Saudi: The dilemma of expats  

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 According to the dictionary, a stranger is a person who does not know, or is not known in a particular place or community. It defines expatriates as strangers when they live in a new country. They are unaware of its culture, tradition or language. But then again, what if they have spent their lifetime in that strange country? Are they still declared strangers? Expatriates who have spent more than two decades in Saudi Arabia, are they strangers? The question is not about the rules and regulations or the needs and requirements of a country and its citizens. The question that affects these individuals is: “Where do we belong?”

Four decades ago when people started to come to the Kingdom looking for opportunities to work, they started a life here. Expatriates started from scratch, when there was nothing and with the help of their Saudi brothers, they built the Kingdom together. Generations were born and bred here; they got married and at least three generations made Saudi Arabia their home. The other day, I saw a tweet by a Pakistani: “Probably the last Jashn-e-Azadi (Independence Day) as an expatriate here.” I could not help wondering: Where do we belong?

“We have been living here in Jeddah for 20 years, and my kids are unable to sleep at night knowing that they have to say their final goodbye to this country next week,” Mrs. Sabir who is going to Karachi, Pakistan on final exit told Saudi Gazette. “It is impossible to survive under heavy tax impositions. My husband gave away his youth; who is going to offer him work back home at his age?” she added.

Just like Mrs. Sabir and her family, there are many others who are facing the same dilemma. “The problem isn’t just going, the problem is how to adjust there after spending a lifetime here,” said Umm Siraj an Ethiopian expat. “I don’t even remember what my country looks like anymore; we don’t have a home there. Whatever we earned, we have spent here. We are just going to be strangers there. My daughter has never seen Ethiopia before. I wish we could stay.”

Acculturation is a process of cultural contact and exchange through which a person or group comes to adopt certain values and practices of a culture that is not originally their own, to a greater or lesser extent. To live a balanced life, expatriates adopted acculturation, and this is what hurts. The Sindi family, whose great grandfather came more than four decades ago, are now thinking of leaving. “It is impossible to live here with the taxes now. It is time to decide,” said Mrs. Sindi.

Families who have recently arrived in the Kingdom find it to be just another challenge, and are able to accept returning home, as they cannot afford to live in the Kingdom. A Palestinian expat said: “I will live a couple of years with my family, and will send them back after that because of the taxes. They can adjust easily as we only arrived here a year ago”

“There are a lot of vacant apartments in our area where it was impossible to find any a year back. People are leaving. I am unable to understand how someone who has spent 35 years in this country can live in an alien environment, which is ironically their home country,” he added.

Rahat Saleem, a Pakistani expatriate, said: “Our family will go back home after a year, but I am concerned about my father who has to stay alone here to work for us. Life is going to change completely.”

Expatriates who considered Saudi Arabia their second home did not realize that they would have to leave like this in the middle of so many things. In the middle of their son’s university education while waiting for him to start earning, in the middle of their children’s school year, in the middle of preparations for their daughter’s marriage, in the middle of the process for getting a job promotion, in the middle of life and in the middle of dotage.

Many are still hoping that leniency will be shown and that this rule will be amended. Nonetheless, the solution for all of them is to return home. They are facing cultural shocks, and the adjustments are going to be tough.

I still can’t believe that I am back in India,” said an Indian expat who had lived in the Kingdom for two decades. “I sometimes wish I was just on vacation, but when I have to go look for a job, I know that this is reality.”

Nisma Rafiq

Saudi Gazette

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