Tuesday, October 9, 2007

2 days in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

2 Days in KSA

So I've been working here for 2 days. There are somethings everyone should know about Saudi Arabia. The most important is "EVERYONE DRIVES LIKE AN IDIOT", come here for a day and you will never complain about south African drivers again. Its not like the seething madness of India (which barely resembles driving, and only happens at 50km/h), from a distance it looks like normal driving except imagine every irritating dick of a thing to do in traffic, and that will happen to you, people cut each other off, cross 4 lanes at an intersection swerving in front of everybody. All night in my room I can hear faint hooting from somewhere, some would say its like having every car being a RSA taxi. And if there is an accident then the law states that the drivers have to leave the cars exactly as they were when they crashed, so even if its a small bumper bashing the drivers have to get out the cars and wait for the police, even if it blocks an entire highway. To enforce this its impossible to get a car fixed if you don't have police approval.

Here is something else to know. It has money, Exxon Mobil (The biggest private oil company in the world) just posted record profits of $39.5 billion. Saudi Aramco (the Saudi National Producer) makes about$500 Million (Costs $10 a barrel to pull out the ground, sells at$60, they sells 10 Million a day) profit a day, thats a massive $182.5 Billion a year(Thats an estimate not an official figure, but should be pretty accurate). Thats around$6000 a second. But if you looked around you really wouldn't think so. Saudi is a dirty country, there is trash and rubble everywhere, the roads are not well maintained, all the big buildings look something like Borg Cubes. And then you look over to Bahrain which has only a tiny amount of oil compared to KSA, Bahrain is nice and clean and modern looking, well maintained. There just isn't re-investment in KSA by the government (Except for lots of signs about Islam).

All the work in the country is done by foreigners. The country is full of foreigners of various types. The different groups of expatriates tend to do different things, for instance (and this is a vast generalization, there are obviously lots of exceptions) the huge amount of Filipino's here are ussually artisans or mechanics or something like that. The Indians generally have computer and tech jobs, as well as some lower level engineers, the Europeans, British, Americans and South Africans are Engineers and the people from Bangladesh (Cant think of the right word) are cleaners and office boys or manual Labour. Most saudi's do not work, unemployment is officially around 40%, but I'm told it is probably higher than that (The stats are skewed by fake jobs created for Saudiasation, the Saudi version of BEE). To make a point, the division of the company where I am working has only 3 Saudi's of the 27 people there. The one is the owner of the company (Who i haven't met but by all accounts is a really good guy), the other 2 are paid to deal with the government (getting Visa's, stamping forms, customs etc). Now this is a Saudi owned company, so its not racism or colonialism. Its just that there are no skills in the local population, there are only 7 universities in the country and 4 of those only teach religion, which means Islam. By all accounts the other 3 teach mainly Islam with side subjects in other things.

The first thing you see here as you cross the border post from Bahrain, only 100 meters in is a McDonald's. No anti-American attitudes when it comes to fast food. They also like really big department stores here. They make really good fresh bread here, there's a little cafeteria down the road from where I work that makes traditional-ish food. It looks like a dump (Referring back to Saudi Arabia being a dirty place), but it cooks really well. Humus tastes allot better here, it has more of a tang, and with most meals you get lots of bread. It also helps that the owner can speak English so you can know sort of what you're ordering.

The weather has been really strange here, its been raining allot. No one knows how to drive in the rain. since there is usually so little rain the country has no drainage and if it rains mildly for 20 minutes then the roads start to flood in the middle because they aren't convex. It was 17 Degrees today, but it'll be 27 degrees by Wednesday (relying on my trusty forecast fox), I think i came at the best time of year weather wise.

The weekend runs from Thursday to Friday, which only leaves 3 days a week to work in common with western countries. Bahrain saw this was a problem and changed theirs to Friday-Saturday. Saudi Arabia is just waiting for everyone to convert to Islam.

An important thing to learn in Saudi Arabia is that every answer has two answers: In theory and In practice. For example: In theory its impossible to get alcohol here, in practice the compounds have parties. In theory rape is punished by death and is completely socially unacceptable, in practice it takes 4 eye witnesses to the act (Not circumstantial evidence, its gotta be seen in the act) to convict some one. In theory this is the richest country in the Middle East, in practice most of the money gets siphoned off to the 14000 members of the royal family.

But despite (and because of) all that its a bizarre and interesting country. I'm going out tomorrow (my day off) to walk around town (I'm not in a compound) and see some more of the country and stuff.