A Diamond in the Rough

Given the ridiculousness that is my job, one solid perk is living on a compound. Needless to say, it’s a little different than any of my previous housing.

As you drive onto the compound road, weaving between the 500 meters of concrete barricades, headlights dimmed, over the dozen or so tire spikes and speed bumps, you’re greeted by two heavily armored Saudi National Guardsmen with machine guns, who watch silently as other guards search the underside and trunk of your car for bombs. You pull away from their post, weave through 250 more meters of barricades and speed bumps, past two military trucks with mounted heavy machine guns (their operator usually napping in the shade), and wait by the hydraulic car blockade just outside the main 10 ton wrought iron gate of the compound. After your credentials are cross referenced by the clerk inside, you’re given clearance to enter the compound. Here is what you’ll find:

Your first view of the compound inside the gate.

 The view out my front door.

 The courtyard of my building.

 One of the many walkways between buildings.

 The terrace of the restaurant.

 Palms line every street throughout the compound.

 The walkway to my coworker's villa
 The adult pool. My building is on the far right.

The local wildlife. They make a noise similar to a baby gargling it's own spit. 
Its very unsettling when they sneak up on you in the middle of the night.

 There are cats everywhere in the compound. They're all tame, and allowed to roam freely 
outside. This little lady lives in my building and likes to walk between your legs.

The residents of the compound come from all over the world, and the vast majority are employees of the oil or healthcare industries. It’s a tightly knit community, and people are very active within the compound, with festivities and get-togethers throughout the year, The staff consists of non-Saudi foreigners mostly from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. They address you as ‘Sir’ (regardless of your gender) and will do literally anything you ask them to, provided they already haven’t taken it upon themselves to do it for you before you thought of asking. They’ve politely taken trash from my hand to throw it away for me, they’ve stopped what they’re doing to walk behind me while I walk down the street so they could open the door for me once I arrived at my building, and just this morning a man watering the flowers stopped to fold my towel and shirt and neatly stacked them on a chair while I was swimming in the pool. It’s like living in a colonial mansion at the turn of the century. In a way it’s unsettling because it feels wrong and unusual, but then again it is pretty nice.

Normally, servants and other workers go out of their way to help because they work for tips, but the servants in the compound refuse tips. Not because they’re told they can’t accept them, but because they make just under 400 dollars a month, which by Saudi standards is incredibly well paying. Most of the people who come to Saudi for menial labor are paid just enough to eat, given cramped quarters in the vertical slums that are passed off as “company housing,” and can be deported on a whim for disobeying an order from someone with money or even just because a police officer is having a bad day. The staff at the compound are very lucky to have this type of job (both the pay and the security), which explains why they go out of their way to take such good care of the residents. They’re happy to be here, and they’ll tell you about it if you take the time to ask.

Last night after a dinner provided by the superintendent, I got together with a few of the other teachers and their friends at a villa on the other side of the compound. A very generous man from the South came as well, and being an employee of the American Consulate in Dammam, he brought with him his special privileges. It was a great evening that provided quite the capstone to one hell of an incredible, and very memorable, week. As one of the kindergarten teachers said in a toast on my behalf before she tipsily fell off her seat roaring in laughter, “Welcome to Saudi, you’ll never drink here.”