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.

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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

King Cake: Diet Kryptonite

There is no real dieting during pre-Lenten Mardi Gras in Pensacola. Even in times of COVID, the Mardi Gras spirit shines through.

Our particular poison is the King Cake from Craft Bakery on Davis. It actually is not too sweet, is not loaded with excessive frosting and sugar, has just enough cinnamon, and comes in a size that two people can sliver to death in a day or two. They do have larger, more normal sizes for larger groups. These small loafs are more than enough for us.

February 6, 2021 Posted by | Food, Health Issues, Humor, Lent, Mardi Gras, Pensacola | | Leave a comment

Sunset and Gibsons in Apalachicola

We arrive back in Apalachicola mid-afternoon, relaxed, happy – and ready for a nap. Apalachicola is full of people. We know from experience that many of the people are day trippers, and by late afternoon they will be gone. Hey – it’s a get-away. A vacation. Naps are not just allowed, they are encouraged.

We already know where dinner will come from and that we won’t eat there. The Gibson was recently featured in Garden and Guns magazine as THE place to stay in Apalachicola. It is semi-Victorian, each room is different, it has a lively bar scene and a good restaurant. Under other conditions, a fun place to stay, but in the time of COVID, maybe not so much.

They are doing a lot of expanding, and renovating, and this is a great time to be doing it, before the great onslaught of people breaking free from travel restrictions. Actually, as AdventureMan is picking up dinner, he hears the desk clerk telling someone at the desk, “it is our last room, and it is on the third floor.” So much for travel restrictions.

I had the New Orleans BBQ Shrimp, an appetizer, and the Caesar salad. AdventureMan also had the BBQ shrimp and something else. The shrimp were good, the salad was not great and we can’t remember what else we had. Things rarely taste as good in take-out containers as they do in plates, so not the Gibson’s fault.

On this night, I also got a sunset photo:

So you could see a little piece of our hotel 🙂

February 5, 2021 Posted by | Beauty, Character, Food, Health Issues, Hotels, Restaurant, Road Trips, Sunsets, Travel | , | Leave a comment

En Route to Apalachicola

We’ve been so good. We haven’t traveled. We haven’t gathered with our friends, with our book clubs, with our church, well, not very much. We stay masked, most of the time, even with our grandchildren. We’ve had zero colds and zero flu this year, while trying to avoid COVID.

And we needed a break.

How can we do it safely, we asked ourselves. If you are reading this blog, which is a resource for travelers, I am imagining you ask the same questions. How do responsible people travel in this time of COVID?

First, I have to be frank. We are not entirely responsible. I swim at the Y three days a week. If I walk in and there are too many people, especially young people, in there, breathing, I turn around and walk out. I’ve only had to do it twice. Most days I feel safe, and another truth is, I really need to swim for my physical and mental health.

We are also risk takers, always have been, but we try to calculate our risks. So, you’ve been warned, we are not entirely safe all the time. We calculate our risks. We balance our risks.

We really needed a getaway, and we have recently sold a house so we needed a getaway and a celebration.

We usually go to Apalachicola once a year, but we haven’t been for three years now. Apalachicola has a very low rate of transmission, on the COVID map, and the place we stay is more like a residence, and very clean. I call our visits pilgrimages, because we “worship” at the nature parks of St. Marks, St. George Island, and St. Vincent. (I am making a little joke, here.)

We love Panama City beach, and I have a yen for a schnitzle, but when we get to the German restaurant, it has become a seafood restaurant. We decide we want grilled oysters, and we know another really good restaurant, but when we get there it is closed for renovations.

So we stop here:

My husband went in to ask if we can eat there if we are not bikers, and if they have grilled oysters. The very kind waiter said we could eat there, but he would recommend our going to another nearby place if we want oysters.

Dat Cajun Place is near the little Mom-and-Pop hotel we love, the Sunset Inn, but we’ve never eaten there. Today is the day. Another first for us, we are eating in a restaurant . . .

It’a big inside, so although no one is wearing a mask – NO one – we find an isolated table.

Our waiter did wear a mask. He was very kind, very gracious.

We decided to share a dozen grilled oysters. I adore grilled oysters, and they are so rich that six is always mre than enough for me. AdventureMan could eat more, but he defers to me for his own good health. I barely remembered to take the photo before they were all gone.

I had two sides; the Cajun Potato Salad and the greens. O M G those greens. Maybe it was really grilled bacon with greens . . . they were spicy and a little vinegar-y and full of bacon and with the oysters and potato salad, my life was complete.

We thought we had asked for jalepenos as a side for the oysters, but we got a big platter of deep fried jalepenos. I would NEVER order deep friend jalepenos, and they were fabulous, served with remoulade, oh heaven.

AdventureMan found his own bliss with a gorgeous Oyster Poor Boy, one of the best ever, he claims.

This was a great stop.

February 4, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, Health Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , | Leave a comment

COVID and Escambia County

I love my new neighbors in my little house with the sunsets. Early in the morning, as I was hanging my swimsuit out to dry, I saw her and her daughter also out in their backyard, and strolled over to say “Hey!”

She held out her hands in warning. “Don’t come any nearer!” She explained her youngest daughter was in quarantine, her entire high school was quarantined, students, faculty, administration. My friend is a dear woman, she had to quarantine her husband in the basement far away from his infectious daughter, due to health issues. I later learned – not from my neighbor – the school blames a “secret” Halloween party that ended up being a huge crowd event. A super spreader.

Sigh. Honestly, I can’t blame the kids. There is a belief around here that the COVID virus makes you a little uncomfortable and then you get over it. The majority of the adults don’t bother with masks.

We continue to be careful in our little bubble. Today, we drove out to a restaurant we like in the more rural north part of town. We planned, if it were not too crowded, to eat there, but it was too crowded. As we waited, masked, just us and the management and wait staff, not a single other person coming in to order, whether for pick up or for dine in, was masked.

The case rate in Florida is once again rising rapidly. The death rate is rising once again. I have a sinking feeling that the normal big family Thanksgivings will take place here as usual, with a resulting spike in cases and deaths. I am so sick of hunkering down, and I just tell myself to get a grip, I take enough risks, don’t take this one.

November 14, 2020 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cultural, Eating Out, Florida, Friends & Friendship, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Social Issues, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

Pensacola Beach: COVID? What COVID?

We are in the middle of some stormy weather, which in Pensacola means gloriously powerful thunder and lightning storms, here one minute and gone the next, or maybe lingering for hours, followed by hot sunshine Yesterday, with the side streams of Tropical Storm Hanna blowing by, we had an intensely thundery and stormy day, some periods of torrential rains, followed by sunlight, followed by heavy rains, followed by blue skies – and light sprinkles.

We stayed inside almost all day, then in late afternoon where suddenly everything lightened, we headed for our son’s home, and their lovely large back-yard and nice large warm pool. What luxury! An old friend was visiting, and we social-distanced in the pool.

Today, I told AdventureMan I wanted to go to Flounder’s for lunch. AdventureMan looked at me and asked “Do you think we could risk eating there? Outside?”

We haven’t eaten in a restaurant since March 12th. We’ve ordered out, even from Flounders, and taken it home to eat.

But Flounders, one of our favorite places to eat (part of the McGuire’s Steakhouse chain) has lots and lots of room, lots of seating, indoors and out. Of all the eating-in-a-restaurant risks, this one seemed pretty low. After a big rain, everything seems to sparkle, the air seems clearer – and we need a vacation. I said “yes.”

We drove to the beach, found a parking place immediately – always a good sign – and were seated in the high-ceilinged, semi-covered area, where large booths for six and eight people are separated by these signs:

Although there were two groups of eight seated near us (really once very large group) unmasked, there was plenty of distance. It was a real mix – the parking lot full of licenses from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky – even one from Oregon (!), maybe hiding out down here from the Feds, as so many do. Have you ever noticed how on those old Crime shows, so many of the criminals were ultimately found in Florida? Or California? Actually, my Mother is from Oregon, and I have nothing but sympathy and admiration for those Oregonians showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter and all the white women showing up in yellow T-shirts (Moms for Black Lives Matter) and the grandpas with their leaf blowers – they really know how to protest with good will and a sense of humor.

OOps. I digress.

People were social distanced. We had plenty of space.

They are using a new, condensed menu, but we knew what we wanted and the waitress told us we could order even if it didn’t show on the menu.

Seafood Chowder. Flounders is famous for it, and it is truly a magnificent taste-treat.

As usual, I forgot to take the photo until I was half done. Apologies!

My husband loves their grilled grouper sandwiches, and he always shares a fry or three or four with me because they are so delicious:

 

I had my usual – Baja Tacos. Here is the truth – they also have a healthier fish taco, grilled, served with a mango salsa but I really love the deep fried Baja Tacos. I usually can’t eat more than one, so I bring them home and have a fish taco salad for another meal.

We had great service.

Some servers were masked. Some were not. It appears they have their choice. Some customers wore masks, some carried masks, some had no masks. Where we sat, there was a lot of fresh air, breezy air, and a lot of space, so we did not worry too much. No more condiments on the tables. Everything looked very clean.

Sometimes you take a risk. This risk was a much needed mini-vacation at a time when we are not comfortable with airplanes or even hotels.

The beach scene is a different story. We could see crowds of people, no masks, no social distancing, around the jet-ski rental places. In spite of the huge red-lettered signs saying DANGEROUS SURF. DO NOT GO IN GULF it looked to me like a hundred or more people swimming around in Casino Beach. We saw lots of large groups. Lots of cars from other places. I can imagine the servers have concerns, especially if they have families, or need to stay well to keep a roof over their heads. The visitors seem oblivious to the health boundaries necessary to prevent transmission. When one person in ten in Escambia County is testing positive, they are exposing themselves and taking the virus back home with them to wherever they came from.

So for us, having a meal out in a restaurant was a unique event. I can’t imagine the conditions are such that we can be comfortable making it a habit. It was a fling. It was nice while it lasted. I hope there are no repercussions.

July 25, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Community, Eating Out, Florida, Food, Health Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Weather | , , , , | Leave a comment

Florida Breaks All Records for COVID Cases

First, to those of you who know me and are far away, we are well.

My Mother died of COVID in Seattle, in April. It was a shock. Although she was 96, she was mentally fit, very sharp, and her mother lived to 104. We all expected Mom to break her Mom’s record.

We don’t live in the biggest hot-spot, the Miami/Dade County area far to the south and east of Pensacola. No, we are in the eighth worst hit part of Florida, and part of the 18 greatest concerns for COVID according to the study out yesterday.

No one I know here has gotten sick. Almost everyone I know has the luxury of staying home, working from home, not needing to interface with the public unnecessarily. It is stunning, however, to think that one person in ten in this area has or  has had the virus.

These graphs are not from the Florida Department of Health website. The person hired to design that website designed a great, comprehensive website to transparently share information. She was fired. She says she was fired for not agreeing to manipulate the information to make things look not so bad in Florida. Our governor is a total toady to President Trump, who is doing nothing to provide leadership to our country in fighting this pandemic, not providing comfort to those who suffer from it.

 

 

These snapshots are from her new website, which has much more accurate presentations of the situation in Florida than the official site. She, and others, gather information which may be obscure, but is available to the public, and publishes it. Her website is Florida Covid Action. She is a hero.

I live in a county where I have friends who support Trump and believe that the Democrats are over-hyping the problems for political reasons, so that Trump will lose his bid for re-election. They also believe masks are unnecessary. They don’t see any reason to socially distance. They perceive restrictions on their behavior as violations of their First Amendment rights.

So Trump has mandated our schools to open as normal – that means in August. The schools must offer an in-school option, which has many teachers frightened and/or furious. They also offer a remote school-day option, 6 hours in front of a computer, and an independent option, where a student completes a curriculum on his or her own. Those who attend school will not be required to mask or to social distance.

My grandchildren are 7 and 10. Their parents face having to choose the least bad of the three proposals. Parents all around the state are debating what to do. Many parents work, and child care is almost impossible to find and very costly. Many parents will have to send their children to school or leave them unattended and unsupervised at home.

The pediatric cases are for my county, Escambia County. The highest rate of transmission is among those 15 – 24. They’ve closed the bars, but the rate remains high, and rising. The rate of transmission among children is also rising.

I am outraged. We have handled this contagion worse that a third world country. We know masks work. We know social distancing, plus masks, plus conscientious hand-washing can flatten this curve, bring the number of cases down, and expect a rational re-opening. Nothing we have done, especially in Florida, has been rational. God help us. Lord, have mercy on us.

July 18, 2020 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Civility, Community, Cultural, Florida, Health Issues, Hygiene, Interconnected, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Transparency, Values | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pensacola Smashes Record Corona Virus Rate

Pensacola has had a full week of record breaking cases of Corona Virus, way up from where it was when we all began to shelter in place.

With news that the leadership has decided that testing is the problem, and that the government is beginning to withdraw support for testing, the cars are lining up at the local drive-through testing station, concerned people trying to get tested before testing goes away.

So what looks worse for re-election? Dealing with the problem, or pretending the problem doesn’t exist, not dealing the the problem, and pulling funding from studying the problem?

June 26, 2020 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Community, Health Issues, Leadership, Political Issues, Social Issues | , | Leave a comment

Maskmaker, Maskmaker, Make Me a Mask

When I headed to the YMCA on Wednesday, it was with a heavy heart. I have loved the reservation only swimming; I have actually felt fairly safe with so few people, and the respect for protecting one another through keeping safe boundaries. Already rumors are abounding that the Governor is about to move rapidly forward with his “evidence based phase-in” headed toward the new normal, and will open gyms.

The same day, I received my word that my sister, who was very sick this winter and was told over and over by her doctor that it was only severe bronchitis, has tested positive for the corona virus antibodies. She had it all along. She kept asking. They told her no.

That, along with my mother’s death from the virus, makes me cautious. We come from long-lived people. We are no match for this virus.

So I headed into the Y knowing that once the gym gets back into full swing, I may have to withdraw until I am certain the virus has diminished in our area, and that the “evidence” is supported by full transparency of the medical examiner’s reports (currently being censored / withheld by executive decision of the very governor who is telling us we will go forward making decisions on these unavailable statistics, nationally reported to be underreported in the state of Florida.)

Excuse me, but WTF??

So I wear my mask into the Y, but I take it off to swim, all that chlorine and I feel safe enough. One of the lifeguards gasps and says “I LOVE your mask! Did you make it?” and I told her I did, that I had made about 150 and given them all away.

“Would you make me one just like it?” she asked.

The mask is made from some fabric I found in the souks in Tunis, when we lived there forty years ago. It is a deep sea blue, and purple, with some black and white for drama, with Berber jewelry motifs, triangles with five pendants, crescents, hands of Fatima. I bought ten yards of the fabric when I saw it, and have used it through the years in projects and quilts, a little here and a little there. I loved it that she had the same immediate emotional response to the fabric that I had.

“I don’t know if I have any of that fabric cut for masks,” I told her honestly, “but I will look.”

I swam my mile and headed home, feeling lighter. I had my tasks outlined for the day, but I am nearing a point where I can’t go further – I’ve already packed items we need, like that spare tube of toothpaste, and my vitamin C serum. I got a little carried away with the packing . . .

So I scurried the rest of the morning, full of energy, and in the afternoon I rewarded myself by allowing myself to go back to mask-making, a place I haven’t been for nearly a month. Masks aren’t hard; I figured out a way I like to do them, and I really like to do them, I like the process, and I love working with the fabrics. Even better, my young friend asking me to make her a mask just like mine breathed new life and hope into my spirit; I was able to finish about fifteen masks and offer them to other staff members and life guards when I went in this morning. As I was working with them, I found just one piece of the fabric she loved, that I love, and it was enough to make her a mask, just like mine.

People around here are more reluctant to wear masks than people in places like Seattle. When I walked in with a selection of masks in lovely fabrics, people were delighted to be able to choose something that pleased them. One lady, when I offered, didn’t hesitate, she said “Oh, I know exactly what I want, I can see it!” and chose a dark blue batik with turquoise stars. Another woman chose a Florentine style ivory print with cranberry and green, and gilt highlights. It was fun for me to see them choose, and I can only hope they will like them well enough to wear them as we work to protect one another from this lurking virus.

May 15, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Circle of Life and Death, color, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Tunisia, YMCA | Leave a comment

New Normal at the YMCA

“You think it’s safe?” my good friend asked me, not hiding her concern. “It’s not too soon?”

“It might be,” I replied, “And I really NEED to swim.”

There is a new system for the new normal, I discovered as I arrived a little early for my reservation. Yes, reservations open two days in advance for a 45 minute swim in the lap pool. Today, when I walked in, past the blue lines marked on the floor to keep us six feet apart, there was a man waiting at the door with a little thermal gun-like object which he pressed close to my forehead (I was holding my mask in my hand, LOL), before I could get through to the membership card kiosk. Chatted briefly with a friend who recently lost her husband (old age, not Covid) and then headed for the main desk, to check in for my reservation.

She pointed out the new entry for the pool, a door I had never seen anyone use before, and when I got into the pool area, I was greeted with more information on the new way things were being done. I dropped my bag, marked my lane with my equipment, and showered.

Even though I arrived early, there were two swimmers there before me, and it was still fifteen minutes before the reserved time – no one waited. We all went right to swimming.

 

I felt so blessed. This morning, as I opened my shades, the huge Flower Moon was setting over toward the west, the sky was clear and it was glorious. Now, in my favorite lane, as I swam toward the far end of the pool I swam into shimmering sunlight, and then back into the darker area, back and forth. My first lap was a little rocky, I lost my breath. It’s been two months since I last swam. With the extra 15 minutes, I might come close to my mile, a goal I had reached earlier this year only after months of build-up.

Slowly, the rhythm returned, and I was going back and forth, in and out of the sunlight, and building speed. Around eight, an old swimming comrade arrived and signaled to ask if it was OK if we share a lane. He is always considerate, and sensitive to boundaries, and I was happy to be sharing with him.

Six swimmers in four lanes, and two women exercising in the nearby exercise pool – eight people total, sharing this wonderful, clean, sunny space. What luxury. I felt safe.

I came so close! I came within one lap of completing my mile. It was 8:45 and while no one was pushing me out, everyone else was leaving, so good little lamb that I am, I left too, so the crew can do whatever it is they need to do before the next swimmers arrive, for the 9:00 slot. I didn’t go into the changing room, just dried as best I could and wrapped a Zambian kikoy around me for the drive home, using my towel to protect the seat of the car.

This is not me, this is a photo I found online to show how kikoy can be worn to get one quickly and modestly home rather than having to dry off and change.

I thought I would be tired, exercising hard after two months of no swimming, but no! I had energy! I tackled the linen closet, organized medical kit, linens, boxes of supplies for the upcoming move, and boxed up excess for people who might need them.

May 8, 2020 Posted by | Africa, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Exercise, Fitness / FitBit, Health Issues, Hygiene, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Social Issues, Survival, YMCA | , | Leave a comment