Four things in Saudi that remind me of Pakistan

Like Pakistanis, even Saudis have a 'gora' complex. You have to be white-complexioned to get 'that' level of...

Abdullah Ansari February 10, 2014
Al-Khobar is the most modern city in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). It is a bustling economic centre and is home to two of the biggest shopping malls in the kingdom. I have been living in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia for about a year now and interestingly, there are a few Pakistani-like things that I was surprised to find here.

The majority of the city’s population consists of expats from the East and West alike but the latter is provided with a better standard of living in compounds. Since I am from Pakistan and I don’t live in a compound, I have a better chance to roam around and interact with the locals. Moreover, my job requires a lot of travelling and hence, allowed me a deeper look into Saudi society.

Some interesting features that I found common in Pakistani and Saudi society are:

1. The gora complex

The first and foremost common factor between the two societies – and the most annoying – is the phenomenon I like to call the gora complex’. It doesn’t matter what qualifications you possess or how good you are at your job, you have to be white-complexioned to receive a certain level of respect. This is even more obvious when you (a desi) are working with some white colleague on a project and you experience the difference in behaviour from people all around you.

And believe me, it’s not just about nationality or which passport you hold; I met some guys at a company in KSA who were dual nationals – Pakistani and American – and I thought that they probably got the same treatment that goras got due to their dual nationality. However, to my surprise, they made it clear that I was incorrect in my assumption. Apparently having a strong command on the English language, spoken with a British or American accent is not good enough; you have to change your skin colour to join that league!

2. The indifference

I have lived in Karachi my entire life and I have always been awed by the indifferent attitude my people have towards the daily death count from street crimes and accidents – a death count that can go up to 10 on an average day in Karachi. Until and unless some ‘important’ person is killed or the death count crosses 10, life goes on as normal.

It seems that both the government and the citizens are convinced that eight to ten lives lost per day in Karachi is the norm. Interestingly, I have observed the same apathetic attitude in Saudi society regarding daily deaths, albeit the cause is road accidents more often than street crimes. Currently, there are around 20 deaths per day and this count has been accepted as the norm.

Just like Karachi, everybody is uninterested as long as their own loved ones are fine!

3. Family only

Segregation of the sexes is quite common in both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. And I am fine with segregation per se. However, I have found this phenomenon being misused in both societies. Theoretically, ‘family only’ should mean that ‘singles’ are not allowed and the way I see it, it should apply to males and females alike.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in either country. If you are a guy and you want to have dinner with your friends, you are not allowed to enter. But if you are a girl, you are free to enjoy an evening out with your girl friends.

The only difference that I found was that in Pakistan, I have seen this happening mostly in public parks, whereas, in KSA it is more evident in restaurants.

4. Pathan truck drivers

Pathan drivers in KSA, you ask?

Well, if you ever have the chance to travel inter-city, you will be surprised to see the ‘monopoly’ of our Pathan men in the trucking transport business. Not only will you see the familiar sight of Pathan drivers, you will even find all those ‘enlightened quotes’ written on their trucks which are generally mocked in Pakistan.

We may ridicule them at home or even be indifferent to them, but here I find them reminiscent of my home-town of Karachi with their typical gaudy decoration and artwork – peacocks spreading their wings and tigers staring at you dolefully, accompanied with the famous, Maa ki dua, jannat ki hawaHimmat hai tou pass ker, verna berdaasht kerPappu yar tang na kar and more.

If you live in Pakistan, these things may seem trivial, hateful or even nonsensical to you, but trust me I am grateful to have them here, just to remind me of home. And if you have any plans to visit KSA soon, I assure you that these ‘trivial’, ‘everyday’ Pakistani things will make you feel right at home.
Abdullah Ansari An electrical engineer by profession, Abdullah works in the oil and gas industry. His interests include international relations, global politics and debating. He tweets @ChangingTrendz (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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