Last week a reader called Abdulai Shani left the following comment under the post “The rescue of a domestic worker in Kuwait”:
I’m happy I came across this page. To be frank I’m fascinated as to how most Kuwaitis respond positively.
This is my own story and how I got to Kuwait. It all started somewhere in February this year, I met a guy back in my country in Africa, that is Ghana to be specific who told me he have some “connection” as normally termed in Ghana here in Kuwait and that a reputable company needs security guards to employ. I showed interest because he said I will be paid $1000 per month. I was happy and more than willing, so he demanded I pay $1500 for the processing my my visa and tickets which I paid. When I arrived at the airport of Kuwait on the 1st of April it was a different scenario. I was taken to an agency in Jahra and was told I’m going to take care of sheep on the desert. That was a blow I haven’t recovered till now, because I’m trapped in the sense that I quitted my job which is 100 times better than what I’m doing right here in Kuwait. And the wages i was promised never manifested instead I receive 70kd a month. I can’t even call my mom to tell her what I’m going through because I fear I might break her heart. I Fasted 30 Days during the fasting and can tell you it was hell. I Iive in a tent and the weather is extremely hot. I Have been on the desert for five months now. It’s I’m not the only one over here, we are trapped. We work 24hours a day and no day off and this will continue for 2years. We don’t go any where ,we just work even at night because we have to stay awake and look after the sheep. I’m a muslim and what I have been taught is that a man should not be ashamed of his work if it brings you good deeds and avoid you from stealing, so I’m not ashamed of being a shepherd although I’m well educated but the thing is my freedom have shackled. And the funny thing is our employers call themselves Muslims but will not allow us to go to the mosque on Fridays. All they do is they want us to always work,t hey don’t care even if we don’t pray. Hmmm on the day of Judgement Allah will fight for what they are denying us. Maybe someone reading this will say why we don’t run away or protect, but I tell you if we try to run away they will file a false case against us. And another problem is abuse, they beat my co workers although non have tried that on me yet. We just hope one day our two years contracts will be over. So that we can go back peacefully to our various countries.
After reading that I had no idea what to think. It didn’t make sense, the person who left that comment speaks English fairly well, was able to find my blog and was also able to leave a comment. How is this guy a shepherd? At first I thought it might be a prank but I emailed the guy anyway asking for his number so I could contact him and confirm his story. He sent me his number and I proceeded to chat with him via Whatsapp. Again I was very suspicious, how does a shepherd know what Whatsapp is? In the end he sent me his location and I decided I would drive out to meet him. Friday, after brunch with some friends, I drove an hour and a half alone into the middle of the desert so I could meet a stranger called Abdulai. I honestly had no idea what to expect which is why I had passed the location to my friends… just in case.
It was around 1PM when I pulled up outside Abdulai’s tent. I had called him up minutes earlier trying to figure out where his tent was exactly and the first thing he asked me was if I had driven through the valley of dead sheep. I surprisingly knew what he was talking about since just before I called him I had driven on a strip of road with dead sheep on both sides. A horrific scene mind you. As I was getting out of my car Abdulai had a big smile on his face, I walked up to him and we shook hands before we headed inside his tent. Abdulai lives on a farm, no, I can’t call it a farm since it’s really not but not sure what else to call it. It’s just a 4×4 tent (his home) with a small sheep pen outside it and that’s about it. It was very hot and although I was sitting inside his tent in the shade I was sweating profusely. He doesn’t have electricity so there is no air conditioning. Before we started I asked him if I could post his full name and his photo and he said yes. I told him I didn’t want to get him in trouble and if he wanted to stay anonymous or not be in a photo that would be ok. He told me he didn’t care since this was his reality.
Abdulai Shani is a high school graduate but dropped out of university. He’s just 25 years old and before coming to Kuwait was teaching 7 year olds English and Mathematics at a school in Ghana. Like he stated in his comment on the blog, he was offered the opportunity to work in Kuwait as a security guard with a starting salary of $1,000 which was more than what he was making teaching in Ghana. So he took the chance, paid the agent $1,500 in fees and flew out of Ghana on March 31st of this year to come work in Kuwait. He didn’t have a copy of the contract before he left since his agent told him he would get one on arrival to Kuwait. When he arrived in Kuwait he was greeted by a man who he assumed was his boss. That man took his passport then drove him to a house in Jahra where he was locked up with three other people. He was told his sponsor would be coming to get him in a couple of days and was then asked if he was informed on what he would be doing. He replied saying he did, he would be a security guard. The person told him no, he was going to be a shepherd. Abdulai responded saying he was told he would be a security guard by the agent. The man then asked him if he knew how much he would be getting paid. Abdulai told him $1,000, the man told him he would be getting only KD70. Abdulai didn’t understand and at that time he had just arrived to Kuwait and so he was scared and didn’t know what to do. Three days later his sponsor came in the evening. His sponsor paid the people holding Abdulai and he was released into his custody. He felt like he was a slave being traded.
Since April Abdulai has been working at this sheep pen out in the middle of nowhere. His meals are bread for breakfast, rice for lunch and rice for dinner. He doesn’t have electricity except for a small solar panel that charges his phone and his flashlight. The sponsor gave him a smartphone with a phone line that has internet which is how he is able to get online. He found my blog while researching slavery in Kuwait trying to understand what rights he had and why things are the way they are. According to Abdulai he is getting paid although he ran into an issue recently. His first two salaries he had the sponsor send to Ghana since it wasn’t safe to keep his money in his tent. Then the other 3 salaries he told the sponsor to keep with him. But when he asked for them at the end of last month the sponsor wouldn’t give it to him. After an argument he was told to give back the mobile phone. Abdulai gave him the phone but told him part of the contract says I get a phone so if you’re taking it back then I want to go back to Ghana. So they took him to the agency who gave him two choices.
1) He leaves to Ghana but doesn’t get paid.
2) He stays and he would get paid. He chose to stay.
At this point I wanted to know what he wanted out of all of this so I asked him. He replied telling me he just wanted to get the word out that slavery still exists. He told me back in Ghana he didn’t live in a tent, he lived in a home, a decent one. He told me two months back when the weather was really hot he started to bleed from his nose. So he told his sponsor he wanted to go to the hospital to check and see why he was bleeding. His sponsor told him he wasn’t going to take him to the hospital but instead should just wrap his head with a shemagh. I asked Abdulai if he wanted to go back to Ghana or if he wanted to stay and get a better job. He told me he wanted to stay but get a better job since that’s why he originally came to Kuwait.
On my way back to the car he gave me a tour of the property. Right outside his tent door was a bench, that’s where he sleeps at night since it’s too hot to sleep inside the tent. He then showed me the sheep pen which he attends to all day long, seven days a week. He doesn’t understand what the sheep are for, in the five months he’s been there none were sold or taken or anything. We walked together back to my car and said our goodbyes.
In some ways Abdulai is lucky. He’s educated and speaks English which is how he was able to reach out to me and now I can shed light on him and hopefully with the help of the blog find him a better job. But this also got me thinking, what about all the other people who don’t speak any English and don’t know how to reach out for help? And what if this was the tipping point for change? With local telecoms phasing out regular phones and pushing out smartphones with internet access to all their customers, are more and more people like Abdulai going to come forward and share their story with the world?