The alarm went off at 9.00am and I groaned. I’d only been in bed about an hour and it was already time to get up. But I didn’t hit the snooze button. I had somewhere to be. Somewhere important. I won’t lie and say I bounded out of bed, it was more like an oozing motion. You see, I had finished work that morning at 7am and by the time I got home, showered and flopped into bed there was only enough time for a quick nap. But still, I was charged up on the excitement of the day’s project (and the seven espressos I’d had during the night shift).
After a quick breakfast (and yet another espresso), David and I headed off to meet Roshni Raimalwala at her apartment. Roshni is the woman and driving force behind Karama Kanteen, an initiative which strives to provide food and general assistance to the beleaguered men who build the foundation upon which we all live in Dubai. The poorest, lowest class of citizens. I’m talking about the construction workers and labourers. Every single weekend, Roshni is out there at the labour camps, or neighbourhoods in which these men reside, handing out food which is donated by schools, companies or individuals. Late last year David and I donated some food for Christmas hampers that were handed out during the festive period. Unfortunately, we had been unable to co-ordinate time off to help distribute it. This time around, we both had the weekend off and arranged to meet with Roshni to help give the food to the men ourselves.
When I published my Xmas ejo last year I asked for donations from readers so that we could, collectively, bring a small ray of light and hope (in the form of a hot meal) into the lives of a few over-worked, underpaid labourers. Several, very generous, people contributed towards the cause and together we raised 4500dhs (equivalent to about AUD1135). This was enough to provide a hot chicken biryani meal to 450 men. That is amazing!
We got to Roshni’s apartment building a little early and had to wait a few minutes for her to arrive, but when she got there at about 10.20am she lit up the room with her energy and vitality. Even after having attended a presentation in Sharjah at 5am earlier that morning she was dynamic and bouncing with enthusiasm. Soon afterwards, several of the volunteers that Roshni had organised to assist with the day’s work also started arriving. We met a lady who happened to be from Mulgrave in Melbourne (two suburbs away from my parent’s house – it sure is a small world). Also helping out was an Italian catholic nun. Yep! Habit and all! I must admit it was strange to see a nun in a Muslim country. Certainly, it was a first for me. Sister Agnes has been helping out with Karama Kanteen for a couple of years. I got the chance to talk to her a little, and she was so sweet, warm and generous. I hope to meet her again the next time we attend one of Karama Kanteen’s events.
After the other volunteers arrived we all drove to the restaurant where we were to buy the food for the day. We loaded up the three cars with boxes of hot chicken biryani, mint sauce, pickles and crispy pappadums. And then we set off for Sharjah, a convoy of delicious smelling vehicles. It really did smell incredible, and my mouth was watering! It felt great to know that we were giving out quality food that I would have liked to eat myself!! Nothing but the best for our guys.
When we arrived in Sharjah there was already a line of about 75 men, queuing up in anticipation. They were all dressed very nicely in pants and brightly coloured shirts. These guys work six days a week, 12-14 hours a day. During these long work hours, they must wear coveralls (the colour depending on the company they work for) that remind me of the jumpsuits Death Row prisoners in America must wear. And in a way, they both serve the same purpose – to dehumanise the person wearing them. It was nice to see them in their off-duty clothes looking like regular guys.
The handout happened in a sandy square, dotted with a few trees and anchored by a huge boulder in the centre. It was on this boulder that the volunteers started unpacking the boxes and preparing the food. We all worked together to bring the different elements of the meal into one plastic bag to hand to the men. Because David and I had organised this donation, the others were kind enough to allow us to hand out the food. It was a lovely gesture because it really felt more personal, actually giving the food to each person ourselves. What I found interesting was that after passing the bag to each man with the handles closed (to make it easier for him to take it), I realised that they would, almost without exception, open the bag to look inside. So, after a while I started passing the bag to them open. They seemed to like this better and the line moved quicker after that. All the volunteers worked so well together, like a well-oiled machine, to make sure that everyone got their meal before it got cold. It was so wonderful to be part of this great team, even for just one morning.
Not all the men were able to express their gratitude but a great many of them looked me in the eye and thanked me with a shy smile, wishing me a good day. It was these exchanges that really touched me and made the effort of what we were doing so worthwhile. I wish that those of you who helped to finance this cause could have been there to help out with the distribution. The feeling was incomparable. But please let me just say thank you, from the men and from me, for your generosity and kindness. Without you some of these men would have gone hungry. I know that our contribution is just a drop in the ocean, but surely every single drop helps?
I was so blown away by how much my friends and family from Australia and America contributed. I mean, I am directly affected by these guys on a daily basis. Their plight assaults me every day. I kind of feel like I have no choice but to do something to help them. But you guys, the ones that gave money, are thousands of miles away. The labourers’ problem can only really be just an abstract notion, and you still found it in your hearts to dig deep and give. I take my hat off to you all. Not only that, most of you said that you’d do it all again the next time. That has inspired me to organise an event like this once a year. I will probably continue to personally contribute food to the labourers and workers of Dubai on a regular basis (albeit on a smaller scale) but I plan to make this larger donation an annual project. So, expect me to nag you for more funds this time next year!!! In the meantime, if anyone wants to just make a general contribution, it will always be welcome and I promise to always make sure that 100% of what you donate goes to the workers.
On that note I’ll leave you with a quote that Roshni signs all her emails off with. “Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier”.