Qatar, the match with the workers who built the World Cup –

from Arianna Ravelli, sent to Doha

Journey inside the Labor city, also called Asian City: the city within the city, far from the glittering Doha, which hosts foreign workers. Housing, wages, conditions. But we don’t talk about the dead

DOHA Kuame already sat in the stands two hours earlier, but he doesn’t know which of the two matches will be projected on the big screen. She comes from Ghana and is a driver here. He has a legitimate hope: I think they will match Ghana-Uruguay, more important, right? Portugal have already qualified. And if not? I watch Ghana on my mobile. Okay.

They arrive in small groups, on Fridays, cheerful as those who have the day off and, finally, something to do. They take a seat in the esplanade in front of the first giant screen or enter the cricket stadium, a sport that many of them would have preferred, where there is the second (and where, unfortunately for Kuame, they won’t give Ghana). Cristiano Ronaldo in the city of workers: Labor City, or, not surprisingly, Asian City, 70,000 people who live in these rows of white houses, in the Industrial Zone (where 600,000 people live), 25 km from the most glittering Doha, the looming desert, construction sites, truck esplanades.

This fan zone was created for the workers and it cannot be said that it was unsuccessful: in the end there will be at least 4,000, perhaps more, from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Ghana, the Philippines and Togo. Electricians, mechanics, truck drivers, bricklayers. They cheer both when Portugal scores and when Korea scores, as long as something happens. They are all men. The only women are the presenter who kicks off the pre-match entertainment and two female dancers on stage. Hours later, when the match was 1-1, a woman in a burqa arrives with her husband who has a baby in her arms and looks worried.

Before the World Cup there was none of this: there wasn’t even this part of the city to tell the truth, built to try and paint a lick of paint on the conditions of semi-slavery that still exist, and a minimum of dignity to foreign workers who built the World Cup, as well as all of Qatar

. Leaving us also the skin: two days ago for the first time the regime has officially recognized that there have been 500 deaths in construction sites. Independent investigations speak of 6,500, but here the tab. No, I don’t know anything about deaths – Sukram, from Nepal, an electrician closes immediately – but I’m not so happy, I work 10 hours a day, I get 1,000 rials (260 euros). Stay here for a year, then I’ll see.

Before the World Cup the only attraction was the Grand Mall Hypermarket, a stone’s throw from here, the circular shopping center (like a stadium), which on Fridays is a chaos of taxi drivers trying to attract customers. Here at the beginning of the month the wages are collected (when they arrive), many vans leave from this parking lot to take the workers to the construction sites. But before that, there wasn’t even the Grand Mall, he explains Rabeeh who works at the phone shop and arrived from India long enough (ten years) to remember it. Rabeeh, who supports Brazil, belongs to the party of those who – in the long term – see improvements. I just hope that after the World Cup everything doesn’t stop and that they will host some other events. But he is privileged. The most desperate are not here, not to watch the game, relegated to barracks with more urgent needs, where they say there are fleas, mice, devastating hygienic conditions and out of desperation there are those who are reduced to drinking denatured alcohol to clean the floors, given the difficulty of obtaining alcohol. Not here, this is a sort of middle class that comes to the matches, naturally by Qatari standards which remain very different from Western ones, as recognized by a lawyer who takes care of following the workers and who gives us a Pakistani boy on the phone who does not he speaks english but still wants to help us.

There kafala, the law whereby the employer has almost absolute powers (on residence permits, on the possibility of changing jobs and even returning to one’s home country), has in theory been abolished. In practice not really. Andrew arrived from the Philippines in 2012, operates the cranes: Change company? No, you can’t. For every two years I have a vacation and I can go home, and she doesn’t complain about it.

I’m sorry you can’t enter here, the stop of the security man (polite) when approaching the town with the lodgings. It doesn’t matter, Anthony awake, he lives here, he comes in, takes it and comes back with the photos: Here is the canteen, the bathrooms – he shows -, here are the rooms where four of us sleep, not very nice, you can see the cots hidden by curtains, an acceptable cleaning, it didn’t remind everything of a prison.

West Bay hotels are far away, but we’re not even at the bottom of the desperate chain. Anthony is 21 years old, he says he is a singer in Ghana, who arrived six months ago, his friend who had already been here with him two years ago, then returned home, not feeling well. Now they have come on purpose to work at the World Cup, Anthony in stadium security, his friend is a marshall in another Fanzone.

The salaries are too low: 1800 rials (470 euros), it’s not worth it. Nicolas, also Ghanaian, works at the airport laundry: I’m going back to my country. Here I sleep and work. I want my freedom back. In a while Cristiano Ronaldo will also leave and, on Friday evening, only the Grand Mall will remain again.

December 3, 2022 (change December 3, 2022 | 14:31)

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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