Photo Credit: Meres J. Weche
The Black Expat: 'I Find I’m Given A Fair Opportunity In Saudi Arabia'
Black expat Meres J. Weche has called Saudi Arabia home for the past ten years. He relocated from Haiti to Canada with his family at age four, speaking only Creole and French at the time, and was completely fluent in English by age 16.
Meres moved to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in June 2012. He decided to apply for a job in the country after his then-girlfriend, now his wife, saw a TV show about the lives of adventurous expats in the Middle East.
“I was working as a content creator at Travelzoo at the time, so I was already into travel and new experiences,” said Meres. “I applied for the job and after five interviews I got an offer and jumped on it. I certainly don’t regret it. I’ve met so many people from all over the world and learned about a new culture and a new part of the world.”
Today, Meres works as a content creator for a graduate-level research university in Saudi Arabia, where he is currently the lead of web and content. An internationally-focused and English-speaking science and technology research university by the shores of the Red Sea, Meres enjoys living and working in a university community made up of people from all over the world.
“It’s truly an international experience, and I’ve made friends from so many places. I’ve also learned a lot about many cultures and customs. Now, when I travel, I often have friends to visit in many places. Back home in Canada, travel opportunities are more limited, as international destinations take a lot of time and money to plan. Also, it’s hard to fit in a lot with only two weeks of vacation. But living in Saudi Arabia, I can literally go for a weekend trip to visit the pyramids in Egypt. We also have a month and a half of vacation, so travel opportunities abound.”
Living in Saudi Arabia has allowed Meres easier access to many places. The country is ideally located between Africa, Asia, and Europe, and he has been able to travel to countries like Namibia, South Africa, Senegal, Algeria, Egypt, China, and other countries in the Middle East.
A blogger with a passion for telling stories through words and images, Meres chronicles some of his trips on his blog, meresofarabia.com. Along with his job at the university, he’s also been running his own media company, Culture Shox Media, for the past 17 years, through which he publishes around 10 websites ranging from travel, culture, employment, and creative niches.
Having had ample time to do some exploring in Saudi Arabia over the past ten years, Meres has come across some true gems he recommends visitors don’t miss, for example, the southern green mountains home to the Flower Men, and the city of Taif during the beautiful rose season. His favorite place in Jeddah, however, is the UNESCO-listed historic district of Al-Balad.
Despite the country consisting of a lot of desert, Meres says the cities are very modern with great infrastructure. In his experience, even things like mobile phone plans and banking are so much more flexible and advanced than what he was accustomed to back in Canada.
He has found the local Saudi population to be quite welcoming and has experienced many great times with Saudis. He was shocked to attend a Sean Paul concert in the middle of the desert and hear Saudis singing all the lyrics to his songs.
Another shock for Meres was discovering that, as a Black Canadian, he is treated better in Saudi Arabia than he was back home. He attributes this to his Canadian passport and says the situation would likely be different if he was from an African nation.
While used to being treated differently and sometimes underestimated in Canada as a person of color in the workplace or society in general, working in the Middle East, Meres finds the dynamics are different. Passport privilege is a real thing, and people with North American or European passports get paid a lot more than people with passports from Southeast Asia or Africa.
“It’s a strange scenario when I see Black people out here from the U.S. or Canada suddenly switch and take advantage of those privileges and treat Pakistani or Filipino staff poorly just because they can here. But generally speaking, I find a lot less discrimination aimed at Black people in Saudi Arabia than I would in America or Canada.”
“Of course, racism still exists, and while there’s a clear hierarchy of professional preference in the workplace for Western (white) expats who are seen as more qualified and able to bring Western experience, I find I’m given a fair opportunity to prove my worth and contribute.”
More and more, Black expats are coming to live and work in Saudi Arabia. Just in his workplace alone, Meres has met many African-Americans, as well as other Black Canadian and Caribbean people. He is also part of the Brothas & Sistas in Saudi Arabia Facebook group, which organizes get-togethers for members to meet up.
Meres is currently planning to return to Namibia for another self-drive road trip next February, COVID-19 restrictions permitting. You can follow him at @meresofarabia and check out his blog at meresofarabia.com.