I stumbled upon this news article on a Finnish tabloid magazine about the GCC youth camp that has been arranged for the first time in a tiny town in Eastern Finland. The article about these millionaire Khaleejis in the Finnish forest made me laugh a few times but it was also interesting. Looks like the reporter has been dramatizing the story somewhat although this might even be her real perception of Arabs. I think this article summarizes pretty well how Finns in general perceive Arab men and the Gulf countries.
What made this story even more interesting to me is the location of the camp. I moved to Eastern Finland for a short while to a small town nearby. Everyone seemed to know one another and there were always rumors about the neighbors. If someone had lots of money they never showed it because Eastern Finns are known to be quite jealous and always talk about other people’s money! The Finns of the Eastern province are also known to be talkative (to the point where they make up or blow up stories), laid-back and humorous but they might also have certain reserves for foreigners (or even Finns from other regions).
The mentality of the people of Eastern Finland shines through in this article and it made me smile.
Another thing worth mentioning: The man interviewed from Finland is the father of the woman who recruited me to Saudi-Arabia. We were even co-workers for a short while in the nursing recruitment agency. What a small world.
So here is the article translated into English:
Filthy Rich Arabs came to do forest work in Savo
Luxury palaces changed to everyday work in autumn Finland
Mohamed Hamed has previously met for example Saudi-Arabia’s and Kuwait’s heirs to the throne.Good relations to the Arab countries rulers made the oil billionaires choose Finland for their camp location.
Three men are kneeling in prayer at the Vanamola camp grounds in Joroinen, Southern-Savo(eastern Finland). When the religious duties have been performed, the men gather around the campfire to enjoy some arabic coffee. Dates brought from their home countries are offered to guests too.
The majority of the 76 arab men are currently learning how to do forestry in the nearby pine forest. The temperature is only 6 degrees and with the chilly autumn wind blowing on the yellow birch leaves, beanies and quilted coats are clearly coming in handy.
The men are from rich oil countries:Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, UAE and Saudi-Arabia. In their home countries they are used to multistorey palaces and being constantly surrounded by servants. In Finland they must even make their own coffee in pots.
What made the millionaires come to the cold north?
We have a history of many years of co-operation with the Persian gulf councils (GCC) youth ministry. They decided to arrange the first Persian Gulf countries youth camp and the location was finally decided upon Finland and Joroinen, the projects organizer Mohammed Hamed says.
He works as a youth-worker for the city of Varkaus, but has known some big shots from the Arab countries for many years. Close relations to ministers and successors to the thrown played a crucial role when the arab countries started searching for a suitable destination for their youth camp. The camp is the first of its kind in the entire Europe.
-The ones that had been to Finland before described it as beautiful and safe, Hamed knows.
Salman AlMahmood, Abdulla Ebrahim and Mohamed AlRashedi would like to visit Finland again, even though the October weather does not suit the Arab youths that are used to temperatures as high as +60C.
The rumor in Savo has it that there could be even royals or at least some sort of sheikhs among the campers, but Hamed does not directly endorse the claim.
We are not elaborating on their backgrounds because we want to highlight everyone’s equality. They are all rich, that we cannot deny though. For them it’s perfectly normal to live in three to four story houses, which in Finnish terms is a sumptuous palace. At home they are constantly surrounded by servants, but this time I have been instructed to put them to work Hamed says.
A Finnish man that has been observing the hassle of the campers reveals that there have almost been some dietary issues. The guest’s religion forbids eating pork among other things and even the animals that have reached the dinner table have their own slaughtering regulations.
But when you ask the campers themselves, they have had nothing to complain about. Mohamed AlRashedi, Salman Almahmood and Abdulla Ebrahim from Bahrain praise the Finns to be open and friendly. The beautiful nature has also made an impact.
They think that Finland has been surprisingly expensive when compared to other European countries. Despite that the men don’t have to worry about lack of money, because the oil countries can afford to take care of their citizens.
-Back home our lives are very simple. We don’t pay any taxes, studying is free and if you want to get married for example, the government will give you money to organize the wedding, AlRashedi says.
Yonsef Al-Saady, Mubarak Jeaithin and Saleh Ghareeh are making coffee by the campfire.
One euro is currently only half a Bahraini dinar, so the men are hoping for some affordable shopping in the next few days. The entourage is leaving to Helsinki on monday, where they are hoping to meet the President of Finland herself. An application requesting to meet her has already been sent, but they do not know yet if it was accepted.
Hamed says getting such a prestigious group of guests to the 5000 inhabitant strong Joroinen was like winning the lottery, because the wealthy arab countries are willing to pay for the expenses of their campers.
-This visit will not cost even a penny to the Finnish government, because the participating countries are paying for every single thing. Instead the guests will leave big money to the surrounding communities and Helsinki, Hamed states.
FACTS ABOUT THE CAMP:
The camp is organized and funded by the Persian Gulf council (GCC) youth ministry
The EU-like GCC consists of wealthy oil countries such as Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi-Arabia, Oman and Qatar.
Almost 80 guests from different countries are participating in the 10-day camp
The camp programme will consist of introduction to the Finnish culture, meeting with Finnish youths, doing forest work and a friendly football game with the local football team. Next week the campers will go to Helsinki for some sightseeing.
I cracked up when I saw the guy holding the arabic coffee pot over the campfire!