Tag Archives | workers


It’s hot here in the desert.  Even now, in November, when people say “ah…the heat has broken,” we’re still talking 90F at midday.

The road I have to take to my house winds through a whole huge construction project designed to make room for even more cars and maybe a high-rise or two (Abu Dhabi loves itself some skyscrapers, the glassier the better).

The men who dig these roads (and build the skyscrapers) come from Kerala, Goa, Sri Lanka; Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi — places that, until I moved out here, existed only on maps or in newscasts about “more violence.”

Sometimes, when I see a man lost in thought or resting in the shade, I imagine that he’s remembering his family “back home” (we all think about that place, backhome), or daydreaming about his wife/lover/child.  And then I think maybe it’s much more prosaic than that: what’s for dinner, my feet hurt, I’m hot.

Mostly, I think these guys are invisible — invisible in the sense that Marx writes about, that all laborers are essentially invisible — and in terms of what they wear: heads swathed in scarves (absorbs sweat, keeps the sand out of eyes, ears nose), bodies wrapped in company-issued coveralls.  Without these almost faceless bodies, however, the city would collapse back into sand and dust.





Continue Reading · on November 14, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, Politics, UAE

how hot is it? if you have to ask…

It’s summer.

We moved here last August and it was Very Hot.

It’s June 1 today and already it’s hotter now than it was last August.

How hot?  Really hot.

For those of you thinking “it’s a dry heat, though, so it’s not that bad,” let me adjust your perceptions: the city perches on the edge of the Gulf, which creates a lovely swamp-like effect, similar to what you get in New Orleans (but without the consolation of Cajun cooking or jazz).  Think air like hot wet towels, think Bikram yoga studio after a full day of sweaty-bodied yoga classes, think sauna.

And even in New Orleans, I bet residents don’t get warnings like this one:

“As advised by the UAE Defence Ministry, car owners should not fill their fuel tank to full, as for the next few weeks temperature will climb up to 53-54 degrees which can cause the fuel tank to burst/explode. Please pass this message to all your contacts, as all of us here are in the habit of filling our car tanks to full. Please remember that prevention is better than cure and enjoy safe motoring.”

For those of you not celsius-savvy, 53-54 is about 120F.  And yes, I do believe you could cook an egg on the sidewalk.

Or maybe this notice in the newspaper the other day:

“The midday break for outdoor labourers will be from June 15 to September 15, the Ministry of Labour said yesterday. Working outside will be banned from 12.30 to 3pm, and companies must provide water and shaded areas for labourers.  Each violation carries a Dh15,000 penalty.”

True, it does seem that water and shaded areas should be provided as a matter of course, but… hey, we’re talking about laborers here, which in Abu Dhabi seems to be a category sometimes unrelated to “people.”

So yeah. It’s hot. So hot that I bet even Cole Porter couldn’t make a song of it.

Continue Reading · on June 1, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, environment

the invisible labor of vacation

Our vacation in the Maldives a few weeks ago was perfect, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

It seemed as if we were in a natural paradise…but “natural,” these days, isn’t always what it seems:

There were no mosquitoes:

The beaches were clean and smooth:

There were lovely palm frond shelters around the pool and along the beach:

Someone walked around almost every evening at dusk and fumigated for mosquitoes; teams of men raked the beach in the early morning and late afternoon; these women sat for hours one day and wove new “native” shelters for the poolside cabanas.

One of the divers, Sabu, who led the snorkel trips had worked at Kandooma for four years. He, and a number of other workers, live on the island directly across the channel from the resort:

Sabu likes the Maldives, loves the water. But when he looks across the channel from his village to the resort, I don’t think he sees Paradise.

I think he sees a job.

Continue Reading · on April 1, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Travel


The men who work in our apartment building as cleaners often bring their lunch to work in tiffins: lunchpails that separate into little dishes.  One worker is dispatched to buy drinks for the group and then they sit in a patch of shade outside for their meal.


this is the first photo I’ve used from lightroom – thanks to Stasha B for her continued patience with me – you’re a great photo yoda, Stasha!


Continue Reading · on January 18, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, street notes, UAE

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