What was supposed to be a normal day yesterday started out with some heartbreaking news. I always try not to read the news when I start my day, but a headline caught my eye as I was logging in to check my mail: Bernama TV cameraman shot dead in Somalia.
PETALING JAYA: Bernama TV cameraman Noramfaizul Mohd Nor, 41, who was in Somalia with the Putera 1Malaysia Club for the Humanitarian aid mission, was killed in Mogadishu Friday night.
According to Khairulanuar Yahaya, a Bernama TV journalist, Noramfaizul who was with members of the electronic media on a truck and heading to the city’s commercial centre to send visuals that were earlier recorded, was hit by a bullet fired at an army truck by rebels.
Dear Malaysian brothers and sisters, we Somali people share the sorrow of the loss of our brother, may Allah give him the loftiest of stations in Jannah. He went to Somalia with the humanitarian aid mission and that alone speaks volumes about his noble character and courage. I cannot begin to imagine what his family are going through, but my prayers are with his wife Narzrina Jaafar, and two sons, Mohd. Irfan, 8, and Mohd. Naufal, 3. My eyes teared up as I read an excerpt about his father accepting the death of his only son and not blaming anyone for the tragedy; a rarity in today’s world where people are consumed by revenge and hatred.
I could not help but notice some people turning comments sections into yet another platform to voice their disdain for opposing political parties and show their hatred for others instead of wishing the family well or keeping quiet. It is the aim of a few to keep Somalia from ever stabilizing, and members of the African Union mission in Somalia are believed to have carried out this attack. Every time there is an inkling of hope and Somalia takes a step forward, someone carries out an atrocity like this and sends us 10 steps back. I pray the Malaysian people see beyond this horrible act and continue to help those in need. I love Malaysia and its people, and it has always been welcoming to Somali people; I hope what was done by a group of non-Somalis in our land does not change the decades of brotherhood we share.
This is an excerpt from Arabnews, an English language daily paper from Saudi Arabia:
JAZAN: A number of Saudis have launched a campaign on Twitter asking their compatriots to be kind to the foreign manpower living with them and to spread awareness in society about humanitarian treatment to foreign laborers.
They also tweeted that Saudis should congratulate them on the occasion of Eid, as they do their relatives and friends, and make them part of the local celebrations in order to help them mark Eid as they would in their homeland, Arabic daily Al-Watan reported on Friday.
I applaud progressive Saudis who take initiative when those in power don’t. It’s Saudis like these who are hopefully the future leaders of the kingdom. However, I think it’s sad that someone had to go and start a Twitter campaign to treat foreign workers with respect. I’m ashamed that the situation in Saudi Arabia has come down to this; to remind each other via messages to respect other people. This kind of issue is something one would expect to hear in a speech or Friday sermon. It’s not something one would expect to be the central cause for an awareness campaign.
Treating people with respect and kindness is one of those virtues like cleanliness and honesty that should be deep-rooted and nurtured in a person from childhood. This campaign hangs on the shoulders of parents and teachers; so they should always use an encounter with another person, whether a Saudi or expatriate, as an opportunity to set an example that would teach children to respect all people regardless of race, religion, or status.
Samuel Johnson once said:
The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.
Many of my friends are skeptical about this campaign, saying that this is yet another PR exercise by the Saudi government in order to clean its image after Indonesia stopped sending maids to the country and the Philippines possibly following suit. Others are hoping the ‘campaigners’ would take to the streets as well, since Twitter alone cannot reach all the masses. But all are hoping that this campaign reaches every Saudi and expatriate and brings out the good in people. As for me, I’ve learned to take anything about Saudi Arabia in the media with a grain of salt, but I truly hope that this is the start of many positive changes in this beautiful country.
The night was young and the cool spring breeze sent a chill down my spine as I wrapped my arms around myself and exited the warmth of the mosque. Isha prayer had just finished and I thought of my evening plans as I tried to locate my sandals among the heap of shoes and slippers at the main door. “Dude, use the damn shoe rack next time” I thought to myself, as I found my sandals and proceeded to walk home, a mere 50 meters away.
The neighborhood street was eerily quiet, but started showing signs of life as people slowly exited the mosque and went back to what they were doing before prayer. There were no birds flying around, no cars moving in sight, save for the few worshippers who came to the mosque with cars. Another sudden breeze blew leaves off the nearby trees and carried with it that unmistakable tangy smell of the nearby Arabian Sea. A little kid blew past me on his BMX bike, looking back and waving at me for approval, to which I responded with a big smile and two thumbs up.
As I walked past the houses, mothers and sisters were busy preparing dinner and the different smells emanating from the kitchen windows tingled my nose and I had a sudden craving for shawarma. I decided to call Ali and ask if he was down for some shawarma followed by some diet-killing Krispy Kreme donuts and that’s when I met Mohammed, my neighbor. He was walking back home from prayer and had just come back to Saudi Arabia from Malaysia a couple of days back. He told me that he has a long semester break and would be in Saudi Arabia for a couple of months and will renew his iqama before heading back to Malaysia. We talked for some time and had to cut our chat short as Ali rolled into my street. A couple of weeks later I went back to Malaysia.
Little did Mohammed know that he might never make it to Malaysia. What was supposed to be a couple of months turned into 4 months and he’s still stuck in Saudi Arabia as I type this.
But first, for those of you that don’t know, Saudi Arabia does not have your usual residence permit system for expatriates. Expatriates have to obtain an iqama (pronounced iqaama), a residency permit that allows them to work and live in the country, through a legal citizen of Saudi Arabia who becomes their kafeel, or sponsor. This kafala system, or sponsorship system, binds the expatriate worker to that kafeel and he has the power to alter the employment contract and/or transfer the sponsorship to someone else. The expatriate worker has no power or say and is under the mercy of his kafeel. Kafeels are normal people like you and me, so majority of them have a healthy relationship with the people they sponsor, but there are always the ones that go out of their way to wreak havoc on people’s lives.
Some kafeels, in seeing that the person/people they sponsor are totally under their mercy, exploit them by blackmailing them and forcing them to pay them money. Some of them simply decide to get them deported after the pettiest of misunderstandings. An expatriate can file a legal suit against their employer or sponsor, but often times they are deported before their cases are even reviewed by judges. Other kafeels simply ignore their duty towards the people they sponsor by refusing to get their papers signed for renewing or any other legal processes. Something similar happened to my neighbor Mohammed and his family.
Mohammed’s father is a retired engineer who used to work for the oil giant Saudi Aramco and a respected member of the community who has lived in the same house in Saudi Arabia since the early 70s. Mohammed was born in Saudi Arabia and has lived his whole life there. He has nowhere else to call home. All of his friends are Saudi.
When the time came for the family to renew the iqamas, they found out their kafeel was on vacation in USA. They didn’t worry, thinking he’d be back in time for them to start the renewal process. When a week passed and he was nowhere to be found, they tried reaching him through his numbers, but to no avail. They tried his family. No luck. They tried reaching him through his company and siblings. Still no luck. As each day passed, and with the threat of deportation looming over them, the family decided to take matters into their own hands and try to obtain a new sponsor. As of this moment they are still working on that solution, and I pray it works out for them.
This kafala system is nothing short of modern-day slavery. How is it different from historic slavery where people were tied to a ‘master’? It is a primitive idea that hinders human potential and breeds hatred toward Saudi Arabia in the hearts of the millions of expatriates living inside and outside Saudi Arabia. Sadly, sometimes even children even exposed to this ideology and understand from a young age that they are not equal with their Saudi peers.
Other Gulf nations have seen the error of their ways and have either done away with the system or ensured migrant workers get justice. Abolishing it will instantly improve Saudi Arabia’s battered image in the eyes of the world and provide it greater influence and flexibility in the global arena. Getting rid of this archaic system which is open to all sorts of abuses will not only win the hearts of the millions of expatriates who suffer the indignity of being under a Saudi sponsor’s power, but make them fall in love with the country and its people.
There’s an Arab proverb that goes along the lines of:
Write bad things that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble.
Too often have the winds of time blown away the proverbial writing in the sand; the cries for equal treatment from the expatriate community. Saudi Arabia should change for the better and become a home for all, instead of a home for a few and a prison for many. Saudi Arabia, being The Land of the Two Holy Mosques and a leader in the Islamic world, should be beacon of hope and a model for human rights and equality.
Islam teaches us the great reward for releasing a slave. King Abdullah has the opportunity to release millions.
It was a quiet summer evening in the village and it had stopped raining a few hours ago. A nice cool breeze laden with the sweet smell of forest just blew across my face. You could almost taste the smell of palm trees and the river in the distance. You could hear the relaxing sounds of nature; the crickets chirping and frogs croaking in the distance. There was an ant on my table scouting for anything worth calling in the cavalry for. I looked around and saw old men playing mahjong and a young couple enjoying an evening out. There were teenage boys and girls riding their fixie bicycles behind me on the street, each bike having its own unique colors and accessories, each design crying for attention and recognition. A couple of ill-tuned cars rolled in and one of the engines backfired as they idled.
My cellphone started beeping and when I read the message I started laughing to myself. A friend from abroad sent me an inside joke we shared. Could this evening get any better? As I was typing a reply to my friend, the waiter came and placed my cup of tea on the table. As I looked up from my phone screen and reached for the cup of tea, I remembered something that would send me on a trip down memory lane for the next few minutes…
Back in Sudan, 6 of us lived in a flat. Each one of us had a hobby or something we loved to do in our free time. We had the soccer freak who had the latest world soccer rumors before they even hit the news. There was the historian who could tell you your ancestry just by knowing your father’s 3rd name. There was the bookworm, the poet, and the wadaad. Then there was Cadeys, the dude who made our casariyo (afternoon tea).
Although we’d all be pre-occupied with our work during the day, there was a certain time in the afternoon where you’d find us all sitting on the floor of the big room waiting for Cadeys to do what he does best: make cadays (Somali fragrant milk tea with or without spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, etc).
Exam revisions, assignments, projects, Paltalk; whatever anyone of us was occupied with would be put on the back burner and dealt with later.
The brother in question is the one holding the electric kettle. His name is Ahmad, but ever since we assigned each one a day to make casariyo, we would always look forward to his day and one thing led to another and he was called Cadeys. Being the comedian in the group, he’d then proceed to liven up the afternoon and tell us stories that never happened and incidents that may or may not have taken place. Then one of us would start a topic whether it be sports, politics, medicine, Somalia, or space, only to be interrupted by a quip by Cadeys who’d then proceed to make one of us the next victim of his jokes…
As I grabbed the cup of tea and took the first sip, all I could think was how it would never be anything like Somali cadeys…
Not counting Ramadhan of course, do you usually have casariyo? If so, what spices do you add. And being Somali tea…I have to ask…how much sugar do you add?
I was hoping I would catch a little bit of winter this year, as I’ve only been visiting Saudi Arabia during summers for the last three years. I really miss winter for many reasons. I miss being able to play basketball or soccer at the beach during any time of the day. I really miss the cold early morning runs. I miss wearing my old jacket. I miss not having to restrict my driving hours from late morning to late afternoon.
Sadly, I didn’t make it in time this year. However, I was lucky the weather was fair and it didn’t start getting humid. I’d go to the beach and swim in the freezing waters to try and get some of my training for next year’s triathlon. As usual, no one else is in the water and everyone was looking at me weird. Sadly, I wasn’t able to go cycling as this trip was just 3 weeks and wasn’t worth packing the bike and flying it all the way.
Living away from home makes you appreciate many things you’d take for granted. For one, home-made food. It was the highlight of my trip. I miss the vast variety of dishes served up in restaurants. Being a gear head and and a lover of the open road, I missed driving from city to city visiting friends and family, especially the cheap petrol prices that allowed me to zip all around the province.
Sadly, like all good things, the three weeks flew by and it was time for me to pack up again; mainly dates since I’ll be fasting in Malaysia during Ramadhan Insha’Allah.
And for those of you who always wonder, what’s the difference between a normal day and a dusty day in Saudi Arabia, here are two pictures from the same location.
Once again, tectonic plates must have shifted since the last time I’ve written anything here. It’s sad to see that a few bloggers whose posts I loved reading, a great portion of them Somali bloggers, decided to call it quits and throw in the towel if you may. The Somali blogger community has simply disappeared, as I can’t find any other Somali bloggers out there. Maybe it’s because I haven’t looked hard enough, but if you’re a Somali blogger or know of one’s blog, please drop me a link.