Alright, so I am prepared for the slaughter… for the beating. Frankly, I don’t really care. This is my space and I have a right not to be silenced. Warning: Do not read this post if ugly social realities make you cringe or enrage your narrow point of view – that is, if you have any – if you care at all. Remember the storming of the Bastille? When the French revolutionaries’ crying call was: Liberté, égalité, fraternité? The ideals that filled the French people with a raging desire for a republic are principles that find resonance around the world… in countries where people dare speak their minds even under the threat of death… in nations where people are free to speak up to a certain degree… But what is freedom really? And are we truly free? It’s unfortunate that I cannot remember, for I always rightly attribute important sayings to their source, but all I can recall right now are the words I truly believe in: “One’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins.” Quite simple and straightforward is it not? But very few actually respect freedom in its very essence – not people, not businesses, not governments. Institutionalized discrimination is so solidly built into societies and the social structures that influence individuals that people are not even aware at times at how deeply caught up they are in social web that simply refuses to let them act on their own behalf, to live… to be human and humane. Back home in the Philippines, news of oil price hikes or any increase in costs of certain commodities leads people to groan and say: Lahat na lang ng bilihin nagmamahal, tao na lang ang mura – which means “the cost of everything continually rises, only people remain cheap” – roughly referring to the value of human labor, or lack thereof. If you run over someone on the street, better make sure that the person is dead – PHP 50,000 would cover the blood money, however you may call it. It would be more expensive if the person would remain alive and you have to pay for the medical bills and whatever costs you have incurred relative to the victim’s livelihood. Walk around the poorest nations, take a stroll along the streets… a woman, a prostitute – even a male prostitute would cost you only two a penny – so to speak. I have no knowledge of the prevailing rates but they do say that in Abu Dhabi for example, a Chinese hooker will charge as low as twenty dirhams. And this country is not a poor country – at least, evidence of poverty isn’t so glaring, right mate? How about other prostitutes here – the women from the former USSR, Filipinas, Indians and Pakistanis… Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Arabs, etc. – I am sorry people, ‘hate to rub salt in the wound, but don’t say I didn’t warn you – this ain’t a nice cute little post. They are everywhere. Look, notice them. One of them is in a corner negotiating. She looks decent enough, even pretty. Ugh, what a dirty old man – but yeah, she’ll take his money and give him what he needs right? Lord, I was shocked to know even this happens here. I thought.. I thought… I thought so many thoughts – had my own expectations… I guess that when I learned about this, I finally felt the culture shock I had been discussing in my anthropology classes back home. Well, there are also Caucasian hookers – Western educated – but they are usually found in high-profile clubs – those nice big posh places where the chances of finding a rich horny guy with sweaty palms and wads of cash (or a platinum card) are quite promising. And it doesn’t end there. If you live here long enough, you’ll find out that the cheapest expat professionals in the job market are the Asians – I hate to name nationalities, but even within this sub-group, there are hierarchies. It doesn’t matter what your qualifications are, how vast your experience is and how promising you are as a person – very few companies are willing to put the proper price tag on someone who comes from a poor country… it doesn’t matter if your parents back home own an island or that you worked as an administrator in the government – you can still end up working as an office girl as luck would have it. But if you are a Westerner (my apologies to my Caucasian friends – you understand right?), my – expect better pay and better treatment! Oh well, some Arabs have a way of making you feel owned, one way or another, even if you earn AED 50,000 a month. They have certain annoying ways that will make you feel that even when you enjoy a privileged position, you are still just one of their hired help. Still, “whites” (pardon the political incorrectness – but… sigh… let’s call a spade a spade) are at a much better place than us Asians. And don’t get me started on the you-know-whos who get their jobs by virtue of the fact that they own the place. Hahaha… their own government did a study on their employment patterns and discovered most of them quit before the probationary period of six months. Why? They felt that the working hours were too long (c’mon, we have to work ten hours or more!). They felt lazy – why work when you can just laze around your swimming pool, shop in Dubai Mall, party in Club Cavalli or frighten off some pedestrians as you drive your Hummer like a crazed demon?!? Some of them wanted a promotion just a few months after joining. Hilarious! Makes me want to put a bullet to my head… As you struggle to decide whether you’ll get a Blackberry Smartphone 9780 or a Samsung Galaxy P1000-16GB Tablet PC… the person you passed by is wondering how far her 100 dirhams will get her through the month.
Hey, am not saying that you should start giving your money away… I just wish you’d realize how lucky you are. How tremendously fortunate you are. You can afford to pay a cleaning lady to take care of your flat and your laundry. Most domestic helpers, on the other hand, are paid anywhere between 700 and 1500 dirhams (this has been the wage range, with the upper limit j just a bit lower at 1000 dirhams, in the last 25 years!!!) no matter how rich or affluent their employers are. The wage requirements are there of course, set by the Ministry of Labour. But who follows the law? Why would you respect the law if you feel you’re above it… or if you know how you can circumvent it? Those men who sweep the street… who cut the grass… earn something between 300 to 500 dirhams a month. That guy who smilingly rushes to get the grocery cart from you, wearing a neat uniform, has no wage or salary – he is a hundred per cent dependent on the tip you will give him. And how about the laborers who built all the ‘iconic structures’ (text that reverberates in their PR material) the city is so famous for? Who’s to blame? The people? The government? The culture? The notion that the West is superior? Is it the high cost of living in the West and the seemingly inherent cheapness of life in the so-called developing nations? Is it globalization? Is it the fault of the ILO? Or is it simply human injustice? A distorted view of human worth that (over)values some as it devalues others? Do you justify paying an Asian low wages because you know he comes from a poor country? So where do qualifications figure and the job description? Do they matter at all? Even simple urban geography would show you that the high income groups occupy the newly developed sections of this country – the high-end areas, while members of the low income group have flocked into the older sections of the city. Not that we like living with other people in the same room. Not that we like having all our stuff on our beds because we have no space. Not that we like sharing a tiny kitchen with ten others. Not that we like living in a flat where we have no receiving room or living room. Not that we like taking a bath for exactly fifteen minutes because the next person is waiting outside. Not that we want to sleep in bedbug infested bunks because we have no choice; because even if we get rid of the pests the old building we live in is still full of them. Not that we like to flock into stores that sell the cheapest stuff on the market. Not that we like to eat in cramped restaurants with unhygienic & questionable looking dishes. Not that we like struggling to get to the bus stop on time just to have the bus come half an hour late and afterwards takes us on an unwanted city tour that will get us to work an extra half an hour late. Not that we like to crowd into the metro and smell the armpits & the breath of our less clean neighbor. The odors, the smells – sometimes dank – are annoying. Get your own car they’d say. Huh, I have to get me a new job first. Maybe a new country too. I am not finished. Just tired. Aren’t you? © Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2011