Saturday, January 14, 2006
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.