JEDDAH – You can find them all over town. Mostly of African origin, they stand at the roadside, sleeves rolled up and bucket in hand, ready to wash any car that comes along.
The public may complain about them spoiling the general appearance of streets and posing a health and environment threat by leaving long trails of dirty water to gather in pools and attract mosquitoes, but vehicle owners are at the same time more than content to avail themselves of their services, rendered at prices described as “more than reasonable.”
The agreeable prices do not come without complaint, however.
“Most of them are not legal residents of the country,” says Waleed Al-Amoudi, and they hang around in car parks at shopping centers leaving pools of dirty water everywhere.”
“Neither the municipality or anyone else does anything about them,” says Hussein Al-Amri. “They waste water and also cause damage to roads and increase the proliferation of insects. The Mayor’s Office should do something to put a stop to it and clean up the areas where they work after they’ve got rid of them.”
In Jeddah, the greatest presence of “professional car washers” is to be found in the Al-Masfaa District, otherwise known as Al-Karantina, in the south of the city.
“I bring my car here maybe twice a week as it’s cheap and they do a good job and in good humor,” says Bandar Al-Harithi.
According to Ahmed Al-Maulid, sometimes drivers have no other option. “We don’t want to encourage car washing in these places, but motorists sometimes find themselves forced to go to them as it saves time, Al-Maulid says. “You can go shopping while they do it, which is better than going to licensed car washers which are more expensive and where you might have to wait a long time.”
Mohammed Ahmad confesses to a degree of hypocrisy, and also risk. “Okay, I might complain about them sometimes, but I always end up going to them,” he says. “They do what you ask them to without moaning. I get a bit worried about theft, though, since the time some money was stolen from my car, but since then I’ve always kept a close eye on them to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Soleiman Akbar, a 22-year-old car washer from Somalia, says that it is in their own interests to ensure that no theft or other untoward activities occur.
“You can occasionally hear an argument between the worker and the owner of the car who accuses the other of stealing, but we work in large groups, sometimes getting up to around fifty people, and we don’t want any trouble or threats, so if we find out that someone in the group has been guilty of stealing then we kick him out of the group, as he will only bring trouble,” Akbar says.
The car washers can be observed in their groups, each working as a single unit to control their “turf” and keep other groups away. Drivers who look like they are about to park may be startled by a cloth or sponge thrown onto the windscreen to mark his vehicle as “taken.”
According to Mohammed from Somalia, the vast majority of car washers are Somali, Ghanaian, or Chadian. “No other nationality stands a chance of getting in on it,” he says.
“We actually like this sort of work, and we do a proper job.”
“I’ve been washing cars since I came to the Kingdom on an Umrah visa, when I joined up with a relative of mine who was already here,” says Adam from Ghana. “Most of our customers are young guys, and we try and smile and be nice and strike up a relationship with them so that they’ll come back. We even give them our phone numbers.”
32 people, 6,033 buckets
For the authorities, the car washers are an administrative and environmental headache.
“They’ve become a real problem all over town,” says Ahmed Al-Ghamdi of the Mayor’s Office. “They cause damage to road surfaces and potholes because of the pools of water they leave behind. Mayoralty inspectors perform raids on the sites where they work from time to time and take way the materials they use, but the car washers themselves run away.”
The municipality head for the Al-Jami’a District of Jeddah says that authorities from the municipality, police, the governor’s office and the Passports Department conduct inspection tours three times a week to bring in illegal residents and persons overstaying the permitted period of their visas.
“Those who have legal residence are dealt with, along with their sponsors, according to the law, and car washing materials are confiscated,” said Sabri Qadah. “Last year we took away 6,033 buckets and 80 motorbikes, and 32 people in violation of residency laws or of unknown identities were arrested.” – Okaz/SG