Riding out the recession in the Middle East
“We live in a villa on a secure compound in Riyadh. There are swimming pools and a playground for the kids, a restaurant, cafe, shop, a dry cleaner’s, beautician’s, tennis courts and a bowling alley all within the walls. It is like living in a small village in Ireland except there are palm trees everywhere and the sky is blue.
“At home in Waterford, the kids came home from school and did their homework and played with their friends and went to parties, and they do the very same thing here. They are at the age when that’s all they want. They go to the British International School, which has fantastic facilities, with just 20 children in each class.
“We consider ourselves very lucky to be here. Colm enjoys his work and I have recently started freelancing again. Living here has given us the opportunity to travel within the Middle East and to Australia and Sri Lanka, which we would never have been able to do if we were still in Ireland.
“We have been here nearly two years and I would stay another two, no problem. Ideally we would like to go back to Ireland, but our minds would be very open to going somewhere else in the future. Why not?”
Culture shock: Adapting to the Middle East
Irish people moving out to the Middle East have to be prepared for an extremely different way of life. First off, there’s the heat – rain falls just a few days a year, but temperatures at the height of the summer often soar to more than 50 degrees, forcing many Irish to return home for an extended holiday in July and August .
Alcohol is available in hotels and golf clubs in Qatar and the UAE, but is extremely difficult to come by in Saudi Arabia, and pork products are also forbidden. Women are not afforded the same social standing in Islamic society, so work opportunities are limited. They are also expected to wear an abaya in public, a black overgarment to cover the legs, arms and hair. In Saudi Arabia, it is forbidden for women to drive.
According to Nora McCarron, who has been working as a nurse in Saudi Arabia for the past 12 years and is president of the Riyadh Irish Society, most people adapt to the cultural differences in time. “The most important thing about coming to any Middle Eastern country is to understand the culture,” she says. “As long as you have respect for Islamic values, the Saudis are the loveliest people. The Irish are particularly popular, because they know we are very family-orientated.
“The way of life varies depending on where you live. In the city of Riyadh, there is every shop or restaurant chain you could imagine.But for those living outside the city it is different. I live on a British aerospace compound 60km from the city, which is beautifully maintained with all the facilities you would need, but once you step outside the gate you are in the middle of the desert.”