Tag: immigration

A self starter

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Meet Daniel. To the uninformed eye he appears to be an ordinary barista but looks can be deceiving.

He doesn’t just make coffee. He’s essentially a ‘one- man team.’ He has been trusted to run the entire branch with only an intern who has recently joined him. Duties include handling inventory, permits, licenses and anything else that the municipality requires; all on his own. Despite his humble demeanor, his talent is self-evident. He tells me how small the margin for error is. For example, selling a single item past its expiry date can result in the branch being closed. For a conglomerate to apportion this level of responsibility to a single employee is unheard of and the accountability never ceases. “I go home, take off my uniform and get back to work,” he jokes; but this is no exaggeration. For five days a week he works from early in the morning to well into the night, handling the everyday running of the shop. Following this he begins filling out the days paperwork which doesn’t end until 10pm. After waking up at 4 AM he repeats this process.

As he reveals this I can’t help but wonder how he is so relaxed. Not only does he have to navigate his stressful work life, his weekends are spent studying at university; and he enjoys it! He perceives the added workload as a recognition of his considerable value whilst his educational pursuits provide a personal challenge. I ask him what motivates him to be so industrious and his reply was short; “my parents.” Both his mother and father are retired in his native Philippines, where his siblings also reside. Every month he remits as much money as possible to support them. However, he feels no pressure to provide. He stresses that these monthly displays of generosity are completely voluntary. He uses these payments as a means of showing his “respect and love” to them. “Yesterday I made another payment, so I think they love me a little more right now!”

Daniel moved to Dubai after working in Saudi Arabia for 3 years. There he learned how to speak Arabic, how to run a coffee shop and how much Middle Eastern countries differ. He believes that the UAE is always “one step ahead” of their rivals and describes Dubai as “a work of art – it’s as if someone created this place with a paintbrush.” He gestures towards the skyline and marvels at the pace of development.

Clearly, his knack for shouldering responsibility is at the core of who he is. He accepts the burden of his work, education and providing for his family. His life choices are no different. He saw no reason why Dubai would be free of prejudice. Consequently, he refuses to begrudge any limited prospects he may face. It was his decision to come here. It is also his decision to leave.

He has passed his university exams, processed his paperwork and is imminently moving to Canada. There he will become the official manager of another coffee shop. His salary will increase and so will his generosity toward his family; but this is just the beginning.

Daniel’s grand ambition is to start his own company, perhaps a food service. There he can hire his siblings, support his parents and take complete ownership of his work ethic. He would finally be able to be his own boss. This vision of his becomes clearer and with each passing day and draws closer with each sleepless night. I have no doubt that soon it will be his reality.






A brighter future

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Meet Naveen and Rohan, two childhood friends who rolled the dice. At first glance, they seem like any other blue collar expats, working hard to support family back at home. However, Dubai wasn’t their first port of call when looking for employment outside their home country.

After spending most of his young life in India, Naveen moved to Singapore to finish his degree. Rohan followed suit by travelling to New Zealand for his education. They smile as they recall their experiences as first time expats in these developed, westernised countries. Studying and being away from family for the first time feels a lifetime away from their current position. They now work 12 hours a day and 6 days a week as security guards at a compound.

Whilst there is little time for fun in their current daily routine of work and sleep, both men draw strength from their families back home. They speak to them daily and remind themselves why they are doing the jobs they do.

After being denied a work visa in New Zealand, Rohan needed to find another job. He still had to support his parents but after enjoying the way of life in New Zealand, moving back to India was not an option. “Even though financially things have gotten better, life is too sad back home. All my friends want to leave;” and one of them had his eyes on Dubai. A recommendation from this trusted contact was all it took for Rohan to end his search. He knew little about the city and didn’t care. All he needed was a job and a work visa, something New Zealand refused to offer.

I find out that at the same time Rohan’s life was being uprooted, Naveen decided to spend all his savings on his sister’s wedding. He struggles to contain his joy when he tells me this, so the look of embarrassment that follows is puzzling. His family is his priority but his act of selflessness, though commendable, proved short sighted. Naveen’s father became ill. The expenses of his heart medication began to snowball. The cost of living in Singapore started to skyrocket. Naveen needed more money. And quickly. In desperation he turned to Rohan who offered him a ray of hope in the form of Dubai. Without hesitating, he spent his remaining 14,000 rupees on a one-way trip.

The difference between these two and other migrants is their perspectives. They had lived in first world countries, been educated at degree level and knew their worth. Sadly, great expectations often end in disappointment. At first glance, this is just another example. Both men are tired, frustrated and worst of all, underpaid. Despite moving across the world their salaries have barely improved. Their families are still struggling.

However, what happens next is unexpected. Rohan tells me that this is all going to change. He explains that they are pursuing new jobs. Rohan has previous management experience and is looking for a managerial role at a hotel, whilst Naveen is pursuing more lucrative security role. They make a point of referring to their future as “bright”, a complete contrast to the dim room we are currently in.  Nevertheless, they remain resolute.  Neither of them has given up on reclaiming the lives they used to lead.

They admit it will not be easy. Meaningful opportunities are scarce, they have little time or energy to pursue them and their Indian passports have proven to be a stumbling block. The odds are stacked against them. However, bad odds didn’t deter them in the past. They are willing to bet on themselves yet again and I hope their luck will change. After all, this is Dubai, the city where dreams are made.





Trials, tribulations and training

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Meet Ishara. He currently runs the café at the heart of a fantastic martial arts gym in the UAE. He is not hard to miss. His large frame and imposing physique is in complete contrast to his ever-present smile and friendly nature. He moved to Dubai from his native Sri Lanka in 2016 for an unsurprising reason; to improve his salary and support his family. However, what is unconventional is his lifestyle.

He may be a passionate bodybuilder, but he has absolutely no interest in martial arts. “Martial arts just look too hard”, he jokes. However, his daily routine is all that is needed to show his mental strength. For 6 days a week he works 9 ½ hour days. Where most people would consider another pastime, he persists. From 11 PM until 12:30 AM he lifts weights. When he gets home he sets his alarm for 6 AM to repeat the day. He acknowledges that his habit of sleeping 5 hours a night is nowhere near enough time to recover from his intense workouts, yet he looks well rested with youthful features. I am shocked to find out he is 30. “Do you want to know my secret for looking young?” he asks me. “Well this is it” he says as he gestures towards his large bag. It contains the food he has prepared days in advance. I find his dedication remarkable. In the two hours between finishing work and going to the gym, the only time that he can relax, he spends cooking.

Training clearly means more to him than just physical fitness. It seems to be the only way he can cope with the stress at work. “I need some help”, he confesses. Currently the gym is understaffed, and few have been affected more than Ishara. It is 5 pm, the only time we can talk. As soon as 6 pm arrives the gym becomes swarmed by the regulars and his services are in high demand. Whether it be preparing food, making shakes or cleaning the kitchen, he is almost always occupied. Furthermore, there’s currently no one to share these responsibilities; and he doesn’t have time to take a break.

His honesty pierces through during this conversation, yet he reveals that he is often untruthful to those who matter most. He compensates for not being able to see his family by speaking to them often; but he ensures that the details of his personal struggles remain hidden. “I don’t want them to worry about me” he explains. Although his fibs are out of character, they are completely understandable. Having his family worry about him is apparently the one form of anxiety that overcomes his resilience. I can’t help but wonder whether he feels a sense of relief by being unable to go home. He may be sleep-deprived and overworked but his parents feel proud of his fruitful move. As the oldest of four children, he tries to support his family by remitting as much as possible, but lately payments have been less frequent. He explains that his living expenses such as travel, housing and food are taking its toll. “I try to send as much as I can but sometimes it’s just not possible.”

His determination to continue his hectic days is a must to fulfil his long-term ambition; starting his own business in Sri Lanka. His work ethic and tenacity are undeniable. What he lacks is management experience; a shortfall he is looking to perfect in his next job. I have no doubt that any future employer would be overjoyed with his effort and enthusiasm.



A long way from home…

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Meet Dennis. He works as a concierge but his purpose to his family is far more important.

After moving to Dubai in 2016, Dennis is in the final year of his contract and is counting the days until his return to his native Uganda. His positivity is infectious, and it is a rare occasion to see him without a smile, but I quickly learn that he often feels low whilst working in this towering building. His joyful demeaner dampens as he explains his mother’s illness and the medical expenses that have accumulated. Despite being the youngest of his three brothers, he bears the sole responsibility of providing for his mother back home because they face their own financial troubles.

I asked him what he misses the most about home and his reply was simple, “freedom.” He explains the laidback lifestyle he used to enjoy where he had no formal working hours, or even a job title for that matter, but was still able to live comfortably. Some days he would sell clothes and on others he would work on a farm if he so desired. He used to wake up with no boss, no stress and a level of independence someone with my background can only begin to imagine. He recalls how on the weekends he could afford to buy a new set of apparel by selling the clothes off his back, an unconventional trade by our standards but commonplace for him.

One thing he loathes is the inherent “laziness” of his life here. He shows me a picture of himself when he was in Uganda and the difference is staggering. He now cuts a slim figure but just a few years ago his physique was that of a bodybuilder despite never setting foot in a gym. “In Uganda life is the gym, work is the gym. I never had to pay someone to let me exercise!” He goes on to joke that being a doctor in Uganda is a difficult business because few people are sick.

Unfortunately, one of those people happens to be his mother, hence why he sacrificed his content life to move to Dubai. He now works from 7am-7pm, a stark contrast to the carefree life he used to live. His weekends consist of napping and very little else. He jibes that it takes him 3 days to watch a single movie because he inevitably falls asleep, recovering from his long working hours. His anxiety over his mother’s health is exacerbated by the fact he gets paid at the end of the month. “If an emergency happens in the middle of the month and I can’t send money…” he trails off dreading the worst before his beaming smile re-appears.

The discrimination he faces is deeply saddening. He tells me of the tension between himself and his Asian co-workers. The perception is that he and other African’s have come to steal jobs and there is no way for him to challenge this hostility.

Dennis, who has a degree in management, tells me something profound; “workers like me are not just the first face you see in a company, we are the face of this country. Without us nothing here would work so we should be respected like regular people.”

These tribulations have often caused him to think of quitting. Nevertheless, he dismisses these thoughts as weakness. He would consider himself a failure if he quit and abandoned his duties so remains hopeful, determined and patient. “Part of being a man is surviving these struggles”, he proclaims.

Although he must spend another year away from home, he continues to smile whilst toiling, knowing he is doing this for his family.