Greetings,Having grown up in a foreign service family, I was early on exposed to some of the realities of expatriate life. However, working as my father did - as a diplomat serving the US government - or as my wife and I currently do - as educators serving a somewhat lavishly-funded project, hardly begins to conjure the experiences of the vast majority of people whose jobs take them overseas.
I have earlier commented on the tens of thousands of workers who for the past three years have worked on creating a major research university and campus out of the sands of coastal Saudi Arabia. As we drive north from Jeddah, the vast buildings and surrounding campus neighborhoods seem to rise out of the simmering heat like a Sphinx, a visual aberration in this largely empty, arid, hardscrabble land. As we get closer, and especially as we make our way onto campus and begin appreciating the vastness of the KAUST project, it suddenly dawns on us that undertaking anything of this magnitude on such short order could only have occurred through considerable, almost incalculable, human effort. It is usually about then that we begin seeing the workers, ubiquitous in every aspect of campus.
A school head I know once said that getting donors to pay for a new auditorium is glamorous, and therefore fairly easy. It's getting them to pay for the supporting infrastructure and the often underestimated long-term maintenance costs that makes the shiny new auditorium more of a reach for most institutions. Now imagine the maintenance and upkeep at a place like KAUST! Apart from the monetary costs, which I can't begin to fathom, there is the human cost, and on this count I'd like to express my deep gratitude to the men and women - primarily from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh - who largely made, and every day and night maintain, this huge and growing campus. These workers are part of a large trend worldwide - more than 200 million people now work outside their country of citizenship; in Dubai, just 1 in 5 is a citizen; 1 in 4 Filipinos works overseas; nearly 5 million Americans live, and often work, overseas.
Last week our plumbing had a hiccup, and so we dutifully called the prescribed number to have the problem addressed. In short order a skilled team from Asia's subcontinent showed up, readily attended to the problem, and then had us sign off on the work order. It was then that I discovered that the three workers were from Hyderabad, India, but that their boss was from Lahore, Pakistan. When I mentioned to the team that I'd spent a half a decade in India and Pakistan as a boy, the disbelief was obvious and the smiles were genuine. I agreed with all of them that Kashmir is about as close to heaven as you can get (carefully avoiding discussion of that ongoing regional conflict). Given the two countries' histories, I was impressed with how well the entire team worked together, and how proud they were of the their origins, our shared understanding. Yet in coming here we Evanses haven't said goodbye to spouses or our own children for as many as two years, or put off getting married, or signed up to live in spartan accommodations at considerably different pay, or work under often dramatically different circumstances It is these kinds of sacrifices, made by thousands, that have helped build KAUST, and we would just like to say thank you to these men and women.
Thanks for reading,