Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Charity Begins At Home

My last post was a comedic insight into going to the bathroom in the UAE, but one of my readers seemed to take it that we're taking advantage of the underclass in the UAE.

I can see that point of view, but probably want to share what it's like here with respect to the "workers" in Dubai.

Firstly, yes... there are alot of workers here in the UAE who earn pitiful salaries by Western standards.  The population of the UAE is 4 millions.  800,000 of those are Emirati's - the local people.  400,000 are western expats on good money.  That leaves a further 2.8 million people.

The 95% of those would be workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines.  All of these people earn fractions of what I would and do the work that nobody else does.

For the record, we pay our gardener - a nice Pakistani fellow called Faiz - 300 dirhams a month and he comes six days a week and spends anywhere between 30mins to an hour keeping our garden neat and tidy.  He does a fantastic job.

We have a part time maid (Dammy) from Sri Lanka and her 18yr old nephew who come in 6 days a week and do an hours worth of cleaning, wash the car once a week and will do the odd bit of ironing on top.  We pay them 25 dirhams per hour each and spend about 1300 dirhams a week.

Taking the exchange rate of A$1 is equal to 3.4 dirhams, its not a great deal of money...

But the point is that these people are hear by choice and they're earning better money than they would at home.  They do send most of it back to family in their home countries and hence live meager lives here in Dubai.  It is culturally confronting and for us it was very strange initially but now we have come to understand their home lives better and appreciate that they do actually enjoy living here when compared to the home country.

But Faiz and Dammy are very lucky compared to some of their compatriots.  You hear alot of stories about mistreatment, workers being unpaid for months at a time and alot of general exploitation by employers.  Also, you do meet some westerners who have developed a bit of a racist streak and think because they're in a country that is economically segregated that they can mouth off a bit about "the jinglies" and the "pakkies".  Some people can be very nasty and rude.

We however are not going down that path and we, and Niki in particular, goes at great lengths to help the less fortunate.  She has cleared out her pantry of bread and fruit juice when she found out three air con repair men hadnt been paid in 2 months and were very very hungry and hadnt eaten in days.  She passes out cans of soft drink and also allowed Faiz to sleep in our air conditioned maids room when the summer heat was too much.

We have given Dammy the kids old push bikes and excess furniture we didnt need to send back to her family in Sri Lanka and also just recently we have sent a bag of excess clothes to Ethiopia for an orphanage.  (Some neighbours are adopting two Ethiopian orphans and are heading there this week).

Also, we are renting our maids room out to an Indian worker from the local Vets for 500 Dirhams less a month than what he was paying and when he turned up without a bed, we went to IKEA and bought a new bed and a chest of drawers and a TV receiver so he can watch TV.

The point is, you can be in a country with a wide variety of economic scale and still be decent and generous to those around you.  Language barriers are difficult but a generous gift and a smile is universally understood.

Also, with two impressionable young children, you want to make sure that they realise how lucky they are and for when the day comes that we return to Australia, that they're not first class brats and have a compassion for people less fortunate.


fool said...

Wow Clay... That seems like a heck of a lot of money. Even in California, we pay less than half that amount for a Mexican gardener to take care of our place. And in Bangkok we've had both live in maids and ones that live outside but come daily (and do ALL the ironing) for a very small fraction of that price. I'd say you're probably paying double the local rate for the USA, and probably 10 times (or more!) what we pay in Thailand for the same work.

I applaud your charity, but hope you're not being naive about it. I've learned the hard way several times that people I've tried to help are in fact deceitful and willfully taking advantage of me. I doubt very much that the Indian guy didn't have a bed, or that those air-con guys hadn't been paid or eaten for days. I think it's far more likely they see you as an easy mark and a walking ATM. I used to be more believing and apt to give people the benefit of the doubt, but having lived and traveled in so many underprivileged places I've become more suspicious and skeptical.

I'm sorry to be the one to bring it up, but I'd be very surprised if you aren't being scammed.

Clay said...

Well Fool, one I hope you realise the UAE dirham exchange rate, but for me to get a guy to mow my lawns and tend my yard 6 days a week for just A$100 a month, I don't think I am being fleeced.

Also, the fact that we're in an oil rich country as opposed to impoverished Bangkok also is a big factor. I am making excellent money and whilst I think the money for home help is crap, they too think its excellent for them. So yes, it probably is more expensive than Bangkok.

Also, I won't bring up the stereo types of mexicans working without Green Cards in the USA... ;)

As for being scammed and a walking ATM, I dont think so... the global financial crisis has hit pretty hard.

Watch this story (http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2009/s2841143.htm) and make sure you see it through to the Bangladeshi workers bit, thats the gut wrenching piece.