June 21, 2010

Always Prepared in the Middle East

Working in the Middle East can be lucrative, but it can also be uncertain. One never knows what may happen from one day to the next. I guess uncertainty is universal nowadays, but it is especially so in this part of the world.

I am not talking about political uncertainty alone. It may happen that you may not be rehired for the next year’s contract. It may also happen that someone does not like you for some reason or that you may have some incident at work involving a local that may end up in your early repatriation.

When I was in Kuwait, there was an employee that had a run in with a Kuwaiti which pretty much sealed his fate- he did not have his contract renewed. Prior to that, his wife had had a child and he had bought an apartment full of furniture. Now he was stuck with all the furniture and had to think how to get rid of it before the departure- not an easy task if you ask me.

I had another coworker on a Saudi military base that had bought a car and rented a luxury apartment in Jeddah. Some time later, he had a run in with a Saudi supervisor who afterwards had him kicked off the base. He was then transferred to Dhahran and had to rack his brains over what to do with a lease on his apartment as well as the loan on the vehicle. Eventually, it all worked out but why the headaches?

Then, we had repeatedly received consular warnings from the US diplomatic missions urging us to leave the country. Many people have consequently left. And those who were traveling home light went without much headache.

So, while in the Middle East, I have learnt to always remain as unattached as possible. I would rent cars instead of buying them and tried to live in company -provided housing or those places where no lease was necessary- where you simply paid month to month. And the places were furnished. People would say that it was very wasteful of me to do that but for me that was the price that I paid to keep the peace of mind in the face of uncertainty.

I also did not buy any expensive goods and, instead, acquired all kinds of cheap Chinese products that I would not miss if I had to go. I did not have a personal Internet connection or a landline. My phone was prepaid and I went to cafes to send emails. They had some pretty good monthly deals and I found it to be a refreshing experience to go out to surf- just like one goes out to eat. The fewer attachments, the better. I also ate out at cheaper local restaurants interspersing my diet with once- a week hotel buffets. The rest of the money I stashed away. When we were finally laid off and not rehired for a long time, I left without headaches and with plenty of cash in the bank to tide me over till the next contract.

One should always not be paranoid and live in constant fear. That is another extreme that is simply not advisable. Instead one should, as they say, hope for the best, but be ready for the worst, and that includes being able to get out quickly and effortlessly and not getting too comfortable with all sorts of middle class trappings in a country whose permanent resident you are not. If you look and think hard enough, you will be able to live a very comfortable “portable” life and quickly get out should circumstances change. Then, if you try and get another Middle Eastern job, you will be able to being in a new place while using OPT- other people’s things- that is: rented cars, rented furniture and apartments coupled with cheap Chinese appliances and clothes. I found that to be the most headache-free way to live and enjoy my life in the rather unstable Middle East,

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