Read Me/Disclaimer

Read Me/Disclaimer: This is a non-political/socio-political blog. It's a running tale of my Saudi Arabian adventure, great, good, bad, and ugly. It is uncensored, and I don't really care what you think of it, read it or don't. I don't care. I did not decide to do this as a means to an end, but rather to document the means with which I occupied my time while waiting for my end... All that being said, I'm an American Expat in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The opportunity to help build this system and the salary that accompanied it were to good to pass up.-Geoff

**
"The views presented here are just the views of some asshole named Geoff, they are not necessarily the views of my employer, my co-workers, my family or anybody else. First hand knowledge and second hand accounts were used to compile the information. These are not scientific facts and figures. These views are not necessarily supported, endorsed or even appreciated by the KSA the USA or any other country for that matter and the author makes absolutely no claim that they are."**

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Still here

I saw the tab on the browser..."Blogger: Blogger Dashboard....It was like it was calling out to me today...in all honesty, it's called out to me many days and I've simply ignored it. Not because I don't love writing the blog, not because I don't like my readers, (of whom I doubt I have any left), but because of two much more nefarious culprits. Their names? PUBH 6003 Epidemiology and PUBH 6202 Bio-statistics. All of grad school at a major university is "hard", the term "academically rigorous" is the term the University uses, but it can be stated simply as HARD and convey the appropriate emotion. These two jems however, are a little on the tougher side of HARD, and for the past 20 weeks or so, they've kept  me busy. Hopefully one day I'll write again, hopefully one day I'll go to bed without the thought of z-scores, t-scores, p-scores, confidence intervals and morbidity/mortality rates dancing through my head. Until that day though: here's the latest.

Location: Still in Saudi!, still on the East Coast, which makes it almost three years now. (I'm wrapping up my third academic year).

Latest news: Things are good, I am well, busy, busy, busy, but quite well. I may or may not be moving to Riyadh next year, I've been traveling throughout the Kingdom this year, Jeddah, Riyadh, a week or two in each location, giving seminars for students and Instructors alike. We're working on moving my position officially back to what I was originally brought here to do, Riyadh is where that can happen. So if the Riyadh thing works out, and the schedule is right, I might have another 3-5 years in me. If Riyadh falls through, I think I'll be moving on pretty soon.

At The George Washington University Alumni Meeting in Riyadh, (Hint, I'm the one not in a thobe!)
Miscellaneous stuff: Saudization is in full swing, we could chat about it for hours, I'm of a mixed opinion on it, the reality and the concept don't always match up perfectly. However the point of mentioning it was that I don't see many opportunities for Paramedics (especially from the states) in the near future, so if you get an offer and you want to know anything about the place, feel free to email me before you take the offer, but honestly, I doubt that you'll see a whole lot of offers in the immediate future.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Land Rover or Roverous Conquerous?

I drive an old Land Rover Discovery, a 1994 with a 96' 3.9L V8 engine and 5 speed manual transmission to be exact. For it's time, it was one heck of a vehicle...However, over the years she's been mistreated, driven hard (really hard) and subjected to the Saudi summers for the past 18 years or so. Needless to say, but worth saying anyway that sometimes the old girl has some issues. Like the mornings she doesn't want to start...for no good reason, battery is fine, starter is fine, everything comes on and works, she just needs you to pop the hood and fiddle with a coil wire for a minute before she'll start. Then there's the back door lock that locks when it wants to and unlocks when it wants to, and don't forget the time that the drivers side window carriage rusted out and the window fell into the door...or the refusing to start after a stall, or the fact that the A/C barely works and the heat and the defrost are non-existent these days. And the fact that a new radio with a new antenna can still only barely pick up one station. In fact she went through a period of such trouble for about a month a while ago that she got herself nicknamed the "parking lot rover"...and "garage grazer" by my fiance.

However!

When it rains all night in Saudi, and the water builds up 10 inches deep on the streets in certain places, traffic signals stop working and storm debris litters the road...there is nothing like a "King Off The Road" Land Rover Disco', This morning, I literally said/thought the command "Land Rover-Attack"!

She fired right up and off we went! 

Blazing by the little Hyundai's and zooming by the Toyota's, decimating the drivers who are scared to get their tires wet, making fools out of Land Cruisers who are mainly driven for their size and status!

But it gets better! You see, I didn't just drive her to work, its almost hard to explain but it was something more akin to a melding of man and beast. This morning, I was not driving, I was riding, galloping, almost flying! A brave Sir Knight atop a stallion of mythic fame! My old and trusted companion. This morning we conquered the roads together, charging forward valiantly, fighting our way through congested streets, digging through puddles, barreling over sand swept streets, splashing mud and spraying water in huge jets to our sides! 

We easily accomplished our noble quest, which today was to safely and quickly travel from home to work...

Today, my Land Rover is not a Disco', not a 'Rover, and NOT a "Parking Lot Rover"/"Garage Grazer"! Today she has proven herself, and earned the most honorable of titles, today she is "Roverous Conquerous"! And as the work day comes to a close, again we prepare to ride!

Yes, I had a huge, silly grin on my face while writing this and yes I had a huge silly grin on my face while driving this morning!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Achieving "understanding"

Understanding is an interesting thing, I've found in most, if not all aspects of my life that "understanding" is a relative term, it comes in stages and its a fluid term-always changing depending on the perspective of the one trying to understand. I've never understood my employers almost violently negative reaction to me attempting to learn Arabic, in fact I've always imagined that it had something to do with negotiations. If I spoke Arabic fluently, I would be in a much better position from which to negotiate. However, they've always simply said that there is no reason for me to do it. That English is the language of education and its the language that I should always use in my classroom. I finally believe them.

I graded some exams last night, a group of students from level 5 which is the beginning of the advanced levels and subjects. I knew during the exams that there were going to be a few major problems, I knew today when I entered the grades that I'd better write an accompanying report. And I knew that I was going to have to defend my grades with a few upset students.

Less than an hour after turning in the grades for the second exam, I found myself confronted (nicely) by two students. Both wanted extra marks, one wanted a re-test, the other just wanted me to increase his grade by 30-40%. I refused both requests and took both students to the Department Head. The first who wanted to re-test soon accepted the refusal and left the office. The other however continued to argue that this was Saudi Arabia, that it was an Arabic country and that he should be taught and tested in Arabic. His explanation for his poor performance on the test was that he doesn't speak English, doesn't understand English and can't read English. Therefore, he couldn't be expected to do well on the test because he didn't know anything.

Needless to say, we almost found this funny. Here we have a student telling us that he's never read the book, doesn't know how to read the book and hasn't understood any of the classes he's taken in the past two and a half years...and that this is why he should pass! It was funny, for a few seconds at least. I suggested that he could happily take his complaint to the College Council. He then turned it around, or thought he did and said that myself and two of our Filipino instructors should not be teaching, because we don't speak Arabic. It was explained to him that Arabic should not be used in the classroom, even to help students understand the material because if it is, it is a violation of the rules of the Ministry of Higher Education...Hearing that, and not one to be held back by his own lack of ability, the student then proceeded to call out and name the instructors that had tried to help him by explaining something in Arabic...

Now, I finally understand why they didn't want me learning Arabic



Thursday, August 29, 2013

US military intervention in Syria (AKA stupid idea #809723-76)



I’m going to go on the record now and say that this “Syria thing” is a bad idea. Despite my sometimes contrary view to US policy, I love my country. And for us to get involved, in the way were looking at getting involved, is a real bad idea. 

Now first let’s clarify, the United States isn’t the only nation whose government thinks that military intervention is a good idea. France, Germany and the UK also feel that a military strike and appropriately severe punishment of the Syrian government’s actions are warranted. However, because we have the vastly larger military resources, everybody wants us to lead it. And while it is true that we have those resources, we don’t necessarily have the money, unless we want to bank on the contracts for rebuilding Syria later bolstering our economy (hello KBR and DynCorp). However, cost is hardly the only reason we shouldn’t be involved in a military fashion. 

#1: This has been going on for two and half years…for two and a half years, innocent civilians have been caught in the crossfire, targeted from government helicopters, shot, blown up and reportedly tortured. Two and a half years of killing, two and a half years of people around the Middle East saying that if the west didn’t get involved, we were complicit and for two and a half years we ignored it. Suddenly, dubious video surfaces showing what appear to be casualties of chemical warfare, and now it’s a crime against humanity? What was it before-a day at Disneyland? All war is ugly, all war is a crime against humanity, all war causes generations of loss to the men and women and children involved and to the nations fighting. All war causes soldiers to “get dead”, families to be shattered, and children to lose parents. And lately, if not as far back as the beginning of warfare, all war causes some opportunistic organizations to get rich. I don't see the huge difference between conventional war and the use of chemical weapons, chemicals are painful and horrible to watch...but so are explosions. Maybe wars should be fought in the most brutal way possible, scores of dead should line the streets, prisoners ought not to be taken, and anybody in the kill zone should be killed. Buildings reduced to gravel, infrastructure destroyed, the smoke seen from thousands of miles away. I'm talking "scorched earth". Armies deployed until the fighting is over. Maybe if we as humans fought this way, the people so anxious to go to war might not be so damn excited about it next time.

#2: The Governments of some western nations want to initiate military action, but in recent polls the citizens of both the UK and the US are showing no desire to do any such thing . Some polls show support for military intervention at only 9-25%. The governments of all western nations, regardless of their specific system of government are in place to represent the will of the people. 25% is clearly not the will of the people.

#3: Who did what exactly? And do we have any proof of it? Bashar Al-Assad looks like a mad scientist or evil genius from a cartoon…but is he? Was he really stupid enough to use chemical weapons on his own people? Knowing that the world was watching, knowing that the use of such weapons would be crossing lines and therefore almost surely provoke a response? Or was it a set-up? Was it staged? And if so, who staged it? Point being that unless that information is secret (and it may well be), we don't have the answers.

#4: The rebel/opposition groups are splintered a minimum of three ways. At least one of those groups has serious ties to Al-Qaeda and doesn’tlike the US, the west, or Israel and wants to install a strict Islamist state in Syria. Not a secular government, not a democratic government, but rather a fundamentalist/extremist government…are we sure we want to help them to that end?

#5: What’s the plan? What exactly are we going to strike? Civilians still live in Damascus. Reporters are still reporting from Damascus, what are we going to hit? What’s the strategic plan here…we have said before that we have no intentions of installing a new regime, that job lies with the Syrian people, so what’s the plan, fight the war for the guys who want stuff to change, turn the tide in their favor and then watch as they massacre the Government side? Does anybody think that Assad will just leave, and the opposition groups will unite and hold elections next year? That those who supported the Government won’t be slaughtered en-masse?  Has anybody looked at Iraq lately? How’s that going?

So what should we do? Continue ignoring the death?

I propose that instead of a strike, we take a three pronged approach. First of all, deal with casualties. The ICRC is overwhelmed. We have the resources to bolster them medically, logistically and administratively. We have the resources to evacuate and treat the most injured. And we have four warships of the coast with air support that are prepared to blow anybody who thinks about stopping us with a hostile act, all the way back to the stone-age...maybe even prehistory. Second, It's time to help out Turkey and Lebanon with Refugees, entire families have been displaced, lives have been destroyed, all belongings have been lost. We can spread out the rest of those refugees between intervention countries. Nobody with serious criminal history, nobody with political ties or military ties to either side. Just the families stuck in a refugee camp where they've been for the past 2 years. And I know, especially after Boston, nobody in the states is all that happy with the whole idea of a refugee, so lets be real about it, take off our politically correct suit for a minute and just tell them how it is. (i.e.: "The goal in the US is at least partial assimilation, you have to learn the language, you have to contribute and we don't care where you came from but you have to follow the laws or face immediate deportation") Between Middle Eastern states, Asian states, European states, African states, and North and South American states (all of which have voiced concern and condemnation), there is plenty of room. 5 year refugee status would allow the area to stabilize, all the idiots to kill themselves off, and not further create a 5 year gap in the lives of refugees in the camps. Thirdly, its time to shame Russia, China and Iran (who has slightly changed its tone in the last 24 hours) . They've done more than just stand by, they've blocked everything at the UN, even peacekeepers. Launching missiles is a pretty drastic step, so before its done, I think President Obama, PM David Cameron, and President Hollande (to name a few) ought to stand on a stage, even three different stages and just plain as day say "Hey President Putin and president XI Jinping, this blood is on your hands, your ally has committed atrocities, and its 100% attributable to you, your donations and your political support". Its time, they've blocked the UN at every turn, its time to hold them publicly accountable for the blood on their hands.

I think that if we take a serious look, we'd find that a preponderance of the evidence shows a lack of US understanding when it comes to Middle East affairs. We don't know the culture, we don't know the tribes, the language has many dialects, and the religion is as complex as anything we've ever dealt with. I believe it foolhardy at best, to enter a region like that, at our level of understanding with a gun, yet having no will to use it to the bitter end. Small attacks will anger both sides, regime change will cause further instability, and both sides are friends of terrorist organizations. We have no place in this conflict, except in a humanitarian sense. Mark my words, an attack is a mistake and will lead to the further loss of American lives. I truly hope that the president seeks congressional approval, and that congress sends him packing.

So you've read what amounts to my opinion, or maybe you just skimmed it. As always, know that it's just my opinion, and "opinions are like..."well you know how that saying goes. 

 If you want to help, both of these organizations could always use it.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Vacation 2013

I always like to take a moment and think about where I've been. Apparently from a couple of PM's I've gotten, so do the readers of this blog. So without further ado, here it is vacation 2013!


Look! I drew you a map! However, It's not very helpful is it...OK, so here's the breakdown

I checked out of work, headed for the airport and:

Boarded a flight in Damamm KSA to Amsterdam
Left Amsterdam for Detroit
Left Detroit for St. Louis

A week later I:
Boarded a flight from St. Louis to Seattle,
got in a chauffeured Escalade and went to the North Cascades Learning Institute where for the next week I learned and practiced expedition and remote medicine. with Remote Medical International
I headed back to St. Louis from Seattle,
got in my truck and headed to New Orleans, I stayed in the "Big Easy" for 3 days and had a great time.
Back on the road I headed to Central Florida, my mother lives here and I spent a great couple of weeks with her. While there we headed down to Everglades City, Florida and took air-boat tours, saw Alligators, Manatee's and the awesomeness that is the everglades.
Then I hopped on a flight from Orlando to Toronto, with a quick stop in filth-a-delphia,
We drove through Algonquin Provincial Park to Ottowa had a great couple of days in Ottawa and then headed back to Toronto where I boarded a flight for Orlando, once again stopping in "filthy", where I had a couple of beers and a "real Philly cheese-steak" (which apparently either has been greatly improved upon since leaving Philly, or was very poorly made) . Got up the next morning and headed back to St. Louis through Alabama.
3 days later, I boarded a flight to Amsterdam where I had a 7 hour layover that allowed me to explore the city a little bit and then finally boarded another plane back to Dammam, KSA.

So all in all, I drove through 8 US states (Washington, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida) and visited 3 countries (US, Netherlands, Canada) on two different continents (North America and Europe) and I've now driven up and down both coasts of Florida...Pretty cool stuff. It might have gone fast, but I'd say I had a pretty productive vacation. Training, food, drink, friends, family, dogs...Dammit, I'm ready for another vacation!


Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam



Amsterdam

Florida (off the I-10)

Florida Everglades

Florida Everglades

Alligator in the Everglades

Florida Everglades

Florida Everglades

Northern Washington State

Everglades

Everglades

Alligator in the Everglades



Algonquin Provincial Park (right after I got my 1st Moose!)

New Orleans





Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm baaacccckk! and I'm re-purposing...

OK, first of all I'm back in Saudi Arabia. Second of all, I'll tell you all about vacation soon and thirdly although possibly most importantly, I'm officially re-purposing the blog. The blog is now (although it has been for some time anyway) about me: the stuff I see, the things I think, the pictures I take, the experiences I have. And yes...I know its been that way for a while anyway, but it was still mainly supposed to be about Saudi and my experiences here with teaching and learning. However, that purpose originated with a married father of two, coming to the big scary Middle East to make some money and get some crazy experience for a year or two at the most. As I start my third contract year with the College, happily divorced and seriously involved with a wonderful woman who doesn't want my money, I felt it appropriate to go ahead and just admit that I might be staying a bit longer than originally intended.

So, I had a choice, start 3 different blogs to talk about 3 different topics including my transition from complete rookie photographer to decent amateur or just re-purpose this blog. And anyway, I like the title of this blog...titles this good don't come around all that often!

Stick around you might just like what you read, share me with friends! Pass me around the office, tell your co-workers that you know some crazy American who is teaching Paramedics in Saudi and he writes like a crazy man. I mean after all I'm pretty darn likeable-except when I'm not, and for those of you who love my rants (you know who you are ;-) ) I've got some great "rants" left in me! See the basic updates below, we'll chat about them later.

Update #1: I'm back in Grad School. Leaving halfway through once wasn't good enough for me... I've been admitted to The George Washington University School of Public Health. I'll be attending via live video at all manner of weird times of the evening and night, and spending some time there during the summer.

Update #2: My favorite students are finally level 7...the guys who helped me adjust and got me through the tough times are on their final leg...at the end of this year, they'll move on to their internship and some of the best friends I have we'll be pretty much out of touch. (Maybe I'll just fail my favorites to keep 'em around an extra year!)

Update #3:  Saudization is going full steam ahead still, I'll try and hang around awhile, but I've seen a few Westerners re-tasked and some even laid off. I've been warned not to fuss, fight, argue or make waves...this worries me. If students discover this the lowest grade I'll be able to give out will be a 70%! This is also one of the reasons that I've decided to go back to grad school-I need to remain competitive in a changing market. 

Update #4: The Middle East is getting "interesting", Egypt is on the brink again, Syria is in the middle of full out civil war (although some sources say it's just terrorists attacking the government), Bahrain is still a little "conflict-y" Iran has a new president, and US policy towards Pakistan is changing...which hopefully will be good for relations, but does nothing to address the fact that their Government is either completely inept or has no desire to bring killers and bomb makers to justice themselves. Libya is still a mess, Yemen is a bigger mess, and sources seem to believe that all of the arrests around the area have failed to bring down any AQAP member higher ranking than a foot soldier. All of this stuff bothers me just a tad, mainly because of where I'm from, not who I am, what I think or what I look like. (A neighbor of mine was friends with an Englishman who was shot and dragged down the street in 2009.) It's a constant reminder that things aren't always what they appear to be, and no matter how comfortable you get...you really "aren't in Kansas anymore". (Hey I thought using that cliche was better than saying "not in your own hood anymore".) Point being, I'm safe, but keep me in your thoughts and prayers (for those that pray) anyway. I'm a long way from home, in a very different place, and remember it's not "Saudi's" or "Arabs" that I have to worry about, it's that one "nut-bag", under the influence of another "nut-bag" and those "nut-bags" come in all different shapes, sizes, genders and nationalities. They don't wear AQAP team jerseys and from what I've read historically, you figure out who they are right about the time they kill you or take you hostage. So, long story short, remember me, remember that I'm trying to make some money and do good things, not just make money...
check out this "nutbag"


See ya soon!



Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Half-way there...damn me it's almost over!

I don't know why it always gets like this on vacation...first of all it takes some time to get your "home legs" (see "sea legs"). Once you've acclimated to home though, the trip almost gets worse! It's a funny thing, and a funny contradiction, I don't feel like a prisoner most of the year, in fact I really kind of like where I'm at and what I'm doing. I like where life, fate and God have taken me. I don't hate Saudi Arabia at all, I don't even dislike it...but it sure isn't the west. I must say, and I'd be lying by omission if i didn't, that I love traveling, and I love new things and my Saudi hosts really are great...but considering that you can do as you like here, pray as you like here and live as you like, going back to a restrictive country is...well...sort of counter-intuitive. My second night home I went to a 4th of July carnival, I didn't much enjoy it, but that's beside the point. In attendance at the carnival were Christians, Muslims, Hindu's and I'm sure Atheists. There might very well have been a satanist or two lurking around. American's, Brit's, African's, Indian's, Pakistani's and even a few Saudi engineering students. Nobody cared, everybody just had fun, nobody confronted the people who were together and unmarried, nobody told any of the women to cover their hair. Everybody just kinda lived and let live.

Soon after I got back I headed out to Washington state and headed about 3 hours north of Seattle, up near the Canadian border to attend some remote/austere environment medical training. I'll have more to say about that later, but the following pictures are from that week of training.

Tomorrow morning I'm headed to the "Big Easy", better in my opinion than the "Big Apple", laid back with a Caribbean feel. at this time tomorrow, I'll be knee deep in Zydeco music, seafood and fixings by the pound cooked in what some people call a "low country boil". Might even have some frozen daiquiris while I sit around listening to the friendly banter of the "who-dat" nation discussing the upcoming season. I'm having a great and well needed break, but I can't help but remember that vacation is half-over...damn! Time to get moving and get some miles under me, lots to see and do before I head back to the land of sun and fun.

Sunrise (filtered through paint shop, but only minimally so)

Sundown (filtered through paint shop)

Learning to make thermal wraps to protect patients

Deciding how to tackle the terrain

The proper way to carry a stokes basket in remote areas

I discovered this little waterfall on an early morning hike

Early morning on the lake (run through paint shop)

Suture Class (pig lab)

Learning how to deal with Acute Mountain Sickness and HAPE/HACE

Our group