Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Exploiting Foreign Labor: Qatar and Kuwait

Living in Qatar and Kuwait was a life-changing experience. We loved the stimulation of living in an environment where little was as we expected it to be. The sights, sounds and colors were stronger, attention-getting, and learning to think in different ways kept us alive and young in ways we never anticipated.

There were also challenges. While as white Americans, we were high in the pecking order, we also realized we were high in a secondary category; there were the nationals, and there were all the others. We qualified, along with all the other imported labor, as others. We lived a great life, and we never forgot that we were “the other.” We were blessed with friends whose families had been living there long before our own country was even imagined. It gave a new perspective to our lives.

On the downside was the treatment of labor. Here are a couple of my own photos:

Traditional scaffolding

High rise window washers

Working on a new building, these laborers are more than 12 stories up. There is no elevator, and this is their solution to accessing a location without climbing 12 stories in the 115 degree F. heat.

That breaks my heart is the statement that all these deaths are within the expected range. The laborers are treated with callous indifference. Most came hoping to provide their families with a better life, they lived in squalor and sent most of their salary beyond meager subsistence, back to their home countries. The employers held all the cards. They had a choice – take this terrible risk or go home.

I found this on AOL News and it said it was from Yahoo News.

Report: More than 6,500 migrant workers have died during Qatar’s World Cup prep

JASON OWENSFebruary 24, 2021, 11:34 PM

More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar amid the nation’s preparation to host the 2022 World Cup, The Guardian reports.

The report cites government data from the home nation of migrant workers including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The data have been compiled since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, working out to an average of 12 deaths per week, according to the report.

FIFA awarded the World Cup to Qatar despite widespread concerns over human rights violations and treatment of migrant workers that have only been exacerbated since. Amnesty International has documented conditions of workers being “exploited” and “subjected to forced labor.”

“They can’t change jobs, they can’t leave the country, and they often wait months to get paid,” a report from the human rights organization states.

According to The Guardian, 2,711 workers from India, 1,641 from Nepal, 1,018 from Bangledesh, 824 from Pakistan and 557 from Sri Lanka have died working in Qatar since 2010. The Guardian estimates that the actual death toll of migrant workers is “considerably higher” since the data it cites is limited to the listed countries.

The nation with a population of less than 3 million is depending on 2 million migrant workers to build its labor force. The Philippines and Kenya are among other nations to send migrant workers to Qatar, according to the report.

The listed causes of death include electrocution, blunt injuries due to a fall from height and suicide. Most of the deaths are listed as “natural” while citing heart or respiratory failure.

Daytime temperatures in Qatar can approach 120 degrees during the summer. Normally played in the summer, Qatar’s World Cup will be held in November and December because of the oppressive heat.

AdChoices
Workers walk towards the construction site of the Lusail stadium which will be build for the upcoming 2022 Fifa soccer World Cup during a stadium tour in Doha, Qatar, December 20, 2019.  REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Workers walk towards the construction site of the Lusail stadium which will be build for the upcoming 2022 Fifa soccer World Cup during a stadium tour in Doha, Qatar, December 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Nick McGeehan of labor rights organization FairSquare Projects told The Guardian that World Cup construction accounts for much of the death toll

“A very significant proportion of the migrant workers who have died since 2011 were only in the country because Qatar won the right to host the World Cup,” he said.

Qatar has built or is building seven new stadiums in addition to significant infrastructure upgrades including roadways, hotels and an airport in preparation to host the World Cup. The opening and closing matches will be held at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, a city being built from the ground up ahead of the World Cup.

Qatar: Death toll within ‘expected range’

Qatar’s government didn’t dispute The Guardian’s findings and characterized the death toll as “expected” in a statement to publication.

“The mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population,” the statement read. “However, every lost life is a tragedy, and no effort is spared in trying to prevent every death in our country.”

FIFA also provided a statement to The Guardian.

“With the very stringent health and safety measures on site … the frequency of accidents on Fifa World Cup construction sites has been low when compared to other major construction projects around the world,” the statement reads, per The Guardian.

FIFA did not provide The Guardian with data to back up its claim.

According to Amnesty International, migrant workers seek employment in Qatar to escape poverty and unemployment at home. It describes dirty living conditions with eight workers living in a single room one they arrive. Workers are sometimes promised one salary only to be to be provided a lower wage once they arrive.

The group spoke to workers who paid anywhere from $500 to $4,300 in recruitment fees to agents that leave them in debt before they begin working in Qatar.

February 25, 2021 Posted by | Building, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Health Issues, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Values, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

“Oh, He’ll Blame Obama”

I laughed as I read the following headline to AdventureMan:

China will achieve major landmark this decade: Report

The Asian giant will overtake the United States to become the world’s biggest economy sooner than previously thought, a think tank estimates.

“Trump is going to hate that this is part of his legacy,” I laughed. Our infantile, petulent soon-to-be-gone President throws temper tantrums over this kind of news. Anything he doesn’t like he determines to be “fake news.”

AdventureMan just snorts. “He’ll just blame it on Obama,” he says.

Americans are addicted to cheap goods, and plenty of them. China feeds that need. No need to look for a conspiracy. It’s all classic supply and demand. No nefarious plots. Take a look at your furniture, your plasterboard, your wooden floors, look in your cupboard at your canned goods, in your closets at your clothing. China is building the largest economy in the world by providing what people want at a lower price.

December 26, 2020 Posted by | Events, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Political Issues, Transparency | , , | Leave a comment

Be Still My Heart

The Dow Jones Industrial average just went over 30,000 for the first time, ever, skyrocketing on the prospect of a peaceful transition, some predictability taking place of our four years of chaos, and some civility.

I am watching Joe Biden intruduce his new cabinet nomineees. Everyone is masked, and between each speaker an aide is wiping down the surfaces on th podium.

The words they speak thrill my heart:

Service

Diplomacy

Foreign Policy/ National Security / Allies

Respect

Opportunity

Telling Truth to Power

Unite America; Belief in America’s Ideals – Democracy, Rule of Law

Commitment

Reflecting the best of our nation

Truth, Facts, Science

There are women at the table. There are brown people at the table. There are humble, talented white men at the table. My heart sings. They are warriors, looking realistically at the challenges ahead and ready to do whatever they need to do to rebuild the American dream for ALL citizens.

These are people who work quietly, persistently and modestly in service to their country, and are willing to put in the hard work to achieve hard-gained successes.

I’m excited. I dream of a better tomorrow.

November 24, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Cultural, Financial Issues, History, Interconnected, Leadership, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues | , , | 1 Comment

Bread Upon the Waters

Today’s reading from the Old Testament in The Lectionary:

Ecclesiastes 11:1-8

11Send out your bread upon the waters,
   for after many days you will get it back.
2 Divide your means seven ways, or even eight,
   for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.
3 When clouds are full,
   they empty rain on the earth;
whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
   in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
4 Whoever observes the wind will not sow;
   and whoever regards the clouds will not reap.

Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

Even those who live for many years should rejoice in them all; yet let them remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

 

By accident, my husband and I now own three houses. We are preparing to move into the  most recent, which was also once our third house. We had finished paying off another house and we had decided to invest in a winter home in Pensacola, but that house became our son’s house when they were expecting their first child and now we are buying it back from them as they move their expanded family into a more spacious house. Perfect timing, as we urgently need to downsize.

I don’t always like the old cynic who penned the verses in Ecclesiastes, but I recognize the wisdom, and I always learn something.

Today, he is talking about investment, the importance of putting aside some of what you accumulate, like a little squirrel, to hide away for the future. He is also talking about diversification, and what wisdom!

“for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.”

As we walk through this life, we don’t even know from day to day, not from minute to minute, what is about to happen. Setting aside a little extra to cover emergencies, slowly putting the accumulation in different areas protects the loss of the whole.

We intend to sell the big house we are sitting in, once we get moved out. It has served us well for ten years, and we are still young and healthy enough to enjoy it’s generous spaces. But time happens to all of us, and the aging process seems mostly to be a one way street. We know we can’t see around the corner to what tomorrow may bring, but we have decided to invest in the possibility of “aging in place” in a house with no stairs, a house that can accommodate live-in assistance if necessary, and a house with a much smaller yard for Adventureman to beautify.

Early in our marriage, we started each road trip with a song:

Side by Side
Oh! We ain`t got a barrel of money
Maybe we`re ragged and funny
But we`ll travel along
Singing a song
Side by side
I don`t know what`s a-comin` tomorrow
Maybe it`s trouble and sorrow
But we`ll travel the road
Sharing our load
Side by side
through all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as we`re together
It really doesn`t matter at all
When they`ve all had their quarrels and parted
We`ll be the same as we started
Just traveling along
Singing a song
Side by side
(Repeat last two verses)
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Daniele Tignino / Emiliano Patrik Legato
Side by Side lyrics © Shapiro Bernstein & Co. Inc.
We taught this song to our son (I think he rolled his eyes) when he was young, and now we have taught it to our grandchildren, so that as we hit the road, they say “We have to sing the song!” It’s a glorious legacy, and another way of sending out our bread upon the waters.

June 11, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Cultural, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Music, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips | Leave a comment

An Unintended Lenten Fast

I up my spiritual game during the season of Lent, and this time, I had an additional fast imposed upon me.

I was sitting on a step, waiting for a bus full of amazing women to arrive, and I had just been notified that the bus would be late. An unidentified 800 number showed on my screen, and I didn’t answer, I don’t answer calls when I don’t recognize the phone number and especially if it is an 800 number. But this time, the number called back immediately. Curious, I answered.

“Am I speaking to Intlxpatr?”

“Who is calling?” I asked, ever suspicious.

“This is so-and-so from (she names my bank) and I need to know if you made two large charges last night at Christian Tailgates in Houston,” she asked.

“No, I did not!” I responded.

“Did anyone else on your account make those charges?” she asked.

“I am very sure they did not,” I replied, because I was very sure.

“We have put a stop on this credit card and will be sending you a new one. It should arrive in 7 to ten days.”

She added that however they got the information for the credit card, they were using a hard copy, it looked just like my real credit card. We are careful credit users. but this can happen anywhere. People can be bribed to make extra copies of your card and sell that information. It is happening more and more often, or so I am told, and I am inclined to believe it. It happens to us every 18 months to 2 years, and with different credit cards.

One time, I got a call from a different credit card, the one I call my Hurricane Card because I keep it as a back up in case a hurricane hits and we need a lot of cash or credit in a hurry. I never even carry it. It is in a file, and never sees the light of day. They asked if I had bought a bus ticket to Mexico with it. No. No. No. How could this happen? It happens, they told me, sadly.

We have other credit cards, designated for other uses (I am a compartmentalized kind of person.) I am making a list of all the credit card automatic payments I have to re-organize, and I can’t do a thing until the new cards arrive and are activated.

I think I am a careful, even reluctant credit user. All it takes is a few days NOT using my credit card for me to learn how often I use it, even without thinking about it. Although this fast was unchosen, it started on Ash Wednesday, and it has had enlightening consequences, enough so that I am thinking of it as a Lenten discipline, albeit temporary.

March 3, 2020 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Crime, Customer Service, Family Issues, Financial Issues, fraud, Lent, Quality of Life Issues | Leave a comment

The Say Yes Scam

Today the phone rang and caller ID told me it was from “Grazzaville.” We’ve had lots of calls from “Grazzaville” which shows up on the monitor as Graceville, FL, but our caller ID has her own ideas about how things should be pronounced and sometimes it’s just funny.

 

 

This morning, I decided to answer, the way I answer most calls I suspect are solicitations. I pick it up, but I say nothing. If it is a recording, I just hang up immediately.

 

This one, however, was live. “Hi! I’m Natalie, your trip advisor on a recorded line. Can you hear me?”

 

I know this scam. The question is aimed to get you to say “yes” with which, once they have a recording, they can charge your credit card number – or whatever – and say they have a recording of you giving permission.

 

I told “Natalie” that to take our number off her list, that we do not want to receive calls from them. I’m probably just wasting my breath, but at least we now know what all the calls from “Grazzaville” are about, and we can safely not answer.

October 4, 2019 Posted by | Crime, Financial Issues, Lies, Rants, Scams | Leave a comment

“You Can’t Send Money to the Sudan”

I totally get it. My bank is trying to protect me. I am “elderly” and I am sitting in the bank officer’s office asking to wire money to my friend in South Sudan.

“I need to talk with somebody,” she says and comes back with a man. I manage, barely, to keep from rolling my eyes.

“You know,” he tells me sternly, “We are forbidden to send money to the Sudan. It’s on the prohibited list.”

“Yes,” I say brightly, “The Sudan is on the prohibited list. The South Sudan, and entirely different country, is not.”

They want to make sure I know what I am doing. They tell me true stories of people here in Pensacola sending money to scam artists. Thousands of dollars. How do I know this person?

I explain he was a State Department International Visitor on their IVLP program, that he has attended church with me, is a renowned journalist, that he has dined in my home. They are looking at me with pity.

“This isn’t thousands of dollars,” I tell them. “This is school tuition, he only asks for help this one time to keep his daughters in school. The South Sudan is going through tumultuous times.”

“I know this person,” I re-assure them. “I believe I am sending money to my friend,” I tell them. “I can afford this risk; I can afford to lose this money,” I tell them.

I have to also tell this to the international wire-banking account manager who they get on the line. We go over it all again. I sign all the papers.

A couple hours later, I get a call asking if I am really sure. What are the names of the daughters? I look up our correspondence and provide the names. The bank information is in Juba, where my friend lives, not Nigeria, not anywhere other than where my friend lives.

In only two days, my friend notifies me that the funds have arrived, and he is profoundly grateful.

A week later, my bank calls me again, concerned as to whether the funds made it to my friend, and how I felt about the experience. They are still concerned. I assure them the funds have reached my friend, he has contacted me, thanked me. I do not tell them my friend continues to raise his voice at a time when the government is transitioning, and he is trying to be a voice of reason and civility.

There is a part of me that totally understands the banks need to protect their customers, and how gullible I might appear to them. And there is a part of me that despairs at our fear of the stranger, at our fear of being taken, and at our ignorance, not even knowing that there is a Sudan, and that there is a new country called the South Sudan.

Four times in my life I have been asked to help with school expenses, in tough times, to people we know in four different countries. Four times my husband and I have wired money to people who only want to give their children a chance at a better life. We have always been thanked, We have never been asked again.

I met a woman whose theory was that none of the money that came her way was hers, that it was God’s money and she was merely the steward; it passed through her hands on the way to where God wants it to go. It helps me with requests like this, from people I know. It helps me with the homeless on the streets of Pensacola, knowing I am to freely, freely give, and God will see that it gets where it needs to go.

July 25, 2019 Posted by | Aging, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Cultural, Customer Service, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Money Management, Social Issues, South Sudan | Leave a comment

Pensacola: Back to Reality

 

When we arrive back in Pensacola, we realize that things will not be so easy as usual. It is usual that we can go right in through the garage, wheeling our bags right into the house. But AdventureMan spent the last hours of our last day in Pensacola before the trip installing three huge steel custom-made beams into our garage door to protect from hurricane damage. We can’t go in through the garage.

We had also called our son and our contractor, who as Hurricane Irma at one point looked like it was wobbling west, decided to put the ballistic fabric covers over all our doors and windows. The front door is covered, and we can’t get in. There is a way to get in, it is complicated, but we manage.

It is dark inside, very dark; the ballistic covers also keep out light and air.

Early the next morning, while it is still cool, we get up and take down all the covers on the bottom floor of the house, letting in light and air. It isn’t so easy, over the years some of the posts have rusted. Our contractor texts that he has ordered some new things which will help, and a spray, and will have his crew take down the upper floor when the supplies come in.

We didn’t even go to church. We were so tired from traveling, and from our early morning exertions taking down all the ballistic covers, that we just collapsed for the rest of the day. I felt like I might be coming down with something.

This morning, we felt like new people. We hit the grocery store, and wow, there were all the things I look for and can’t always find, like Italian prune plums, only available for a week or so every fall, and you never know which week. The fruit cake supplies are in, candied red and green cherries, candied pineapple, and candied citron. When AdventureMan sees the grocery bill, he almost pales. The cashier laughs and asks me “Why did you bring him?” It’s an on-going joke; AdventureMan worked as a bag-boy in a grocery store when he was in high school and he remembers the prices of the groceries then – like 50 something years ago. He gets sticker-shock in grocery stores.

After we get all the groceries home, sorted and put away, he takes me to lunch in one of my favorite Pensacola restaurants, Five Sisters. I have the Ceasar Salad with Andouille Crusted Shrimp and he has Fried Catfish. It’s good to be back.

And, later in the afternoon, it is GREAT to be back. Our grandson comes over to our house after school and it is wonderful to see him. AdventureMan introduces him to this blog, so he can see all the photos and read the descriptions. He asks what I call him. AdventureMan asks who he wants to be, and he says ReadingMan. He is an amazing reader, and I am honored he wants to be included in HT&E. I also can’t wait to see my little grand-daughter, four years old and smart and spirited. I asked her what she wants to be when she grows up and she gives me a sharp look and says “a wild animal.” I may call her that . . . my little wild animal 🙂

September 25, 2017 Posted by | Blogging, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Food, Home Improvements, Hurricanes, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Restaurant, Travel | Leave a comment

Check Writing Nostalgia: No More Slack

Honestly, it’s been a long time since it has mattered, but not so long that I don’t remember. When I was a young Army wife, I always knew I could write a check two days before pay day because it took at least that long for the check to clear.

What was funny, was that when we would leave our post in Amman, Jordan to visit classmates at the embassy in Damascus, we could go shopping in the souks, and checks we would write for gold, or carpets, or beautiful copper pots would clear days before the checks we would write at the embassy for cash. They must have had couriers; my guess is that the checks went by car to Beirut and then were combined with other checks and flown to the USA. Those checks cleared very quickly!

This morning as I was doing some banking, as I checked in to my bank, the first thing I saw was this notification:

We have already seen this at several of the businesses where we write checks; they run the check through and hand it back to us and the money is gone from our account almost instantaneously.

It used to drive AdventureMan crazy. I handled the month-to-month expenses. He would ask how much we had left, and I would say something like “Oh, six hundred twenty two dollars, plus the invisible thousand.” In his mind, the “invisible thousand” was sloppy financial practice. In my mind, it protected me against unexpected emergencies and overdrawing the account. It was worth it to me. We kept track of our checks (oh this sounds so old-fashioned now when I tell you about it, so quaint, so archaic) in a registry, where every time we wrote a check we wrote down the check number, the amount, who it was to, and on those accounts which charged by check, the check charge. At the end of the month, the bank would send you a paper statement, and you had to go through all your returned checks to see if there were any that hadn’t cleared, then subtract those from your total, and your total needed to match the bank’s total. On occasion, I would spend hours trying to find where I might have made a mistake. Mostly, it came out right.

Now, I do most of it online, and the bank keeps a running total for me. All I have to do is log on, and those totals are there, and up to date. I guess they are about to get up-to-dater.

September 5, 2017 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Financial Issues | 2 Comments

No Trips To Damascus This Week

AdventureMan and I are currently on an austerity program.

When we say that, we laugh. God blesses us abundantly. We have food to eat, we have a good roof over our head, “two cats in the yard” to quote Neil Young, life is good. We’ve had a full season of unexpected and thoroughly normal repairs, however, including replacing an air conditioning system (expensive) and replacing an irrigation system (expensive) and in our other house, replacing a roof and it’s supports in our other house (expensive.) We have “enough.” We are blessed.

We’ve always had a policy of living below our means, supporting the church, investing and saving, and it has served us well. Even in retirement, we are loathe to touch our savings, even though the savings are for our retirement. We don’t know how long we’re going to live, or what kind of health care system we are going to have, so we keep all those little nuts in case winter is coming :-).

Meanwhile, I wanted to go to Mobile for lunch to day at 7 Spices Mediterranean Grill, one of the most delicious places in this part of the world to eat, and when AdventureMan and I counted out our money, we found that we could – just. AdventureMan looked at me and said “How about we go in August, and I’ll take you over to the beach to eat today” and I said “OK” and he said “No Trips to Damascus this week.”

When we lived in Amman, Jordan, our favorite trip was up to Damascus. It was only about 3 1/2 hours, longer if there was a line at the border, or is someone wanted to screw with us, as they sometimes liked to do with embassy people. We had friends in Damascus; we stayed with them, they knew all the best restaurants, and all the best places in the souks. Damascus was still very French, so I could do just fine there, and it was also Arabic, so AdventureMan could also do just fine.

We were young, we didn’t have a lot of money, but Iranians were fleeing Iran, stopping in Damascus to sell their carpets, and carpet buying was our avid hobby. For all of us, we all loved the beauty of the carpets, and their stories. We learned quickly to buy the carpet, not the story. The carpet sellers knew us all by name, and the foreign population was so small that they took our checks and those checks would go over the border to Lebanon and were cashed quicker than our checks cashed at the embassy. The carpet souks, the gold souks, and the copper souks all welcomed us, and shopping was a leisurely thing, you’d sit and drink a little tea, the shopkeeper would tell you how business was going, and you’d swap stories as you haggled over whatever it was you were purchasing.

Or not. One of my friends, a very funny woman, took a carpet home on approval – it was done all the time. Every time I would visit her, the carpet vendor would remind her she needed to pay for it or bring it back, and they would negotiate. She was a shrewd woman, a devilish bargainer, and the vendor wouldn’t meet her price. At the end of her two year tour, after having the carpet in her house almost the entire time, she returned it because they couldn’t agree on a price! She was a legend in the embassy community.

The 7 Spices restaurant has food that seems very Syrian, and has tapestries with scenes from Damascus on the walls. Sigh. No trips to Damascus this week.

(The photos are from our last trip to Damascus in 2007. Sigh. Ten years ago. Yes, I am feeling nostalgic.)

July 16, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment