Candy's Land

Al Satwa, Dubai, UAE


When I got to Kuwait, there was a very obvious demographic shift that occurred. It was suddenly obvious that a great deal of the working class jobs were carried out by people from India and the Phillipines. Everyone from maids to nannies to baristas belonged to one of those two ethnicites. I didn't get time to explore that with my camera in Kuwait, but made a point of doing so in Dubai where the trend only got stronger.

I met Candy at the first restaurant that I could stumble into after a long day of traveling to Dubai. It happened to be a Nando's Chickenland. Don't judge me. Anyways, she was my server and it was pretty calm in there, so I took the liberty of asking her some questions about herself. Where she was from, how long she had been in Dubai, how she liked it, etc. I asked if I could photographer her, which I hoped wouldn't offend her. She was actually really obliging and even excited about it. I decided to take it a step further, as I tend to do, and asked if I might be able to come to her home and photograph her and her many roommates that she had told me about. It just so happened that their one day off was the next day.

Candy and friends live in a fairly typical situation for workers that come from the Phillipines. They live in Al Satwa, which is a very Phillipino part of town, and also an older, more "Arab" part of town. There is a little compound in front of a mosque that has several homes, all housing for Phillipinos. In the small place where I met them, 15 people were living. Among them was a mom who owned the place, and her two young kids. The rest of the tenants were all individuals that had come from the Phillipinos seeking jobs and higher wages. In Candy's room, there are 6 people.

I sat with them for an afternoon talking about life, why they were here, what they really wanted to do. We laughed and ate pancakes. Candy was a midwife back in the Phillipines. She couldn't find work doing that professionally there and she heard from someone that Nando's would pay her way over and employ her. So she left the Phillipines and her career and came to work at the Chickenland. Several of her other housemates work at other Nando's in the area, like her roommate with the purple shirt. She was a nurse back home. She is a mother whose child is being raised in the Phillipines by her sister. She has seen her son twice in the last 4 years. He is 6.

Her male roomate pictured here, the one who whipped up pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches, has a wife and kids back home. He has worked in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, and is kind of used to the idea of being out of the country, away from home and family, working to support a future back in the Phillipines he hopes he can have one day.

I can't say how this day affected me. On the one hand, I felt so comfortable and normal around these ladies and gentlemend. They were so easy to talk and laugh with. I was interested in their stories and they wanted to know mine. They were so matter of fact about their lives, about the way they had to live in order to make ends meet. They were so used to this way of life, of working 6 days a week and returning at 2 am every night. Of using their one day off to clean, grocery shop, and prepare for the next work week. Of having to watch kids grow up on Skype. They accepted it so gracefully that I kind of was able to accept it as normal too. Their lives with 14 others using one small kitchen, one small bathroom, no common area except an outdoor living room. And at the same time, this middle class American girl was horrified on the inside. Not a reaction I wanted to show while I was with them, but I was so humbled by how they were able to keep on keeping on. To laugh and joke around with one another and just do what needed to be done. I complain about having to share a house with one other person. My priviliged western-woman alarm went off and I felt panicked at the prospect of living life that way. I am not proud of this reaction, but I honestly felt that I would not be able to voluntarily do what they are doing. But the world is more full of strong people like them, people that just do what has to be done to survive, than people like me who get to chose what they want to do. It was an intense reminder of the fact that getting to chose my line of work is a privilige and not a right. I am extremely blessed in my life. Just sitting there and talking to them, I was aware of the fact that I was able to go on this self-funded project because I wanted to. That I could pay to stay in a hotel that night and eat that day without having had to work that day.

Candy couldn't stop calling me Ms. Heather, even though I pleaded with her to drop the Miss. She left twice to go buy me cold drinks, without my knowledge. They were so amazing to me, and I left with this crazy behind-the-scenes persepective of all the other people I encountered in my stay in Dubai who addressed me with  "Hello Miss, what can I get you?" with a smile on their face.