At a dinner party last evening, I was lamenting the fate of the Indian and Filipino laborers in the UAE. They make very little money (equivalent of $250 US/month), and work long hours (10 hr days, 6 days a week). The Filipinos manage to do it with a smile and a “yes mum”. Indian construction workers work without expression. Their counterparts in the kitchens and gardens will speak when spoken to. It harkens back to slavery. The Nationals pass by them as if they do not exist.
For a moment, I know what it might have felt like for an anti-slavery person during the days of slavery in the North American south. Because the laborers are so oppressed, I go out of my way to speak and learn their names. On the other hand, I too benefit from their cheap labor. They clean our house, wash our cars, do our laundry, and sundry other tasks that we do not want to perform. Most of them are working here to send money to their families at home. A taxi driver explained that if he does not send money home to Indian then his wife and children will have no money. He has been here ten years and only gets to go home once a year. He is missing his children’s childhood.
Every part of my being understands that these workers are just like me. They have spouses, children, or grandchildren. They feel the same emotions as I do. I want to free the slaves, but feel powerless. Then the dinner conversation took a turn. A guest informed me that we are the same as the laborers. What? No way! I have a doctorate!
The truth of the matter is that the only difference is that we are better paid. The Emirates import all of their manual and intellectual labor. They work us hard (20 teaching hours is unheard of in the US) and, like the laborers, we go about our daily work in quiet fear of crossing an invisible cultural line with our students.
A laborer by any other name …..