07 December 2010

An honest start to keep Happy "happy"!

‘Happy to be in Dubai; I’ve a better life here’ – says Ms. Happy Bulosan (not her real name), a 22 year-old Filipina resident from Dubai. She and her name – Happy – represent the general state of mind of an estimated 2 million+ Filipinos working in the Middle East. Usually, whatever the time of the day or the place, if you come across a Filipino in the UAE / Middle East, you’d definitely find yourself being charmed by his/her good sense of simple humor, colorful, decent and stylish dress sense, and overall a “Happy-go-Lucky” attitude towards life in general.

In fact, whichever profession you find a Filipino Expat working in, you can be assured of one personality element vibrant in him/her: i.e. “Staying Happy”. So many times I return feeling good and contented after having spoken to / served by a Filipino – either due to a simple approach, or an ever smiling “May I help you” disposure. Even when you are upset for any kind of mishaps and reprimand a Filipino, you tend to get an honest “Sorry Sir! It will be taken care of; no worries!” Perhaps this is the sole reason why Filipinos have scored full marks in the hospitality and catering industry – where, unfortunately, many Expat Arabs have failed, despite their advantages in language and other skills vis-à-vis other Expats.

However, do the Filipinos – esp. a huge proportion of Filipino women – get their worth in compensation and treatment? I feel I’d not be the first one to say that they do not! Often they are hired for one job but the job-scope subsequently expanded, while salary remaining the same! Take the example of Happy: “When I joined here, my boss was very helpful, kind and considerate, and promised that I’d be able to leave office everyday at 6pm”, she says with a wry smile, but devoid of any complaints. “But I’m doing a lot more now, including accounts, finance, visa, supervising service technicians, office-cleaning and toilet-cleaning. Usually, I’m able to leave office by 8pm, but occasionally at 10pm. Only problem is that due to this I lose my car pick-up service.”

Or, take another case, as reported recently in Gulf News:
Salon owners allegedly force hairdressers, who are mostly women, to work long hours daily without rest. Some of them are even forced to double as cleaners. "We have to clean the place in addition to our working for long hours every day," said Amelia, a Filipina who works in a beauty salon in Ajman. Amelia said hairdressers usually sleep inside the salon itself.
Each year more than a million Filipinos leave their country to work abroad , and an increasing number of skilled Filipino workers take on unskilled work overseas – perhaps more so in the middle-east. In many countries, including the Middle East, many Filipino workers find themselves oppressed, abused, their pays and documents withheld, confiscated or hidden. Some others, esp. domestic helpers, are physically and sexually abused, or even murdered.

Many of the cases (like 2 examples above) go unnoticed and uncared for, in between the hustle and bustle of our lives in Dubai; so much so that many of us don’t even bat an eyelid when we see such a case happening in front of us! Why? Because we take each Filipino worker’s services for granted! For us they are just like necessary lubricants to keep our lives moving at every corner of Dubai – ready to be disposed off when the time comes – when they stop looking happy or are lost in their immense pain behind their otherwise non-complaining exteriors!

Can we really be just, in doing just anything for Happy or any of her fellow countrymen… the unsung heroes and service providers… ever? I feel we definitely can give it an honest start… by just returning their happiness – in simplest of ways possible! I’d be delighted to receive any ideas on this.

For comments posted on UAE Community Blog, click here.

23 November 2010

A question of Ethics and Sensationalism

My entry into the UAE blogging world was more or less inspired by Secret Dubai Diary; I was sort of a fan of her reporting / blogging style, and was even more impressed by the way she has been maintaining a parallel voice that was not restricted by state restrictions. In short, she really displayed the guts to come out as a bold and unbiased voice on everything that had the chance of tarnishing image of this young country.

At times, some of the posts were found inappropriate by the moral police and as a result, we are not able to access her blog directly within UAE. Undeterred, she continues to write - though less frequently - and one can read her blog thru a feed-reader or google reader.

A recent post however, started me thinking all over again - is it blogging, journalism, or sensationalism which she is doing these days? Consider this quote below appearing in a UK newspaper, which SD chose to excerpt in her post. The quote is from a lawyer turned hooker named Paige Ashley:
"My biggest one-off job was with three Arab businessmen at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi," she said. "It's a seven-star hotel and everything is decked out in gold leaf. They paid me £20,000 for one night with all of them. By morning I was exhausted”.
Most likely the intent was to convey that Arab businessmen would go to any extent to sleep with a western woman - which indeed does reflect upon the society’s scum that need to be questioned upon and cleared. It also perhaps highlights the stereotypes held by the Arabs...

But then, what does a neutral person might also infer from the post? Here are some possibilities:
  1. Many western women seek Dubai as mecca of “prostitution behind the veil”?
  2. Best income solution for unsuccessful British career women during recession (or for that matter any time) is to get into sophisticated call-girl racket?
  3. Arabs welcome western (e.g. British) women expats in UAE /GCC with the one-track objective of getting them to bed in order to improve their own status?
  4. Many British women are opting for sex / flesh trade in GCC in order to live a normal respectable life elsewhere? (I heard of a similar situation applicable for East Europeans way back in 2001 – many of whom are well placed in top positions in some companies today)?
  5. If you want to make a fast buck in UAE – escorting /or flesh trade is the best solution!
It's a question of identifying the fine line between Ethics and Sensationalism. It’s true that the facts quoted in the post could very well be true! But perhaps Secret Dubai could employ many of her journalistic finesse to put it more palatable – instead of injecting sensationalism on the blogosphere or smearing Arab and Western communities in the country.

It would be interesting to know the reactions of fellow young Arabs on this issue – especially since they are inheriting one of the fastest growing young nations in recent times.

Some additional comments also appear in UAE Community Blog

16 November 2009

"United we stand for UAE"

I’ve been living here for the last 8 years now, and I can say that Public holidays here are primarily “Emirati affairs” - with the expatriates rarely participating in it like the way they do in developed countries. Instead, their celebrations are restricted to enjoying it just as a holiday.

Recently however, I saw some interesting developments that could change this attitude, and could perhaps also bridge the Local-Expatriate culture gap. The Al Mutahida campaign from Watani (the National Identity program) perhaps for the first time respects and highlights upon the shared destiny of all the UAE residents as a whole!

The purpose of Al Mutahida – which in Arabic means “United” – is simply, to bring all the people of UAE together, irrespective of cast color or creed. The campaign features a number of activities in form of Post Cards, Art competition, Exhibitions and Roadshows. See Al Watani on Facebook.

Any resident can collect a Post Card from Emirates Post Office, to greet UAE’s leaders and express solidarity with their vision of turning UAE into a contributor to world Peace and Prosperity. The free post card has spaces to fill resident’s name / contact details, along with a space for thumb impression. Residents have until now have known Post cards only as a way to win millions (thanks to a successful promotion). Thanks to al Muthaida, they would now have the chance to come closer to the illustrious leaders of this country.

The Art competition intended for all residents, aims to collect their personal / artistic interpretation of the word Al Mutahida. Selected entries will be displayed at the Dubai mall from 26 Nov- 5 Dec, along with the works of renowned artists of the country. I feel it’s an excellent chance for all the residents to display their hidden skills to established artists and representatives from the Art community. (The deadline, it seems, is 17th Nov.)

Long ago, in this column, I had commented on Dubai being more of a Fusion spot, and that progressing towards being a melting pot of cultures will take a long time. I feel one of the many reasons is the general lack of interest within the guest worker communities, for the nation’s heritage. To some extent, this attitude has grown over the years perhaps due to an Emirati’s latent “fear that an expatriate is going to impose his culture on locals.

Well, perhaps this campaign might well be the first foot forward in allaying this fear. One small observation however... expatriates need an English website also, incidentally which, I could not locate.

(Click here for some comments posted in UAE Community Blog.)

10 June 2009

The Urgent Need for Therapy

These days, it's a common thread of discussion among most of the Expats - regardless of the direction they come from, to UAE. It could be any one of these threads:
- Did you hear "so and so" are leaving the country for good?
- You know i heard that there has bee 26000 one way departures in one week alone thru Emirates Airlines?
- I heard that your good friend and his wife lost their jobs together? What are they doing now?
- Hey, I heard that you still have not been able to get something to pull along... so what have you decided?
- Are you going to make a decision within the next 2 months? Let me know, I can get you a good price for your car...
- etc. etc.
I find that the most common undercurrent that flows among these discussions, is something to do with "How best we can capitalize on the exodus" - whether it's your friend, neighbour, sworn enemies, colleagues, professional friends, or just anybody. And more often than not, the questioner / initiator is also under some kind of pressure - either money, job, pressures etc. related to this recession.

However, it's rare to find someone who's putting in efforts in a small or big way to make a difference to the lives of the affected souls! (I'm not talking of an exceptional few who have been helping even before the crises began!).

No wonder then, that we hear of many people who have been badly shocked by the crises - some of these have been made redundant after 5-10 years of dedicated service to their companies! A few of them are so shattered that they're unable to decide whether and how to return to their respective countries. Fear, loss of confidence, depression, inferiority complex, etc. type of psychological problems haunt them every hour of their waking life.

Therefore, when one of my friends lost his job, and faced the same situation, I thought of trying to help him, and had some consoling sessions with him, his wife and children. With my limited knowledge, I could understand that this person (probably one of many others in UAE) has a terrible loss of confidence and self-respect, and needs some affordable means of urgent therapy, to even get ready for a final departure for his home country.

I'm sure there are many like him, and as such I feel majority among these Expat communities - especially from developing nations who managed /are forced to stay for a while in this country - need some kind of Psychotherapy or Psychiatric or friendly help, to cope up with the troubled times.

I'd like to invite all the readers to come up with their experiences on this forum / platform, so that we can offer similar help to the affected ones!

(By the way, I checked for some good institutions / clinics for this friend of mine; but probably regardless of their goodness they would not be able to help, since he's an Indian, and language or at least culture would matter in a big way to calm him down!
Hence would anyone of you have any suggestions for an Indian Psychiatrist / Clinical Psychologist who can help? You can write to me, replying thru this column)

17 April 2009

How to turn around bad publicity

Recently I read a very heated set of debates triggered by Sultan Sooud al Qassemi's article in the Independent Blog as well as repost of the same in UAE Community Blog.

The article and its follow-up comments are perhaps some of the never-ending Dubai-bashing exercise some of us have been mutely observing / reading for quite a few years now! Strangely, I find that whether it was the boom time or the current bust time that Dubai is experiencing, some of the commonly accepted ills are refused to be accepted by the so called "PR-generals" of the City state!

Here are just 2 of the truncated comments posted against the main article:
A couple of months ago my husband was made redundant in Dubai. He owed his company a portion of his housing loan, but his company owed him far more in unpaid salary/redundancy/ contract etc... They refused to hand this over until he paid up. We went to the Labour Tribunal twice (holding of passports is illegal in U.A.E law), Court, Police, Human rights... At the British Embassy we were told to pay up and keep quiet... if there was a family emergency in the U.K. my husband would not be able to leave the country. ...Perhaps Dubai jails would have more people in them if Emiratis were punished properly for the crimes they commit against expats. I could mention the case of the woman wilfully run over twice by an unnamed Emirati driving a Hummer who only received 10 years, reduced to 7 on appeal for premeditated murder... ..."
I lived in Dubai for many years... The bubble has certainly burst... Dubai was once a quiet, soulful town full of culture, opportunity and promise. In its' speed for greed and wealth it has now become the most artificial and superficial place on the planet... a haven for prostitution, slavery and vulgar displays of wealth. It makes 'sun city' look real! Prostitution is so rife, in this so called 'Muslim' country.... The Emiratis and their fellow GCC comrades seem to think any semi-attractive western woman under 40 in Dubai is on the game...
Slavery is rife and the conditions for construction workers are appalling. When you drive past the construction sites they look like the walking dead...
I feel there's a lot of truth in the above comments, since I myself faced the similar situations of dubainow, 7 years ago, which made me more cautious! Recently I visited Sonapur - which has now turned notorious after BBC documentary / report - and was shocked even by the overall state of things! You don't have to even go inside each labour compound - the mere location of the camps (adjacent to a massive graveyard), the dusty and muddy state of roads /approach and even the treatment given by RTA to these hapless laborers (e.g. the twin sheltered bus-stand nearer to emirates Road didn't have ACs) were signals enough for anyn new person to understand the contrasts one is encountering here!

Having lived in this country for so long, and to a large extent indebted to the growth I experienced, I fail to understand why these problems are dealt with a superficial attitude! Isn't it this lackadaisical attitude and the failure to attack these problems giving enough chances to the buzz creators to talk negative again and again?

No matter whatsoever way a community, city or a nation progresses, if the leadership is unable to uplift the bottom-most section of society, there will be increasing chances that sooner or later the economy is going to crumble! It's not only true for Dubai, but also true for all the developing as well as developed world! Similarly, if the people responsible to take control of the "cultural law and order" are not doing enough, soon the sense of security and peace - the two most prized possessions of UAE - will crumble!

Since this is a recession time, activities would far lower due to slower economic growth. Therefore it's the most opportune moment / time to sit back, listen carefully and start finding permanent solutions and acting on them with an iron hand! Go ahead! Stop losing out!