I’ve been working in KSA for 31 months. As you might expect, there are a large number of things I’ve come to take in stride – a constant barrage of Arabic, the rhythm of prayer times, the inconvenience of everything closing for prayer time. But, there are a three things I simply cannot get used to, no matter how hard I try.
- Children riding in cars without safety seats – Oh…my…god/dess!!! I remember way back in the 1960s, when I was a snotnosed brat that kids roamed the interiors of cars without seatbelts, let alone carseats. Carseats simply didn’t exist and wouldn’t for quite awhile to come. Our parents literally didn’t know any better. But, with the advent of my generation as parents, the logic and intelligence of placing children safely into carseats saved countless lives among our kids. While driving the streets of Riyadh is pulse pounding in any case, my heart races everytime I encounter a car with children inside. With the exception of Westerners, and a few Arabs who have lived in the US, there simply are no carseats. Kids bounce around the inside of these cars with no tether of any kind. When I asked an Egyptian friend about this, he said (paraphrase), “I want my son to know I love him. How can I show him I love him if he is strapped into a carseat?” How can you not?
- No recycling – I am in recycling withdrawal, even after 2 1/2 years! I lived almost my entire adult life in, or coming in and out of, California. Not recycling there is pretty close to a cardinal sin. Then, we move to Oregon, and let me tell you, they’ve made recycling in my home county so easy that even the cantankerous “I ain’t doing that!” souls do it. Recycling is second nature to me. And, I am glad it is. However, recycling simply does not exist here. Period. Bottles go in the trash. Cans go in the trash. Plastic goes in the trash. My stomach is in my throat everytime I drop something into the trashbag. I try to minimize it. I try to reuse things But, there is a limit. Eventually, I have to drop it into that rubbage bin and take it out to the container on the street. I guess they figure that, with all this empty land and blowing sand, they can afford to bury an eternity of garbage atop the vast pools of crude oil.
- How South Asian expats are treated – Seriously, you cannot imagine. Despite being the lowliest on the lowest tiers, they keep working – hard – really, really hard. Most of them work their regular job, then wash cars after (or before) work. Then, they walk long distances to tenement slums where they room with several others. Scarcely a week goes by without a story about a maid being abused. That is not to say that all maids are treated badly; most people are good people. But, it happens often enough that it’s easy to understand why so many of them run away. Some of these maids end up stuck at the airport for weeks when they first arrive because no sponsor comes and picks them up. And, yet, most of these folks manage to send something home each month to wives, kids, mothers, or fathers. I have asked it before, but I’ll ask it again – Just how bad do things have to be at home that you would live in servitude in another country just to make a living?
I hope I don’t get used to any this…especially the last one.