Risks of living as an ex-pat

THE traumatic experience of a South African man and his fiancée in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a stark reminder of the risks and consequences of living in a foreign country with a wholly different set of laws and values.

Emlyn Culverwell, who once lived in Port Alfred, had gone the way of many South Africans now working as ex-pats in the Middle East, particularly in the wealthy Gulf states, which offer lucrative job opportunities for foreigners.

In my own circle of family and friends, I know of more than half a dozen people who are working in Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Many take teaching jobs, while others have more specialised occupations. These positions pay well and there is opportunity for advancement which these ex-pats certainly would not have working in South Africa.

Of course working in a foreign country is not without challenges as one has to learn to adapt to and respect the culture.

As my sister and brother-in-law have related, this ranges from how you conduct yourself at work, to how you react to bad, aggressive driving by the locals and what you say on social media – even on Whatsapp, which is user-to-user conversation. Of course these things are true even in our own country, but they are magnified in a country like Qatar, where saying the wrong thing can get you fired and deported, or worse.

Rather you hold your tongue and keep a low profile, just working to the best of your ability.

One of the particular things to watch out for in Muslim countries is their morality laws, which are based on Sharia. This Sharia is not only for the citizens of that country, everyone falls under it.

Stories are told of ex-pats working in Sudan who received phone calls from seductive-sounding women which seemed to be a means of entrapment.

And if you are unmarried, you certainly do not risk not only your job but your freedom, well-being and perhaps even your life by engaging in sex outside of marriage.

Things that are “merely” moral questions in our own society become matters that the police and courts get involved with in a Muslim country.

Culverwell and his Ukrainian fiancée, Iryna Nohai are now sitting in a jail awaiting trial in the UAE because she was found to be pregnant and they are unmarried. This is truly a horrendous experience not only for them but their families who are anxious about the health and well-being of their children.

We hope that the South African embassy will be spurred to negotiate for leniency.

– Jon Houzet

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