I’m retired. Three times now. This time it looks like it’s going to stick. Not too many job opportunities in OZ for a 71 year old Brit who’s blind in one eye and deaf as a post.
My American wife is a PhD and teaches at Curtin Uni in Perth. She’s a lot younger than me.
So, after meeting my wife on the Internet, (we were one of the first ever Internet romances, and that’s a whole other story). I sold up, quit my job in UK and moved to the US. We lived there for 17 years; you get less than that for murder. Just about the whole 17 years I wanted to be somewhere else. My list was New Zealand, Australia, Canada. In that order. I didn’t want to go back to UK.
My wife was head hunted by the Dar Al-Hekma University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The only all-female Uni in Jeddah. We discussed it and decided that no matter how much I wanted out of the US, Saudi wasn’t anywhere near the top of the list to go to. During the following 12 months, they kept upping the remuneration package until it got to the point where it was just silly money, plus a 3-bedroom, fully furnished villa in a compound with all bills other than food and Internet paid for. Plus, no tax to be paid. And an extra stipend every month of the equivalent of about $10,000 Australian, paid in cash.
At that point we said, OK, a couple of years there and we’re set for life. Or so we thought. Cindy, my wife accepted the offer. Getting the VISAs to go was like extracting teeth. In the end it took almost 6 months, which, as my wife was supposed to be there in one month meant she had to work online from the US. That involved getting up at 2AM and working till about mid-day. I had a job back then, so it was almost like hot swopping the bed for months.
Finally, her VISA came through, but it turned out mine wouldn’t be processed until she got to Saudi. This eventually meant It was another 2 months before I could join her. We had had the biggest garage sale ever seen on our street. We sold everything. Including my beloved Mini Cooper S and Cindys Beamer.
I finally get to Jeddah, and there’s my wife waiting with one of the servants/slaves to take me to the compound. I almost didn’t recognise her as she was wearing one of the small mobile tents the ladies there must dress in. During what was in the end only 18 months there, I became a feminist. It’s interesting that in this sunny country, one of the biggest ailments for women is a deficiency in vitamin D.
We get back to the compound, and wait for the armed guards to check our papers, and the sliding 6 inch thick iron gate slides to one side so we can enter. The chap who drove us from the airport insisted he had to carry everything in. I went to help and was stopped by Cindy. I went to tip him and was stopped by Cindy. After all my stuff was in and the (what I came to call red shirts, as all the worker bees on the compound wore red shirts) had left us alone, she explained that trying to help was insulting him and suggesting he couldn’t do his job. And tipping was frowned upon. My near vertical learning curve had begun.
We had left our cat in the US with one of Cindys sons. But we weren’t going to miss feline company here. The compound had between 70 and 80 cats wandering around. And a number of the westerners there fed them, and took them to the vet etc. We acquired about a dozen regulars around our villa and had names for all of them.
The villa wasn’t bad, the furniture would probably last a few years before collapsing. The AC vents were huge, and it was like a gale when it was running. But oh dear, the Internet and TV were awful. Dial up speeds were good compared to what we got in the compound, and the TV channels were less than impressive with a bloody awful picture.
Over time we made friends with a lot of the compounds residents. Aussies, Kiwis, Indians, Egyptians, Russians, Brits, American, Liberian etc. The Russian couple came back from a trip home and presented us with a litre bottle of Russian vodka. That’s when I acquired a taste for vodka and orange. This of course was illegal in Saudi. But like most people there, we started our own small winery in the kitchen. This had to be covered whenever one of the red shirts came to do repairs or clean-ups of course.
We went on a desert safari. Where I was the only man among 40/45 women. Apparently as an Englishman I didn’t count as a man. No Saudi men were allowed, or the ladies wouldn’t have been able to throw of their Burkas, Abayas and head scarfs. They sang and danced, illegal in Saudi, smoked, drove 4 wheelers like mad men, this was before women were allowed to drive. It was fascinating.
We had two busses a day that took us to wherever we wanted to go. The malls there are quite impressive, and they were then, the main form of entertainment for Saudis. But shopping was an exercise in frustration. Because of prayer times. 5 times a day. And everything closed for the 30 or so minutes that prayers took. One had to plan shopping trips with military efficiency. If you were in a restaurant when prayers started, you got locked in until they were over. If you got in just before prayers, you would have to wait 30 or so minutes to place your order, and as I said, you couldn’t just get up and leave.
But, there’s always a but. About 3 months after I got there, Saudi started what’s called Saudisation. Where they wanted Saudis to actually work for a living, most didn’t at that time. This meant kicking out Ex-Pats and replacing them with a Saudi. All well and good, but they didn’t, still don’t, have the people that can do a lot of the jobs done by westerners.
My wife, who has a PhD in education, was told she was being demoted and of course losing the stipend, and some wages. She was replaced by a Saudi who had a masters in design. Can you imagine the surprise when the new term started, and they found this design person couldn’t teach education?
One last thing. Jeddah is the only place where I decided there wasn’t any way I was going to drive. They are stark staring bonkers. It seemed as if being more than 3 inches away from the car in front was an insult to their manhood. As I was told early on after arriving, it’s not “if” you’re going to have a prang, it’s “when” you are.
So, the search for another job began. I put my half penny worth in and said I really didn’t want to go back to the US, I’d done my time there. I put my three places in the order I preferred. So, the applications were fired of to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and to the US and UK. We both agreed it would be nice to be in a western culture again. Basically, anywhere except maybe Libya, Zambia would be better than Saudi.
Eventually if came down to a couple of places. Curtin in Perth, and another one in the US, up north where it gets bloody cold. After some considerable pushing from me, Curtin it was. We were happy. Partly because after being demoted, the next term Cindy was told her services were no longer required. It was with considerable pleasure she told them she was leaving anyway as she had a new job in Australia.
But, there’s always a but. Getting a VISA for OZ is almost as bad as getting one for Saudi.
We were allowed to stay in the compound for about two months after Cindys job ended. So, we applied for a 457 Visa for Cindy and I. She had a job offer, we spoke more or less the same language, we were self-supporting. But none of that cut much ice with Australian immigration. We had to get background checks from the US to show we weren’t terrorists, FBI and police. Get all sorts of medical stuff. Then a really big problem presented itself. My British passport only had 3 months left on it, we had thought that would work quite well, get to OZ and then renew. But no, to get into OZ it had to have at least 6 months on it.
Trust me on this, you really don’t want to send anything by post, to or from Saudi. If it actually gets through, not something you could rely on; it could, and often did, take months. We had to make a quick, (three day) trip back to UK and go to the passport office in London and get it renewed using their fast track system. Costs a bit, but same day service.
At least that meant we could have a glass of real wine with our meals, and the local pub was showing my teams, (Arsenal) football game while we were there. Almost made me miss home.
Having done all that, we about to run up against the time limit we had in the compound, it looked quite likely that we would have to leave Saudi and either go back to the US, or UK to wait for the VISAs to come through. We’d already had all our stuff packed and shipped to Fremantle in WA, that was going to take a couple of months so at first we weren’t too worried it would beat us there. We checked with the management of the compound and they would let us stay another couple of weeks. That turned out to be enough. The VISAs came through with 6 days to spare.
Curtin paid for moving our stuff around the world, and the air fares. So it was a quick trip round the compound saying goodbye to the friends we’d made, and away to airport. We were taken by “Mr Malic”, he had been our regular driver and he and I had become almost friends. Cindy wasn’t so keen, as like most men in Saudi, be they Saudis or other races, he was a little abrupt with the ladies. Women were second class citizens in Saudi. So many things I could tell you about that.
We got to Jeddah airport and Cindy ceremonially removed here Abaya and put it in the bin.
Finally, we’re on the plane, in my mind, to freedom. I hadn’t been this excited since the last of my daughters was born. But as always with flights out of Saudi, you have to wait until you’re out of Saudi airspace before they can serve you a drink to celebrate getting away.
The flight was uneventful, and full of anticipation. Landing at Perth International terminal, a place we have come to know quite well in the three years here. And we go through customs and out into the terminal. Blimey, women do have legs, they’re not cloth covered Daleks running around on little wheels. We had our four very big suitcases and carry on stuff as well of course. We had booked a small place for two weeks for when we arrived. Turned out the pictures were a tad misleading. It was some ones converted one car garage. Barely room for us, a bed, cupboard size kitchen area and bathroom, plus all our luggage. But the couple were very nice, and helpful.
The next day Cindy took an Uber to work, to be told by her boss, to take at least a week to settle in. Our first experience of the Australian laid-back work/life balance. It’s changed a bit in the following three years, but still quite nice.
Our first task was to hire a car. We looked on the map and it looked as if we could walk to the car hire place I’d booked the car with. After walking what felt like miles, (sorry, Kilometres, I still think in old money), we asked a passing Aussie if we were anywhere close. He laughed and said no. You’re about three bus stops from it. But if we got on and told the driver we wanted to get off at, (I forget which stop) he’d probably not charge us. So, got on the first bus going that way, and told the driver, sure enough, he said OK, just sit there and I’ll tell you when to get off. I was really starting to like this place.
One very good thing about the converted garage was it was within easy walking distance of the Como Hotel and bar, in Como. There really wasn’t room to cook and eat in the garage so we walked to the Como every night for dinner. We still go about once a week as it became our local and we’re on good terms with the waiters and Manageress. Spent a New Years Eve there, and One Christmas lunch.
We also got ourselves a rescue cat. George is a big Tom cat, who has FIV, the cat version of HIV. So, he’s a house cat, not allowed out. He’s not happy about that.
We now have a car, and a bed. Next up was to find somewhere to live for at least the next 6 months, and it needed to be furnished, we had nothing except what was in our cases. And we weren’t as rich as we thought we were going to be when we went to Saudi.
We looked a number of places and settled on a fully furnished 3 bed two bath place in Wilson. It had a car port and a small garden area. It also had, as we found out later, three more homes in our little enclave that housed students. I’m deaf as a post, but they kept me awake a lot of nights.
Last job, was to buy a car. We finished up with a Mitsubishi SUV. Turned out to be a very practical choice, we still have it.
We had a six month lease on this place, so we started to do a leisurely look round for somewhere more permanent. We had timed things well by accident. House prices and rents had just about bottomed out in WA at that time. With about 2 months left on the lease in Wilson we found a place in East Cannington. It was almost as big as the houses we’d had in the US. Three beds, two baths, two dinning rooms, two living rooms, two car garage, and what could be a nice front garden, (it was at that time a little like the jungle training ground on Salisbury plain we used to train in when I was in the regiment). And a quite large back entertainment area, again with lots of potential. It is an older property, so it has older property problems, but then I don’t have to pay to fix them. We’d found our longer term home. We have to rent as we’re too old to get a mortgage in OZ. I’m in my 8th decade, my lady wife isn’t, but she’s not a teenager either.
We were able to move our stuff into this place over a couple of weeks, the stuff from Saudi had arrived after a couple of months. That’s when we found out the SUV was very practical.
We had a bit of a battle with the agent from the Wilson property, as she wanted to keep the deposit. She gave us all sorts of reasons that should keep it. It was all bull***t. After some back and forth emails, where we listed what was wrong with her arguments and the fact we would be quite happy to go to court, she refunded 75%. I put that down as win. We have been told before that that sort of rip off is quite common in Perth with rental properties, and we should just not clean the place, shut he door and walk away. Well we did clean it, in fact I did several repairs to damaged walls that were damaged when we arrived, I also sanded down and re-varnished what turned out to be a nice coffee table with a new coat of varnish. Hence our digging our heels in. Getting the refund might also have had something to do with the fact we weren’t students and weren’t prepared to be rolled over like that.
Our new home, (still there) was much bigger, partly furnished, fridge freezer, washing machine, couches, dinning table and chairs, beds etc. On a nice big corner plot and open ground in front of us. We had landed.
Of course, there were a number of initial problems, the tenants before us had been a bunch of students, and we all know how well they look after things. It took about 15 months to sort out all the problems, during which time the fridge and washing machine failed. Both were replaced. But we now have a quite nice home. One bedroom is my office/bolthole/den. The smaller dinning room is Cindy’s office.
There’s a really interesting Wet Lands Nature Reserve about 300 yards, (sorry, meters) up the road from us which I walk round often taking 100s of photos. I used to make a living taking and working on other peoples photos. We’re a short drive from Westfield Carousel Mall. Not far from the restaurant row on Albany highway.
We live in a nice quiet area. The only crime so far was when 4 solar powered LED tickey lamps were stolen from our front garden, just before Halloween.
We have become permanent residents, that was after only 4 months. But it does seem the Australian Government wants all applicants, whether or not successful, to be bankrupt at the end of the process. It cost us just north of $7000.
I’m part of a facebook group Called, “Poms in Perth buy & sell”. We’ve acquired quite a lot of stuff on there for really cheap prices. The latest acquisition being a rather nice leather recliner chair for the TV room.
We’ve made numbers of new friends, both from Cindys Uni, her church and a few of our Neighbours.
I really enjoy the diversity here. The only racism I’ve bumped into in three years was being verbally assailed by some slightly inebriated Aborigines. They objected to my being white. I’ve suffered much worse in the US for being English and in Saudi for being (what they assumed) an American. And in UK for being a “Brexiteer”.
The weather is another massive plus. Back in Missouri, or as it is often called, Misery. 15 inches of snow overnight, ice storms etc and not missed at all.
The market in Fremantle is an endless source of interest and bargains. And Fremantle is also a smashing place to wander round, trying the eateries, the shops, the ambience. Another big plus for me, is how cheap wine is. Not to mention the cost of electricity, water and gas is low comparatively.
Car licenses on the other hand are outrageous. While I haven’t managed to master the transport system, I’m told it’s just me being thick, seems to be quite comprehensive. And as an old bloke I get reduced fares and free rides a lot of the time.
And when we washed up in Perth, it was the first time in over 20 years that I was on the same continent or country as one of my daughters. My wife on the other hand does miss seeing her kids, 8 grandkids and one Great grandkid, (and counting) back in the US. In fact, at the time of writing she’s on her annual visit to the US.
All in all, I feel at home. My wife likes the place as well, notwithstanding the grand kids’ thing. I will not willingly be moving to another country again. Australia is stuck with me.