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Public Presentation Creates Social Stratification

November 2, 2010

On my way to tutor last week I was thinking how silly it seemed that so many paid drivers here, whether, taxi, bus, or private ones get so upset if they get stuck in traffic.  Really?  Where do you have to go?  What does it matter if you lose a few extra minutes?

Then I thought, wait a minute…they still have lives too.  The sad part is that so many people don’t acknowledge them.  And their life here is likely only a fraction of the one they left in their home country of…India, or Pakistan, or Sri Lanka, or Bangladesh, or Indonesia, or the Philippines, to name the ones I hear of most often.  For what it’s worth, they can complain all they want about getting stuck in traffic, especially if all that got me through the day was the thought of my paycheck reaching my family back home.  That’s the sad realization here…so many people leaving their lives and loved ones to work in the desert.

Take for instance my maid, Mira.  We really have minimal communication, which is dumbed down to the amazing cleaning she does for me every Wednesday, cash I leave for her once a month, and occasional notes she’ll leave me saying things like, R.J. – We’re out of laundry detergent, can you please buy some before next week? Mira texted me a few weeks ago saying that her husband was in the hospital and she had to go back India for two weeks.  I had no idea she was apart from her husband.  For all I know, she could have children too that she hardly ever sees.  Have our brains been trained not to ask such questions?

I bring this all up to emphasize the social stratification and the prevalent hierarchy of class in Kuwait.  It’s weird because there is such a clear barrier of who does what, this person probably does this because he looks like this, you’re not supposed to invite “the help” to these kinds of functions, etc. The child I tutor told me the other day that she thinks it’s weird I’m Filipino because her nannies are Filipino and she says they are all “hard to talk to” because their English is broken.  Weird, huh?  Another example: I was walking in Kuwait City with an American/Caucasion friend of mine the other day, and I asked her jokingly (but seriously, too) “I wonder if people are thinking I work for you…”  Last example: Even though it’s not in Kuwait, I’m just now remembering about an Indian friend of mine from college who’s very intelligent uncle moved to America and was broken-hearted over the fact that the only job he could get was a janitorial one.  He was so borken-hearted in fact that for several months in a row, when he’d get off work, he’d lay down and cry!  Every night for MONTHS!  I can’t imagine how some of the domestic helpers here cope.

no social hierarchy here :

These are hardly barely specks when it comes to what happens on a global scale (I imagine).  From time to time I have these meandering thoughts about the expansiveness of people and our growing population, the breadth of our existence…at the same time thinking about how similar we actually are, how many experiences and characteristics we actually share, despite our public and social presentation.  For example, the majority of us – no matter our background – have family and friends we love, have worked for a paycheck, attended some kind of school, find comfort in celebrating family traditions/holidays, have experienced loss or tragic moments in life, have regrets, enjoy a warm drink when they’re feeling sick, have felt passionate about something or someone, have a special artifact or memento they hold dearly to themselves (like a cross, photo album, or an blanket),  BUT. WE. ALL. at some point in time were born to a hardworking mother that held us in her arms, looked us right in the eyes and wished only good, only the best health and the best hapiness for her daughter, or her son.  She never wished for her son to grow up and drive a van for an under-appreciative over-bearing family. She never wished for her daughter to clean bathrooms and hallways for a living. And she damn suer didn’t wish for her son or daughter to one day move to a desert, sending home paychecks once a month to put books in her grandchildren’s hands!  And well…has it ever been enough to leave it all to the phrase “Well, that’s the way it is.” or “That’s the way it’s always been” or “What can I do about it?”  I sure as hell hope not, and I sure don’t have an answer, but kudos to those out there that are working on finding a better one.

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