I wish I had earlier taken a picture of the scene across the road. It was a vacant lot, with a base of sand – like anywhere in Dubai where there’s nothing built, or planted and given a whole lot of water. When the shops are open, it doubled as a car park. And then it would be fenced off at other times, and people would walk through or stand in there for a chat. Actually, it wasn’t quite a vacant lot. It also had a single large tree – left there for the shade I imagine.
The other night when I was walking home, despite the near darkness, the lot was quite different. Instead of seeing the light colour of sand, there was clearly a layer of something that resembled oil roughly splashed all over. I stood out the front of the complex with our security guard hypothesizing what they could be doing. We both reached the conclusion that they were probably improving the car park.
The next morning when I woke-up just as the sun was rising at 5am, there was no doubt about it. 75% of the plot was covered in bitumen. There were about 6 or 7 men rushing around in the near dark. They had a “Bessie” (for those familiar with the animated movie ‘Cars’ featuring Lightning Macqueen’); and four or five trucks waiting in the park with bitumen in their trailers. It was absolutely amazing. By lunch time the entire car park was completed, with lines marked and fence posts cemented in.
You see a lot of this in Dubai. The Sheik has had such amazing and grand plans, that there really is a furious pace from everyone to get it done in time. Some industries, more obviously than others. Construction work is primarily resourced from expat Indians. I’d really not like to be working in their conditions. You see whole mini-buses filled to the brim with the workers who pile out at the work site, to be replaced by the next shift so a lot of the sites are effectively working 24 hours a day. Mind you, I think that only requires two shifts in most places. Although some friends mentioned they no longer see the lights of cranes swinging about at night like they used to.
Although the conditions look extremely tough. Apparently they have improved somewhat over the years. Allegedly a few years back, instead of packed mini-buses, the workers would be packed into the back of a caged cattle truck. I have heard people referring to it as modern day slave-labour.
Despite this, Dubai is still a fantastic place for a lot of the workers. Although they toil hard here to earn a meagre salary, it’s a huge improvement on what they would be enduring at home.
An example of this is our security guard, Manoj. Manoj is from Nepal, and he has my utmost respect. Each, and every, day he works a 12 hour shift. He looks tired all the time, but he always has a smile for everyone and enjoys a good chat. I don’t know how someone can do it, then I learned he has a family back home – including a baby girl. He told me he’s going to see them again in maybe July or August this year. 12 hour shifts x 7 days a week for the next 22 weeks or so, before he can see his family again. Lots of people talk about making sacrifices, but I doubt they really know the meaning of the word next to some of the people I see.
Due to the financial crisis, the local press has been doing a number of exposes on how some example individual residents have been affected. It even detailed their incomes, and how it’s broken down. If the figures are accurate, some of the workers here are sending 100% of their incomes home while living in basic share accommodation, and eating whatever food the company provides them – which, if you see the battalions of labourers piling out of the buses, is a pretty small plastic bag full.
Some of the people the paper interviewed were illiterate so they didn’t know anything about the financial crisis, like how it was caused. All they knew is they were getting even less money for what they did before.
It’s a bleak picture I’m painting, but it’s one that still looks on the bright side of life. Despite working crazy hours here for not much, huge distances away from their families, these people are able to provide for their family like they may not have imagined back home. And still remain quite happy throughout it. Kudos and big props to them.