When do you wake up and think: This is my life?
Lately, as I approach one year in Saudi Arabia, I’ve been assessing a lot of issues with regard to what I want out of the remaining years of my life and what are my priorities. Maybe part of that is because I am a couple of years away from marking fifty years, and it’s normal to consider such things as one approaches the half-century mark. I’m pretty sure it has more to do with being 8,000 miles away from my wife, my place in the Oregon Coastal Range, and my two dogs and two cats…not to mention all the rest of my family spread across the U.S.
I can’t imagine what it would be like even ten years ago. I’d be seriously email dependent – assuming I could find a service in a country that only recently made a concerted effort to make Internet available to its citizens. Regular phone prices suck the riyals out of a wallet quicker than Lindsay Lohan’s rehab lapses. Letters take at least a week to cross the ocean, sometimes more, and the cost of packages – well, it’s usually not worth considering. But, that’s all that was available. Before that, it would have been much, much worse. Missives in the early to mid-20th century would have taken several weeks to find their way to and from Oregon, and phone calls would have cost a week’s wages.
Today and yesterday, I spoke with my wife using Voice-Over-Internet (VOIP) technology
at a rate of one-cent-per-minute. We use Google Chat at least once a
day to “talk” with each other – completely free of charge. The miles and separation remain difficult, but I am convinced they would be much worse without the use of these gifts from the industry in which I’ve worked for most of the last twenty years.
Saudi Arabia has a population roughly that of California. Expatriates comprise twenty-five percent of that population. In Riyadh, a city of about 5,000,000, I am pretty sure the percentage is higher than that. Americans and British make up the majority of the professional positions, Germans the majority of the highly paid technical positions. Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis – and a smattering of Southeast Asians – do the crap work, often under terms and conditions that recall the terms of indentured servitude used during the early days of British settlement along the East Coast of the Americas. But, that’s a whole different blog entry. Each morning these individuals get up in the morning and realize they’re living in a land of sand and heat without the benefit of cinema, beer, or the presence of their loved ones.
Two guys work for us who have lived and worked in KSA for over ten years. One guy, single and apparently unattached has worked in the Kingdom for a little over fourteen years; he has a home in the U.S., but I am not sure where. He is rarely there. The other fellow – who has been here for seventeen years – is married, has kids, owns a home in New Zealand and maintains a presence in the U.S., as well. I am pretty sure he met his wife here while she worked as nurse from New Zealand.
I asked the latter gentleman what it was that he apparently liked about living here, and he corrected me. “I’ve adapted to living here,” he said. He speaks Arabic, but he refuses to speak it. His contempt for Saudi Arabians flashes ten feet in front of him every time he has to deal with them. While the money is certainly good, and the fading tax advantages remain – at least temporarily – a temptation, I am not sure I’d find it worth spending seventeen years in a place I completely hate.
As for me, the current plan is to stay through the end of November to ensure compliance with American tax laws. I am coming home for the December holiday period, though, one way or the other. Whether I return to KSA or not depends on several things, including the wrap-up of the two current projects for which I manage support teams. I’d like to think, however, that it’s a longshot bet.
This is not really my life. My life is on seven acres nestled on the side of a mountain, surrounded by trees and kept under control by the excellent management of my beautiful wife. I’m certainly ready to return to living my life.
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