The Unlikely Well-Paying Job in Beirut

Last week, I slipped into a Careem car. For those of you residing outside the Middle East, Careem is the #1 ride-hailing app in MENA, Pakistan & Turkey, with operations spanning 100 cities and 14 countries. I was first exposed to Careem (which means "kind" or "generous" in Arabic) two years ago while in Amman, when I discovered it would cost me a whopping 50 Jordanian dinars (US$ 70) if I booked a cab from my hotel at the Dead Sea to Queen Alia International Airport versus a meager 20 JOD (US$ 28) via Careem. I even scored a rookie’s discount of 5 JOD, and that inaugural trip paved the way for my incessant addiction to the transportation network company here in Beirut.

A social creature by nature, I like to strike up conversations with Careem captains. One unmistakable pattern I’ve noticed is that many of them are well-educated, multilingual, and worldly. I kid you not. On this particular trip, Fadi* opened up genuinely about his profession.

I use the ride-hailing app Careem to get around Beirut and the 'burbs

I asked how long he’d been driving with Careem. A couple of years ago, he was working as an accountant at a private firm, fetching a monthly income of around US$ 1,200. A graduate of finance, Fadi aspired to transition to a leading local bank, as the benefits—subsidized education for employees’ children, health insurance, tenure—were irresistible. One of the top three Alpha banks made him an offer of US$ 800 per month, which he was willing to stomach, even though the pay cut was considerable. But the employer then relegated the position to “contractual,” capping it at five years without the possibility to evolve to a full-time role. Perplexed, Fadi turned it down.

He went out and rented a car for two weeks. He’d heard that a savvy cab driver could command a decent income in the $3,000 to $4,000 range, and he wanted to corroborate it himself. That he did, which puzzled him entirely, because you wouldn’t expect a blue-collar job to land you a fatter paycheck than a glamorous white-collar job at a bank.

Fadi and his wife, a biochemist, are both college graduates and fluent in three languages. They’re raising a 9-month-old son with the help of a live-in maid who doubles as a nanny. Fadi speaks passionately of Careem, praising the company’s investment in its human capital and its generous compensation scheme. Driving for both Careem and its competitor Uber, as many captains attest to doing, alongside a roster of private clients he's accumulated over the years, Fadi makes around US$ 4,000 per month, subscribing to a 7- to 8-hour workday. Best part? There’s no one breathing down his neck, micromanaging his every move. 

He may not be putting his finance skills to good use, but then again, what percent of graduates in this economy actually captures a position in their respective domains? At the very least, Fadi is working for a company whose valuation is US$ 1.2 billion; he and his family are insured; and he’s appreciated. That trifecta is a rare one in Lebanon, particularly the appreciation bit.

Fadi and I navigated other weighty topics, like exorbitant school tuitions, outlandish house prices, and the general cost of living in Beirut. How do folks do it? No, really! How does a family put their two or three kids through private school, when tuition alone can run up to US$ 5,000 per kid annually? Are people universally living in debt? Could there be any other logical explanation when salaries are so slim?

And what’s society saying to students and graduates when they find themselves either unemployable or worthy of nothing more than a US$ 600 paycheck straight out of college? How many years before they’re promoted to US$ 1,000? How about US$ 2,000? Will they ever be able to afford living in a middle-class neighborhood whose average home price falls between $300,000 and $400,000 for 175 square meters? What edge are university graduates really getting with their degrees? Seems a B.S. is effectively BS.

In all honesty, I’m effusively proud that Careem is making such a positive dent in people’s lives in Lebanon. While the rest of the country bickers about brain drains and exported talent, doing nil to tackle the ugly beast at its core, one company is hiring locals, training them, and paying fairly and sustainably for their labor.

Thank you for being Careem. And thank you for being, Careem.

Backseat selfie

*Name changed to protect identity of the cab driver.

This article was neither commissioned nor endorsed by Careem. It reflects the sole view of the author. To download the app, use this link to unlock $3 in credit toward your first ride.


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