This is a contributing article by my friend Ian, who used to live in Kuwait and is now based in the United States. Here Ian talks about a personal experience he had with a migrant worker who worked for his neighbor and the harsh reality of what it means to be a low income migrant worker in Kuwait:
“On occasion nowadays, I’ll see a social media post or article commenting on the lives of migrant workers in the Middle East. They state the usual, low pay, unsanitary living conditions, long hours, basically being no better than a slave. Obviously these stories, accompanied with photographs, give me some sense of remorse and sorrow, but so does everything else on the news, so I just kept scrolling and clicking away on different links, paying no attention to the fact that some people live in a literal state of “hell”. However, a few days ago I saw one post too many and it reminded me of a personal experience I had when I was seventeen years of age, living care free in Kuwait.
For those who have never been to the Middle East, I’ll briefly describe the modern day “Migrant Worker”. They come from countries where economies are non-existent, they have no education, no opportunity. Typically, they’re supporting a family and they’ll do whatever it takes to create some form of financial stability for the ones they love. Saying that, many of them take jobs in the Middle East doing the simplest of things, washing cars, being maids/nannies, taxi drivers, construction workers, anything. My father’s American company obtained most of its workers from countries such as India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, due solely to the fact that you could pay these workers the type of money the average American spends on a weekly basis, annually.
I never batted an eye. I somehow convinced myself that the horrific treatment of these people was acceptable, because they chose to be in the situation, no one made them come here. I was naive, unaware to the reality. The reality is unbelievable at times, the reality hit me as hard as anything, the reality’s name is Hussain.
Honestly, I can’t tell you much about Hussain other than his name and occupation, our conversations were limited to the occasional Arabic greetings due to his inability to speak English. I did know the job that brought him to Kuwait was to watch over a Kuwaiti man’s property as he built a new family home next door to my place. As people constructed the affluent three story villa, Hussain would simply watch over the operation and make sure nothing went horribly wrong, a simple task. My father told me he made thirty Kuwaiti dinar a month, roughly ninety to one hundred dollars. He also lived in a tent, and he had no access to running water or electricity. That was the biggest surprise to me, how can someone live in such poverty while everyone around him was making more money then they could fathom, I couldn’t come to grips with that.
Maybe the reason Hussain was so nice to me was the fact my dad paid him ten dinar a month to wash his car once a week, I’m not sure, but I noticed that he was different from most foreign workers in the country, he did more than what was asked of him, not the usual bare minimum. He washed my dad’s car everyday, he also cleaned our driveway. I saw him every morning, he always had a smile on his face, he greeted me kindly and he continued working. He didn’t have to act this way, he could’ve washed the car once a week and went on with his business, but he was different. It was the little things that proved what type of man he was, a genuinely hard working person trying to earn a decent living. Even my landlord said, “I don’t like the workers in this country, but I love Hussain”.
One day I noticed he wasn’t in the driveway. I didn’t think much of it, he was probably somewhere else working a different job. I went on with my day as usual, but I came home to some bad news. “Hussain’s gone”, didn’t know where or how, but we knew why. Hussain had been working for the Kuwaiti man building his dream property for roughly a year, he hadn’t been paid once. That day he mustered up the courage to ask for his compensation, 360 Kuwaiti dinar. His boss, unwilling to oblige accused Hussain of stealing from him, and refused to pay him. To that Kuwaiti man, the money was nothing more than some spare change, to Hussain it was everything. One year of work, one year of hoping to earn some money for himself, his family, for whoever, down the drain. He had nothing, no where to go, no job to continue his visa, he didn’t even have his passport because his boss took it from him upon his arrival, he was stuck. He broke the news to my landlord and father while he was sobbing uncontrollably, he told them he had leave and he thanked them for their generosity. Obviously my father was frustrated and wanted to help him, but what could he do, you can’t win against a Kuwaiti in these situations, they have all the power. Hussain had everything taken away from him, and for what? A little bit of money he rightfully earned. I’ve never heard from him since.
The scariest thing about this story is that there are much worse stories and scenarios out there. In the grand scheme of things, Hussain’s personal tribulation can’t even measure up to the situations of some. I’m not expecting people to change the laws regarding foreign workers in the Middle East because I wrote some mediocre article at my local Starbucks, but I do hope people realize that the simplest of things can make someone’s day. A spare dinar, a free meal, a greeting, those are the things that you can do to help people in situations much worse than our own. Just like in Hussain’s case, little things can make the biggest impact or impression. Thank you for your time.”