Expat Chapter 3 (part 1) 2785 words
July 31, 1990 - The Expat House
It seemed to Jeffery like he had just closed his eyes when he heard a knock at the door. He looked at his watch and realized that he had only gotten into the bed four hours earlier. He reluctantly rolled out of bed and opened the door a crack to look out. In the hall was a Filipino man with a file folder in his hand. He appeared to be about twenty years old, had short black hair, and slightly oriental features. He was dressed in a plaid sport shirt, blue jeans, white socks, and low cut loafers.
He looked through the crack of the door and after seeing Jeffery's rumpled hair and bare chest appeared uncomfortable at having wakened him. He said, "Excuse me, sir. I'm Roger. Boss told me come get you and bring you to the office. You get here late last night?"
Jeffery answered, "Yeah, in fact I just got here about five hours ago. Can you wait a few minutes while I get dressed?"
Roger said, "Yes, sir. I'll be down the hall in sitting room. Take your time, my boss don't finish tea and paper for at least an hour."
Jeffery closed the door and shook his head to try to clear the cobwebs. After he washed his face, shaved, brushed his teeth and dressed, he went down the hall. He located the sitting room and found Roger sitting there speaking in Tagalog with a Filipino girl. When they saw him come in the room, she jumped up quickly and disappeared down the hall.
Roger was smoking a foul smelling cigarette which he put out when Jeffery came in. He picked up a dark green package of cigarettes with the brand name of Hope on them and shoved them into his shirt pocket. He stood up and looked curiously at Jeffery's business suit and tie but didn't comment on it.
Roger said, "O.K., sir. I'll take you to office now."
Jeffery followed him to the door. When he opened the door for Jeffery, a wave of 110 degree heat blew in and it felt like the door to a blast furnace had just been opened. Jeffery shook his head and whistled.
Roger smiled at him and said, "Your first time in Saudi?"
Jeffery said, "Yeah, my first time overseas, period. I knew it was hot here but I didn't realize just how hot."
Roger laughed, "The day is early. This afternoon will be really hot."
Jeffery asked, "What do you mean, really hot?"
Roger answered, "Yesterday it was 55. Today, maybe the same."
Jeffery said, "55? Oh, 55 Celsius."
He pulled his calculator out of his suit pocket. "Lets see now. 55 times 1.8 plus 32 is ... 132? I didn't think it got that hot anywhere. Well, at least it's not humid here like it was at the airport last night. By the way, just where are we at, anyway?"
Rogerís smile abruptly left his face. "I don't know, sir. If I did know, then I can't say. Very secret here. Not good to ask many questions."
They got into a white Toyota Corolla parked in the street outside the house. Jeffery looked around while Roger drove. He tried to think of how to describe it to someone. The word desolate came to mind but that seemed to be a huge understatement. There was a row of six houses, three on each side of the road, just like the one he had come out of. About a hundred feet behind the last house in the row was a sixteen foot tall chain link fence with a row of razor wire looped on the top of it. The fence appeared to encircle the entire complex, but it was difficult to tell because it was painted tan and blended in with the desert around it. The houses were square, one story poured-concrete structures with flat roofs. They were all painted the same tan color as the fence that made you have to look closely to see where the walls ended and the sand began. There was no grass, no trees, in fact, absolutely nothing green within sight.
The road itself was a strip of concrete with no curbs or sidewalks. Sand was blowing over the surface and had created several small drifts in some places. Other than the one road leading to the main gate, there were no other side streets. The road they were traveling began at the end of the row of houses and ended at a group of office buildings a mile ahead.
Halfway between the houses and the offices were ten (five on each side of the road) concrete two story, flat roofed buildings. These were twenty feet wide and fifty feet long. Six small windows for each floor on each of the long walls was their only distinguishing feature. They too were painted the same tan as the houses and fence.
Roger saw him looking at them and said, "This TCN housing." He pointed to one in particular. "I live in that one."
Jeffery asked, "What's TCN stand for?".
Roger said, "TCN means third country national. It means the Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, you know, the workers."
Jeffery nodded. He said, "There's quite a few buildings. How many of you live in them?"
Roger replied, "Each floor has sixteen bunk beds. That means sixty-four men in each building. ten buildings. six hundred forty beds, but some are empty. Maybe six hundred men."
Jeffery then asked, "What about the place I stayed last night? What is that place?"
Roger glanced over at him and said "The expat house, sir? That's where you and the other expats live. Those are really nice. You should see the TCN rooms."
Jeffery groaned inwardly at the thought that the little efficiency room was his home for the next two years. He wondered what the TCN rooms were like if Roger thought that the house Jeffery had spent the night in was really nice.
"I don't know what that word is that you are saying... expat. What does expat mean, Roger?"
Roger glanced at him like he was silly, "You're an expat. Expats are the western workers, Brits, Germans, Americans - like you. There are Saudis, then expats, then TCN's like me."
They had now reached a parking lot at the end of the road. There were ten aluminum awnings mounted on poles to provide shade for the cars. There were approximately fifty cars parked under the awnings with room for twice that many. Jeffery noticed that every car was white and that over half of them were Chevy Caprices. Roger parked and they walked to the closest building.
Jeffery was beginning to wonder if the maintenance department had found a terrific deal on tan paint. So far, every structure, building, post, car park awning, and even all of the pickup trucks in the parking lot were all the identical color.
The office complex was made up of one moderately sized three story concrete office building, a very large, one story corrugated steel warehouse to the left of it, what appeared to be a maintenance workshop on the right side, and a small mosque between the office and warehouse. Trucks and heavy equipment could be heard in the distance but the only visual evidence of their activity was a cloud of dust behind a sand dune.
A breeze of cool air greeted them when they opened the office door. They entered into a reception area but there was no receptionist in sight. A row of time cards and a time clock was mounted on the right wall. Hanging on the left wall were enormous portraits of King Fahad and the two royal princes. This too, Jeffery recognized from the book. They covered most of the wall. Except for the reception desk and a chair behind it, the room was devoid of furniture.
They entered an elevator beside the reception desk, exiting it on the third floor. They walked down the hallway past rows of offices to the end office. It was a typical office atmosphere with the sound of typewriters clattering, phones ringing, and clerks talking.
The sound was typical, but the sight was not. Jeffery was accustomed to seeing women doing clerical work. What he saw instead were men behind typewriters, men standing at copying machines, men inserting folders into filing cabinets - a virtual sea of Filipino and Indian men without a woman in sight. He would have to seriously alter the image conjured in his mind by the word 'secretary' to fit this environment.
The door they entered had a sign which read Mohammed Al Ahmed - Personnel Manager. Inside was a secretary's area with a small steel desk, typewriter, an old IBM XT computer, and a well worn dot matrix printer. Roger directed Jeffery to a threadbare side chair in front of the desk and knocked on a door behind it and then opened it a crack.
From behind the door Jeffery heard, "What, Roger?"
Roger answered, "Mr. Briggs is here sir. You see him now?"
The voice abruptly said, "I'm busy. I'll see him in a few minutes. Bring tea."
Roger said, "Yes, sir." and closed the door. Roger smiled at Jeffery and mimicked a man reading a newspaper.
Roger asked Jeffery, "Would you like tea, sir?"
Jeffery smiled at Roger's antics and said, "I'd love a cup of coffee if you can get one. I haven't had much sleep in the last couple of days. I need all the help I can get."
Roger said, "Yes, sir. I'll bring coffee."
Jeffery couldn't get used to Roger's subservient attitude. It felt strange for him to be called sir so much.
Fifteen minutes later the coffee had come and gone and Roger was busy working on the typewriter. A buzzer on the desk sounded and Roger went to the door.
The voice said "Send him in now." Roger looked over at Jeffery and motioned him into the office.
The inner office made the secretary's area seem even bleaker than it was by comparison. The floor was covered with a thick Persian carpet. The walls were covered with deep brown wood paneling. There were two deeply tufted burgundy leather and wood chairs in front of a huge walnut executive desk.
Behind the desk sat a man with a long black beard, very dark complexion, and an enormous nose. He was wearing the traditional Saudi clothing Jeffery had studied in the Aramco book - a white thobe, a red and white checkered ghutra on his head, and a black agal on the crown of his head holding the ghutra in place. He stood, said, "Salaam ali cum", shook Jeffery's hand, and introduced himself. Jeffery braced himself to be grabbed and kissed and felt tremendous relief when it didn't occur.
After he sat down behind the desk and Jeffery sat in front of it, Mohammed said, "Well our American has finally arrived. Your journey here was good?"
They talked for a few minutes about the trip, the heat, and what was happening in America before the topics turned businesslike.
Jeffery was given a rundown on office practices: work began at 7:00, ended at 3:30, lunch was in the cafeteria at 12:00, over at 12:30. They would be picked up at the expat house at 6:45 in the mornings and returned there after work. The work week was Saturday through Thursday with Fridays off. Breakfast and supper would be provided at the expat house.
Jeffery asked about leaving the compound for shopping or to visit some of the area cities.
Mohammed frowned and said, "This is high security facility. The expats and TCN's are not allowed off the compound. You will be provided with a shopping list and the items you select will be delivered to the expat house once a week."
Jeffery was uncomfortable with those arrangements and told Mohammed that he hadn't been told that at the interview.
Mohammed bristled and said, "As, I said, this is a high security facility. We cannot give you all details at an interview that might compromise security. Everything you need will be provided here. Believe me, if I had a choice, I would remain here on the compound if it meant that I received a huge salary like you hawajis do. I would not whine about it because that would more than make up for a few minor inconveniences."
After the verbal slap, Jeffery decided not to bring up any of the other discrepancies he had noticed. He didn't like being talked down to and he knew that he hadn't been whining. Tersely he said, "Excuse me Mr. Ahmed. I have only been here for a few hours now and I have no idea how things work, what is expected of me, or for that matter, even what it is that goes on at this facility. In order to find out I have to ask questions. I have a lot to learn."
Mohammed looked at him with a barely subdued distaste. He said, "Yes, Mr. Briggs, you do have a lot to learn. The first thing you need to learn is that this is Saudi Arabia, not America. While you are here under contract to the Saudi Government, you will do things our way. When you agreed to let us pay you a lot of money to come here, you also agreed to our rules, restrictions, and regulations. You may ask questions about what to do, but you may not question why you do it. If you understand these things early, your employment here will be pleasant. On the other hand, if you do not, it could be very unpleasant."
Jeffery detected the thinly veiled threat but he did not want to begin his first day with a shouting match. "All right, fair enough. Can you tell me where my passport is and when I'll get it back? And, what about what it is this facility does. Can you tell me about that?"
"Saudi labor laws require that we hold employees' passports. It is being processed in Riyadh. You will have it if you need it."
Mohammed sat back in his chair and as he continued to talk his face looked almost like he was in a hypnotic trance. He spoke in a low reverential voice, "And yes, now that you have arrived here you can know what our cause here is. We are an Islamic nation. Islam is the only true religion and we Muslims believe that there will be peace on earth only when the entire world accepts that. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of the prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings upon him, and the birthplace of Islam. Allah favors us above all nations and requires us to protect and promote Islam. Allah wants us to oppose the enemies of Islam, such as the Israelis, because they threaten to destroy Islam and prevent the entire earth from having true peace. Our cause here is to protect Saudi Arabia and the very heart of Islam from the aggression of the enemies and, inshallah, to remove that threat from the face of the earth. I cannot give you all of the details of what we do here, because I only know what I need to know. But let me assure you, this is a noble and holy cause and we will succeed in it. When we do, when the enemies, the Israelis and others, are no more, Allah will pour out his blessings upon us. We will have an honored place in paradise."
Jeffery was thinking, "Oh shit!" and it required a physical effort to keep it from coming out verbally. He had no intention of getting into the middle of another Arab-Israeli war, and it sounded like he might just be in the front lines of the next one. He calmed himself while Mohammed slowly came out of his trance.
Mohammed sat back up, slapped both hands down on his desk, stood up, and said, "Well, we should get you going so you can start earning your salary." He pressed the button on his desk and the buzzer could be heard through the wall.
Roger opened the door and Mohammed said, "Roger, have Mr. Briggs fill out all of his paperwork and then take him to the cafeteria at noon. Go get him at 12:30 and take him to his manager, Mubarak Al Ghamdi. Take messages if my phone rings because I will be very busy this morning. And, bring me more tea!"
Jeffery followed Roger out of the office, and as he was closing the door, saw Mohammed pick the newspaper up from his desk and lean back to read.
Last edited by gary_wagner; 07-20-2006 at 06:53 AM..