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After being locked up in my hotel room for an entire day on my assignment, I needed to get out and do something new. So, I booked a last minute car tour out to the east coast of UAE. That’s what they call it. Geographically, it’s more northeast. My guide picked me up at 8:00am and we set out. Now, as I write this post, (April 22, 2015) I am between courses for my masters so I have a bit of free time to do some research.
As always, please forgive any factual, spelling or geographic mistakes I may make. I’m doing most of this from memory and those you know me are aware my memory is like a steel trap! Except that I’m using wet papier maché instead of steel.
From Dubai, we headed north desert and sand dunes. Yes, of course the road was paved! After a while, we left the sand behind and were met with the beautiful grand Hajar Mountains and the town of Dhaid. We made a quick stop at the Friday Market which was a weird name because it was Sunday and they were open. My guide, Abdulrachman, told me it use to only be open on Fridays but that had obviously changed. Even to a neophyte like myself, I could tell there were very good bargains to be had on many items. I had bought all I wanted at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah a couple of days before so no purchases for me.
We continued on through the mountains toward the emirate of Fujairah where we first went to the beach. Abdulrachman kept going on about the ‘air conditioner tree’, no doubt a local ‘story’ to keep the crazy westerners talking. It was just after 10:00am when we walked to the shore of the Persian Gulf. My guide was quite disappointed that we had missed the crabs. Apparently, every evening these crabs (no, I don’t know what kind) crawl out of the water and bury themselves into the sand, leaving little pyramid shaped piles on top of them. I didn’t see any crabs but the beach certainly did have dozens of the little sand pyramids all over.
When I mentioned how hot it was already, so early in the day, (36C…at 10am!!!!) Abdulrachman smiled and told me to follow him. We walked to the edge of where some grass meets the beach sand and there were two trees that were shaped a bit like umbrellas. He invited me to stand underneath one of them, in the shade. I have to admit, the name ‘air conditioner tree’ is pretty damn accurate!! Under those green branches, there was cool breeze blowing down on us. It was unbelievable! It had to be at least 15 – 20C cooler under the tree than just 3 feet out into the sun. If you’ll pardon the bad pun, it was the coolest thing I’d experienced in a long time.
It was time to continue on to a 14th century fort called Bithna. Made of rock and burnt clay, and standing at over 20 meters high at the main tower, I couldn’t imagine being a soldier in this fort. It was built on top of a hill, offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. It wasn’t all that big so I’m not sure how many soldiers were stationed there but, man, was it hot!!! When I saw that it was 46C I mentioned to my guide that I must be crazy to be out here. He smiled and said I was! He then pointed out that no one else was around as the locals all stayed inside until later in the day. 46C!!! That’s my personal record and I’m in no hurry to break it.
We then went for some lunch and I was given the choice between typical ‘western’ meal at a chain hotel or the chance to sample some authentic local cuisine at a tiny, family run restaurant. Man, that hamburger was good!!! Just kidding. Of course I went local. We had some incredibly good Mandi Chicken. I know Saudis love chicken. I think they eat more chicken than anything else. Certainly our students never have enough of it. Kabsa is chicken and rice and the chicken can be prepared many different ways. Again, I’m no expert, but I believe Mandi is a variety of Kabsa. Come on! It’s chicken and rice!
However, this chicken was prepared differently that what I’ve experienced in the past. It melted in your mouth. It was awesome. The rice was served with plain yogurt and lemon wedges. That, too, was incredibly delicious. I’ve been in Saudi Arabia for about 8 months now and I am kind of getting use to eating with my hands. Well, eating chicken with my hands. I cannot, however, eat rice with my hands. I just can’t/won’t do it. It’s simply too messy for me. Of course, our waiter made a big production of getting me a spoon for my rice. The locals had a good chuckle but it was all in good fun. By the time we got to dessert, there were about 10 other people having lunch with my guide and me. We took turns telling stories of our countries and laughing at our horrible English or Arabic. After about 3 pots of Arabian coffee, my guide said it was time to move on. I said goodbye to my new friends and we headed down the highway.
It was already getting into the mid-afternoon and we had one more stop to make. It was at the Al Bidiyah Archaeological Mosque. Wow that was very cool. Unlike Saudi Arabia, I was encouraged to enter this great little mosque in the mountains. It’s said that it has been dated to the mid-15th century and is unique because of its pointed domes (instead of circular) and the one pillar holding it up. It’s made of stones and mud bricks and covered in layers of plaster. I removed my shoes and entered. As all mosques are, the floor was completely covered with a rug. Even with 21st century amenities (fans, lights) you could clearly tell this had been around for a long time. As I was taking pictures, an old gentleman entered and prepared to pray. I turned to leave but he stopped me. In Arabic, he indicated that I didn’t have to go as he was just doing a short prayer. After he was done, we left together and sat outside on a bench and had the best mimed discussion I’ve ever had. He understood no English and I know no Arabic. Yet, in about 15 minutes or so I knew his name, (Waleem, I hope I spelled it right) his age, (87) what he did for a living (fisherman) and a whole bunch about his family. He in turn learned that I was Canadian, working at a college in Saudi Arabia and indicated he had heard of Niagara Falls. He assured me education was a very good thing. It was the best 15 minutes of my trip. Shaking hands with yet another new friend, it was time to head back to Dubai.
All in all, I believe I travelled through 5 of the 7 united emirates. Yes…that’s why they call it the United Arab Emirates. What started out as a last minute thing to change the scenery a bit, turned into an unforgettable trip in a part of world I had barely ever heard of. I met some great people and visited great places with names like Fujairah, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain. We even crossed the border and entered the neighbouring country of Oman for some gas. Quite the adventure for this lucky, world-travelling Canadian.
See what happens when I get some free time!!! I hope I didn’t bore any of you too much. In the next couple of days I’ll let you know all about my sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Dubai desert.
Sunday night (Sept. 7) was another late one! We were guests of honour at the Taif Chamber of Commerce followed by another late supper at the Awaliv Hotel in the heart of downtown Taif.
It’s a 30 story-high hotel with a revolving restaurant on the 29th floor and an open air lounge for desserts and coffee/tea. I can assure you the view from both vantage points was awesome. The food? Need you ask? LOL
The chef came out and chatted with us. He was very proud of a new concept they are trying at the hotel. The Stone Grill. Beef cooked at your table on a special stone that’s heated to 400F. We were all proud to find out the Chef only uses pure Canadian Angus beef!
Chef cooked up two offerings: steak and ground beef. He created an absolutely outstanding pepper sauce to compliment the steak. The perfect coupling. The ground beef needed nothing – it was melt-in-your-mouth good.
Supper was at 9:30pm and by the time all was done, it was just about midnight. Back to the hotel and in bed by 1:00am and up for another day at 6:00am. I need some well deserved R & R! On Friday I’m heading for Dubai for the weekend. I may sleep the entire first day. Whenever I do wake up, a massage is a top priority. After that…HEY!!! It’s Dubai!!! You figure it out. I’ll have pictures to share when I get back.
One can’t help feel a little bit like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby when driving from Taif to Jeddah. Taif is 5,600 feet above sea level and Jeddah is a port city. Sooo…there is a long and winding road to travel on.
My colleague Bassem and I did just that on Saturday. As unbelievable as it sounds, we drove through a sand storm, a rain storm and a camel herd! Ahhh, the wonders of traveling through the dessert!
I’ve included a few pictures of what I hope you agree is the breathtaking beauty of “The Road to Jeddah”.
After two weeks of intense work we finally had students on campus!!!
There was a lot of enthusiastic faces and the turnout even surpassed our estimates. We explained how the year was going to unfold, showed some videos and gave some short tours of campus. Classes don’t start until next Sunday so some of the rooms were not all furnished yet.
Tomorrow is housekeeping day. They will get their schedules, have their pictures taken for their ID cards, write a couple of assessment tests in english and math (even Saudis hate math!) and have a chance to experience the campus on their own.
I was even asked by a few students to have ‘selfies’ taken with them. Always a nice feeling.
I’ve included some pictures of the day in the gallery below. Enjoy.
We’ll start with some historical data. Colleges of Excellence supplied a great deal of it but we still had many questions. We contacted other CoE’s (Colleges of Excellence) who had just completed their first year. We spoke with many principals and professors who had toiled through the first ever year of the CoE program. They were able to share a lot of data with us however; ONE year hardly qualifies as a trend.
We gathered up some Saudi students attending school at our Welland campus for a bit of action research. We tasked them with designing a college introductory level Math course. That was certainly eye opening! Some volunteered to show us a few of their Math assignments from their previous year in high school in Saudi. That was very helpful.
Where do you go and what do you do when there is a very finite amount of data on this particular situation? How much can there be for something that is barely one year old? You keep digging up sources for information. You make use of your personal and professional networks. You read. You observe. You look forward to first hand observations all with the goal of, someday, coming up with a system that works. A system will need constant revisiting and adjustments.
Isn’t it interesting that all of the above is almost completely dependent upon having access to the Internet? Contact with the Colleges of Excellence, inviting students to discussion and having their parents send examples of their work, chatting with others, all of it made much easier, quicker and simpler through the Internet.
I’m 54 years old and hardly a digital native but I cannot imagine having to do any serious research without it. I have newfound respects for those that did it without the Internet. The amount of legwork alone! Being a good northern Canadian boy, I grew up playing hockey on the street. The most disruptive thing you could hear then was, “Car!” But even that isn’t as frustrating as hearing, “The Internet is down!”
Here are a few quick pictures of our beautiful Niagara College Taif campus.
I’ve been in Taif, Saudi Arabia for a bit more than 24 hours! The flight was great and uneventful. I flew Saudia and was pleasantly surprised to see they offer a buffet of sandwiches, fruits, juices, coffee and tea during the night. Just help yourself. I made some new friends and learned a lot about Saudi from the locals on the flight.
My driver from Jeddah to Taif was incredible. He knew a few words in english and I knew none in arabic. Oddly enough, we had a great time. It was an hour and half game of charades. We laughed and had a great time. He even pulled over to get us a coffee and tea. I’m already missing Timmie’s!!!
Put in a full day at my new office I was given a tour of the campus, set up my computers, had an amazing lunch of grilled beef, chicken, lamb and vegetables. Very good!!
The campus residences are not quite ready yet so off we went to apartments we have for now. Lots of unpacking! We then went out shopping for computers and tech stuff to get ready for our open houses next Monday and Wednesday.
After being awake for 37 hours, it was finally time for bed! Slept like a baby!!
It will take a few days to get into the routine but it has been a great start.
The big day is getting closer and closer so some friends invited me out for supper. As always, we discussed everything under the sun and solved all the problems of the world.
There was even dessert!
A great meal with even better friends! Thanks Sean, Dennis and Barry.