Monday, March 15, 2010


I paid $4 for a haircut.  Since I haven't paid anyone to cut my hair over a decade, I am unclear on what I should be paying, but that seemed more than fair.  The Malaysian who made me handsome even rubbed my head after the buzz.  What a deal.

After I was awoken at 11am (recall that I work the night shift) by the South African electrician vieing to tend to my wall unit HVAC, I bought coffee from a Sri Lankan, laundry soap from an Indian, and walked through "the Haji mart" where certifiable, or at least well-connected, Iraqis hawked pirated copies of any imaginable digital media to GIs for prices I am certain are reasonable.  This worked up an appetite, so I went to the DFAC (cafeteria) for dinner; I was allowed entrance by the Ugandan security guard. 

Most of the foreign service contracts are direct or subcontracts from companies like Halliburton or KBR which make the business of taking care of deployed soldiers their business.  They made the argument years ago that they could do this more expertly and more efficiently than the military could with its own personnel, and further, that doing this would free up more military personnel to do the things military personnel do (I don't think that this includes writing blogs).  Built into that bottom line is the cost of labor, and many skilled workers and white collar contractors are American, British, or Australian.  These contractors are paid the astronomical wages you have read about in the news, some for jobs you should think would exist.  A "crew supervisor" in Qatar and I got to talking as I was waiting to take my shower as the Cadillac (read: fancy outhouse), and she explained to me the meaning of her solid red shirt.  While a crew of emaciated Pakistani custodians cleaned and stocked the Cadillac, she, and others in Red, stood arms crossed "supervising" the crews.  This involved more of the same for 4-5 hours a day, driving a pick up truck full of these custodians from Cadillac to Cadillac - all of this for six figures in wages.  What a steal for your tax dollars.

By comparison, personnel from poorer Africa and Asian countries make pennies on those dollars, as my Ugandan friend Joseph (I will call him Joseph) tells me, they are also paid with reference to their host-country standards.  If the median income is $75/month in Sierra Leone, and and SLese workers are paid (?)$150/mo, they are happy and the contractor is happy.  Some of these pay structures seem inequitable, however, when all of the contractors are living together on the base, and not thousands of miles away at their respective coutnries.  Shouldn't these individuals be paid to scale of their jobs (ie. military pay), rather than by their origins?  Joseph is content and providing well for a large extended family back home.  He was vetted, and never served in the LRA.  So maybe he is paid enough.  I am just not sure I have the right answer, but I guess it would be nice to know that Joseph and the remainder of the Ugandan security detail, befit with locked-and-loaded M16s, had high rates of job satisfaction.

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