Last evening, the entire gang (J, Mr H, Nu and Lil Z) visited their local supermarket. They cavorted amidst the crowds and aisles, had popcorn and muffins, raced with the shopping carts, made funny but surreptitious comments on fellow shoppers and somehow managed to get some grocery shopping done in the process.
At the end, like always; they decided to split tasks to hasten matters. Mr H wanted to look at some car accessories, Nu was given the task of stowing the bags in the car and of course J (with Lil Z in tow) headed for her donut fix. They decided to meet back at the car.
J gobbled her donut; packed some for the next morning , dusted the icing sugar off her face and headed to the parking area. As J walked to the car, she saw Nu busy chatting up a “cart- boy”. One of those people who help pack the groceries at the billing counters or locate and bring back the heedlessly discarded carts….
He was a snappy, young, smart -looking, diminutive Nepali chap. Educated enough to speak more- than- coherent English. Well- mannered.
He spoke in halting but good English. Was shy and almost stopped talking when J arrived. But J was curious to hear what he had to say. She half expected it to be some new scam. Some method to make a few quick Rials. To milk some sympathy and guilt them into giving some money maybe.
But there was something about the almost boy- man which told her this was not a scam. He did not feign misery. He seemed to have a dignified mien.
He was voicing his woes. Looking for a sympathetic ear. He did not want money or favours. He was not hassling them for anything. He just wanted to be heard. Noticed.
J’s not sure as to how Nu got him talking. He has his ways….
Let’s call our Nepali friend Rupen. That was not his name, but it is close to his real name. Names give people an identity. Makes them more humane. It is better than calling him “that Nepali” or “that guy” or even “that man”.
Rupen earns 800 QAR per month he told them. There was no wretchedness in his demeanour as he mentioned this. No spitefulness against fate or malice towards life. He seemed to be stating a mere fact. Nothing more.
He spends more than 600 of those to eke out a living in this distant desert. He has family back home- frail, old parents, a young but lonely wife and even a little one about Zoe’s age. He has not seen them for a couple of years now. He scrapes up every last Rial he can save and wires it home. Rupen manages to send home a grand sum of about 150 QAR per month. Even with the current inflated conversion rate, it comes up to about 2500 INR or 4000 Nepalee Rupees. About 40 USD, per month!
To put things in perspective, J’s shopping bill for last evening amounted to 427 QAR. Just some milk, eggs, vegetables, snacks, meat, cleaning supplies ….you get the drift. Another 30 QAR for the donuts. That is more than half of Rupen’s monthly salary.
A humbling encounter.
This isn’t s novel story. It is a way of life here. The haves and have nots have always co-existed. But the chasm between them is so vast here that it can be unimaginable to someone who has not experienced it first- hand.
The boundless wealth at one end and utter impoverishment at the other. The wastefulness, excessive indulgence and fancy lifestyles gloss over the dusty, downtrodden lives of the Rupens in town. There are thousands of Rupens in this country. Many are worse off than him. He at least works in an air- conditioned store and can even hope to make some extra cash in the form of tips. The construction workers and the labourers do not have such pamperings. The country is built on the backs of such people, yet they reap none of the benefits.
Everyone comes to a place like Qatar with one purpose above all. To make money. Pure and simple. That is the expat dream, after all. Nurse, engineer, doctor, manager, CEO; doesn’t matter who you are or what you do for a living- the primary reason for moving to a country such as Qatar s is better monetary compensation. Rupen too, sold all that he had; greased the palms of a seedy “agent” and landed here with hope of a better life. For him, and his family.
His dream is startlingly basic- for his family to go to bed with a full stomach, under a solid roof, with warm clothes on their backs. And yes, to send his daughter to school. The simplicity and earnestness of his aspirations shamed and humbled J.
We are aware of all that happens around us. Yet we choose to ignore the things that make us even the least bit uncomfortable. We see these Rupens every single day. In malls packing away things that they can never afford themselves. Watering the grass at Corniche while the haves eat, run, lounge, laugh and make merry beside the water. Cleaning cars at the stifling parking lots in City Centre while shoppers squander their time and money inside the climate controlled mall. Ripping down roundabouts into signals while obscenely- expensive cars zip by….
Yet, we don’t see them. We choose not to. To us, they are part of the scenery. Like the replanted palm trees along the medians. We make them invisible. It’s easier that way. We don’t have to feel the pangs of guilt that way. Guilt for having the luxury of sitting in an air-conditioned sedan, or being able to buy weekly grocery worth 427 QAR, of eating donuts worth 30 QAR when the belly is already full with a sumptuous dinner….
Let us stop this charade, please. Let us stop pretending these people don’t exist. Let us stop telling ourselves that we have nothing to do with them. That nothing we say or do can help them. They allow us to live the lives we do. They do the tasks that we will never do and yet are essential to our very existence. They make our lives easier. Our lifestyles are all thanks to these ignored, nameless, faceless people.
Let us please acknowledge their existence. Stop making them invisible. Stop being immune to their predicaments. Only then can their plights be amended. After all, we are all here in pursuit of living the expat dream…..
Till next time….