Caught in the daily challenges of an ever-changing environment around us due to the sanctions imposed upon our personal freedom by the COVID-19 pandemic, we could be forgiven for thinking about nothing else.
I mean this bug has altered our lives in more ways than one. Gone are the carefree social gatherings with family or friends. The weekly get-togethers or the weekend outings spent socialising seem to have faded into a distant memory. Nor are trips to the cafés and restaurants any more appealing as fear of being contaminated sets in and envelopes us, cloistering us further and further within the confines of our homes. Forget going to the movies or travelling for now, as none of the destinations you’d want to visit are likely virus free, nor are the movies appealing enough to compel you to sit in the closed confines of a theatre with strangers around you.
But this is not about me or us, and what we can or cannot do to the coronavirus. As GCC citizens in our lands, we consider ourselves fortunate to be within our countries and among our people as the virus raged on. Those GCC citizens who were abroad were immediately taken care of when their respective governments hastily arranged for repatriation flights and brought them home to be near their dear and loved ones.
Some of the expatriates stranded in the GCC were fortunate to get on board some of the flights arranged by their governments to return them home. But such was not the case for all those who want to return. With international flights suspended in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, there are millions of expats who find themselves more isolated than ever, as they while away their time eagerly waiting for their contracts to end and flight resumptions to their homelands to begin.
In search of fortune
They came to our lands in search of fortunes; in hopes of foraging for a better future for their families. Instead today they find themselves more isolated and uncertain about what tomorrow will bring. The majority of our guest workers are single individuals who have left families behind. They work, they earn and whatever they get is usually sent at the end of the month to their waiting families except for a little that’s held back for personal expenses.
Our network of roads and highways, airports, and skyscrapers were built brick by brick on the shoulders of many such expatriates.
But the coronavirus dealt many of them a severe blow as companies drastically affected by the lockdowns and closures could ill-afford to pay salaries when income had almost come to a standstill. This held true more so in smaller establishments who could ill-afford a prolonged shutdown and some have closed shop for good, leaving behind workers uncertain about what’s coming next.
As restrictions due to the virus have eased, so has the financial impact to businesses begin to soften, and some of the idle expatriate workers found themselves back on duty. But others remain in the hope that their employers recharge their businesses and bring them back on the payroll.
The toil of expats
We should not forget about them and lend a helping hand where we can. They came to our country to help build it. They helped us as citizens enjoy the comforts that we are privileged to today. They have kept the wheels of many industries churning long into the night while most of us slept.
There are some Saudis who dismiss the efforts of these people and to them I say ‘shame on you’. You are nothing were it not for the toil and sweat of generations of expats who came before you and helped build our country. From the oil and petrochemical industries to the massive infrastructure kingdom-wide, these silent workers have always played a hand.
Our network of roads and highways, airports, and skyscrapers were built brick by brick on the shoulders of many such expatriates. They have picked up our trash and kept our cities clean. Today, we as citizens have begun shouldering some of these tasks, but such was not the case in recent times.
As we dwell on our changing lifestyle, we are indeed fortunate. Instead, let us spare a thought and lend a helping hand where we can to those among us who are far from families or friends. They have been victimised by the coronavirus far more than you or I.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena