Monday, October 23, 2006


My word today in the UAE may seem a bit misplaced. What has a storm that occurred in the southern USA over a year ago got to do with life in the UAE today?

The connection is a metaphorical one which popped into my head today. In yesterday's Gulf News it was reported that a labor camp in Jebel Ali has been found to have 60 workers crammed into a single room. A shocking discovery, though one might not be too surprised on hearing it. The story brings to mind the words of one New Orleans resident, spoken in the midst of the Katrina debacle. It was from a middle-aged African-American woman camped out on the street outside the city's defamed Convention Center.

She said in a voice full of emotion which amplified her words all the more, "We don't live like this." Those words echoed in my mind then and they echo in my mind now. That simple statement seemed to speak so much.

It was an expression of anger toward a government and society that would allow her and the countless others on the streets of New Orleans to persist in such a state as though it were their natural habitat.

"We don't live like this" meant we are decent, respectable human beings. We are American citizens and resident in one of the most prosperous and egalitarian societies that history has known. We don't live out on the streets without even water to drink or food to eat. We aren't allowed to succumb to the ravages of nature when our society is equipped with the most advanced technologies.

That was Katrina and New Orleans, and the plight of an African-American in the USA. What concerns me now is Dubai, the UAE at large, and the plight of so many laborers, who are allowed--in deed forced--to live in such inhumane conditions.

A worker in that Jebel Ali camp commented to the press reporter, "We tried to take it in that room but we can't any longer. We feel cramped."

We feel cramped, an understatement which seems to echo with a resonance similar to the words of the New Orleans resident. Does anyone think that this is how these people live? Grown, young and middle-aged adult men, who work hard under hard conditions for 8, 10 or 12 hours a day. These men often sacrifice their personal ambitions to provide for families far away. There is incredible honor in this. These men deserve appreciation and respect. They are human beings, not domesticated cattle. They deserve a bit of space, a bit of privacy, and clean facilities for bathing and defecating.

Like those New Orleans residents abandoned on the streets after Katrina, these workers, essential to the city and country's very prosperity, deserve so much better. They don't and should not be allowed--or forced--to live like that.

500 words
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