Saturday, January 14, 2006

Working Stiff

My first day of gainful employment in nine months is over and it didn't kill me. I didn't rush back to KuBoom House and scour the web for a ticket to Bangkok (although part of me was hoping it would be a disaster and I'd have an excuse to go eat sticky rice for three months). It actually went just fine and I even managed to impress people with my knowledge of how to put page numbers on printouts. (They don't call me an editor for nothing.)

And that's not all. Mr. Fix-it—the crack finance and general operations man for the employer—had a word with Hassan. In less than five minutes, they'd agreed that I'd pay $1,000 a month for the corporate housing that I am in until the end of January, after which Hassan reserved the right to move me to a one-bedroom instead of a two-bedroom for the same price.

And Sven showed me where the building washer/dryer is, so I no longer have to risk electrical shocks with the one in my flat. There's even a tiny fitness center downstairs, although I'm concerned that my presence there would be startling to the other building residents.

Everyone else in the office was from another country besides Kuwait. Bosnia, Philippines, India, Oman, Hong Kong, Canada… the only Kuwaiti is the owner and he is out of town.

I have only been in this country for four days and I am no expert on Kuwait. But lots of people have told me that many Kuwait citizens don't actually work for a living. I don't know if this is true of a majority or just a visible minority, or it could be sour grapes from the un-privileged class (that's the rest of us). What is said is that Kuwaiti citizens are all given excellent benefits from their government, simply for being Kuwaiti. And before you scream bloody murder, just remember… Alaska does this for its citizens too, albeit on a smaller scale. The idea is to share the wealth that is generated by the region's natural resources.

Kuwait is oil-rich. There's a helluva lot of money here. And Kuwaiti citizens are the privileged aristocracy. The government guards citizenship closely. Lots of people who were born in Kuwait and have never left are not citizens. There are specific rules that articulate clearly who is and is not eligible for citizenship. And if you are Kuwaiti? You get free health care. Marriage bonus. Retirement money. Money when things go horribly wrong and you need a little help. I want to be Kuwaiti too… I can see why the government guards citizenship so closely. Instead of paying taxes to the state, the state pays taxes to you.

As I start Day Five in the country, I have to resist passing any sort of judgment. I clearly don't yet know what I am talking about. And if I don't get some sort of transportation, I won't know what I'm talking about in three months either since I won't have left KuBoom House. Mr. Fix-it is working on monthly car rental for me too, although I still haven't ruled out the bus. Only problem with the bus idea is that it gets dark early here (we're not that far from the equator) and it's one thing to be ambitious in broad daylight… another to be ambitious after work.


e. Readicker-Henderson said...

Okay, must protest the comparison to Alaska. What you get here is, after a full year of residency, about a grand a year. That's it. Oh, and there's no state income tax, but there is sales tax in a lot of cities. No health care, etc.

And everything costs about double what you think it should. I just realized today I paid nearly three bucks for a quart of milk.

For me what sucks is I got here on January 2, a day too late to file my residency for this year. But it's only a grand. Not really worth worrying about one way or another.

Jewaira said...

Of course Kuwaitis work for a living. It's just that there are alot of benefits for Kuwaiti citizens in an effort by the government to spread the wealth of this tiny country.
I am enjoying reading about your experience in Kuwait. I do hope you meet alot of wonderful people :)

Marie said...

Thank you, Jewaira. I am quite curious to unravel the mysteries of Kuwait, so that I don't end up believing someone who is just repeating misinformation. I don't expect to really succeed in three months here, but so far it is nothing like any other Middle Eastern country I've visited. And as for today, I've never seen such a polite and well-behaved mob as outside Dasman Palace. And free water for all. If you have a blog, feel free to direct us. I would like to know more about the jobs here for Kuwaitis... and I wouldn't mind knowing where to go for a gym for women and a good haircut! Ah, but then there's my budget...

DareDevil said...

I like your post, and i like this idea from the "kuwaiti owner", he has employees from Bosnia, Philippines, India, Oman, Hong Kong, Canada… wow, i think it's somehow sharing the wealth with them, i respect all your posts :)