Life on a western compound in Saudi Arabia reminds me in many ways of life on a large embassy compound when posted outside of ones home (western) country. There is housing. There is security. There are amenities. There are rules and restrictions.
Like a large embassy compound, housing on a western compound can be varied in that there might be a mix of villas, townhomes and apartments. Yet because the concept of a western compound is to provide a feeling of “home” the housing is also more oriented to what a westerner is accustomed. There will not be walls separating the houses from one another. The interiors will likely have an “open” theme where one can see from one room into another without doors to close off rooms such as in many Saudi homes for easy segregation. Most of the housing on the compound will have a western style kitchen complete with a dishwasher. The kitchen counters and cabinets are unlikely to be easily transportable on rollers. Kitchens in western compounds are made to stay and last unlike in some Saudi homes or apartments where prefabricated moveable kitchen units are preferred. The western kitchen on a compound –will- come equipped with a stove and refrigerator.
Like an embassy compound, western compounds are equipped with physical and perimeter security. The compound will have high walls surrounding the compound property. There may be heavy twisted barbed wire atop the walls. There will likely be surveillance cameras outside and inside compound property. The compound will have physical security and generally require multiple security check points before one comes to a final security checkpoint at the entry/exit point of the compound itself. Security will be provided by both Saudi Arabian National Guard and private security employees who work directly for the compound management.
Then there are the amenities. While amenities can vary from compound to compound it is safe to say that typical amenities of a compound will include swimming pool, restaurant(s), laundry services, tailor, hair salon, playground, tennis courts, community room, fitness center, library and shuttle bus services. In addition some compounds will have a golf course, bar(s), basketball courts, bowling alley, (small) grocery store, nursery/daycare services, Arabic classes, horseback riding and theatre.
For many expatriates who have come from a western country to Saudi Arabia the compound is a feeling of home and more. Depending on the size of the compound and the number of amenities offered, compound life can be similar to living an “international country club lifestyle within a gated community.”
Is compound life an isolated bubble or oasis among the shifting sands of Saudi Arabia? Yes, it can be; if the expatriate allows it to be so. Some expatriates after working day after day look forward to returning to their exclusive oasis where once they enter through the gate of their compound have that relief of tension knowing they are home and back in an environment of familiarity and tranquility. Some dependents of expatriate workers are quite happy within the secure walls of the compound where they find the compound lifestyle less stressful and with more activity options available and to their liking than the community in which they lived back in their home country.
There are Muslims from western countries who have chosen to accept employment opportunities which bring them to Saudi Arabia. Some of these western Muslims may have lived in gated communities back in their home country. However a western compound may not be a suitable accommodation for a western born Muslim in Saudi Arabia. Some of the western compounds prohibit Muslim women from covering their faces inside the compound’s public area. A western Muslim is not prohibited from wearing a hijjab but western Muslim families who elect to live in a western compound may be required to sign a contract that they understand and will abide by the regulations of head cover and appropriate dress. Some compounds also prohibit residents or guests of residents to appear in public areas of the compound wearing either an abaya or thobe.
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