Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Portrait #12: Migrant Workers in Qatar

I am in the Gulf region, on a day-long layover in Qatar! So far I've had a 13-hour flight with my video not working (had it worked, it was the largest personal TV screen I'd ever seen and apparently the largest selection of films), been made to stand in several queues which were often the wrong queue but no one would direct me until I got to the front, and am now waiting for a hotel shuttle that will be a while yet. None of these are really worth complaining about, but it's the absolute attitude of disregard by which they've been done that has challenged me to remember to keep a good attitude.

That's actually not too hard to do when there are other people queued up behind me, when it is actually a whole section of seats on the plane that didn't have entertainment, and when I find out that I got a comfy exit-row seat while a semi-disabled elderly Indian woman had to sit in an awkward centre seat.

So, today I'm not portraiting any one person, because no one person has stuck out to me. I'm portraiting a world where my Arabic is useless even though I'm in an Arab country. The various staff who have neglected, ignored and misdirected me come from various countries of East Asia, South Asia and Africa... and a handful from the Middle East. When I stepped out of the airport door I practically stumbled over dozens of men, mostly from India and neighbouring countries, camped out as they await the privilege of being poorly-treated employees in this lush nation of Qatar. No wonder they don't care if I stood on a queue for 20 minutes longer than necessary, or if my bag is heavy!

I found myself observing the interesting nature of relations here between client and service provider. I may never have gotten my in-flight cinema, but whenever I asked, they promised to try to fix it for me and then fed me more food and drink. I may have had to wait patiently behind four men with no visa to get through immigration, but when my turn came they didn't apologise - they just processed my visa efficiently. They promise and they probably deliver. When it works for them. They are gracious and kind - no matter what country they're from! - but not too vested in the final result.

Today, even when I've been treated as crap, I feel like royalty. After all, in the end I win. I'm on my way to the glittery Ramada hotel, airline's treat. I deserve to sit on the sidewalk with the migrant workers, don't I?

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