On the plane headed to the US, I had a conversation with a man seated next to me. He told me he lives in Kuwait and was now on vacation and headed home to the US. Perhaps to be friendly or to waste time, I asked him how he liked it over there, in which he replied: The entire Middle East is a Hellhole. I am only there for the money.
Then he asked about my situation . The look on his face when I told him I was Saudi was classic. He started giving excused on why he thought Kuwait and it neighboring countries deserved to be labeled as Hellhole. I found myself incredibly annoyed but who wants to get into a heated discussion with a person you will be stuck with for the next 12 hours?
Had I purged my thoughts to him, it would have gone something like this:
What are you complaining about? You probably get a salary you wouldn’t have dreamed of, live in one of the best compounds, paid by the company of course, have a company car , also courtesy from the company, your kid’s school tuition is paid for, get free annual airline tickets, and you probably don’t even pay your taxes. How is that deal a “ hellhole”? What makes it worse is that pretty much the only qualification you should have, to be entitled to that package, is to be a western citizen. But you shouldn’t be blamed for this. Why should you say NO to a perfectly good offer? Instead, it’s the stereotype mentality and flawed system that should be criticized. If things are so intolerable, why are you still here?… Speaking of Hell, does this mean you sold your soul to the Devil to get the job?
I love living in diverse society, where members of the community consists of different religions and races. In theory, there is nothing wrong with having expats, provided of course that they posses skills not found among locals, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many companies around the Kingdom and the Gulf Countries, somehow believe that being a westerner makes a person qualified to do any job, even if they only posses a high school degree . End result is that equal opportunity does not exist. This becomes a huge problem when inflation is on the raise and qualified locals don’t find decent paying jobs, where the salary might not even cover the essentials of life , such as food and rent. Another scenario is the usual case of a local who has spent a fortune on a post-graduate degree from a western University, now occupies an entry-level position because an expat is deemed to be more qualified. Talk about being over qualified and underpaid.
I find it puzzling when expats announce loudly: I don’t care.. I will be gone in a few years so why should I do the job right. But with all fairness, there are expats who believe in ethics and that the salary they receive is in exchange for the good work they do. So, over generalization never works.
I have been constantly reminded of this incident ever since I stepped foot in Los Angeles, a second home to me. Naturally, there is a lot lacking in my life in Saudi Arabia : not being able to drive, going to the movies, the dress code …etc, yet on the other hand, life in the Kingdom is comfortable, especially on the financial aspects of life. There are fewer worries in my life here. (I only speak for myself since opinions and life’s preferences change from one person to the other). I also found myself questioning the motive behind my choice of living in Saudi. My initial response was: I am only there for the money!
Surprisingly, I wasn’t the only one with this attitude. A number of Saudis, especially those who live in Saudi by choice and have a western education, I discussed the matter with had the same response. So, are we any different from the expats mentioned above? Perhaps if we have the opportunities granted to them, we would have more hopes in our future. After all this is our country and it would seem nonsense that we should leave our families behind and become expats because other expats were brought in to take our places. So, the answer is YES, there is a difference. We do not live in Saudi solely because of the money. We will always have ties to our country and culture, which makes leaving much more difficult and sometimes even unquestionable. Besides, where would we go? To the countries of the expats? There is a reason they left in the first place. Or