Flower Show on our compound
With all the unrest in the Middle East these days, I have gotten many concerned messages from friends who are worried about my safety in Saudi Arabia. When I leave our compound, I will admit, my anxiety level climbs a bit--but that's probably because everybody here drives like an 11-year-old on a Mountain Dew-fueled rampage. (Doubtless, some of the boys behind the wheels of those old Caprice Classics are overcaffeinated 11-year-olds. There is no particular age limit for driving.)
However, at home on our "camp" inside not one, not two, but three gated checkpoints and surrounded by fences patrolled by security police and monitored by cameras; at home nearly an hour away from the nearest town and over two hours away from the Eastern Province's big city; at home in a tiny village surrounded on all sides by flat, brown desert where there is no place to hide and no way to approach without being seen clear as day--here at home, everything is peaceful.
Race start for a recent half-marathon on another residential compound
Expat life is probably intentionally designed to distract residents from the fact that all of us are thousands of miles from our "real" homes. It is busy for those who choose to participate. On the company's compounds there are flower shows and golf tournaments, cultural evenings and coffee mornings, book clubs and tennis matches. There are petanque tournaments and triathlons, spinning classes and yoga classes, cooking demonstrations and concerts, a cricket club and a running club and a photography club and a dive club and on and on. When the terms of employment include a house and a phone number to call for maintenance of that house, then suddenly there is time to pursue hobbies and fitness and culture, of a sort.
Last weekend's petanque tournament grounds
Maybe all of the busyness and self-absorption of camp life causes a somewhat cavalier attitude. It would be easy to say, "this political stuff has nothing to do with me. I'm safe." So I am keeping in mind that I could stumble into a dangerous situation and get hurt just for being in the wrong place--that is, when I leave my ridiculously remote hometown. I also am trying to be respectful of the fact that I am a guest here; this is not my country, and I don't have any right to judge Saudis about the way they live their lives and they way they run their country.
As expats, we are generally treated as esteemed guests, and my husband is grateful for his job. The weird thing is, I am hearing about a demonstration being planned in Riyadh (far, far from my home!) to protest the high rate of unemployment in Saudi Arabia. I am confused about why unemployment levels are so high for Saudis, when about a third of the population is made up of expat workers. There are foreign workers everywhere, and I'm not just talking about manual labor jobs: I mean doctors, shop clerks, engineers, truck drivers, grocery store managers, construction workers, people on every rung of every ladder, except for upper management positions. Why do Saudi companies hire so many foreigners? I'm not making a judgment; I just don't understand.
Eddie the Cat, keeping an eye on global events
Overall, though, life goes on here, just like anywhere else. I'm keeping a closer eye on the news than I normally would, but that is the only way in which my world is more violent now than it was a couple of months ago.