I’ve been here a day over four weeks, though it seems much, much, longer. There has been so much to experience in such a short period of time that it all seems to blend together. I’m having a relatively good time, aside from dealing with a completely absurd working environment, but the nostalgia of moving to a new world seems to have started to wear off. Mostly, I think I’m just getting a bit annoyed with being stuck in two little prisons.
I spend the majority of each day at the Boys’ School surrounded by three meter security walls patrolled by men with large knifes and pistols, and the majority of each night on a four square block residential compound surrounded by three meter security walls topped with razor wire patrolled by a bunch of men with machine guns. I have the ability to leave each place if I choose to, but lacking a car, any type of credentials, language skills, or even a cell phone, means it’s a little bit painstaking and risky.
The view could be worse.
My problems stem from being at the whim of the Iqama Process. An iqama is the drivers license sized piece of plastic that says you can legally be here. Without one, a non-Saudi can’t do much. In order to get a driver’s license, you need an iqama. If you want to purchase a car or any other large item with a credit card, you need an iqama. If you want to get a mobile phone contract, you need an iqama. If you want to cash a check or transfer money at a bank, you need an iqama. If you want to utilize basic services such as going to a hospital and not paying cash (i.e. utilize your insurance), you need an iqama. You can go buy groceries, or go for a walk, but that’s pretty much it.
The Iqama Process starts with surrendering your passport to your employer (meaning not being able to leave the country for any reason), getting a medical evaluation (sigh), paying exorbitant fees (bribes), and asking your fate to be placed in the hands of your company’s Government Relations Officer, or GRO. Your GRO is mandated by law to be Saudi and is usually appointed or approved by a member of the Royal Family who runs one of the various Ministries, such as Education. This person’s primary task is to facilitate any interactions between employers and the government. It’s fairly straight forward. Or so it seems. GROs are usually wealthy men looking for a hobby and a title. As hungry for power and authority as they are, they aren’t very keen on exercising it. Approving a standard iqama, such as one for a foreign teacher, takes as little as five minutes. Mine has taken 22 days. This is fairly standard.
My Iqama Process was slowed by several things; among them my company’s GRO refusing to process any iqamas in quantities less than 12, and an electrical glitch at our company’s insurance office that left their building without power for five days. My iqama is currently sitting on my GRO’s secretary’s desk waiting to be delivered to me (and apparently 11 other people), but I’ll continue to wait until the right person gets the clearance and has enough personal initiative to deliver it. Hopefully that’s tomorrow. Or maybe next week.