Expatriates do not have many public forums in which they can make themselves heard. And when asked, they refrain from comment as they go about attending to the business at hand for which they were recruited and generally keep to themselves. But there have been remarkable exceptions over the years, especially among those who have stayed in this country for a significant portion of their lives. The following is the voice of Zeba Khan, an expatriate from India who talked about living in the Kingdom.
“June 3,1989 was the day we landed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. The weather was hot and humid and lots of porters in light blue dungarees were rushing from one point to another. The policemen looked very friendly and wore different colored uniforms than the Indian police, which was new to me.
“The pleasant smiles of the police, who after two minutes of being here I knew were called “shurta” for the rest of my life and I still scare my son with ‘shurta aajaa yega if you don’t sleep,’ meant we were welcome. My mother with my two younger sisters Zoya and Zehra were made to sit in a waiting room to wait for our mahram to come and take us home. Wow, this is how it works here I thought to myself wondering – mahram, a legal protector from Allah which also I later found was a beautiful concept of Islam.
“Everyone around us spoke a new language – Arabic – which sounded like everyone was reciting a verse from the Holy Qur’an. It was time for prayers and the loud Azaan was being played at the airport. Within minutes, everyone disappeared to pray and came back after 30 minutes. I asked my mother why and she told me because people or nations that prayed on time respected time. Wow! I thought to myself, I’m so lucky to be a part of this world.
“Soon father came and it was the first time we met in peace and tranquility, something we had lost in some parts of Jammu and Kashmir due to a new liberation movement that had just started then.
In our new home city Jeddah, the small billboards in the middle of Madinah Road read ‘Welcome – Ahlan wa sahlan!’ Till this day in December 2016, this country has welcomed us and many more like us from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. They come to this land with a bag of clothes and old shoes and lots of oil in their hair and make houses and bungalows from the oil-rich economy. Back home they get married, have children and their children are sent off to good schools.
“They eat the best of food which they could not afford in their own countries. They enjoy broast chicken, shawarma, drink fresh milk and juices, get treated in hospitals with the best of care and the latest facilities, drive modern cars on clean safe roads, and visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah for free. And yet some of them abuse the Saudi government, the kafala or sponsorship system, the abaya, the Saudi people, the system, the traffic, the weather, the language, and what not!
“Is this fair? Is it really fair? No country can be as humble and kind as Saudi Arabia to expatriates. There are no taxes, no toll gates like many GCC countries, no rise in prices of food and beverages especially during Ramadan when prices in other countries touch the sky. Twenty-five years ago, Pepsi was SR1 and now it is SR1.5; ALBAIK chicken was SR10 and now is SR12. Is this inflation? Please, complainers, stop! You all sleep with full stomachs, with air conditioning in cool rooms, drink free cold water, and in the morning you abuse the locals. Is that right? This is not fair, and I have been seeing this ever since I came here.
“I request the expatriate community to respect Saudi Arabia and Saudis. They smile at us because it is a Sunnah or charity. They are from this peaceful culture. Then how can they hurt anyone? Please stop spreading a wrong image of this beautiful country to the international community. Instead, highlight the good things and promote the country and respect its leaders. It’s the law of attraction. You attract ugly and it comes back to you. And if you think good, then positive stuff happens to you. No country is perfect. No people are perfect. No system is perfect. Perfect is only God.
“I have been teaching here since 2000 and have met thousands of Saudi women. Not everyone was rude. They are very friendly and sweet and very intelligent and ambitious. The young people are very impressive. I am so proud and happy to have been living here for years and want to live here forever. There is no place like this on earth. If you don’t believe me, come and experience the positive side of this country.
“Last but not the least, if you don’t like anything here, even if it is just a tiny little thing, you are most welcome to go back to your country, because they deserve you better! Long live Saudi Arabia, long live the King! Zeba Khan.”
While there may not be universal agreement with what Zeba has to say, at least this expatriate spoke her piece.
— The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena