Without an Iqama we couldn’t buy a phone. We couldn’t make international calls on landlines. We couldn’t rent or buy a car. We couldn’t get out of the compound and rent an apartment closer to school. We couldn’t join a gym. We couldn’t even get an exit visa to leave the country and visit Dubai or Bahrain for the weekend. Nothing. Without the Iqama, we were dry as desert dust.
The first stop was Hassan, licking his thin lips and stroking his freshly trimmed black goatee. His pants raised tight around his waist, hiding in the back of his office like a rat in a hole.
Things became so tense Martin was summoned from New Zealand. He made the twenty-two hour flight specifically to meet with us on the Iqama. (I didn’t know it at the time, but he was stopping for two furloughs along the way: A weekend in Dubai on the way in, and a fistful of days in Singapore on the way back. On the teacher’s dime.)
We assembled on a Wednesday evening after all the students had gone home. (According to the Muslim calendar, Wednesday is the last work day of the week.) We were groggy, exhausted, and grumpy. A salty gaggle of unscrubbed grumbling rough necks. Within minutes, Martin took aim and shot us dead:
“The first thing I want to say is I commend you for taking this leap of faith with us as a company. Nobody ever said it would be easy. Life in Saudi is very hard. Look at the people living here. They live in squalor. They live in filth. Their lives are like dust. In Islamic tradition, a teacher is one of the most highest members of society, and you have come here to teach. This is what your contract says. ‘You are here to teach.’ You are not here to rent a car and travel. You are not here to vacation in Amman or Beirut. You are not here to text on cell phones. You are here to teach. Look at the Arab folks around you. Look how they support you, accept you into their community. They see this bickering. They see it and think, how ungrateful. These are not teachers. These are thieves.”