Monday, 26 November 2012

Expat Blog Awards and other Milestones.......

I have been here in the Kingdom now for six months and have continued with “Long Way to Go for a Sun Tan” and have been really pleased at the positive reaction it continues to receive, a few milestones along the way also, being Shortlisted for “Blog Awards Ireland” was fantastic for a blog that is only 18 months old, and later today, the Blog will hit 10,000 views since it first started back in Uruzgan, Afghanistan in July 2011-
The Blog has now also been listed in the ExPat Blog Directory and will be assessed along with some other great Blogs in Saudi Arabia for awards over the next few weeks, a big part of the process is based on positive reviews from regular readers, so I would really appreciate if you would post a comment by following this link…
Thanks to Patricia Irwin & Ger Loughrey in Limerick , Keisha LaRaine Ingram in Vilnius, Cathal O’Connell in Kandahar, Caitriona Murphy in Cork & Jack Kiely in Gateshead , for the positive Reviews so far, they represent readers from 4 different countries so far….THANK YOU !!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Recovery by Inches......

I was watching a movie that was recommended to me recently by a friend, “Company Men” starring Ben Affleck & Tommy Lee Jones, which deals with the fallout of a company caught in the credit crisis and dwindling orders in a heavy manufacturing company in the Boston Area of the US, It deals with the lives of the various members of the management team in the aftermath of losing their jobs and dealing with having to cut back on their lifestyles and restart their careers again….

It got me to reflect on the parallels in the last four years of my own life and many others like me in Ireland and indeed in many other places caught in this very “global” crisis since 2008.

In my own case, my own business hit a “Wall” in August 2008, and never recovered, we suffered an 80% collapse in revenue in a little more than two months, when I think back now, it’s a frightening thought, we had a number of staff in the business at the time and just like the Movie (in a much smaller scale), we set about making adjustments to the business that ultimately led to us letting all of the staff go until I was back to just myself by late 2010, other adjustments were made such as moving the office back home in early 2010, cutting back on overheads and diversifying as much as possible in an effort to find alternative income streams to stem the tide of sometimes almost overwhelming demands of overdue bills and taxes….

On the personal and family side, the strain becomes even more severe, I recall in 2009, making the decision to give up our Mobile Home in Liscannor on the west coast, as the annual rental fees were now becoming a burdening luxury, it was a place where our sons have fond memories of swimming and wave-jumping in Lahinch and climbing the rocks at Liscannor and visiting the Cliffs of Moher , eating fish and chips and the obligatory ice-cream on the strand, I felt for them as they found it tough to have to give up their weekends there, similarly in time, we found it tougher to keep the heating oil tank filled in winter and our mortgage fell behind as things really started to bite, I can remember clearly the Christmas of 2009, when there were two sustained weeks of snow, bitter cold and losing my foster mother on Christmas Day , not being able to travel the roads to open the grave and relying on some fantastic relatives and friends of hers who stepped-up and made sure things were “looked after”, and also continuing on with the Christmas routines and making sure the boys enjoyed Santa coming, I admire them both as they both understood what was going on and that times were difficult.

On into 2010 and 2011, the trend continued, I remember Christmas 2010 was equally cold and that we ran out of heating oil in the first few days of January 2011 and not having the money to refill it, we did have a great wood burning stove however which we used to great effect until the end of the month when we had some funds available again, just like the movie, we went through the cycle of reviewing the mortgage, cutting back on any extras we had, which ended up being a lot of things including some of the boys’ activities like swimming and music lessons etc. It was a depressing time and I did find it really tough, as I’m sure so many around the country did at the time, you question yourself, your ability, your confidence drains on a daily basis, you don’t sleep well, you don’t relate to your family or friends in the same way, you dread answering the phone as its more likely to be someone looking to be paid than it is someone looking for your services….

Then come’s a turning point, the point at which you decide enough is enough, or you just crumble and give up. Mine was the day before my son’s communion, which is an important time in a child’s life back home, more so socially in these times, when our bank decided to block access to all of our personal accounts on the back of an issue with our business accounts, thus denying us any cash flow for a small gathering we had arranged at home after the ceremony, to add insult to injury, they also hoovered off a further refund we were due from Revenue on overpaid tax. I can’t remember a time feeling more angry, utterly frustrated and completely betrayed by a bank that I had been with since I was seven years old, a bank that I had never refused to answer a call to, have a meeting with, a bank that only a week before I had made an agreement with to re-finance our remaining business loans and secure them against some land I own. They had kicked us hard when we were down and I decided there and then, that was it, it was time to fight back and fight back hard…….

I took the phone and holding back as much emotion as I could, which wasn’t easy, I told them exactly what I thought of their actions and asked them how they felt about reneging on an agreement and effectively forcing me to use my sons’ Communion money to pay for his big day, and went further to tell them that all agreements were now off the table and they could chase me through the courts to get their money, god it felt good to release that and finally express the frustration and angst I had felt for so long and take back my power from these monstrous faceless institutions that have done so much damage to my country and to ordinary honest hard working people…..

It was the start of the process that within two months took me abroad to work, rebuilt my confidence and got me to start enjoying my work again and even led to a point where the bank had to start again down the road of negotiating with us in a proper manner, having had to deal with complaint letters and to answer for clear breaches of their own Code of Conduct.

It hasn’t been an easy time and indeed it will take many years to recover from the past number of years and as I have recorded here many times, It can be very hard to be away from home but for me, it’s a far more palatable option than what we dealt with in the last few years…..

Going back to the movie “Company Men”, the main character Bobby went through a similar journey and in the end found a way to re-start and get moving again, the movie doesn’t leave you with the “happy ever after” ending , just the glimpse of a chance to succeed and make progress and that’s all that’s needed, I feel people are more than happy to work hard as long as they feel they are moving forward even if it is only by inches………


Friday, 9 November 2012

Interview with InterNations - Life and Work in Riyadh...

This week, I had the pleasure of doing an Interview for InterNations which is an International Online Social Network for Ex-pats, to talk about life and work in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Saudi Arabia, etc.
My name is Noel Scanlon, I work as a Project Manager in Riyadh for an Irish Consultancy here, my background is in Architecture and Business, I come from Ireland, in the west of the country close to the city of Limerick, I first moved abroad to work in July 2011, initially to Afghanistan and then to Saudi Arabia in May 2012. It is well known how the global credit crisis has affected my home country and I am one of many who have moved abroad to work after working for 17 years back home including running my own business for 8 years, my family remain back home in Ireland for the moment.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
In my first Month in Afghanistan, it occurred to me that I really needed to record the experience, primarily for the benefit of my family and friends so they could get a sense of what it was like working in a challenging environment, and also as a very useful tool to stay connected to existing colleagues and indeed make new friends, it got great feedback in my time there and was published a few times also, so when I moved to Riyadh, I was encouraged to continue with the blog and write about the experiences of living here so it developed from there….
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Yes, and the most popular one on the site, Kandahar Airfield….Another world, I wrote this after my first few weeks in Afghanistan, after the culture shock experience of life on a Military Base in Afghanistan and also after taking a helicopter trip from Kandahar Airfield to Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan Province.
Also from the Saudi entries, I really like Road to Riyadh” which was written after my first road trip by car from Riyadh to Al Hofuf in the Eastern Province….
Tell us about the ways your new life in Saudi Arabia differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Obviously Riyadh is a very big change from rural Ireland , everything from the climate to the culture, to social norms, yes it was a culture sock but somewhat lessened by my previous experience in the region, the heat takes some time to get used of, and also adapting to the social and cultural norms here, as that is obviously very different than home, the city is expanding at a fast rate and Saudi Arabia is in a massive growth and development stage both economically but also I feel socially, it’s a very interesting time to be right now, and obviously being away from family is tough also…..
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Saudi Arabia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
As I said previously, I was better prepared than most given my previous work in the region, and I did research on the cultural aspects of Saudi, though I guess it still doesn’t fully prepare you for it, so I was happy enough with the preparation I had, I also spoke to colleagues of mine who lived and worked in the Kingdom previously which I found very helpful
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
In my first few weeks in Riyadh, I and some of my colleagues were staying in a small Hotel in Riyadh (shall remain nameless), It was, shall we say, basic enough, staff were friendly and it was clean etc. One morning while we were leaving for work, one of my colleagues asked the front desk manager in an audible voice? “Can you please have my room cleaned today?” to which he received a response, “of course not, we cleaned it yesterday”, added to also having to come down to reception to acquire toilet tissue which one ran out….
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Saudi Arabia?
      - Do your research, find out about the culture and social norms as that will help you adapt in the early days and will help you to remember that it’s you that has to adapt to Saudi culture, rather than the other way around….
-     - Be open to new experiences and meeting new people, Saudi’s are friendly people and Riyadh has many different nationalities living here, an open mind will get you places and win you many friends….
      - Learn to be patient, work and life operate at a different pace here and decisions are made in a different way, but patience will really help you….
How is the expat community in Saudi Arabia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a very active ex-pat community in Riyadh in fact, as there are quite a lot of ex-pats living and working here, in the Health, Education, Finance, Engineering and Construction Sectors. Riyadh also has a Diplomatic quarter where almost many nations have their embassies, you need to connect with people to create a network here but its very open and people are very willing to allow in join their groups and get involved, there are various social and sporting activities organized through ex-pat groups and societies and InterNations and similar networks are developing all the time also, the key is you must seek out these people and don’t be a stranger…
How would you summarize your expat life in Saudi Arabia in a single, catchy sentence?
“It’s a long way to go for a sun tan but it open your mind and you discover a lot about the bigger world out there and even about yourself and what you are capable of”

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Short Video Report of Life on Tarin Kowt Military Base, Afghanistan

A colleague of mine flagged this U-Tube Video today so I decided I would post it to the Blog,

Its an Australian TV Report on some of the facilities on the Military Base in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan, Afgahnistan, where those of you who read the blog know that I was based last year for a time, It gives a short tour of some of the facilities (they're aren't really that many) and may help you to visualise what life is like on base for a soldier and indeed a contractor, It very much focusses on the socila aspects of the base rather than the Military, but interesting none the less.........