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Hassi, February 2006

Well as the story goes, when one door closes, another opens and that is always the case in this line of work. Yes, my Algerian stint is over and I shall be heading out shortly for my new post at the American University of Afghanistan. The post is in Kabul and so its all pretty exciting really.

The thing I will miss most is my wonderful team of teachers and ancillary staff… They are just the best team ever. They work so well together and basically we all live together so its like a family here, with the added bonus that sometimes I get to act like a boss, which they realize and don’t worry about.

The team has grown a lot in my time here. When I started there were 3 teachers here and a couple on remote bases. Now we have 9 here as well as the remote sites. All these teachers have back to backs so the number of teachers is actually double, but one half is on while the other is on days off. I won’t go into how that works, but it does, and personality makes a big difference as to how the place runs. I have chosen them very carefully and most of them know each other as they nearly all come from one Berber town in the north. I will miss working with them. What started to look like Di’s bevy of boys has now evened out to a balance of sexes. My ancillary staff is also lovely… I have two drivers, a cook a maid and a secretary working here. We used to have a guard on the outside door, but I found that an intercom is much better, and definitely more efficient… But it doesn’t take the rubbish out… Sad.

Along with the staff that I look after, I look after the maintenance of the building… trust me, that is almost a full time job. Today is the second day in a row without water (a common occurrence)… Baby-wipes are a wonderful invention aren’t they? I do the timetables and rosters as well as teaching, look after the finances, reporting and development of courses, monitoring progress of students, observing and training teachers, organizing all teachers’ travel to and from home etc., etc. It was a full on job believe me.

However, things I won’t miss are my direct manager in Algiers, who couldn’t organize his way out of a paper bag and often that impacted on the efficient running of my centre. I have no worries about saying this as he has been the bane of my life though I am sure he would have a few choice words to say about me. The fact that I am more efficient than him, not being one of them.

My last three weeks here are not going well in that the head office has already seen me go in their minds it seems. They seem to be making decisions about HMD without consulting me, putting ads in the paper about courses we know nothing about but have to field the phone calls for, and timetabling without talking to me… It is their typical last minute panic style of management and I have put up with it for a year. I am finding it increasingly hard to put up with it now.

Anyway, that’s the main news. I will soon be heading off to Kabul for an initial 6 month stint followed by another 10 months. We shall see after that.

Yes, yes, I can hear you all now saying…”Kabul? That’s dangerous.” Yes it might well be, but after being in Pakistan, I know just how untrue the media news is and I will take my chances and see for myself. There is little chance nowadays of venturing to a country like Afghanistan, so you have to take them when they come up. If nothing else, it will be an experience that I never dreamed of, one that will be unlike anything else perhaps. Who knows… I am willing to find out.

Hopefully, the comms will be better there than here and although that seems unlikely on the face of things, my future employers have managed to get through to me in a fairly timely manner throughout the hiring procedure, so that is an optimistic sign. However, I shall see when I get there.

You should all have guessed by now that this is more of a concern to me than having television or other such mundane things in life. I have to admit though, that being housebound in Hassi makes one more liable to fall under the hypnotic spell of the giggle box. How sad the thought that I could become addicted to Eastenders, Casualty or BBC Learning, which plays after midnight. Addiction is not the case I’m happy to say, but these mindless programmes have certainly kept me amused for many long hours here. Still, the last week has seen my TV go down the tube… literally… and I find myself reading more, doing more yoga and generally filling my time with more useful things.

My staff are all devastated that I’m going. That is no exaggeration, even though it sounds like one. It’s more usual for them to work for an Algerian boss, which apparently is not the best thing in life. Most the CV’s I get are from people who know, or know of, someone who works here. Word gets round when it’s a good place to work. Several of the teachers are preparing their CV’s because I will likely be replaced with an Algerian manager, if at all… much cheaper, but will it be more efficient? That remains to be seen. Will my teachers be mentored as they have been? Very unlikely. When it comes down to it, this place is all about making a profit and the lower the overheads, the higher that profit will be. My leaving gives them the ideal opportunity to do just that. I might well have been moved to Algiers in the coming year, and I would NOT have agreed to that. The thought of working with Paschal, my line manager, is worse than the thought of eating Bousseloof… a local dish made with the sheep’s head and all of its organs, even the eyes and ears stay in the stew… Ugh!!!

Today I have had bad news again. One of my teachers, who should have been here yesterday just couldn’t get himself onto the plane. I didn’t know till today what the problem was. His wife was delivered of their baby about two months ago….two months premature and his wife had a very tough time of it. She died 6 days ago from a cerebral hemorrhage caused by high blood pressure (which had put her into coma) and he flew from her funeral to Algeria to come to work, but obviously is not… can not be… ready for that yet.

 His baby daughter is still in intensive care and has severe heart and breathing problems. She is apparently encephalitic and cannot at this stage live without machines. The prognosis is unclear. Life is so hard on some people. We never think about how lucky we are till we hear of others’ tragedies. His wife, Eva, was Austrian and so his baby, Meral, is still in Vienna where her grandparents are. I’ve sent him home to his family in Oran. He needs to be with people who love him right now, people who will hug him and cry with him and help him to take the first steps from the bottomless pit that he is in right now. He needs to get to the point where he is ready to go back to Vienna, and his daughter. There is really nothing one can do or say in these situations. It makes one feel very helpless.

I’ve worked a long time and never in the space of one job have I lost a teacher to a car accident and then not much later, this current tragedy. Puts a whole new perspective on what is important in life really. I expect everyone should go and touch their spouse or children right now. It’s what I want to do.

Anyway, not much else has been happening. It’s the norm here in Hassi… Nothing but work really happens here. I will fly to Dubai on my way to Kabul. I didn’t know airlines flew there, but when I see the names of the airlines that do… Ariana, Kam Air…hmmmm… Never heard of them. Oh well, it just goes to show that you can get anywhere if you want or need to.

I have to do a face to face handover in the next week or so with my dreaded boss, but I shall remain emotionless and professional. They do not know where I am going and are doing their best to find out, but I am not of a mind to tell them. I’ve sent the preliminary handover and they can then prepare questions about what they need to. Hopefully it will pass without any hiccups. It’s the first time they have shown any interest in Hassi for a long time and its time they learned that this is not a place that can be left to run itself. They have tried that before and it failed miserably. Ah well, its not my problem now, but I feel for my teachers.

Anyway, I have two short weekends to get myself packed up and ready to leave, so I am going to finish this and send it. I don’t know how long it will take me to get connected in Kabul, but I’ll be in touch as soon as I can after I get there.

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Again a long time since I wrote, but I figure that since I am doing not much but working, that would be a boring email for you all.

However, as you can see, I’m fighting fit and still alive here in Hassi Messaoud.
I cant remember the last time I wrote so I’ll just update you on what has been happening…workwise if nothing else.

The best and most important thing is that the ‘she-devils’ have gone.

They left at the end of July and life , well its been much more pleasant and sometimes quite interesting.

I had been quite happy to let them think they were leaving because they wanted to…..that is not tell them that I had told my boss I didn’t want them here,….but that was to change. My boss offered them a position in one of our remote sites and they turned it down. When told that they were taking a risk regarding finding a new post, they confidently said they would stay here in that case……oops…..um, no, they were told that was not an option because of the antipathy in their relationship with me. So….their last weeks here were even more horrid than usual. Zola screamed at me like the fishwife that she is….a waste of time since she knows my answer is always the same….go away and come back when you find better manners. Such was life at the time. Not pleasant, not just for me….they didn’t get along with anyone else either.

Since then, I have a whole new team here…and it is now double the size it was…only one pair of rotational staff remains from that period and I hired them in the first place. It did look for a while like I was gathering a bevy of young boys around me, and at times it still seems like that, but I do in fact have females here as well.

Its just that the boys are all here at the same time more or less.

The atmosphere though, has done a complete turnaround, from horrid, to absolutely lovely.

Its really important that staff get along in this situation. Not only do we work together, but we have to live together. `I have moved the boys into the flat next door because there, they can come and go as they please. It’s the evenings really. The boys tend to go out and have coffee….something of a ritual here…..but women do not go into the town in the evening…..definitely not a done thing here, unless you are with your husband. No young couples flirting or cruising here….oh no. My boys share rooms, so their getting along is very important. The girls all stay here in the school and we are fast getting to the time when they will have to share rooms too.

Summer turned out not to be as bad as I thought workwise.

Traditionally, August is holiday month. All those working on family regime go away for the month….its ridiculous really.

There are only two ways to work here…rotational or family regime.

Family regime people work Saturday to Wednesday and get 45 days holiday a year. If they work `Thursdays, they get 55 days annual leave. That is days, not working days, but still better than we get in the west. They also have, normally, a two hour lunch, but those who have work their rotations over summer, get three hours for lunch during summer. It means your workday is basically turned upside down.

This happens in almost all companies here, so trying to get any work at all done between 12 and 3 is virtually useless.

Then came September and my secretary and cook came back…woohoo…..but in October, it was Ramadan. In Ramadan, almost everything shuts down, not literally, but people don’t work much, they cancel classes and hence, my people virtually do no work, therefore, no money is made.

I, luckily, got to go away for Ramadan. I left on the first day and came back on the first day of Eid. I went to London and stayed with my brother. I really needed to relax, which I did completely. I met up with a friend regularly and basically had a really lazy time.
Yes I should have got off my butt and gone to see some of Europe, but my heart was not in it….it was in London lazing, so the decision was easy. I shopped and read books and shopped and read books…..not a bad way to spend a month, which disappeared far more quickly than I wanted,.

Still here I am back in the desert, waiting for the work to build up again. People are slowly coming back to normal, but I will be happier once our workload is heavier.

I have little teaching to do, though there is the chance of a new contract starting requiring an expat teacher.

Today has been a bad day. One of my teachers was killed in a car accident on his way home after the end of his rotation. He worked on a site away from here, but when I first came here he was teaching in the centre. He was my moment of sanity among the she-devils and their mate, my only chance of any normal conversation. He has 5 children and was rather shy and deeply religious. I had a class at the time I was informed, and that was very difficult. My other teachers, as well as my driver, were in tears and strangely enough, it rained for a short while and the sky was suitably grey. It will be a few days before I hear laughter in here again I think.

Earlier this week I had to deal with a sexual harassment incident. A student behaved inappropriately in a 1-1 class with one of my female teachers. Sexual harassment is a different kettle of fish here than at home. These are things you learn living in different cultures and I suppose essentially, thats what I travel for…to experience and learn how other cultures work. In this instance, my teacher was teaching a mechanic at the company base. He arrived in overalls and the zipper down the front was down far enough to show that he did not have a shirt under it. During the lesson, the zipper came down a lot further until his chest was exposed under the guise of asking questions about her personal questions……questions which went so far as to ask if her previous male bosses ever asked her about sex! Here, the zipper leaving his flesh exposed is totally inappropriate and the personal questions are totally, and I do mean totally, wrong. No Algerian man would speak to a woman this way…or expose this amount of flesh. My teacher, 26, was made to feel extremely uncomfortable and I had no choice but to talk to his manager.

Its somehow rather strange for an expat to be calling an Algerian’s behaviour toward a woman, inappropriate. My talk with the manager went well and I forged the beginnings of a good relationship with him. The reality of it was that he spoke to the mechanic, neither wants to be in a classroom with the other, but at the same time, it was dealt with in such a way that my client relationship is still in tact and possibly even stronger.
I’ve had better weeks.

Before the week was over we had rain, real rain, not just a few drops and then stop, as it has done before. This started one day and went for a couple of hours, and the next day evening, it rained all night… real rain…..very strange when you know you are in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Its very cool in the mornings now, but it warms up during the day. The nights will get steadily colder now I expect. But for me, this is the time I can sleep with my windows open and its lovely. The days are beautiful with temps of around mid twenties….a big change from the 40 and 50 plus of the months before.

My contract comes up for renewal in Feb and I expect they will renew.

Crispin has rehired James, my original b2b, but he will work in Algiers. It never ceases to amaze how people who gave no notice and left when thy felt like it are hired back. I know that itsnot easy to get someone to come here, but I would certainly not do it. Once unreliable, always unreliable I reckon. They do it with Algerians as well. Not my business anyhow, but I am glad he’s not working here with me. It does however give more options for when I go away…and if I want to get away more often. Negotiation for renewal will contain more of that. Acceptable to my boss? I don’t know, but we’ll see.

There is little chance that he would get another native speaker to stay here on family regime. I would be happy with a 6/2 regime, plus Ramadan and Xmas. That would suit me down to the ground, but will it be accepted…who knows. I need to work out at what point I walk away and say no thanks.

Anyway, I am still trying to get a fare home for Xmas that isn’t going to be in the range of 1600 quid…that’s nearly 4 times normal fare, and though I am prepared to pay more, I’m not rich enough to pay that for what will essentially be 8 days at home. Still working on it though….i hate last minute rushes too, but since I have no credit card, I have to book where I can pay for it. Hopefully this will be worked out very shortly. Till then, I think I should send early wishes for the festive season.

I hope you all have your family and loved ones around you and that all are fit and well, and that the season is a happy one for all.

A special hello goes to Eowyn and bubby and best wishes for the new grandparents as well.

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It seems like such a long time since I wrote, but things have been happening fast and with comms the way they are, I just didn’t get round to it.

As I said, a lot has happened. My five weeks in Hassi was not without its dramas. Whereas Algiers is chaotic, Hassi is the dramatic branch of the business.

I worked hard to get the computers sorted so that the intranet and the internet was working. This was achieved just before the last week and I had a week of relative ease as far as comms were concerned. Of course we only had one phone line and so to use the internet, we had to unplug the phone, so internet was connected from 6-8 for the teachers’ use and I plugged my laptop in after that.

I also had a teacher disappear on me. That sounds silly, but she was still in town and just wouldn’t reply to phone calls. She was due to go out to a camp in the desert as back to back (b2b) for the teacher already there. I didn’t have the authority to sack her and though my boss would have done just that, the client really wanted her, so what could we do really. After much to-ing and fro-ing, she eventually went up there to disappear again two days later. In the end I sent another teacher and he seems to have been well accepted. I couldn’t go there myself because I am needed here and besides the teaching is all French up there. On top of that, you need a desert pass to go or the military will turn you back. I don’t have mine yet of course.

Sacking an employee here is almost impossible so we shipped her off to Algiers where she worked for a month on a residential course at the villa. She will work out her contract there most likely. She is a trouble maker here and though I like her as a person, she is a nightmare employee and stirs the other teachers up too much here.

As it is the teachers are not overly happy with me, but that is mostly because they have previously had access to all information, even financial and confidential stuff. That stopped with me and they don’t like that.

I then went to Algiers to work a week before going to London for leave. That week turned into 3 and eventually all I had was a week.

London was lovely; even though it snowed pretty much all the time I was there. It was cold there, but not as bitterly cold as it had been in Algiers. I met up with my brother Jo and had a great time with him. I also met up with a couple of other people I know there and all in all, the week was way too short. I had rented a studio apartment there in a suburb called Barking, which is a ways from central London, but I quite liked it even though it put me quite a way from people I wanted to see. When I first got there I thought I was in Coronation St. The houses are terraces, but they call them cottages. I think they were workers cottages originally. A cottage to me is a free standing little home. Still I had three rooms, sit in kitchen, bathroom and bedroom and it was very cosy. I left with regret for various reasons and it will now be a while till I get back there.

Just before I left for London, I got notice that my b2b had resigned and would leave when I got back. He broke his contract, but that was not my business. Crispin, the owner, rang and offered me the job full time. This means living here and having Thursday and Friday off each week, 7 weeks holiday a year and three airfares. I was in two minds really. One, did I really want to do this full time, and two, did I want to give up the all the time off that I get on the rotation system?

I didn’t have time to think about it as Crispin would have to seriously work hard to get a replacement if I wasn’t going to do it. I did take it, but on a personal level, I’m not sure that I have done the right thing. I know I can do the job, but the thought of being here all the time is not as exciting as getting out every 5 weeks. But I have done it and so here I am.

Returning from London, I had one more week in Algiers working and then was due to go back to Hassi. While I was away, the school was to move into the new villa as our lease had run out on the old one, which was far too small for our purposes. With the weather being as bad as it has been, the villa was of course not ready, but the builders had done a stellar job getting it relatively good enough for classes and residentials.

That last week there was about the worst week I can ever remember spending anywhere. Not the classes, but the weather was bitter and though this time I had jumpers, which I bought in London, it was still miserable. The heating wasn’t yet connected and we used electric oil-filled radiators as we could. This would have worked out not too bad, but the power was so erratic that the electric heating was useless. The water was off more than on, and hot water was something that just didn’t happen. In 5 days we all managed one shower. Like eating lots of garlic, its best that you all do it and then no one notices. I now always have a good supply of baby wipes with me because without water, you can at least clean your body with them and feel reasonably clean, though the feel of standing under a shower is much nicer. Toilets too are a problem without water. With 5 toilets in the villa it sounds fine, but in fact there were 40 students there during the day and also staff and that is not fun at all. Even when they were working, it seems that Algerian toilets must always be waded to, as there is always some pipe or other leaking in there. Going in your bare feet is not an option. Yes, it was a tough week and I was glad when it came to an end.

Arriving in Hassi I was greeted by warm weather…woohoo. I shall certainly make sure I never complain about the heat, even when it does get to 50 plus in the summer. Still once in the school, I found that my room door has been broken so that I cant close it properly and since the door jamb is plastic, I’m not sure that it can be fixed without replacing the whole thing. That’s a bitch because I cant leave my money here or anything of value. That is probably the best thing I have found so far though. The rest of my room has been completely messed up and I have spent the best part of the day putting it to rights. Now I don’t have to share it, it will stay that way. I haven’t even had time to set up my desktop, but I will get to that this week. As far as the office is concerned, the same thing has happened there.

My b2b who fancies himself a bit as a computer whiz (and believe me, he is not) has altered everything and made a right mess of it. The system which was working when I left, stopped working sometime during his stay. He gave the teachers the passwords to access whatever they wanted etc. In effect, everything I did in my last stint, has been completely undone and I have to start from scratch. That doesn’t thrill me, but at least I know that he is not coming back to stuff it up again.

Today I did the unthinkable and went out on my own. This is something I have always been told I couldn’t do. What they thought would happen is beyond me, but of course nothing did. I had a lovely walk around town and went to an internet café. It’s Friday so most things are closed, but it was nice just to be out. Besides, I spied several hair salons while I was out so I will try them out over time. Have yet to find out if they do manicures and pedicures though.

Tomorrow I am back in the office and will start in earnest to repair the damage caused in my absence. First things to attack will be phone lines, as at the moment we have none working. Fixing the washing machine is up there too…how hard can that be? I shall find out I suppose.

My new job means that I am responsible for the financial and administrative side as well as the teaching. Its more or less what I did in January, but I left the financial side alone since I didn’t have the authority, but now I do. The young secretary who handles that is aggressive and has upset the teachers a lot over small things. She worked well with me last time so I will see if I can get her back on board. If not, bye bye. She has no contract and won’t get one either. That way it is easier to let her go if she is not up to the task. Sounds rugged, but in a place this small, one person can so easily upset the apple cart.

Algerians are funny people in some ways. They are quite small minded in an environment like this. They have little else in their lives and so things that would not normally bother the ordinary person, get blown up to mammoth proportions.

In Algiers, its different because all the teachers are part time. Punctuality is a real problem there and I pretty much got the teachers coming in well before their classes start. Here that is not a problem at all. All my teachers are living here and they are taken to their classes by our driver. They are also very diligent in their work and so that is one worry I don’t have. Of course when you live and work together there is always bound to be some friction, but that also can be dealt with simply. It will be interesting to see how they accept me now that I am here to stay.

Sorry guys, I seem to have talked a lot about work in this letter, but I haven’t seen or done anything much but work since I got here. In effect, I worked 58 x 12 hour days straight and then had a week off, so that doesn’t leave a lot of time for sight seeing.

I will be glad to get into the desert again tomorrow.

I am going to ask the drivers to take me to the liquor store this week though….I didn’t know there was one, but apparently there is….a bottle of wine now and then would be wonderful. I drank several with Paschal in Algiers and the Algerian product is very good. I will drink that in my room because the teachers here don’t drink and so I don’t want to offend them. In Algiers most the people there don’t mind you drinking in their company, but here they are far more anti booze.

Well that’s it for now I think. Sorry if its not too interesting. The life of Di in the desert….lol. Oh, and just because I don’t have comms here, don’t stop writing; I will always get to the café during the week. I love to get your letters.

A special thought for Tessie, who is now recovering from back surgery…be well darling.

To all of you, I hope you and yours are happy and healthy.

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Hassi, January 2005

Here we are in 2005 and another year begins. What it will bring us all is anyone’s guess, but I do hope that for you all, it is a good one. To my friends in Thailand, I hope that 2005 brings a chance of recovery from the disaster of the tragic tsunamis that destroyed so much and killed so many.

For myself, I have started the year in my new home, Algeria. My first week was spent in Algiers, where my school now has its head office. The school I work for, Langsols, services large oil and gas companies, teaching their staff (local and expat) English, French and Algerian Arabic.

I arrived in Algiers and was picked up and taken to the villa in which the school is housed. There I met my back to back, James, a young Scotsman from Orkney. I also met Pascal, the Irishman who would, after a week, take over in Algiers when I would go to my new home in Hassi Messaoud. Pascal had to fly to Hassi for that first week of mine to teach a management course, whilst I had three classes of students due for the week, plus a gaggle of new teachers.

I was alone in the house but for my bodyguard, Hadi. I am sure they thought that because I am a girl that I couldn’t possibly stay alone there. Of course, he didn’t speak a word of English and my French is way less than stellar, consisting only of what I remember from high school.

It was a really interesting week and what started off as total chaos was more like orderly chaos by the time I left for Hassi. Algiers works very much on rubber time. People arrive at work late and no one says anything. Students also arrive late and think nothing of it. Still for all that, they are really gorgeous people. I started off the one day before all the students were to arrive, to take an IELTS course, planning classes for all three groups since I was under the impression that the teachers probably hadn’t. I was right in that one and glad I had put in the work.

The morning that the classes started, only the kitchen staff had arrived….we get a cooked lunch at the school. No staff had arrived and no teachers either when the first students arrived. So here I was, wondering how the day was going to go. The teachers were all just there when class time started and there were about a third of the students.

With such a start, the week actually went quite well. Teachers were told that as professionals they should be there half an hour before classtime, and they made a real effort to do that. Students too were more punctual after the first two days. There were no procedures in place for anything so I took the liberty of putting in a few really necessary ones.

By the end of the week, things were running about as smoothly as one could expect for a week’s work. The country manager had been in the office for about an hour and so I just made ‘executive decisions’ most of the time. Even though I was there for a week, I can honestly say that I saw nothing of Algiers itself, in fact, until the last day, I hadn’t even seen the street. Oh well, I will get plenty of time at a later date.

Then it was time to say goodbye to them…very sad as we had all got on so well, but they will work with Pascal, who will be resident in Algiers. I, on the other hand, am now in Hassi Messaoud in the Sahara. This is a restricted area, requiring a desert pass, and full of oil and gas workers.

I work on a rotational basis like the oil workers. I work 5 weeks on and the get 4 weeks off, when my back to back, James, will take over.

Hassi is really a desert town, with no greenery to speak of, though you do see some trees on the foreign compounds, but in general the place is a soft dun colour, even the housing blends in with the background. I am teaching very few classes, two to be honest about it, and both in Baker Hughes, an American company providing services to oil and gas companies. There will be more teaching in my schedule fairly soon, but not before Eid and we do have some new contracts coming up. Basically, all the teachers are Algerian and they are charged out at a much lesser rate than an expat. I am taking French lessons myself, only half an hour a day, but it’s a start….I can’t get with the Arabic and it would be useless as each Arabic country has its own dialect anyway. Besides, French is far more beautiful; it is soft and lyrical whereas Arabic always sounds angry to me.

Each day our driver takes me out of town into the desert to my classes. The desert is beautiful, long expanses of dun coloured sand, windswept into dunes that seemingly go on forever. These are not huge dunes like you might imagine, but lovely nevertheless. The strange thing that never ceases to amaze me is that the wind sweeps them flat across the top. It looks like someone has come and sliced the tops off, the line is so straight. Smaller ones definitely have peaks and waves. There are good roads through the desert to take the trucks and other vehicles that move about between the various companies. There are also power lines and other contraptions of which I have no knowledge, but the thing I like is the changing look of the desert itself. Here and there we pass oil flares where they release pressure from a well. There are also gas flares. I can tell them apart only by the colour of the smoke that comes from them, oil being black and gas, white.

Yes, some days there is a pall of oil laden air hanging above the sands, but somehow it doesn’t distract from the stark beauty. At night, from my window I can also see the oil flares, these ones closer to town, but beautiful in the dark sky.

The town itself is totally unremarkable, although I have noticed small stalls selling typically Algerian goods, carpets and cloaks, silver jewellery and the like…..mmmm…I have managed to stay away from the carpet places to date. I don’t promise that I can for the whole time I am here….lol.

I moved into the girls’ flat next door when I got here, but will move back into the school after Eid. I have permission to buy a double bed so that I don’t fall out of this one each time I turn over. I have never seen a single bed so narrow. The rooming situation is a tricky one for me. There are two other teachers living here, one permanent so he stays in one room, but the other is on rotation like me. His rotation finishes in the middle of mine. And of course James, my b2b, but our rotations don’t match exactly so its not a simple matter of sharing the room with him. There are four rooms here and one is decidedly horrid. Tiny windows up so high that it would be impossible to open them, hence also, no light. The other room is not bad, but I need my b2b to move into it so that I can take it over when I get back. I have to leave all my things there, (PC and clothes etc) bar what I take with me, so moving into another room would just not work. The others go home on rotation, but this has to be my home and so I will come to some arrangement with the guys so that I can get into my room when I return. It will all work out in the end.

The teachers are a nice bunch and get on pretty well together for the most part. They do expect a lot from the company, and are treated pretty well I reckon. The teaching is almost all done out on site in various companies, Schlumberger and Halliburton being the main ones, but a few joint ventures as well.We have a driver working all day and they get us to work and back on some pretty tight schedules sometimes.

We get our meals as part of the package, but in the past people complained and so this is to stop. How stupid! From February there will be a food allowance and we will pay the same cook to continue shopping and cooking our meals for us. Does that sound silly? It does to me, but ah well, people are people. The food is great and I have no conception of why there would be complaints, though I’m told it had something to do with yoghurt and brekky things. We get a wonderful lunch of a cooked meal, salad and French bread and cheese, often soup as well. Couscous features a lot of course, but everything is tasty and the variety is endless.

I work pretty much all day, supposedly 12 hours and I am here, but most often I am doing admin work to try and institute procedures that just don’t exist.They all talk about it being a team, and it will be quite a good one I think, but right now everyone is a little unit working alone rather than together as part of something. So far things are going well and I don’t expect that to change really. There may be some things they don’t like as I put them in place, but in the end, the school will run better because of them, and be more profitable.

Meantime I am seeing nothing except when I go out to my classes, but slowly and surely I will take some time and get around the town a little. I cannot walk around on my own however, though I am not sure why, but it is not the done thing and I have no desire to upset the apple cart, so I follow the rules.

It has been really cold here too, something I didn’t expect, but I am managing with the clothes I brought with me and a couple of shawls I bought here. It will soon be hot as Hades and then I guess everyone complains about the heat. We have air conditioners in our rooms which are also heaters so I can get nice and toasty. The days are sunny and getting warmer now so I wont complain. However, I may find the UK a bit of a strain if the winter is still in full force there when I go on rotation.

The UK is where they pay my ticket to once I am off, so this time I will go there and perhaps do a bit of exploring, perhaps make it to the Netherlands, but nothing is yet planned or set in stone. There will be travel this year and lots of it because I cannot stay here when I am not rostered on.

Well that is about it for now. I am sure that there will be more over the month but I wanted to say hi and let you all know where I am and that I am fine. Internet access here is not great, and unreliable as hell, so my access is limited at best.

To Tess, who is still in bed, I hope you got a good report from the surgeon, Daniel and Leah, congrats on the coming new bub, and again, all my Thai friends, I hope that you and yours are safe and well and that you have not been too affected by the tragedy of the tsunamis.

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