The Underground World of Expatriate Car Washers

It is a shady world which is run mostly by African Expatriates. For outsiders of the area, the scene may be normal; a small group of African men, gathered on a street corner, desperately waving down passing cars to stop and get a quick wash for their cars; however, there is more to this than what meets the eyes. Their world is full of mystery as a reporter from the Arabic language daily newspaper, Al – Madinah learned when he himself went undercover to uncover the mystery which surrounds the world of expatriate car washers.[irp]

Reality: The first and foremost thing that the reporter noticed was that all these African men had headphones on them. He could not determine whether these headphones were used to listen to music or to warn each other of any intruders or inquisitive suspicious people in the area. One more thing which grasped at the attention of the reporter was where the car washers got their buckets of water filled. Some used the local mosque’s washrooms, some paid the nearby store owners for access to water and the cleverest way was to place the water bucket under air conditioning units to collect the water.

Price and Customers: The standard price for a car wash depends greatly on the model of your car and how dirty it is. Average charges for a sedan ranges between SAR 20 and SAR 25, while SUV’s and other larger vehicles are a bit more expensive. Each one of these car washers have their own client list. Most of the cars that stopped in the area knew exactly where to park the car and which cleaner to flag down. After a couple of hours, the local car washers lost their patience with the reporter who was waving down all the cars that passed in front of them.

Strict Rules: After a little while, a huge African man came to the reporter and told him to leave the area or face consequences. The reporter then went to a nearby alley where a Somali man taught him the trade secrets of car washing. The man told the reporter that similarly to gangs, each neighborhood was controlled by a group of car washers and other groups were not allowed to step into some other group’s turf. Anyone who breaks these rules is either suspended from working in the area or expelled altogether.

Illegal Workers: The reporter noted that these car washers mostly were undocumented workers who had come into the Kingdom illegally. The Somali man told the reporter that he paid almost SAR 5,000 to cross into the Kingdom and the journey took almost 3 weeks.[irp]

Money Transfer: The car washers of the area make around SAR 40 to SAR 90 per day and around SAR 130 during major holidays. A total of SAR 3,000 a month is earned by these car washers, who use their friends or relatives that are living legally in the Kingdom, to transfer money to their families outside of the Kingdom