Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cheap Labor

The problem with cheap labor is that although it is inexpensive initially, it comes at a much heftier price later on down the road. Here in Saudi, ALL of the labor is imported from other Third World Countries because “locals,” as I refer to them, believe it is beneath them to do anything considered in anyway remotely a menial task. [See this article: Proof.] So, the labor force we must deal with, although probably skilled to a degree – albeit much of it on-the-job training – is not skilled to the degree that is usually and actually required to solve a problem.

We have an outdoor faucet that is broken for the fourth time. Each time I simply dial the three-digit number for maintenance,
"202", and someone schedules the necessary electrical-plumber-air conditioning-carpenter maintenance man or men to come to our house and we pay nothing, monetarily, that is. This is a service that is included in our housing on the compound provided by the company my husband works for. Yesterday, when the faucet quit turning off, for the fourth time, I called and specifically requested that a plumber be sent to fix our problem and tried to be quite clear that the reason we need a plumber is because the irrigation team they keep sending to fix the same problem obviously isn’t fixing it. My conversation went something like this:

Me: Yes. Hello. I need you to send a plumber to our house. The outdoor faucet is broken, for the fourth time, and it will not shut off.

Person answering “202”: Yes, Madam, we will send irrigation.

Me: I don’t want irrigation to come – you’ve already sent them – several times, now – they aren’t taking care of the problem and all that is going to happen is that the same thing is going to happen all over again and I am going to have to call you for a fifth time.

Person answering “202”: Yes, Madam. It is no problem. We will send irrigation. They will be there at nine o’clock tomorrow morning.

Me: No. I need a plumber. And you want me to wait until tomorrow morning? So it is okay with you, then, if my water runs all afternoon and all night and floods my yard and the street.

Person answering “202”: Yes, Madam. It is no problem. That is the ‘on-lee ap-point-mant a-veil-abble.’

Me: Aarrrggggghhh!

The rest of the world is having near-drought conditions – the southeastern United States desperately need water – California has out-of-control wild fires destroying entire towns because it is so dry – and
people living in this country in Jeddah are going without – but because there is only “cheap labor” here, my outside faucet will be left running until “irrigation” comes to fix it because I can’t get a plumber. In the meantime, my back yard is turned into one big mud-hole which makes it impossible for me or my kids to enjoy. Perfect.

So, at nine o’clock this morning the irrigation guys – two of them – showed up, right on time, to fix my outdoor faucet. This, as I earlier mentioned, has been an on-going problem – they’ve been here four times now to fix the same thing. And each time they come they fix it the same way: I get a new faucet put on. It would seem to me, and I am not a skilled plumber so this is just a guess on my part, that the problem requires a solution just a tad more complex than simply replacing a faucet. This morning was no exception. As the young man turned all our water off – and likely other neighbors as well as the water main in the street has to be turned off – he showed me that he was going to replace the faucet. My conversation with one of the young men went something like this:

Me: You’ve got to be kidding!

Him: Yes, Madam. New faucet.

Me: But that obviously ISN’T the problem – this is my fifth faucet. You’ll be back in two weeks to fix it again. And each time it quits shutting off I have to go through this – as well as deal with a flooded back yard – and this is not acceptable.

Him: Yes, Madam. No problem.

Me: Good God, at least send someone who speaks and understands English!

And I stormed into the house and called “202” and demanded to speak to a supervisor when the person at “202” answered, “What is the problem, Madam?” to which I responded, “No. I don’t want to keep going through this, just get me a supervisor on the phone, and one who speaks and understands English.” But of course speaking to a supervisor is an impossibility – the supervisor being “a local” and thus he is no where near his office quite this early in the morning. Duh… “The supervisor is out of the office, Madam. What is the problem?” [I’m pretty sure that all of our calls are going through some call center in India; probably the same call center that Microsoft and Verizon are using.] So I rambled on about my problem and how it’s been happening every two weeks and how the wrong people are being sent to fix it and that even though they fix it temporarily they are not fixing it properly because it keeps happening and what I really need is a plumber – not irrigation – and that I need to discuss this with a supervisor and one who understands and speaks English, clearly. Meanwhile, all I can think of is that Farside cartoon where the man is talking to his dog and the dog is hearing “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…” and I know I am getting nowhere but getting more and more frustrated by the minute. Finally, the “202” person promises to send a plumber to me this afternoon at three

So, at two forty-five, I lock the Kids in the house and am right there to open the back gate when the “plumbers” arrive at three o’clock. [It’s always more than one person – never less than two – often an entire group – all depends on what type of problem you are experiencing.] I open the gate and there are two young men holding their tool bags in their hands and guess what else they’re holding – a NEW FUCK!NG FAUCET!!!

I give up. Have to. Too much time and energy has already been wasted on the fact that water is running freely from my back yard – which floods – in to the street, cooling the pavement for no good reason – every couple of weeks when the faucet stops shutting off – and I don’t think I’m describing this correctly, because in actuality the faucet does turn – it just doesn’t seem to be able to shut the water off to prevent it from running. When this place dries up in a few years – after we’ve left – I’m just going to smile. Hey, not my fault that gallons upon gallons of one of your precious valuable resources was routinely squandered because you refuse to recruit and hire help at the cost required to accurately diagnose and resolve some maintenance issue.

There will be not a single tear shed by me when old men, women and children, and especially the
TITS are shriveling up and dying off from dehydration!!! Perhaps if the gazillion dollars this country reaps from the wealth of its oil were put to better use – such as teaching its citizens actual trades and skills instead of allowing them to become dependent on labor from other third world countries because doing some laborious task is so beneath them – I could muster up a bit of sympathy. As long as this country refuses to recognize that there are so many reasons why cheap labor isn’t cost-effective, I see absolutely no reason whatsoever to worry about the amount of water that the sand in my back yard consumes.


  1. You could always install a swimming pool ;-)

    We have a similar problem here - the other day I phoned maintainenece and told them water was flooding out the front yard and car port, so the next day they sent round a team of guys, the best dressed (obviously supervisor) of which was carrying a wrench "madam I am plumber" he says. So they open the tank under the car port, rummage around for a few minutes and come back up and tell me its not "their water". Mystified I ask them what constitues "their water" but as I'm a woman it can't possibly be a sensible question so they ignore it. The next day (car port is still flooding) a different team come round, rummage around in same tank, turn off a tap and the problem is solved. I ask why they guys yesterday couldn't have done the same thing, answer, "it wasn't their water". Hmmm, you learn not to argue!!

  2. BT,
    Hey, its Pat from BelchSpeak, swinging by to check your blog. I am grateful that someone is there to document the inconsistencies of their culture.

    So the Saudi's have a solid underclass of laborers? Are they typically of a particular nationality? Indonesian or something?

    And sorry if I hadn't read lots more about your "children" but are there special restrictions on dogs? I thought muslims consider them very unclean?


Site Meter