Working in the UAE brings people different experiences and situations. There are so many structural and social levels within the society that it is hard to know what others are going through.
As an English Teacher in the Middle East, there is a decent salary that comes with the job. Given the job is not always glamorous but if you work hard, do your best where possible and not always take things to heart, you can make a good and positive experience for yourself and those around you. Like any job having a positive and a go-getter attitude goes a long way.
I manage a team of about 15 Teachers. They are a great bunch spread out between three schools. Luckily, they are not too far apart. Thus I can go to each in less than 15 minutes when and if problems arise.
And it happens. Everyday can’t be perfect. There are good days and bad days when dealing with different personalities from different backgrounds. A lot of times as a manager you have your hands tied. You want to do certain things for them to make their job easier but you can’t always because of policies, red tape and whatnot.
Sometimes you don’t have enough books for the students. Two staff members may be out sick because they are teaching 30 periods a week. They catch a sore throat, get a headache, back pain or whatever the issue maybe. And because you want things to run smoothly as a manager protecting the organizations interests while trying to keep the staff happy, you sometimes forget to count your blessings.
You forget that in some countries you don’t have the luxury of complaining because there are no other options available. You forget that you have left your home thousands of miles away to do the job you are there to do. You forget that even with your education, your hard work and dedication, it is a thankless job to be a Teacher. But you love it even with all that so you keep going.
It takes resilience, perseverance, patience and a great amount of love to keep it going. And on the good days when everything goes as you would like it to go, you forget how bad others might have it.
And that’s what I realized the other. I know I digress getting to the point, but hear me out as I get to it now.
We play football (soccer for my friends back home) often in Ras Al Khaimah where I live. We play three times and sometimes four days a week. It’s a great stress reliever. And we play with everyone from at least half the continents. We have lads from the U.K, Yemen, Local UAE guys, Colombia, Cameroon and Nigeria. It’s great fun and everyone enjoys playing.
Although we are all the same in the love of the game and many other things, it’s not so clear cut in the salary given to most of us in the group. Like I said, we leave our homes and travel across the globe to work. We come to experience a different culture, a different lifestyle and hopefully improve the culture we are working in no matter how small a change we can affect.
One evenings one of the lads from Nigeria needed a ride home. I offered to take him since he lives at one of the worker compounds not too far from my place. On the way there we got to talking about different things and what we do here.
I asked him if he was enjoying his time here in UAE and he said yes but he doesn’t make much and if he could afford it, he would go back home to Nigeria.
I wasn’t prying or anything but he went on talking. And this is what he told me: “I applied to this company in Nigeria and they offered me about 1500AED a month”. That’s roughly $408 a month. That amount doesn’t get you far in the states but people make it work here I suppose is what I thought.
He went on, “but when I got here, they said the flight was not included in the offer and the visa wasn’t either. The visa is about 12-15,000 AED a year. That’s $3,000 to $4,000 and change. I have to pay for both of them so they take it from my salary every month. They take 700AED from my visa monthly to pay for the one year visa and 100 AED to pay them back for the flight. So, at the end of the month, I only take home 700AED”. That’s about $190.
My jaw dropped. I asked him if they provide food and housing at least. He said, “they provide shared living quarters but no food. I have to fight to survive with that every month. I want to go home but I can’t because I can’t save to afford it. I have been here for over 2 years now in this situation”.
When I arrived at his place and we said byes, I sat in my car just thinking how he can live on that amount. I sat there for 5 minutes motionless lost in my thoughts.