Monday, November 1, 2010
It's the little things ..... bedspace
.... that sometimes make you realise just how good you've got it.
Take these advertisements, for example. I photographed them on the weekend, pasted onto the side of a public phone booth on Bank Street in Bur Dubai.
The two notices at the top are advertising bed space. Not houses, not flats, not even rooms. Bed space.
There are two different kinds of bedspace available in Dubai - at least, there were when I lived there all those years ago, and I don't imagine much has changed if these ads are anything to go by.
Bedspace Type One is one-half of a bunk bed you rent in a room, which probably has three or four bunk beds in it, which means you could be sharing a room with five or six other people. Did you note that the ad on the top actually specifies you get an individual bed? For other alternatives, see below for Bedspace Type Two. You are probably an Indian or Pakistani man, perhaps Sri Lankan or Afghani. You might be a bachelor saving up money for your marriage at home, or you might already be married, and sending money home to your wife, children and most likely mother as well. If you're a woman you are most certainly young and single and submissive, most likely Filipino or South Asian.
Bedspace Type Two is literally, bedspace. You rent the bed on a timeshare basis. You're an Indian/Pakistani/Afghan/Sri Lankan shift worker, and you share the actual bed with one or two other people, and you each get a timeslot to sleep in when you're off work and the others are on. You might rent it from midnight to 8am, or on a twelve-hourly rotation. Take it as read, you don't get to sleep in.
Bedspace is a widely exercised and generally acceptable accommodation option in this part of the world. It's a prescription that means you can live in Dubai and earn money at a greater rate than you might in your home town.
It comes with its side-effects though, which can cause nausea and headache. The flip side is that if you're renting bed space you're probably employed by a third-party company who has confiscated your passport and only allows you one trip home every two years. You can't leave the company, because you haven't got a passport, so effectively you're a modern-day slave. You're completely dependent on them.
You probably earn between 400 and 1000 dirhams a week - the equivalent of about $125 - $350. Maybe the company doesn't pay you every month like it should, either ... maybe it only pays you every few months, or every six months, or maybe it doesn't pay you at all.
You probably risk your life quite regularly, especially if you work on a construction site during the summers here, when workers in their blue jumpsuits fall like stones from the top of tall buildings as their brains bake in the searing heat and their legs fail underneath them.
It's not all like this, of course. There are reputable companies who look after their workers (in a relative sense). But there are enough of the disreputable ones around to make you take a second look at the glamorous world everyone there is living in, with their designer clothes and fancy cars and top-end international lives. Lives which are built off the backs of the men who live in bedspace.
That makes some of us thankful for the things we have. Glad for our suspiciously pornographic-looking flats and the ever-present soft red glow of our RAMEE SUITES-2 signs. We bid you goodnight, from the vast and gratefully unshared expanse of our four-poster porno bed.