Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dreams in their Eyes

What motivates people through life? I'm in Dubai nowadays and I see lots of Asians all around me, working quietly backstage to keep the Emirate running smoothly. Sweepers, waiters, porters, construction workers, hotel housekeeping staff, chefs, taxi drivers, airport bathroom cleaners, they're all Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Afghans (Okay, lots of Filipinos too). They struggle everyday, living in terrible conditions, sharing bathrooms and bedspace with 8-10 other equally desperate people, eating simple food day in day out, and all this without the comfort of home around them. All this, knowing that the country they are in is just exploiting their terrible need for money. Money to send back home, money to fund marriages for an endless line of dependents, money to educate the children so they go further and higher than their fathers, money so that people back home can live a life that is denied to them otherwise.

I met an Afghan who has been here for 25 years and has slept in a tour company's desert camp every night for the last 10 years, so that he can finance his family's survival back in a war-ravaged homeland. A taxi driver who has been here for 30 years and is now being forced to quit his job, probably in the government's bid to give jobs to locals (this country will fall apart!). A Mallu cab-driver who spews angst in everything he says about his employers. A Pakistani (who pretended to be from Bombay, should I have believed him?) who has slept on the floor of a 10 square-foot room with 8 others for the last 11 years and sees no improvement in sight. A Goan who cleans my hotel room and dreams of returning to India and working in a call center.

Dreams...these are what have kept all these people going. There are those who dream big, and those who dream small. A dream is the eternal carrot, making us all run, lame though we may be, though we know we can never run back to where we started from, though we know that the carrot may elude us always, we still run.

On KBC, it is interesting to watch people following their dreams to the hot seat. There they sit, in front of a quiz master who has everything he wants, and in the nervous excitement of the game they are about to begin, where they could win it all, they confess their dreams to him. Someone wants to fund surgery for an ailing mother, someone wants to buy a house, someone wants to start a charity organisation, someone wants to vacation on an island with JLo. They spill their desires and dreams to the whole world, with stars in their eyes, and keep quizzing.

Dreams are crushed everyday. The construction worker trapped in an unsafe building will never send money home again. The soldier killed in action will never march home again. The teenager who jumped off a building with a broken heart will never smile again.

And then, someone wins the lottery, or you read someone's rags-to-riches story, and you start to dream, again. And when you look at the world with stars in your eyes, everything looks beautiful, and much can be achieved.

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