Little Brown People – Part 1

So, my first year anniversary (and, hopefully, my last) has come and gone.  I have fulfilled the full terms of my contract and can now leave this position with no financial penalty.  Employment is month-to-month, though I still should give 30 days notice before I take off to greener pastures – again, hopefully, back in the United States.  At work, we jokingly refer to that first year requirement as out term of indenture.  Unfortunately, for some, it is not a joke. 

Most labor contracts for expatriates are for 1-year or 2-year postings, the majority being for the latter.  Assuming you’re from the West.  The West being defined as European or American.  However, the vast majority of expatriates working within the borders of Saudi Arabia are not Westerners.  The majority of foreigners working within the Kingdom are from Southern and Southeast Asia.  Specifically, the predominance of laborers come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, or the Philipines.  Little brown people.

There exists within our company, and within the customer’s organization, the job title of Tea Boy.  For the purpose of our discussion, we’ll call him Mowgli after Kipling’s character of the same name, mostly because our Mowgli is also from India.  Currently, he is in the 6th year of a 7 year contract.  For his efforts, I am told (I have not verified this, but the numbers used seem consistent from person to person) Mowgli receives 400SAR – 500SAR per month, which equates to roughly $107 – $133 per month in salary.  He receives no vacation.  I am not sure about other benefits such as health care, but I am told  that most companies provide these workers with a food and housing allowance.  Mowgli sends home a huge chunk of his income each month.  Westerners and Saudis pay Mowgli 100SAR (~$27) per month to wash their cars.  If he does 5 cars a day (either before or after work), he can bring in 500SAR extra per month.  Many of these guys also sell used cell phones and phone cards on the side, or some similar endeavor, to further supplement their incomes…some able to send home up to about 1500SAR ($400) per month, though there is no guarantee for that.

Now, realize that there are three janitorial employees working for roughly the same wages.  Further realize, this is the common wage for these guys throughout the Kingdom.  But, it must be worth it for some of them…I have talked to two of the guys who are back for their second tour of duty.  Understand, too, many of these guys are poorly educated and read very little, if at all – though, they are bilingual, which is more than you can say for most Westerners.

How terrible must the economic conditions be in one’s own country that it is better to accept seven years working away from home?  No hope or way to return early unless you break the law and get deported? 

Next time…we’ll talk about the maids and nannies – two jobs a foreign woman can get in Saudi Arabia.

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