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.