A letter from Saudi
Looking through my e-mails I thought this might interest some forum members.
My sister Elaine moved to Saudi to join her husband Terry who works there.
this was a full page feature in one of the Irish National newspapers....photos and all
Grab o coffee ...she got carried away
For Expats like myself, living in a compound is a tiny bit of free life in a
very strange Islamic country. Westerners tend to live locked away in
compounds, our compound is nice – but I wouldn’t live in one back home. It
would be nice living among the locals in any other country, but as
non-Muslim in an Islamic country, we could be direct target of terrorists. I
also think that Saudi society is suspicious of influences that challenge its
traditional values. So living among the locals wouldn’t be feasible.
Living in a compound in Saudi Arabia is a bit like living in an open prison.
Most of them are little patches of land surrounded by high walls/fence and
barbed wire where the us "inmates" are kept in and the rest of the world
kept out by an army guards and policemen. I’m lucky, in the sense that our
compound is on a huge dairy farm, with 17000 cow, smells sometimes, but it’s very big, there’s even a petting zoo.
The compound area itself is for the “inmates” only. The farm and dairy
workers (except management living here) are not allowed in. Also on the
farm is the bachelor’s compound… some of these poor guys sleep up to 8 in a
room. Shocking! They’re not westerners, and are only allowed on our
compound if they work in it… i.e. the house boys or restaurant staff……….
We are living in a reasonably upmarket compound it’s like a holiday resort
and is protected by the Saudi National Guard as I said, and they are armed.
The cost to live here would normally be about €24k per year, but it’s part
of Terry’s package so includes a 2 bed roomed villa, including electricity,
water, satellite TV, etc. Our compound has about 40 villas 2/3 bed roomed,
40 single suites, and 40 larger suites (suites are generally for unmarried
managers, or managers waiting for their wives to arrive). There’s also a
little shop (but it’s by the factory and we’re not supposed to use it
between 7am and 6pm), and Restaurant in the Recreation centre. There is a
bus service, which runs 3 times a week to Giant supermarket… I don’t use it,
as I’d rather do my shopping with Terry. To be honest, I wouldn’t feel safe.
Looking through books, there are some mega compounds that have medical
clinics, bowling alleys and beauty parlours, but they’re in Khobar, Riyadh
or Jeddah (miles from here). We are on a compound, which is owned by Terry’s employer, and within walking distance to his office (although he does drive).
There are about 17 million Saudis who live in palaces, mansions, villas,
flats and even tents (the tent people are called Bedouins) There are 8.8
million foreign workers, most of which live in compounds of various
standards. The bulk of Saudi's foreign workers are from India, Bangladesh,
Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, it’s these poor guys that get to
bunk-up in rooms of 6-10
There is also an international school, which was run by the Americans, but
now is owned by the Family that own the Dairy/factories and compound, it
follows the American curriculum. The only problem is the teachers are not
native English speakers. Some of them aren’t even qualified teachers (hence
they’ve employed me to teach English to the Arab kids that are struggling in
Terry Bella is due to go into 1st year secondary school in Ireland. Whilst they are introducing grade 7 in her school, itdoesn’t solve the problem of the teachers, and she needs good ones –especially for the coming years. Also, if I were to keep her here, she’d have problems catching up when we do go back to Ireland. There are better schools in the Kingdom for secondary education, but it would mean we’d have to pay a driver to take her to school-an hour and a half drive each way, to start school at 8am. With animosity towards foreigners lurking about, and
the fact they’re not the best drivers in the world (I’m being kind here)
I’m lucky I do a few hours every day at the school, but being left alone at
home with no transport life can be taxing. You can't get out and about
there's no public transport (not that I’d want to go on my own), so if I’m
out of necessities, I’ve to wait until Terry comes back to take me shopping.
He might be tired, want to put his feet up and eat, but me (and every other
wife here) starved of life outside my "prison", have to ask him to get his
car and take us out for our shopping therapy, which might only be bread and
milk. As a woman, not being allowed is one of the biggest problems. Over
here women are completely at the mercy of their male drivers. Terry’s
driving is OK, but it’s the Saudis who are the mad ones. An expat is far
more likely to be killed in a car accident than by terrorist activities in
the Kingdom. Because, as the saying goes here, if you get killed, “it was
Allah's will”. So they drive like lunatics putting all their trust in Allah!
I have a guy who comes 3 times a week to clean our bathrooms and iron – he
also vacuums cleans the windows etc. They call them “house boys” – he’s
really quite sweet – I over pay him @ €30 per month!
Although being "stuck" in a compound without practical means to go anywhere,
to pursue your career and/or to earn your own income, I’ve read it has
driven many a good woman to polish off the homebrew as quickly as her
husband can make it (I’m not that desperate yet).
If you like a simple life, then I’m sure it would be great. It’s nice to
spend the afternoon by the pool sipping lemon juice (or gulping coffee in my
case), I’m not concerned about Terry Bella as I can see her swimming in the
pool – so yep – not a lot of that type of stress here. The weather is
beautiful – so there are a couple of good points. And of course, I’m with
I’m sitting typing this up, I have my tobacco on the table beside me, and I
can have a smoke if I want…. I might not have one for a few hours, but it’s
there if I want one. However, I can’t decide to go for a pint, or get in
the car and go for a drive… I’m not allowed. I can’t just pop to the shops
on my own to “window shop” I can’t get a “proper job” I can’t even wear a
mini skirt or shorts on a hot day outside the compound! Yes, I have to clad
myself in my “black gear” lovely on a hot day!! When I got here at first I
wore an Abaya (long black coat covering yourself and your clothes. Then
Linda gave me an Indian style black below the knee dress with matching black
trousers. I choose to wear this rather than an Abaya. At first I tried to
cover my hair with a black scarf, but it kept falling down. One day we were
in a shopping mall in Khobar, I didn’t bother with my scarf, then standing
in a shop, a man ( who might have been a Muttawa :religious police, or shall
we call them the Saudi fashion police) shouted at me 'Cover your head madam!
I was lucky, he wasn’t wagging a stick at me. I grabbed Terry Bella’s pitch
black hijab (head scarf). With hind sight, he shouldn’t have been looking at
me to notice my uncovered hair…. I now always take mine with me, just in
case, but don’t always wear it. I have never been able to tolerate anything
on my head other than my God-given hair. If this was going to be my life for
the rest of it, I’d go mad.
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