I’m finally back with the team in Saudi Arabia. While most of the Canadian contingent returned in mid-August, I was able to enjoy a bit more of the home life awaiting my new visa. I really don’t have much of a clue as to what goes into getting a visa but all I need to know is that when Abbas, Shari and Jennifer are on the job, it just magically appears. I simply wait for the telephone call telling me it’s ready and then I start packing. My thanks to these three hard-working individuals.
Following a comfortable but always long flight, I found myself back in Taif with the hardest working team in the world. My first week was quite the eye-opener. One expects to see the odd sandstorm in a desert nation such as Saudi Arabia but there was a doozy on the day I landed in Jeddah. Luckily it occurred a few hours after I had left for Taif. By the look of the picture from the Arab News, I’m quite happy to have missed it.
Two days later, at our Taif campus, we experienced a rather impressive hail storm. Over the past year, I’ve seen some heavy duty rain fall but a hail storm…that was a surprise. My little iPhone video shows what it looked like. The hail ranged from ‘pea’ to ‘marble’ in size. I believe those are 2 authentic meteorological terms. It was great to see the reaction of both students and staff who were experiencing their first hail storm. They were simply amazed as they looked and felt the hail stones in their hands.
All things Niagara College have grown significantly here over the summer months. We now have two campuses, the newest being just outside the Makkah city limits. It is roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour from Taif, depending on whose driving and what mood they’re in!
The Makkah campus is incredibly beautiful and much bigger that the one in Taif. It is located in a developing area which, for now, still resembles a desert! However, with streets and infrastructure already in place for homes and businesses, this should all change in the next few years. Until then, we make due with our little desert paradise. FYI…all the grass you see in the photos is actually astro turf! (That’s fake grass to you non baseball and football fans) I have to admit that it makes for a strange but welcomed sight in middle of a desert. The indigenous flora and fauna is also always on display. OK, maybe not so much the flora, unless astro turf counts. I still get a kick out of seeing camels roaming the dunes. Other desert critters are also to be seen, some more welcomed than others! Hey, it is the desert and they were here first LOL.
Another project we are undertaking is as capacity building consultants for a woman’s college in Madinah. Our crack team of experts, headed by Bev Davies and Abbas Sumar, will be working closely with the existing all female staff and administration, helping them to reorganize their complete operation. It’s always gratifying to be recognized for our good work. Plus…we get to branch out and support some of the women of Saudi Arabia as they pursue their education. What a great feeling.
Between our two male campuses, we now boast a student population of roughly 1,000! Not bad for only one year. Of course with the growth in student numbers comes a growth in faculty and staff. Our original “Little Team on Desert” has grown substantially. Faculty has more than doubled (ok, so I don’t know the exact number, sue me) while the support and admin staff have also kept up the pace.
The ever present and varied challenges involved in starting up two colleges in a strange land keep us on our toes. We had less than three months to prepare for the academic year at the Makkah campus and you don’t need to have an over-active imagination to figure out how much work that involved. Many people here and back home in Canada spent many long summer hours getting things ready.
There seems no end to the challenges we face and tackle every day. No one is bored and each day is different. What more could you ask for?
Our latest major challenge in Taif was an HVAC (air conditioning) failure resulting a blown pressure hose releasing what look like enough water to fill an olympic sized swimming pool into our campus hotel. Flooded floors, collapsed ceilings and general mayhem resulted. This alone is bad enough but when you factor in that some 30 employees where scheduled to move into the hotel this week (including me), you start to get an understanding of our predicament.
However, as we always do, we come up with alternate plans, not to mention living arrangements, and press on with the job at hand. Of course, Orel, the one tasked with making these new arrangements, might use more colourful colloquialisms to describe the situation.
So there you have it. Year Two has begun. Everyone here is aware that the challenges and work will be intense. But this is what makes being on this team so great. Frustrations, challenges, and long, hard hours are a daily fact of life here. No matter the situation, we always find creative solutions and press on with what needs to be done. This, above all else, is what makes me so happy to be a part of this outstanding team!