Swalif; Qatar’s Story Through Art


Domestic Workers’ Rights- In Qatar


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The horrific memories of being brutally beaten with a cane, yelled at, called names, and kicked in the stomach will forever remain with 31-year-old Astina Taswo, an Indonesian maid who ran away from her employer after three months in Doha.

“When I came from Indonesia my hair was very long,” said Taswo, pulling down her black headscarf to reveal her short hair. “My employer cut it off and was always calling me names like donkey, animal and street rat just because I didn’t clean something properly.”

A law to protect domestic workers like Taswo from abuse, maltreatment and long work hours was drafted this year by the Ministry of Labor in Qatar.

Under the proposed new law, employers who exploit their housemaids or violate the law in any other way could face imprisonment of up to 15 years and fines reaching QR 300,00o.

The growing concern over working conditions for domestic workers like Taswo has spawned moves to set international standards and laws to protect them, even under the roofs of their employers, traditionally an area not covered in law enforcements.

“There are not enough laws in the Gulf region to protect domestic workers and that contributes to an environment that fosters abuse,” said Nisha Varia, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative.

“It is not unique to the Gulf, because all around the world women’s work is devalued because the prevailing social attitudes don’t treat it like something done in a factory,” she said.

In Qatar and many other countries, domestic workers are not officially counted as part of the country’s labor force. They are not permitted to form organizations to protect their rights, and in extreme cases have no recourse but to escape to their national embassies to file their complaints and search for shelter.

“Throughout a month we see more than 45 maids who have escaped from their homes,” said Mohammed Aula, a labor officer at the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Qatar.

Ani, 21, worked in Qatar for three-and-a-half years for 24 hours a day, and never received her salary. She worked for a large family and did not get paid until her case was reported to the police and her Qatari sponsors were forced to sign an agreement and pay her, said Aula.

Millions of domestic workers worldwide perform a range of tasks behind the doors of their employer’s home where laws don’t traditionally reach. Most of these domestic workers are women who cook, clean, raise children, do the laundry or mow the lawn. But, they remain excluded from the scope of labor and social protection. As a result they suffer the loss of basic human rights and face “serious decent work deficits,” said Corrine Perthuis, the chief of strategic communications at the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The most serious of these is that they have no access to their passports. “Astina Taswo had no choice but to come to the embassy because her passport was held by her sponsor,” said Aula. Their embassy is their only hope.

The ILO is the United Nations’ specialized agency for setting international labor standards. In June, the ILO will host an international conference, the first of its kind, to promote “Decent Work for Domestic Workers.” For the first time, the conference will include not only governments but also employers and workers

“This conference will be a historical monument because it would be the first time for the ILO to adopt legal instruments for a work force that has been excluded from the labor community,” said Manuela Tomei, an ILO coordinator, in a press conference at the United Nations in Geneva.

The ILO conference is based on a three-year study that showed that there was increased reliance on housemaids to carry out chores because more women are joining the labor force worldwide, particularly in richer countries like Qatar. The study, which was carried out across 80 countries, found “a culture-related phenomenon in which domestic workers are more accessible to middle-class citizens, and therefore their numbers have increased and so have their cases,” said Martin Oelz, a lawyer for the ILO.

“For the first time, there will be [an international] law to prosecute those who abuse domestic workers,” said ILO’s Perthuis.

In most cases analyzed in Qatar, abused or mistreated maids escape from their employer’s house, then take a taxi to their embassy where they hope to find help and safety, said Aula from the Indonesian Embassy.

To cope, the Philippines National Congress set up an office known as the Philippines Overseas Labor Office (POLO), to deal with issues of the 160,000 Filipino immigrants in Qatar. “The Filipina domestic workers are popular in Qatar because they usually have several features that employers list in their requirements, such as beauty, politeness and cleanliness,” said Danilo Flores, the welfare officer at the POLO in Qatar.

Flores refused to release any specific names of housemaids, but said, “One of the cases included a domestic worker who was beaten by her sponsor with a metal stick on her back and had to eat leftover food and drink out of a toilet.”

The Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Qatar has recently received permission from the Qatari government to maintain a shelter for runaway maids where they can live until their cases are investigated and resolved.

“Most of the cases are simply unpaid wages or just that these maids are going through culture shock and are not yet able to tolerate Arabic culture,” said Aula.

But the Indonesian Embassy also receives serious complaints from maids who have been physically, sexually and verbally abused by their employers. “These [abuse] cases are rare, but when they come it is difficult to deal with them,” said Riyadi Asirdin, a counselor at the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia.

A recent case involving an Indonesian housemaid, Tini, 25, accused her of practicing black magic to separate her Qatari employer from his Moroccan wife. The case is still undergoing investigation by the Qatari police. “Allegedly, the wife found snail shells, British sterling pounds, a diamond and a needle in her [Tini’s] wardrobe after she confessed to practicing magic.”

Tini told the labor officer, Mr. Aula, that she was forced to admit that she attempted to divide the couple using black magic after being repeatedly and severely beaten with a stick, slapped on her face and kicked by the Moroccan wife. The evidence of these beatings on Tini’s body were essential to reopen and investigate the case, said Aula.

But Tini is not alone. Eti, 30, who was also a victim of abuse and sexual assault by her employer, also had to struggle to justify her case.

Eti was raped twice in June 2009, and was locked in her room by the employer. As soon as she got the chance, Eti left the house and ran away to the Indonesian embassy. On March 4, 2009, a story about her case was published in the Gulf Times newspaper, police got involved and took her case to court. “Despite her claim of being raped, the court found that this case was a ‘consensual’ one and she had to be deported back to Indonesia, whereas her employer is now serving a year in jail.”

The HRW research found that maids cluster for help in their embassies because they find people there speaking the same language, with the same customs and are comfortable talking to them. But research also showed that embassy shelters are usually problematic because they are over-populated, and don’t provide good facilities or health care.

For example, a visitor found the shelter in the Indonesian Embassy was far too small to hold the housemaids. It had an outdoor courtyard, where most of them sit during the day sharing their stories with each other.

Doha’s Hamad Hospital, the main hospital that deals with injured domestic workers refused to disclose any information about the number or types of cases they deal with.

“To help domestic workers, countries should have private shelters that meet international standards, and are supported financially by the government,” said HRW’s Varia.

“Without an official law by the government to protect domestic workers, they are at the mercy of their employer and if they are abused or maltreated, they would not have the power to see justice, and are forced to suffer,” said Aula.

Bedouin Secret Remedies


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This video is a profile of a gifted bedouin woman, who has learnt the secrets of heeling from her late mother. Those “secret” remedies have cured all kinds of diseases for many years, including cancer. Her mother lived in perfect health for 116 years, and now Um Hamad is following in her mother’s footsteps, and helping the citizens of Qatar to stay healthy and live long.

Shot with Panasonic ENG P2 Camera.
Music: Bonobo – Black Sands

Location: Souq Wagef
Special Thanks: Fatma Al Nasr, Sara Al Thani, Hania Kanaan

Would you eat there?

Piles of dirty dishes and overloaded garbage cans stand beside a rusty sink, where busy chefs cook in the kitchen of Top Form Restaurant. Like many restaurants in Musherib, waiters here struggle to serve the food to the immigrant laborers who eat there.

In Musherib, the oldest neighborhood in Doha, restaurants selling cheap South Asian dishes line the busy streets, tucked between supermakets and clothing stores on Abdullah Bin Thani St. These worn-down restaurants provide food for thousands of expatriate Indians, Bengalis, Pakistanis and Nepalis who live around them.

These places appear to be unsantiary but their cheap prices, — less than QR 20 — their supply of “home-cooked” food has maintained their populartiy among customers, said Joel S.Castro, a Filipino regular customer at Top Form Restaurant, one of the oldest restaurants in the area.

This past year, at least three restaurants in Musheirb were cited for health violations, including live roaches, unsterilized food-preparation surfaces and foods sold past their expiration dates. “They were shut down for almost a month by the municipality and now they have been demolished by Dohaland,” said Mohamad Shalon, the cashier at the Istiklal restaurant in Musherib.

Dohaland is the development company currently redeveloping Musherib into a luxurious residential and commercial complex.

“The municipality sends out restaurant inspectors to scrutinize every square inch of the kitchens and check everything from floor to the ceiling,” said Fathi Mohmmad Ali Midhat, an agricultural engineer who works at the food inspection department in Doha’s municipality. Among other things, they also search for hygiene issues such as sick or unlicensed workers, he said. To ensure that their regulations are met and implemented, inspectors are sent unannounced.

Most employees at the restaurants in Musherib expect inspection visits from the municipality at least twice every month.

This does not always result in clean premises. An old building and squalid conditions provide an inviting atmosphere for cockroaches to roam around between the pans and gas tubes in Top Form Restaurant’s kitchen. The oven, gas-tubes and fridges are all clustered together in the kitchen, “making it difficult to move freely or control what happens in every corner,” said Mohammed Koya, a chef at the restaurant.

Despite these conditions, no penalties were issued to Top Form Restaurant since “some insects are difficult to control because they are attracted by warmth,” said Midhat.

“We never had a problem with the government. They come twice a month and we never got a violation,” said Abdul Majeed Maubukarim, head chef at the restaurant.

Every morning, fresh vegetables and fruits arrive from the market at the restaurants in Musherib. But since many restaurants do not have enough refrigerators to store all the produce means that some remain in their boxes on the floor until space is found, said Maubukarim. That, in form, attracts pests.

The chefs and waiters spend the morning picking coriander leaves from their stems, chopping tomatoes, washing the bright green bell peppers and peeling onions and garlic skins. The process of washing them usually takes approximately 15 minutes since the water runs slowly.

“We try to wash them properly,” said Fayas Mohammed, a chef at Nepalese Kitchen “but the sink is bad, so we have to use buckets instead.”

For some customers, eating at restaurants has become a part of their routine since they spend long hours at work and live in difficult conditions. “I hate eating at restaurants. I only eat out if I don’t have time to cook at home, but the house is crowded and it is difficult to make good food,” said Sundar Shrestha, a customer who lives in one of the labor camps in Musherib.

Top Form Restaurant serves more than 100 customers on a daily basis. “Since we have good prices for food, some companies order meals for their workers, and we prepare them and send them to them every day,” said Maubukarim.

During the summer, restaurants in Musherib suffer from an increase in the number of insects and rodents in their restaurants. “During the summer, lizards and cockroaches come out and it is easy for them to come in restaurarants, also, because we have holes in the walls,” said Maubukarim.

Pharmacists in Musherib said the most common illnesses they deal with are abdominal pains, vomiting and other symptoms of food poisoning. “I see at least six to seven people every month,” said Muzamil Pathan, who works at Al Khaja Pharmacy on Kahraba St.

Poor hygienic conditions often lead to other gastro-intestinal problems as well. “I had to miss some days from work. I felt stomach pains and was vomiting for almost four days, ” said Mohammed Abdul Fatah Fayad, following a visit to one fo the restaurants in Musherib.

Vicky Rganyayan, a Nepalese regular customer at several restaurants in Musherib, including the Himalayan Restaurant, said that he finds the restaurants to be in good condition and has never suffered from eating at any of them. Moti Rai Rai, a Nepalese customer, eats at the Himalayan restaurant four to five times a month, and has never seen the inspectors.

There are also problems with workers’ qualification and personal hygiene. A desperate need for more employees in Musherib has forced some of the current workers to share jobs. Bal Kumar Brestha, a 22-year-old Nepalese chef at Golden Fork Cafeteria, has been working as a chef at the small restaurant for several years without an official license from the government. His license states that he is a cleaner. “One of the chefs left and so I do everything. When I need to clean I do, and when they kitchen needs help I help also,” he said.

Several customers say that the government, because the area is slated to be demolished, is purposely neglecting the old parts of Musherib, “Even if the municipality comes to check, they don’t do anything about it because Musherib is old and people who live here are poor” said Ahmad Ibrahim Al Jabaly, an Egyptian living in Musherib.

Piping hot Indian masala, Nepalese dal baht, Chinese spring rolls and Other Oriental Dishes…

The strong smell of spices lingers in the air, even after the crowds at the restaurants have cleared out. In Musherib, the oldest commercial center in Doha, thousands of expatriates crowd to dine at more than 50 of the small restaurants that provide a wide variety of inexpensive Indian, Chinese, Nepalese and Bangaldeshi dishes.

Piping hot Indian masala, Nepalese dal baht, Chinese spring rolls and other oriental dishes are routinely served in these tiny restaurants.

Most of these restaurants were started to provide quick meals at an inexpensive price, ranging from QR 5 to QR 20, to laborers and expatraite workers who can’t afford to spend more.

But the  people currently living in Musherib may not be there for much longer. Many will be forced to relocate to an isolated neighborhood called Barwa, located between the Doha airport and Al-Wakra, or other far away neighborhoods. This process is to make way for a luxury residential and commercial complex that will rise in Musherib. The only way landlords and restaurant owners could keep their restaurants in downtown Doha, is by paying the required rent fee of more than quadruple the rate they pay now, increasing it from about QR 1500 to QR 12000 per month.

Iam Prem Sheopa, a Nepalese regular customer at the restaurants, said he was very upset about the demolition of the restaurants in Musherib because it was the only place he came to eat food that reminded him of “home-cooked food.”

The variety of resutarants in the streets and alleys of Musherib reflect the diversity of the expatriate’s nationalities living and consuming the items there. Almost one-quarter of the restaurants are Nepalese but serve a mix of cuisines.

The places have served as a center for socialization and interaction between the different cultures, “we always serve different food so that more people come” said Abu Bakr Koya, a chef at a juice stall.

Eye Rose Juice Stall is a cramped restaurant, tucked between clothing stores on Abdullah Bin Thani St., that serves mainly Indian cuisine. It has been open for the past 12 years, and run by a father and his son. “The shop is more successful and has more customers than before,” said Koya. Eye Rose has been an attraction for many South Asian men because of its central location and cheap prices, with sandwhiches, desserts and drinks for less than QR 5 each.

With the demolition progressing faster, Koya and his son are afraid they might have to jeopardize their jobs and future if they return home. “It’s not the same in India. Here we make little money but it’s more than we would there,” said Koya adding that his earnings vary depending on business in the restaurant.

Near by on Kahraba St., the main street of Musherib, the ‘Nepalese Kitchen’, serves Indian, Chinese and Nepalese food. It has been opened for nine years,  and has been “popular and perfect because it has a nice seating and good food,” said Tara Magar, a regular Nepalese customer at the restaurant.

Nepalese Kitchen’s customers vary in nationalities, especially since it serves mixed cuisine from many South East Asian countries. “ I have been eating in this restaurant for the past six years, at least four times a week,” Magar said. He added that he comes to eat there even if he is alone because the food is good and the location is near his work place.

Top Form Restaurant is an international restaurant that serves more than 50 different dishes from a variety cusines, all the way from Hummos to French Fries. Maubukarim Abdul Majid, the head chef at this restaurant, said that his restaurant is crowded every day during the lunch and dinner hours because it has been there for many years and established a reputation of having good quality, but inexpensive food. “Everybody knows it now, all the nationalities come here to eat,” said Abdul Majid.

Abdul Majid said that the government would demolish his building in about one year, and that his restaurant would have to relocate to the Industrial area or Al-Wakra. Both these locations are isolated from the business center and regular customers that Top Form Restaurant has in Musherib. “There are barely any people living in these areas, so we won’t have that many customers,” he said.

Top Form Restaurant chefs preparing dishes

Counterfeit Goods

Instead of spending more than QR 500 for an original Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, you can find an exact copy for QR 40 in Musherib, the oldest neighborhood in Doha. “It’s cheap and looks real,” said Mahmudul Hasan, a salesman at Super Taste Nobility, a shop that sells counterfeit goods.

Musherib is undergoing a redevelopment process that will eventually force most of the people living there to relocate to Barwa,  an isolated neighborhood located more than 20 kilomters away from their current central location.. Most salesmen are concerned about the future of their businesses and careers, since the new locations are not a central district for shopping.

Shops importing and selling knock-offs, or counterfeit goods, line the busy streets of the oldest neighborhood in Doha. According to the law of Trademarks and Patents in Qatar, importing and selling counterfeit goods is illegal, said Ashraf El Sayad, a lawyer at Qatar’s Ministry of Interior. Section 12 of the law states the protective measures and penalties for traders who deal with counterfeit goods. One could face up to two years in prison and/or pay a fee of QR 20,000. However, despite the fear of being caught by police, these shops have been publically selling counterfeit items for the past 10 years.

“Nobody does anything because here it is an old area and soon it will all be demolished,” said Hamal Abdul Kareem, a salesman at one of the counterfeit shop that sells knock off shoes and t-shirts for men.

Madrid Boutique is one of the most crowded knock-off shops, located beneath Grand Mercure Hotel in Musherib. In this neighborhood, the majority of the residents are expatriates and labor workers. Since they cannot afford to purchase original branded t-shirts, they resort to buying fake versions available at a reasonable price, said Mohammad Saleh, the sales manager at Madrid Boutique.

“We have t-shirts ranging from QR 25 to QR 65 and many people come regularly to buy some,” said Ashok Pariyar, a salesman at Madrid Boutique, sliding open a door revealing the stacks of imported counterfeit apparel and accessories. “We have many different brands, like Lacoste, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Adidas, Billabong, Dolce & Gabanna and Ed Hardy.” He said that his customers include expatriates and Arabs who are looking for a good price deal, and a good imitation.

“I shop here [at Madrid Boutique] all the time. They have very nice shirts and they last for a long time,” said Shaoun Shajahan, a Nepalese regular customer at Madrid Boutique. “I like wearing latest fashion, and here they have it for a good price.”

Most of these counterfeit clothes are imported from Thailand and China, because they have “the best quality copies,” said Parivar. The shops are restocked every month when merchants come from Dubai-based companies such as Yellow Flower, or Sea Style Textiles, said Mohamudul Hasan, a sales manager at Al Rabi shop. They import items from South Asian countries and distribute them to the shops around Doha. Salesmen at the counterfeit shops refused to give names of merchants who distribute the items to avoid risking them loosing their jobs.

The number of customers and sales have been slowly declining for the shops in Musherib due to the rapid demolition in parts of the neighborhood, which are soon to be redeveloped.

“We are not getting as many customers and so we are not making enough money to move to a better place,” said Abdul Kareem, “It’s all in God’s will.”

The availability of the counterfeit goods has enabled a larger group of consumers to wear the brand name, thus lessening its value. “I don’t support any counterfeits because I think that it is just damaging to the brand’s name and value, and a financial loss to their company,” said Muneera Al Thani, a regular consumer of expensive name brands.

In Musherib, there are several different counterfeit goods sold. Another popular ‘fake’ item is perfume. Perfumes sold at Musheirb are packaged to look like originals. However, they are imitations of the original versions found at high-end department stores. “Most of our customers are from India, Bangladesh, but sometimes we have some Qatari women coming here and buying perfumes,” said Ahmad Kabeer, a salesman at Al Rabi shop in Musherib, “there are many more shops that sell like this in all the souqs (open markets) in Doha, like Souq Waqif and Souq Faleh.”

A line-up of counterfeit t-shirts at a store in Musherib. The shopkeeper did not want to be photographed because he feared that he would loose his job.