Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The dark side

I was zipping down an alley by the Corniche on my way to catch a cab to work when I saw him. A worker, in a tired, dirty royal blue suit. I was wrapped up in my own thoughts, having just been to the dentist, and almost didn't notice that he was moving his hand by his mouth. He was hungry and wanted money.

In Ottawa I passed by guys like this every day; my place was just across the road from a shelter. Once the mayor, Larry O'Brien, called them pigeons. You know, don't feed them and they'll go away. He installed "kindness metres", which were actually refurbished parking metres painted white, instead. I saw a girl donating to one once in a blizzard; there was a homeless guy in a blanket about two metres away. Although her cash would surely go to a good cause, the whole thing never seemed very kind to me. If I walked uptown from the Byward Market to Elgin St, I could pass a dozen panhandlers in 20 minutes. The Homeless Poet lived outside Chapters on Sussex St, just a few blocks away. Winter and summer, there he was, selling his poems written on cardboard in magic marker for whatever you wanted to give.

Here, letting a stranger know you are hungry is such a risk you just don't see it, so it's easy not to think about.

As the global downturn hits home in the UAE things seem to be getting worse and worse for workers, although not so much in Abu Dhabi, where demand still exceeds supply in almost everything. They work six days a week, make nothing and cram together in rooms and labour camps already; now apparently some aren't even getting those meagre wages. We had a story the other day about a man up north who hadn't been paid in three months when he was laid off. His boss told him to cool his jets, so he did. Then he learned his boss had left the country. He had to move out of his accommodation, it was too expensive. So he paid a friend Dh300 ($100Cdn) a month to share his bed and looks for work every day. Going back to India is not an option; he supports his family there.

And this, an ad pasted to a bus shelter near my hotel, that has nothing to do with the economy and everything to do with the way things are:

2 comments:

Graeme Baker said...

People not getting paid for months of their honest labour?! sorry, I just can't believe THAT happens.

The Spear said...

When you talked about the beggar it made me think of my home...

In Stellenbosch, South Africa, there are signs posted, "Don't feed the street children."

I kid you not.

They however have a shelter for these kids where they can stay for free, eat for free and get an education.

The logic is don't feed them and they are forced top go somewhere where they can make something of themselves.

It is not easy though, as many of them suffer from addictions etc.