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Letter from Saudi Arabia, March 1992, Part Two



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There are few public places to go out to, apart from restaurants and the Al-Akariyah shopping centre, but you get to know other westerners gradually through expat circles, and by going on the 'Hash' at the weekend. This has nothing to do with another illegal substance, but simply means running or walking in the desert with other expats at the weekend. There are also many other opportunities for socialising, most of them held in people's homes or on compounds.

Many aspects of normal life at home such as unmarried males and females mixing in a social environment are, strictly speaking, illegal in Saudi Arabia, but the unwritten rule seems to be if it happens out of sight then the Saudis are not interested. They seem to respect the sanctity of the home.

Another advantage of working here is the possibility of travelling during your leave time. You can travel much more than you'd be able to do from the UK, and this makes up for the restrictions to a certain extent. I should also add that many of the Saudis are very hospitable and likeable people. But the main reason why foreigners are here is the money. So in a nutshell, given that most jobs involve routine drudgery, I'[d prefer drudgery here in a nice climate with savings at the end to drudgery in the UK in a bad climate with no savings!

I'm working on a 'BBC World Service' - style audio documentary about Saudi Arabia. Some of the recordings I can use in teaching, but the main purpose is to capture and document expat life in Saudi Arabia in 1992. You may be interested in hearing it when it's finished. I'm taking lots of photos of Saudi Arabia, in particular Riyadh by night, very spectacular. At Eid I'm driving to the United Arab Emirates for a week, and at Haj I may be in the UAE and Oman.

I'm planning to be back in the UK on Thursday 16th of July 1992, leaving for Czechoslovakia in the autumn, for six months to a year. So I look forward to hearing from you soon, wherever you are in the world, but in the meantime, why not make one expatriate worker very happy, and send me a letter! A postcard would do, but they tend to go astray as they are regarded as 'low priority' by the postal service here. Make sure to write the address clearly.

I wish you all the very best and look forward to hearing from you.

Aidan in Riyadh, March 1992.


Many years have passed since I wrote that letter from Saudi Arabia. Here are some of the things that transpired in the ensuing months:

My April 1992 visit to the United Arab Emirates changed my views about the Gulf and planted in my mind the idea of working there.

I flew out of Saudi Arabia earlier than expected on the 4th of June, touching down emotionally at London Heathrow on the 5th of June 1992.

I didn't get to work in Czechoslovakia. My savings from Saudi were less than expected and I calculated I would run out of money in mid September. If I wanted to save money I would have to go back to the Gulf.

I secured a job in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates starting 5 September 1992. I planned to stay for a year. I eventually left on 15 July 1996, which, by some strange co-incidence, was exactly five years to the day after I first arrived in the Gulf.

During my five years in the Gulf I came to despise the hot weather, and now appreciate how lucky we are in the UK to have a temperate, changeable climate with seasons.

After I left Saudi Arabia, satellite television became widespread, my colleague Simon told me, had the effect of reducing the 'sensory deprivation' effect.

I completed my audio documentary about expat life in Saudi Arabia. If you'd like to hear some of it, please get in contact!

None of my friends bothered to write back to me, though many acknowledged getting the letter when I met up with them in the summer months.

Low cost airlines and internet bookings have made travel within and from Europe far cheaper than flying from the Gulf. It often costs less to fly from the UK to the Far East than from the Gulf, which is approximately half the distance.

If you have any questions about working in Saudi Arabia or the UAE, please feel free to contact!

Thinking of taking the plunge and heading for the Gulf to work? Read and take note of my Gulf Employment Checklist or 'Nightmare Avoidance Schema' before accepting any contracts.



View my photo collections from the beautiful United Arab Emirates

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Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2005-08-19

Aidan O'RourkeAidan O'Rourke has been active in photography and online media since 1995. He has documented the development of the local area in his Eyewitness website (1997-2005) and as a contributor to books, publications and the Manchester Evening News. He runs his Eyewitness photography walks in Manchester, Liverpool and other locations. He offers one-to-one tuition in Photography and Languages. He is a high-level speaker of German and can offer photography walks and tours through the medium of German. Visit www.aidan.co.uk

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