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Friday, August 15, 2014

My Classroom and Shopping at IKEA - Day 2 in Saudi Arabia

Today was a pretty relaxed day. We started by going to school and getting to see our (newly unlocked) classrooms. Mine is really in nice shape. 

In my classroom I currently have:
  • a large whiteboard
  • a large rug that has the alphabet on it, in front of the whiteboard
  • several short tables where students will sit in groups, and chairs
  • a half-circle table near the windows, and chairs
  • my teacher desk with a desktop computer (soon to be replaced by my MacBook Air), and swivel chair
  • a Promethean board (different than a Smart Board but similar idea)
  • a projector for the Promethean board hanging from the ceiling
  • a globe (sitting behind my desk for now)
  • shelves upon shelves of BOOKS!!!!!!! (Seriously, I probably actually have 1,000 as that is the school’s aim)
  • a walk-in storage closet (which currently houses many books, games, and textbooks)
  • Math MANIPULATIVES!!!! Including cuisenaire rods, ones/tens/hundreds blocks, two-faced counter chips, polygon blocks, etc.
  • at least 3 trapezoid-shaped tables (they will probably not stay where they are now)
  • a door to the patio area (It opens to the inner courtyard of the school. There is a picnic table and it is also our emergency exit. I’ll likely use the patio if we are doing a messy better-to-do-it-outside science experiment.)
  • pre-made “Social Studies”, “Math Corner”, and “Birthdays” bulletin boards (Thank you, thank you, thank you previous teacher!!!)
  • shelving unit that has a drawer for each student (will likely become “returned work” mailboxes)
  • cubbies in the hallway along the classroom wall (for backpacks and lunch boxes)
  • and more that I have yet to explore! :D

The shelves and bookcases in my classroom are covered by butcher paper (keeps the dust off during the summer), so when I was peeking underneath it was like unwrapping presents! Interestingly I learned that the school doesn’t serve lunch so students all pack. Teachers and staff either pack or order delivery. Also lunch is combined with recess, so while one class eats, another plays and then they switch. My grade also has a mid-morning recess. My grade’s schedule is very similar to what I had at my 1st grade student teaching placement. The core subjects (math, science, language arts, social studies) are taught throughout the morning and the students go to their special (music, PE, Arabic, art, etc.) in the afternoon. The school day starts early but also finishes early. Finally, the elementary, middle, and high schools are all attached, though elementary is on its own side of the building.

Our school laptops were still having connectivity issues so we left school and drove down the highway to Dhahran, which is about an hour drive. We intended to go to lunch at Applebee’s then shop at IKEA but because it was Friday almost everything was closed, at least until later in the day. (Friday is the holy day in Saudi Arabia and the daily prayers take much longer than on other days.) Dhahran, Khobar, and Damman are all very close together to we drove into Khobar to make a quick visit to a store called Tamimi Market just to have a look around. I bought hummus, as suggested by our principal. In looking for the accompanying pita bread, I followed the Saudi men who were picking up several packages of flat pita breads. Must be good if it’s what the locals are buying. :) A fellow teacher and I bought mangos and she let me try the little dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) she’d also purchased. They were very good and I think I’ll buy some next time. Overall Tamimi Market was comparable to Whole Foods in the US - very well-stocked in the produce area. I’ll probably shop for fresh items there since Panda’s selection was so-so. We ended up having lunch at Friday’s. Bit of advice we got, and followed: Don’t leave perishable items in the car. Instead bring them into the air-conditioned building with you. Otherwise you will have cooked or toasted items when you return. Again, Friday’s wasn’t much different than Friday’s in the US expect that drinks are alcohol-free and there are a lot of abayas. We sat on the family side of the restaurant since we were a co-ed group. One interesting thing was that the booths had dressing screens set against the open side. Waiters would open the screen briefly to pass in food, but otherwise they stayed closed and the cloaked figures inside ate without external distraction. 

After lunch it was time to try shopping again, but unfortunately the fabric store, the appliance store (Saco), and IKEA were still closed (it was about 2:45pm). We decided to just wait for IKEA to open at 3 and skip the others. When the doors opened we shuffled in and quickly became the western group who couldn’t find the elevator or the way to the showroom floor. The security guards were helpful and we eventually found our way into the maze that is IKEA. After being inside for about 20 minutes an announcement told shoppers that it was time for the call to prayer and that we could visit the mosque on the ground floor, or we could keep shopping no problem. A few minutes later the call to prayer was projected over the loudspeaker. It is quite interesting to be shopping in IKEA in Saudi Arabia while the call to afternoon prayer is playing around you. :) The soothing sounds stopped after about 5 minutes.   

Browsing the selections of household goodies, I quickly noticed that many items did not have price tags (don’t think, just buy!) and those that did displayed the price in Arabic numbers. You might already know that the standard numerals come from Arabic roots, and knowing that is helpful, for some numbers. 1 and 9 look the same so something that was 19 was 19 SAR. What looks like a backwards 3 is a 4, and 3 is a line with a "3" facing upwards. 5 is an oval, 0 is a dot, 7 is a V, 8 is a tent, 2 is a cane with the top line pointed right, and 6 is a cane with the top line pointed left. How do I know this? Well after becoming unsure of the prices of items I was looking at, I noticed that some items had two price tags - one in Arabic and one in English. Comparing the prices, I made notes about each number’s equivalent. Our group meandered slowly through the store (which I conclude is the only way to do IKEA and not feel totally overwhelmed) and I found several of the items on my master shopping list. Total cost of my IKEA trip = 117 SAR or 31 USD. Pretty nice for what I got. 

Our group loaded back into our bus and began the drive back north to Jubail. We briefly discussed the possibility of taking a road-trip across Saudi Arabia to Jeddah during the October holiday. (Eid al-Adha is a week-long holiday in early October and school is off.) The thing is that until our Iqama (residency cards) processes, we can’t leave Saudi internationally, so our travel options for that week are limited to our new hot and sandy home. Plus, why not see the rest of the country since we’ve got the chance? Apparently it is about a 14 hour drive from Damman to Jeddah, Riyadh being 5 hours in. We’ll see, so far we’ve just got ideas and no actually plans. If the Iqamas come sooner than expected we might all jet off to other spots. 

Back in Jubail we swung by Panda to return a faulty scale one of my fellow teachers bought. Finally we returned to the compound and I started dinner and put away my new purchases. I’m currently making chilled sweet tea and enjoying the delicious hummus. Another good day by the Gulf. :)

Happy teaching and traveling, 


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