One Day Off Sir

by bicyclemark 1 Comment
One Day Off Sir

It is a busy Wednesday evening near the Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s most recognized architectural symbol, and there is a line of taxis waiting for passengers. I position myself just out of view of the drivers and watch as people stream out of the shopping mall and into each taxi.  Some drivers argue as they wait, something about a sloppy parking job. One guy gets out of the taxi and is waving his arms around in anger.  He is speaking Urdu I think, with occasional English expressions mixed in. At one point I distinctly hear the gentleman shout towards another driver “go back to Pakistan!”  Ironically I’m almost certain they are both Pakistani. No matter, anger is anger. An Indian gentleman in an official looking uniform comes over with an angry look on his face, he puts himself between the car and the angry man and orders the driver back into his car. He seems to scold them both. Suddenly the argument is over. Back in his vehicle, the frustrated driver revs the engine and dramatically pulls forward into the first position for the next possible pickup.  I stay out of site, determined not to get into a cab with an angry driver.

12091416216_0fa1abd283When I do finally see a cab that seems to eminate positive energy, I hop in and find myself seated next to Dev from Bangladesh.  He and I are immediately interrupted by my phone, as a local photographer is calling to say he has been delayed by a helicopter crash. From my side of the phone I repeat his words in astonishment – “A Helicopter crashed?” – Dev turns his head towards me in a panic, “Sir, where?” The call gets disconnected and I tell him the little information that I know; there was a crash nearby. He politely asks me to call my friend back and ask for more info, there is an air of “concerned driver” and “curious citizen” in his voice. I tell Dev I haven’t got any credit left on my phone to call anyone,  like a reflex he pulls out his phone and hands it to me, “please sir, feel free, you are my guest.” I’m stunned by his kindness and his passion to know about a helicopter crash somewhere on one of the exclusive closed-to-the-pubic islands. I make the call and even as I try to get more facts from my friend, Dev is whispering more questions to me, “casualties sir, any cusualties?” Based on the suffering tone in his voice, you would think he had family on the helicopter. A minute later I hung up the phone and explained that there isn’t much more information at this time.  Dev looked forward at the bumper to bumper traffic with a defeated look on his face, “not much chance to survive that type of crash.”

After a brief few minutes of silence, he asks me about my work. I explain my interest in people working in Dubai, especially taxi drivers. He seems surprised and pleased to hear this, he quickly lays out his main point that he would like the world to know:

“As you have surely seen, Dubai is a city that is very developed and there is so much to do, so much entertainment. It can be a very interesting place and a place where you can forget or enjoy some distraction in a cinema or some musical performance. But we taxi drivers, we work everyday of the week, 12 hours per day. We are tired, often in a bad mood, or else we are confronted with a customer who is in a bad mood and takes it out on us. What we really need is one day off per week. Everyone should have a right to that. One day of per week. That is my one wish I would tell the government and the company, one day off would benefit everyone involved.”

12038890123_94a1ffff61_nHis statement was clear and simple, words that sounded like he had been crafting them over the past few years behind the wheel of this taxi.  I suggested other possible ways to improve the spirit of taxi drivers but he insisted nothing else was important. “We have our salaries, or commission, and for us it is fine and it is enough to send home to our people. But it shouldn’t be so miserable all the time. We could enjoy one day to relax, recharge, and come back in good spirits. We would also be helping the economy by spending some money on entertainment. But the most important thing would be to improve morale. Because as you might have noticed, it is getting worse among drivers.”

His point about morale rang especially true based on my almost 50 taxi rides over the course of 3 weeks. Though many drivers were modest and refused to complain, once you get them talking you hear about the pressure they are dealing with. It is not hard to notice a city wide depression slowly taking hold of these hard working individuals who take thousands of people from point A to point B everyday.  Some passengers might feel like they are the victims of bad drivers who make mistakes or are dishonest in some way, but further research can easily reveal that this is a side effect of a high stress work arrangement.  Yet right here in this 4 door sedan, a man named Dev from Bangladesh is laying out a clear plan for how to address this issue. It was the most constructive conversation about the job I had ever experienced.

As we make our way towards Jumeirah Beach Residence, Dev moves on to talking about marriage and the pains of being away from the person you love most in this world. He explained how he had married for love with a woman he met at university (bachelors degree in economics) and not by family arrangement, going against the tradition of his culture. He was proud of his decisions, including not having had a traditional wedding with hundreds of guests. “My wife and I agreed that we would not be wasting money on some huge traditional wedding, we wanted instead to use this to invest in a house and our future. This is seen as going against tradition but we didn’t care. Some traditions need changing,” he laughed at his own words.

Within 2 blocks of my destination traffic comes to a halt. Dev squints into the sea of tail lights and offers me advice, “You would have better luck walking from here, you’ll get there faster and you’re young, two blocks walking is good for your health.” We both laugh at the suggestion and I count out the money I owe him plus a little extra. Before I’m even done figuring out the money he surprises me by extending a hand to shake mine, “Can I tell you sir, it is a real pleasure to have had this time with you. Something really unexpected and enjoyable. Thank you so much and I’m going to pray for you sir.” I shake his hand and tell him he has taught me many things on this trip. Caught up in the moment, despite not being religious, I tell him I will pray for him and his family as well; that they have good health and a wonderful future together.  As I open the door, another customer is ready to get in. I pause and tell her, “Take care of him, he’s a great person!”

Loving a Job That Few Respect

by bicyclemark 0 Comments

Mr. A is a young man in his early twenties, but he refers to himself as an old driver. So it goes in a country where the average taxi driver has a contract of 3 or 5 years. Like many drivers he is a modest man and when I ask him about life, at first he says he leads an uninteresting life. But after a few minutes of talking about Dubai, we find just the opposite to be true. Unlike many people of the modern metropolis, Mr. A believes his life is just fine, especially after seeing the kinds of problems his passengers are carrying with them. Though respect is an issue and the stress is considerable, here is a man who’s number one matra is “I can’t complain, I have a good life.”

As we drive along the famed Jumeira Beach Road, passing alongside the world famous Burj al Arab, we talk about how he got started as a taxi driver. What his life was like in his home country. And what its like to love a job that so many people, including his own family, label as no good or unacceptable.

As the Sun Sets on the Gdansk Shipyard

by bicyclemark 3 Comments
As the Sun Sets on the Gdansk Shipyard

9549473188_77c93dc089_cThe shipyard of Gdansk Poland is legendary both for its well known capacity to build ships and the labor struggles that would send shock waves of inspiration to the entire world. The tireless and selfless efforts of workers of the Solidarity Movement who stood up to authority and brute force, demanding justice and respect, no doubt made a better life for countless people in Poland, Europe and beyond. Yet decades later, the now privatized, downsized, and struggling shipyard feels more like a graveyard or a shrine to a lost past. The victories, on the grand scale of time, were short lived, as the world of ship building, labor, and politics, changed yet again, and Solidarity went from engine of change to historical symbol of a bygone era. Was it all for nothing? Are the dreams of those workers still alive in Gdansk or elsewhere? When the new luxury condominiums and shopping malls break ground on the same site where workers lost their lives and built their dreams, will their efforts matter anymore? Should they? Or is this just life.

Special thanks to the Subjective Bus Line from which I recorded some of this audio. When in Gdansk, find their fantastic old-school red bus and take one of the last rides around the shipyard.  And hurry, they are already building over much of this history.

Getting to know Fairphone

by bicyclemark 0 Comments

 

Showing copper

Showing Copper after cleaning

For the past few months I have been watching online and listening to conversations offline about the initiative by a group of people here in Amsterdam which looks at how mobile phones are made and how their production effects people and the environment around the world.  It is one of those difficult to address issues, because we are talking about a device that is so essential and so present in everyone’s life in almost every corner of the planet. And while we can be critical, perhaps, of the companies that produce them, we still need the device so sometimes the questions aren’t asked and the practices aren’t closely scrutinized.

 

Until now.

The concerned group of people involved in Fairphone have decided to build the world’s first ethically produced phone, as they explain it:

Our aim of fairness is simple: to not harm man or nature in creating our phone. Not in transporting or producing it. And not in acquiring the raw materials for it.

As their first step in researching and beginning on the production process of the phone, they recently went to Congo (DRC) to meet with artisanal miners and learn about their working conditions, as well as what they would want in terms of fair treatment and payment as the source of the raw materials that eventually make the devices function.  In the process they also purchased raw cobalt and brought it back to the Netherlands to be used in their first prototype phones.  Thus completing the very basic but very little known step one of building our mobile phones, the mining of raw materials.

After having learned all about their initial efforts to both build a phone and shed light on an issue with global impact, I decided to get involved as a journalist and a concerned citizen/phone user. My aim is to follow this process and pass on information to the public, to stimulate conversations that could help on the road to more ethical production of the devices we love and use so much.

More information and reporting to come. This was only my own journalistic step 1 towards getting to know fairphone and an industry that could use a good kick in the pants.