Tuesday, October 6, 2009

For country or humanity - I salute Nabeel

2008 and 2009 were very tough years for me emotionally in my personal life. When I decided to take the role of protecting those who have suffered unjustly one way or another I knew it would be a headache and worse, a heartache. I kept myself determined somehow through many obstacles I faced. I lost my enthusiasm as I faced personal issues and thankfully just in time, I was introduced to Nabeel who is, was and will always be a god sent and an angel that surprised me and revived me just as I started to fear that angels did not exist.

Nabeel left his job to persue a more noble cause which is to help those that are in need. He went from jail to jail, to the deportation department, to hospitals and had bad encounters with police officials. He spent whatever money he made to provide people with food, shelter and plane tickets.

Nabeel lived most of his life in Kuwait and I consider him Kuwaiti more than most Kuwaitis I know. He saw how corrupt the system is here, he saw how locals mistreat labour expatriates, he saw rude police officers, he was pulled by the cops many times. That did not stop him from continuing to help people and more importantly he looked beyond the bad experiences and through humanity which is why he left Kuwait in peace with nothing but peaceful words to say about his time spent in a country that had a few uglies.

Nabeel did my country a HUGE favour through his humanitarian efforts, I consider him a true patriot. I salute you Nabeel. You will be truely missed.

Let's look beyond countries, nationalities, ethnic backgrounds and face the issue head on ... People are hurting everday .. If you listen carefully, you will hear their cries in almost every area in Kuwait.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Taking a short break

I'm out of Kuwait. Therefore I have no more cases to relate to you at this time. However I do hope to have the ball running sometime in the near future.

It pains me that I'm not able to keep the fire burning in people who feel a degree of enthusiasm for this issue. It upsets me that where I could be spurring people on to action, telling them to listen to that small voice in their heads. The one that tells them - this is all there is to life so go out and do something worthwhile. If I miss a week of blog entries do people forget that this exists?

I'm not so self important to believe that is true. But we all need reminders. Have any of you guys seen that graphic online - of a man in a white disdasha reclining in a relaxed position on the heads of expat labourers? I've pondered putting that up here because I think it encapsulates in perfect cartoon form, the problem we are dealing with and the humiliation and greed behind it.

But then I would piss off so many people and get plenty of posts telling me that Kuwait is and always will be 100 percent amazing and if I don't like it , then GTFO. Ok I exaggerate probably. Either way maybe its not time yet to put that cartoon up.

Anyways - So I'm going to take a break until I actually hear of another case... till then, please please please don't let this issue die in your mind. Because once you stop thinking about it, the people depending on you are as good as dead.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Are religious groups keeping up with the problem?

I'm at the end of my rope. There are no options left. No one wants to help.

Ok that's not entirely true...

One or two local charities want to help. Individuals sometimes want to help. Isolated church groups want to help and indeed are helping. Over the last few years we've seen an increase in church groups offering solutions to the hurting people in Kuwait - working with labourers, getting supplies together for the camps, in preparation for the cold wintertimes, providing options for maids.

Since I am not a Muslim, I don't know much about what's going on in Islamic religious circles. Is this a hot topic, is it being handled by Islamic charities, is it being spoken of in mosques so that devout men are more aware and concerned? People who believe that this is morally and religiously wrong should actively be going out and working to better things. If anyone has any knowledge of what's going on, please do let me know.

But you know what, credit should go to the Red Crescent. I have seen them hard at work at Al Razi hospital in the maids wards. I even stood as one of the nurses related a story of a raped maid to me and a girl from the Red Crescent. We both shook our heads in horror at what was being said. Coming from two completely different backgrounds and with different beliefs, we were still on the same page.

And don't tell me that a person has to believe in something to feel compassion for a human being. Secular society is more than able to take on this task. So where is everyone?

All over the ME - it's the same old story!

Saudi police drop case vs 18 Filipinos
Philstar.com - Monday, August 24

MANILA, Philippines -- Saudi police have dropped prostitution charges against 18 Filipinos arrested inside a head quarters of a non-government organization.

Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan (KGS) is a group that assists runaway Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Saudi Arabia and the criminal case was against 18 KGS members and Runaways. The Filipinos were nabbed by the Saudi cultural police during a raid at a KGS safe house on Aug. 14.

Charges were dropped as case officers were able to convince the police that there is no 'prostitution' and that those apprehended are members of a legitimate organization providing relief to distressed and runaway OFWs. With the case dropped, Saudi authorities are expected to release KGS secretary general Mike Garlan and member Rustico Marcos within the day. The two KGS personnel have been imprisoned for 11 days.

Monterona said runaways Clemia Corpuz, Rosa Salazar, Amauri Meriz and Reynaldo Balagtas will all be deported while two of the five detained runaways -- Sarah Gumansing and Elvira De Guzman -- have already been released to their respective employers.

To our conservative estimate there are about nearly 26,000 undocumented and runaway Filipino workers in the Middle East mostly in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan and Lebanon - By Dennis Carcamo (Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)

As usual this article has been edited slightly for ease of reading.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Kuwait Skyline - it was so worth it!

Obviously I'm being sarcastic, but of course it shouldn't surprise anyone out there that a large segment of the population probably, at the end of the day, think it was worth it after all.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Skin deep beauty on Ugly foundations

The following is an email I got from a close friend of mine. And remember that since Kuwait is gearing up, trying it's hardest to become the next 'Dubai' that all these problems are reflected in society here as well. Perhaps even more so.

"About 3 years ago I accidentally ended up spending 12 hours in transit in Dubai airport. And in that time I got to see beyond and beneath the shiny veneer that usually survives a mere hour's scrutiny...the Starbucks, the Ferrari parked up on blocks...blocks of gold revolving on a pillar...to see a little bit of the dirty underbelly of it.

I got to talk to one of the Filipino workers in depth at the airport restaurant where all the non-first class passengers were pushed through like cattle in a stall. I trudged back and forth from one end of the airport to the other, past 6 foot posters of smiling Arabs and got beyond the feeling of "there's nothing to do" to "gee, this is really empty."

I learned how to cling to my luggage trolley with the same possessiveness of a homeless man...cos 12 hours is a long time to carry your bags around.
And in that strange mixture of sleep deprivation, restriction (no money to go anywhere outside of the airport), and too much time to medidate on the strange apparition that is Dubai, I began to see how the shiny skyscrapers and lavish man-made creations were built on a foundation of massive exploitation, greed, and injustice. A foundation that definitely cannot and will not stand.
It's just a matter of time."
- David

Friday, August 28, 2009

A growing debt

I attend a Filipino church here in Vancouver (cus my wife is Fil-Canadian) and there's a really sweet middle-aged Filipino lady that goes there. I met her about 5 years ago and she's a very unassuming lady, and nice to everyone.

However, on getting to know her I learned that before she became a Canadian citizen, she used to be a 'maid' in ... where else? - Kuwait. And as nice as this lady is, when you ask about her time there, she shuts up. She explains that she does not want to talk about her experiences in Kuwait and would rather focus on the here and now. Imagine that - A Canadian citizen.

Now I know it can't be too often that domestic helpers go on to become North American citizens ... but the Middle East doesn't just abuse its maids. Regular employees of every profession in Kuwait are having their passports illegally held, are being abused by the police, by their bosses, by the system and by the average guy walking on the streets.

And the more I get to know people who have worked in the Middle East and ended up becoming citizens in the west, the more I realise that Kuwait and other countries in the region are not just alienating 'poor, third world countries' and their people anymore. We are intentionally hurting and torturing future citizens of so-called 'first world' nations.

Not that it should matter where they are from and where they go. But Kuwait is slowly and surely accumulating a large and bloody debt. And one day it might not be the poor Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Bengalis and Indians that ask nicely, that that debt be paid.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

3 maids, 3 different cases

There is a Nepali maid who has been in hospital (not Al Razi) for over 3 years. They have not sent her back to Nepal because she has no one there (I'm not sure how this works legally). She seems SEVERELY depressed. She talks to no one and lays in bed throughout each day with blanket and cloth covering her face. Has to be fed apple juice through IV.

An Indonesian maid was brought in by agency, but her employer 'sold' her to his friend, who forced her to sleep with him and then forced her to have sex with 3-5 ppl a day as a prostitute. She jumped out of the window in despair. She was taken to Al Razi and then will be taken to jail. A classic case of human trafficking in Kuwait.

Sri Lankan maid, beaten by both the father and mother of the house - and apparently the children in the home as well. The lady is in Kuwait because her daughter back home is blind in one eye and she has to pay for medicine, and tremendous rains in sri lanka wiped out all her crops (she is a farmer)... she was also not fed anything in the house. She jumped - hospital - jail.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

awareness of the obvious

I'm out of the country right now, in Vancouver, Canada - a much needed break. I'm having a great time of course ... but I've noticed something. As an outsider, its amazing the stuff you can see so clearly, that isn't as obvious to locals.

For instance, for all its wonders, Vancouver has a few serious problems. One being that culturally, Vancouver sexualises its youth so much. Now I know we all have different opinions on sex education etc. but seriously - when I used to live here, the age of consent was 14. That means by law, your kid could have sex as early as 14 years old and if you as a parent tried to stop them, the police could actually charge YOU. Girls as early as 12 are walking around wearing next to nothing -in high school. Family skinny dipping day is an event where families bring their kids and they all get naked at the local indoor pool, with other families. Infant beauty pageants are in. Dolling up your babies in bikinis and makeup and making them strut their stuff as sexily as possible on a model ramp - is totally normal. And all of this is just skimming the surface.

And what are the results?

The biological age for puberty is actually physically changing in Vancouver society -becoming earlier and earlier. Pregnancies, babies, orphans - all over the place. In a high school in my neighbourhood they hold maternity classes where all the little 16year olds bring their babies to class and learn how to be mothers. Some of these moms are still wearing braces and have barely hit puberty. They go out clubbing and leave their kids with THEIR moms. Or else, prostitution and becoming a stripper mom are options to supporting your kid.

Oh and child molestations are a HUGE problem in Vancouver. Raping kids, and kidnappings - even murder to cover the whole thing up happens once in a while. Every few days the news announces another missing kid.

See to me, it makes sense that if you sexualise your little children, some people out there will actually SEE your child as a sex object. Imagine that!? You make your child a sex object, other ppl see your child as a sex object. Ridiculously obvious? Apparently not to Vancouverites. They pull their hair out trying to figure out why there are so many sex offenders in Vancouver. And all the while it's staring them in the face.

Do you have to be a foreigner to see this? In India, apparently its completely invisible to us, that our system of classing people according to the 'caste' system is causing so many social problems. 'Untouchables'? Marry only within your caste? Religious frenzy causing people to do stupid things like marrying dogs and snakes? A religious guru telling devoted but gullible parents that the gods have said that he must have sex with their young daughter?

All countries have something to be ashamed of. There is no point at all in trying to maintain a sort of false dignity and trying to be a country where no one admits that things are going wrong. I'll be the first to admit it - my country has some deep and dark closets where some of the most shameful and disgusting things are hidden.

But the correct response to something shameful is to face it and change it -not blindly deny it. Bring it out into the light, into the open, Drag it kicking and screaming. The truth, as they say, will set you free.

Which of course brings us to our own home - Kuwait. Do you have to be from the outside to see how OBVIOUS things are? We expats see the cause - and the effects,the problem and the results... and the links between them. And yet government, newspapers, and yes sometimes even citizens, if they actually ever think about it - are trying to figure out how society got here and how to solve the problems.

The answers, Kuwait, are right in front of you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Shuwaikh Investigations Department

Just wanted to relate what happened to me a few months ago.

As you might know, a group of us used to go to Al Razi hospital just get to know some of the maids in wards 3 and 4. These are the abuse cases. More than a few cannot move at all because they are in casts from head to toe. A few can get around only in wheelchairs.

Well a certain lady eventually opened up and wanted to file a case against her employer. Her employer had tried to brutally strangle her. Later on the mama poured hot water on her. Finally they pushed her out of a window - in any other country that would be attempted murder. This poor lady has a four year old daughter back in her home country. She came to Kuwait to be able to make money to support her child's medical bills.

I am in touch with a Kuwaiti lawyer so I asked him to take up her case. After much trouble the agency that was holding her passport agreed to hand it over to the lawyer so he could start filing the case.

Well after a while, I started getting strange calls from Arabic speaking men. They would call me and as soon as I picked up my phone they would ask who I was. Naturally this used to annoy me so I asked who they were - but they usually didn't answer. Once in a while they would say oh we are with the hospital and just want to know who you are. One day I got a call from a familiar number and it was the Kuwaiti lawyer - who was at the Shuwaikh police station. He asked me to come in.

What followed was a disturbing experience. The head of the Shuwaikh Special Investigations (I guess that's what it's called) asked me where I was from. He was a large burly man with a beard and glasses and the most arrogant look on his face. I said I was Indian and immediately he smirked. He asked for my civil id and had it photocopied. He spoke to me in Arabic and I told him I don't speak the language. He smirked again and said in Arabic (the lawyer translated for me) I know you speak Arabic - in fact I know you speak it fluently so don't try and play games with me. The look on his face was so intimidating and I said - no I swear I don't speak Arabic. He got angry and said Don't you dare lie to me. Right now I can put you in jail. I can have you sent back to India. I got a bit scared and had no idea what to do.

Well anyways he said that if I ever go to Al Razi hospital again, he would give my file to the mubahath and 'they had ways of dealing with me.' I asked him - but who will help the maids? The hospitals lie and the budgets are going into someone's pockets. He said to me - It's none of your business. It's not your country. Now get out.

So I did. And I haven't gone to Al-Razi since. In fact all I do for maids right now is sit at home and write this blog every once in a while. And I feel so useless because although people are made aware... awareness is not my ultimate aim. Change is. And change isn't happening.

For the last six months I don't know the names of any of the maids at al Razi. I don't know what nationalities are coming in and what injuries they have recieved and by whose hands. But I do know that the hospitals still cheap out on their crutches, their medicine and the time they are allowed to recover in the ward. I know only the nurses and the cleaners in the wards treat them with any dignity. I know they are forced out of their beds and into the jails where they are treated like crap and yelled at like animals. Then they spend what seems to be a criminal sentence at the deportation center - waiting to go home to the rest of their humiliating lives.

These things haven't changed and I don't need to go every week to know that.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A call to action

The following story is from one of our readers:

I know of a Filipino maid living opposite me who used to come onto the balcony dirty & thin. One day, I found papers on my balcony saying 'Help me, I have been locked in this house for 2 years and 8 months. They don't give me soap to wash myself or even let me have a shower. And I only eat scraps of food."

I went to the Filipino embassy and reported this. Initially they resisted and did nothing. They told me to call other people, but I kept insisting and getting angry... so eventually they went to the house.

I can see these same people now have an Indonesian maid. The Filipino maid is now home but had to undergo an operation as she developed thyroid problems from stress. She was only skin and bones. I am glad I was able to help her and am still in contact with her. I wish I could help many more that undergo ill treatment.

I know this story is not as horrific as the ones you have published. I want to thank you for having this group to open peoples eyes.

2nd story
Al Razi Hospital
An Indonesian girl jumped from 6th floor of a Kuwaiti owned house. The only words she can manage are "baba mu zain, mama mu zain' As she says this her eyes go very wide, almost in a scary way. I have a feeling she has lost her mind from her experiences. And why not? She has only been in Kuwait for one week!

Within two weeks of her being at the hospital, 11 new maid abuse cases are admitted to her ward. Broken bones, burns, as thin as rakes - and rape cases.

Every so often people will write to me and tell me similar stories about what they have seen or heard in their own neighbourhoods. In fact I have had 4 or 5 people write in because they have been so crushed by their experiences. They want to help in any way they can and don't know how. So if people want to help, what is stopping them?

You know that moment during a song, a TV show, a play, a book - the emotional climax - that almost makes you feel like you can change the world? It gives you enough energy and emotion at that moment to make you think -maybe I can do something different, something better with my life. You want to go out and make a difference and be a better person, but as soon as you step out into the real world of traffic jams, angry bosses, piled up office work, nagging relatives... the wind and the heat and everything makes you think... oh it was just an emotion. It wasn't real - these things in front of me are reality. What could I possibly do to change things?

DON'T lie to yourself. You can do it! One person has changed the world on numerous occasions. The entire course of history has changed millions of times because of the actions of people who acted alone. One person - Mother Theresa - completely changed the face of poverty in Calcutta. It changed the way people felt about the poor, changed the way the poor felt about themselves. One person, Gandhi, created a completely unique nation by freeing us from British rule through non violence. I don't know of any other country in the world that has earned its freedom in this way. These are just examples from my own country - no doubt you have many for your own as well. One person changes history permanently, all the time.

In fact, if you think about it, your every action every minute, changes history permanently. Even if you decide not to do something about the maids abuse situation in Kuwait, you have decided that that is your contribution to history... and future generations will work based on your decisions and either praise or lament your decision.

And if reality is what's getting in your way from getting involved in the maids abuse situation, don't let it. Don't coast along from song to song, movie to movie - thinking that you need to feel that spark of emotion to get a fire raging. A spark reminds you of what you should be doing. It is not the fuel that drives you and it never will be. Your own human will is what will change things and if you say "I will" then you will.

If not you, then who?

So let's stop reading and do something. In the next week or so please give thought to if you want to do something to help these suffering people. And if you decide that something must be done, please share with me your email address as a comment (I will not publish it). At the very least we can get together a group of Kuwaiti Citizens who feel strongly about this and put them in the same place at the same time so they can know that other citizens care too.

God bless you guys!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Recruitment Agencies worried about Kuwait's cooperation


This article is from a while back. It describes the fact that Kuwait is thinking about taking over the overall recruitment process for foreign labour and thereby getting rid of all these individual recruitment agencies. This is because it is at the stage of the recruitment agency that a good deal of corruption takes place. Lack of filtering for age (some girls coming in are as young as 14), law (last I heard it was illegal for Indian citizens to come to Kuwait as maids), and of course ability and mental health.

The recruitment agencies however, are in an uproar about what seems to be their lessening control over the lucrative trade in human life. I am in shock that to them, profit protection is SO important that they would sink so low as to say what they did in the article.

One of their arguments is that Kuwait should not take this step to improving the recruitment process because to remove corruption would be admitting to the international community that that there corruption in the first place. God forbid any country would want to admit to their mistakes, in order to progress to a point where those mistakes are no longer made. Regardless of your political opinion - it would be like George W. Bush continuing to insist there still ARE weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as his justification for the war in Iraq when, to my knowledge, they still haven't found any. hey no, we didn't make a mistake. (Insert country here) NEVER makes mistakes.

The second reason these agencies give is that if recruitment is taken over by one company, how will you let us, the corrupt companies, improve on our own? This is such a childish, petty excuse. Another one of their excuses is that abuse only happens in 5 percent of cases - which doesn't warrant any action.

I'm sorry but where in the hell did this number come from? EVEN if this were true that means that at any given time only twenty five thousand expat workers are being abused. 25, 000 families are being ruined and destroyed and nothing should be done because we have to protect the national reputation? Never mind of course that these figures are obviously only the formally recognised complaints - and we know that the majority of these abuse cases are never even heard of.

Ridiculous bureaucracy, red tape, official nonsense, rhetoric, newspeak...

- don't help the workers, that means people will know we were abusing them
- if you make a positive change by creating this one company, you won't give us - the other companies - the opportunity to to improve.
- 25, 000 abused people doesn't warrant a change

if that's what the article actually said - would you find these people stupid?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Dark Side of Dubai - Johann Hari

To the world, Dubai is the city of One Thousand and One Arabian Lights, a Shangri-La in the Middle East insulated from the dust-storms blasting across the region. A dominating skyline, row after row of glass pyramids and hotels.

But something isn't right. The cranes have paused on the skyline, as if stuck in time. Countless buildings are half-finished, seemingly abandoned. In the vast Atlantis hotel, a giant pink castle built in 1,000 days for $1.5bn on an artificial island – rainwater is leaking from the ceilings. And the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out.

This is a city built from nothing in just a few decades on credit, suppression and slavery. In the mid-18th century, a small village was built here. People would dive for pearls off the coast and it soon began to accumulate a cosmopolitan population from Persia, the Indian subcontinent, and other Arab countries, all hoping to make their fortune. They named it after a local locust, the daba, who consumed everything before it.

When oil was discovered, the sheikhs faced a dilemma. They were largely illiterate nomads who spent their lives driving camels through the desert. So Sheikh Maktoum decided to use the revenues to build something that would last. A city seemed to fall from the sky in just three decades, from the 18th century to the 21st in a single generation.

Hidden in plain view
Today there are three different Dubais. Expats; Emiratis; and the foreign underclass, who built the city. You see the last kind everywhere, in dirt-caked blue uniforms, being shouted at by their superiors – but you are trained not to look. Every evening, the hundreds of thousands of young men who build Dubai are bussed from their sites to where they live, an hour out of town. They used to travel on cattle trucks, but the expats complained this was unsightly, so now they use small metal buses. Their home, Sonapur (City of Gold in Hindi) is miles and miles of identical concrete buildings housing around 300,000 men. The camps smell of sewage and sweat – the men huddle around me, eager to tell someone, anyone, what is happening to them.

Sahinal Monir is a slim 24-year-old Bangladeshi. "To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven." Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in his village telling the men that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) for working nine-to-five in construction. They would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay 220,000 takka upfront (£2,300) for the work visa – 'money easily remade in the first six months of work'. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.

As soon as Sahinal arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told that he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat. Western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees. His salary would be 500 dirhams a month, less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don't like it, the company told him, go home. "But you have my passport, and I can't afford a ticket," he said. "Well, then you'd better get to work," they replied. It would take more than two years just to pay for the cost of getting here – and all to earn less than he did in Bangladesh.

Sahinal lives with 11 other men in a tiny concrete room cramped with bunkbeds. His belongings are piled on his bunk: three shirts, a spare pair of trousers, and a cellphone. The holes in the ground in the corner of the camp are toilets, backed up with excrement and clouds of black flies. The heat is unbearable without AC or fans. Water delivered to the camp isn't properly desalinated: it tastes of salt. "It makes us sick, but we have nothing else to drink," he says.

"For work, you have to carry 50kg bricks and blocks of cement in the worst heat imaginable. You sweat so much you can't pee, not for days or weeks. You become dizzy and sick but you aren't allowed to stop, except for an hour in the afternoon. If you take time off sick, your wages are docked, and you are trapped here even longer." Sahinal is currently working on the 67th floor of a shiny new tower. He doesn't know its name. In his four years here, he has never seen the Dubai of tourist-fame. Last year, some workers went on strike after they were not given their wages for four months. The Dubai police surrounded their camps with razor-wire and water-cannons and blasted them out and back to work."

Does Sohinal regret coming? All the men look down, awkwardly. "How can we think about that? We are trapped. If we start to think about regrets..." He lets the sentence trail off. Eventually, another worker breaks the silence by adding: "I miss my country, my family and my land. We can grow food in Bangladesh. Here, nothing grows. Just oil and buildings."

Since the recession, electricity has been cut off in dozens of the camps, and the men have not been paid for months. "We have been robbed of everything. Even if somehow we get back to Bangladesh, the loan sharks will demand we repay our loans immediately, and when we can't, we'll be sent to prison."

A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: "There's a huge number of suicides, but they're not reported. They're classed as 'accidents'." Even after death, their families simply inherit the debts. A Human Rights Watch study found there is a "cover-up of the true extent" of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.

At night, in the dusk, I sit in the camp with Sohinal and his friends as they scrape together what they have left to buy a cheap bottle of spirits. They down it in one ferocious gulp. "It helps you to feel numb", Sohinal says through a stinging throat. In the distance, the glistening Dubai skyline he built stands, oblivious.

Mauled by the mall
Malls seem to stand on every street in Dubai. People gather to bask in the air conditioning. I approach a blonde 17-year-old Dutch girl wandering around in hotpants, oblivious to the swarms of men gaping at her. "I love it here!" she says. "The heat, the malls, the beach!" Does it ever bother you that it's a slave society? She puts her head down "I try not to see," she says.

Unlike the expats and the slave class, I can't just approach the native Emiratis to ask questions when I see them wandering around – the men in cool white robes, the women in sweltering black. The men look offended, and tell you brusquely that Dubai is "fine." Ahmed al-Atar is a blogger and speaks perfect American-English, and quickly shows that he knows London, Los Angeles and Paris better than most westerners. Sitting back in his chair in Starbucks, he announces: "This is the best place in the world to be young! The government pays for your education up to PhD level. You get a free house when you get married. Free healthcare, and if it's not good enough here, they pay for you to go abroad. Almost everyone has a maid, a nanny, and a driver. And we never pay any taxes. Don't you wish you were Emirati?"

Sultan al-Qassemi, a 31-year-old Emirati columnist for the Dubai press looks angry when I bring up the slavery system. "People should give us credit," he insists. "We are the most tolerant people in the world. Everyone who comes here is treated with respect." Does he even know about the labour camps in Sonapur? He looks irritated. "You know, if there are 30 or 40 cases a year, that sounds like a lot but when you think about how many people are here..." 30 or 40? We're talking hundreds of thousands, I say. Sultan is furious. "You don't think Mexicans are treated badly in New York City? And how long did it take Britain to treat people well? I could come to London and write about the homeless people on Oxford Street and make your city sound like a terrible place, too! The workers here can leave any time they want! Any Indian can leave, any Asian can leave!"

But they can't, I point out. Their passports are taken away, and wages withheld. And why do you forbid the workers from going on strike against bad employers? "Thank God we don't allow that!" he exclaims. "Strikes are inconvenient! They go on the street – we're not having that. We won't be like France. Imagine a country where the workers can just stop whenever they want!" So what should the workers do when they are cheated and lied to? "Quit. Leave the country." I sigh. Sultan is seething now. "People in the West are always complaining about us," he says. Suddenly, he imitates his critics: "Why don't you treat animals better? Why don't you have better shampoo advertising? Why don't you treat labourers better?" It's a revealing order: animals, shampoo, then workers.

The Dunkin' Donuts Dissidents
But there is another face to the Emirati minority. Next to a Virgin Megastore and a Dunkin' Donuts, I meet Mohammed al-Mansoori. "Westerners come here and see the malls and the tall buildings." Mohammed tells me he was born in Dubai to a fisherman father who taught him one enduring lesson: Never follow the herd. Think for yourself. Horrified by the "system of slavery" his country was being built on, he spoke out to Human Rights Watch and the BBC. "So I was hauled in by the secret police and told: shut up, or you will lose you job, and your children will be unemployable," he says. "But how could I be silent?" He was stripped of his lawyer's licence and his passport – becoming yet another person imprisoned in this country. "I have been blacklisted and so have my children. The newspapers are not allowed to write about me."

Why is the state so keen to defend this system of slavery? He offers an explanation. "Most companies are owned by the government, so they oppose human rights laws because it will reduce their profit margins. It's in their interests that the workers are slaves."

The Lifestyle
One night, I go to Double Decker, a hang-out for British expats. At the entrance there is a red telephone box, and London bus-stop signs. As I enter, a girl in a short skirt collapses out of the door onto her back. A guy wearing a pirate hat helps her to her feet, dropping his beer bottle with a paralytic laugh.

I start to talk to two sun-dried women in their sixties. "You stay here for The Lifestyle," they say. Ann Wark tries to summarise it: "Here, you go out every night. You'd never do that back home. It's great. You have lots of free time. You have maids and staff so you don't have to do all that stuff. You party!" They have been in Dubai for 20 years, and explain how the city works. "You've got a hierarchy" Ann says. "It's the Emiratis at the top, then I'd say the British and other Westerners. Then I suppose it's the Filipinos, because they've got a bit more brains than the Indians. Then at the bottom you've got the Indians and all them lot."

Yet Dubai has disappointed them. Jules Taylor tells me: "If you have an accident here it's a nightmare. There was a British woman we knew who ran over an Indian guy, and she was locked up for four days! If you have a tiny bit of alcohol on your breath they're all over you. These Indians throw themselves in front of cars, because then their family has to be given blood money – you know, compensation. But the police just blame us. That poor woman."

Later, I start chatting to an Expat American who is desperate to get away from these people. She says: "All the people who couldn't succeed in their own countries end up here, and suddenly they're rich and promoted way above their abilities and bragging about how great they are. I've never met so many incompetent people in such senior positions anywhere in the world." She adds: "It's absolutely racist. Filipino girls get paid a quarter of the wages of a European doing the same job. The people who do the real work are paid next to nothing, while these incompetent managers pay themselves £40,000 a month."

The maids used to be predominantly Filipino, but with the recession, Filipinos have been judged to be too expensive, so a nice Ethiopian servant girl is the latest fashionable accessory. It is an open secret that once you hire a maid, you have absolute power over her. You take her passport – everyone does; you decide when to pay her, and when – if ever – she can take a break; and you decide who she talks to. She speaks no Arabic. She cannot escape.

In a Burger King, a Filipino girl tells me it is "terrifying" for her to wander the malls in Dubai because Filipino maids or nannies always sneak away from the family they are with and beg her for help. "They say – 'Please, I am being held prisoner, they don't let me call home, they make me work every waking hour seven days a week.' At first I would say – my God, I will tell the consulate, where are you staying? But they never know their address, and the consulate isn't interested. I avoid them now. I keep thinking about a woman who told me she hadn't eaten any fruit in four years. They think I have power because I can walk around on my own, but I'm powerless."

The only hostel for women in Dubai – a filthy private villa on the brink of being repossessed – is filled with escaped maids. Mela Matari, a 25-year-old Ethiopian woman with a drooping smile, tells me what happened to her – and thousands like her. She left her four year-old daughter at home and headed here to earn money for a better future. "But they paid me half what they promised. I was put with an Australian family with four children – Madam made me work from 6am to 1am every day, with no day off. When I pleaded for a break, they shouted: 'You came here to work, not sleep!' Madam beat me with her fists and kicked me. They wouldn't pay me: they said they'd pay me after two years. What could I do? I was terrified."

One day, after yet another beating, Mela ran out onto the streets, and asked – in broken English – to find the Ethiopian consulate. After two days, she found it, but they told her she had to get her passport back. "How could I?" she asks. She has been in this hostel for 6 months. She has spoken to her daughter twice. "I lost my country, my daughter, everything," she says.

As she says this, I remember a stray sentence I heard back at Double Decker. I asked a British woman called Hermione Frayling what the best thing about Dubai was. "Oh, the servant class!" she trilled. "You do nothing. They'll do anything!"

In the lobby of the Burj Al Arab, I start chatting to a couple from London. They have been coming to Dubai for 10 years now and love it. "You never know what you'll find here," he says. "On our last trip, at the beginning of the holiday, our window looked out on the sea. By the end, they'd built an entire island there." My patience frayed by all this excess, I find myself snapping: doesn't the slave class bother you? I hope they misunderstood me, because the woman replied: "That's what we come for! It's great, you can't do anything for yourself!" Her husband chimes in: "When you go to the toilet, they open the door, they turn on the tap – the only thing they don't do is take it out for you when you have a piss!" And they both fall about laughing.

Fake Plastic Trees
On my final night in Dubai, I stop at a Pizza Hut on my way to the airport. My mind is whirring and distracted. I ask the Filipino girl behind the counter if she likes it here. "It's OK," she says cautiously. 'Really?' I say. 'I can't stand it'. She sighs with relief and says: "This is the most terrible place! I hate it! I was here for months before I realised – everything in Dubai is fake. The trees are fake, the workers' contracts are fake, the islands are fake, the smiles are fake – even the water is fake!" But she is trapped, she says. She got into debt to come here, and she is stuck for three years: an old story now. "I think Dubai is like an mirage. It's not real. You think you have seen water in the distance, but you get close and you only get a mouthful of sand."

As she says this, another customer enters. She forces her face into the broad, empty Dubai smile and says: "And how may I help you tonight, sir?"

Some names in this article have been changed.

The full article can be found at:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why we do nothing

Around this time of year I like nothing better than to laze around the house and watch TV with a cold drink in my hand. Summer encourages inaction in me and I'm sure it does the same for many other people. But inaction isn't just a problem we have in the summer.

Inaction. People who do nothing. It's what I see when I go to get any official paperwork done. It's what I see when I have anything government-related I need doing. And worse, it's what I see when honestly good people tell me that they really care about the maids abuse issue in Kuwait.

But why do all of us have a culture of inaction here? Sure we know that citizens are well provided for by the government and sometimes extreme wealth encourages laziness of a sort. Even some middle class expats live a far more luxurious lifestyle here than they would back home and this makes us lazy.

But there is still a subset of the population that are naturally hard-working, motivated and skilled. And no amount of wealth should be able to deter them from action. There are Kuwaiti citizens who care deeply about the maids abuse situation in Kuwait, but the sad truth is very few have done anything to change it.

Passionate Individuals + A cause they care about = Action

Logically, that's how it should be. But what is standing in their way?

Lack of time? Sometimes daily responsibilities, work, family life take up a lot of time. But think about it - there will never be a time in your life when you don't have responsibilities. Conditions will never be just as you want them to be.

And thinking you'd like to do something but haven't the time will doom the task straight away. One hour on a weekend visiting the injured maids at Al-Razi hospital is not eating up your life.
"Don't wait, the time will never be just right" - Napolean Hill, American Author

Perhaps you are waiting for the political situation to take care of the problem? Perhaps this is a job only for the lawmakers and parliament and really what can one person do? Maybe there is a sort of fear in getting involved?

One person can save a handful of people - but that's a handful of families and whole communities when you look at it. You are being an example to your own people and to your children as well.

When it comes to getting things done we need fewer architects and more bricklayers - Colleen C. Barrett

Over the last year I have heard dear friends talk about raising awareness, starting an NGO, visiting hospitals - and a year later not one of those plans has even seen a beginning to action. Mostly due to the reasons above.

There is one more reason I think people become inactive. Disillusionment.
Allow me to illustrate a case:

My friend Hamad (not his real name) was a big fan of English Literature in school - particularly Shakespeare. He did fairly well in school but after graduation, for want of opportunity within the country, his life began centering around all-male coffee shops, shisha and hanging out. In time, he was only hanging out with Kuwaitis, because few other nationalities frequent these coffeeshops.

Now he barely speaks English. His mates include a boy who has had to travel several times to the States to get his stomach stapled, and (no joke) someone who used to 'molest' younger boys as a teenager. Bizarre? Surreal? Completely true. Hamad and I don't talk anymore because he has become extremely conservative. When he got married he didn't want me to meet his wife. That pretty much put an end to our friendship and - at least one avenue of Kuwaiti-Expat friendship. Hamad has been in KU for 7 years, trying to become a doctor over and over again. He used to be my best friend. Now he is a victim of inaction.

So here's my thought - people have so much to offer in Kuwait. But if it isn't the wealth that leads to inaction, then its lack of awareness. If not that, then thoughts that others will handle it, that it isn't the right time yet. And if it isn't that, it's that their own talents were shut down again and again until they really don't WANT to offer anything to society anymore. What's the point. Why try?

When you get the chance, read over the cases in this blog again. People are dying and they are dying in your neighbourhood. People are being tortured on your street. Murderers and rapists inhabit your space. It's not TV - it's real.

What is stopping you?

Please do write in and tell me your thoughts. This blog post has not just been a reflection, it's a question and I would really like to know the answers.

The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. - Albert Einstein

All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing. - Edmund Burke

Friday, July 24, 2009

My thoughts on Patriotism

Whenever anyone says anything critical about Kuwait, whether it is constructive or not, there are always some Super-Patriots who mention that if expats don't like it here they can GTFO.

I've thought about that word 'Patriotism' a lot. A few years ago when I was in India, a news announcer on TV was talking about a group of Pakistanis who had been killed. And to my horror, my cousins in the room were all cheering, the sole reason for their enthusiasm being that these people had been Pakistani.

Does it mean I'm not a patriot unless I support every stupid thing that other Indians do? Does it mean I'm unpatriotic if this sort of 'patriotism' makes me angry and I become more than a little ashamed of what we have become as a people?

If so then I am not a patriot, as we view the word today.

Don't get me wrong. I love going to India. Heck, I like Indian food, Indian classical music, I think Indian girls in saris look fiiine, and I'm the first one of the dancefloor when some bhangra comes on. But I find cricket boring, I think we have the funniest english speaking accent in the world, and I can't STAND Bollywood movies. I know a lot of Kuwaitis who would fight me on that last point :D

And then I think about Kuwait. Would it make citizens feel so unpatriotic to question certain ways in which the country was headed? Do citizens feel they need to patriotically protect Kuwait's reputation from whining expats and every comment made about life here? Sure there are always some people who whine about Kuwait because that's all they're good at. But some people, Kuwaitis and expats, actually bring things up because they really want to see Kuwait do better and be the best it can be. We know the country can change for the better in order to advance in the eyes of Kuwaitis and Expats.

I'm always intrigued by phrases like "Proud to be Indian", "Proud to be Kuwaiti", "Pinoy Pride" (Philippines) etc. etc. Although it might work for some people, for me personally, a phrase like that doesn't cover the entirety of how I feel about who I am and where I'm from.

To be proud I need to have something tangible to take pride in. I'm certainly proud about a lot of things in India. But that doesn't completely blind me to the fact that there are a lot of shameful things going on in my country. Proud to be Indian might work as a nifty bumper sticker or a facebook status but it doesn't go much deeper than that. I'm equally proud to have grown up in Kuwait and had the opportunity to be a part of a multicultural environment where I've learned, amongst other positive things, to form friendships with Pakistanis. Something that is rare back in India.

Maybe you have differing views on patriotism and really 'proud to be _____' does work for you. But working on something tangible to be proud of, means so much more. Let's not let patriotism blind us to the fact that we can WORK on the negative things about our countries to create even MORE positive things to be proud of. And isn't that real patriotism?

Consider these quotes. You don't have to agree with all of them. But it's worth a think!

"My country, right or wrong" is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying "My mother, drunk or sober."

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” - GK Chesterton

I will fight for my country, but I will not lie for her. - Zorah Neale Hurston

Patriotism, the virtue of the vicious. - Oscar Wilde

Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on his own dunghill. - Richard Aldington

If I knew something that would serve my country but would harm mankind, I would never reveal it; for I am a citizen of humanity first and by necessity, and a citizen of France second, and only by accident. - Montesquieu

He loves his country best who strives to make it best. - Robert G. Ingersoll

To me, it seems a dreadful indignity to have a soul controlled by geography. -George Santayana

Patriotism ... is a superstition artificially created and maintained through a network of lies and falsehoods; a superstition that robs man of his self-respect and dignity, and increases his arrogance and conceit. - Emma Goldman

Monday, July 20, 2009


Manila maid ‘survives’ to tell sadist employer’s torture saga

KUWAIT CITY, July 18: A Filipina household service worker employed by a Kuwaiti family sought refuge at the Philippine Embassy this weekend after allegedly suffering severe maltreatment for almost two years at the hands of her lady employer. Jenny, 41, single and a native of Alabang, Manila was sobbing in pain as she narrated to the Arab Times on Saturday the ‘burning’ torture that her lady employer allegedly did on her.

“There was no single day that she did not hurt me. She loved hurting me,” cried Jenny as she showed all the scars and fresh wounds dotting her body. She recounted that her lady employer would usually time her whenever a household task is to be done. “She wants me to finish everything fast, but I’m the only housemaid at home and she has two small kids. We’re staying in a flat with four rooms and with four bathrooms. I do all the household chores, cook, clean, baby-sit and laundry. Sometimes, due to extreme fatigue, I tend to work slowly and she would be very mad at me and the torture begins,” she stated. She narrated that her lady employer had fun torturing her by heating a knife on the stove and once it is scorching hot, she would place the hot knife on any part of the latter’s body leaving burns and blisters.

“I kept on begging her not to do it. I said, enough, enough madam, but she won’t stop until my skin is burnt and blistered. It was horrible. She looked like a devil hitting me with the hot knife. How can a normal person do that?” sobbed Jenny whose wrists, arms, left foot and back were covered with bandage to prevent burnt infection after coming from the Mubarak Al-Kabeer Hospital for treatment. Her ears resembled like a crunchy chicharron after her lady employer burnt them with a knife. “She burned my ears, because there was a time when she called me and I wasn’t able to go to her immediately because I was doing something at the kitchen so she got angry and burned my two ears for not replying to her quickly,” she stated as tears welled in her eyes.

The lady employer also burned her hands and arms with the hot knife for not washing the dishes quickly. “She burned my legs and foot for walking slowly, she burned my nape too and she boxed me on my eye so that I cannot see things clearly,” outlined Jenny. The lady employer also did not spare Jenny’s lips. As she narrated her harrowing experience, she pointed to her blistered, flaking and discoloured burnt lips. “She also hit my back using a water hose and lashed me with the ‘oqal’ of her husband,” she stated, showing her scarred back with newly bandaged burn wounds. The ‘oqal’ is the doubled black cord generally made of tightly woven black goat-hair and sheep’s wool, that is used to secure the ‘Ghutra’ or headdress of Arab men in place.

The lady employer also cut the shoulder-length hair of Jenny leaving her almost bald. “I want to fight back but I was scared because she’s six-months pregnant and I might harm her baby so I endured all the beatings,” she pointed out. After inflicting pain on her, the lady employer would usually give her some cream to treat the burns in various parts of her body. “I really can’t understand why she’s doing that. She would even ask me to wear gloves while washing the dishes to protect my hands and give me hand moisturisers,” she stated.

Last week, the lady employer allegedly threatened to burn Jenny’s eyes and face, prompting the latter to run to the embassy for help. “I finally decided to run to the embassy for help because only God knows, I may not be able to control myself and I might be forced to fight back and I might harm her and the baby in her womb,” she stated. She called first the local manpower agency that recruited her and asked for help but the man from the agency refused to help her. “I told him, please help me, take me out from this hell, but the guy at the agency even scolded me and told me not to go to the agency or he will kick me out of the agency. I called them five times. So I decided to sneak out of the house and go to the embassy” she claimed.

Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador Ricardo Endaya disclosed that the embassy has already hired a Kuwaiti lawyer for Jenny so appropriate charges will be filed against her lady employer. “I’m still at a loss how a human being can do this to her fellow human being. I hope the Kuwaiti authorities will not close their eyes on this so that justice will be served and the employer should be castigated for committing such inhumane acts,” he stressed. “I want her to be in jail. She should pay for what she has done to me,” cried Jenny as she hopes to go back to the Philippines after getting the justice that she wants.

By Michelle Fe Santiago
Special to the Arab Times

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Old News Article in Arab Times

This article I believe is from last July

By Francis A. Cardozo

About 68 Filipino maids are awaiting repatriation at the Deportation Center, and many of them have spent over three months at the facility, according to one of the detainees.

In a telephonic interview, the detainee, who requested anonymity, said that a total of 20 Filipino maids were repatriated a few days ago and asked "Why are we kept here for so long? We want our embassy to send us back home at the earliest available opportunity."

Out of 68 Filipino maids, the maids said 9 belong to a local recruitment agency and gave their names as follows: Janet Balapero, Shirley Madelosu, Analin Carpew, Mabel, Irene Castro, Jocelyn Bitos and C. Gabonada.

According to the maid, a majority of Filipino detainees reportedly have passports and all that they need is plane tickets home.

She added that a majority of the 68 maids ran away from their sponsors due to "over work and maltreatment while some were implicated in false cases"

She also said that the air tickets issued to many maids have reportedly expired owing to the delay in repatriating them, even as she exhorted the embassy to take speedy measures to ensure that they are sent home within the next few days.

as I've said before, present figures are in the hundreds and beyond...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Kuwait Police - to protect and to serve?

I'm not entirely sure how a citizen experiences our Police Force. It may be that the words 'to protect and to serve' apply here like they do in some other countries. All I know is my own experience of local law enforcement has not been pleasant.

My first experience of Kuwait police was in high school, when they arrested a friend of mine for not having his civil id on him. My friend protested to the rough treatment and talk he was recieving. So before they locked him in his cell, they beat him over and over again until he had nothing left in him.

The trauma led to my friend leaving school shortly after that, unable to focus in class, and drifting from low salary job to job in Kuwait. He never went to college. He was a student at UAS. I realise that these choices are ultimately left to the individual - but you have to wonder what he could have done if things had been different.

I spent some hours in jail as well for not having my civil id on me. We (the other prisoners and I) were roughly tossed back and forth, spoken to as if we were cattle, or idiots with no understanding, denied even one phone call (I wanted to call my dad to pick up my civil id). I wonder if Citizens have to worry about civil ids and getting to make a phone call?!

My wife overheard a kafeel at al razi hospital, offering policemen a certain amount of money, to take the woman and deposit her in the desert in a dangerous part of town.

A maid who complained to the police about her employer not feeding her, and beating her badly, came to the house and beat the maid severely himself, before returning her to her employer.

My mother called the police, on witnessing two men (employers) beating and shoving an Indian maid into their car though she was crying and screaming. After three calls, they still had not come. My mother stepped in saying 'haram' but the men told her to get lost, saying they were CID (which they clearly weren't) The police never came. They had not even bothered to pretend to be interested on the phone. It was after all a hindi calling about another hindi.

But my personal, ultimate experience of Kuwait Police was last week. A woman was being transported to the airport. This elderly Indian lady had suffered broken legs, broken jaw and was unable to walk without crutches. She was supposed to get into the police jeep. So these policeman - one middle aged man and one young guy- yelled at her, laughing at her, shouting 'yalla, yalla' cursing her saying 'teez umuk' etc because.. because she couldn't get in the jeep fast enough because of her leg. The ferocity of their yelling made her try to hurry but she hit her leg hard against the side of the car. She was crying and in tears as the policemen laughed at her, then continued... 'yalla yalla'.

I was so angry that without thinking I said, perhaps louder than I should have, "why are you saying yalla yalla? She is old enough to be your mother and my mother. For what reason are you hurrying her - because she is Indian?" The younger policeman was so enraged that I answered back that he started shouting at me in that typically guttural,curled lip, arrogant jaw-lined manner that I've become so used to. He used the word hindi so many times I can't even count, but because of our lack of language skills, the talking was futile.

Vijaylakshmi (the Indian maid), explained to me later when we met at the airport before her flight, that the policemen had deliberately hit every single speed bump on the way very hard, banging aunty's leg against the back of the seat of the very cramped jeep. Over and over again, in agonising pain while they laughed and smoked cigars and compared blingy watches.

What can we do against these 'good guys'? Because of course the entire reason for a police force is so that the good guys can prevent the bad guys from doing bad things. How insane I feel when I realise suddenly that WE are the bad guys and these law enforcement, the good guys, are here to put an end to US. And these good guys terrify me so much that when I meet cops in other countries, like in Canada and the UK, cops who actually want to help, i am terrified.

To protect and to serve? Not here. Not for us. Not even close.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The impotence of blogging

Dear readers,

I wonder what words on a website can really do. There are so many eloquent, well thought out blogs out there. Some might even spur you into action - like a powerfully shot movie, or a passionately written song. They might jerk the eye full of tears, move the heart and stir emotions. But what can a blog do, really?

In the end, just walking out of a powerful movie is enough to set your emotions back to square one. Walk out of the movie into the cold night air, grab a smoke with some friends, watch the cars go by, the shops all selling their wares - and you realise that already, the magic of the moment is gone. That feeling you felt - yes, I really could do something, I could make a change - is already gone.

I wish I could keep that feeling going for you with this blog. Keep your fire burning so that no amount of walking out into 'normal' life could change your mind.

But how can I, when my posts are cleaner and more polite than my thoughts. While I state the horrible facts on here, I leave out most of my reactions and how angry I am.

It would be a mistake, when reading human rights blogs, to assume that the writer is prim, proper and professional in all aspects. People behind these sites and blogs are just like you - they get passionate, excited, upset, angry, fly off the handle, sometimes go into depression... they are human after all. Sometimes they want to swear and curse in their posts and blow off some steam, sometimes they want to be thankful to God and friends for seeing them through stuff. At the end, thorough editing makes sure that what you end up reading is mostly politically correct and not going to piss any one off too much.

But sometimes I say 'to hell with it' and let it get in - how angry and upset this all makes me. Perhaps my last post was a little angry - and maybe the next few ones will be as well. but can you blame me? No one wants to help.

Be proud of Kuwait for all its achieved - sure. But you wanna be more proud? Go out and DO something. It's YOU that is Kuwait. I mean what is Kuwait besides Kuwaitis?

We all know the truth - a movie, a song, a blog never changed anyone for very long. It just keeps you aware, gives you little bursts of emotion from time to time. It's the sitting in your room, thinking about it, measuring up your life, counting costs, wondering what this world and your life mean, feeling some degree of the suffering - that changes you.

So watch the movies and listen to the songs, and if anything you read here strikes even the littlest note inside of you, then I'm glad - but be changed by the renewing of your mind. That's where it all starts to become reality.

Thanks for all your encouragement and support.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Kisa Binti Kasili and the illusion of sophistication

Indonesian maid, Kisa Binti Kasili was beaten by her 'mama', Madam Dalal. Kisa escaped through the window and stayed in hospital to recover from her injuries. She was then taken to jail as is always the case for runaways.

When her sponsor Madam Dalal heard that we were enquiring about Kisa to try and send her back home to Indonesia, she picked up Kisa from the jail. She explained to me on the phone that unless we paid the sum of 500 KD, they would make Kisa work for them again - and everything that came with that.

There was no way that I could personally meet this amount as well as the amount for her ticket. So I mentioned the story on an online facebook group concerned with maid abuse. I was hosting the group at the time. Some members on it were from very high-up Kuwaiti families. I had assumed they joined because they were concerned about the maid abuse situation in Kuwait.

I explained that we needed donations however small - for kisa and the 2 other cases we were working on at the time that needed tickets home. When the time came though, only one Kuwaiti male on the group was willing to donate, and the rest of the donations were from Asian expats. The Kuwaiti girls on the group did not even dignify me with a refusal. They just ignored my message entirely. In the end, we could only meet two people's ticket costs - Kisa and another lady. So we bought Kisa a ticket and pleaded with Madam Dalal to let Kisa fly.

Knowing she would not get the money, Madam Dalal and her husband then beat Kisa black and blue, leaving her bruised in the airport, a day earlier than her flight. Madam Dalal stole 50 KD Kisa had on her and left her with no food.

We believe Kisa eventually made her flight to Jakarta, although without any money or the luggage she came to Kuwait with. How does one look on a case like this and then truly say it was a success if the person goes home like this?

I have Madam Dalal's number and home address with me and in anger, sometimes I think about what I could do to this criminal, who speaks so politely and diplomatically on the phone but whose bottom line is the almighty Kuwaiti Dinar.

Someone who walks around with her Swarovski crystal studded hijab and her delightfully tacky handbag. And I think about how her sophistication and class is a barefaced lie - like so many others I have come across. Because although so many of us born and raised in Kuwait are so good at primping, preening and surrounding ourselves with everything luxurious, affluent, shiny, gaudy and gleaming, talking about and comparing our newly acquired assets - cellphones, cars, sneakers, electronics and beyond... I rarely ever meet a person with such class and character that I truly admire them.

Rarely, rarely have I encountered true sophistication - the kind of class and character that puts people above all else on earth. Instead, what many of us are seeing on a day to day basis -- in the malls, on the roads, at our schools and jobs, in our families and friends... is just a shiny, pretentious, very expensive illusion funded by the blood and sweat of others and hiding something dark and ugly underneath it all.

We live in the illusion of class and sophistication.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

LIfe as an expat

"It must be **** being an expat.... Walking down the street feeling unsafe and unsure of how the day might go"

That's the comment one of our readers left on the last blog post. How ironic.

Yesterday, I, the Indian expat, was walking down the street with the wife after a fantastic day of bumming around old Salmiya. Marina Mall was about half a kilometer in front of us and we were intending on grabbing some cold drink to ease the heat a bit. All in all a very good mood.

Suddenly we hear a commotion to our left, on the road. A Kuwaiti teen has slammed the door of a taxi, and is jumping and prancing about gleefully. He is literally jumping and laughing as he hurls various well known arabic insults at the Pakistani Taxi driver. From what I surmise, it is obvious that the kid has not paid his taxi fare and he is mocking the taxi driver, humiliating him in public. The taxi driver gets out and yells at the boy, the boy is still laughing and literally dancing, clapping and grabbing his crotch as he mocks the taxi driver. All those famous Kuwaiti swear words about mothers and mother's anatomies are being spouted with a wide, shining smile.

A passing teen smiles as he sees the scene. He asks the other boy what's happening and then they both end up laughing as if this is the funniest thing in the world. This smelly brown person is angry because he expects money for his work and that is frickin hi-la-rious! The first boy then goes up to the taxi driver in a threatening way, and the taxi driver leaves in a hurry.

I am standing right there with my wife, my fists clenched in anger at this mockery and humiliation.

But I'm invisible to these kids. After all, I'm just part of the servant class - the servant class that works but needs no money, and exists otherwise only to provide as amusement. Been there. Done that.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How local justice works

Article in Human Rights Paper a while ago (edited for brevity)

Hasina, one of 70, 000 Bangladeshi workers in Kuwait, works from dawn to 2 a.m. Taking care of nine children, their parents and grandparents, cleaning, washing and feeding the children. She was illegally moved from one house to another --relatives and friends of her employer-- to clean and cook with not one free day. For all that work load she was supposed to get around $90 a month. Yet for over two years Hasina only received three such salaries.

Hasina was beaten repeatedly by her employer's wife. She either used a thick stick or any other heavy object at hand. The father of the family and his five sons, raped Hasina repeatedly, leading to her pregnancy. On learning of her pregnancy she was taken to the nearest police station and accused of committing adultery.

Hasina wanted to verbally defend herself, or show the officers the numerous bite marks all over her arms and back. “The police officer frowned at me and ordered me to shut up.” she later told her friend.

Hasina has been jailed and is awaiting a court ruling. She is likely to be deported. She, her husband, and family had sold most of their possessions in Bangladesh to finance the trip to Kuwait. Now they are penniless and Hasina will pay the price for being dishonoured and defiled.

The Kuwaiti Ministry of Home Affairs commented on the US State Department report of 2007, “The State of Kuwait opens its arms to those incoming workers and even provides them with all available job opportunities, unlike many other countries which combat and deport them on the grounds of fighting illegal immigration”. Furthermore, Kuwait suggested that the country should be recognised for their outstanding efforts in Human Rights, rather than criticised.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Just another day

From a news article:

18-year-old Sittie Leng about the three other maids in the house:
"Shouting, hitting, beating, kicking, using the wood to hit. I was scared that maybe they would hit me next. The maids had black marks all over their bodies. Our employer is like a devil and that house is like a hell - a hell house."

The four of them eventually fled together. Now Leng thinks only of going home. "I want to study nursing," she says.

When asked what she'll tell other Filipinas who think of coming to the Gulf to work, she laughs and shakes her head: "Beware," she says.

A female friend came across a girl in the hospital who had a horrible story to tell. Apparently her local employer had invited his friends over, cornered the girl and the gang rape that followed was so animalistic that they had bitten her nipples off. There were also knife marks on her body from the episode.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Incident at the airport

The next few blog posts are going to be about things we have seen and heard around Kuwait. It's not going to be good news so if you're not comfortable with how ugly the situation can get then you may not want to read this blog for the next few days.
When my mother and her friend were getting out of their car in the Kuwait airport parking lot, they saw an Indian maid being slapped left and right by a larger Kuwaiti man. Another man was standing at a distance to make sure no one else was coming, and the first man was slapping the maid who was crying and saying in our language, "I dont want to go please let me go home". The man was forcefully pushing her into the car.

My mother and her friend started asking the men to please not beat her, saying, "haram" etc.. but the men claimed to be CID. The two ladies called the police multiple times, explaining the situation. Perhaps because of what they perceived to be an unimportant issue, the police did not arrive and the men left with the crying woman. As far as we know the maid is now back in the care of the two men that abused her.

When my mom related this story to me, it struck close to home. Hearing cries for help in your own language does something to you in a foreign land. Not being able to do anything is even worse.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Case #2: A victim up close

An Indian lady was beaten by her 'mama' and not fed for days on end. She was not allowed to cook Indian food for herself because it would 'stink' and also the family would not give her any of their own leftovers, instead throwing them away in the garbage.

The victim, being an Indian Christian, would pray with her head covered in a veil as is the custom. She would receive beatings from her 'mama' because this was 'the Muslim way to pray'.

Once, on being able to contact the police to come rescue her from her imprisonment, the officer instead beat this woman before returning her to her employers. The lady - with no food and no hope of rescue, strung together blankets to escape via the 3rd floor window. It was raining - she fell almost immediately.

We saw her in Al Razi, crying because of her two daughters left back home, her dead husband and the fact that she had no salary to show for months in Kuwait and was unable to work anymore. She had broken both legs, her jawline and nose was broken as well.

When we talked to her employers on the phone, they were diplomatic, friendly, spoke English well - an 'educated' family - with combined American citizenship. They claimed they had done everything for her but she was mentally unstable and had tried to commit suicide. After talking to her for over 3 months it became clear to me that the lady was not crazy at all. She was in fact wasting away from lack of food.

When Al Razi discharged her (still unable to even walk) they did not give her crutches. There is a fund for it but Al Razi has for some reason stopped. She was simply taken to jail. How she moved even a little bit I don't know - because there was a wound on her leg that was in danger of being infected.

Below are pictures of the injuries she sustained:

Please note the teeth on this X-ray

Although she is slightly better now (we last left her painting pictures of birds and flowers), she is one of thousands employed in Kuwait who have spent their life's savings to come here, only to be broken beyond any further work, returned home unpaid and shamed for life.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Case 1: Juna Budha Thoki

Dear Readers,

Below is the first case I ever had - A Nepali girl called Juna who worked as a housemaid in Rumaithiya. She was 4 pregnant with her husband's child when we met her at Al-Razi Hospital. Her husband works in India.

It is important to make the distinction that she was pregnant with her husband's child because if an Asian looking woman is walking around pregnant - guess what everyone, including the authorities, assumes straight away?

Juna escaped from two separate sets of people - first her employers and then a couple who picked her up on the road promising to take her to her agency. Instead she was taken to their home and locked up. Juna says little about these episodes other than that all of them were ‘bad people’.

Her escape from the 3rd floor resulted in fractured spine and legs. Like most of the girls in the hospital, when we asked her what exactly happened she just said 'mama mu zain', 'baba mu zain' and we are left to fill in the blanks.

Our immediate concern was that, since Juna was pregnant - the usual trip,
1. early discharge from hospital without full healing
2. prison with squat toilets
3. deportation center with filthy conditions ...

...would be terrible for her spine and legs.

Despite our best efforts, Juna was discharged with her injuries unhealed to Rumaithiya prison because her sponsors had filed a case against her for ‘running away’. Juna suffered much spinal pain from her fracture and her pregnancy.

The police assured us that the deportation center she was going to next, was a ‘hotel’ for the maids with beds and proper facilities. But when we saw it, we were aghast at the conditions – no beds, filthy mattresses lining a wet floor, cramped with women, guarded by only men who looked at them only in one way. Some of them had been there for months – one lady even going mad and removing her clothing and walking around.

We were told that if we purchased a ticket they would let Juna fly as her passport was already in hand. With individually donated funds (we were not a charity, just some concerned ppl) we bought one and handed it in. In the mean time we visited Juna and gave a back brace for her spine - to help her painful visits to the toilet.

A day before the flight we went to the deportation center just to check on her – Imagine our shock when they told us no she would not fly. They had her passport they had the ticket we provided, all the legal work was done, but she would not fly. Why? Because they had entered her name on their list as Nuna not Juna. A clerical error was preventing her from going home. Only if her name was nuna could she go. How many more clerical errors were on that list I don't know.

When we said hey look this name is wrong, just correct it on the list so she can go home, they refused to do anything about it...Men told us to get lost, go away and not come back, they asked us who we were in relation to Juna and why we were helping. They even referred to one of our African volunteers as ‘Sudani’. Some just said ‘we are not going to help you’.

It is difficult to explain the humiliation some of us had to go through - being gestured at like animals, like slaves.

On the actual day of the flight, verbal fights occurred with our ids being asked for and the threat of deportation looming. One of our friends simply refused to budge until something was done. She yelled Haram angrily and caused a public scene. After a long time, simply out of anger and frustration at having a girl yelling in the center, they guaranteed that Juna would be sent to the airport that night at 7pm , 3 hours before her flight.

Our friend did not believe them and stayed in the deportation center from 6 onwards. At 7 – there was no movement. 8 no movement. At 9, one hour before the flight, someone arrived and Juna was transported to the airport, with a volunteer trailing the car to make sure it did not deviate.

At the airport, Juna was on crutches as her pain had gotten very bad. We called for a wheelchair for her but the official from the deportation center, A Kuwaiti man done up in the regular white robes, said no - she must walk. We were horrified. Numerous times she was offered a wheelchair by Airport officials. A Bengali cleaner was so enraged that she was walking he offered to pay any costs to get her in a wheelchair. But the Deportation escort refused. When she sat down in one, the man motioned with his fingers – get up. He forced her to walk painfully all the way from the airport entrance to her gate.

Everyone in the airport looked on in shock as a well-to-do Kuwaiti man made a poor pregnant Nepali woman with a spinal injury go without a wheelchair because he wanted it that way and had the authority to make it happen. We pleaded with him that she was pregnant and injured, but his face only said that we were wasting his time with the whole ordeal.

So there you have it folks. This is the most summarised version I could come up with. The amount of wastha and official nonsense we had to go through would be several paragraphs longer - at the level of hospital, jail, deportation center and two random other buildings.

Although this case took two months from start to finish, with Juna spending significant amounts of time in the deportation center... she called us recently. She is reunited with her husband and the last thing we heard was her laughing when she said goodbye and thanks.

If we had not taken a personal interest in Juna, as a person, a clerical error would have kept her here in the deportation center, to give birth, and possibly have her baby taken away on suspicion of not being her husband's. This would have been her 5th month in the deportation center.

And still there are ladies there who have had this happen and continue to live day in, day out, going mad in Kuwait's very own Guantanamo.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

DO something!

Sorry guys,

been away for a bit and also had an AWFUL viral flu that kept me in bed the better part of 2 weeks.

Anyways, I value all of your comments and appreciate the feedback. And you know I do have to agree with a lot of them.

I'm going to get really to the bare bones of this and I really hope that I don't offend anyone with being this blunt.

But I am talking specifically to my Kuwaiti readers - Dear brothers and sisters, you need to take action and take charge before it's too late. Not enough is being done about the maids or exploited labour situation by the local Kuwaiti population - the average citizen. Not nearly enough. And don't tell me that no one cares because when it comes to talking about it there are tonnes of sympathetic Kuwaiti voices that want change just as badly as we do. DO something!

We expats - we have a lot of motivation to get things going, we care for these poor ppl that look like us, talk like us and have the same passports as us. We really feel compassion for them but that's easy - they are from 'our' countries. But you know that we can't really do anything for them.

During the US Civil war, if it was all left to the blacks to fight the war against slavery, trust me the US would still be using them as slave labour. It's a horrible thing to say but the slaves needed the white man to fight on their behalf, fight in their place. Without the white man, the black man would not have become free. But today, more than ever before...

Without the Kuwaiti, the expat will continue to be treated cruelly, raped and murdered.

Do you know how stupid and worthless it seems for an Indian, no matter how well-eduated, to start wanting change in a country that isn't mine? Do you know how much power the average young citizen wields when compared to me? ONE dedicated Kuwaiti can do more than a hundred well funded and dedicated Indians. DO something!

Let me tell you about something that happened a while ago:
We used to go to Sharq mall to spread 'awareness' of the abuse issue. We'd buy brownies and coke from our own pockets and hand them out free to ppl in the mall with a little leaflet urging them to be kind to their maids. We gave them to all the Kuwaitis that came by. We got two responses that really stuck in my head:

One was a middle aged Kuwaiti man, all done up in white, just laughing to his friend who was with him- when he saw that we were giving away free food and drink, he took eight brownies and drinks, as did his friend, didn't say thank you, just left and didn't even glance at the leaflet. He just took them, laughing and going on his way. It made me so angry - why do some people want everything given to them and think they have a right to it? But I kept it all inside even though it was my own money walking away laughing at me.

The second was a Kuwaiti teenager, walking with three of his friends, loud and brash as sometimes, you know, the younger crowd can be. When they got to our table, they all quietened down and asked what it was about. We explained that it was to spread awareness for maid abuse in Kuwait and we offered them brownies and a drink. Three of were glad to know what we were doing, smiled at us, declined the food and went on their ways. The fourth one, I still remember, he looked as if his whole world had fallen apart. He was looking down, almost as if he might cry ... so much was going under the surface and I've never seen a face look like it was carrying the weight of the world - but this one was. He looked up, said 'thank you so much for doing this.' and then slowly went to join his friends.

Kuwait is FULL of citizens that want to see change, just like that guy. But wanting it is not enough. We NEED you. Perhaps you think I'm being dramatic, or I'm using flowery language or stories so that I can somehow convince you that each and every one of you needs to find a practical way to do something about this. But I am not exaggerating.

Please - DO something. It's 50 degree heat and construction workers are still out there illegally in the worst part of the day, making the roads and buildings that we will be driving on and past in our AC vehicles. Find out which company they work for - complain. Complain till you're blue in the face. Buy some cold 7up or juice and drop of a pack with them so that they have something to drink. If you see a maid being treated badly, make a complaint to the police. Call the embassy. If it doesn't work, do it again and again till it does. Start an NGO, Start a movement. There are protests for the war on Gaza, for debt cancellation. What about murder and rape here at home? Do something! Get involved!

Everyone can do something, local or expat. Everyone must.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Deportation Center

I'm not sure about this but my friends tell that there's a lawyer who comes on the Arabic TV and talks about issues in Kuwait. And apparently he talked about the deportation center being some sort of 5 star hotel and "why should Kuwait treat these dishonest, bad people so well?"

Now I don't know if my friends were exaggerating but I do know that International authorities are shown a very nice looking place that is claimed to be the deportation center. Well I've seen the deportation center myself. Let me tell you about it...

It's tucked away by the UN roundabout. We only found it after - no joke - 3 full evenings of searching. The police of various districts would not tell us where it really was, sending us all the way to Jleeb, then to Salmiya, then to different areas of Shuwaikh and back again. When we finally found it we asked a couple of ppl there, "is this the deportation center?" No - they said and gave us other areas to go to.

Why lie to us? Well that question was answered when eventually we got permission to go inside. It was horrific. Women line the entire floor. They sleep on filthy matresses on a very wet floor. There is a feel of gloom and despair in the air. This doesn't look like anything built in Kuwait - it's like a third world prison or slum. Rooms full of young women, guarded by only men? Shouldn't conservative parties in Kuwait have something to say about this? We quickly communicated with some of the women in there to get stories. Often, concerned individuals on the outside had bought tickets for some ladies inside to fly home. The LAZY officials in charge had taken the tickets and then not bothered to arrange for the ladies to be taken to the airport. We heard of at least 3 girls that had had tickets BOUGHT for them to leave but they were still there. So in this so-called deportation center, there are women who have been here for months. One had even started taking off her clothes and walking around nude because she had mentally 'lost it'.

You might ask, are the officials really like that? When I walked in, these 'officials' sat with their bare feet up on desks, smoking, drinking their tea and talking to their friends. They paid little or no attention to the timid ppl that came for their help. Indians, Bengalis, Filipinos, Sri lankans, with their heads bowed in servant like respect waited in line for these men to pause in between some hilarious joke they were making. When the officials did pause it was only to yell and shout in anger at those waiting. I was no exception. They gestured at me as if I were a dog, not even looking at me but looking directly above my head. Immediately I felt something inside I had never felt before. A true sense of shame and inferiority. Forget my education, forget my qualifications - I was a hindi, nothing more. They yelled at me, called my dark African friend a 'Sudani' etc. and humiliated us while they laughed on and finally told us to go away. I felt worse than an animal.

Later when I had time to think, I realise that this is something that even sympathetic citizens can never understand. This level of inferiority and unworthiness can only be experienced by expats even those who have served and loved Kuwait to our utmost. Even I only experienced it for a month or so while visiting the deportation center, but many expats go through this daily as labourers, in construction, as drivers, when dealing with the police.

Driving home was surreal - almost like 'Alice of Wonderland' as we passed massive beautiful government buildings, exquisitely designed villas, malls constructed to look like some fantasy escape, shiny gleaming cars of every make model and colour weaving back and forth on the road and a smart new skyline. It didn't make sense to me. How can so much achieve so little?

Well anyways, I just went home and tried to get over the feeling that I was something dirty. It takes a while, trust me. As to the deportation center - it's still there. And if you still believe that there's a 5 star hotel out there, treating these ladies with dignity, please do visit the center yourself.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The woman's role in abuse part 2

I read recently that around 60% of people involved in the human trafficking industry are women. By this I don't mean the victims, I mean the culprits.

Oddly this seems to fit with what we are seeing in Kuwait. Many of the people involved in maid recruitment agencies are women. Most of the pimps who work in plain sight in Kuwait City are women. Many of those who abuse maids in the home are again women. Is it mere coincidence that Kuwait seems to agree with international figures?

See for me, as a male, it's hard to understand why a woman, who has probably already experienced gender inequality throughout her life (regardless of nationality) would then turn around and attack her fellow women. Yet this is what seems to be happening. If anybody has any clue as to why this might be, please do share your views.

So far I am running on what I believe to be partly true. Many of these 'pimps' and 'abusers' are just the victims of pimping and abuse, promoted to a higher level. Several international studies show that in the human trafficking industry many of the women in charge are those who were victims of trafficking themselves, risen through the ranks. For some reason going through a horrible situation seems to make people harder, not softer.

And when I think about it, I guess it is the same for us men. We drag each other down in spite of the fact that we should be more understanding because of our own horrible experiences. For some reason with us humans, man or woman, we tend to repeat our own histories. Even with something like parenting we can sometimes carry on the mistakes of our own parents.

So how are we to handle our own bad experiences in a way that does not cause them to multiply in the lives of others around us?