Monday, March 2, 2009

My First Job

I first earned money when I was nine years old. At the time, I lived in a compound with my family in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. My dad worked for an oil company and had applied to be transferred there. There was plenty of financial reward for doing so. We lived with mostly Americans who were mostly from Texas. There were always jokes about California, where my family was from. Something about fruits and nuts that I never really understood.

Almost exclusively, the men worked and the women stayed home with the children, if there were children. It was illegal for women to work there unless they were nurses or teachers, and few were. Women also weren't allowed to drive, so we had drivers to take us to places such as the suk, but there weren't a ton of places to go. All of us foreign females had to wear long dresses that covered our arms and legs in public.

Alcohol was another thing that was forbidden. The adults in our compound were obviously bored with their lack of entertainment options in a rather oppressive society. They partied behind the compound walls. There was a black market for alcohol but mostly they made wine. They took turns hosting drunken gatherings. I was relatively tall for my age, so I became the in-house babysitter. Literally, that was my initial babysitting credential as explained by one of the desperate moms. I took care of children of all ages - babies, toddlers, and children not much younger than me. I charged three riyals per hour per kid - the equivalent of one dollar per hour at the time.

I made hundreds of dollars. I remember buying my mom a polaroid camera and my dad a designer flask for their birthdays one year. I might have been 10 years old. I spoiled my baby brother with gifts. I shopped at the boutique in our compound (I wish I still had that sling purse made of hot pink umbrella material) and ate at the cafe with my friends. I bought gold jewelry at the suk. What's not to like about having money?

I did the babysitting thing until the end of sixth grade, when we suddenly had to leave Saudi Arabia. I continued on back home in The States, but only very occasionally, and the tips weren't as good. Snacks were better.


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