikely one that I didn't quite understand. Number 3

More later, busy ah!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I have been "resigned"

It seems I have been "resigned" from the university. I received a letter stating that the have accepted my resignation. Thing is, I didn't even write a letter of resignation. It is bizarre.

I have been talking today with several people and each has a different theory of what happened. Here is a list of them so far>

1. My comments at the presentation in Riyadh - see earlier post

2. Some supposed comments I was purported to have made about Bedouins not being intelligent. In fact I was saying the opposite, and told the students the following: (background - various people had told me the bedous are stupid - even non-bedou Saudis). One of the lecturers here told me that I should not expect much from the students because they are bedouin and that bedous are not intelligent. I told him that this is not the case and gave him an example of my top student last year who was from a bedouin background (very intelligent chap). I went to my class a bit angry with this lecturer still and said to the students that someone had just told me that Bedou are not intelligent. I then said that this is very bad and gave the example of the best student, amongst others. I told the students that no-one should ever have this idea, especially because it is not true and that we brothers in Islam, Bedou and non-Bedou. There is no difference between us. '
However, somehow a complaint was made to the president of the university that I had said that Bedous are stupid. Is this politics I wonder?

3. That the dean of the college I am employed by, yet in practice I am working for medicine, was very annoyed that I was neglecting him and his college - eventhough they don't have any students yet. Bizarre I don't understand that one.

4. That someone forged a resignation letter in my name

5. That the whole thing was a clerical error.

It's all bizarre. But strangely enough, I was offered another job on Thursday. I told the dean of this new college that I would make istikharah, (this is special kind of supplication where we would ask Allah to help us make the right decision in the midst of any dilemma).

On the Saturday, I received this letter from my current employer - accepted resignation etc.

I feel that if I was looking for a definitive answer, this letter, however it came to be, is the answer I can't possibly argue with. It is something akin, to asking Allah, should i jump from this cliff?...

and somebody gives an almighty shove from behind, or you slip over and fall down. The answer could not be clearer. Even though they are now considering rescinding the letter and reinstating me. It is one of the most bizarre things to have happened to this blogger in his whole life; but you have to look at the name of the blogger to understand where it all comes from!

Interestingly, as I have mentioned previously, how selfish people are in Madinah. Especially, the people who are not the originals - i.e. foreigners and people whom have come from other parts of Arabia.

I told one, British Muslim "brother" about my "resignation". This news went around the herd of English teachers like wildfire. One of them came to me after prayer time and said the following, "I heard some very bad news", "is it true that you are leaving?", "what happened?", "me and the brothers really need to find out why you were sacked", "we don't want to put ourselves at risk also".

What does all that mean, in case that you didn't follow. He wants to know what mistake I made, because they don't want to make that mistake and get sacked too. The bad news he described was aimed at themselves, of course, not remotely a sincere expression of regret, but saving their backs. Nice people!

I perhaps have one month left in Madinah.


Sunday, May 18, 2008


Conducted another class in this room. They have repaired the leak - however, they just put in another pipe.... in a classroom!
The probability is that this lecture room is converted (or perhaps partially converted) from a laboratory or perhaps even a large toilet :) (that's only a joke because I'm sure they would have left the toilet bowls if that were the case!)

Anyway I conducted another small class today, with only perhaps 20-30% attendance. These are the good students, not necessarily academically the best (I will test this hypothesis after the final exams), but certainly are those with some sincerity. For these 10-15 students (out of a class of 55) I am happy to teach and to put in all the effort.

I am really going to screw these absent students in the final exam. They seem to believe that they can memorise notes and thus achieve good grades, however, I am determined to put nothing but problem based questions in the exam. I'm sure that the great memorisers will fail. I hope at least.

Of course i should have been taking the attendance for the whole semester, however, I was not given a list of students until 3 days ago, with three weeks left until the end. Furthermore this list was all in Arabic; so how do I know who is who?

Near impossible this lark.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Water Damage

I was giving the students a test today. Thankfully we had just completed the individual part and had started the group session, (that's when they get a chance to discuss the answers and submit them as a group).

Anyway, all of a sudden we sprung a leak!

The conditions in the university are truly appalling. My class and I have been breaking chairs all week. There is a new batch of chairs provided to the students which seems to have a weight limit of only around 25kg. Several students have indeed bruised their posteriors with these contraptions. I almost fell myself today! Hooray for bottoms made out of rubber ! I bounced right up to my feet again.

Apart from this, the place is so dirty, i swear that the microbiology department are conducting a mass experiment on us all.

As you can see from the video, rubbish is everywhere - it didn't just float in, incidentally. The students dropped it - like they throw all of their rubbish - wherever they want to.

There is no such thing as walking two metres over to the bin and putting your rubbish inside. Here, they have a wonderful culture of throwing it onto the floor next to them, because they know well, that sooner or later - along will come a Bangladeshi in an orange boiler suit who will scoop it up and take it all away. Terrible people really.

Can you actually believe that this is used as a classroom?

The place is honestly falling down!. As I was leaving, I discovered the door to the building like this.

The Cat says, "I weren't me guvnor", while trying to look as innocent as possible by whistling to himself

The photo on the right - it says "PULL". It indeed appears that someone did just that.

I'll just go and disinfect myself - cheerio

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Post Conference Blues

Last week I attended a conference here. The subject was medical education. It was an interesting and suprisingly well organised event with several international speakers and myself. I gave a presentation describing my novel teaching methodology.

My presentation went as follows:
First I described the problem, as in any scientific study, as I am first and foremost a scientist.
The problem is as I have described in this very own blog. Students for the most part don't understand any English, and they don't seem to have any background knowledge in science. They are seemingly unable to apply what little knowledge they have and are only adept at memorisation.
The type of memorisation practiced here is bizarre to say the least.

I can offer an example. A lecturer will give them three pages of notes and instruct the student to "learn" this information. The notes will consist of a series of statements

An example of such statements is as such: "Physostigmine is a competitive inhibitor of the enzyme, Acetyl Cholinesterase". Carbachol is an agonist of the Acetyl Choline Receptor.

The examination will then include a multiple choice question as follows:
Which of the following is correct?
a. Physostigmine is an agonist of the Acetyl Choline Receptor
b. Carbachol is a competitive inhibitor of the enzyme, Acetyl Cholinesterase
c. Physostigmine is a competitive inhibitor of the enzyme, Acetyl Cholinesterase
d. Carbachol is a competitive inhibitor of the the Acetyl Choline receptor.

It is plain that the object of this exercise is not to promote an understanding of the subject at hand, but to test the student on their ability to memorise a sequence of words.

The students are happy enough at this method, they frequently receive excellent marks, on the level of 90% receive an A grade, 5% A- and 5% B+

This becomes a more complex issue, of course when we recall, that these are MEDICAL students, whom armed with this knowledge or should we say, lack of knowledge, will be practising a medical doctors at a hospital near you :)

Actually, in reality many of the students don't even expect to be doing this. Their aim is not the hard work of a medical physicians career.

They already have a plan, that their position will be fast track, as all Saudi citizens seem to be granted, super fast track promotion to the position of Mudir (director).

The way to become a director is as follows, post medical degree, the newly qualified , and world class one must add, doctor will be sent abroad, to the UK for instance, for a special course, such as training in Surgery etc etc. These courses are only open to citizens of foreign countries and
not to natives of the UK. I expect that you might get the picture.

The newly qualified "surgeon" etc will return to Arabia, and behold, they are now the new director of the department of Surgery. There are of course lots of Egyptians doing the actual donkey work under him.

The director has the unenviable task of spending their days, when they decide to actually go to their plush office, most beautifully decorated, signing various authorisation papers for this and that and taking home a bumper salary every month.

I must state however, that THIS IS A MINORITY OF STUDENTS' ASPIRATIONS, yet unfortunately not a small minority.

There are some good people here, I must state that also. But unfortunately nowadays few who are sincere and almost none whom are brave.

Anyway, back to the conference. After describing the problem to my audience, I then went on to describe the solution. My solution is to use lots and lots of animations of core principles and test their knowledge by giving many tests on the application of this knowledge.

It Works! I described how it does in this presentation.

However, the moderator throughout the presentation seemed unnaturally aggressive and just plain nasty. I received only one question afterward, which was pretty much a throwaway sort of thing. It seemed to not really receive the response that I had expected.

It was revealed to me at the tea break following this, that I had made in my presentation, an enormous faux-pas. I had actually mentioned a problem, or in fact a series of them. Despite that I had worked extremely hard to find and implement the solution, day and night in fact was irrelevant. I had committed such a terrible sin, in revealing that the students here are not quite good enough, to say the least. This is the custom of the people here, to sweep all problems under the carpet and there you have it; BLISS!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Making provision to leave

Am I buying huge quantities of baked beans and tinned sardines for an intrepid voyage into the unknown? Well no, not exactly.

I have today decided to start applying for other jobs. A friend of mine gave me some advice that I should make a list of reasons to stay and reasons to go. The problem with this is that the staying column would be embarrassingly minute.

The trouble with life here is that there are so many charlatans, liars and cheats, that it destroys faith. In Islam, we have something called, Iman. This is broadly translated as faith in Allah. This can go up and down, sometimes reflecting on God and other times perhaps when life is either too enjoyable or too awful, not remembering God to the same degree. Surprisingly despite living in the city of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) my iman has become very very low.

Why has this happened? Living here is difficult enough as it is. Everything is in Arabic, very few people actually speak English, so already there chance of communication is very limited. People here also are just plain weird. Nobody desires any form of social interaction. You might meet people in the Mosque (masjid), you greet each other, ask how you are, back and forth, and then ... nothing. They have a peculiar custom of inviting you to their house, but not actually meaning it. Fadl Fadl (Please Please) they might say as the try to usher you into their abode. However, if you actually say, "Yes I would love to come", they are completely lost. Because no-one EVER does that. Imagine giving an invitation to someone and horror of all horrors... they accept!!!!

Apart from the aloofness of the people. I have the unpleasant facet of whiteness. I am indeed, a white bloke. Or more accurately pink as are the English generally. With this pinkness comes a widely held opinion that whatever this pink man earns should be shared out amongst all and sundry. I actually fear going out of the house, due entirely to my rather soft heart and the fact that I am a sucker for a sob-story. Take one case as an example of many. One of neighbours, a Pakistani chap in his late 50's. He has lived here for 30 years or so. I see him often in the masjid.

He had invited me to his house for tea. I actually went. A bit later he wrote me a letter pleading for money as he was sick and unable to work. It was true he was sick, he had just had an operation on his leg and used a stick to walk. I gave him some money without hesitation.
A few days ago, he came to me again, and requested some money. The problem is he wanted a lot of money; Rs1500 to be exact. For what reason did he require this amount? He has recovered and is working...

He needed the money to bring his second wife over from Pakistan! Amazing. One of the criteria of taking a wife, let alone a second, is the ability to afford such an endeavor.
He then managed to catch a friend of mine who speaks Arabic, and Urdu for that matter, and said to him the following, "he can either give it me or lend it to me, it is okay". This was bizarre indeed and left both my friend and myself agog.

Bizarre is this life, bizarre!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thursday is the Weekend?

I still can't get to grips with the concept that the weekend consists of Thursday and Friday! I still tell people if i plan to meet them at the weekend, "See you on Saturday". Confuses them no end.

Today was Thursday. Spent the morning writing exam questions... oh the excitement.

The evening I wrote some pages of my book. I was writing about education, and where and who education fails. It is interesting that despite teachers and schools always getting the blame, most of the time, the false and materialistic expectations of society is the culprit. For example if we are pushed to consume, and to value wealth and status symbols, above everything else, then going through education for many is rather arduous way to make that wealth. Much easier to deal drugs.

Sadly this is the situation many people find themselves in. Where knowledge is indeed liberating, yet many see wealth as being the great liberator.

Wealth is merely a subterfuge, it is just possessions, pieces of papers and numbers in an account. Moreover, it often the case that many will sacrifice their ethics and their families in pursuit of wealth. I have known mothers to leave their children with relatives in their home country, to go for further studies or some "wonderful" job somewhere. When they return home they find that their children don't even know them.

I sometimes talk with some of the Bangladeshi workers here about this. I believe that poverty is a state of mind. Millions of people will come to the middle east, while perceiving themselves in poverty and thus become humiliated by their employers.

Yet in their villages, they have land, a house, and some comforts. The land grows the crops that they need and they can sell the excess. However, even though they have more or less what they need, they crave for more and thus put themselves at the mercy of the wolves.

Generally speaking, for most people coming to this region, upon arrival they will discover that their promised salary and conditions are not exactly as described (even happened to me). Most workers from Bangladesh, (as I speak some Bangla I know this) do not receive a salary at all. If they are fortunate they might get half what was promised or sporadic payments (i.e. one months pay every five months). Their passports are kept by their employers so not chance of returning home.

So there you have it, slavery is, more or less, alive and kicking in the middle East and nobody seems to care. Of course we're not allowed to call it that, but where is the difference?