Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Automatic Car Wash and other staggering failures in Omanisation

I am a really really really lucky girl. Whilst you all were here starving in the oppressive heat and humidity, I opted out of Ramadhan for a week and instead attended a conference on critical care medicine in Ireland. I don't care how much you love the holy month, there is absolutely NO WAY any of you guys had a better week than I did. Here are some ACTUAL presentations and workshops I attended

  • The magic of remote ischaemic preconditioning.
  • Rethinking adrenaline in cardiac arrest.
  • Acute care of the elderly.
  • The Aorta will F*!&K you up.
  • Neurosurgeons are not idiots, honestly.
  • Oh SH^*T! They're bombing the hospital. 
Match that sort of academic / intellectual content with Dublin's amazing restaurant and bar scene, 2,000 of the smartest people in critical care, a handful of old friends and you have a recipe for AWESOME.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, so last night I returned home brimming with optimism and full of  ideas and motivation to improve patient outcomes here in Oman. I am going to be a catalyst for positive change, dammit. 

Then this morning Stone took me to the petrol station and decided to run the car through the carwash. During the 37 minutes we were in line / going through the car wash I realised that my local car wash is a pretty good analogue for why a lot of things in Oman are so totally screwed up. My views on this may have been somewhat coloured by the fact that I was hungry, Jet lagged, Hungover, and hot, but bear with me here and if you disagree you can have you say down below in the comments. 

Here was our "Automatic" car wash experience this morning: 
  • Pull up to the car wash, we are third in line. 
  • Watch time grind to a halt as each car ahead of us takes a full 10 minutes to make it through the wash cycle 
  • Arrive at the front of the que. 
  • Communicate with understandably surly car wash attendant via various hand gestures and broken Hindi / Arabic that we would like a quick wash, just the outside.
  • Surly car wash guy confers with the other car wash guy, takes 2.5 Rials from me, and goes to a window where he communicates with yet another carwash guy who slowly accounts for the money, produces a hand-written receipt, and sends Surly guy back to us. 
  • The receipt is placed on the dashboard, and we are motioned into the car wash. 
  • The car is now on the rails where the automatic car wash will drag it past various fixed and moving nozzles that will spray water, soap, or whatever onto the car, making it clean. I figure we will be out of here in under two minutes now. 
  • Not So! First, the guys use a manual powerwasher to pre-wash the car.
  • Next, the car is advanced 8 feet past the "Automatic high-pressure wash" and the "Automatic Soap" 
  • The line grinds to a halt and two guys appear out of the mist to manually scrub the car using the automatically applied soap. 
  • The line starts up again, dragging us past a genuinely automatic rinse, and the automatic dryer nozzles.
  • Stone can see the look of murder in my eyes and politely declines the hand drying stage of the "automatic" car wash We are free to go. 
  • It is 38 degrees outside, we merge onto the highway and the car is completely dry within 10 seconds. 
Photo credit: Times of Oman

I think, first and foremost that if you are going to call something an "Automatic Car Wash" then it should involve automation, and therefore efficiency, in at least some elements of the experience. It's not like this is a revolutionary new technology that's just in BETA testing.  Automatic car washes have existed at least since I was a little girl, and have been tried and tested in various climates worldwide to effectively get the grime and grit off dirty cars in an expedient and cost-effective manner. I cannot imagine that our everyday dust and dirt is that much different from anybody else's dust and dirt, and therefore requires the addition of 3-6 brown guys from poor(er) countries in order to get my car to an adequate state of cleanliness. 

So here's the crux of why the automatic car wash guys matter, economically, to Oman: We are paying armies of imported workers to do jobs that should probably not exist at all. It's not just the carwash guys: How about the guys who pump gas? Let's assume, conservatively, 4 guys pumping gas per petrol station, and 600 petrol stations nationwide, with a salary of OMR 80 per month. That's OMR 2,304,000 per year in salary payments alone, before we even account for accommodation, healthcare, flights, visas, etc.. I do not know how much they spend on remittances, but I would expect the vast majority of the money earned is remitted elsewhere. 

There is some data to support this idea: did you know that Oman is in the top five for countries losing GDP as a result of remittances by foreign workers? 12.5 percent of our GDP here in Oman is sent home by temporary workers. That's like, roughly 2and a half billion dollars a year leaving Oman and never coming back. Here's the link to the article in Times of Oman  

It's not a made up number either, it came from a world bank report which you can read in its entirety HERE

The only graph I am aware of where Oman is in the same league as Luxembourg

To take the idea a step further: How about the little corner stores and restaurants where you pull up outside and Honk to get service? There are armies of imported workers who's only job is to take things from an establishment to your car, basically because you are too lazy to find parking and walk. 

How about the guy who sits at a desk at MCC and QCC renting out shopping trolleys shaped like cars? How about the guys who bag your groceries and then push the trolley out to your car, and then load the groceries into your car? 

Are there Omanis who would do these jobs? Probably a few, if we paid them enough, but in reality, these are jobs that should not exist, or should not exist in such great numbers. We are not a rich enough country to afford these sorts of luxuries, and this sort of dependence on expensive imported labor to do all the very basic things we can already do for ourselves leads to a culture of helplessness / apathy. It also Fucks up the already dire ratio of Omanis to expats in muscat and elsewhere. 

Whilst gradually reducing or eliminating the totally unnecessary Expat jobs would not do much for creating jobs for Omanis, I do think it would do a lot for starting to normalize the ratio of Omanis to expats, as well as  reducing the impact of remittances outward from Oman. 

More from here soon. Hope you all are well. 


Sythe said...

Totally, totally, totally agree with you. I also believe that if we pumped our own gas, we'd be less lazy. This belief it based totally in fantasy land, but still, I this is what I believe. The guy rolling in the Ferrari is gonna have to get out of his whip and pump his own gas, and go to an attendant and line up just like everyone else.

Perhaps I'm part communist? :/

BigManInOman said...

One of the best examples of this are the guys standing on the side of the road at traffic works who hold up a frayed piece of red or green cloth.
Are they really cheaper and a more effective use of a work permit than having portable traffic lights? In MSQ there is a big sign that says CCC is enviro-conscious (or some such) yet doesn't use solar power traffic lights in place of human beings standing confusedly in the sun. I think we can safely assume these guys do not have a driving license and, are subsequently familiar with the rules of the road.
Regarding the honking of horns to save getting lazy backsides out of cars for a sandwich- how long will it be before they are getting their haircuts in their cars?!

Anonymous said...

There is a reason why you have the expats doing these jobs. Because honestly speaking I doubt a local will demand or for that matter expect the same service from another local whether the local is paid enough or not (service being coffeshop to car service, bagging groceries and then delivering and loading said groceries in car, even the haircut thing happens which actually got me wondering XD)

Anonymous said...

Hey Subs

Have a look at this awesome guy. Sadly killed in a bike accident a while ago, but one of the best paramedic presenters I have seen.

Muscat Jet Driver xx

Anonymous said...

To be really really honest, I wouldn't want people to pump their own fuel here in Oman. Going by the number of lazy people around here I am sure each person would take upwards of 20 minutes just to pump the gas.

The fuel attendants do the job in less than 10 minutes. including the time the machine takes to pump gas.

Secondly, remittances. I still do not understand why do people have a problem with expats sending THEIR OWN MONEY they earned by doing LABOUR. It's their money. They have earned it. They can do whatever they want with it. Even if you say that an excess amount of money is leaving Oman, it's not like we have a lot of choices to spend money in Oman. An expat can't buy a house here besides the overly expensive ITCs . You can't do business here without a local partner. You don't get citizenship easily! So what other choices do expats have?

Even the locals travel in droves to the UAE to spend thousands of rials!

Suburban said...

Jet Driver!

John Hinds was an AMAZING doctor. I was lucky enough to see that talk live in Chicago last year, he stole the show. Super humble, super funny, so inspiring.

I miss you man!