Sunday, September 23, 2012

Paul's Magic Jeddah Gyro-Copter Experience

It all started at a Barbeque. That's right, just 10 days or so into my time here in Jeddah I was invited to a barbeque. You can't get much more spoiled than that. I brought BBQ Pringles, some Coke and a chocolate dessert called "flutes" that I thought were Saudi but I'm not so sure anymore. I may have came with a little bag of goodies but I left with a belly full of delicious meat and a crazy plan to go gyro-coptering the next day. I got the call and Jay, I guy I met only the night before, said he was about to go up in the air on a crazy flight and that I should come down asap and do it myself. Obviously this was crazy. A little more crazy than going to a barbeque that I was invited to by strangers, but that turned out smashingly, so I figured why should I stop thinking the best in people? And I went for it. After getting slightly lost with the taxi driver, which has been a reoccurring experience for me over my first couple weeks, I found the makeshift airfield, back-shed hanger, and all the crazy toys they had that go up in the air. I was pretty sure I'd go up in the gyro-copter, the jet-pack option seemed even a bit crazy for an insane mind, but I was trying to logically measure safety in a place where I had no clue if they even had safety codes. My heard was beating when I signed the form saying I wouldn't hold the company liable in incidents of extreme bodily harm or death. Signing a line that says that should never be easy. I took a deep breath, put pen to paper, then I froze for about 30 minutes where I got to watch two other people go up and down in it and it seemed safe enough, so I signed... Moments later I was in the hot-seat hearing the propellers turning, hearing the gears grind, sounding like they couldn't have been spinning in an oil rich country like KSA but more like in Costa Rica, a county with zero oil production. So I was in something that looked like what George Jetson might sell at a garage sale, and it sounded like a creaky old bicycle - I started questioning my decision. Well, here is what happened next.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Two Weeks of KSA Photos

There is a video on the way, as soon as I can get it to upload.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Two Weeks In The Sandbox and I Still Want More

I can't believe it's already been two weeks and in some ways I can't believe I've only been here for 14 days.  It's flown by but I feel like I've done so much.

I have a clean apartment that is slowly getting better by the day, I have met some amazing people, I've joined local groups for sports and leisure, I've scored a goal playing futbol, I've learned a dance that is named after a spicy dip, I've taken a 15 minute flight around Jeddah and over the Red Sea, I've edited a short video of my flight, I've nearly finished a book (Bruiser by Neal Shusterman), I've taught some wonderful new students that are eager to learn, I've dined with some awesome coworkers, I've been invited to go snorkeling, boating, and diving which I hope to take advantage of very soon!

So yeah, Jeddah is a little more "what I hoped it would be" and a little less "what we all thought it would be."  This seems to be the case in my experience.  Guatemala had all sorts of travel warnings when I went there in 2006 but it was one of the most beautiful, peaceful and inexpensive places I've ever visited.  I was told that Russian people were hard and unfriendly, but when I visited Moscow in 2010 I had never felt more welcome in a foreign country because everyone I met was so friendly.  I've also had friends tell me the same things about Cuba and Myanmar - two places Americans are not supposed to travel to, but by first hand accounts I've heard they're quite beautiful and tranquil travel destinations.  Well, now I'm in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia which is also on the Travel Warnings list (along with every other country in the region) and almost no one that I talked had a positive mental image of life here, but just two weeks in and I feel like I made the right choice about taking this crazy chance.

First impressions:  It's a city and just like other cities you can expect a lot of people, a lot of traffic, crazy driving habits, plenty of restaurants, and a fare amount of site-seeing or people watching available.

Yes, I feel safe.  No, I haven't seen the dessert yet.

My office is in an ultra-modern building that is still having the finishing touches done on its construction.  New businesses are moving in everyday and the outside of the building is said to be the largest LED television screen in the world.  Right now Pepsi is the only company advertising on it but you can be sure of two things: 1 - plenty of people are seeing it; and 2 - it's costing a lot of Riyals.  Saudi Arabia surely has a lot of oil money and the construction of this gorgeous tower is just one example of what the country is putting that big bank account towards.  I love the office and I can't wait to start teaching in the classrooms here.  The grand opening is this Saturday night!

Also, there are some unique aspects to life here in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).  First off, there is no alcohol.  Yup, none.  The punishments can be pretty severe too - the go medieval even though it's 2012.  So no alcohol means no bars, no pubs, and no clubs.  I would not have moved here if I was 22 like I did when I went to Korea, but at 29 I haven't really felt much of a change at all.  It has only been two weeks though.  There is also no public dancing or signs of affection between men and women.  Women are only supposed to even be out in public with men who are relatives or their husband.  They have to cover their bodies at all times in public, many just show their eyes, but here in Jeddah faces are shown pretty commonly, and on a rare occasion I've seen women walking around with their hair down too! :-o  I know, how risque!  Women are not allowed the right to drive here and as unfair as it is, it really puts a wrench in the age old joke about women being bad drivers because the drivers here are all pretty bad, but they're all men.

Since I'm not a woman I have some more freedoms, but I'm supposed to have clothes that cover my knees on at all times in public too.  I thought that would be really hard here in the terrible heat, but I've been dealing pretty well so far.  And the few times I've walked to the corner store with my scandalous and sexy kneecaps showing, nothing has happened.  There is a little more leniency with men.        

Ok, I'm a bit all over the place with this first posting because I've done so much in two weeks and talked to so many different people independently, I didn't know where to start or what to cover.  And maybe I've just been out of the blogging game for a while and it will take some time to get back on the horse, I mean camel.  I think that's what they say here.  Maybe I'm making that up.

Either way, it's time for me to go back to playing in my sandbox.  I've got some serious sand castling to do but I'll be back soon.  Leave some comments or questions if you'd like! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Journey to Jeddah

Ok, the moment we've all been waiting for. The actual journey begins... My flight to Jeddah went so smoothly and quickly that I felt like I could have just taken a day drive to the airport in Tulsa. I actually ended up flying almost around the globe. This realization did set in at a later point. On the flights I sat next to some pretty awesome people. An Iranian-American off to visit his father in Iran, who was really nice and told me that Iran is far better than Americans think it is. Then while transferring in Frankfurt, Germany I met an American who has been living in Jeddah for over 20 years. He gave me a quick low down on everywhere to shop, eat, stay clear of, etc. It was just what I needed. Then on the flight from Frankfurt to Jeddah I met a really nice fellow traveler and two British nurses making the move to Jeddah just like me. All were great people, and part of me just wanted to keep flying around the world and meeting people. Eh, I guess landing in Jeddah and meeting people there isn't such a bad alternative ;-) The pictures leave off with my first breakfast, but there will be much more to share shortly.

Last Rounds

Before leaving the fam for an extended period of time, 6 months at least, I decided to spend my last few weeks with them. I enjoyed as much of the sinful stuff as I could before heading to the strict land of KSA. I'm talking about pork of course. I hope you weren't thinking anything other than that.

Hot Karl Chills in Knoxvilles

Not everyone gets a best friend to come see them before they leave the country for at least 6 months. Well, I guess that sounds pretty "best-friend-ish" actually, but I still think he's pretty much as good as they get. Heck, he did come to see me in Korea. Anyone this he's going to come to the Middle East? haha. Enjoy some pictures of the straight up Tennessee sights we took in - gun range, demolition derby, etc...

Another Chapter Ends... No Mo' MO

I came to Missouri to play college football and get my master's degree and I did a whole lot more than that...

The only sad part is that I don't know when I'll get 'mo MO. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Back In Blog!

If a simple tornado took Dorthy to Oz, I think what has hit me in the past week or so must only be explained as one of those mammoth, intergalactic storms that NASA tells us about where the entire Earth could fit through the eye of one of those raging behemoths. I saw the storm coming. I saw it months in advance. Heck, I was the weatherman that spread the news about the incoming freak occurrence of a white bald head moving steadily into the Middle East with a chance of sand...lots of sand. I just didn't realize how quickly everything could change.

 Just a blink of an eye ago I was a college football player. Blink. A high school English teacher in Jasper, MO. Blink. A Master's degree holder. Blink. A high school football coach. Blink. Storm chasing in Middle America. Blink. Swing dancing in Knoxville, TN. Blink. Boat with my parents. Blink... Sitting at work in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia atop the tallest building in the city of over 4 million people, blogging.

Wow, blogging... What a novel concept. There was a time in my life, mainly in Korea, when I looked forward to writing for this blog daily. I took pictures of all my activities, posted them, shared stories about what I was going through, and truly enjoyed all the feedback I got. And I had all intentions of keeping up with my blogging when I returned to America, but things just got in the way: school, football, work, time, etc, etc... We all know the deal.

Well, now I'm back abroad, this time in Saudi Arabia, and I'm determined to dust off this old blogspot and bring it up to date!

I'm hoping to continue posting pictures, but I'd like to actually start editing some short videos too, and maybe even do a few interviews. We'll see. There is much to share though and I sincerely wish you all to follow along. While I love traveling I sincerely miss those of you were or are close to my heart. There is no physical place on earth where I can be surrounded by all of the amazing people I've been fortunate enough to become friends with throughout my lifetime, but I guess, in a way, this blog is kind of like the digital digital alternative to that. It's pretty great to think of it that way actually. Alright, I don't want to ramble on for too long, but there is much more to come in the near future: Flying from America to Germany to Jeddah, seeing my new apartment, being introduced to my new work space that just happens to also be in the building with the largest tv screen in the world taking up one side of the building, sneaking to the top of the building for the nicest views of the city anyone has ever seen (and because it's not open yet almost no one has seen them besides me and my coworker), walking the streets of the Middle East and the confusion that goes with it. Ok, I promise I'll have more enticing titles when I post them for real.