08 July, 2006

We Can Make a Difference

I am of the mind that the situation for laborers in this country is improving. A lot of that is in no small way connected to the amount of media attention the issue has gotten. I think the onus now on those who care is to keep the ball rolling. In our own small way as bloggers I believe we can have some effect.

For example, where do you think the international press and foreign policy experts get their information from? No doubt a lot of it is picked up off the web. But it is doubtful that any laborers are themselves posting views or accounts of their struggles online. So this is where we come in.

As bloggers we CAN make a difference. Perhaps we could visit their camps or worksites, interveiw some of them and share their accounts online. In fact not only on this topic, but on any other we care about, we can play a more active role by blogging and perhaps engaging in a bit of amateur journalism.

As part of my contribution toward supporting the struggle of the laborers, I add Laborers 1, a synopsis of the problem and thoughts on what the GOVERNMENT can do.


Tainted Female said...

Good luck with this one… I can hardly get the UAE bloggers to send an email for the sake of improving something in the UAE…

As for this idea I support the cause and it reminds me of something a girl I knew did for as a university report years ago. I don’t know if you were around way back when, or remember that there used to be newspaper sales men selling papers to drivers of cars at each of the traffic lights & roundabouts in Dubai. The men literally stood all morning in the middle of traffic, running back and forth from cars to sell as many 2dhm papers as they could before the light turned green or traffic moved again. It was an awfully dangerous and exhausting looking job.

Anyway, this girl spent a day selling papers for one of the men in order to write her report. She said it was one of the toughest things she’d ever done, and the majority of the people who came across her were so shocked to find a girl doing it they ended up tipping her over a hundred times what they’d tipped the newspaper men, normally. Of course, she gave all this money to the newspaper guy at the end of the day.

Her experience and sharing it with the school opened our eyes up to how these poor people were working their asses off all year round in this exhaustive heat. Thankfully, the practice was finally banned for humanitarian reasons.

I’m thinking your average person won’t dare put themselves in these camps for a couple of reasons…

It’s summer time. Most people won’t face the heat & humidity for themselves unless they have to. Maybe if this were a winter suggestion, you might find more support?

And my personal reason (which I’m pretty sure you’ll find others relate to), I’m a girl and the idea of going alone to a camp with a hundreds of men in this country scares me. And I highly doubt I could get someone to go with me!

But as I said at the start of this, I wish you all the luck.

ORB-UAE - Creative Club said...

Creative Majlis - a Dubai based online forum of web groupies and bloggers for social causes in the UAE are also addressing these issues. Look them up here: http://creativemajlis-network.ryze.com

BD said...

tainted female, those are interesting comments. Yes, of course, I was here when the mid-street news vending was stopped--that was just little over a year ago in Abu Dhabi.

To literally walk in another person's shoes is an interesting idea that I hadn't really thought about--but as you point out, one of the biggest problems would be the logistics.

I've had more than one occasion to not only visit the labor camps but spend a night there as well. What I observed is that even when conditions are poor, not all is bad. That is, the luckier guys can form groups of associates who share in activities to make life better. For example, you'll have some groups where the guys really prepare delicious food even under their difficult circumstances. Or, they can enjoy drinking in their rooms together on the day off.

None of that, however, mitigates the general misery, and a random night in one of the bunks, I'm sure, was not enough for me to really know what it was like.

It would be valuable to be in their shoes on the job, for example. I read once of a Gulf News or KT reporter trying this for a few hours and thinking he might actually collapse in the heat.

Whatever we decide to do, it's a good start they we talk about it. Thanks orb-uae for the link, which I will check out.

Anonymous said...

Tainted and BD...

"Thankfully, the practice was finally banned for humanitarian reasons."

With regard to the newspaper wallahs, it was FINALLY banned after a few of them were killed by cars trying to beat the lights. These stories appeared in the papers. Before that, one of the newspapers provided them with (I think) straw hats...but also with thick strait-jackets with the newspaper logo, to wear over their clothes in the steamy hot summer days...they'd keep some bottled water next to a pole near the lights, but very soon the water itself would be boiling hot, and impossible to drink. KT once featured the story of one of them (after he was killed by a speeding car)...the guy managed, with the income from selling newspapers in this way, to send his son to medical school to become a doctor...

With regard to labour camps...in the days I used to go there (15 years ago) it was sheer misery...but like BD said, they made the most of it, getting up at six to prepare their meagre breakfast and lunch...off to work under the sun...breakfast break at 9 under any available shade, as luxury cars whipped past them (three of them died when a wall they sat next to for shade collapsed on them)...30 mins for lunch at 12.30, non-A/C rooms for some of them...(etc., you know the rest). Well if you want to experience it, you should experience it at its worst, not when it just happens to be a little easier on you. The reporter who worked with them at midday for a few hours was from 7DAYS, and he said he came pretty close to collapsing. (but note: he's not used to those conditions; they are).

These guys (workers) are kept out of most places just by the fact that they wouldn't "fit in". This includes the fancy-schmancy shopping malls where they couldn't buy anything or have something to eat at the food court..the most they can do is gawp at the shops and shoppers, get an eyeful of vpl, midriffs, butt-cleavage or whatever else happens to be on show...

One of the things I do, as an Indian with family here: my kids are never made to feel that these guys are in any way different or less human than us; in all our interactions I treat them as friends, conscious that my kids learn from what they see; I go into all the little Malayali tea-shops that these guys frequent, along with my wife and kids (it suits our budget anyway) and we sit there and have something (sometimes you get some nice kerala-style snacks). We get a lot of respect there just because of the presence of family (since ladies never go there) but to us the idea is...we are all members of society and labourers or not, everyone should feel wanted, included and equal.

(P.S. For practical reasons it's best for ladies not to go alone to labour camps, etc. It doesn't make sense. You got to have a good reason to do something like that. Most of these men are starved of sex for years, and top of which the little education they've had may not include the best of manners.)

BD said...

^^^Thanks for those details, anonymous. It's especially nice to hear about your habit to avoid treating these workers as though they are another (lower) species of human. It's true that they are no different from anyone else.

The fact that one guy has a 6th grade education and another a college degree does not make them fundamentally different human beings. We all have the same aspirations and suffer the same kinds of pain.

A child or any person can gain as much from a relationship with a laborer with a good heart as from anyone, whatever the person's social status. The key is not the position in society, but simply the good heart.

archer14 said...

At the end of the day, all you can do is just try to forget what you see, read or think. I know of a an economics graduate who cuts metal for a living.
For all of this 'symbiotic' relationship which the UAE benefits from, it's just the grim propsects of them not being able to remit which makes it far harder to even think of being in their shoes. They have toiled for many many years, and even if they did toil in the scorching heat, at the end of the day - what matters were the savings. They saved almost as much as two weeks work in their native land in a single day.

That ratio has come down drastically. For those who believe there's no point in surviving in this madness, leave. For those who don't know what the next day brings, stay on. All of us barring a few subconsciously feel something must be done. Sadly it will remain in the subconscious.

Tainted Female said...

At the end of the day, all you can do is just try to forget what you see, read or think.

I have to disagree with this. Though a lot of what you said makes sense, this does not. If you allow yourself to forget then why shouldn’t the rest of the world? Why shouldn’t the government forget about those much needed bus shelters & over due salaries? Why shouldn’t everyone just pretend it’s all rosy? Forgetting isn’t the answer.

But then, neither is random bitching & complaining about it in non-constructive ways.

I’m thinking BD was on the right path with the concept of this post. But in most cases where the concept has to do with huge changes, a single person’s effort isn’t enough.

Oh, and Anon... If you think I've never eaten in one of those cafeteria/restaurants you're mistaken.

My favorite dish from Karachi Darbar would be the butter chicken... because no where else makes it just the same.


BD said...

tainted female, glad you've brought the main point of my original post back in focus. It is only the little steps that I advocate we as bloggers take--namely to blog. But we might want to blog with the perspective that what we write could be seen by people who can make a difference and our words might educate, influence, inspire or otherwise effect them in a benefitial way.

It might also help to organize links, so if anyone has or will be posting in their own blog on the topic of Labor in the UAE, I invite you to submit the link to me--either add here or post to Laborer 1 or send to me as email.

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