Do you want to hear about the breath-taking changes happening in Saudi Arabia through the eyes of a 19-year-old Saudi-American student? Well, here’s your chance. In The Men’s Room Podcast below, the host delves deep into the changes with one of my very own drama students — Sami Fathi. He’s an articulate communicator and talented young actor. I hope you enjoy his take on Saudi’s generation Z.
This afternoon, I was thinking ahead a little bit about my new show coming up at the end of the year. It will be my first, all-original production since December 2016’s “Tales of Wonder II.” Not that I haven’t produced anything since then.
May 2017 – RLT “Our Best” did include some original content though it was mainly a best-of show.
May 2017 – RLT Musical also was a re-hash of old musical numbers except for one new piece.
January 2018 – “For All Generations” was a re-designed show based on my 2014 RLT Players’ show.
April 2018 – “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” – the Broadway Musical.
So finally, it’s coming, the new show: “Crazy Love.” This is a MOSTLY original show. It does include two of my award-winning scripts from previous shows, but it is mainly new. Six new dramatic sketches and one mini-musical. This 9 piece production will be about one and a half hours long and it will be performed in our brand new campus’ brand new theatre! I can’t wait. Lots more to come on this later. But here’s the lineup.
I currently live in Saudi Arabia, and as an expat, it’s easy to find yourself living in comfortable bubble. My life in Jeddah feels that way in many respects. My main existence is a combination of apartment living on a compound, busing to school and back, all day at an American school that looks and feels like an American school, and then excursions to restaurants where most of the wait staff is from the Philippines. It’s not difficult to forget where it is I live.
Just for an evening, we decided to stroll the new corniche area of Jeddah, which buttresses up against the Red Sea. It was a Friday evening, and people were out and about EVERYWHERE! This is a beautiful and large new water front development complete with public beaches in the pristine water, children’s play parks, outdoor sculptures, and a terrific bike and walking path right in between the Corniche Road. But while here, I was unmistakably reminded of where I live. Uncountable Saudi families brought their carpets and spread them out on the grassy areas to enjoy the evening air. Boys played soccer, while ladies in abayas and hijabs chatted in groups and strolled slowly through plethora of sidewalks. Children and a few men splashed in the water.
It’s good to get out of one’s bubble from time to time. You get to feel the flow of the culture. You get to question things you thought you understood, and you get a feel for the local people whom you don’t actually meet too often.
It was a pleasant evening strolling by the Red Sea. Here are a few photos.
A while back, I was invited to a desert party. It was unlike any party I had ever attended, and it was such a unique and interesting cultural event that I ended up learning a lot about living in Saudi Arabia.
- There are farms in the desert. I thought of deserts being these endless sandboxes with nothing in them. Well, I was wrong. The party was at a desert farm. The owner owned “about as much land as you can see” – or should I say as much sand as you could see – but the sand and harshness of the climate doesn’t stop the farming. There were large pens of sheep, goats, and camels — all guarded by dogs — and they all seemed perfectly content to live their lives in the middle of the most deserty desert you could ever imagine. Who knew?
- There are more than animals in the desert. People live there too. This became evident at dusk when scattered lights could be seen in all directions. Before the giant ball of fire in the sky dipped below the horizon, there was nothing in any direction except for sand. And then suddenly, lights popped up everywhere. Where did all these people come from?
- Saudis know how to party. A large section of the desert was sectioned off by high wooden stakes and a thick, hearty fabric. Inside the walls which swayed in the wind were sections of carpet for lounging, bouncy house, sound system, camels and horses for riding, kites, and a huge spread of so many meats that my cholesterol level rose just by looking at it. One especially delectable dish was layers of mutton and beef ribs which were layered on rice and cooked underground. Delicious. The dancing started and men and women alike shared their varied moves on the dance floor. Arabian coffee and tea flowed freely and shisha brought its fragrance to the corners of the comfortable tents. Outside the walled structure were four wheelers to ride and high-end cars that a dealer brought in for test drives. All of this in the middle of the desert. To find it, one had to drive on the tracks in the sand of the vehicle in front of you. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
- Your view of Saudi Arabia is probably not accurate. I know mine wasn’t. This party once again ripped apart my pre-conceived notions of life in the kingdom. I’ve been realizing how wrong I was for the past five months and this just helped to seal the deal. Not one thing that happened that night would have been on my list of what Saudi Arabia is like before I came here. And you know what, it’s pretty cool to be wrong.
Notice to all those places which require me to login:
This is a general announcement for all those online companies and organizations which I have connected with over the years. Yes, I do indeed, in fact, in verifiable truth, on my Scout’s honor, and in the witness of the Almighty Heavens, do actually and in real-life live in Saudi Arabia.
Therefore, when I try to login to your app or website, I may be flagged as being in Saudi Arabia, which in fact, I am.
In case you were wondering, there are many non-residents of Saudi Arabia living in Saudi Arabia. (Did I mention I was one of them?) These non-residents have the need to access their bank accounts, login to their Google apps, or possibly even check on certain government services. Yes, they may need to do that Saudi Arabia, so I would be much obliged that you ALLOW ME TO DO SO!
Stop with the silly twenty-seven step verifications. I do not have access to my home phone in the United States because, well, I LIVE IN SAUDI ARABIA.
I am not a hacker. I am not a Nigerian 419 scammer. I am not phishing for information, because if I was a hacker of any solid reputation, I wouldn’t route myself through Saudi Arabia because, well, you know – those million step verifications.
So I’m just a normal guy, doing a normal job, who happens to live in the Middle East. I still have to access stuff.
So please just let me. If there’s a problem, I’ll call you. How does that sound?
Thank you for no longer making me a digital hostage because of my geographical location.
Thank you. I’m glad we can agree that all of you need to just CHILL A LITTLE!
I live in Saudi Arabia. Get over it.
When I lived in Vietnam, back in the meager years after the U.S. lifted its embargo in 1994, I would, on occasion, have my neck snap while doing a double-take as I noticed an orange-colored package at a small shop. It was the Halloween orange, possibly better known as the Reeses’ orange, the type of orange that makes one’s mouth water with chocolate and peanut butter forlorn dreams for the luscious treats I missed so much. Every time, I mean every time, the turn of my neck meant nothing. It was a pumpkin-colored red herring – nothing more than a local treat which included no chocolate and no peanut butter.
I lived in Vietnam for ten years and NEVER once saw a Reeses product, forced to stock up on summer break.
And it wasn’t confined to Reeses. When I arrived in Vietnam is was still B.C. — before Coke. When we had our mid-year trip to Thailand, we would gorge on all the treats we couldn’t get there — McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, and the like of which my insides will never forgive me.
When we moved to Malaysia, it all felt so easy. All the fast food that wasn’t in Vietnam was readily available. The amount of available western products rose exponentially, except for those particular items like Reeses, Corn Chex, and Swedish Fish.
In the last couple years of my time in Malaysia, Reeses started showing up in stores on occasion. I remember seeing the orange package one day but scoffed at the idea, not willing to be fooled into believing the impossible. But as I came closer, sure enough, Reeses Peanut Butter cups. I inconspicuously swatted the entire stack into my cart. I had them all! And that became the problem. I think other expats would buy out the stack every time a small shipment would arrive. Of course, the store wouldn’t buy more. Who are they to want to make a bigger profit.
But in all my years in Malaysia, they still never had Corn Chex or Swedish Fish.
Well, now I live in Saudia Arabia, among the Reeses, Corn Chex, and Swedish Fish. All the simple pleasures. All the forgotten delicacies are forgotten no longer. I’m living in the land of milk and honey. The land of plenty. The land of too much. Long gone are the days of scrounging the shelves for any special treats from my childhood.
Now that I can have them, anytime I want, I find that I don’t buy them. I find the old wisdom to be true: the less you have of something, the more you will appreciate it.
Ohhhh, the good old days, when Reeses, Corn Chex, and Swedish fish guarded the lore-ridden gate of the mythical Xanadu. Now they live on my grocer’s shelves. How mundane!
You know how it goes: “If someone told me 10 years ago that I would be such and such, I wouldn’t have believed them in a million years.”
I know the feeling. Very well. This notion of unexpected outcomes came to the forefront of my mind this week because I found myself saying that above line nearly verbatim. Mine goes like this:
“In 2002, if someone told me that in fifteen years that I would be a drama teacher in Saudi Arabia, I wouldn’t have believed them in a million years. I would have thought they were experiencing severe mental delusions.”
You see, in 2002, I was living in Vietnam, teaching English at the college level to Vietnamese students studying to be English teachers. I was a frustrated, wannabee, writer who never wrote. I was immersed in Vietnamese culture and language, and I had even contemplated (for a few seconds) going on for a PHD in Vietnamese history. I had never acted in my life. I had never been involved in any drama productions. The extent of my dramatic experiences involved writing a play which I read to my mother when I was twelve, and writing a couple small skits which were performed in some low-key settings. Oh, I did act as Forrest Gump in a skit, so I take that acting bit back.
But I had nothing in my background that would have indicated that I was destined to be a drama teacher.
And I had nothing in my background that indicated that I would ever end up in Saudi Arabia.
So therefore, the combination of those two–teaching drama in Saudi Arabia–would have seemed too implausible to even ponder.
However, as I sit in Jeddah on the heels of my first week of teaching theatre at the American school, I am quite taken back at the loops and rabbit-chasing trails my life has gone down in the past fifteen years in order to arrive at this point. And to think it all happened because that frustrated writer sitting in Vietnam became inspired by a group of students in Malaysia.
I’ve told this story before, but I still like it. I moved to Malaysia in 2006 to teach history. (Yes, that’s a whole different story of how I suddenly switched from English to history!) As the drama director at the school was leaving, I volunteered to start a drama-writing group where I would collaborate with a group of students and we would write and produce a play for the next school year.
That was the genesis of it all. The interesting point in my mind is this: what was the impetus for me wanting to write and produce a drama with students? I don’t actually know the answer to this. It’s something that just popped in my mind, and instead of dismissing it, which I can’t believe I didn’t, I embraced and proposed it to the school. That was the crucial moment. For some reason, I stepped in to try something that I had never tried before. If I had not jumped in at that moment, I am fairly certain I wouldn’t be teaching drama in Saudi Arabia. If I had not jumped in, someone else would have eventually filled the drama void at our school and I would have sat in the audience enjoying the shows, never fully understanding how much I loved theatre.
I know now that I wasn’t meant to observe theatre. I was meant to create it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The only advice I have as I look back on my journey is that if you get an itch or an urge that you should jump in and try something, don’t delay. You never know where it might lead you. It could make you change careers in mid-stream and send you to far off lands to do things you never would have imagined but now couldn’t ever live without.
Where might you be in 15 years? I hope the answer surprises you.