Dubai. "The lifestyle of a lifetime. The address of the future." A place to work construction on a 2 year contract, in 45 degree heat, a place where unions are illegal, where your employer owns your passport, your dormitory, your boots, your bus to work, and the food you eat. The money, under $300 a month, is good - by Pakistani standards. Most Pakistanis pay agents 3 months wages to get contracts in the Gulf. Some employers are better than others. Labour legislation exists, but most have no access to the law because of language difficulties, and the amount of time involved in cases. Vocal workers tend to get sacked, then deported for visa violations.

So there are horror stories. You could be working for a British engineering conglomerate that makes you work 14 hours a day. You might work for an Indian subcontractor who hasn't paid you in 6 months. You might live in a temporary portacabin with intermittent electricity for your 2 years, or in a dorm with 21 others. You might be one of the 800 who die each year on building sites. You might get to work on some of the biggest construction sites in the world. But, like the glossy brochures say, "only a privileged group of people will call it home."

Dubai, Ramadan 2005


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