From the Philippines to Saudi Arabia: I Live in Yanbu
My name is Raymund and I come from the Philippines. I live in Yanbu, a small industrial city west of Saudi Arabia. I moved here to work six years ago but have not really learned to consider it home. I spend my summer vacations in Manila. Someday, I know I will have to leave Yanbu and go back to the Philippines.
1. Why did you move abroad?
Like millions of Filipino migrant workers around the world, we go abroad to find better work opportunities so we can make our lives better and help our families who are left behind. From domestics to executives, we are called the OFWs (Overseas Filipino Worker) and considered as modern heroes back home.
2. How do you make a living?
I am an EFL teacher in an industrial college here in Yanbu Al-Sinaiyah. I am already on my sixth school year but I still get excited every time a new semester opens and depressed when I have to say goodbye to the students on the last day of classes, especially those whom I have to give an F.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I talk to my wife online every day, thank God for the Internet. And there is also always someone from home to talk to on Facebook or the Messenger.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Yanbu?
Yanbu is divided into three villages. I wouldn’t dream of living in Yanbu Al-Nakhl (brown farm lands everywhere) and Yanbu Al-Bahar (an old, worn-out downtown), but Yanbu Al-Sinaiyah is something else. I have lasted years in Yanbu Al-Sinaiyah because I like the peace, quiet, and cleanliness. There is never a traffic jam here. On mornings, especially on weekends, the sidewalks are almost always deserted. The sweepers go around at dawn so that when you wake up, the streets are spotless. Everywhere is like a tidy movie set. For instance, trees, street lights and hydrants are spaced uniformly, and houses are made of similar architectural designs and painted of a very limited palette of colors.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Yanbu?
Some nights, the fumes from the oil refineries nearby lie thickly in the air.
6. What do you miss most?
I miss Christmas and how Filipinos celebrate it: that tingly feeling of anticipation that starts in September, the Christmas spirit that starts spreading around that same month, and the raucous family reunions.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I don’t speak Arabic so the most that I’ve been able to learn about the people and the country are through interacting with students and observing. I also don’t socialize outside the classroom except with fellow ex-pats so I would say that I have not fully integrated myself into the place. Then again, the non-Arab will find it very hard to feel a sense of belonging in this country unless he learns the language and convert to Islam. I am constantly aware that I am a traveler on an extended stay in a strange place—an “other”.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The way women are treated. It is rooted in their culture and therefore, acceptable to all Saudis even to the women themselves, but I dream of a day when women will finally be allowed to drive, wear something other than black, integrate with men in many community activities, and be allowed the same opportunities as men.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
People live in tents in the desert and dashing Arabs ride in their camels off to romantic sunsets. There are still deserts, camels and Bedouins, but most of Saudi Arabia now is as modern as every city in the world. It is also growing fast. The world’s insatiable demand for oil continues to drive the country’s economy forward. Many Saudis today live in huge houses and drive BMWs. American hip-hop music is ‘in’ among kids. Louis Vuittons are popular, both the genuine and fake versions. Meanwhile, the poor family owns at least one car.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
The cost of living is higher in Saudi Arabia than in the Philippines but I have never felt wanting here in Saudi Arabia because the pay is constantly adjusted for inflation. It also helps, of course, that we have no decent mall in Yanbu. There is nothing to buy so you save money. This is only according to my experience, though, since I also hear stories of underpaid and overworked employees and those who receive less than what is stated in their contracts.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
The Arabic culture is very different, and sometimes strange to understand, especially if one grew up with the Western culture. The Arabic culture takes some getting used to, but the expat must learn to accept these differences and stop complaining and looking at things negatively. Be sensitive or at least tolerant. You cannot judge another culture using your own as norm. Culture is always a matter of perspective.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
Our English department required every teacher to start a blog. It was school-related so the contents had to be purely educational. I felt stifled because I realized I liked telling stories and I wanted to write about many things about my life in Yanbu. So, I began my own personal blog.
Raymund's blog, I Live in Yanbu
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