Saudi Arabia is a fascinating country. Like Iceland, it was a primitive country at the beginning of this century, but today is an outwardly modern place. The highway system in Riyadh is outstanding. They use so many street lights that headlights are almost superfluous. The highway signs are in both Arabic and English, as are many of the signs on the shops.
The pervasiveness of the English language was surprising at first. Eventually I began to understand. English is the universal language, necessary because Saudi Arabia imports so many workers from so many different countries. I've seen estimates that fully two thirds of the population of Saudi Arabia is made up of foreign workers. The Saudi government, as might be expected, disputes these figures.
The U.S. military called foreign workers third country nationals, or TCNs for short. This is ironic, as the U.S. military serves as a mercenary army for the Saudi Arabian government. We have been, in essence, hired by them. They pay a portion of the cost for the care and feeding or the U.S. troops. They provide free gasoline and diesel fuel. At Eskan Village they build a $4 million, 4 foot thick concrete wall between the main highway and Eskan Village to protect against car bombing. While it costs us to be there, it costs the Saudi government as well.
I got to know a few of the TCNs while stationed at Eskan Village. They have interesting stories to tell about how they were hired and what life is like for them in Saudi Arabia. I met the manager of a computer store. I met a tailor. I met plumbers. I met air conditioner repairmen. I met waiters. I met the manager of a Burger King. While many of them stay in Saudi Arabia by choice, I never met even one of them who liked the Saudi people. Not one. Many of them thoroughly despised the Saudi people and the Saudi way of life.
The Saudi people have agents in many poor countries. These agents find people to work in Saudi. In return, they take 50% of their pay for two years. Newly hired TCNs live many people to a room in tenements around Riyadh. Those of them who are married save what they can from their pay and send it home to their families. Even with the terrible pay and the desperate living conditions, their families are better off. I met one man who had been in Saudi Arabia for many years. He supported his wife and seven children from his pay. Once every couple years he had a paid trip home for a couple months. Every time he went home his wife got pregnant, almost forcing him to remain in Saudi Arabia so he could provide for them.
One TCN working inside Eskan Village told me how the system worked. I had asked him about income taxes, as he was paid in cash for his services. Apparently their income isn't taxed, but they have to give a portion of their income over to their sponsor. No foreign worker is allowed into the country without a sponsor, and they stay at their sponsor's pleasure. He hated his sponsor, telling me he did nothing all day, only getting up to collect his daily portion of the worker's pay. Because he was paid in cash, and because his sponsor, (master?) did not have access to the base, he was able to declare only a portion of his income to his sponsor. As a result this man was able to support not only his family, but employ a network of relatives and associates.
For more information on foreign workers, click here.
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