As any resident or passerby of the cities of Aramco knows, the cities of Dhahran, Ras Tanura, Abqaiq and Udailyah are extremely clean and well maintained. And that reality wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of the domestic workers that spend hours working in the hot, Arabian sun.
The upkeep of Aramco doesn’t just take place on the streets, it’s also achieved through the efforts of the cooks, gardeners, houseboys and maids that many residents of Aramco rely on. Historically, they have made our homes cleaner and prettier. I never fully grasped the value of that until the responsibility for a clean apartment and food fell on my shoulders. It takes so much work!
I distinctly remember the various service workers that came by our house during our tenure in Aramco. One such man was named Soni, a Nepalese man, who had a short stature but a big heart. His speech was very to-the-point and riddled with dry humor, and he held a soft spot for me and my brother. This duality of his personality was something to truly admire.
I also remember my mom’s kitchen aide, Alameen—a Bangladeshi man who greeted us with a huge smile and taught us some baking skills. I markedly remember that he baked chocolate chip cookies for me one day and left them in a large container. I relished that delight over the course of that week and cherished his thoughtful gesture.
Then there was Mono Uncle, an Indian kitchen aide that helped my mom from time to time. He was a very kind man. I would immediately run into him on various days of the week when I would come back from school and roll into the kitchen to get a glass of water and some food. “Hello Anushka, how are you?” he would ask me while chopping up some vegetables.
One of the long-term helpers we had was named Ali, and he was a diligent, kind, and funny person that also watched me and my brother grow up over the years. If he came by the house too early on the weekend and I was still sleeping, he made sure to not enter my room to clean or vacuum in that area. He would tell my mom that I was sleeping so he didn’t want to disturb me. I so appreciated the sentimentality of these small gestures.
On some of my more recent trips, I also become acquainted with a domestic worker that would stand under the shade of our tree, by our house on Sixth Street. I watched him on many days—he looked exhausted, and I suspect sitting under the palm tree was a moment of respite for him.
Whenever I saw him, I made it a point to bring him a bottle of water and cold juice, a piece of fruit, and some chocolate.
I didn’t know his name, and he didn’t know mine, but the look in his eyes whenever I would give him some water and juice is a look I won’t forget. I could tell he felt very grateful in that moment, but in those moments, I also checked my privilege. I didn’t want to feel like some “generous person,” who gave water to someone. No, in my head, he deserved that—he deserved to be acknowledged and to have access to cold juice and water, and some food, especially on those days when the scorching heat permeated through the town. Whenever I saw him, I wished there was some airconditioned bus stop in which he could wait. It broke my heart watching him from my air-conditioned home.
Throughout the decade-and-a-half of my family living there, I met many domestic aides that would come by our house to help my mom in the kitchen, or to clean the house. Some of them truly resonated with me because of how loved they made my brother and I feel. Throughout the small acts of kindness, smiles on their faces, and the help they provided us with, I began to foster a deep appreciation for all the domestic workers that Aramco receives through outside contractors.
Sadly, I don’t think that many passersby in the city acknowledge them, not as much as they deserve anyway. Most of the domestic aide come from countries in Southeast Asia — Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc, and I suspect that there were certainly some people who had reservations to interact with them. But there were many who did truly help them feel loved, seen, heard, and acknowledged.
I also remember those men that worked at the Dhahran Dining Hall, and on one visit there, during Winter Break when I was visiting for college, I was so surprised to see that this particular man had remembered me and exactly what I always ordered during my visits for breakfast from months prior. I will never forget that.
From the servers at the Snack Bars, Dining Hall, to the domestic aide that cleaned the streets, to those that helped out in the homes of many Aramcons, there is much appreciation that they are deserving of. And once you talk to them and hear their stories, you’ll get goosebumps to hear of the sacrifices they have made and are currently making by living and working in Saudi Arabia. Many of them have stories of hardships — sick family member back home, a kid they are putting through school, or even just the plain desire to create a more comfortable life for their families.
When I went to get my eyebrows plucked at the Dhahran Beauty Salon, I always listened to Sultana—the Indian lady who did my eyebrows—talk about her kids in college. She would talk about their educational aspirations and what they were like. In that moment, although I was cognizant that there was a discrepancy between our status, we weren’t so different when it came down to the bare skin and bones of the human experience.
The conversations and interactions I had with many of the domestic aide at Aramco made me realize that behind the work, behind their employment, rested stories of grief, pain, hardships, sacrifice, and love. And when you try to understand someone’s experience/story through that fundamental lens, you realize that the person isn’t so different from you.
If you are reading this, and you live In the Aramco community right now, please do relay thanks to a domestic aid/service worker when you see them next. Make them feel seen and loved, in whatever small way possible, whether that is giving them some water/juice/food, smiling at them, or listening to their story. They all have motivating reasons for leaving everything familiar behind and coming to Saudi Arabia for service work, and some of those reasons will truly humble you.
Aramco wouldn’t be what it is without the hard work and sacrifices of all the service and domestic aid workers.
Anushka is a Graduate Student at Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She spent her youth growing up in Dhahran, where she attended Dhahran Elementary, Dhahran Middle School, and Dhahran Academy. She loves learning about new cultures and is fascinated by the diversity that brings us all together, especially the expatriate community, where the only thing that is common is that we are all different, in culture, religion, and the perspectives we hold. One day she hopes to publish a book on the third culture kid experience. Dhahran holds a big place in her heart.