Yes, I am a nurse who had been working for more than two years now here in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Maybe you’ll say that I am not an OFW savvy to claim myself worthy of this testimony ,but I don’t really need decades of existence to surpass naiveté in order to prove my capability and credibility in writing something that I personally know is worth sharing for.
It’s been two years now and I can still clearly reminisce the day I first landed in this foreign land. I actually came from Mindanao, which is apparently the land of Islam in the Philippine, but it did not help me a lot in trying to acquaint myself with the Islamic rules and culture of the Middle East. I’ve seen a vast of people from my native land who were also totally covered with black clothing (the avaya and tarja/hijab, as they call it), but I haven’t seen a parade of them. And when all eyes were staring at me while I walked passed by a huge crowd of men in King Khalid International Airport, my nerves started trembling that I wanted to get on the plane again and fly back home. Although I knew that I couldn’t do that anymore, I had my first resentment on the very day that I arrived in Riyadh.
To start with, life here is absolutely not easy for expatriates and foreign workers, especially for non – Muslim citizens. Why? They treat their Muslim brothers and sisters with utmost value, so if you are not one of them, you will be treated less by some. I really don’t want to generalize my statement because there are also kindhearted and considerate leaders and citizens of Saudi Arabia. But unfortunately, the vast majority are on the other line from the good ones.
I can still remember some of my fellow employees who were harshly and inconsiderately scolded by our employer, but eventually, he only apologized to one of them, and that’s to the Muslim nurse. Secondly, gender discrimination is quite rampant in this country. Women can’t drive and are seen as lesser than males. I feel grave, not because I am also a woman, but due to the fact that I’ve spent my whole life proving my worth as a woman in this world and only to find out that residents here haven’t seen women’s significance. And worst, majority of OFW workers suffered from maltreatment and abuse in spite of the utmost dedication and hard work that they have rendered.
Frankly, I can’t even imagine how these people will survive once the government of the Philippines will stop sending laborers in the middle east. And worse, your salary mainly depends on your citizenship and not from your credentials, even if you both share the same job nature. That is, if you are tall, white and blonde, and a green card holder you will earn double or even more.
Another important fact is the Salah or prayer for five times here. Usually, we are only given a brief period to purchase goods for our weekly grocery, but because stores have to close every prayer schedule, our shopping time is cut short, giving minimal period to buy our immediate needs. Finally, sand storms are everywhere, leaving cars and buildings covered with unpleasing dusts and dirt and people at risk of health problems such as asthma and a very hot and dry summer for almost 3 quarters of the year.
Looking at a different horizon, I might have listed a couple of reasons on why I hate this place, but I also have thousands of great things that I would like to share to the world. Quite frankly, I envy how arabs willingly comply with the Islamic law imposed by the Saudi Arabia government. If they are called to pray, they will really shut down their stores even if an immense number of customers are still on the line waiting to pay. Somehow, they care less on the revenues that they will earn from their business.
How I wish people from my country are as compliant as them. Unfortunately, we can’t even follow simple traffic rules. Even if a huge sign saying “bawal tumawid dito” (You can’t cross the street in this area) was posted, numerous people were still reluctantly passing the busy urban roads. Moreover, they highly value religious festivities such as Ramadan and Hajj compared to us Filipinos who can’t even go on a whole day fasting during the Holy Week. And yes, I would admit that I am one of them and I am truly jealous of their passionate compliance to these sacred activities.
Furthermore, I must admit that Riyadh is a very rich country which is abundant in natural resources and strong governance. A staff nurse here is generally paid at least thrice the amount earned by a registered nurse in the Philippines which is substantially enough to sustain a typical Filipino family and even acquire more saving funds in the bank.
Also, life in Saudi Arabia is easier and cheaper. That is, sales and discount offers are widely rampant as well as basic needs, such as food and drinks, are generally less expensive here. And to top it, Saudi Arabia is tax-free so I don’t have to worry on value added levies that are included in my monthly statements which is one thing that I really love about living in Riyadh.
Overall, I sincerely adore the Middle East and I have my wholehearted respect to my Muslim colleagues. Being a nurse in this foreign land made me a better version of my entity in both compassionate and hard way. It also made me to appreciate and understand more what my homeland needs in order to become a better place to dwell with. Honestly, we just don’t need to push and blame our leaders, we also have to look on our limitations to steward a very rich land. My salute indeed to the Muslim community and I hope that somehow, I have reached the hearts of Filipinos to learn something from this post. Anyhow, that was my main goal of joining this Filipino blog.
- Riyadh, the Place I Both Love and Hate.. An OFW’s Perspective.. - June 11, 2012
- The Last Kabsa - March 29, 2012