Thursday, September 28, 2006

progress, perhaps

Well Ramadan has now started and here in the Magic Kingdom that means that most commercial activity is displaced by about 12 hours.

Only a very few of the shops are open during the day, the pattern seems to be most places open at 8pm and close at about 3am the nexrt day. Makes it a bit tricky nipping round the corner for a carton of milk, but you cant drink the milk during daylight hours anyway, so I guess it doesnt really matter.

the paperwork seems to be progressing, I went into the traffic police offices, along with some of my new colleagues, to get our local driving licences. There was an eye test, we jokingly said (pointing a finger in two stabbing motions at our colleagues faces) 'one, two, passed!' . The eye test was a little more stringent than that, but not by much. An overheard comment from another western ex pat was "why bother to test the eyes, no-one here looks when they're driving so it doesnt matter if they can't see' A litle harsh perhaps, but I do know what he means.

Then came the blood test. I was pleased to see that they were, as a matter of course, using a new, sterile needle for each person, so some things have improved, but the technicians doing the tests had no examiination gloves or any other kind of protective gear. Not an ideal situation since there were a good many people there from all over the world and so the technicians were potentially exposing themselves to almost every kind blood born infection.

I quite like taking a blood test, though. It's the only test I ever get an A+ for!

We then joined the queue for paperwork processing only to be told 'hallas, computer full'. Hallas means finished, I am unsure if thats the correct spelling. Hmm, the computer is full? Oh well, no point in arguing, arguing will only make the man lose face and then he'll never process the papers. Best to come back the next day. Fortunately this last bit doesnt need our personal attention and my employer will send a chap to sort it out, rather than have four teachers away from classes again.

My mutliple exit visa is promised in a few days, Insh'Allah, I have my bank account now and Jummah, one of the Govt relations chaps from work who helps process all these things, assures me that he will do his utmost to ensure that I will have Mrs Gnomad's visa in time for the Eid break, so all is, apparently, progressing.

I actually managed to get to the offices of my favourite airline (favourite as in most used, not necessarily best liked) and have got flights booked for myself and Mrs Gnomad for the Eid break and for Christmas too. These latter set of tickets are freebies, cashed in frequent flyer miles providing us with round trip tickets from the Magic Kingdom to Good Old Blighty (Huzzah!), just taxes and airport fees to pay. Not an inconsiderable amount of money but the cost in total is less than a fifth of what it would have been if we were paying full whack. The added bonus is that the flights dont have to come out of the Christmas pay packet, leaviing this to be squandered on seasonal fripperies instead (Huzzah! again).

All I need to do now is ensure that I can obtain a UK visa for Mrs Gnomad. Another little adventure in the forests of red tape awaits, no doubt.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Long time no blog...

At last I am back in Blogdom. I have no internet at home in the Philippines and none yet here in The Magic Kingdom. I have been here in the Kingdom for three weeks now and I have almost got all of my paperwork in order - I started doing this in June! Now that the Gnomad papers are about sorted I can arrange for Mrs Gnomad's visa etc. Mrs Gnomad has had to remain in the Philippines until all the bureaucracy can be completed, which we now believe will actually happen, although there were moments of near despair.

I had endeavoured to get an internet connection at home in Phils, but alas, I have a fibre optic phone line and, apparently, PLDT the Philippine national telecomms provider can only provide internet access down the old style copper cables?!

It's a bit tough being newly married and away from my beloved, but things are, as I said, looking much more hopeful now. I now have my IQAMA, which is the work permit, internal passport, and 'get-everything-done' card. This means I can do things like open a bank account, get a driving licence (swaps for my old Euro driving licence) it means I can cash my salary cheque (woohoo!) and many other every day necessities.

I am enjoying my new school. The kids are, on the whole, very well behaved. Class sizes vary from 7 to 14 in general but my exam class is just 5 strong. A chap can really bring out the best in his students with the amount of personal attention he can give to each student in classes of that size :) I have my own department (admittedly of only one - me) but I have my own budget to go with it and although the facilities are not as good as some places I have worked I do have the opportunity to expand on what's here and make things much more salubrious and at the same time increase the range of tools and materials available to the students.

Being as ex-pats can't actually own real estate in the Kingdom I am provided with somewhere to live, in much the same way as in my last school and pretty much all other ex-pat jobs in the Gulf region. Here, however I have been given a four bedroom villa with three receptions rooms, three bathrooms and a huge kitchen. I have front and rear gardens and a place to park my car under cover. Not that I own a car yet, I only just got my IQAMA, so I dont have a driving licence yet, which means I cant buy a car but that will happen soon. Security is taken seriously here and there is 24 hour private security for the compound supported by National Guardsmen. This level of security can be a bit of a culture shock if you're not used to it but I like the feeling of safety that it gives. There is a swimming pool, a gym, tennis courts and a function room provided for our use in the compound and the nearest big shop is about five minutes walk away.

The grubby little flat I was given by my last school would fit into the ground floor of my new villa. The existing staff and managers here appear to respect, listen to and assist their colleagues, especially their new colleagues. They appear to be genuinely interested in the well being of the school community. Such a refreshing change. I had a minor water leak in one of the upstairs bathrooms one night, the plumber was there at 7am the next day, job done by the time I got home, rather less than 18 hours after the problem was first notified. In my former accommodation I had maintenance requests take more than 18 months to be dealt with. I do think I have made a good move coming here.

More will follow, but I have to catch the free bus home from work...