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Kafala

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May. 28th, 2014 | 10:30 am

Hidden they say. They’re hidden.
Glimpses from the air of fencing around boxes,
Perhaps. That’s all you’ll get.
Until you recognize the signs.
The long white buses, windows cracked but curtains drawn
(against the sun, of course).
Railings spread with orange safety suits drying from a bathtub wash
(maybe they have a bathtub)
Or blue coveralls, that you see also on men
Crossing an eight-lane highway from the piece of desert
With a concrete-block gas station full of cigarettes and phone cards
To the piece of desert that encamps them
Enfolds them in secrecy, in kafala.
Those men wrapping their faces in towels against the caste-lowering sun.
Those men squatting in a bit of shade from a sign,
THIS HOARDING WILL BECOME MEDIA CITY.
Become it on their backs, become steel and glass and airy public spaces
From 12 men to a room
From passports in the boss’s pocket
From credit at the grocery for every day they cannot pay the exit fine.
A man in an Armani suit will slice the ribbon with ceremonial shears
And I will pat myself on the back
For learning Hindi for keep the change,
For learning the signs that say work camp.
If I were one for heaven
They would ask me on the threshold,
Did you stop or turn away?
And Hell will have the look
Of this vast desert.



________________________________________________________
The kafala system is explained in this article about the construction of NYU Abu Dhabi.
whipchick lives next to an active construction site.






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Comments {28}

(no subject)

from: catwomon
date: May. 28th, 2014 10:39 pm (UTC)
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Very powerful piece in few words! It is so tragic!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: May. 30th, 2014 06:20 am (UTC)
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Thanks - yeah, it's a really dreadful situation and I don't know if there's anything I can do without getting deported.

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: May. 28th, 2014 11:21 pm (UTC)
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Really wonderful entry, and those last five lines just cut to the marrow.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: May. 30th, 2014 06:20 am (UTC)
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Thanks. The NYU scandal really pisses me off, too, because "Well we can't control the contractors we just said all the workers would be treated fairly" is pretty much the Pontius Pilate school of management.

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: May. 30th, 2014 06:22 am (UTC)
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Building their unnecessary university in that part of the world is bad enough, but to allow it to be built in that way is completely unacceptable. It is nearly slave labor, and they should take responsibility for stopping it-- even if that means different contractors and paying more for the job. :(

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drwex

I read this

from: drwex
date: May. 29th, 2014 07:47 pm (UTC)
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but have not much to say.

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whipchick

Re: I read this

from: whipchick
date: May. 30th, 2014 06:19 am (UTC)
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It's a tough one. I don't have a lot to say beyond writing liberal white guilt poetry about it. See below, though.

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i_17bingo

(no subject)

from: i_17bingo
date: May. 30th, 2014 05:32 am (UTC)
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This is what it's like here in Qatar. I am paralysed by seeing these men working in 45 degree heat, knowing it's only going to get worse, and knowing that Ramadan's coming up in a month, and they will keep working, but it will be illegal for them to drink water in the sun.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: May. 30th, 2014 06:18 am (UTC)
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Oh shit, I hadn't even thought about that. Shit shit shit.

Damn it, this may have just crossed the line from "tragedy I can't fix" into "I need to see if there's anything that can be done."

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rayaso

(no subject)

from: rayaso
date: May. 30th, 2014 11:05 pm (UTC)
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Such a great poem, with vivid imagery; the bitterness is nearly palpable. So, you write poetry as well? Sigh. I write blank verse -- the blanker the better. Why is liberal white guilt so pejorative? It's much worse that there isn't any conservative white guilt.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 07:50 pm (UTC)
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I haven't written a poem in a while, but this one seemed to need that form to escape polemicism! (I made up that word!)

More conservatives should feel more guilt - Jesus did :)

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Teo Says

(no subject)

from: eternal_ot
date: May. 31st, 2014 02:41 pm (UTC)
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Beautiful Work!..and interesting to know ab't this Kafala(thanks for the link)...poignant. Our country has a lot of bangladeshi immigrants and locals are against them coz they work at a cheaper rate..but then such is life..:/ tragic and true.
Loved this entry..esp the end few lines... Kudos as always :)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 07:50 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! We've got a lot of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and Indians here, and they all get treated so terribly.

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Good old captain crazy-pants

(no subject)

from: dreamsreflected
date: May. 31st, 2014 11:09 pm (UTC)
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this is beautifully well written and the imagery is very vivid. I live under a rock though so the context is lacking (which is why I read the comments) links to further explanations would be ducky if you have time?

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 1st, 2014 06:54 am (UTC)
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Thanks!

There's a link at the bottom of the entry above -

"The kafala system is explained in this article about the construction of NYU Abu Dhabi. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/19/nyregion/workers-at-nyus-abu-dhabi-site-face-harsh-conditions.html?_r=0"

The gist is, right now I live in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates. The Emirates' huge construction boom is powered by migrant workers, largely from Bangladesh and Pakistan. The migrant workers pay (illegal) recruiting fees of up to a year's wages. When they get here, they live in terrible conditions, work more hours than they signed up for, get paid a lot less than they were told, and their bosses keep their passports (and in some cases their bank cards) so that they can't leave.

The link above talks specifically about the particularly horrible case where NYU is building a campus in Abu Dhabi, and the university made a big show of how all their workers were going to be treated fairly. When it was discovered that the construction site was just as bad as any other here, the university's position was, "Well we can't control the contractors we hire, we told them the rules," which is pretty awful, in my opinion.

Glad you're interested - thank you for reading!

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Laura, aka "Ro Arwen"

(no subject)

from: roina_arwen
date: Jun. 1st, 2014 09:16 pm (UTC)
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Powerful poem. I followed the link for the article, and those men are definitely getting the raw end of the deal. It's tragic that such a rich country treats their workers like crap.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 07:51 pm (UTC)
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Agree 100%.

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Jenny

(no subject)

from: onda_bianca
date: Jun. 1st, 2014 09:56 pm (UTC)
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I truly knew nothing about this issue at all (I'm sort of in my own little world) but it sounds terrible...your poetic response was brilliant.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 07:51 pm (UTC)
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I didn't know about it until I got here - and a lot of people here either don't know or choose not to!

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A Karmic Sandbox

(no subject)

from: karmasoup
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 02:59 am (UTC)
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Harsh, and scathing, written as such that one can feel it, even never having seen it, and it burns. I'm sure you won't be offended when I say, this is disturbing. Because, the truth is, this is disturbing. If it wasn't, then you missed the mark. But especially we in the comforts of our first world, and our white privilege, we should be unsettled. And we will be, for a moment. I wish that were enough. I'm so sorry we are both just as helpless, and for the sting of that bitter taste.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 07:52 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, disturbing was exactly what I was going for! And I think we feel the same about this - I hate myself a little every time I throw out spoiled food here.

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MamaCheshire

(no subject)

from: cheshire23
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 03:08 am (UTC)
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I hadn't heard about kafala before this - thanks for teaching me.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 07:52 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for reading :)

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Rebecca

(no subject)

from: beeker121
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
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This is so evocative, and the frustration of seeing something wrong that others turn a blind eye towards is so difficult and comes through stongly. This isn't a topic I've heard much about in the states, I'm hoping it's getting more play on the east coast given the NYU connection.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 07:53 pm (UTC)
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I hope so, too! There was a protest in the Guggenheim in New York because there is also a Guggenheim being built here, with the same labor issues, but it didn't get much coverage outside of NYC.

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Kelly

(no subject)

from: kajel
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 04:18 pm (UTC)
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Beautiful, powerful, tragic. All words that apply, the end hits really hard. Love this.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 07:53 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. Every day I wish there was something I could do without getting deported :)

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favoritebean

(no subject)

from: favoritebean
date: Jun. 2nd, 2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
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Oof! So gut wrenching. In one of the richest lands on Earth too.

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