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.