World is a messy place …

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Aug 4 2011

Junaid

* This piece is a guest post from Junaid and presents his personal experiences in Saudi Arabia. *

Abdul Rahman is a Bangladeshi national in his mid-forties. He sells Miswaak in front of my mosque. It is a very common practice here in Saudi Arabia, where labourers do several day jobs to earn decent money in order to support their families back home. Like Abdul Rahman there are thousands of other Bangladeshi nationals working different jobs in one single day.

Rough estimates suggest that from the millions of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, around 1.5 million are from Bangladesh. It is fair to say that the vast amount of those workers do what Abdul Rahman does for living. This means that most of them are doing regular jobs as tea boy or office cleaners. Some would go selling Miswaaks or water bottles and washing cars as a side business. The Bangladeshi labour class is hired on just 400 SAR per month as salary. With those side businesses mentioned above, they do make more than 400 SAR per month. Yet, surprisingly, this does not change their lives nor does it make them any happier.

I have been seeing Abdul Rahman doing this work for more than 15 years now, and he is still sitting there selling Miswaak. He also does car washing in the evening. This makes you wonder how he has been working the same thing for 15 years now and yet, his conditions have not improved enough to make him be able to change this work and do a comfortable job or at least go back home to Bangladesh and do decent investment to live a respectable life. It does amaze me.

For example, if he sells 5 sticks of Miswaaks in one day- 2 SA/piece- he must be making 300 SAR per month; and if he washes 2 cars on a monthly basis for 50 SAR/car, he must be making 100 SAR; total being 400 SAR in 30 days period, 4 800 SAR in a year and 72 000 SAR in 15years i.e. 1 368 000 BDT...

Don’t you think this amount is enough to set up a decent earning business? I know I am getting crazy at the details; but at least this much could have forced him to move out of street shop and car washing business. Yes surprisingly does not.

After some analysis, I came to the conclusion related to how the world economy and businesses have been affecting and harming us for the past decades. Rise in cost of living, food prices, real estate hike and wars have no doubt affected every single person living on earth. But Mustafa a car technician from Pakistan has some other story to tell.

Mustafa, a Pakistani national, is in his late 40s and a professional car technician. I was told that my father has been his customer since 1983, even before I was born. At that time, he used hold his personal skills standing outside different workshops just to grab a customer to fix minute faults in a car. But now to my surprise, after more than 25 years he owns 4 of his personal workshops with more than 20 employees working for him. His family and he are living a decent life with his chil studying to be professional engineer.

So what was different for Mustafa than Abdul Rahman, has he not been lucky enough, or the profession he selected was not worth fighting for or may be his the will power was not that strong? I do not know what it is; but I know my family and I have spent more than 30 years living and working in Saudi Arabia. Thanks a million to God that he gave us the best life we wished for and my parents had a very decent and respectable living environment back home in Pakistan which now we are enjoying. But there is always something which stops you; there is always an excuse that we should go on working before settling permanently to Pakistan. Excuse of political turmoil in Pakistan, economic instability, insecurity, lack of basic needs and facilities; I am sure Abdul Rahman also has a fair list of excuses which stopped him from doing something different and likewise, stopped Mustafa to leave Saudi Arabia. World is no doubt a messy place to live in...

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East