There's always Bigger Fish to Fry

Due to a few circumstances that were very much under my control, this past week got off to a less than ideal start. Girl’s birthday celebration (if it can be called that) brunch Friday afternoon was a great way to wrap up a relaxing an uneventful weekend. What followed at a number of bars and clubs dotted in and around Manama resulted in learning firsthand the old adage that one really should try their best to avoid getting drunk in front of their boss. And all their co-workers. And the Border Patrol.

It started off well enough

Despite missing work on Saturday and the ensuing awkward apologetic conversations, my poor decisions and their (relatively) mild aftermath were greatly overshadowed by a number of major changes at work. The Brit and his pregnant wife, a teacher on the Girls’ side, flew back to England before she would be barred from flying due to being pregnant. Several other teachers on the Girls’ side abruptly quit due to disagreements over complying with a new Saudi Labor law that requires all international schools to pay any Saudi employee at a starting teacher’s salary, regardless of their educational or professional experience. Lastly, despite being informed about all the implications of skipping town, the Pirate did. Early Sunday morning, just after we let students out for their first break, he packed up his desk and quietly slipped out the side door. The next morning after a few unanswered calls the South African paid a visit to his apartment, only to find the front door open and nothing but a few bags of rat-ridden trash and an overflowing ashtray next to the mattress on the bedroom floor.

Skipping town isn’t actually all that rare in Saudi. Because of the relative difficulty of acclimating to life in a less-than-normal, ultra-religiously prohibitive, slightly misunderstood society, it’s not uncommon for an individual to jump ship at the soonest opportune moment. In the Pirate’s case, it was fairly straightforward. During his time in the Kingdom he had not only lost most of his money to a number of poorly thought out get-rich-quick schemes, he also accumulated an impressive amount of both legal and personal debt. He had a habit of spending money at the nearest opportunity, and although I’m unable to say exactly what lead him to such poor choices, I’m guessing he had a bit too much time on his hands while he hopped around the less populated areas of the country trying to perfect his schemes using his money to make friends.

I can’t say I blame the guy for getting out while he could. Most people who skip town do so without many repercussions. Although there has been a significant crackdown in recent years, it’s still largely the case that once an expat is out of the country the Saudi government is largely done with them. Due to a number of differences in banking practices (such as Islamic interest policies) Saudi banks have little authority to reprimand individuals in foreign countries unless they have a connection to Saudi. Also, depending on the amount of money a person who skips town owes, most banks don’t find it in their best interest to take action. They notify the appropriate Ministry, black list the individual, and, in most cases, the worst outcome for the individual is being detained if they are found within a GCC Country (Saudi, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, The U.A.E., or Oman). Despite sounding like an easy way to smuggle a large amount of borrowed money out of the Kingdom, its actually much harder now than it used to be. For one, most companies who hire expats are financially responsible for their employees’ actions, and those companies are the sole determiner of who actually can and cannot leave the country. Some expats, namely Westerners, have it much easier than others to escape should they need to, especially with a relatively liberal employer like mine. Most people who come to work in Saudi are uneducated, poor, third country nationals, and upon arrival their passports are seized. They effectively become slaves to their employer based on Saudi labor law, and their chances of leaving on a whim are slim to none. Hopefully, the Pirate’s decision to jump ship doesn’t come back to negatively affect the rest of us.

Coincidentally, the South African has spoken numerous times about this very type of situation. Now that the Brit is gone, he’s focused his social attention towards me, and I’ve been fortunate enough to hear all about his wonderful ideas. His most current plan is to collect his salary for the summer, make it know he intends to come back, collect his final pay bonus stipulated in his contract, then skip town with his family before the banks come to collect on his ever growing pile of debt. He’s put quite a bit of thought into it. I’ve heard this plan at least a dozen times and it has certainly gotten a little old, but with each retelling I listen more intently and press for new explicit details. However, I’m not doing this because I have an intention of following in his footsteps. I don’t particularly like the guy. I’m doing it to get him fired. Hopefully it works.

Earlier today, after a dip in the pool and a nap in the dying heat of the afternoon, I got a call from the Principle of the Girls’ School. She wanted to place an order of wine, and being my boss, I promptly delivered what she needed. I hadn’t spoken with her since the weekend, and although she’s 4’11” and 62 years old, I was a bit leery about speaking with her. After a quick exchange of formalities and cash, we talked about a few pressing administrative issues and I felt a bit relieved thinking things had died down a bit. As I was leaving she reached up to grab my shoulder and said, “One last thing. About last weekend: you’re an idiot, and I really don’t like you, but you’re the only person that makes any damn sense on the Boys’ side and I guess I can appreciate that. Be thankful I have bigger shit to deal with.”

Such is life in Saudi.