You see them often when driving. Silently they toil on the side of streets and roads, often in the heat of the day picking up litter that motorists so generously provide them by flinging it away from their racing vehicles.
There are moments when you encounter an army of workers busy preparing a road for re-surfacing. Or perched precariously on high rises under-construction. Or you run into them in restaurants as they cheerfully guide you to your table and serve you your food without much fuss or bother.
They pump gasoline into our cars; they deliver water to our homes or cart away our sewage in tankers; they tend to livestock and orchards on our farms and fields, and they bag our groceries. They guard our homes or clean the toilets in our malls. These are the unskilled workers from the East.
Unlike their Western or skilled Asian counterparts who enjoy comfortable amenities and accommodations with even more comfortable salaries, these unskilled Asian expatriates are not bestowed with such luxuries. Instead, at the end of their long working days, they are collectively bussed more often than not in rundown buses and other forms of transport that are alien to the comforts of air-conditioning or comfortable seating.
And when they do retire to their housing, it is usually a collective sharing of space that is substandard and unworthy. And yet they do it without a complaint. They have mouths to feed back home, and they are on a mission to accomplish just that. Their personal comfort is not their priority.
We tend to look at them as background fixtures, so used as we are to their presence everywhere. But within each of those fixtures are human beings with warm blood running through their veins and resilience to the many forms of abuse they are subjected to, and which they accept stoically.
Some are married with young and hungry children. Others have the responsibility of providing for their aging parents or younger siblings. All have come to this part of the world to try to put food on the table for their loved ones back home and provide their families with some comfort and hope that they have denied themselves.
They are the Bangladeshis, the Somalis; the Nepalese and the Filipinos who are an integral part of the machinery that helps run this country. They are Indians, Afghanis, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis; the Myanmaris, the Vietnamese and Indonesians who have accepted this challenge to perform in unfamiliar surroundings and most deliver on their promise. But yet we mistake them for background fixtures.
How often do we as hosts take the time to think about their living and working environment? How many of us lend a sympathetic ear to their problems? How many of us carry out the charitable task of helping them out in their time of need?
Most are victims of unscrupulous manpower agents or employers, and who find themselves at the end of a worthless contract signed back in their home countries with promises of much higher salaries than they do actually get when they come to this part of the world. The packages offered to them to lure them away from the comfort of their loved ones is invariably altered to their disadvantage once they arrive at their destinations, leaving them without much alternatives.
They have already hocked up most of their possessions just to pay the avaricious agents for the privilege to book a seat to the lands of riches. And there certainly is not much gold waiting for them once they arrive. Instead it is hard work and lots of it and under very difficult and oppressive conditions, something the locals would dare not undertake.
But it is to them that we must grant recognition; for theirs is a sacrifice like no other, and under conditions unacceptable to most of us. For without them, we would grind the machinery that moves us forward to a halt.
Hail to the unsung and unskilled Asian expatriates. They are not background fixtures. They are worthwhile human beings with wants and needs just like the rest of us.
(Courtesy: http://arabnews.com/opinion/columns/article44191.ece, April 16, 2010)
---Tariq A Al-Maeena can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org