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A World Apart

“Camp boss” is just a metaphor for a beefed-up thug, hired by the construction company to patrol the muddy pathways running patterns in the makeshift clatter of a labor camp on the outskirts of Dubai. There’s a going ratio of one toilet per one hundred men, so they’ve tried to solve the constant backing-up of the sewage system, flooding their dirt-alleys, by paving them with rocks big enough to be used as stepping stones, thrown into the gooey mud with only a little jump in between.

The camp boss is like a parody of an evil Hollywood villain, with steroids used to grow muscles but shrink his heart and soul. He’s the one who collects the workers passports for “safeholding” once they arrive. Most of the men here are from Bangladesh, a nation poor even in the eyes of the rest of southeast Asia.

Having a cigarette on the labor camp yard, the workers can spot the glitz and glamour of the fashionable Dubai skyline; they’re aware that the physical foundation of all that show-off luxury, is created by them and their peers.

It’s hard to knwo what they’re thinking about. Maybe they’re worried about the reduced paycheck they’ve got no other choice than to accept, that prevents them from sending any money back home for a long time. Maybe they’re worried about their wifes and daughters or maybe they’re just too exhausted to worry about anything at all.

The US State Department worries though. They’ve rated Bangladesh with a “tier 2” marking, and a “watch list” warning. Their report states: “Bangladeshi children and adults also are trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation.”

So the men migrate to anywhere where there’s the promise of a job, opportunities often pimped-up by countless  recruitment agencies cropping up everywhere within the country, as this is the most lucrative field of business available; to send a man overseas is a service the agencies legally can charge up to 1,300 dollar for, but still that sum usually averages 6,000 dollar. The low-skilled workers can see their contractual salaries plummet accordingly, as their signed documents of 150 USD a month doesn’t amount to much when you’re an illiterate on a temporary work Visa in a foreign country.

And back in good old Bangladesh, it’s business as usual, the small rural village of Pattwakalli is the dictionary definition of a place where there’s “fuck-all to do”. From the mainstreet to the brothel district it’s physically no further than the narrow stretch of littered back alley taking you there, and yet they’re a world apart.

Although the hundred or so inhabitants living here should be a substantial percentage of the Pattwakalli population, the people here aren’t included in any official numbers. This is a society of its own, with the sex industry as the core market but with all the ground services of stores and handy-men sprung up inside the lucrative but ostracized area.

This is people, women and children mostly, out of sight and out of mind, with prostitution in some cases handed down as an inherited curse from generation to generation, and with new blood pouring in by force, or with desperate women fleeing the abusive relationship of their arranged marriage, or just with the tradition of families selling off their youngest daughters to omnipotent brothel madams and traffickers.

So here they are, family and friends and lovers, with the men watching the skeleton foundation of an all inclusive golf resort in Dubai taking form outside their fenced in labor camp, and the women watching the inside of a corrugated tin roof in some rural nowhere, as another stranger huffs and puffs on top of her.

Juha Nilsson, For USA Pink

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