Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Way They Live

This week I've had a serious eye-opener regarding the standards of living for expats in this country and how that compares to our housing. Don't get me wrong, our flat is nice enough in many ways, apart from the continual things that go wrong. Most recently we've been having the water from the kitchen sink coming out of the drain on the floor, soaking our feet as we finish washing up. How pleasant. I won't bore you with any of the other issues we've faced, but let's just say there's always something and it always takes a lot of hassling people to get it sorted out.
On Wednesday we were invited to a compound to go to the restaurant for dinner. The woman who invited us has a villa there which was absolutely lovely and made me wanna puke with envy. There was a huge open plan living space that included two sitting rooms, a dining area and loads of lovely furniture. Of course her husband has a very important job here and makes lots of money, so I'm not deluded enough to think I'd ever end up anywhere as good but something even remotely close would be nice.
The standard of the housing provided by our company is also shown up by what the Saudis have themselves. Their homes are often nothing short of palatial, with tall walls around to keep them hidden and safe from the outside world. The family we tutor have just moved into a new house like this. It has three massive floors, and the fourteen year old's room includes a dressing room and en-suite bathroom. I'm only mentioning this not because I expect a palace (although it would be great to feel like a Disney princess!) but because it highlights what Saudis expect for themselves, compared to what they are providing for their foreign workers. And let's not even get started on what they give the Egyptian teachers and the Pakistani/Indian drivers to live in...
The thing that struck me most about the compound was not the house itself, but the freedom that comes with living there. Women especially need somewhere in Saudi Arabia where they can be themselves, walk freely and get some fresh air without needing a male chaperone or a cloak to hide behind, and without being hassled by men driving by. The compound included a football pitch, a basketball court and a swimming pool, as well as little gardens for all the houses. The restaurant was lovely and everyone was just dressed in normal clothes rather than abayas. In comparison, at our place we have what can only be described as a prison courtyard to play in, where the sun is present for no more than two hours a day. It's tiny and it's claustrophobic and it simply isn't good enough.

Question: The lush compound or our prison?

I noticed at the compound that there was a major absence of people our age. There were middle aged couples and teenagers. This reassured me that I'm not the only 20-something being treated like a mug here, and that it probably takes time to figure out what's on offer and to work your way in. 
I particularly enjoyed seeing the young people, who were having a disco as we ate dinner. It made me think about my old work in England as a youth worker/key worker and then I had an epiphany- I could be Saudi Arabia's first compound Youth Worker! I'm sure those kids could benefit from some informal education projects and sexual health awareness. And it'd be perfect for me because it wouldn't be too ghetto: I don't think drugs or knife crime have quite hit the compound youths yet.  

So now my mission is clear: if we're staying in this country we need to find somewhere decent to live. Bring it on!

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