Desert Stories – The Tale of Ken Friend

Desert Stories – The Tale of Ken Friend

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Working in Saudi Arabia is not easy in many ways. It seems that for many ESL Teachers, Saudi Arabia is on top of their list of places to teach. But they don’t know it probably shouldn’t be until they get here.

That is not to say you shouldn’t teach in Saudi. Just be ready for a lot of unexpected things on the job (not all jobs of course) and a lot of cultural shock. A lot of cultural shock; I had to say that again.

All that flashes in front of them are the fancy words used by recruiters to get them to sign that one or two year contract. The dollar signs and those fancy words make it almost impossible to say no to a job in these desert lands.

Unbeknownst to them, these desert lands are where ESL Teachers come to perish. It is where high salaries coupled with micro management styles and many In-Sha-Allahs (God willing) lead them to want to pull their hair out. Of course it’s not always like that but recruiter honest would go a long way in explaining the realities of working in these desert lands.

Some Teachers come and thrive, some never adjust, some become ghosts and move with the sand storms that come and go. Some are seen during work hours and then are lost in the instant that last bell rings. Some find a small circle of friends that make this misogynistic, testosterone driven, desolate lands a bit more exciting beyond the halls and the classrooms.

But not everyone is so lucky. And sometimes even those that do find that small circle to keep them going to work until the next weekend, aren’t always so happy here. sometimes that’s just not enough.

This is the story of Ken Friend.

He was a good man. A hockey lover from a hockey loving town. A man who had a lot to say on old hockey news to the new, from old films and classic novels to American politics; a man who was no stranger to common sense jokes and many you had to be there jokes. But in the end, even his jokes couldn’t keep him safe in the many sand storms of this abaya women land.

It started with a simple sentence from the recruiter that promised Mr. Friend a good teaching position at a college in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, with well behaved university students who are eager to learn. Mr. Friend was excited and said yes yes yes.

He had always wanted to teach at a higher level. After 7 years in South Korea, he felt his ESL career had become stagnant. So he decided to leave the lovely Kimchi loved lands to find himself in the 54 C. desert lands.

He arrived and spent a week in a hotel. He did not mind it. The solitude introduced him to the self he had slightly forgotten while in Korea.

The day came when he was to report for classes. He did and suddenly realized those words from the recruiter were not all so true. Yes some were university students, yes some were eager to learn, but he was not at a University. And most of them were actually not eager to learn. They were just there to collect a check. And he was just there to pretend to teach so that he too may collect a check. He could not stand for this.

The sand storm the recruiter set in motion was getting the best of him. After all, he thought he was going to be showing up in class and students will be there with their pens and papers ready to write and pick his brain. But this is not what was happening. Where he ended up was at an Aramco training center. It was not a University.

He had seen into the farce. The management too had noticed that he had seen into it. And he had too many questions and opinions.
He came to resent the place before the probationary period of his contract was even near.

He could not stand for students using cell phones in class and being blamed for it. He could not stand for students sleeping in class and being blamed for it. He could not stand for students not doing their work and when he would send out disciplinary notices, management would ignore them in order to please the student.

He soon realized that he wasn’t just fighting the students in order to get them to do work, but he was also fighting management that imposed rules but had not the backbone to stand by the Teacher when he enforced those rules.

So was the story of Mr. Friend. He had had enough. The desert lands had proven to be too much to handle. The sand storms were too great for a hockey loving man who loved the Winter lands of Winnipeg. And before the ink could dry on the paper this story was written on, he was on his way back to Canada.

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