Note: The following stories are from my own personal collection – things I either witnessed myself or was told firsthand by colleagues at work or my driver and friend, Zaheer.
Zaheer is one of the Brown People. He is from Pakistan and has been in Fujairah for 5 years. He works for the city taxi company and lives in a room with 8 housemates, all taxi drivers.
It is interesting to note that although I hear these stories with an emotional reaction steeped in my own cultural perspective, Zaheer does not share my sentiments. For him, these stories are simply the facts of his life. We often meet on Thursday evenings and share a meal. As we eat, we talk about our day and the events of our week. I feel anger and shock, but am careful not to express that too much as there is no reason to ignite anger where there is none; no reason to stir rumblings of dissatisfaction or a sense of injustice when I have nothing to offer in response.
A taxi driver’s basic rules
- Drivers must pay their daily targets at the central office before 3pm each day (if they miss a day, they are fined 50 AED). The only exception to this is if the driver is out of town and unable to get to the office during their office hours. In this case, on the next day, the must submit the receipt from the meter showing the time and location to prove that he was out of town.
- Drivers pay for their own gasoline.
- Drivers pay for weekly car washes.
- Drivers have to show evidence of working every day. 7 days a week. (Note: their hours are more flexible, so it is possible to miss a half day of work if they are sick, so long as they can pay their daily target at the head office.)
- All drivers have a file and in the file, there is a debt sheet. A portion of the salary is withheld each month to pay off the debts. Debts are accrued for many reasons; here are the most common:
- If monthly targets are not met (the daily target is 300 AED; 30,000 per month);
- In the case of receiving a ticket for any reason (parking, speeding, stopping on the side of the road);
- In the case of an accident (regardless of who’s fault it is, the driver is financially responsible to repair the car);
- Fines for not paying their daily targets;
- Not having cash to pay for weekly car washes;
No time to be sick!
Zaheer’s friend is a construction worker. He recently had the flu, but without insurance, could not afford to go to the doctor. He needed to just stay home and sleep, but if he missed even so much as a half day of work, he would lose a full week’s worth of his salary.
A construction worker went to the mosque to pray on a Friday afternoon. It was high summer; the heat outside was over 100 degrees (Fahrenheit). He performed the ritual ablutions outside as mandated in Islam; face and neck, hands and arms, legs and feet. He was already kneeling in prayer when a local man came to pray beside him. But before the local man began his prayers, he shouted at the worker, saying that his stench was unbearable, and demanded him to move. The construction worker did as he was told. But because it was peak prayer time, the man had to wait outside until the prayer space thinned out and he could pray without offending anyone with his body odor.
The “SERVANTS” room
All the people at school have their own spaces. Students have their classrooms. Administration all have individual offices – some bigger than others, but all big enough for a large desk and chair, and several sofas and / or love seats for visitors.
All administration offices have large windows as well.
Clusters of teachers have department offices – all with small desks and chairs, cabinets, most with small refrigerators and tables for snacks, and all with sofas and love seats for guests. And all teacher offices have windows.
The maids have a small cubby space – 4 feet wide and 6 feet long. No windows. No furniture at all. The sign outside their office says “SERVANTS”.
We have 7 maids.
Giving to those in need
Last year was designated “the year of giving”. Teachers in each department had to “give” to someone in need. I suggested to the English department that we should give something to the maids. The local teachers said that the principal had already announced that if anyone wanted to do that, fine, but no one should give them blankets because “that might make them lazy”, meaning that they might be tempted to lie down in their little cubby space. We gave them a bag of oranges.
Clean up! It’s your job!
As I was walking through the door into the courtyard at school, I noticed 2 maids off to the side. Then there were 3 young students coming toward me. One of them threw down some trash and they all giggled and ran away.
I can’t be bothered
I was at the top of the stairs, but couldn’t come down because the staircase was crowded with students sitting on the steps. One of the maids was trying to walk up the stairs, but the students wouldn’t move. She asked them to move aside, but they refused. Some spat slanderous arguments her way. She ignored the insults, and continued to ask them to move over. Her pass was impossible.
It’s too heavy for me; you get it.
- The maids at school are all women. They are less than five feet tall. Their work has given them muscles of steel:
- They move desks and chairs, heavy bookshelves and cabinets in and out of classrooms and up and down stairs.
- When deliveries are made to the school, the maids greet the delivery driver in the parking lot and carry the goods to the designated location.
- Many of the teachers leave their car doors open and hand over their car keys to one of the maids when they walk into the school. The maids go to the car and gather the teacher’s bags and any other supplies and carries them to the teacher’s room.
The inconvenience of “stupidity”
A local teacher told the story of her “stupid” housemaid at home. The teacher was emotional and animated in the telling of her story. The cause of her stupidity was that she didn’t know how to use a pressure cooker. (The main comes from a country where they don’t use pressure cookers. She’d never been taught. She was only following orders to make the rice in the pressure cooker.) The teacher heard a terrible bang and then screaming. When she went into the kitchen, she found her maid on the floor with her face in her hands and she was screaming. There was half-cooked rice and water all over the kitchen walls and floor. The maid had opened the pot to check on the rice (as she knew to do based on how to make rice in her home country) and burned her face when the pressure cooker exploded. The teacher was appalled by the woman’s stupidity, and furious that she then had to take her to the hospital. This story went on for nearly a month as the teacher complained about the cost of her medical bills and the loss of work as the maid recovered.
All Brown Men are called “Mohammad.” No one asks their names. Even though the workers work for said employers for years, their names are not important.
The security guards at our school, for example, have been there for 3+ years, and when I asked other teachers the name of this one or that one, I was told, “Mohammad.” I asked the security guards what their names are: one is Riyaz, the other is Ali, and the third one is Hassan. None are named Mohammad.
My driver’s name is Zaheer, but his local clients (some have employed him for the past 5 years) all refer to him as “Mohammad.”
For more information, see my previous post: Brown People Facts and Stats.