According to statistics, a third of this country’s population is made up of expatriates, which is unlike most other countries in the GCC where the expatriate workforce outnumbers citizens often by a handy margin.
While there are highly qualified and trained expatriates working in our industrial and commercial sectors, they are far outnumbered by millions of semi-skilled and unskilled workers who have been brought here to perform tasks that for the most part are not attractive or rewarding enough for Saudis to do.
This army of workers that primarily comes from Asia and Africa is not invisible. They can be seen everywhere. Many silently toil on the side of streets and roads often in the heat of the day picking up litter that motorists fling out of their car windows. They can be seen picking up trash in neighborhoods and on street corners, silently and without complaint.
There are others who perch precariously on scaffolds working on high rises and taking risks we Saudis would not dare to consider. They are busy building our homes and buildings. Others from this legion of workers prepare roads for re-surfacing or lay electric lines or install a water network of pipes.
When we pull into a gas station, it is they who pump gasoline into our cars; they deliver water to our homes or cart away our sewage in tankers; they tend to livestock and orchards on our farms and fields and they bag our groceries. They guard our homes and clean the toilets in our malls. They clean our schools. They drive our families around and clean our homes. In restaurants, they cheerfully guide us to our table and serve us food without much fuss or bother.
These semi-skilled or unskilled expatriates cannot dream of the luxuries granted to their Western or skilled Asian counterparts who enjoy comfortable amenities and accommodation with even more comfortable salaries. All they have to look forward to at the end of their long working day is to be collectively bused in run-down transport that lacks air-conditioning or comfortable seating.
Many of their housing compounds are of substandard status. But they persist without a complaint. They have mouths to feed back home, and they are on a mission to accomplish just that. Their personal comfort is not on the list of their priorities. We tend to look at them as background fixtures, as we are used to their presence everywhere. But in fact these fixtures are human beings with warm blood coursing through their veins.
Some are married with young and growing children. Others have the responsibility of providing for their aged parents or younger siblings. All have come to this part of the world to try to put food on the table for their loved ones back home and provide their families with some of the comfort and hope that they have denied themselves.
They are the Bangladeshis, the Nepalese and the Filipinos that are an integral part of the machinery that helps run this country. They are the Somalis, the Sudanese, the Kenyans, the people of Chad and Niger. They are Indians, Afghanis, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Burmese, Vietnamese and Indonesians who have accepted this challenge to perform in unfamiliar surroundings and most of them deliver on their promise.
In the past, many fell victim to unscrupulous manpower agents or employers and then found themselves at the end of a worthless contract signed back in their home countries with promises of much higher salaries than they finally received when they came to this part of the world. The packages offered to them to lure them away from the comfort of their loved ones was altered to their disadvantage once they arrived at their destination, leaving them without many alternatives. They had already sold most of their possessions just to pay the avaricious agents for the privilege of booking a seat to the land of riches.
Their personal sacrifices are often untold or unheard of beyond their limited circle, but they exist and they work under conditions that are unacceptable to most of us. Without these workers, most of the Arabian Peninsula would still be a barren desert. And without their support, the machinery that moves us forward would grind to a halt. Do we as hosts take the time to think about their living and working environment? How many of us lend a compassionate ear to their problems? How many of us help them out in their time of need?
This country would not have moved forward without their participation in its development. I offer these workers my deepest gratitude and appreciation for a job well done.
— The author can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena